We’re pleased to present the first in a series of guest posts by Ben F, who is working toward a PhD in condensed matter physics at a fancy school in the northeast.
Growing up, I took it for granted that faith and science were friends. My parents’ bookshelves were stuffed with an absurd number of works on church history and theology that was matched only by the equally absurd number of volumes on physics, chemistry, biology, and everything in between. I don’t think I ever so much as cracked open one of those books—the Orson Scott Card shelf just seemed so much more interesting to me at the time—but their happy coexistence on those shelves still left a deep impression on me. They were a visual testament that science and religion are close companions, tied together by a common quest for truth and understanding.
Naturally, I thought that was how everyone viewed the issue—until I moved to Provo to attend BYU. Between a discussion in elders quorum about the post-Fall intergalactic migration of the Earth from Kolob to our present solar system and an Old Testament classmate’s vehement insistence that Pangaea existed up until Noah’s flood, I realized that perhaps mine was not the only view people had on science and religion. My first instinct was to burst out laughing whenever I heard something like this, but the part of me trying to be a good person pointed out that everyone comes from a different background and I shouldn’t ridicule people for beliefs that are clearly important to them. But honestly, we Mormons should do much better than that, and here’s why.
As Mormons, we preach the profoundly uplifting doctrine that all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole. In fact, we are instructed to actively learn and teach each other about all kinds of truth, of “the doctrine of the kingdom” and “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass,” and so on. We should rejoice in the discovery of the truths of nature just as we rejoice in the discovery of the truths of the Gospel. And why even bother to distinguish between Gospel truths and natural truths? In my opinion, the doctrine of God’s kingdom includes the mysteries of the Higgs Boson just as much as the mysteries of Christ’s infinite Atonement. Granted, this latter doctrine is much more pertinent to our happiness and well-being on Earth, and I would suggest spending more time studying it than studying mass generation via interaction with the Higgs field, but still, it’s all part of the same great whole. Science and religion aren’t just friends—they’re siblings.
As with all good siblings, however, science and religion aren’t without their fights. To a certain extent, substantive quarreling between science and religion is a good thing. It shows people are actually thinking about these two topics together, which is where they belong. Unfortunately, the thinking often seems to stop right after it begins, giving way to the usual habit of reciprocal ridicule. This is a pity, since it would take nothing more than a little humility and patience from both parties to get around this—we must simply acknowledge that we are nowhere near having a complete understanding of God or the universe, and until we do, things may not appear to fit together so nicely.
We would do well to learn some lessons from our own history. In 1820, itinerant preachers were teaching that God had no need to speak to mankind anymore. Enter Joseph Smith and the First Vision. In 1900, Lord Kelvin, one of the foremost physicists of the 19th Century, proclaimed, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Enter Max Planck and the quantization of energy, the spark that ignited the quantum revolution. Hubris of this nature is foolish and dangerous on both sides. The truth is, we have a lot to learn about both God and this universe we find ourselves in; meanwhile, we get to look at our half-finished jigsaw puzzle and excitedly anticipate the breathtaking perfection with which it will all come together. In that moment, we will realize that neither faith nor science could ever be complete without the other.
In a brief series of which this is the first post, I will introduce and attempt to discuss possible means of reconciling some of the major points of contention between modern-day physics and commonly held LDS beliefs. On the menu are the apparent paradox between instantaneous communication with God and the theory of special relativity, the physical substance of spirit, quantum mechanics and free will, and much more.
Feel free to suggest other topics in the comments.
DISCLAIMER: I am merely a physicist in training, and my research will not always qualify me to authoritatively discuss some of the topics that may be introduced in these posts. In other words, don’t take my speculation too seriously!