By John D. Lamb (BS ’71, PhD ’78)
As Latter-day Saints with a destiny to build Zion, we need to be standard-bearers of enlightened learning.
I was privileged to walk the halls of BYU for nigh on 47 years, as student and professor. Over the years students often asked me why I chose science and a career in teaching. Part of the answer lies in the very roots of the word science, which derives from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge. Literally, a scientist is a person who makes it his or her business to know stuff.
Being a scientist, getting to know stuff, is a rewarding endeavor, and in the broadest sense of the word, everyone can be a scientist. And, really, everyone should be a scientist—a knower of things, a seeker of light and knowledge (see Abr. 1:2). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18–19). There is intrinsic and eternal value in gaining knowledge. It is one way of drawing closer to God; it is one way of becoming more like Him.
Is it any wonder, then, that over the ages Satan has done everything in his power to impede the progress of knowledge? Short periods of enlightenment have come and gone, only to be replaced by droughts of darkness: the library at Alexandria burned; the schools of the Roman Empire were destroyed; the works of Beethoven and Goethe were replaced by Nazi barbarism.
Anyone who watches the news knows that the forces of darkness and ignorance are alive and prospering in the world. But there is a flood of light and knowledge that is pushing back the darkness as knowledge becomes ever more readily available through technology. Yet the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy are fragile flowers at a green oasis in the midst of a vast historical wasteland of human ignorance and suffering. Those flowers could easily wither if we don’t cherish and nurture them in our own lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.
As Latter-day Saints, we need to be standard-bearers of enlightened learning. Learning is an integral part of building Zion and a central feature of our mission. That is why one of the first things Joseph did in Kirtland was to establish a School of the Elders, and in Nauvoo a university. That is the main reason BYU exists. Its mission is more than preparing students for a profession. It is preparing for the millennial reign of Christ. It is preparing for eternity.
We have a lot to do in a short time to build up Zion, and God has given us a very fertile field in which to cultivate our knowledge in support of that effort. Indeed, we live in a golden age of learning; and yet I worry that many of us are prone to squander this precious gift. My encouragement to you is this: don’t let opportunities to engage in deep and meaningful learning pass you by unnoticed. Open your eyes to light and minimize the things that distract you from what has real value. There are so many inviting but hollow distractions around us these days.
Your destiny is to be better than what this world alone has to offer. Your destiny is to build Zion; you were sent here to change the world. Joseph Smith knew that the only way for light to overcome darkness, for truth to overcome error, is for the children of light to grow in knowledge and apply that knowledge with diligence. There is a shining city on a hill that Joseph pointed our minds to—we need to seek it out. It’s up to us to build it!
An emeritus chemistry professor at BYU, John D. Lamb retired in summer 2014. This essay is extracted from the forum address he delivered May 20, 2014, as the 2013 Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer. The full text was published in BYU Studies Quarterly and is available online at more.byu.edu/lamb.