I WAS 9 YEARS OLD when I brought home a book about "cave men" from school.

It hadn't even crossed my mind that there might be difficulties in putting cave men and Adam and Eve in the same world story. But my parents were alert to the kinds of things that can lead to problems for believers.

No, they didn't snatch the book out of my hands. Nor did they call the school librarian and rail at her for polluting the minds of the young. They didn't even tell me, "We don't believe that way."

My father stood in the doorway of the room where I was reading and said, "Remember this, Scott. Whenever science and religion disagree, one or the other or both of them are wrong."

And that was it. The end of it. I didn't even learn my father's views on the subject of evolution at that time.

His slogan stuck in my mind. So easy to remember. A tool that has stood me in good stead throughout my life.

The possibility that science could be wrong. The possibility that religion could be wrong. Our religion. The revealed religion.

Because that's one of the things that is gloriously right about our religion: It is one of our articles of faith that there are things we do not know, that our present understandings may well be superseded by later revelation.

"The Lord is extending the saints' understanding," we sing in church meetings. But our understanding can only be extended if it is now incomplete.

"We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Article of Faith 9).

If there are many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God that are yet to be revealed, it stands to reason that we do not know them now.

It is in the nature of the human mind to try to make sense out of the knowledge we have. We fill in the gaps and smooth out the seeming contradictions as best we can, and for a time we think we have found truth. Until we run up against the wall of evidence.

On this 30th anniversary of the revelation extending the blessings of the priesthood to all worthy male members, it is good to remember that some very strange and fanciful "doctrines" were circulated for many years, trying to make sense of the restriction on giving the priesthood to one already-longsuffering group of God's children.

I remember hearing many of those "doctrines" taught as if they had authority. Then, years later, a non-member friend of mine lent me a book from the 1820s that explained all the reasons why it was appropriate to keep the African race in the chains of slavery. Almost every point that was later taught as Mormon "doctrine" was already present in the justifications invented to soothe the consciences of "Christian" slaveholders.

They were never Mormon doctrines. And they were never true. They were the doctrines of men, mixed with scripture.

Error creeps into both religion and science — leaps of imagination become entrenched as consensus and taught as doctrine or fact, when in fact they remain nothing but guesses. Yet people will cling to them in the face of contrary evidence and revelation.

For instance, faith in anthropogenic global warming became a cause celebre long before anyone made a serious attempt to test the hypothesis; even now, when carbon emissions plainly do not track with global temperature fluctuations, it is treated as heresy to question the hypothesis — even in the presence of hypothetical causes that do track with temperatures.

There are countless examples of scientific doctrines that led nowhere, yet were slow to die.

In real science, everything is supposed to be questioned, all the time. Be sure of this: Whenever a point of scientific doctrine is treated as beyond doubt, you can be sure that it is wrong.

Why? Because all scientific "knowledge" will eventually be found to be at least incomplete and quite possibly flat wrong, so if any area of science remains unquestioned, that is where the errors will accumulate.

Real scientists are unafraid of questions and never stifle them. The evidence of honest experiment will either affirm the existing belief or replace it with a better understanding. What's to fear in that?

There are no final answers in science, and anyone who thinks he has found one is no scientist.

Similarly, in the LDS religion, we proceed in the same confidence as scientists. Looking through the Doctrine and Covenants, reading the history of the church, we see time and again that great revelations come because of questions — and often, questions that could be classed as "doubts."

They rarely come when no question is being asked, or on topics where the prophet or the people have no doubts.

The LDS faith is an experimental religion. We use the scientific method. No one is asked to rely on other people's faith; we are expected to ask the questions ourselves, and then "prove" and "test" the answers we are given.

It remains a subjective process, of course, because the experiment is performed on ourselves, as we transform our lives to conform with the teachings of the gospel, as we pray and receive answers that cannot be transferred to or understood by someone else who has not performed the same experiment.

When I hear a Latter-day Saint say, "We have all the answers," I shudder a little. Because how could we possibly have all the answers, when we haven't even begun to think of all the questions?

What my father's slogan gave me was the principle of abeyance. When I have doubts and questions about some aspect of our religion, then I will hold that point in abeyance, waiting for further light and knowledge.

Or I will explore it further, seeking through questions to open the door a little earlier. What I find out for myself I do not teach as doctrine of the church. I hold it in my mind as Orson's Best Guess So Far.

There is no aspect of the gospel where faithful Latter-day Saints would refuse to "extend" our "understanding" because of new revelation — once we confirmed its genuineness for ourselves.

We do no service to ourselves or others if we ever claim to know everything. What the church offers is a means by which we can each know everything that God has deemed us ready to receive so far.

About all the rest, wise are the Saints who remain humble about what we think we know. The words "so far" must never be out of reach. To think any answer is final is to close the book, to seal the heavens. That is the road, not of faith, but of apostasy.

It is the living God we believe in.


Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. A longer version of this column is available in the Mormon Times section of deseretnews.com. Leave feedback for Card online at nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.