Faithful Science

Jared*, of LDS Science Review fame, stops by to visit for a couple of weeks. Welcome Jared*!

Thanks to the BCC folks for inviting me to contribute as a guest for a couple of weeks. I was born and raised in the Church, served a mission in the U.S., graduated from BYU, completed a Ph.D. in microbiology, and am now a postdoctoral researcher. Yes, and I have a family too. I spend more time than I should thinking about science and religion, and I record some of my thoughts at LDS Science Review.

Although I have almost certainly read more about LDS history than the average American Mormon, I am by no means a historian and I do not keep close tabs on academic debates over Church history. However, I have read enough to know that there is a running discussion–decades long–about how historians should tell the history of the Church. My understanding is that so-called ‘faithful history’ has emerged as a kind of compromise position for historians who wish to remain members in good standing, not raise the ire of Church headquarters, and maintain readers among believing Latter-day Saints. This approach aims to lay out all pertinent facts and arguments without challenging the authenticity of the foundational miracles of the Church or its divine guidance and authority. It is ‘warts and all’ history that is ultimately faith affirming. In a recent FARMS Review essay, Richard Sherlock argued that the ‘faithful history’ concept should be applied to science. After drawing the connection he wrote:

“If one accepts God as part of the reality of the cosmos, why should one ignore that in studying order in nature?… Why should a believing scientist ignore God as an explanation for the uniformity in nature? Divine design is, I believe, the best ground for accepting the framework within which they carry on their studies—that is, the commitment to the order and uniformity in nature. For believers, God is as much a part of reality as is gravity or the electromagnetic spectrum. If so, then why should believing scientists hold that gravity is an acceptable explanation for some phenomena but divine action is not? I do not think a sound argument can be given for omitting God’s action.”

I have trouble imagining what ‘faithful science’ would look like and how it would be useful. Presumably scientific research would continue unchanged; after all, it ought to transcend religious affiliation (if any), and papers invoking God to explain unknowns would be dead on arrival. In an LDS context, since the Church is not in the business of funding scientific research, and average Church members are not the primary consumers of scientific information, LDS scientists have to play by secular rules in their professional lives. Certainly they are entitled to their opinions and each may choose to relate science and religion in whatever fashion they wish, but ultimately religious beliefs necessarily reach beyond science. Is faithful science, then, simply the language LDS scientists should use when addressing other Church members–framing scientific findings in a faith-affirming way?

But if the Church did fund scientific research, how would faithful science differ from secular science? Would practitioners of faithful science reach different conclusions regarding the basic veracity of: the Big Bang, how long death has been on the earth, evolution–especially common descent and its inclusion of humans, the African origin of our species, geology and the lack of evidence for a global flood, or the Asian origin of Native Americans? Perhaps we could draw a distinction between faithful science and faithful scientists.

Science is a human activity and is not practiced in a vacuum devoid of human creativity, fallibility, and bias. Nevertheless, the ideal of science is to directly investigate nature to find out what she has to say for herself, without interference from priests and politicians. ‘Faithful science’, it seems to me, would undermine what makes science special.


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    If this is a threadjack, feel free to ignore me, but I wonder if faithful science might involve choices such as choosing to look for cures for tropical diseases instead of trying to find the next Viagra or Botox.

  2. Is Sherlock’s argument, then, that everything should always be assumed to be God’s action? Mormonism has traditionally taken the position that God is constrained by some universal laws, just as we are. Within that framework, it seems to me that there’s no general basis for assuming that physical regularities are God’s work — rather than a constraint on God’s work.

    From my perspective, I’m much more interested in having scientists tell me what is known about how the world works than in having them worry about my theological sensibilities. Most science doesn’t touch theology, anyway, and when the two come in contact, Mormonism says that our religion is whichever perspective captures truth, not the perspective that best fits a given dogma…

    Julie, strangely, your proposal is just what godless, socialist Cuban medical science has been working on for the last few decades. So the commies and the faithful scientists could stand together, shoulder to shoulder, against godless, capitalist science…

    As one of the millions of people alive today worldwide who have almost died of a tropical disease, though, I agree wholeheartedly with your point.

  3. Julie, I believe you are referring to “capitalism,” not “science.” Alas, faithful capitalism may be even more difficult than faithful science . . .

  4. PaulWright says:

    Viagra in a low-concentration solution keeps cut flowers fresh longer, thus useful for something other than boners. Injecting Botox into the lower esophageal sphincter relieves, for a time, the extreme, progressive difficulty swallowing of achalasia patients. So there is the possiblity that what begins as a vanity drug is usefulness in the solving of more serious disease. To a distraught wife of the local impotent High Priest Group leader, though, even Viagra may be a blessing from heaven. But your point about solving tropical diseases is a good one.

  5. Couldn’t one look at the science/engineering professors hired by BYU as a way to quantify what science/engineering research is important to the Church?

    Since they are precluded from accepting some forms of funding (but of course are free to pursue others), is there any subtle form of Church approval in what university-level funding they *do* receive?

  6. To echo Julie’s comment, feel free to ignore extending the threadjack, since I also wonder if there is an application of “faithful science” that would focus not on theological concerns but rather human concerns. I can’t imagine religious belief affecting the basics of the scientific method (since faith is an acceptance of the unprovable and science is the pursuit of proof), but I can imagine and long for the day when “Mormon scientific research” is synonymous with research that seeks to improve the lives of the outcast and diseased and poor and marginalized – kind of doing the work with modern science that Jesus did through His miracles and ministry. In my mind, that would be true Christian science.

  7. I had a wonderful professor at BYU, John Higgins, who frequently commented on his perspective of science and religion (Higgins was a mathematician who taught in the CS department). He relayed to us how a friend once asked him how he could continue to profess belief — how, in light of so many scientific advances that “contradicted” God that he hadn’t lost his faith? His reply, he told us, was that he hadn’t lost his faith in God, but in science.

    He didn’t see any problem exploring the cosmos, exploring evolution, exploring the areas of conflict between “faith” and “science”. In his mind, the deeper you delved into science, the more you understood God. He was disheartened by the viewpoint that God wasn’t in the details science uncovered.

    I never asked him the question directly about “faithful science”, but his answer would have been that any scientific exploration that sought to explain “why?” was valid, as long as we didn’t try to deny the existence of God in our explanation.

    My father was a biology professor who talked about evolution and big bang, etc., and was careful to stress that, in his mind, God was involved in that process. He never saw a disconnect between God and evolution — he saw God as having a hand in how evolution played out.

  8. It may interest you to note that Richard Sherlock is a Transhumanist.

  9. I don’t see Julie’s comments as a threadjack. One dirty little secret is that scientists often don’t appreciate ethical issues getting in the way of funding issues. The problem, of course, is that when practicality is put too high then abstract research gets ignored. (Which is ultimately counterproductive)

    But honestly, do we really need to spend a billion dollars to confirm the latest prediction of the standard model and know the mass of some particle? I don’t know.

    The problem with ethics (of which religion obviously has a lot to say) and science is that it just isn’t clear what to do.

    Most of the research that folks object to (i.e. cosmetics, etc.) are by private enterprise and arguably it’s hard to say much about it. Condemning Revlon for their research is akin to criticizing the small business owner for their market research.

    I guess all that is a long way of saying I think religious science is important in abstract but in practice it’s very, very difficult to decide what on earth it means.

  10. If so, then why should believing scientists hold that gravity is an acceptable explanation for some phenomena but divine action is not?

    The very simple answer to this is that divine action is not predictable, and any phenomena we ascribe to it will then not yield any predictions, useful or otherwise. Not all science is predictive, but most of the pertinent ones are and this is the exact same argument that is and must be made against things like Intelligent Design “theory.”

  11. The thesis that nothing has ever happened except that which is predictable is equivalent to the thesis that nothing has ever happened.

