Cosmology and More

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?

Dialogue Website

Comments

  1. I think it’s impossible to separate them and one shouldn’t. I don’t understand the desire to compartmentalize things in some people. We criticize this when people do it in business. (i.e. this is how we think about things when we’re talking about religion; this is how we think about things when we’re talking business) Why would we do differently in science.

  2. Sam Kitterman says:

    I seem to recall a General Authority, perhaps President McKay, when he was dealing with the evolution issue and certain GAs pronouncing it as being contrary to Church doctrine/teachings, he seeing it otherwise, and indicating that science often addresses the question of “how” and religion addresses the question of “why”….

    That’s pretty much how I have dealt with science AND religion. Never found myself conflicted except for stem cell research….

  3. The idea that we have a “how” and “why” is simply false. Did Christ die on the cross? Did he suffer in Gethseme? Then we have two claims about “how.” Likewise science gives “why” answers all the time. “Why is the sky blue?”

    Of course by “why” people talk about intelligent purpose. In one way science might not address that in physics. But arguably it does in economics, sociology, psychology and other disciplines. One could even argue that evolution is about “why” even if it doesn’t provide the kind of why answers some want.

    But the idea one can separate science and religion in their domains is just wrong. A claim by an Evangelical that the world was created just 7000 years ago is both a religious claim and a falsifiable scientific claim.

  4. Peter LLC says:

    But arguably it does in economics, sociology, psychology and other disciplines.

    Try telling that to a “real” scientist!

  5. Clark –

    Interesting point concerning the age of the earth. This claim is also made under the section “Science and Religion” in Mormon Doctrine where Bruce R. McConkie reasonably asserts that there can be no contradiction between two different fields of truth, but then states that since revealed truth gives the correct age of the earth the scientists must be wrong.

    Unfortunately, the background material required to have any kind of a discussion in cosmology is daunting. The dynamics of the universe are governed by the Einstein Field Equations which are a system of ten coupled highly nonlinear partial differential equations. Under the assumptions of homogeneity and isotropy they reduce to certain models that are amenable to study.

    I have quite a few thoughts concerning the role of science and its interplay with faith, but it is late. Below is a link to the Catholic Priest George Lemaitre contributed significantly to what we currently know about cosmology.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Lema%C3%AEtre

  6. The early anthropolgist EB Tylor (1832-1917) taught that societies progress through three distinct stages of cultural evolution: savagery-barbarism-civilization.

    James Frazer (1854-1941) built on that model by saying that the way societies understand and attempt to control the world around them progresses through three related stages of cultural evolution: magic-religion-science.

    Early folklorists and cultural anthropologists had the idea that certain ideas and behaviors would pass from one stage to another and live on as “survivals.” If that is true, then you should be able to find a little magic in religion, and a little religion in science (their goal, partially at least, was to identify the superstitious religious survivals in science and snuff them out to create a more pure civilization).

    These models are not widely accepted today (and the simple three-pattern construction raises some survival questions of their own), but I think it is interesting to think of survivals in this way and it may have some bearing on your observation that “the people of science can be as dogmatic as the people of religion .”

    I tend to think that any belief is based on a choice, and although scientists will dismiss you at the drop of a hat if you assert that they are also dealing in the market of belief, the constant “new discoveries” and occasional “flip-flops” in science demonstrate that the plant-a-seed-to-see-if-it-grows, line-upon-line kind of “knowledge” is not just the domain of religion.

  7. Ardis Parshall says:

    I’m not looking for a long debate, Clark, but I do want to respond to your assertions because I’m one who does separate my thoughts about science from those about religion — not a complete compartmentalization, but some distinction.

    We don’t criticize businessmen for asking their particular questions or having their particular methods for reaching answers within their sphere. The criticism comes in when there is a conflicting overlap between business and religion — if you think religion has a legitimate right to call for honesty and fairness and social rsponsibility, then you have a conflict with a philosophy of “all the market can bear” or “every man for himself” (or however the business world prefers to phrase it).

    Ditto with science. When their legitimate concerns overlap and (apparently) provide different answers, you have to hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously, find a way to resolve the conflict, or come down on one side or the other. You can think about science in the way you think about religion by according revelator status to scientists, and you can think about religion in the way you think about science by replicating Moroni’s prayer experiment, but sometimes you do still have to rely on one or the other — whichever suits you best — or else remain on the fence.

    No?

  8. Ardis, I agree — I HAVE to draw that distinction, and I am pretty well aware of the lines I am drawing and where and why I am drawing them. I think that in this sense science and religion have different functions in our lives, and I think you are right on the money about the concerns that occur when there is conflict in those overlap areas.

