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It takes the whole Earth to raise a geologist

My mother made a deal with me: If I would attend BYU for at least one quarter after graduating from high school, I could complete college at the University of Texas, which, at age seventeen, was my first choice. I had grown up in Houston as a Church-going member, but the real genesis of a testimony began with that mother-son deal. And in spite of the fact that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, BYU was just beginning to develop into a first class university, what I learned from a number of physical and biological science classes demonstrated to me that this mix also would be a good profession. However, there was a problem. A knowledge of Earth structures and processes could support either atheism or a belief in God, the former being the easier to manage. But if the gospel was true, the evolution of Earth’s structures and organisms should be consistent with theological matters dealing with Earth. Having developed a testimony of one requires testing that testimony against the other. Developing a real testimony not only requires maintaining a gospel-oriented course, but it also requires repeated examination of the apparent and real conflicts between understanding Earth’s processes and Christian/LDS theology.

Early in my career, I became convinced that the principal conflict between a belief in God and a naturalist interpretation of life centered on time and change. If Earth and its galaxy are billions of years old, as demonstrated repeatedly during the past 75 years, then those who ignore the facts and proclaim that Earth is a few thousand years old are badly misinformed. If Earth’s structures and inhabitants evolved during billions of years, something firmly established as factual, then those who believe that the only major modification of Earth and its organisms can be attributed to Noah’s Flood are wrong. This became obvious, and the challenge of reconciling the facts of time and change with what some believe (in partial ignorance) are theological truths would be important in shaping my view of life. While the role of the Holy Ghost in testimony is unquestioned, reconciliation is an equally important part of the big picture for me.

My life has been divided into distinct activities, with family, church, and science playing the important roles. Through years of service within the Church and in my secular life, it is now apparent that my testimony rests on belief in a real God and the fact that the Book of Mormon has no rational explanation except that of prophetic involvement, but also on the knowledge that I live on an old Earth whose inhabitants have experienced several billion years of evolution. This testimony is made even stronger by understanding and accepting the testimonies of those, especially my wife, whom I honor and respect and whose avenues to Deity, apparently, are clearer than my own. Added to this is the observation that the gospel works well, almost exactly as advertised.

Enrolling at BYU was a good idea, thanks to my mother!


David L. Clark is the W. H. Twenhofel Professor Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He taught at Southern Methodist University (1957-1959), Brigham Young University (1959-1963), and the University of Wisconsin (1963-1999) where he was Chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics and Associate Dean responsible for the Natural Sciences. He served as Chairman of the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences (1995-1999) as well as a member/chairman of a number of national and international committees for paleontology and Arctic marine geology, areas in which he has published extensively. He is married to Louise Boley and they are the parents of four children and grandparents of sixteen.

Posted March 2010