  12. My (intelligent, honorable) dad criticizes the scientific establishment for ignoring God. He has a lot of, shall we say, unscientific beliefs about scientific questions and when I ask him if there is any scientific proof for the things he believes he says there would be if scientists weren’t prejudiced against God and religion. He feels that they have blinded themselves by failing to consider a whole class of possible explanations. I don’t argue with him because I don’t care what he believes about cosmological phenomona or the origin of life and I just don’t want to argue with my dad if it’s not necessary.

    As a peon in the scientific establishment (biology grad student) I think that it’s true that we ignore a whole class of possible explanations for observed phenomena and I think that’s as it should be. As a believer, I don’t see science as the pursuit of all truth, only of truth that can be observed and demonstrated by scientific means. If a proposed explanation can’t be tested it’s useless to a scientist doing scientific work. That doesn’t mean, though, that a scientist can’t believe untestable things, just that those kinds of beliefs cannot figure into their work as scientists. If they did it wouldn’t be science. Just like Dawkins’ atheist screeds are not science.

  13. Jared, I’m looking forward to your posts. By the way, where is your “*”?

    Julie, #1 and Ray, #6: “…look for cures for tropical diseases…” and “…research that seeks to improve the lives of the outcast and diseased and poor and marginalized…”

    The mission statement of the NIH is:

    …science in pursuit of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

    Every grant submission is graded on several citeria, including:

    Significance: Does this study address an important problem?


    Inclusion of women, minorities, and children

    In other words, the publicly-funded biomedical research going on today is pretty much as you hoped for. (I can’t speak for other science—physics, chemistry, etc.)

  14. As to the question of which scientific pursuits we should invest our resources towards, I often find myself questioning the value of a lot of the science we do. I think that alleviating suffering and preventing premature death are worthwhile, valuable pursuits, but I’m ambivalent about stuff like cosmology, theoretical physics, or astrobiology. I’m actually quite ignorant about those fields and I’m guessing that in some roundabout way there is at least a potential for real benefit to mankind from that type of work beyond just our knowing more stuff, but I can think of much more pressing priorities for the resources that we devote to just knowing stuff. Those kinds of pursuits seem like luxuries for a society with a poverty problem.

    Maybe the most concrete benefit to funding that type of work is that it gives evil geniuses something to do, getting their minds off of plotting to take over the world.

  15. Yes, how can FARMS trash good history (Todd Compton’s book), endorse bad science (ID), and still expect to be credible? They are unwittingly forcing a correspondence between “faithful history” (the sort of history FARMS endorses) and “intelligent design” (the sort of science FARMS endorses). Faithful history has enough of a hill to climb without attaching a fundamentalist ball and chain to its leg.

    One of the few strong replies that Latter-day Saints have to secular criticism that lumps Mormons in with Evangelicals/fundamentalists is that the Church does not oppose evolution and that BYU teaches evolution as part of its biology curriculum. Evangelicals are the anti-intellectuals; Mormons encourage their kids to get science degrees and PhD’s. Publishing Sherlock’s article is a step in the wrong direction for FARMS because it links Mormons to the Evangelical ID agenda. Like we need one more problem to deal with.

  16. This is interesting to think about for me, a scientist who believes and dabbles in history. The bottom line is that History is frequently about interpreting data in a non-quantifiable fashion. There are definitely better methodologies than others, but history simply isn’t reproducible. I’m not sure what faithful history is, but if Rough Stone Rolling is an example of it, then it would seem that it is simply the standard methodologies administered by a believer. The result is that you see things that might shock a certain types if believers like dating of the Melchizadek Priesthood restoration.

    If faithful science is the standard methodologies applied by a believer then I have already done that. So far, however, my carbohydrate chemistry has had no implications for the Faith. Still, like Bushman, perhaps there would be things like evolution that would be promoted by the faithful scientists that might be upsetting to certain types of believers, but in the end, as RT said, truth will prevail.

  17. …oh and amen to what Dave said.

  18. Julie: Great point, though cures for most tropical diseases already exist. While I agree that more research would be beneficial, what is really needed is to apply what we already know in an efficient way.

  19. I posted this last night, and now I’m off to work. I’m sorry I can’t tend the comments through the day, but I’ll check in tonight. I see good comments already.

  20. Dave,

    I think the fundamentalist anti-evolution trend among some evangelicals is inevitable. Anecdotally speaking from the few evangelicals I’ve talked to, they seem to view faith as something that you primarily prove by reason (not solely proven, but primarily). They feel that they have viewed the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, the Old Testament, the Pauline Epistles, etc. and that the evidence establishes the truth of these spiritual items.

    As a result, when you challenge, say, the account of the Great Flood, with scientific data, it tends to be much more faith-threatening. Indeed, it undermines the very basis of their faith. Many Mormons, by contrast, have already made a distinction between scientific and spiritual matters, and what goes on in the realm of science is interesting, but not ultimately dispositive.

  21. John Mansfield says:

    Faithful science is the sort that doesn’t become idolatry. (Sunday’s priesthood lesson is still on my mind.) I don’t remember the numbers, and don’t feel like looking them up, but you may recall the recent study showing that something like two-thirds of working scientists believe in God while only a fifth of the members of the National Academy of Science are believers. This doesn’t surprise me; world-class scientists devote an enormous portion of their lives to their work. I strongly suspect that Fortune 500 CEOs are also more likely to be Ted Turner-style atheists than are average businessmen.

    For faithful science, I like Galileo’s essays. He’s something of a poster child for the anti-religious because of his conflicts with the Catholic Church, but I think few of them have ever read him. The man couldn’t write two pages without mentioning God somewhere.

  22. John Mansfield says:

    Concerning Viagra, I suggest reading the press release for the 1998 Nobel Medicine Prize for a quick primer on why research on nitric oxide’s role in the cardiovascular system was worthwhile. For those concerned about tropical diseases, apparently white blood cells use nitric oxide to kill bacteria, fungi, and parasites.

  23. Questions... says:

    I have been immersed in the sciences for essentially my whole life. The following statement may be a tad over the top, but to make a point: to me, the term “faithful science” may be even more of an oxymoron than “faithful history.” The essential core of scientific inquiry is that conclusions are drawn based on the data, not the biases, prejudices or beliefs of those conducting the research. If the starting point of your research already includes certain unchallengeable positions then you are not in the field of science.

    There is an extensive literature on the general topic of science and religion (see Michael Schermer, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Paul Kurtz, etc.) which addresses these areas quite articulately. As one poster indicated above, Intelligent Design is very bad science (or actually not science at all), and is also dealt with in the writings of these and other authors. Richard Sherlock would hopefully benefit from reading and understanding this literature.

    Now this is not saying that a scientist doing legitimate research cannot hold his or her own personal religious beliefs, but the moment those unchallengeable beliefs enter into their research methodology, it ceases to be genuine science.

  24. I agree with J. (Stapley) here.

    Julie may be right as well, that our religion may dictate somewhat what we use our scientific abilities for, However much of science is research for learnings sake, much like history. When we put too much of a final goal in the way of the study, it biases our conclusions. Perhaps All Faithful science has to offer is the same that faithful history has to offer, it begins and ends with the bias or belief in place that the Church and Gospel are true.

    Lastly, I think FARMS criticized Compton primarily on the grounds that he felt polygamy was “not from God” and “not acceptable”. The Church position is different that this, and FARMS took the church position. Other than that, I felt Farms had nice things to say about Compton’s research. But it’s been years since I read the review. I also am not sure FARMS is all Pro-ID. I know Daniel Peterson has made statements against it in the review in the past. Anyway, I think a problem is that any sort of view of God within science, whether it is Francis Collins or Alister McGrath, all gets lumped into the ID label, which isn’t really fair.