    Take the McConkie age of the earth example (#5). Science says one thing, revealed truth says another. Boom – we have our conflict. So at this point, what is the process for resolution — for getting to one side or the other? If you pray about it, you are biasing religion. If you hit the text books, you are biasing science. It’s an interesting question to me. What factors do you think are at play in resolution. Or, on the other hand, what factors might keep us on the fence?

  9. Ardis Parshall says:

    Glenn, your particular example is an interesting one, because it raises no conflict for me (nor for Clark, evidently). I am aware that individual Mormons, from Bruce R. McConkie to my ward’s Gospel Doctrine teacher last year, think that revealed Mormonism calls for a young earth. However, that idea is not really Mormon doctrine, regardless of who espouses it. The age of the earth, along with the mechanism of placing life on earth, is a matter that has been specifically placed in a category of “we do not know; we have no official doctrine deciding this question.”

    Can we come up with an example where Mormonism unequivocally states one thing, while science states another?

  10. Glenn, Be careful equating McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” with actual Mormon doctrine. He took a lot of heat from his colleagues for choosing that title, and his disclaimer at the beginning of the book makes it clear that what he wrote was his opinion – not accepted doctrine. I own a copy, and I reference it sometimes, but it’s not canonical doctrine any more than another GA’s musings.

    The age-of-the-earth question is not settled in scriptural canon, nor is it addressed in official proclamations by the Apostles and prophets. My 8-year-old is able to understand that “days” were not established until the Fourth Day of the creation. Again, be careful quoting McConkie as “doctrine”.

  11. Great minds, Ardis, great minds.

  12. Ardis, but doesn’t Mormon doctrine (not the book, the actual doctrinal teachings) equate the age of the earth to seven distinct dispensations, each a thousand years (give or take) and each presided over by a priesthood leader with certain priesthood keys (where this is the dispensation of the fullness of times)?

    At any rate, my real question, and what I was digging for I guess, was meant to investigate the role that desire plays in our selection of either the scientific or the religious resolution. When we are facing that dilemma — whatever it may be — and we have to choose one or the other (or the fence) — what nudges us in what direction or the other?

  13. Ray, Thanks for the warning. It is about 20 years too late :) Man did I pour through that book searching for the keys to all the mysteries as a pre/post-missionary-kid. But I wasn’t trying to claim McConkie was doctrine here, I was only trying to draw on the example Geoff had introduced in #5.

    But even here we have an intersting case, because historically we have recorded evidence that McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine has been “downgraded” to opinion and musings — and yet there are still members of the church (it would be best if I could cite specific examples, but I’ll have to speculate) who will choose to cling to a McConkie explanation rather than a scientific (or historical) one. Why? I think it boils down to desire — and that goes back to the different function of religion vs. science in whatever hypothetical situation I am speculating about. It’s 11:30pm here in Tokyo. I have to go to bed.

  14. Glenn, I know you asked Ardis, but the dispensational construct you describe is a religious history construct – post-Adam&Eve and, thus, outside of the question of the age of earth and the cosmos. It deals only with the age of man as a separate and distinct species – and, actually, only with the age of man since accountability was introduced. (That in and of itself could be a completely separate thread.)

    Frankly, my line runs pretty much along the scientific, because I believe revelation is couched in terms individuals and societies can understand. I am harking back to the “lesser ideal” concept, but I believe all revelation is only a shadow of reality – that if we could talk with God face-to-face and our puny minds could view the cosmos as He sees it, our thoughts on these subjects would be very, very, very different than the ones we are articulating right now. If there is a scientific theory that seems to deny the existence of God, I reject it out of hand – although I still try to understand it for whatever else it can teach me. If there is a scientific theory that contradicts what a prophet or other religious leader has said, I take it with a grain of salt, do my best to understand it, weigh the implications and possibilities, and make my decision on an individual basis – always with the understanding that it could be disproven tomorrow and replaced with a new theory, just as has happened countless times in the religion of scientific discovery. (Yes, I use that term knowing it’s limitations but liking its irony.)

  15. Ardis Parshall says:

    Glenn, I think you’re mixing in folk assumptions — the thousand-years-per-dispensation bit, for example. Regardless, I think I agree with your real question, that in a pinch we choose a method that we feel most loyal to, or have had most success with, or are more comfortable with for whatever reason, to judge.

    I was just thinking as I was typing the last response, that I couldn’t come up with a situation off the top of my head where science and revealed religion flat-out contradict each other. There have been such apparent contradictions in the past that have been resolved by examining assumptions, but right off I couldn’t come up with a current example.

    I need to write today and may not check in here regularly.

  16. One more very quick point, after wishing Glenn “Konban wa”:

    We forget sometimes that the “earth is only 6,000 years old” argument is, on its face, an invalid reading of the creation story. It is based on the belief in ex nihilo creation. Therefore, for those who espouse it, it should be (at the very least) “our solar system as we know it is only 6,000 years old”. Many people don’t think about it even that deeply, much less consider the broader implications of the galaxy, the universe and the extended cosmos.

