Home / Testimonies / B. Kent Harrison

I come from various ancestral lines in which my ancestors met the missionaries and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, the Church was a part of my life since I was born. My father, Bertrand F. Harrison, taught botany at Brigham Young University. My mother, Lorna J. Harrison, sometimes assisted him with his classes. I was the oldest of four children.

I went to church regularly as I grew up. Except for a short period of inactivity when I was a deacon, I have continued to attend church, as have my wife, Janyce, and our four children.

I was a believer in the gospel from my early years. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that Joseph Smith was able to see the Father and the Son at age fourteen. My parents were married in the Salt Lake Temple, and it was very satisfying—nay, wonderful—that I knew that they were sealed for eternity and that I was sealed to them. That made sense to me. Later, I followed their example when I married my wife, Janyce Maxfield, in the Salt Lake Temple.

I did not read scriptures regularly as a youth. I read the Book of Mormon for the first time when I was 18 years old. I did not graduate from seminary. I did not really start to internalize the Book of Mormon until I had joined the BYU faculty as a member of the Department of Physics. Then I realized that I didn’t know the Book of Mormon and that I should start reading it.

Since that time I have read the Book of Mormon many times. At first, I only believed it was true. Later on, as I read it more and its sweet spirit—and the Holy Ghost—spoke to me, I could say that I knew it to be true. I affirm that today: I know that the Book of Mormon is true. Supporting that testimony is the realization that Joseph Smith could not, by himself, have written such a book, especially in the short time in which it came forth. I appreciate its extensive testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. Similarly, I know that Joseph Smith was, and is, a prophet, and that we have been and continue to be led by prophets. I know the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

Early in life, I came across the words, “The glory of God is intelligence.” They resonated with me. I have always thought of our Father in Heaven, and His Son Jesus Christ, as intelligent, logical, self-consistent beings. The gospel made sense to me. For example, the practice of work for the dead is entirely logical to me, consistent with a God who loves all His children in equal measure. As I grew, I realized that the gospel is more than logic; it is an expression of the love our Father and His Son bear for us. As I realized this, my love for them grew, as did my love for others of His children here on earth. I realize the importance of serving others of His children.

Living in the home of a botanist father, I was exposed to the science of living things. I learned early about the theory of organic evolution, and it seemed to me to be the natural way in which Father in Heaven had created the human body. Only when I went to college did I find out that there were many people who did not accept the theory of evolution, regarding it as an atheistic doctrine. That puzzled me, although as I have read the scriptures I can understand their concern. The race of men and women is a race of divine beings. If evolution is true, there must have been some point at which Father in Heaven made us divine. I do not know how that happened, nor do I know what might have happened to the human-like creatures who were the ancestors of our race. I accept the account of the divine creation of Adam and Eve—whatever that entailed—the garden of Eden, and their fall and subsequent death. But I believe that death existed in the world, outside the garden, for many years before them. I do not know how it all ties together.

Being interested in physics and astronomy, I learned at an early age that the Earth is very old, as is the Universe, with ages of several billion years. I also learned that the biblical time since Adam and Eve appeared seems to be a matter of a few thousand years. Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 speaks about the seven thousand years of the Earth’s temporal existence. However, the scientific evidence strongly supports the very old Earth and Universe. I do not know how these vastly different times are to be reconciled. I content myself with believing the large scientific ages, but also believing that at the appropriate time our Father in Heaven created Adam and Eve in some way and began the divine race of men and women.

The vast distances in the Universe also seem hard to understand. How do divine beings navigate such distances? As I have learned about general relativity in my profession, I have thought that it may provide a way. General relativity allows for space and time to be “curved.” So perhaps one part of space could curve around near another part and allow quick transport between them, in a way that persons like us, confined to lower dimensions of space, cannot comprehend. But the energies involved in curving space are much larger than we normally experience, and that is a puzzle. The introduction of quantum mechanics, which has yet to be combined successfully with general relativity, complicates the situation fearfully. One has the feeling that, despite all the scientific advances made by mankind, especially in the last four hundred years, we are still in kindergarten.