  25. Hi Jared,

    I was raised by an LDS father that essentially followed the same career path that you indicate above. His PHD is in Bio-chemistry though

    PHD then post doc research and then the private sector developing drugs. He went private sector for a couple of reasons. I still remember him trying to decide between 3M and the U of Michigan as a small child

    1. He had 4 kids when he was done with school and needed the $$

    2. Did not want to chase research grants

    In our house we talked about science all the time. Debated evolution extensively and came to no conclusion. Wore mad scientist costumes on Halloween etc. Apparently my old man sees no conflict between science and religion.

    He seems to occupy a middle ground between those religious people who distrust scientists and the athiest types who regard religious people as nutcases.

    That middle ground is probably in my view a good place to be on this topic. Its also were I find the church to be as well.

  26. John Mansfield, great example of using Galileo as a type of believer doing real science. The man was a fervent believer who ran into trouble with the Catholic Church because of dogma’s that did not allow for the honest pursuit of scientific knowledge. I’m paraphrasing out of context, but one of his better quotes goes something like this:

    “Religion tells how one goes to Heaven, not how Heaven goes.”

    Reading “Galileo’s Daughter” by Sobel gives you a pretty good picture of Galileo’s efforts to remain a faithful Catholic, and also an honest scientist.

    As faithful believers, we don’t have to suspend our observations of the world around us. Our faith should help us to be more honest and ethical in that secular world, but shouldn’t require us to embrace shoddy science in the name of faith.

    (Disclaimer: I’m a liberal arts graduate, which qualified me to live at home. My formal science training is limited and suspect, but I’ve had a lot of experience in the technical side of computers and networks, where verifiable results and a disciplined investigative approach to troubleshooting is an important tool for me.)

  27. John Mansfield says:

    Big Bang theory is an interesting case to look at when contemplating whether faithful science is a meaningful concept. The theory was first conceived by a Belgian mathematical physicist and Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre. He called it the Primeval Atom or “the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of creation.” Fred Hoyle stuck the theory with the disparaging label “Big Bang.” Fred Hoyle was a great scientist who developed the first theory of stellar nucleosynthesis (explaining how a universe of hydrogen would come to have elements heavier than helium). He was also an atheist who considered cosmic beginnings to be the stuff of myth. Hoyle wasn’t alone. “Most scientists who read Lemaitre’s paper accepted that the universe was expanding, at least in the present era, but they resisted the implication that the universe had a beginning. They were used to the idea that time had gone on forever. […] Eddington himself wrote in the English journal Nature that the notion of a beginning of the world was ‘repugnant.'” (Read more here.)

    It doesn’t seem that Lemaitre’s faith led to his theory, but it does seem that suspicion of his faith held back others from accepting the theory for a time. On the other hand, a remarkable new theory like Lemaitre’s should be met with skepticism, and Hoyle’s “faith” that there is no creation motivated him to propose alternatives to the Big Bang for the rest of his life. That was a good thing for science. Competing theories that turn out to wrong are a component of good science. A wrong theory is not the same thing as a bad theory.

  28. Mormons generally reject mysticism, we see natural laws as the manner in which this more coarse matter (“elements” per D&C 93) is regulated. We see these natural laws as something that are not subject to caprice or whim (now whether they are independent of God or created by Him is not the matter at hand), so studying these laws is not a matter of questioning God’s existence, it is a matter of discovering what He already knows.

    The problem with Science is not a problem in and of itself, the problem is that atheists try to use science as a foil to attack theism. They try to develop arguments and rationales that undermine faith by presenting options other than God to explain human origin, behavior and so on. If we think this is wrong-headed, then trying the opposite is equally wrong-headed.

    I think I would characterize faithful science as what is described in 2 Ne. 9:28-29. It doesnt matter how much we know, we still are pretty stupid compared to God, and what we really need is humility. Atheists who use science to attack theism pretty consistently do it on the grounds of being smarter, more educated, more enlightened than us stupid, ignorant, naive theists. Being a faithful scientist means you can study your science without losing your faith, and doesnt that mean you dont get so full of how clever you are and all you have accomplished to walk away from God?

  29. John Mansfield says:

    Also, the current multi-universe ideas seem like Fred Hoyle all over again. These are the theories that try to get around the puzzle of the physical constants being “just right” by positing that ours is just one universe out of a multitude, each with some variation of the physical constants.

  30. bbell, your experience mirrors my own. My dad (microbiologist) didn’t want to chase grants either, and ultimately LOVED teaching and wanted to teach. We were immersed in the idea, from little babies, that there wasn’t anything incongruent about science and faith. You could have one with another, but you’d better be careful about what statement you were asking.

    For Dad, science is “What is happening here? What are the observable and physical processes that govern this action?” Faith was the explanation as to why it mattered. (See my comment in #7 on how he justified evolution in the Church.)

    The problem with FARMS and science is that there aren’t any real scientists there (at least in Dad’s eyes). He’s expressed that maybe there should be a different organization to approach science from an LDS perspective, one that doesn’t come with a FARMS label, and one populated with scientists, not theologians.

  31. Hmm . . . it looks like pingbacks may not be working. I posted some comments in response to this on my blog, here:

  32. Hey queno,

    Did your father do the following?

    Anytime one of his kids learned something new and told him about it he expressed disbelief and asked for a source for the new knowledge? Kinda like the bloggernaccle.

    It used to make us nuts as kids and even more nuts as adults.

    My old man is a big fan of Henry Eyring. That is the role model that he aspired to as a faithful scientist

  33. Questions... says:

    Extreme Doritos (#27) said:

    “The problem with Science is not a problem in and of itself, the problem is that atheists try to use science as a foil to attack theism.”

    This is certainly the case with many individuals writing on this subject (e.g. Richard Dawkins), and I agree that there is plenty of close-mindedness in these circles. But legitimate problems do arise when Religion makes claims about how the physical/natural world actually works. A good example of this would be the Catholic Church affirming a geocentric universe in Galileo’s time. Advances in scientific understanding basically invalidated the Religious claim about the world.

    In our day, a good example might be evolution, which you touch on when you say:

    “They try to develop arguments and rationales that undermine faith by presenting options other than God to explain human origin, behavior and so on.”

    To me, human origin is a very legitimate area for scientific inquiry, and mountains of evidence supporting evolution as a valid explanation for human origin have been uncovered. And modern day neuroscience and neurophysiology, along with the traditional fields of psychology and psychiatry, are starting to unravel matters of behavior and consciousness (although there is quite a long way to go here!).

    Such inquiries do not inherently undermine or attack religious faith, although some individuals will interpret and use these data for this purpose. But it seems that the pattern over time is that science enables us to explain various phenomena that were previously seen as the Divine acting in our world (the so-called “God of the gaps”). In an attempt to honor both sides, Stephen Jay Gould speaks of “Non Overlapping Magisteria” where both religion and science each stay on their side, thus avoiding conflict. Many, including me, have some issues with this, but it can be a useful way to approach this complex issue.

    Personally, I am quite interested in current and future research in the scientific understanding of consciousness, including the various altered mind states associated with spiritual/religious/mystical experience. Where this will lead, and what implications it will have for our current concepts of “God,” who knows – but I am fascinated by the possibilities.

  34. To echo Questions’ comment, religion’s problems come into sharp focus whenever scientific discovery disproves what religion teaches as it extrapolates theological doctrines and delves into science – when religion moves from the “why” to the “what” or “how”. With a foundation concept of continuing revelation and the light of Christ illuminating all humanity, and a rejection of prophetic infallibility, it should be much easier for Mormon scientists to avoid this problem (constraints of current doctrine) – thus practicing science that is faithful to the ideal of science, by leaving the theological speculation to the theologians.