  17. Ray, it’s technically “o-yasumi-nasai.” I’m with you on the “our puny little minds” explanation. That fits nicely with my “why we value folklore” theories (and why looking at, for example, Adam and Eve as “myth” doesn’t invalidate faith for me). I do think that it is interesting that although you (and me as well) claim to draw the line pretty much along the scientific (in my case I would say the skeptical), at the same time the ultimate trump card is still a religious/faith-based belief in a God (one with a face even) and a belief in revelation from that God. I know in my case, that is a conscious choice (and not always an easy choice) but it is one that I make because I like (most of) the picture that has been painted for me and I really want that to be true.

    And Kathleen, in your original post you said Now with science sticking its nose into… even the nature of religious experience — I’d like to hear a little more about that.

  18. Glenn, you’re right. I skimmed right over the going to bed comment and only say 11:30. Wow, it’s too early to be this lax!

  19. When their legitimate concerns overlap and (apparently) provide different answers, you have to hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously, find a way to resolve the conflict, or come down on one side or the other.

    Note I was only addressing the claim that their fields of relevancy don’t overlap. That’s a common claim but clearly a false one.

    As to how to deal with contradictions, you’re right in the possibilities you give. And there’s no obvious answer for which is “right” for any particular problem. So you look at the evidence you have – the total evidence. The young earth creationist simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on there.

  20. Ardis Parshall says:

    Clark, it isn’t “clearly” a false claim to me or I wouldn’t have mentioned it. You’re too capable to let you get away with dismissing me with an assertion instead of an explanation.

    Science makes claims about red wine and health — isn’t that a case of science and religion (at least Mormonism) having a relevant overlap? Or about sexual release and health, which can overlap religion where an unmarried person is concerned. For some, stem cell research overlaps religious ideals (not for me, but I accept that others genuinely find it so).

    Maybe you don’t find an overlap with any of these because they deal with behavioral choices rather than pure knowledge? I’m not trying to put words in your mouth here, just trying to understand what you mean by an overlap in relevancy being “clearly” false.

  21. I think the rate of overlap, if you will, varies by individual person and denomination and is directly proportionate to the rigidity of the religious paradigm. The less you believe in on-going, changing, revelatory (Spirit-directed) doctrine (the more “stuck” you are in the doctrinal pronouncements of the past [both outside and inside the Church]), the more conflict and overlap you perceive between science and religion – specifically because you are unable to adjust your religious beliefs to the valid discoveries of science that disprove your religious beliefs (again, both outside and inside the Church).

    It is important to note that when doctrine is allowed to change with greater insight and clearer revelation, individual belief is allowed to change, as well. I see that as the heart of the scientific method, and I see ti as a core concept of the restored Gospel, as well.

  22. Juggling too many things; must slow down as I type.

  23. Ardis, I wasn’t dismissing you. I thought you were agreeing with me. I’m now confused at what you are saying. I’m saying science and religion do overlap. I’ve reread both your posts and it sure seems like that’s what you are saying too.

  24. Ardis Parshall says:

    Okay, Clark, after rereading, I see we *do* understand each other and that we’re both saying that there *are* overlaps. (It seemed on my first careless reading that you were saying there was no overlap — I see now that you were saying that the idea of there being NO overlap was false.)

    Sorry, and thanks.

  25. Thomas Parkin says:

    #21 Ray,

    Amen.

    And the problems outside of dogamtism are a misunderstanding of science and an inability to understand the workings of the spirit.

    Not only should our beliefs adapt to new information, they must adapt.Failing to adapt is equivalent to failing to learn. Whenever new, true information is aquired even our old, true information will change its aspect in the new light. We may see our former understanding as less or more importnat than we had seen it before. We may have to change the inner arithmatic we’d previously assigned. Very rarely, we may have to reject it entirely.

    I more and more understand the importance of good faith in this process. Humility, basically. We have to let go of our ego, of false traditions, and just say – whatever is true, in so far as I can discover it, I will live and think in accordance with it – remaining adaptable in light of the new learning which will surely come. So that … ‘to he who hath shall more be given, and from he who hath not shall be taken away even that he hath.’

    ~

    ~

  26. In reference to post #15: I remember reading in previous posts concerning other people’s musings about the possible characteristics and location of Kolob. Scripture makes the very specific prediction that time measured is one day per thousand years. The only way to achieve huge time dilation effects in accordance with special relativity would be for the heavenly body to be travelling at almost exactly the speed of light. No star behaves in this manner. This was pointed out by BYU Professor B.K. Harrison in the book “Of Heaven and Earth”. Many people have made this calculation and gotten nonsense.

