All my life, since I was very young, I have had three interests: religion, science, and medieval life. I grew up attending church with my mother and sisters. My father was not active in the Church until I was about twelve, and then he died of a stroke, brought on by a lifetime of cigarette smoking, when I was eighteen. My boyhood hero was Robin Hood, and I spent hours drawing pictures of knights and castles—when I should have been studying my spelling words. I decided that I wanted to become a scientist by the time I was in the eighth grade. I grew up learning—from my mother—to be skeptical of everything. She always taught me not to believe anything I hear and only half of what I read.
I have spent a lifetime wrestling with issues of religion and science. There are very few issues raised by “anti-Mormons” and others that I haven’t also considered. I was once seated at a table at a Sunstone Symposium signing copies of my book Evolution and Mormonism. A man came up to me out of the blue and said, “I have recently discovered that Jesus wasn’t a real person.” My response was, “So? I’ve heard that claim many times over many years.” I have always been one to “push the envelope,” I have always wanted to know why, and I have always sought a logical reason for what I was taught and what I believe. I believe that there are no real conflicts between science and religion. I believe that apparent conflicts exist because people misinterpret the data from science, religion, or, more often, both. I’m glad I live today. If the Inquisition were still in effect, I believe that there would be a fight between the religious right and the scientific left to see who gets to burn me at the stake. My set of beliefs on either side is by no means orthodox.
In all my questioning, however, I never rebelled against the Church. Because, at least in part, of my father’s ill health resulting from his cigarette smoking, I have always held firmly to the Word of Wisdom and have abhorred the use of any addictive substance. I have always marveled at the wisdom in the Word of Wisdom and have always believed that it is inspired in its origin. I have always understood the importance and value of following the moral standards of the Church. I have always believed that much of the misfortune and misery in the world results from people ignoring the Word of Wisdom and/or the moral standards taught by the Church. While these standards are not unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that they are inspired, universal truths.
I have read the Book of Mormon somewhat over fifteen times (I lost track after fifteen) and I have wrestled many times with numerous questions surrounding the Book of Mormon. I have read much of the anti-Book of Mormon literature. I am a writer. I write every day. I am firmly convinced that no person, especially a young, relatively uneducated man, could have written that book. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have many questions about some of the specifics in the book. I believe that a person with no questions is a person who is not doing much thinking. While writing the book Who are the Children of Lehi? I became concerned with the wording of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, which stated at that time that “the Lamanites . . . are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” I was a bishop at the time, so I gave myself permission to take the issue up with my stake president. I pointed out that the Introduction was not a part of the original book but had been added long after its original publication, and that the phrase “principal ancestors of the American Indians” was the only statement that opponents of the Book of Mormon could point to that made such a claim; the Book of Mormon itself makes no such claim. He was a well-educated, thoughtful man, who answered me by saying that he had never thought of that issue before. He took the question to our area authority, who took the issue to the missionary committee. Both, according to the feedback I received from my stake president, had the same reaction as he had. It is heartening to read the current introduction to the Book of Mormon, which states that “the Lamanites . . . are among the ancestors of the American Indians” (emphasis added).
I have spent years wrestling with the issue of life after death, I have read many books and personal accounts on the subject, and I have had my own experiences with the world of spirits. I cannot say that all of my beliefs are orthodox nor that they are static. We—I at least—know so little about the spirit world that I am certain much of what I think I know is wrong. One thing I am convinced of is that the spirit world is real and that life after death is a reality. I am fascinated by the implication such a statement has for our understanding of the physics of light. I have wrestled my entire educated life with the concept of the resurrection and still do not understand a thing about it. From the perspective of a developmental biologist my list of questions is almost infinite. The fact that I do not understand the resurrection does not, however, mean that I do not believe in a resurrection. I believe that Christ was resurrected and that because of his resurrection we will also be resurrected. I don’t know what what I just said means, though, and I have no idea how it is going to happen. I firmly believe that if a person can live forever, whatever that means, eventually he or she may become omniscient and thus omnipotent. I look forward to that possibility.
I believe that, as frustrating as this concept is much of the time, faith is a principle of power. I have devoted much time and study to this principle but do not as yet understand it. I do believe that “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear,” whatever that may mean. I believe that, for whatever reason, which I don’t think has ever been fully explained by God, “without faith it is impossible to please [God]…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11: 3, 6). I do believe that I don’t need to know everything to believe, but I also believe that we are not meant to believe blindly.
I believe, as a religious person, that God created the universe, the earth, and everything in them. I believe, as a scientist, that we can discover, at least in part, how he did it.
Trent Dee Stephens, Ph.D., is Professor of Anatomy and Embryology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University and Clinical Professor in the Department of Oral Biology at the Creighton University School of Dentistry. He received a B.S. in microbiology and a B.S. in zoology from Brigham Young University in 1973, an M.S. in zoology from BYU in 1974, and a Ph.D. in anatomy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. He taught anatomy for four years in the medical and dental schools at the University of Washington (post-doc) and has been teaching anatomy and embryology in the dental program, dental hygiene program, and physician assistant program at Idaho State University since 1981. He was selected as the ISU Distinguished Teacher and as the Sigma Xi Jerome Bigalow Award recipient (for combining teaching and research) in 1992, and as an Outstanding Researcher in 2000. He was made an Honorary Member of the Golden Key International Honor Society in 2003, received the Lewison Award for Excellence in Teaching from the dental class of 2004, and was selected as the Outstanding Educator of the Year by the physician assistant class of 2004.
Trent has been actively involved in research into the developmental origins of vertebrate form for the past thirty years (beginning as an undergraduate), and has published over eighty-five scientific papers and books. His research has led to the conclusion that there are apparently many constraints on the developing embryo, which keep evolutionary change bounded within certain domains. He has published one textbook (Atlas of Human Embryology, 1980) and has coauthored thirteen others (all anatomy and physiology textbooks). He has also coauthored the books Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and its Revival as a Vital Medicine (Perseus, 2001), Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (Signature, 2001), and Who are the Children of Lehi? (Kofford, 2007). He has established his own publishing company and has produced several books, including The Castle Builder’s Handbook and The Medieval Town Builder’s Handbook. He has his own website (buildmodelcastles.com) and is co-owner of the Party Palace in Pocatello.
Trent was born in Wendell, Idaho, in 1948, because the Gooding Hospital was closed for repair—the last of six children born to Ray and Phyllis Stephens. An older brother died in infancy and five sisters are living. He became an Eagle Scout in 1962, graduated from Raft River High School, in Malta, Idaho, in 1966, and started attending BYU that fall. He served in the Great Lakes Mission 1967-1969, and has since served in many church callings, including Sunday school teacher in several youth classes, Gospel Doctrine teacher in several wards, teacher development teacher, genealogy and family history teacher, temple preparation teacher, elders quorum instructor, and high priest group instructor. He has been elders quorum president in two wards and a high priest group leader. He has been service and activities chairman, Webelos leader, Cubmaster, assistant scoutmaster, scoutmaster, Varsity coach, and Explorer advisor. He has served as the district Boy Scout committee chairman for the Edahow District. He is a Woodbadge graduate, and was awarded the Silver Beaver in 1991. He has served as first counselor in a bishopric, and as bishop of both his home ward and a university (married student) ward. He has also served on a university stake high council and as a family history consultant. Trent and his wife Kathleen have five children and thirteen grandchildren; their youngest son, Sgt. Blake Christopher Stephens, was killed in Iraq on 8 May 2007.
Posted January 2010