    What I find fascinating is our natural tendency to want our religious leaders to cross over into the scientific realm and speculate on things outside of the “why” – then complain about it when they do and are wrong. For example, not to create a threadjack (please), but we complain when they postulate about the cause of homosexuality, then we complain when they publish a pamphlet that rejects previous supposition and does not provide new supposition – and say that they should have done so. We complain when they publish an official statement about evolution (even though it is very progressive for that day), then we complain when they don’t update it almost 100 years later – even though an update would require them to delve into science and wouldn’t necessarily change anything they said previously.

    Faithful religion, IMO, would leave science to the scientists – and not fight scientific proof when it arises; faithful science would leave religion to the religionists – and not claim to be able to answer what it can’t yet answer. Faithful scientists could hold strong religious convictions, but those convictions would not color their research conclusions. (There are easy examples, but I really don’t want to turn this into a tired threadjack.) Suffice it to say that when incontrovertible or overwhelming evidence is ignored because it conflicts with religious belief, THAT is unfaithful science.

  35. Questions... says:


    In reading your comment, I was reminded of a statement from the Dalai Lama, which I find to express a refreshingly open and honest attitude (which I sorely miss in the current church, unfortunately):

    “If science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understanding, Buddhism must change accordingly.”

  36. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    We cannot avoid doing “faithful science”. Everything we do is based on faith. The question is, what things do we exercise faith in? And are we really talking about faith, or just giving up the search for further understanding and calling it faith (a kind of “God of the gaps” approach)?

    Lincoln Cannon has some interesting thoughts on what “faithful science” from an LDS perspective might look like:

  37. “Questions”, I think there are plenty of scientists who adopt what you are desparagingly calling faith. That’s why there’s that old joke about old theories not dying, just the physicists holding them die off. I think if you look at the transition from classical physics to modern physics in the 20’s through 50’s there’s a lot of truth to that.

    Ditto today when you look at the current battles in physics over weak anthropic reasoning and the multiverse. Most of the debate has little to do with “facts” and a lot to do with biases. And it gets very heated.

    Whenever you have in science theories that can’t easily be adjudicated by a quick empirical “look” then you have the same issues that go on in religion. (IMO)

    Dave, like others, I don’t recall FARMS being that negative towards Compton. I’d have to reread the reviews again, but as I recall they tended to focus down on fairly narrow points of disagreement while agreeing with the majority of the text. Indeed, as I recall, Compton even tried to publish the book through FARMS but obviously he feeling that polygamy was never inspired was going to interrupt that.

    To everyone, despite the highly unfortunate pro-ID essay in last year’s FARMS publication, I think by and large FARMs is extremely pro-science. In fact if you recall that Sunstone essay on apologetics from last year the author characterized FARMS as attempting to understand religion from a basic scientific stance. (Oddly the author saw this as negative – seeing faith and science as separate) The whole way FARMS reads the Book of Mormon is to accept everything science says and then start looking at what avenues this leaves faith to go. (Thus the LGT model, for instance)

  38. Queuno, if by “real scientist” you mean someone in the hard sciences (and well include the more chemistry oriented aspects of biology in that) then haven’t some of the folks writing on the DNA issue been “hard scientists”? Now admittedly most aren’t, since the main topics of discussion there are history, geography, linguistics, archaeology, and so forth. All at best soft sciences and probably most better characterized as the humanities.

    However if there was a physicist associated with FARMS I’m not sure what they’d be doing there…

  39. Questions... says:


    “I think there are plenty of scientists who adopt what you are desparagingly calling faith.”

    I’m not sure how you got the impression that I was trying to disparage scientists having their own personal faith, but that was definitely not my intent. In fact, I have conscientiously tried to avoid that, and if I wasn’t careful enough, please accept my apology.

    I did express my opinion that if faith (which typically includes various unchallengeable positions) is brought into actual scientific research and methodology, then it would no longer qualify as genuine scientific inquiry, virtually by definition.

    And I agree that whenever science is really at the edge or frontier of inquiry into very fundamental matters about the universe, that there is confusion, often with emotional debate, ego-invested positions, etc. But once the dust settles, the matter will be decided on the basis of the evidence, regardless of the human frailties of the researchers involved in the initial fray. That is the virtue of the scientific method.

  40. I’ve enjoyed the comments thus far. I don’t have much to add, and anyway I don’t want to wear out potential post material, but here are a few more thoughts:

    1. I think that the multiverse concept could be both a blessing and a curse for Mormons, as I’ve discussed previously.

    2. The way Timothy Ferris tells it in Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Galileo brought many of his problems on himself by vocally insisting that church and scripture conform to his view of the solar system–a view that he had not actually proven. It was his agitation that caused him problems more than the science itself.

    I have yet to read Galileo’s Daughter–it’s on my bookshelf, I just haven’t gotten to it.

  41. BrianJ,

    Thanks for noticing that I was missing my accessory. I’ve added it. Gotta distinguish myself from impostor Jareds, you know.

  42. Jared,

    How often do scientists disagree among themselves? And how can we account for that? As a non-scientist, I always feel a little like a child when I hear the phrase “Science tells us….”. Is it really that open and shut? I have a hard time imagining that there aren’t a lot of messy arguments. People might be able to duplicate lab results, but those results don’t interpret themselves.

  43. Gid R. Dunn says:


    Generally speaking, the scientific community is not an adversarial one so to speak, with a tit for tat exchange on every new finding. Credible research will have been reviewed by recognized peers in the field who will then endorse and publish the study. Acutal data findings and methodology are reported in such a way that they would be transparent to bias and reproducible.

    “Discussion” can really only take place once a credible methodology and data set have been established, because the funding and time constraints don’t usually allow for the white coat next door to reproduce the study just to double-check.

    Following publication you might find professors X, Y, from University Z writing a letter to the editor of the journal to take issue with the conclusions of the study. They might cite their own findings or other documented precedent. A month or two later, the researcher will draft a response to the letters regarding his or her study. This process usually plays out in the journal of original publication, so that the specific scientific community observes the discussion.

    It’s an oblique process that rarely proves anything outright and beyond a doubt. Someone might find funding from the industry or an interest group to directly refute existing original research, but that carries it’s own set of biases.

  44. “Question”, I guess that’s what I’m disputing: the idea that folks with strong opinions that can’t fully be satisfied by facts aren’t doing science. I think they are. But this quickly and swiftly gets into matters from the philosophy of science and the fact/theory distinction. (Which I think is a crock – I think “facts” are just theories we trust more) In any case, my ultimate point was just to show from the history of science that this is the norm.

    We simply don’t notice it in other areas beyond cutting edge theoretical science because it’s easy to adjudicate theories.

  45. Mark IV,

    There is no denying that science has a social component–complete with fads and populars–and scientists disagree all the time. Some disagreements take decades to hammer out. There are various reasons for disagreements. Sometimes the data can be interpreted in more than one way, sometimes there is conflicting data, someone may find an idea outlandish (or has staked out a different position) and is just not convinced yet.

    It is important to take the long view to see what has held up under scrutiny. Unless you are an expert yourself, distinguishing between demonstrated facts and hyperbole can be difficult, if not impossible. If you are really interested in a topic, getting a hold of a good textbook or two is a good way to go. They usually focus on the solid stuff and treat the less firm material with appropriate qualifiers. Having said that, we don’t know what we don’t know.

  46. “…we don’t know what we don’t know.”\

    That would be an interesting article of faith in a religious context. It seems reminiscient of (but substantially more radical than) “and that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

  47. Dave (#14) re: “the Church does not oppose evolution”.

    Granted, the Church doesn’t oppose evolution the same way it opposes other things (spouse and child abuse, for example). Avowed evolutionists give service in temples and other priesthood callings.

    On the other hand, there hasn’t been a single Church published endorsement of evolution by any of the most recent six Church presidents and thirty one apostles.

    Pew Forum recently asked whether the Church has an official position on Darwinian evolution. Representing the Church, Russell M. Nelson answered:

    “We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life…. Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys.”