  27. Just to be clear… #26 ain’t me.

  28. Questions... says:

    It is my belief that examining history provides the answer to what happens when there are conflicts between the findings of science, and the claims of revealed religions. Consider the “controversies” about whether the earth is at the center of the universe, how the physical universe operates, racial origins, evolution, etc. and in every case, science leads the way towards uncovering what is actually true. Religions are always playing “catch-up” with respect to their understanding of the physical aspect of existence.

    Ironically, a parallel case can be made with respect to even moral issues. People often cite the Bible as the ultimate source of right and wrong behavior and morals, but if you read it in its entirety, you will quickly see that we pick and choose what we actually follow. This applies to the Old and New Testament, as well as modern scriptures. It is man’s increasing understanding of himself and the world, the progress of civilization in general, that provides the standards by which we decide which sections to believe, and which to ignore, and science is a major part of this process.

    You can see the same process going on today in the Church. While the full stories are not yet in, my personal opinion is that the previously claimed historical aspects of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham will fall by the wayside, as more and more scientific research uncovers the facts. At the least, the DNA evidence invalidates the “traditional” perspective on the origins of the original inhabitants of North and South America.

    Now I may be overstating this to some extent (and I’ve been a bit under the weather the past couple of days), but can anybody give examples where major conflicts between the claims of science and religion were eventually resolved in favor of the religious understanding?

    I don’t wish to attack the Church, or its people, but as a scientist/physician, with a keen interest in these matters for my entire life, it is just so painfully obvious to me how the conflicts in claims between science and religion will be resolved. The controversy about evolution will, down the road, seem just as quaint and ignorant to us then, as the whole Galileo episode appears to us now. It actually is that way for a substantial number of people now, but eventually everybody will see the writing on the wall.

    And as an aside, a friend recently sent me a link to an article by a William Grassie, entitled “The New Sciences of Religion” which I found to be one of the most open-minded and honest approaches to this general subject I have read in quite some time. This article can be found here:

    http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/9925/Default.aspx

    A bit lengthy, but sheds considerable light on what too often generates conflict and arguments.

  29. Ardis Parshall says:

    You’re absolutely right, Questions. Religion should have given up prayers of faith in the days when blood-letting was state of the art medicine, and should have supported the alchemists instead of persecuting them as magicians.

    Your too-short view of history lets you pick and choose your science as easily as any Bible reader, because you have to define “science” narrowly enough to fit your proposition — which trite method do you use? pretending that true science began so recently as to exclude the laughably quaint early sciences, or by pretending that there have never been any false starts and retractions in science?

  30. Thomas Parkin says:

    “when there are conflicts between the findings of science, and the claims of revealed religions … science leads the way towards uncovering what is actually true.”

    It seems to me …

    Science is roughly progressive – that is, it is designed to be constantly discovering new information, and with its method well exectued will not recede in its understanding. On the other hand, the things that you are describing as claims of “revealed religion” are more accurately described as static ‘religious dogmas.’ Dogma, being static, will never advance its case, it doesn’t _discover._ Science, discovering, will always be the active agent between the two, either challenging or confirming dogma with each new advance. Dogma cannot challenge science in anything like the same way, it cannot “advance” on science. Therefore, where conflicts arise, they will always, at least initially, favor science. And this I think also explains the apprehension that it is science that is always advancing – it is so, pretty much by definition. This is triply true where the religious dogma is tied to an incomplete or incorrect apprehension of the discoverable, physical world. (We could begin a list of places where science seems to confirm religious dogma: the big bang confirms for many Catholics their belief in creation ex nihilo; the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics turns new agers on to no end; the recent discover of planets, including, recently, the discovery of a possible “earth-like” planet, confirms my belief that God created many worlds. etc.)

    “Revealed Religion” is something else, again. Though revelation does calcify into dogma, it need not. In fact, the nature of religion contains sociological and physcholgical elements that strongly tend to creating dogma (some of these are shared by science, since scientists are, after all, more or less human). Here is the beauty of Joseph Smith’s model of religious understanding: that revelation in continual, that we are constantly course correcting, adapting with as well as adding to and advancing in our store of understanding. All new revelation, both institutional and personal, is driven by pressure on dogma, or on staic understandings and circumstances. (In a persona who has become a humble, teachable, learning person, that pressure is created internally – much more difficult and dangerous is when external sources are neccesary, or unwanted – hence Pres. Benson’s warning that if we do not humble ourselves, we will be compelled to be humble.) When a scientific discovery, or other overwhelming cultural understanding, impinges far enough on a religious idea, dogma in good faith can only capitulate, but revelation can adapt and, indeed, as we, imho, see constantly in the church, advance.

    Now, if you don’t believe in revelation, that is one thing. But if revelation has become common to you then the only way you can discuess the aquisition of knowledge in good faith is to include it to a greater or lesser extent in your model. I personally think it is secondary in discovery of the physical facts of the universe, and primary in discovering what science is either incapable of or not very good at: the nature of God, the meaning of life, to a lesser extent, the formation of a moral philosophy, etc.

