Learn by Faith, Teach by the Spirit


    By Ashton Ward

    The traditional conflict between science and religion, explored in literature throughout the ages, has reached equilibrium in the perspective of several BYU computer science faculty members. In a discipline that seems to focus on machines rather than people, a desire to learn, grow and serve the God and His children is what links the sciences with the personal testimonies of faculty and students.

    You won”t find computer science in the scriptures, said professor Tom Sederberg, member of the dean”s office, but you can apply gospel principles to the discipline.

    “I feel very strongly that the whole idea of learning by faith is as applicable to computer science as any other endeavor,” Sederberg said. “And I think there”s great advantages that professors and students can enjoy by applying principles of faith in their learning and in their research and in all aspects of their career. In my mind that”s what [Brigham Young] had in mind [when he said to Karl G. Maeser] that not even the arithmetic table can be taught without the spirit of the Lord.”

    In addition to inviting the Spirit, personal revelation is also a useful tool that students and teachers can use in their lives, said computer science professor Ken Rodham.

    “Personal revelation is key to developing new ideas, solving difficult problems, teaching students in a way that is most meaningful to them,” Rodham said.

    “In computer science we work on solving difficult problems with computers, so we can automate things that people are interested in doing,” Rodham said. “Whenever you”re faced with solving a difficult problem there”s nothing better than being able to run to the Lord – that”s the source of all truth. Let me tell you he can solve computer problems as good … better than anybody.”

    The Lord has inspired people in the development of technologies for a reason, Rodham said. It is everyone”s responsibility, especially Latter-day Saints, to make sure that people use technology for the purposes the Lord intends them for.

    The OnePage Genealogy Lab here on campus is one example of technology being used to further a church goal. Sederberg, with other professors and students, has helped develop software that allows up to 13 generations of a family to be printed on a single sheet. The benefit of these charts, Sederberg said, is that one can see in a single visual place the connections between generations, rather than sorting through books that can take years to read.

    The majority of temple work done for the dead relies on genealogical records, so organizing data makes it easier to see the work speed up.

    The feeling that professors should incorporate divine inspiration in their teaching is widely shared in the department.

    “You can”t teach without the Spirit,” said Paul Roper, who currently teaches several computer science classes – including computer ethics. “I had a fellow come and talk about Vista, and [we opened] class with prayer.”

    Before the prayer the visitor was uncomfortable. But the immediate peace in the classroom following the prayer changed his perspective. “I”ve strayed,” he told Roper.

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