    “We” is plural. If Elder Nelson is authorized to speak for the Church, the Church opposes evolution.

  48. He isn’t, R. Gary, and it doesn’t.

  49. Daniel C. Peterson says:

    Dave’s assertions notwithstanding, FARMS has neither trashed Todd Compton nor endorsed Intelligent Design.

  50. Actually Ray, R.’s post says exactly that, though I would like additional info on the post.
    “Representing the Church, Russell M. Nelson answered”

  51. The link to the entire article:
    And since Elder Nelson was accompanied in the interview by the Church’s general counsel might the general counsel have put a disclaimer on Elder Holland’s statement if he did not “speak for the church”?

  52. Ray,

    When I published my article about the Pew Forum interview, it was Dave’s “Post of the Day.” The note at DMI said this:

    You Knew It Was Coming …
    [5-23] NDBF Gary does an online jig, welcoming Elder Russell M. Nelson into the NDBF Club. I thought that the passing of Elder McConkie would allow [the] Church to move forward on evolution, but I am obviously mistaken. This is becoming a serious problem.

    Dave is fully aware that the “Church” is not moving away from Bruce R. McConkie et al. on evolution.

  53. Along with Mark’s question:

    My (high school) understanding of the scientific process is that a scientist develops a hypothesis, than sets out to prove the hypothesis through observation. Isn’t there a significant chance that the assumptions of the hypothesis will shape the nature of the observations, or the analysis of the data produced?

  54. Dr. Peterson has discussed intelligent design in several articles:

    The Witchcraft Paradigm

    Doubting the Doubters

  55. On May 20th, on this site, there was a LONG discussion of evolution relative to Elder Nelson’s quote – the full quote BTW. 9 weeks ago, there Friday Firestorm #2 addressed the 1909 Official Statement on evolution.

    R. Gary: I hope your selective quoting was an unintentional distortion of the quote. My thoughts are contained in the two threads mentioned above. I’m not going to go through all of that again here.

  56. I probably should add this, just for anyone who wants to get a taste of what I meant by unintentional distortion:

    Nelson: We have this doctrine, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101: “When the Lord shall come again, he shall reveal all things, things which have passed, hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth by which it was made and the purpose and the end thereof, things most precious, things that are above, things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, upon the earth, and in heaven.” So as I close that quotation, I realize that there are just some things that we won’t know until that day.

    Ringing rejection? I think not.

  57. The last sentence was mine.

  58. R. Gary,
    I don’t plan on arguing evolution with you; I’ve made my views clear elsewhere. But this argument is a bad argument:

    On the other hand, there hasn’t been a single Church published endorsement of evolution by any of the most recent six Church presidents and thirty one apostles.

    There also hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, been a “church published endorsement” of jazz music in a long time. In the early 20th century, however, there was plenty of condemnation of jazz (in the Church and out) as being primitive and sinful. (For evidence, see Michael Hicks’ Music and Mormonism; I can’t cite any better than that, because my copy is both at home and sealed in a moving box in anticipation of an impending move.) In spite of Church leaders’ former antipathy toward jazz, and the lack of any statement reversing that, I doubt jazz falls within the realm of church-disapproved music. I don’t see why the fact that the Church hasn’t formally embraced evolution (wisely, in my opinion: I thought the whole Galileo debacle set a pretty strong precedent for churches to avoid explicitly embracing a scientific theory as capital-T Truth) even implies that the Church disapproves of, or disagrees with, evolution. In fact, the Church is pretty good at explicitly stating what it disagrees with (see, for example, same-sex marriage or its opposition in Utah to a flat tax).

  59. And, lest I be accused of frivolity for bringing up jazz, the early 20th-century statements (IIRC) suggested that listening to jazz had severely negative salvific potential.

  60. Al Jolsen really was the devil, I guess. Thanks for putting me on the true path Sam. (Apologies to Al Jolsen, I too, love to “Sing-A, about the moon-a, and the June-a, and the spring-a”)

    In a shameless plug of self-promotion, anyone interested in the possibility of Evolution and No Death Before the Fall working together can discuss such here.

  61. Norbert–That can be a distinct problem in science–you sometimes do bias your results through your experimental design. You’re really supposed to try and disprove your hypothesis, not prove it though, and you should always have negative controls at least to confirm that you’ve done the experiment right.

    Jared*–I agree with your last sentence that “faithful science” would ruin science. I have my faith, but I keep it as independent of my work as possible, and I find that’s true of most scientists. It’s nearly impossible to tell who is a practicing member of a religion or not unless you get into a conversation about religion.

    I’m not sure this article in American Scientist is entirely relevant to this discussion, but I found it interesting. Turns out most scientists who study evolution (and responded the the questionnaire) don’t believe in a God/other supernatural being. Instead, they see religion as a part of human evolution.

  62. Ray,

    Saying there are some things we don’t know wasn’t intended by him to negate his declaration that

    “We believe … Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys.”

    Sam B.,

    In the face of current and persistent apostolic comdemnation of evolution, it is your argument that fails.

  63. If the Church thinks it’s important that the membership not believe evolution, it’s doing a terrible job of getting that message out. And it’s shooting itself in the foot by supporting the teaching of evolution as fact in the College of Biology and Agriculture at BYU. The Church has been complicit in the convincing of many thousands of people to believe evolution. That doesn’t sound like institutional opposition to me.

  64. Tom,

    The paragraphs below are from the Old Testament Student Study Guide (English approval October 2002, p. 12).  This manual is used every four years by another 200,000 seminary students.

    Some people believe that the earth was created by chance and that mankind came about by the accidental combining of the right elements over millions of years. In response, one writer said:

    “When you can dump a load of bricks on a corner lot, and let me watch them arrange themselves into a house—when you can empty a handful of springs and wheels and screws on my desk, and let me see them gather themselves into a watch—it will [then] be easier for me to believe that all these thousands of worlds could have been created, balanced, and set in motion in their several orbits, all without any designing intelligence at all.

    “Moreover, if there is no intelligence in the universe, then the universe created something greater than itself—for it created you and me” (Bruce Barton in E. Ernest Bramwell, comp. Old Testament Lessons [1934 seminary course], 4).

    That sounds like institutional opposition to me.

  65. By the way, Tom, BYU is not the “Church.”

  66. I know BYU isn’t the Church, but it is supported and sustained by the Church and it is by no means independent of the Church. The Church could dictate that evolution be taught as a questionable theory and not as fact. But it doesn’t. The Church isn’t fully responsible for evolution being taught as fact at BYU, but it is complicit, and I would wager knowingly so.

  67. R. Gary, if the church were truly opposed to the concept of evolution, I think they could have done a much more effective job at making it known in an unambiguous way. As it stands, your position is not rock-solid, as others have repeatedly said. The very fact that we are engaging in this debate is proof that the question is open.

  68. BYU biology students are learning the science of biology. That prepares them for the job market. But, I would wager that BYU biology textbooks are not Church “approved” and Church “published” as is the Old Testament Student Study Guide (English approval October 2002).

    The difference between biology and religion classes at BYU is the same as the difference between public school science classes and seminary at the high school level.

  69. I didn’t see anything in the text you provided from the OTSSG that even mentions Evolution. It seems to be denouncing only Godless creation. Unless you can indefatigably show evolution is and must always be Godless creation, I’d say you are on thin ice.

  70. R. Gary,

    In the face of current and persistent apostolic comdemnation of evolution, it is your argument that fails.

    Maybe it would, if you could point to condemnation of evolution by the Brethern currently, rather than associating the reading of a sentence from Joseph F. Smith’s works in conference, and taking statements out of context. I will grant you that various prophets and apostles taught that evolution didn’t happen. I would be unsurprised if there are still some who believe it didn’t happen. The thing is, they don’t teach that anymore. You are wrong, as is your right to be. That you are wrong about evolution doesn’t at all imperil your salvation, any more than my listening to Charlie Parker imperils mine. There are other things that may imperil your salvation and mine, but evolution is not one of them.

