In the Summer 2006 issue of Dialogue, Kirk D. Hagen wrote an article called “Eternal Progression in a Multiverse: An Explorative Mormon Cosmology.” He looks at the Big Bang theory of the formation of the universe, and gives his reflections on how well it fits with Mormon cosmology (not too well.) He also compares Mormon cosmology with more speculative formation theories having to do with “multiverses” (potentially a better fit.) Along the way he gives a cogent summary of how official Mormondom has related to science from the time of Brigham Young onward.
The article provoked a response which has initiated an exchange on the compatibility of science and religion. We invite you to read the article and participate in the letter exchange at the Dialogue website.
I grew up believing in the Joseph Smith/Brigham Young model that the gospel accommodates all truth, and that ultimately we have nothing to fear from science–it’s just knowledge. Now with science sticking its nose into not only the origin of man and the age of the earth, but into the nature of gender and personality, and even the nature of religious experience, many people are ambivalent about science. They resent the authority ceded to science. It’s easy to understand why.
I have had what I consider an average exposure to science. My mathematical education ended in high school with college algebra and trigonometry. I took biology and chemistry there as well, and in college filled my science requirements with geology and astronomy. Everything else I know I have picked up in a piecemeal fashion from magazines, newspapers, and occasional books written for non-scientists. If the world ended except for me and the reconstruction of civilization depended on what I know, I could get the wheel and the lever started, but phones, internal combustion engines, computers, the mysteries of the U-bend, plastics, –they would all become fairy tales to the listeners of my stories from the by-gone scientific age. Even the little chips they put in children’s toys I could not replicate. Could I even explain what I mean by “chip”?
My point is that most people don’t understand the science that is behind what they use every day; more importantly they don’t understand the process of science that led to those discoveries. Most of us don’t know enough to evaluate the legitimate claims of science from the fraudulent. We need to have a discussion about what science knows and how it knows it, and what religion knows and how it knows it. Elder Maxwell is quoted in the Hagen article saying that the conclusions of science are “provisional.” We need to understand what that means. The people of science can be as dogmatic as the people of religion in asserting the firmness of their foundation. We need to have a discussion about whether or not scriptures are “scientific” in the way we understand that term today.
Do you have science and religion neatly separated in your life? Is it something you ever think about? Is “science” delving into areas that you think are inappropriate? Is the fault in the science or the scientist? Is everything we “can do” something we “should do”, and who gets to decide?