    I have got a danged ton more to say – but my wife is expecting to us to go to dinner “in a couple minutes” *cough*

    ~

  31. Questions... says:

    My intent is not to argue, or demean anybody else’s beliefs. I’m merely stating how I see things. I don’t understand the need for personal attack and sarcasm, Ardis.

    Certainly, there are false starts with science, but by its very nature, the scientific method is inherently self-correcting. And as Thomas points out, while the basic concept of ongoing revelation provides a theoretical mechanism for self-correction, I just don’t see that operating in the Church, unfortunately. It seems that beliefs, practices and doctrines do change, but as a result of pressures from the outside, rather than revelation from the inside. The Priesthood and the Blacks is a good example of this. Polygamy is another.

    I don’t have the answers to life’s questions. As I ponder and experience life, and apply reasonably rigorous critical thinking, I am able to identify beliefs and ideas that just don’t hold up, and I have to abandon them. I maintain an open mind, and continue searching, but don’t want to settle for anything less than the truth, which will include all elements of life. The link I provided does a much better job than I ever could in exploring this.

  32. Just to add my two cents, although I like to think of myself as also applying reasonably rigorous critical thinking, if I am honest, I find that even my own “reason” is biased heavily by things that I want to accept or want to reject (of course I am not a scientist/physician so this may not hold up as any valid parallel). While in my view, certain beleifs and ideas just don’t hold up, I have to check myself against applying that same reason to others and their perspectives (and I fail at it much more than I succeed — I understand it in theory much better than practice). I could be wrong, but I think the sarcastic tone you are hearing from Ardis is meant as a reminder that it’s all very subjective — that is how I take it at least. Thanks for the Grassie link, by the way.

  33. Geoff: (#26) Scripture makes the very specific prediction that time measured is one day per thousand years. The only way to achieve huge time dilation effects in accordance with special relativity would be for the heavenly body to be travelling at almost exactly the speed of light. No star behaves in this manner.

    I honestly don’t understand why anyone reads it in that fashion. It’s almost certainly not talking about time dilation but about orbital period. Dr. Harrison has brought this up before as I recall. He was merely attacking the very naive use of SR by some to read Abraham as anticipating Einstein.

    The reading of this as being about orbits makes it fit much better with the text as well. I also agree with John Gee’s notion that this is probably orbits in terms of a geo-centric astronomy. Probably the procession of some central star, perhaps the north star or Siris. (Not that the time difference lines up with any actual precession I’m aware of)

    Questions: (#28) At the least, the DNA evidence invalidates the “traditional” perspective on the origins of the original inhabitants of North and South America.

    Fortunately in more learned circles the “traditional” perspective was shown to be incompatible with the text of the Book of Mormon several decades earlier. Next up, traditional perspectives of the Nephites looking like body building Germans wrong. Nephites actually originally Jews. (grin) I’ve never understood why anyone cares about “traditional” views in the sense of views that are unexamined and typically careless. Most such views of everything are wrong. They have no bearing on the actual doctrine of the Church.

    Questions:(#31) Certainly, there are false starts with science, but by its very nature, the scientific method is inherently self-correcting. And as Thomas points out, while the basic concept of ongoing revelation provides a theoretical mechanism for self-correction, I just don’t see that operating in the Church, unfortunately. It seems that beliefs, practices and doctrines do change, but as a result of pressures from the outside, rather than revelation from the inside.

    One could well argue that dogma is very much a part of science as well. Often a scientific theory succeeds when the supporters of the old theory all die off. Things simply aren’t as clear cut as you suggest.

    Certainly external pressure affects questioning in religion – as well it should. However I don’t think you can say that determines revelation. After all there was pressure for years before the revelations you mention. And that is but two examples. How about counter examples where there was change long before there was serious pressure, such as in the fairly significant changes in theological views due to close readings of text and an understanding of history that one finds in FARMS.

    One could argue that the claim one shouldn’t have external forces affecting change odd. After all it is evidence of all sorts that ought affect change. And that’s how it is with science. My sense is that you mean political rather than factual influence. But one has to keep these things clear.

  34. Most scientist I have known believe in God. They consider the complexities and precision of the Universe as a testimony of God’s existence. I think so-called intellectuals come along and twist the scientific data to support thier atheist beliefs. It is clear that “believing is seeing.” The same data can be used to support God or explain him away. This is because, data is not the way to know God. You can’t measure God with any manmade device. The only instrument precise enough to detect God was made by God; and that is the human spirit.

  35. I’ve never understood why anyone cares about “traditional” views in the sense of views that are unexamined and typically careless. Most such views of everything are wrong. They have no bearing on the actual doctrine of the Church.