    As for me, I’m done. I demonstrated that your criterion was inapt by analogy, and you haven’t refuted, or even attempted to refute, that.

  71. The difference between biology and religion classes at BYU is the same as the difference between public school science classes and seminary at the high school level.

    Not at all. The Church cannot dictate what is taught in public school science classes. In contrast, the Church can dictate what is taught in BYU science classes.

    Preparing students for careers in the sciences would be a flimsy justification for teaching them heresy as fact.

  72. How is it that nearly any discussion of religion and science ends up on a debate about evolution?

  73. Clark, ha! I was thinking the same thing — I guess it’s just the most topical and obvious friction point.

  74. Clark: If we talked about where religion and science met on the field of computer science, we’d all be discussing the Jedi Last supper on the side bad… I mean, seriously, Luke should be wearing a glove on one of those hands…

  75. R.Gary, I have noticed that none of the so-called “evolution believers” will address the “man, dog, monkey” quote by Elder Nelson. They may have addressed the statement in previous threads, but interesting nonetheless.

  76. Left Field says:

    Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys.

    If this was intended to be a condemnation of biological evolution, it missed the mark by a mile. The statement is completely compatable with evolution. But then, the statement is vacuous enough (due to the tautology) that it might be compatable with just about anything.

    Nothing that could be called a “dog” existed before its lineage split from its nearest non-dog relatives. Or, as Elder Nelson so eloquently put it, “Dogs have always been dogs.”

    Likewise, nothing that could be called “baseball” existed before the game developed from the older game called rounders. Or, as Elder Nelson might say, baseball has always been baseball.”

    If he wants to claim that baseball didn’t evolve from rounders, but was invented in Cooperstown by Abner Doubleday, he’ll have to do better than to point out that the game of baseball has always had a differnt name than the game of rounders.

  77. Brian (#76) wrote

    I notices that none of the so-called “evolution believers” will address the “man, dog, monkey” quote by Elder Nelson.

    I’ll address the quote:

    Elder Nelson says that “to me” evolution is incomprehensible. I’m sure that is a true statement. But I think that his opinion, as I understand it, is wrong.

  78. R. Gary wrote:

    If Elder Nelson is authorized to speak for the Church, the Church opposes evolution.

    Let me challenge the fundamental assumption here. Do authoratative-sounding statements from senior church leaders necessarily always represent inspired church doctrine?

    I believe that this cannot be the case. There are too many examples of disagreements and contradictions among authoratative-sounding statements from general authorities, especially on mundane issues that are preripheral to the gospel.

    You cannot always line up a series of statements by church leaders and then claim that you know the mind of God on a certain topic. If so, then you have ironclad proof that the civil rights movement was a tool of communism . . .

    It would seem that there are some topics, especially those peripheral to the gospel, where God has not clearly revealed his will. Leaders have their own personal opinions, and sometimes they publicly state those opinions. I am not duty bound to accept those opinions or explain them.

  79. Brian (#51) wrote:

    And since Elder Nelson was accompanied in the interview by the Church’s general counsel might the general counsel have put a disclaimer on Elder Holland’s statement if he did not “speak for the church”?

    I hope we’re not looking to the church’s general counsel to determine official church doctrine.

  80. “Speaking for the Church” was an editorial comment; it didn’t come from either brother’s mouth. Elder Nelson himself, as well as “the Church’s general counsel” BOTH said it wasn’t the Church’s official position. Read the actual full quote people, at least enough to know the names of those involved, and drop this stupid argument. I won’t debate evolution further, but I will point out how absurd it is to claim that Elder Nelson’s opinion is Church doctrine when he himself said it wasn’t.

  81. Don’t everybody wear yourselves out at once. I’ve got another another week an a half to go here–and evolution is going to come up again–probably at least twice.

    On the other hand, maybe I should encourage people to get the food fight over the Church’s position out of their system.

  82. Yeah, it’s sad when a real chance for a feast inevitably turns into a food fight. Sorry, Jared, if I contributed. All I was trying to do was stop the fight, but I obviously contributed to it.

  83. Matt W. (#70) said:

    “I didn’t see anything in the text you provided from the OTSSG that even mentions Evolution.”

    Did you notice that the text contains a direct reference to the watchmaker analogy? Here are two items of interest about the watchmaker analogy.


    “The most famous statement of … the watchmaker analogy was given by William Paley in 1802. Paley’s argument was seriously challenged by Charles Darwin’s formulation of the theory of natural selection.” (Wikipedia, sv watchmaker analogy)


    Spencer W. Kimball was Church President when he used the watchmaker analogy in a “First Presidency Message”:

    “The watchmaker in Switzerland, with materials at hand, made the watch that was found in the sand in a California desert. The people who found the watch had never been to Switzerland, nor seen the watchmaker, nor seen the watch made. The watchmaker still existed, no matter the extent of their ignorance or experience. If the watch had a tongue, it might even lie and say, ‘ There is no watchmaker.’ That would not alter the truth….

    “The Gods organized the earth of materials at hand, over which they had control and power. This truth is absolute. A million educated folk might speculate and determine in their minds that the earth came into being by chance. The truth remains. The earth was made by the Gods as was the watch by the watchmaker. Opinions do not change that.”

  84. LDS seminary students are taught in the Old Testament Student Study Guide to believe in a “watchmaker,” not an “evolution of the watch guidance counselor” who only occasionally intervenes in the process. The result is, as Elaine Jarvik explained in a 2005 Deseret News article:

    “Utah students often don’t believe what they’ve been taught [by biology teachers] anyway, because they’ve learned something different from teachers in LDS Church seminary classes.”

  85. I am getting pulled back in, kicking and screaming.

    R. Gary: Nothing you just quoted denies evolution. It simply says that anything that denies God in the creation is wrong. Defining evolution as denying God is a straw man of the weakest type in this environment.

    Please stop distorting the argument. The exact same article you quote about Utah students says that 64% of Utah citizens SUPPORT teaching evolution in school. If your own references don’t support your arguments, it’s a good idea not to use them.

  86. Ray, your “kicking and screaming” is entertaining. But the average BCC reader will see through it. So carry on.

  87. Jared,

    Let me summarize and paraphrase what I’ve previously said and see if it doesn’t all fit in with your post on “Faithful Science”:

    1. (#47): Scientists of all persuasions give service in temples and other priesthood callings….

    2. (#53): … but the Church is not presently moving away from Bruce R. McConkie et al. on science.

    3a. (#63): There are some things our religion teaches about science and other things about science that our religion doesn’t know or care about.

    3b. (#63); Current apostles continually warn about allowing science to challenge faith.

    4. (#65): Seminary students are inoculated against certain science concepts that challenge faith.

    5. (#66): BYU is not the Church and may therefore teach science uninhibited by matters of religion.

    6. (#69): BYU science textbooks don’t have to be approved or published by the Church.

    7. (#84): President Kimball’s use of the watchmaker analogy is another caution for scientists.

    8. (#85): Because their children attend seminary, most Utahns don’t worry about what is taught in science classes.

    9. (#87): Kicking and screaming is good for its entertainment value only. I’m sorry about that one. It is off topic.

  88. R. Gary:
    So far as I can tell from all your data provided, the watchmaker analogy is still about Godless creation being false, and not evolution. I am interested in why you put “Godless Guidance Counselor” in quotes. Who are you quoting?

    Anyway, one thing is certain, Gordon B. Hinckley signs every Biology degree given at BYU, and every Masters degree in Genetics too…

    Let me put it to you this way. We all know that up until 1978 that the official position of the Church was blacks couldn’t have the priesthood. We all know that blacks not having the priesthood was justified by all kinds of things said about blacks which have now been proven to be folk doctrine. We all know that the official position of not having blacks have the priesthood is embarassing and regrettable.

