Steven Harper, professor of Church history and doctrine, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address. He spoke on how learning about narratives and metacognition has helped him become a seeker of truth.
With his extensive education in American and Latter-day Saint history, Harper has studied a wide variety of historical narratives. Using a story from his childhood about several spectacular moments in BYU sports history, Harper explained that finding truth in narratives can be difficult because they contain many objective facts, subjective facts and interpreted details.
Even in the modern world, narratives are difficult to decipher.
“We are surrounded by, infused with, even – in one sense – composed of, stories,” Harper said. “Some narratives are simple. Some are sacred ... Some are sinister.”
So, concluded Harper, we must learn to choose our narratives carefully. That is, we must learn to become a seeker, as described in Doctrine and Covenants 88:118:
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
Part of becoming a seeker is understanding what constitutes truth because “seekers learn to identify and interrogate their assumptions.”
Harper suggests asking questions of ourselves to really consider how we know certain things. He said these questions help us develop metacognition – or awareness of our thought processes – consequently aiding us in our journey towards pure truth.
He stated that metacognition is especially important in discerning truth within faith-based narratives because faith, over time as new complexities are revealed, requires constant renewal.
“We choose whether our faith will grow up, continue to be childish or die,” he said.
As an undergraduate student, Harper once struggled with questions about sources and authorship of the book of Moses.
“The more I studied the Old Testament the less I knew,” Harper recounted.
However, he didn’t become frustrated with his results because he knew was making progress: he was becoming more metacognitive and learning to engage with complexity.
“You’re not odd or out of place if you’re encountering complexity as you progress in the plan of happiness,” he said.
“Complexity introduces us to more facts that compel us to revisit our simple conclusions. Complexity shows us that the real and the ideal are often not the same.”
While Harper believes that gospel complexity and seeking can widen our perspectives, some critics label faithful living as bias-ridden. Harper agrees, to an extent. However, he explained that becoming a seeker provides us with awareness to manage our human tendency to be biased.
“Bias,” he explained, “thrives when we ignore evidence.” But seeking helps us actively check our biases.
It may be strenuous, he stated. “Becoming a seeker is hard intellectual and spiritual work. It is a long, slow, deliberate process.” But Harper has confidence that “the Lord will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost” when you find truth and unveil mysteries to those who seek Him.
Traci Neilsen, BYU physics and astronomy professor, will deliver the next devotional address on June 22 at 11:05 a.m. in the deJong Concert Hall.
Neilsen's remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143.