    Clark, I’m really confused by this. Are you saying that most “traditional” views are wrong and have no bearing on the actual doctrines of the church? If so, I would be very interested to hear your definition of tradition, as I see tradition as being a constant variable in both scientific and religious understanding.

  36. Kathleen Petty write: “Most of us don’t know enough to evaluate the legitimate claims of science from the fraudulent.”

    There are no fraudulent claims of science. What is science is provisionally demonstrated on the basis of the scientific method, or seeks to be provisionally demonstrated by that method. Anything else is mere speculation, intelligent and rigorous, or otherwise.

    KP: “Elder Maxwell is quoted in the Hagen article saying that the conclusions of science are “provisional.” We need to understand what that means.”

    I hope that what he means is that there are no facts in science – only information that is provisionally accepted because adherence to the scientific method indicates that it is accurate. In other words, it is our best understanding of the way things work at this point in history. Tomorrow, our understanding may be different, but the changes in our understanding will (ideally) always be based on the scientific method.

    Science is about the method, and the modeling of the way things are in the material world, according to the method. Faith is about “certain knowledge” reached by other means. The fact that science is “provisional” is a good thing – because it means that science is progressive. If it weren’t, it would be dogma.

    Appropos of which, KP writes: “The people of science can be as dogmatic as the people of religion in asserting the firmness of their foundation.”

    This is simply not true. People of science cannot be dogmatic, by definition. If they are, then they are not “of science” – irrespective of their degrees, professions, institutional affiliations, or accomplishments. Physicists, biologists, or astronomers may “fall away” from science on occasion, by being, well, human. And they may come back to being “of science” again.

    As far as I can tell, there is no similar “correcting” process to avoid dogma in the professional practise of religion….

  37. J.M., Great point about science being provisional rather than dogmatic. And whatever “professional practice of religion” is, can you think of any practice of religion where faith can also be provisional (i.e. the “plant a seed to see if it grows” model of faith)?

    I think I recognize by your quotes around “certain knowledge” that you are being facetious (because, despite the rhetoric, faith is hardly certain knowledge) and your conclusion that there is no “correcting” process to avoid dogma in the “professional” practise of religion — but do you not think that in the daily, vernacular experience of religion there is no provisional correcting process?

  38. Questions... says:

    Clark, # 33:

    “Fortunately in more learned circles the “traditional” perspective was shown to be incompatible with the text of the Book of Mormon several decades earlier.”

    Thanks for the comments in general. I have read some about what you’re saying here, but find it troubling that the leadership of the Church, who are supposed to receive revelation for the Church, were preaching the “traditional” viewpoint, and that the more “learned” individuals led the way, presumably by virtue of their studies. This can therefore be seen as another example of where science (including various fields of rational inquiry) led the way toward truth, rather than revelation.

    I also have trouble with the FARMS type approach, in that it is not truly ‘scientific’ in a very important sense. They are starting with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is true, and then build their inquiries around that conclusion. This is in fact the opposite of the scientific method, where, when done properly, one has no bias as to the outcome, and base the conclusions on the evidence.

    And a further thought regarding science being “provisional” as opposed to revealed truths. This actually contradicts what Thomas was saying to have the concept of continuous revelation serve a “self-correcting” function. Basically, this posits revelation as truths inherently not subject to correction, and they are preached from the pulpit as such. They are presented as not “provisioinal.” This is then contrasted with the “changeable” discoveries of science. On that basis, revelation is by definition not subject to self-correction.

    When changes are made, effectively contradicting previous revelations, those previous positions are swept under the rug, and/or not publicly addressed. Again, the black issue and Polygamy are very good examples.

    BRoz: I don’t consider myself an atheist, as that would imply that I have actual factual knowledge. But I do reject various concepts of God as incompatible with the world as I experience it. I am aware that many scientists believe in God, although one must be very careful as to how they define “God.” Einstein is often misquoted to suggest that he believed in a “personal” God and that, from what I’ve read, is most definitely not the case.

  39. Questions: (#38) but find it troubling that the leadership of the Church, who are supposed to receive revelation for the Church, were preaching the “traditional” viewpoint, and that the more “learned” individuals led the way,

    The scholarly issues really aren’t that relevant for the message of the Book of Mormon.

  40. Question: (#38) Basically, this posits revelation as truths inherently not subject to correction, and they are preached from the pulpit as such. They are presented as not “provisioinal.” This is then contrasted with the “changeable” discoveries of science. On that basis, revelation is by definition not subject to self-correction.

    This gets several things wrong I think. First most scientific theories might be seen as vague. Thus the relationship of say relativity over Newtonian mechanics isn’t so much one of Newton being wrong as Newton being incomplete. That is it is correct for certain realms but not correct everywhere. But Einstein’s discovery didn’t suddenly make cars behave different and most people still use Newton’s laws.