When I was young, I tried to harmonize and reconcile everything. Now that I am older, I am content to let apparent differences between science and religion alone, having faith that eventually all will come together in a harmonious whole. I expressed that view in a statement on science and religion that I wrote for a physical science textbook (Physical Science Foundations, 2d ed., written by seven members of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and published by the BYU Bookstore). I include it here, somewhat edited:

Both science and religion use the four ways of knowing. These are knowledge (1) by authoritative statements, (2) by intuition—private knowledge, which includes inspiration and revelation, (3) by reason, and (4) by the use of sensory data—experiment. However, their emphases are typically different. Science relies on sensory data; religion depends upon intuition, in the form of inspiration or revelation. Furthermore, their aims differ; religion tells us about life’s spiritual journey, while science seeks to describe the physical world around us. (Galileo is supposed to have said that religion teaches us how to go to heaven, while science teaches us how the heavens go.) We hope and expect these two disciplines to be in harmony, but we often see little overlap between them, and sometimes they even appear contradictory. Why?

Differences arise because of the different aims and learning methods, as noted above, but also because our knowledge is incomplete in both areas. Science is incomplete, as is evidenced by the thousands of new scientific articles written and published every year. Religion is incomplete, as we see from several scriptures which indicate that there is more religious information to come forth. In fact, despite the great amount of knowledge that already exists in both disciplines, there is good reason to believe that there is much, much more to learn. Consequently, it is not surprising that there may be little overlap and some differences.

In view of this situation, humility and patience are required. We must wait for progress in unifying understanding of these two areas, be it in this life or the next. We must not try to force a reconciliation of these two areas where it is not yet apparent how to do so. In the meantime, we should be content to allow differences to exist without assuming that either science or religion is wrong.

As a result of our incomplete knowledge in science and religion, I have become reluctant to attempt premature reconciliation of points of difference. There are scientists who, without a foundation of religious faith, take an atheistic or agnostic stance. There are religionists who discount science. Both positions can do harm, especially to young persons who are still leaning on the understanding of their elders. As I have indicated above, I think it best to be patient.

I know the gospel is true. I have had many spiritual experiences in my life that indicate it to be so. I have felt the Holy Ghost; on a few occasions the Spirit was so strong it was as if I was standing outside my body watching the Spirit speak through me. I have seen miracles happen, for example in miraculous healings and in being promptly rescued when our car was mired in a desolate area in northern New Mexico. My wife Janyce has had a number of spiritual experiences that have guided us in our family. I am grateful for these many indications of our Father’s love and attention to me and to my family. I hope to have our family eventually all together in our Father’s kingdom.

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B. Kent Harrison received his B. S. degree at Brigham Young University (BYU) in 1955, where he was valedictorian, and, attending on a fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF), took his M.A. and Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1957 and 1959, respectively. His area of specialty was general relativity (Einstein’s theory of gravitation).

After receiving his doctorate, Prof. Harrison worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory for five years and then joined the BYU Physics Department in 1964. (He took a leave at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for a period after coming to Utah.) At BYU he taught several majors’ and general education courses in physics and also taught Book of Mormon. He supervised the science part of a bachelor’s degree program for adult students who had not previously finished college, acting too as the physics teacher and astronomy teacher in that program. He served as department chair and as a member of several committees and councils, received five NSF grants, was honored with the University’s Alcuin Award for excellence in teaching, and supervised a number of doctoral and master’s degree candidates. A member of the American Physical Society and of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, he retired from BYU in 2000.

Dr. Harrison published approximately fifty papers, most on general relativity and mathematical physics, edited a textbook on physical science, and gave many talks at conferences on five continents. He wrote Ideas and Experiments in Physical Science (2d ed., Dubuque, 2007) for use in general science courses, and, with Kip S. Thorne, Masami Wakano, and John Archibald Wheeler, co-authored Gravitation Theory and Gravitational Collapse (Chicago, 1965). He also authored the chapter “Truth, the Sum of Existence” in David Leigh Clark, ed., Of Heaven and Earth: Reconciling Scientific Thought with LDS Theology (Salt Lake City, 1998).

In the community, Prof. Harrison has been active in Scouting and holds the Silver Beaver award and the Provo Peak Award (similar to the Second Miler Award.) He has long had a particular interest in the concerns of women, co-authoring a paper entitled “Feminism in the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” giving several talks on women’s issues and domestic abuse, and co-editing the book Confronting Abuse (Salt Lake City, 1993). He was a member of the board of the Provo Center for Women and Children in Crisis for over ten years and served as president of the Center during several of those years.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Harrison has served as a stake missionary, bishop, high councilor, stake clerk, high priests group leader, manager in transient services, teacher in priesthood and Sunday School, cub scout leader, ward organist, and choir director. He is currently an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple and a volunteer in the Edgemont North Stake Family History Center.

Kent Harrison has been happily married to the former Janyce Maxfield for fifty-five years. They are the parents of Alan, Neil, Paul, and Mary Ellen. They have twelve grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Posted January 2010