Paradigms Crossed

More On Purposes and Paradigms: Paradigms Crossed

By Ken K. Gourdin

Here’s a follow-up to a post I made in January. That post can be found at the following addresss (this and any other links last accessed February 12, 2019: Both this post and that one are an ongoing dialogue at BYU Professor Dan Peterson’s blog at Patheos, Sic et non. Many of the good professor’s critics privilege science as a method of discovering truth, to the exclusion of all other methods. Despite Professor Peterson’s frequent (indeed, seemingly constant) reminders that—while they may constitute a minority—not a few scientists also are (and have been) people of faith, the single-paradigm drumbeat among his critics goes on.

While Professor Peterson’s critics continue to aver that the only real method for discovering or discerning “truth” is the scientific method, artists, musicians, poets, philosophers, logicians, and a host of others—both those who profess faith and those who do not—would disagree. In fact, many of the people to whom the good professor has pointed his critics as examples of those willing to employ more than one paradigm—such as a scientific paradigm in pursuit of scientific truth, a religious paradigm in pursuit of religious truth, and so on—have stated that their belief in the divine has enhanced their pursuit of scientific truth rather than inhibiting it. One person who, likely, would agree with this assessment is the current leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Nelson, currently President of the Church of Jesus Christ and formerly a member (then President) of the Church’s second-highest governing body, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and, also, formerly a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, shared an account at the faith’s General Conference of how he was inspired with an intricate procedure to correct a difficult-to-treat heart defect. (Indeed, the patient had not just one, but two defective heart valves. While one of them, alone, would have been difficult enough to repair, the conventional medical wisdom of the time was that it was not possible to repair both.) Elder-cum-President-Nelson said:

Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.

Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.

Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: “Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.” [Footnote omitted; Doctor-cum-Elder-cum-President Nelson says that while this is not a direct quote, it is an accurate representation of what the patient said.]

His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, [footnote omitted; this footnote indicates that the operation was performed on May 24, 1960] my assistant asked, “What are you going to do for that?”

I said, “I do not know.”

We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, [footnote omitted] we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.”

But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.”

I responded, “It’s an answer to prayer.”

The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory.1

After sharing Doctor-cum-Elder-cum-President Nelson’s account in response to one of Professor Peterson’s critics, I wrote:

Here’s an article from BYU Studies Quarterly that discusses then-Doctor Nelson’s ad hoc impromptu surgical technique in greater detail [see the link in Endnote 2, below.] While I am not a cardiothoracic surgeon, and thus, lack the background to fully appreciate the discussion here, the authors note that several things are noteworthy about this surgery, including (but not necessarily limited to) the fact that one usually doesn’t open up a patient’s chest without a detailed plan of what he is going to do and how he is going to do it, which then-Dr.-Nelson lacked, the fact that other cardiothoracic surgeons had, independent of then-Dr. Nelson, been attempting to address the complexities and intricacies of valve reconstruction, and the fact that his technique was superior to others’ proposed solutions, even though those solutions were arrived at only after the more typical route of medical research involving extensive study, initial animal trials, and subsequent human trials.

Incidentally, this is also an example of how more than one paradigm may be useful in discovering truth, a point which I and others have made repeatedly to you, yet you continue to ignore.




Elder Russell M. Nelson (April 2003), “Sweet Power of Prayer,” address delivered at the 173rd Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Salt Lake City UT, this and other links last accessed on February 12, 2019:

2 Austin A. Robinson and Curtis T. Hunter (Spring 2015) “Discovering a Surgical First: Russell M. Nelson and Tricuspid Valve Annuloplasty,” BYU Studies Quarterly, Volume 54, Issue 1, accessed on line at the following address: Click on the “Download PDF” link at that adress to access the article.



About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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