    There is this belief by some that when science changes what was there before was completely wrong. While that does happen, it happens rarely and typically mainly in fields that are fairly young.

    With religion the error is in assuming that all theology and dogma is a matter of revelation. Thus church never claimed this and it seems wrong to assert it. Often revelation is trumping mistaken interpretations. God regularly gives us only partial knowledge and we attempt to understand it – often beyond it’s application. In that we might well be like those applying Newton’s laws – applying it to very small, very large, or very energetic objects even though we don’t really know it applies there.

    The second thing to note is that some revelations are context sensitive. I don’t see why revelations ought be viewed as eternal in the sense of applying to all times and all places. To use an example of Joseph Smith’s teaching this, Noah’s revelation to build an ark would be silly to live today.

  41. Glenn: (#35) Clark, I’m really confused by this. Are you saying that most “traditional” views are wrong and have no bearing on the actual doctrines of the church?

    I was speaking in general and not the Church. But I suspect within the Church that’s true as well since there are many views and actually relatively few revelations. Many traditions are contextually bound. For instance now we ordain deacons at 12. Once they didn’t. Who knows what the future will do. However the traditional view is often given more “permanence” than it deserves. Likewise for the kind of chapels, what’s “appropriate” in Church and so forth.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t views both traditional, true and fairly absolute (if incomplete). Things like Christ’s dying on the cross. But I think if you step back and look at all the variety of things discussed they make up the minority.

  42. Questions... says:

    Clark:

    While I do appreciate the approach you take in defining revelation, I think even you will acknowledge that it is quite different (even 180 degrees different in some respects) from what is regularly preached from the pulpit, by those sustained as prophets seers and revelators. I imagine you might be comfortable with that, although I don’t know you or your thinking well enough to say for sure. I know that I have taken a fairly heterodox approach in the past in order to try to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between what the Church teaches, and where my own thought processes, along with external evidence, were leading.

    I just find that the more I learn, think, and ponder (and yes, even at times including prayer), I find less and less credibility in virtually all aspects of what the Church does, says and believes, as well as in the general concept of a personal God, who is intimately involved in people’s lives in a day to day manner, answering prayers, etc.

    So I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on our conclusions. Whatever the “Truth” ends up being, I’m inclined to think that it will bear very little resemblance to the relatively parochial religious traditions that are extant now.

  43. Steve Evans says:

    So, Questions, prayer is helping you lose your belief in God? Sorry to hear that.

  44. Questions, I confess I don’t see what I’ve said as being out of step with the brethren in the least. Indeed it’s what I see them saying. Certainly the brethren are eager readers of FARMS research from what I can see.

    I also see no cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance, as I see it, is a boogey-man dreamt up by some who couldn’t understand how one could rationally believe in Mormonism.

  45. Questions: (#38) I also have trouble with the FARMS type approach, in that it is not truly ’scientific’ in a very important sense. They are starting with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is true, and then build their inquiries around that conclusion. This is in fact the opposite of the scientific method, where, when done properly, one has no bias as to the outcome, and base the conclusions on the evidence.

    There’s no doubt that FARMS does a lot of apologetics. Not everything they do is pure apologetics of course. But primarily the organization is an apologetic one. They’re upfront about this of course.

    I would quibble though about the idea that scientific method entails no bias. To do science one always has to have a framework of some sort. Foundational theories, approaches and so forth. Now one could argue these have evidence but arguably in some cases the evidence is quite weak and is primarily mathematical elegance. Consider relativity prior to empirical tests or, for a better example, super string theory. String theory has been with us for nearly 30 years now without an iota of empirical evidence. While lots of people have troubles with it I don’t think many argue it’s not science.

    But my point about FARMS and science is more that FARMs takes what they feel they have evidence for, albeit not all evidence is public evidence, and then attempts to deal with the evidence as they find it. Is it pure science? Of course not. But then arguable any discipline in history is at best only quasi science.

  46. Clark (#41),

    That helped a bit. So, if I understand you correctly, you are drawing a distinct line between the following two ideas:

    1) Revelations – those teachings/ideas/practices in the church that are the result of truths revealed to prophets

    2) Traditions – those teachings/ideas/practices in the church that have their origin outside of revealed truths — those things that are just passed down and assumed to be true because they’ve just been around for a long time

    Is that right?

    If it is, then I would argue — and maybe you are with me on this, I can’t tell — that there is much much more of #2 (traditions) than #1 (revelations) in the church.

    Where I think I differ slightly from Questions here is that I view the presence of tradition, or the apparent inconsistencies from church leaders adhering to a traditional (but not revelational) view of the world (i.e. Native American origins, etc) as very natural and understandable. The use of tradition as a source of understanding does not make something less credible to me — it makes it more human.

