Hi I'm Jeff
I'm a Mormon and a Research Scientist.
I've been a member of the Church all my life. The harmonious melding of beauty and logic in the teachings of the Church has always appealed to me, and I love the dictum in Mormon scripture that the "glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36). What I was taught as a child about the pursuit of truth and goodness in life motivated me to become a scientist. The two years I spent as a French-speaking missionary was the best preparation I could have had for graduate school and family life. Over the past 30+ years, my wife and I have raised four wonderful children, and are now enjoying our role as grandparents. Over the years, my professional writings have explored a wide range of topics in human and machine intelligence. During my daily work, I’m caught up in creating new science and technology ideas to complement human physical, cognitive, and social capabilities. It’s a dream job, and I wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone I know. However, it’s a challenge in the sense that I can’t stand still. Although it’s true that every innovation builds to a degree on the past, the pace of change is so rapid that I am constantly occupied with throwing away the results of recent efforts to accommodate new and better ones. This leads me to a greater appreciation of the enduring truths and values of my faith.
I grew up in a loving Mormon home in Salt Lake City, with faithful parents and a close relationship to my brothers and sisters. Books were always important to me. I have loved the scriptures since I was a child, and continued study over the years has given me additional “reasons for the hope that is within me" (1 Peter 3:15). In retrospect, I have realized that the relationship between scripture and personal experience operates in both forward and backward directions: not only do the stories of scripture guide daily life but, in addition, what we have lived conditions our understanding of scriptural accounts. This has been especially true for me: it has been through direct participation in repeated experiences of God’s power and help from my childhood that the scriptures have become both intelligible and credible. I know the scriptures are true because I have lived things that mirror, in their own small way, what I read there. With respect to the relationship between my work and my faith, I like what Donald Knuth, a well-known computer scientist when I was younger, wrote in the preface to his book of Bible commentary: “I can’t say that my scientific background makes me a better Bible student, but I don’t think it’s a handicap either.” The apostle Paul advocated a very empirical approach to spiritual things: “Prove (i.e., examine, put to the test) all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I feel greatly blessed to have been raised in a Church that values truth and goodness, and that, because of its unique status in being led by modern revelation, does not have any reason to fear the bright light of close examination. There are many simple things that add to my faith. For example, my wife and I never would have discovered on our own the many little things we did on a daily basis that have contributed to the happiness of our family. These things we learned from Church friends and classes, and from spiritual intuitions relevant to our own specific needs. I enjoy rubbing shoulders with people in the Church, and our long involvement with missionary work has repeatedly demonstrated that living the Gospel makes each of us better and happier people. The vehicle of church service affords unparalleled opportunities to extend what we have learned to bless the lives of members and non-members. Though I don’t want to minimize the many serious problems in the world that seem to be aggravating daily, what I have experienced of the goodness of God over a lifetime has, to my own surprise, given me a feeling of increasing optimism. Richard L. Bushman insightfully observed that for Joseph Smith, knowledge was not only a source of power and salvation but also of comfort. It is the same for me. Said the Prophet on one occasion, “I am glad I have the privilege of communicating to you some things which if grasped closely will be a help to you when the clouds are gathering and the storms are ready to burst upon you like peals of thunder. Lay hold of these things and let not your knees tremble, nor hearts faint.” The Gospel is the source of my strength, my joy, and my hope for a better life here and hereafter.
Our family grew to four children during the most intense years of my graduate study. Our small children were a great source of joy to my wife and me, and helped me keep my balance and perspective during this time. I was the only married student in my class, and eventually also took on full-time employment, so my situation was very different from that of my peers. In addition, it seemed that every time I found myself poised to take a leap forward on my dissertation research, my church responsibilities would increase. After sixteen years of graduate study, I finally received my Ph.D. What I learned through church service and family life during those busy years not only brought me great happiness, but also prepared me for what lay ahead. I have learned that God's wisdom about the timing of events in my life is far greater than my own. I have served twice as a bishop (pastor) to Mormon congregations in my community. It has been a challenge to keep all the plates spinning sometimes, but I feel richly compensated by the intense feeling of love and closeness to God that accompanies such intense and very personal service. No aspect of my professional work comes close to matching the daily joy and challenge of striving toward the supreme ideal of personhood: namely, "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Starting in the summer of 2016, I will take a leave-of-absence from my research to engage in two-years of service with my wife in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa mission. There is a great need for French-speaking couples who are relatively young and in good health to serve there right now. My parents began serving their first mission in Africa when my father was the same age that I am now. We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to focus full-time on some of the things in life that matter most.