Quotes of Note- Elder Widtsoe and President Brown on Limits of our Knowledge and Assumptions

“We set up assumptions, based upon our best knowledge, but can go no further.”- Elder John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 126.

Widtsoe was a European, a Harvard grad, a scientist, and an Apostle, a unique combination I don’t believe has been duplicated since. (President Eyring comes close, although New Jersey, a foreign country to many of us, isn’t technically in Europe.)

Widtsoe makes this statement in context of thinking about the Flood. What I find striking about it is how rarely we find recognition in Apostolic or official LDS discourse about the limits of our revealed knowledge and the assumptions that we all make.

President Hugh B. Brown made this statement to the BYU student body in 1969 (emphasis added)-

“We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.”
Becoming aware of our own assumptions is one of the first steps in critical thinking, which, contrary to what you may have heard, is entirely compatible with religious belief. I used to hand out two short sets of guidelines on critical thinking to my BYU classes as part of a general packet. Paper 1. Paper 2.

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  • Aaron

    I miss President Brown more and more as I get older.