    If my “testimony” (i.e. desire to believe) is built on the idea that every word spoken by church leaders is revelatory truth – or, let me rephrase that – that God is going to “revelatorily” correct erroneous views of church leaders, then I am doomed (why would I expect to God to intervene and fix those problems? That’s not his MO. The problems are an essential part of the mortal experiment that provide us opportunities to sink or swim).

    So if I recognize the value of tradition – even scientifically unsupported erroneous tradition (and they are not all erroneous) in the human experience of my religious leaders, then I give myself (quite consciously) I the cognitive wiggle-room I need to escape my dissonance and embrace my faith – and that, I have found, brings me more peace than the times I focus on the dissonance – which I too frequently do.

  47. Regarding #37 above:

    Actually, my use of quotations around “certain knowledge” was not judgemental or satirical. Certain knowledge can exist in matters of faith, simply because the individual can believe that spiritual knowledge he or she possesses is absolute – and not subject to normative changes such as ideological evolution, recalculation, trial and error, etc. But a scientist can never claim “certain knowledge”, because he or she knows well that both knowledge and paradigms of analysis are frangible. So to a degree, I’m making an obvious “apples and oranges” argument – there are fundamental differences in assumptions and methods that do not allow easy comparisons or catagorizations.

    “Spiritual growth”, on the other hand, is something entirely different from “certain knowledge” and I think there’s been a serious conflation of these two ideas in this thread. Spiritual growth in an individual can resemble some of the ways that the individual might practise the scientific method, if only because of commonalities by which humans observe and learn, seek to rationalize and justify their behavior (often after the fact), and strategize to deal with new and unfamiliar problems.

    So I think there are self-correcting mechanisms in the daily grind and/or sudden epiphany of spiritual growth – because it is a behavioral process. But I do not see the same self-correcting mechanisms in theology or revelation, which I regard as something different than “spiritual growth”. Again, the “certain knowledge” of faith is largely an absolute and inflexible ideology – and science is about a flexible perceptions and an inflexible method.

  48. Glenn, that’s fairly close. About the only complexity I’d add is that it’s not like we have sentences that are purely revelation (i.e. completely divine and non-human) It’s always a mix. Which makes life more complex at times. And then even the reasonably pure revelations, such as the Book of Mormon, need to be interpreted to have meaning. Which makes things even more complex.

  49. Questions... says:

    Steve Evans #43: So, Questions, prayer is helping you lose your belief in God? Sorry to hear that.

    If I’ve misinterpreted your post, I apoplogize, but I sense sarcasm and ridicule. You know nothing about me, my motivation, the often agonizing search I’ve been on for many deacades now, trying to conscientiously find truth. It was this same desire and effort that led me to the Church many years ago. It does seem, however, that at this point, it may end up leading me in other directions.

    If you feel that I’ve lost my way, then isn’t the appropriate response from a believing member to be one of compassion, rather than sarcasm? Have you never been in the painful position of seeking something through prayer, and not receiving anything?

    Again, if I misread your brief comment, I apologize.

    And if different points of view are not welcome here, then I will respectfully keep my thoughts and ideas to myself. I did think that the point of boards like this was to explore different ideas, in the hopes of expanding ones ideas and understanding.

  50. Questions:

    I can’t respond for Steve (and wouldn’t try–not having a man-purse), but for myself, I didn’t read his comment that way.

    I was surprised by the breadth of your statement (that all you experience, including prayer, was causing you to see less credibility in Church teachings and in the idea of a personal God) partly because the experience you describe is so opposite to my experience. If that is your experience, however, I will not dispute it. Credibility is, after all, somewhat in the eye of the beholder. I read Steve’s comment as expressing similar surprise and genuine sorrow. Not ridicule.

    For what it’s worth, I also am sorry that you are having that experience, and hope you see your way to come back, rather than proceed further along the road you seem to be on. Losing you would make the Church and all of us poorer.

  51. MCQ, once again you earn Steve Bucks for interpreting things accurately.

  52. Questions... says:

    Steve and MCQ:

    I’m glad to hear that I misinterpreted the post in question, and appreciate the concern that apparently was behind it.

    This is obviously not the place to go into the details, but an extremely abbreviated, mostly accurate, clearly incomplete, summary of my “story” appeared in the December 2006 Sunstone, Borderlands Column, under the name of “John.” It perhaps leaves more unsaid than said, but there it is for what it’s worth.

    MCQ I’m glad for you that your experience has been different. All I can do is be humble, open and honest in my inquiries, be conscientiously critical in my thinking and approach (obviously in the higher sense of the word ‘critical’) and see where my ongoing searching leads. I maintain an open mind, and am open to receiving greater light.

    I’ll likely continue to lurk, and post when I think I have something to contribute. But after a few posts here, I’ve done a little more digging, and have learned that this particular blog seems more “pro” in basic tone and orientation, so perhaps some of my comments are not really appropriate here anyway.

    Best wishes.

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