Watch: Church History Library director Keith Erekson gives useful tips on discerning truth from error


It can be easy to encounter unverified rumors in today’s day and age.

“We live in a world that is simply swarming with rumors, errors, and conspiracy theories. Our social media feeds serve up photoshopped images, deepfaked videos, and unattributed quotes. Politicians tell lies and criticize fact-checkers. One recent study found that false headlines travel even faster than true ones,” says author and Church History Library director Keith Erekson in a recent 5-Minute Fireside.

Unverified rumors can “contaminate our thinking, cause personal stress, and prevent us from accepting the truth.” And in matters of the gospel, it can mean sharing errors in talks, lessons, handouts, or in family lore.

► You may also like: Did Brigham Young leave empty shafts for elevators in the Salt Lake Temple? How to identify assumptions in Church history

How can we develop the right critical thinking skills, accompanied with divine inspiration, to discern truth from error? Erekson shares some quick tips to keep in mind:

  • • Use the “sniff test.” Be suspicious of something that is presented to you without a source, if it seems to have more emotion than substance, or is whispered about as a conspiracy that someone is trying to hide. Also see if something sounds too good to be true or if it seems like an amazing coincidence.
  • • Notice patterns of bad thinking. This can look like people believing we have to know everything and trying to fill in all the gaps. It can also mean ignoring evidence, using evidence in the wrong way, details being omitted from stories, and more.
  • • Good thinking, which helps avoid deception, is developed from routines and habits. This means identifying what you know, how you know it, and what you don’t know. Analyzing the contents of a story or post, noting its argument and its assumptions, and connecting the information to relevant contexts are all important elements of good thinking.
  • • Evaluate what’s significant and useful, and what’s not. This applies in all that we do, including personal study, while teaching and speaking, as we minister to others, and as we understand the dealings of God in history and in our own life.

“As we root out rumors and embrace what is real, we learn to see the hand of God in history and to feel His tears when His children suffer. As we learn to know the dealings of God, we come to know Him, which is eternal life,” he says.

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Video Companion
Keith Erekson's 5-Minute Fireside: Real vs. Rumor: Distinguishing the Difference

Did Joseph Smith really say that? Does the Church have that artifact? How accurate was that story told in Sunday School? Should I trust the information on this website? Can I draw closer to God by learning about history? 

Real vs. Rumor explores Church history myths, rumors, and false quotes to demonstrate how to think effectively about the information that swirls around us in our day. Each chapter brims with illuminating examples from scripture, history, and popular culture. By thoughtfully combining study and faith, you will be strengthened as you deepen your discipleship, avoid deception, understand tough topics, and see the hand of God in history and in your own life.


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