In the newly released book The Spiritual Physics of Light, Aaron D. Franklin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and chemistry at Duke University, discusses the power of spiritual light and its role in conversion. Specifically, he explores the example of Alma the Younger who saw an angel, but whose account does not seem to attribute his change of heart to seeing an angel. In Alma 5:45–46, Alma relates his conversion,
“And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.”
As Franklin describes in his book, “In spite of the angelic visit that he could see and the voice of thunder that he could hear, Alma cites fasting and prayer and the resulting manifestations from the Holy Ghost as the most concrete confirmations of his conversion. This is because the discernment of spiritual light, always fueled by a witness from the Holy Ghost, more powerfully affects the entire soul than any physical sensation, even if that sensation comes in the form of a visitor from heaven.”
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones: Another thing that I thought was fascinating was you give another example based in scripture about Alma the Younger, and you talk about how, despite having seen an angel, and hearing the voice of thunder—which we read that Alma did experience—he testifies that the manifestations of the Holy Ghost were the reason that he knows of truth. …And we see other examples of this in scripture: Laman and Lemuel, they experience these manifestations from heaven, but how quickly they forget. And yet, when somebody's life has been changed by the influence of the Holy Ghost, it seems to stick more, and so I wondered if you could talk to me about the influence of the Holy Ghost and the role that light plays in helping us become illuminated.
Aaron Franklin: What a great example, Morgan, to pull out of that. And this really opens the way for a deep discussion that I have in the book about the interplay between the Holy Ghost and the light of Christ. I would argue there's hardly a more confusing aspect of our doctrine, right? While we're wrestling with the Holy Ghost as a member of the Godhead, and what role is played there, we have with that this intertwinement with the light of Christ that is such an extensive intertwinement that they share titles—that there are shared ways that they're referred to. And yet they are completely distinct in that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit and member of the Godhead, and the light of Christ is not a personage; it is a power and this separate force.
But what I think is most clear is that there is absolutely an interconnection between how these powers function between the power of the Holy Ghost and the power of the light of Christ. And one of the ways that I like to think about them functioning is connected to this indelible impression that's left. Joseph Fielding Smith called it an "indelible impression from the Holy Ghost" that is more powerful than seeing an angel, it's more . . . it takes longer to erase, you know, it stays around longer. And I think about it as the Holy Ghost fueling the radiation we can have from the light of Christ, radiation from us. So yes, we're all radiating, right? Hey, we all have the light of Christ, it works really well, right? But what we are radiating, the intensity of that radiation, I think does have a gate valve on it. And that valve is how connected we are to the influence of the Holy Ghost. The more connected, the more that light is going to end up shining. So bringing it down to practical terms, as you're taught truth, you are at a decision point. And that truth could be a fundamental ordinance of the gospel, "You should be baptized," "Will you be baptized?" . . . You know, and you're at a decision point, that's an obvious decision point.
But you're at decision points hundreds of times every day, where you have to make a decision. You have truth before you know what the truth tells you, and you choose which way you want to go with that knowledge. Every one of those decision points, in my mind, is a way of affecting that connection to the Holy Ghost. And thereby, the radiation of light. And when those are big inflection decision points where it's deciding to embrace and believe in the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and put everything you have in that direction, that rate—that initial radiation of light—I think of it like photography. I mean, think about what happens when you expose light to the right substrate. It makes an impression that is both perfect in capture and unerasable, right? I mean, it's there. And that is the type of impression that I think we have access to when we genuinely, earnestly seek for that confirmation, the discernment that can come by yielding ourselves to God and gaining access through the Holy Ghost to truth—which is light, and it exposes, and it retains.
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Light is everywhere. It gives us vision, keeps us warm, and facilitates life. Light is even responsible for developments in communications technology, the internet, and space travel. However, light is not just a physical concept. It is a central theme used throughout scripture to literally and metaphorically describe spiritual concepts. Throughout history, scientists have studied light physically and theologians have studied light spiritually. But what if these two realms of study were combined? What if the physical light we see is actually related to the spiritual light discussed in scripture? Can we apply what we know about light scientifically to what we know about light doctrinally? In this book, engineer, chemist, and professor Aaron D. Franklin explores these questions and more by connecting principles of physical light to gospel truths about spiritual light. In so doing, Franklin provides an accessible way for us all, no matter our scientific or doctrinal prowess, to learn how we see, feel, and know truth—which is, of course, light.