BYU Dean of Graduate Studies Adam T. Woolley gave a devotional regarding the combination of faith and scholarship by sharing spiritual lessons he learned in his scientific research and life experiences.
Woolley cited the BYU aims, saying “the connection between scholarship and faith is especially clear in the first two,” being that a BYU education should be “spiritually strengthening” and “intellectually enlarging.”
Woolley said that although the two concepts are often thought to be at odds, in his experience they may exist in harmony, sharing three “eternal, spiritual principles” he’s seen reinforced through his experiences as a faculty member scientist at BYU.
The three principles he shared were gradual improvement and repentance through Christ’s Atonement, attention to detail in the wise use of agency and making weak things become strong.
Woolley said in his research, he and his assistants often design and carry out experiments they know will have a low likelihood of success. “On the surface, that doesn’t sound like a recipe for progress,” Woolley said. “In fact, it sounds like a great way to pursue failure.”
However, Woolley said that as they learned from each mistake, they could improve upon them and move forward with more success.
“This concept of gradual improvement by learning from mistakes and failures is both positive and powerful,” Woolley said. “Through the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ, all our mistakes can be corrected. It is possible for every human to repent.”
Woolley then shared the importance of being watchful and vigilant in discipleship in order to remain faithful.
“Careful watchfulness against sin, continued over time, helps to align our desires with God’s as we choose to follow Him instead of anyone or anything else,” Woolley said.
Woolley also said that although gradual improvement is possible, it’s not always perceptible in the near time. However, by looking back, it is possible to see significant growth or change.
Woolley said when he used to teach CHEM 227, an analytical chemistry class at BYU, he often encouraged his students to develop attention to detail in order to improve their skills and experiments.
“CHEM 227 especially requires careful planning and thoughtful attention to a host of possible factors that if not properly addressed will lead to poor results,” Woolley said.
Woolley said that this careful watchfulness not only helps with science experiments, but in life as well.
“Being watchful of one’s thoughts, words and deeds keeps us on the covenant path,” Woolley said.
Quoting Primary General President Sister Susan H. Porter’s April 2022 General Conference address, Woolley said “our past and present circumstances do not determine our future.”
Woolley emphasized this principle by sharing a story from his undergraduate college days. He said that when he started as a freshman at BYU, he lacked confidence in his skills as a writer. However, he said he chose to take an english class that allowed him to practice his writing and receive help from professors and scholars.
Woolley said he is now the chair editor for a peer-reviewed scientific journal and reviews hundreds of manuscripts to decide which should be published.
“I am profoundly glad that my future was not determined by the writing abilities of my past self,” Woolley said.
Woolley also said it is important to include the Lord in the process of improvement.
“The scriptural pathway for making weak things become strong is more than a self-help strategy or a way of developing talents in a profession; it involves ‘letting God prevail,’” Woolley said.
Above all, Woolley said that agency is a divine gift from God and that through the Atonement, all can repent and have wrongs made right.