    I feel an official position of being 100% against evolution is also embarrassing and regrettable. This position is a lot less official than the position of blacks and the priesthood prior to 1978. If that embarrassing and incorrect position can be cleared up with a little sunlight and counsel, it is my good faith that this one will be eventually as well.

  89. Doctrinal Neanderthal says:

    “but the Church is not presently moving away from Bruce R. McConkie et al. on science.”

    Elder McConkie and his father-in-law will be conspicuously absent from the next Old Testament institute manual where evolution, science, etc. tend to be invoked.

  90. Clark, #73, asks, “How is it that nearly any discussion of religion and science ends up on a debate about evolution?

    Answer: because most people don’t appreciate how far-reaching and practical the theory of evolution is.

  91. “Common descent” is practical?

  92. Brian:

    “Common descent” is practical?

    Yes. Incredibly so.

    Practical: “Manifested in or involving practice: practical applications of _________. Capable of or suitable to being used or put into effect; useful.”

    Once again: Yes. Evolution, common descent, etc. are not just talking points….

  93. One can reconcile “common descent” easily with “God created man in His own image”?

  94. Brian–I think I see where we are not communicating. The theory of evolution (and its “daughter” theories) is practical for scientists. This says nothing about its being easily reconciled with scripture (or anything else). The important point is that so much of biology is easily (and extensively) reconciled with evolution. The theory of evolution is the foundation for countless other theories, drives thousands of experiments, is utilized to interpret vast amounts of data, etc.

    I think that people argue against evolution because they do not realize just how foundational it is to biology. Take away evolution and you leave much (I’m trying not to be hyperbolic) biology in total confusion. When one discounts evolution, one is simultaneously arguing against countless other ideas. An argument against evolution is not just an argument against evolution.

  95. Brian (#94)Yes.

  96. Oh, and one more point: the output of science that is driven (either directly or indirectly) by evolutionary theory is also practical for non-scientists, in the form of drug-design, human behavior, medical therapies, etc.

  97. Brian (#94) – That sounds like a very sincere question, so I will address an evolution issue directly – as an exception.

    I believe that “created in His own image” reflects two separate creations: that of the spirit and that of the body. We have absolutely no idea how God accomplished the spiritual creation in the image of God, since all we have scripturally is a statement that intelligences existed prior to spirits. There is nothing in our canon to teach us about the process of being changed from intelligences to spirits. Even though we have no idea how it happened, we believe it happened because our scriptures and prophets teach that it happened. The physical creation of man is more tricky for two reasons: 1) we have accounts that could be either literal or figurative / allegorical; and 2) we have stated interpretations from theologians and scientists that cover thousands of years. We don’t have that body of speculation concerning the creation of the spirit, so we don’t argue as much about it. That, IMO, is an incredibly important point that never gets discussed.

    That our physical bodies are in the image of God’s body and mirror that of our spirits can be explained in various ways, but I will offer just two – since this will be long enough anyway. 1) God created everything else, then fashioned a unique body (totally independent of all other created bodies), placed the spirit of man inside it, and called the independent creation “man”. 2) God initiated an evolutionary process that led eventually to a body that resembled His own and had enough brain capacity to begin to comprehend His existence. When that physical body was ready for His spirit children, he placed the spirit of man inside it and called the “new” creation “man”.

    The 1909 Origin of Man mentions both possibilities in summary form and refuses to choose between them. It says that man was created in God’s image, and that “man” is a combination of spirit inserted into physical body, but it also says that could have happened when the physical body was in an embryonic state. Hence, common descent of the PHYSICAL BODY joined with not common descent of the spirit is left explicitly as an option. Frankly, that would explain the battle between spirit and “natural man” body quite well and eliminate the ridiculous semantic arguments over original sin and individual accountability. (Sorry; soapbox.)

    As I said in the other thread, I do not argue for #2 (although it is what my brain believes). I just assert than it is a possibility that is consistent with the Church’s own official statement and the idea that man was created “in the image of God” – as long as you allow for the possibility that all conceptions of evolution do not have to deny the existence of God.

  98. I have a much easier time getting on board #1 than #2.

  99. That’s cool. Like I said, both are left open as possibilities.

    What bothers me is not that intelligent people can disagree, but that some take a stance as the only reasonable solution (or as what “the Church obviously teaches”) and go about belittling other options and those who believe them (or even hold open the possibility). That’s why I have stooped “debating” evolution in a forum like this; after a while, it’s just the same old same old bickering among the same old same people.

    End of rant.

  100. Ugly Mahana says:

    I wonder how much friction results from the pro- and con- evolutionists talking past one another, especially in the Church. I remember sitting in a religion class at BYU listening to the teacher lay out religious objections to evolution. A biology student asked the teacher to define evolution. After the teacher did so, the student stated that the teacher’s definition was one that the student had never heard in his biology classes. I thought that was interesting indeed.

  101. Amen, UM, to every word.

  102. Brian (#99):

    The following may be of interest to you as you decide where to get “on board” regarding Ray’s interpretation of the 1909 First Presidency statement. In 1988, Elder Boyd K. Packer presented a paper at BYU on the origin of man. The FARMS review says:

    “Elder Packer is careful at the outset to identify his thoughts as his own, not presented in any official Church capacity….

    “Elder Packer has thought long and hard about the theory of organic evolution and reasons cogently, but in the end it is a testimony and not a scientific or philosophical work… It does not attempt to refute or rationalize the considerable scientific evidence tending to support the theory of evolution; instead, its author begins with what God has revealed about man’s origin.”

    My own notes are these: I noticed that three times in this paper, Elder Packer makes reference to the 1909 First Presidency statement, The Origin of Man. In addition, he included the text of the 1909 Origin of Man statement in an Appendix.

    Twice in his Introduction, Elder Packer clearly states that his paper is “on the origin of man.” Twice more, in a section on The Law, Elder Packer states that the paper is “on the origin of man.” In a section on Conscience, Elder Packer states the premise on which he has established his conviction on the origin of man and later in the same section again references “the origin of man.” In a section on The Sciences, Elder Packer expresses his conviction that a full knowledge of “the origin of man” will come in the future by revelation.

    1. The paper was about the origin of man.

    2. Its centerpiece was the 1909 First Presidency statement, The Origin of Man.

    Regarding the question of man’s body evolving from lower orders of life, Elder Packer quotes the 1909 First Presidency statement that “these, however, are the theories of men.” He states:

    “The many similarities between the human body and the physical bodies of animals do not, in my mind, confirm a common ancestor. Not at all! It confirms the sovereignty of physical laws.”

    For Elder Packer, organic evolution as an explanation for the origin of man is not just a problem, it is “the problem.”

    Church members, he points out, should be aware that fundamental doctrines “cannot co-exist” with the belief that man’s body evolved from lower forms of animal life.

    He warns members not to mortgage their testimonies “for an unproved theory” on how man’s body was created and admonishes members to have faith “in the revelations” leaving man where the revelations have put him. He emphasizes a second time, “Do not mortgage your soul for unproved theories.”

    It is Elder Packer’s conviction that to the degree evolution asserts man to be the product of an evolutionary process “it is false!” Theistic evolution, he says, “is equally false.” He asserts that if the theory of evolution applies to man, “there was no Fall and therefore no need for an atonement.”

    He maintains that evolution as a possibility for the origin of man’s body is incompatible with “an understanding of the sealing authority,” which he says (twice for emphasis), “cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts.”

    Elder Packer’s paper is not an official declaration. I just thought you might want to be aware of it. I think his opinion ought to be considered along with other opinions about the 1909 statement.

  103. For the record, one last time, I do not reject any option among the many that are possible. It is obvious that Elder Packer believes in a literal interpretation of the creation as explained in Genesis that excludes evolution; it is equally obvious that such an interpretation is not unanimous among the brethren. It also is obvious that Elder Packer himself understands that his interpretation (his conviction) cannot be taken as official doctrine.

