When I joined the LDS Church, over thirty-seven years ago, we were living in a small village in North Wales, and I was teaching and carrying out research in chemistry at the University of Wales in Bangor. At that time the local branch of the Church was very small. Very soon after becoming a Church member, I was informed by an evangelical graduate student that our book of scripture known as the “Pearl of Great Price” was merely a poor translation of the “Egyptian Book of Breathings”. Now I had never heard of the latter, and was only scantily aware of the former, and so I was intrigued and somewhat curious. The missionaries looked very nervous and worried when I asked if they could enlighten me on this issue, and the mission president, whom I did not know, lived many miles away. So, turning to an old friend who was teaching at Brigham Young University, I asked him for some help, and he sent me much of Hugh Nibley’s writings concerning the book of Abraham. I devoured the material, and could not wait to discuss the matter with the student, only to find, much to my disappointment, that he knew next to nothing about it and that he was only repeating something he had heard an evangelical friend quote! However, my reading of Brother Nibley’s extensive writings opened my eyes to the fact that there were well-educated and well-respected LDS scholars researching and writing on matters that interested me greatly.
At that time it appears that I was one of very few Church members teaching at a university in the U.K., and so opportunities for enlightened discussions on matters such as science, religion, and the restored Church were very limited. The only recourse I had was to purchase and read as many books written by LDS scientists as possible, and I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the thoughts and conclusions of such scholars as the late Henry Eyring, James E. Talmage, Harvey Fletcher, John A. Widtsoe, etc. I found the philosophy of Eyring particularly attractive when he stated that there were a small number of concepts that he absolutely knew to be true and upon which he based his strong testimony, and that there were also questions to which he felt that he had correct answers, but that he was happy to place the many other questions to which he did not know the answers onto the “back burner,” so to speak, confident in knowing that one day, maybe not even in this life, he would have answers to all of them.
Reading the Book of Mormon, and thinking and pondering its words, led to that life-changing phrase that I remember expressing out loud to my wife: “The more I read this book, the more I think that it is true!” My testimony of the book and of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ developed quickly from that time. There is something quite remarkable that occurs to the reader when he or she decides to distill and think hard about the words and concepts that are found in the Book of Mormon. There comes a clear feeling that these are important and that they represent scriptural truths; such a feeling I now know comes directly from the Holy Ghost.
Some years later I wrote a book of about 250 pages with two of my colleagues on a topic and subject in which we were considered experienced and experts. With such modern conveniences as computers and appropriate software to help, the project took about two years to complete. Upon reading the finished book, I found several errors that we had missed during an extensive proofreading period. Upon comparing our book-writing project with the production of the more than 500 pages that comprise the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith completed in less than 90 days, I quickly came to the conclusion that there is no possible way that he could have completed that task unaided, given: (1) the very limited schooling that he had received, (2) the relative complexity of the narrative, (3) the dearth of any reference material at his disposal, and (4) that the volume is essentially unaltered from the original, except for some typographical and minor grammatical changes. Consequently, since there were witnesses to his having dictated the text himself from ancient records in that time-period, I am convinced that he must have received divine inspiration in accomplishing this task. My re-reading of the Book of Mormon many times since that first occasion has strengthened my testimony of the importance and the veracity of the text, and with each reading I gain new insights into the great Plan of Salvation that our Heavenly Father has for mankind. Albeit there are still a number of minor features in the book that puzzle me, I am quite content that someday they will become clear.
Other features of the Restored Church that impress me greatly and that signify to me that Joseph Smith’s experiences and narrative were truthful include the following:
- We have prophets to guide and counsel us in these days (just as in days of old), and the administrative structure of the Church is based on that of the early Christian Church.
- There is total harmony between the teachings of the Bible and those found in the Book of Mormon.
- The Church is missionary orientated—which is what Christ intended and commanded for his followers to do.
- The Church concentrates on giving everyone an opportunity to hear its message, and does not become involved in any criticisms of other religions and their beliefs.
- The moral code of living it advocates is based directly on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
- Its strong support of the nuclear family, and of traditional family values that fly in the face of all the current trends with which we are bombarded daily by various media.
- It supports a huge number of humanitarian causes quietly, efficiently, and without fuss.
The basic rationale of a scientist is to observe, to hypothesize; to experiment, and to deduce whether the hypothesis can be sustained or needs to be modified. This approach has served me well in regard to the restored Church as well as in the field of chemistry—provided that I accept the fact that there is a spiritual component to life in addition to the ubiquitous material world in which we currently live. Consequently, there are some things that we have to discern through prayer and meditation and which cannot be understood from physical laws and principles. I have met and talked with great scientists who are believers and with others who claim to be agnostics or atheists, and my experience tells me that religious belief is a very personal matter, and that being brilliant in one particular area of study does not make that person omniscient in all others. Humility is crucial; it pays to be open minded and to be willing to accept that there are some things that science may never be able to answer or even comprehend. My personal belief in a Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ is very strong, and since science represents a search for truth, I see no qualms between accepting my own scientific training and my testimony of an overall creator, who is the Father of our spirits, and who is omniscient as far as we are concerned.
Posted February 2011 on FairMormon.org
Noel L. Owen earned his B.Sc. (Honors class 1) in chemistry from University College of North Wales, in Bangor, Wales, and received his Ph.D. in spectroscopy from the University of Cambridge, both in the United Kingdom. He then spent a postdoctoral year at Harvard University. Subsequently, he also received a D.Sc. in spectroscopy from the University of Wales.
From 1965 to 1987, he taught chemistry at University College of North Wales, interrupting his time there for visiting professorships at the University of British Columbia in Canada and the University of Utah, and for research sabbaticals at the universities of Oslo (Norway), British Columbia, Copenhagen (Denmark), Utah, Durham (United Kingdom), and Cambridge. In 1987, he joined the faculty of Brigham Young University, where he served as associate chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 1995 to 2001. In 1994, he was a visiting professor at the University of Durham.
Professor Owen served as a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy (1987-1994) and is a member of the Royal Chemical Society, the American Chemical Society, and the Society for Applied Spectroscopy. He is the author of 122 publications, including a book and several book chapters.