You are here

Mormon Scholars Testify: James A. Holtkamp

TitleMormon Scholars Testify: James A. Holtkamp
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsHoltkamp, James A.
Access Date2 April 2018
Last Update DateJanuary 2011
PublisherMormon Scholars Testify
KeywordsEmpiricism; Evidence; Faith; Testimony; Truth

Show Full Text

James A. Holtkamp

Before he died at the ripe old age of eighteen, my dog led me on daily walks around the block and through the universe. Sometimes, I stopped to look at a teeming colony of tiny black ants filling a sidewalk crack or at Venus gleaming next to a new moon in the darkening sky. I thought often of the men and women through the ages who labored incessantly to connect their observational dots to try to make sense of the world. Darwin, Newton, and Einstein are just three of the countless humans whose legacy still enriches our understanding of life and the cosmos in countless ways.

I reflected on life itself—an inexorable force that conquers the worst planet earth can throw at it through countless years of adaptation. I remembered the history of the Enlightenment, which brought mankind out of darkness and superstition and began to bring a measure of order to the chaos of life. And I considered what I know of my own faith—of a God who presides over this glorious existence, whose adherence to law and utter absence of arbitrariness is elegant perfection itself.

I have a close friend who is not of my faith who turned to me one day and asked, “Do you really believe in that Book of Mormon stuff?” I told him that I did, and I acknowledged that there is no stone carving in Central America or elsewhere that says “Nephi was here.” I also told him that I do not think that God wants us to believe in the Book of Mormon because of some archeological evidence, but that he wants us to learn of its truth by asking God about it and having the faith that God will tell us. I also acknowledged that the experience of having the spirit speak to us is both intensely personal and impossible to describe in words. I said that reason could not convince him of the truthfulness of that book; he had to find out by asking God himself.

How do I reconcile my faith with my European if-I-can’t-see-it-or-touch-it-it-doesn’t exist heritage? By understanding that spirit and empirical truths are not mutually exclusive. By having the humility to admit that there is more that we do not know than we can even imagine. By talking with God and listening and watching for his answers. By listening to my heart when I need to know things of the spirit and using my head when I need to pick my way through the environment I live in.

My faith as a Latter-day Saint has enriched my understanding of the world around me. Knowing that a human being is comprised of a physical body, a spirit, and intelligence does not diminish in the least my sense of awe at the intricacies of the physical world. My life is deeper and fuller for it.


James A. Holtkamp received his B.A. with honors (1972) from Brigham Young University and his J.D. cum laude (1975) from the George Washington University Law School, where he served as Articles Editor of The George Washington Law Review. He has taught as a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of Utah College of Law since the mid-1990s. He also served on the adjunct faculty at the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School from 1978 to 2001. He is the recipient of the 2008 Peter W. Billings Excellence in Teaching Award from the University of Utah College of Law, where teaches in the areas of air pollution control and climate change.

Professor Holtkamp is the Climate Change Practice Team Leader at Holland & Hart and resident in the Firm’s Salt Lake City office. He represents industry and government clients in various environmental, natural resources, and energy project development issues throughout the United States and overseas. He has spoken and published widely on air quality and climate change in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has been honored by various legal publications and organizations, and most recently was selected as the 2010 Utah Environmental Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers.

Professor Holtkamp served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (Watergate Committee) and as an attorney for the U.S. Department of the Interior before entering private practice. He is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation and currently serves as chair of the Board of Adjustment of Cottonwood Heights City.

Among his recent scholarly publications are “Transmission Siting in the Western United States: Getting Green Electrons to Market,” 46 Idaho L. Rev. 379 (2010); “Capture of Ventilated Methane from Mining Operations: Ownership, Regulation, and Liability Issues,” 55 Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Inst. 26-1 (2009); “Models Studied for Long-Term Liability Risks in CCS,” 24 Natural Gas & Electricity 12 (May 2008); “Dealing with Climate Change in the United States: The Non-Federal Response,” 27 Journal of Land, Resources & Environmental Law 79 (2007); “North American Approaches to Climate Changes: Greenhouse Gas Emission Control Strategies,” 51 Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Inst. 2-1 (2005); “GHG Emissions Trading, Tracking and Monitoring,” 13 Environmental Liability 3 (2005); and Harnessing Farms and Forests in the Low-Carbon Economy: How to Create, Measure, and Verify Greenhouse Gas Offsets (The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University [2007]), to which he was a contributing author.

Professor Holtkamp served a full-time mission to Central America for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and currently presides over a Hispanic congregation in Salt Lake City.

Posted January 2011