The Hierarchy of Knowledge Sources - Some Thoughts...

by H. Clay Gorton

Knowledge may be acquired by the process of reasoning, or by experimentation, or by revelation. In the reasoning process, conclusions are drawn by rationalization either from observation or from mental premises. The reasoning process may be logical and accurate in itself, but could draw erroneous conclusions if based on faulty premises, or incorrect interpretation of observation. Also, the reasoning process could itself be flawed and lead to faulty conclusions.

Conclusions reached by rationalization may be put to the test by experimentation. In the experimental process, one generally varies one condition, the controlled variable, and observes the effect on another condition, the uncontrolled variable. Thus, reason may be verified by experimentation. However, the results of experimentation are always subject to interpretation. The conclusions drawn from the observed results would be reached via some logical process, which could result in erroneous conclusions.

The story is told of the scientist who trained an ant to obey a voice command. When the scientist said "jump" the ant would jump. Then the scientist removed two of the ant’s legs and repeated the command, "jump". Again the ant jumped. Next the scientist removed two more of the ant’s legs and repeated the command with the same result. Finally, the scientist removed the last two legs of the ant, and uttered the command "jump", and the ant didn’t jump. The scientist concluded that when all six legs are removed from an ant, it becomes deaf.

In the process of revelation, the person receives knowledge from God. We understand that God is the possessor of all knowledge. O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. (2 Nephi 9:20) Jesus Christ… the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes. (D&C 38:2). And further, all his utterances are always true. Thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. (Ether 3:12)

So if a person receives knowledge from God, either by personal revelation or from knowledge of truth revealed to another, that knowledge is supreme. And if it conflicts with either experimental knowledge or scientific reasoning, it must take precedence and scientific knowledge be held in abeyance pending further development. Further, there is knowledge that God reveals to man that can be received in no other way. And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding; And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it. D&C 76:89-90. But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory. D&C 76:114-118

Revelation itself may be divided into three categories—the Holy Scriptures, revelations given to living prophets and personal revelation. Personal revelation is often received in subtle ways that require an acute sense of spirituality to discern. Among the different manifestations of personal revelation are the following:

A burning in the bosom—You must study it out in your mind, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (D&C 9:8)

An impression in the mind—I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. (D&C 8:2)

Added knowledge so subtle that it may not be recognized as revelation—See (D&C 6:15-23).

Because of the subtlety of some forms of revelation, and because the Adversary may also plant thoughts in our minds, there are some criteria against which personal revelation may be judged to verify its authenticity.

1) No personal revelation will ever be given to an individual that is contrary to any other revelation from God. Thus if a supposed revelation is contrary to the scriptures or to the words of the prophets, it may be judged as not coming from the Lord, and discarded.

2) Personal revelation will relate only to the individual and to his area of authority or responsibility. Thus if a person receives a supposed revelation that relates to any office in the priesthood or church organization above his own, he may know that it is not coming from the Lord, and discard it.