"Never before in the history of the world has it been more important to learn how to correctly discern between truth and error," President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said during the CES devotional address given BYU's Marriott Center on Jan. 13. Thousands of young adults filled the Marriott Center, while many more listened via satellite broadcast and the Internet around the world.
Sharing an ancient parable about six blind men who went to see an elephant, President Uchtdorf spoke of each of the travelers' personal experiences. While there, they each took hold of a different part of the elephant yet none of them had the same experience. Although each of the men described truth, it wasn't the complete truth, or the elephant as a whole.
"That someone could make a judgment based on one aspect of truth and apply it to the whole seems absurd or even unbelievable," President Uchtdorf said. "On the other hand, can't we recognize ourselves in these six blind men? Have we ever been guilty of the same pattern of thought?"
Part of human nature is to make assumptions about people based on incomplete and often misleading experiences, he taught.
"So often the 'truths' we tell ourselves are merely fragments of the truth and sometimes they're not really the truth at all," he said.
President Uchtdorf asked the young adults three questions: "What is truth?" "Is it really possible to know the truth?" and "How should we react to things that contradict truths we have learned previously?"
Some of the greatest minds that have ever lived on this earth have attempted to answer the question of what is truth, he said.
"Now, never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information — some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true.
"Consequently, never in the history of the world has it been more important to learn how to correctly discern between truth and error."
What is truth?
Part of the problem in the quest for truth is that human wisdom has disappointed people so often, providing so many examples of things that mankind once "knew" to be true, but have since been proven false, President Uchtdorf explained.
"The 'truths' we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters," he said. "All too often these 'truths' are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence and at times they serve very selfish motives."
Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth, he said.
"We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true," he said. "Conversely, we sometimes don't believe truth or reject it — because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often truth is rejected because it doesn't appear to be consistent with previous experiences."
When the opinions or "truths" of others contradict what an individual already knows, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and would augment or complement knowledge, individuals often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed or trying to deceive.
"The thing about truth is that it exists beyond belief," President Uchtdorf said. "It is true even if nobody believes it. … There is indeed such a thing as absolute truth — unassailable, unchangeable truth. ... Absolute truth is not dependent upon public opinion or popularity. Polls cannot sway it. Not even the inexhaustible authority of celebrity endorsement can change it."
How does one find truth?
Over the centuries many wise men and women — through logic, reason, scientific inquiry and inspiration — have discovered truth, President Uchtdorf said. These discoveries have enriched mankind, improved lives and inspired many.
"I believe that our Father in Heaven is pleased with His children when they use their talents and mental faculties to earnestly discover truth," he said.
Even so, things that were once known as truths are continually being enhanced, modified or even contradicted by enterprising scholars seeking understanding.
"As we all know, it is difficult enough to sort out the truth from our own experience," he observed. "To make matters worse, we have an adversary, 'the devil [who] as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.'"
Because Satan is the great deceiver, he has many cunning strategies for keeping mortals from the truth. He does this by offering the belief that truth is relative; appealing to a sense of tolerance and fairness, he keeps the real truth hidden by claiming that one person's "truth" is as valid as any other.
"Some he entices to believe that there is an absolute truth out there somewhere but that it is impossible for anyone to know it," President Uchtdorf observed. "For those who already embrace the truth, his primary strategy is to spread the seeds of doubt."
President Uchtdorf also reminded listeners that just because something is printed on paper, appears on the Internet, is frequently repeated or has a powerful group of followers does not make it true.
"Sometimes untrue claims or information are presented in such a way that they appear quite credible," he said. "However, when you are confronted with information that is in conflict with the revealed word of God, remember that the blind men in the parable of the elephant would never be able to accurately describe the full truth."
Although the world is full of confusion, eventually all questions will be answered and all doubts will be replaced with certainty because of the one complete, correct and incorruptible source of truth — our infinitely wise and all-knowing Heavenly Father.
"Now what is this truth?" President Uchtdorf asked. "It is His gospel. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ — He is the way, the truth and the life."
An obligation to seek for truth
The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve anyone from the responsibility to know for themselves, President Uchtdorf declared.
"This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation, my young friends, it is an obligation and it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth," he said.
President Uchtdorf said that Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. They are encouraged to think and discover truth for themselves — expecting that they search, ponder, evaluate and come to a personal knowledge of truth — through prayer and under the direction of the Holy Ghost.
"As you accept the responsibility to seek after truth with an open mind and a humble heart, you will become more tolerant of others, more open to listen, more prepared to understand, more inclined to build up instead of tearing down and you will be more willing to go where God wants you to go," he said.