    That’s all I have said throughout this thread. I just don’t like it when regular members like me try to assert that their interpretation is “what the Church teaches”, even if they do so because it’s what an apostle believes – when that very apostle refused repeatedly to make that same claim.

    “Getting on board with Ray’s interpretation of the 1909 FP statement” means being willing to follow Elder Packer’s example of not claiming to know the final answer and not claiming to speak for the Church, despite strong personal conviction. It means keeping an open mind and not excluding the possibility that what we learn eventually might be different than what we believe now. What’s wrong with that? Seriously, what’s wrong with that?

  104. “It is obvious that Elder Packer believes in a literal interpretation of the creation as explained in Genesis that excludes evolution; it is equally obvious that such an interpretation is not unanimous among the brethren.”

    How is it “obvious” that the Brethren are not united on human evolution?

    I have searched in vain for published apostolic statements that support human evolution. I have concluded that there are none.

  105. Church members are taught in seminary and institute, in priesthood, Relief Society, and Sunday School what we may call the Packer interpretation. Where and when has the Church ever published a different apostolic interpretation of human evolution.

  106. See #101. The loudest voice often gets the last word, since the softer voice refuses to shout back.

    I don’t know the answer as to exactly how the earth and its inhabitants were created, as I have stated repeatedly – and as every single talk on the creation by every single apostle in at least the last 30 years clearly states. I already have stated that I believe that your view might be right. If you won’t answer my question – if we are doomed to talk past each other, then I refuse to play the game.

    Go ahead and have the last word. I promise I will not respond. I promise I will not be dragged back into this no matter what. The floor is yours.

  107. Ugly Mahana says:

    To go back to the original intent of this post, I think in order to understand a concept of faithful science we must unpack the two words and see how they interact.

    First, look at science. Science takes as its subject matter provable hypotheses. This is not to say that assumptions form no part of the scientific method, but rather that assumptions which cannot be disproved are not properly considered conclusive. Furthermore, the results of an experiment must be widely replicable in order for the outcome of the experiment to be accepted.

    In contrast, faith, especially in LDS discourse (See Alma 32) comprises belief in two distinct sets of unproven hypotheses. First, there are certain articles of faith which, although they may be tested and found valuable at the individual level, are not necessarily replicable between persons. A testimony of the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on the steps found in Moroni 10 is one example of this type of faith. Second, there are principles, including the existence of God himself, that are founded upon revelation alone.

    The scientific method of determining truth requires experimentation. The faith method of discovering truth makes an appeal to ultimate authority – God.

    To me, faithful science involves recognizing that the scientific method does not constitute the sole method of obtaining knowledge of how things are, were, or will be. It is appropriately paired with humble faith, which likewise gives place for the both the conclusions of science and the differing conclusions of another’s faith. After all, no revealed doctrine or principle is binding on all persons until the Ultimate Authority makes it binding. To argue otherwise smacks of priestcraft.

  108. Ray (#108): LOL. To me it’s not about having the “loudest” voice or getting “the last word.” It’s about thoroughly and honestly discussing what the apostles teach on evolution (or other aspects of “Faithful Science”). In his 1988 talk, Elder Packer says:

    “Let me tell you how I feel about you who study or teach or work in the fields of science.”

    You can download the talk here. It is a good read.

    Ray said (#105): “What’s wrong with that? Seriously, what’s wrong with that?”

    Nobody said we must accept Packer’s answer as “the final answer” (although perhaps it is the best answer we have right now; see D&C 52:9, 36).

    As one BYU-Idaho Religious Education Professor said: “Why so many Mormons prefer the theories of men over doctrine, statements, counsel, and even theory (D&C 88:78) of the Brethren is beyond me.”

    Ray said (#108): “I don’t know the answer as to exactly how the earth and its inhabitants were created.”

    Finally. We agree on something. Even Elder Packer agrees:

    “All the answers as to how man was created have not been discovered by scientists; neither has God revealed them, but he has promised that he will reveal them….

    “The scriptures say only this about how the earth was created:

    “And by the word of my power have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth. . . . And by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten (Moses 1:32-33; emphasis added).

    The italics are Elder Packer’s. And it’s nice to find some common ground here.

    But your comment changes the subject and begs the question in 107: Where and when has the Church ever published an apostolic interpretation of human evolution that differs from the Packer interpretation?

  109. Ugly Mahana says:

    As applied to the specific discussion on evolution,

    Compelling belief in unprovable assumptions held by the majority of scientists smacks of priestcaft as well. A subset of scientific thought deals not with “how things are” or “will be” but with “how things were.” In order to do so, it must assume that some basic principles have always been as they are now. This assumption is not disprovable because time is linear in one direction only. Thus, it is a matter of faith, even if such faith is not tied to God.

    Likewise, the origin of man is essentially a historic fact, not something that can be proven by a current experiment. Trying to prove how life originated by recreating the building blocks of life is a little like trying to prove the outcome of World War II by playing the board game Axis and Allies. Even if scientists are able to ‘create life,’ they cannot prove that their method is how life arose initially. No observation is made as to what actually took place at the dawn of time. The absence of God is assumed, not disproven. Faithful science, which accepts that revelation is just as valid a basis for unprovable belief as the assumptions of scientists, will not try to replace faith in creation with the assumptions of a godless science.

    On the other hand, humble faith is unwise if it says that evolution is not factual. Change over time has not only been observed, but is doctrinally required. In Genesis, the Lord commands that life should beget ‘after its own kind’ not after the form of some archetype. This means that mommy and daddy’s baby looks like a combination of mommy and daddy. This means change takes place over time, and adaptation and specialization occurs.

  110. Ugly Mahana says:

    R. Gary-

    Are you saying that someone who accepts evolution as set out by Ray should be excluded from the Church or limited in his or herability to participate in the ordinances and accept Church callings?

    Or are you merely saying that you find Pres. Packer’s position personally satisfying, and wish everyone agreed with you?

  111. “Church members are taught in seminary and institute, in priesthood, Relief Society, and Sunday School what we may call the Packer interpretation.”

    Are Church members taught the Packer interpretation? I’m curious to learn if others have had many Church lessons that refer to evolution debates. My experience is that the topic is avoided or dismissed in seminary and Sunday lessons. I have a single cloudy memory of a seminary teacher trying (quite unsuccessfully) to disabuse a class of 17-year-olds of their acceptance of organic evolution.

  112. Ugly Mahana (#112),

    Regarding your first question: In my first comment on this thread last Wednesday, I said “the Church doesn’t oppose evolution the same way it opposes other things (spouse and child abuse, for example). Avowed evolutionists give service in temples and other priesthood callings.”

    Regarding your second question: I do find Pres. Packer’s position personally satisfying but I don’t really care who agrees. A frank acknowledgement that his position exists and is a valid option is all I ask.

  113. bbell (32) – Exactly. You’ve described him spot on. Eyring is his idol, and he has to know why we take any position. When we were 11 and 12 and bought some tape, he would listen to the music with us and analyze the lyrics. On the plus side, he knew more science than our school teachers. In fact, my soph year biology teacher was one of my dad’s grad students.

    Clark (38) – My dad doesn’t consider computer science to be a “real” science. Biology, chemistry, physics and their variants (botany, microbio, etc.) are real sciences. Engineering is not science, by his estimation. (I can’t argue with him on this. He’s intractable, and at any rate, he had tenure.)

    53, et al – Not to beat a dead horse, but since when do McConkie and Nelson override McKay and Kimball (they of the “The Church has no official position…” statements)? I must have missed the overriding First Presidency letter from Benson, Hunter, or Hinckley.

    Ray – Just ignore them. They know not what they do, and you can’t shut them up, anyway.

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