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Reason and Revelation: Friends, Not Enemies

Reason and revelation don’t necessarily conflict in Latter-day Saint doctrine.

Picture quote: rocks with text "Reason + revelation don't have to contradict"

Photo courtesy of Daniel Ruswick

Alan Hurst, Utah Supreme Court clerk and religious freedom advocate, presents a new perspective on the conflict that some feel between reason and revelation. This tension stems from the parents of traditional Christian thought: Jewish doctrine and Greek philosophy.

Jewish doctrine established the notion that revelations constituted complete and absolute truths. Greek philosophy, on the other hand, developed systems of analyzing all beliefs to determine validity. Today, most people would probably say they stand between these two viewpoints, shifting between them depending on the question at hand.

Latter-day Saints see reason in a foundationally different way than many others. Reason is possible only because of the Spirit of God, and breakthroughs sometimes come by revelation. Thus, human discovery is a gift from God, who knows all things before we discover them.

For Latter-day Saints, revelation differs from the traditional Judeo-Christian concept. We believe that revelation comes to people who really work for inspiration. Examples found in Latter-day Saint scriptures—such as Alma 40, Moroni 10, and D&C 8—are models of this kind of revelation.

Reason and revelation sometimes seem incompatible. For example, the revelation for Abraham to kill Isaac contradicted common reasoning of other commandments. Likewise, the observation of light traveling at a constant speed in all frames of reference shattered Newtonian physics. But both conflicts were resolved with more information.

Hurst explains that when reason and revelation appear to contradict, we simply have evidence of presently incomplete understanding.

Read Alan Hurst’s full article, “Unifying Truth: Analysis of the Conflict between Reason and Revelation.”

Source: Religious Studies Center

—Jonathan Jibson, Mormon Insights

feature image by todd quackenbush

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One Comment

  1. I think the perspective Hurst takes here is profound. Just because we sometimes face times when revelation and reason seem to contradict, we shouldn’t doubt God or our faith; we should recognize it as a moment of “incomplete understanding.”

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