Seeking truth is an admirable goal.
Finding truth can be elusive.
If it were really that easy, there wouldn’t be thousands of religions and a myriad of competing political and business opinions thrashing around the world today.
Truth can be elusive.
So why try?
Because truth does exist.
It exists independent of you and me.
And if you do find it, you are one step further away from self-deception and one step closer to enlightenment and discernment.
Wouldn’t you want your understanding of this life and the eternities to be as close to truth as possible?
If this life really is a test and you have to perform certain functions in order to receive a great reward in the eternities, then wouldn’t you want to know?
If this life really is all there is, wouldn’t you want to know so you didn’t waste one minute of this precious gift of time?
Either way. I would personally want to know what is true. Even if it was a hard truth over a comfortable lie.
But how can you know truth?
In my journey, I considered two tools, which continue to be of great worth to me in my pursuit of truth and understanding.
Tool #1 – Law of witnesses
We are taught that there is a spiritual law of witnesses. There must be more than one witness testifying of a truth.
We also are taught that some witnesses can be FALSE.
So we have the obligation to inspect and consider all witnesses. Consider all evidence. If we are unwilling to examine all witnesses how can we ever be sure we have identified the true witnesses from the false witnesses?
Sometimes this path leads us to a sure knowledge of truth.
For example, I was always taught that a prophet could never lead the church astray. That the only path to safety I had in this life was to follow the teachings and counsel of the prophets. I was taught and believed that this meant a prophet would never teach false doctrine. A prophet would never intentionally lie. A prophet lived a higher moral code, because no unclean thing can enter heaven. So prophets were clearly cleaner and more righteous than the average mormon.
When I examined all witnesses, I learned that prophets can and do indeed teach false doctrines (race and the priesthood essay), that they can and do behave in immoral ways (polygamy essays), that they can be decades behind the times regarding ethical behavior (civil rights).
So my testimony of truth that my only path to safety was through strict obedience to prophetic teachings was not true, at least in any universally applicable sense.
The truth may be that prophets and leaders are inspired, but at times they often are just flat out wrong.
Sometimes you can examine a truth claim and be confident in what it means and in what it doesn’t mean.
Sometimes the examination of all of the witnesses doesn’t lead to a firm knowledge of truth.
Real life and experiences are nuanced.
Histories written by people over time can be skewed according to an agenda.
In these circumstances, truth can become very elusive.
This brings me to my next tool for your consideration.
Tool #2 – Possibility versus Probability
Many things are possible.
There could be a can of aged cheddar cheese sitting under a rock on the moon.
It is possible.
But is it probable?
Probable events have a high likelihood that they actually occurred, even if you cannot prove with 100 percent surety that they did.
Did Joseph Smith have sex with some of his polygamous wives? As of yet, there is no DNA evidence that children exist. Joseph Smith denied his participation in the practice of polygamy vehemently until the day he died.
However, dozens of women testified that they were his wives. Many of them testified that they were his wives in all sense of the word (i.e., sexual relations). Friends and family members documented in their diaries about weddings and conjugal visits between Joseph and his wives. There is a revelation in D&C 132 declaring the principle of polygamy being directed by God. Joseph Smith had great incentive to lie about polygamy. It was one factor in his eventual death.
Was there any video of the actual act of Joseph having sex with his wives? No.
Did Joseph ever write in his journal any personal entries confessing to the practice? No.
Do people deny his sexual practices today? Yes.
However, the preponderance of evidence leads one to believe, with high probability, that he actually did engage in sex with at least some of his wives.
The evidence is so compelling that even the current church leaders have had to admit to the same (polygamy essays).
However, we will never know with 100 percent certainty.
So in the pursuit of many truth claims, you may only be left with probability versus possibility.
In these situations I personally lean on trusting the side of probability.
I know of many apologists of the church who attribute greater strength to the arm of possibility.
It could be possible that there was major steel production going on in the Americas pre Columbus which supported armies of millions but which has mysteriously vanished.
But is it probable? No.
As for me, I am willing, now, to examine all witnesses.
When the truth is evident and clear, I want to make it my friend. Embrace it. Include it in my world view. Even if it is painful.
When truth is elusive, but there is a strong probability of a path toward truth, I am also willing to embrace it and include it, in balance with the truths that I know with certainty.
I have no desire to cling to remote possibilities, just because it makes me more comfortable.
The path toward truth requires real intent.