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How I teach the ways of science at the Y

There seems to be a mistake people make about the way that BYU science departments function and should be taught. There is a myth spreading through dark corners of the internet that BYU should keep religion and science separate the way secular universities do. It takes a strange and perverted form in the voices found among those benighted dogmatists who guard the boarders of pure doctrine, as they perceive it. They claim because science is to held as suspicious or inimical to faith that scientists should not try to reconcile conflicts between the two. Actually at BYU we have been instructed, à la Brigham Young, to, “not even teach the mathematics tables without the Spirit of the Lord.” In fact, each year, two questions appear on the forms that students evaluate faculty on for each class every semester:

Has your testimony been strengthened?

And how well did the instructor integrate the gospel in the subject?

(For all my classes my rates are 7 to 7.4 out of 8, with the university and department average ranging form 6.2-6.6, so I am significantly above average! Who’da thunk it.)

There will always be those stunted self-proclaimed, righteousness checkers who wrap themselves in threadbare cloaks they have constructed from purloined and out of context words of the prophets and apostles to hide beneath their own venomous ignorance, from where they can decry those facing the real and persistent challenges in reconciling things like evolution and the church. These one-dimensional individuals from the darkness of their manufactured world, can call, “I! I have the true view of the apostles and all others are heretics and apostates. Burn them! Curse them! Run from them all true followers of my warped view! I! Only I, have interpreted their words correctly. See here are fifty quotes plus five that support my true view.” (Ironically, they claim the general authorities are unwisely running BYU by allowing scientists to run rough shot over their tinker toy views, “He’s claiming the apostles have ‘tinker toy views’ because I and the apostles see eye to eye on all, and here is twenty more quotes plus six to support me!!!!!! Me!!!! I’m right, everyone else is wrong!!!!” )

The sad thing is, we are losing good people who, when confronted with the massive evidence from science, come to believe under the misguided attempts of such blind internet truth-checkers, that the two really are incompatible. I’m reminded of the early church when Paul and Peter opened the sharing of the gospel to the gentiles. A group of Jewish Christian converts would come in after Paul and declare that new Christians had to follow the Jewish law, including circumcision (“Look, here are seventy quotes plus three from the Torah that show that circumcision is necessary!”). These did much damage to the emerging Church. Likewise there are internet creationismizers who insist that scientists must never attempt to reconcile their views with religion and that we keep them apart. BYU should not be mixing science and religion!

Fie. I cannot compartmentalize truth. It goes against my nature to not revel in the beauty and wonder of the universe without and within. When these righteousness checkers would throw off wondering students into the wilderness of doubt and tell them to either deny their minds or the gospel because they cannot be both right. They spill the guts of many a questioning soul. Demonstrably.

At BYU we are interested in the souls of our students. Interestingly both the religion and science departments here are wrestling with the hard issues. When I was here as an undergraduate the climate was different. Religion and science departments were at war and both warned students about the other. This is not the case anymore. Both sides have realized that the war was unnecessary and costly (I lost five of my best friends in this war all who became unbelieving scientists because the creationismizers told them early on there was no way to be faithful Mormon and a evolutionary scientist, with or without circumcision).

But things are much different. At the invitation of the Department of Religion earlier this month I was asked to talk to seminary teachers about evolution. I showed them the evidence, we talked about faith, we came to understand that no good comes of confusing students who are facing the most exciting evolutionary story the world has ever seen: Genetics, archeology, paleontology, medicine, crop science are all developing in amazing ways under the insights gained by evolutionary biology. The amazing thing was as we explored the issues for four full hours we saw little reason to keep up the war. It was a faith promoting and spiritual experience—and that with a line of hominid skulls lined up on the table. Religion and Science must work together to try and sort out difference, challenges and sticking points. There is work to do. It’s all not been sorted. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand, we are using all the tools at our disposal to find answers to hard questions. And it’s happening at places like BYU.

I do not doubt that I will continued to be called an apostate and face patently ridiculous claims that I am attacking general authorities by trying to wrestle with challenging problems reconciling science and religion. Like the stories of Japanese solders rumored to be marooned on tropical islands who continued to fight WWII long after it ended, so too these internet purveyors of hatred and judgment, who follow scientists around decrying their work as evil, are stuck in a mode of discourse that has long since moved past such contentious and vicious myopia. Science and religion are no longer the enemies such views continue to proclaim.

And such views continue to do real harm. They embarrass the Church by painting it as unenlightened and afraid of science. But their growing irrelevance is encouraging. Their faulty use of logic, reason and facts is apparent to the most casual observer.

I will continue to seek a reconciliation with to of the most beautiful things we discovered about knowledge both spiritual and physical, from all its sources. I will continued to be attacked and receive veiled threats. I will not respond directly to such violent, mean-spirited, and hateful blog posts, because their silliness says more about them than me, but it is important to know that the quest for understanding will continue. It’s important to see that the division between science and religion that such maintain with the vigilance of a bedraggled river rat defending its darkened hole, is being torn down. Light is flooding in and new knowledge is being poured down upon the heads of the Latter-day saints in wondrous ways. It’s the dawning of brighter light that will outshine the darkness of shriveled blogsters.

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50 comments to How I teach the ways of science at the Y

  • Bravo Steve. Well-said.

  • Andrea R.

    Truth is truth. Well said. I was at BYU during the days when there was a war between the Religion Department, and it was “interesting” to say the least. i have to say that I felt the Spirit more in my science classes where PhD scientists bore witness of truth than in most of my religion classes. I loved BYU for that.

  • Dave

    Great post Steve. However, I’m just wondering what I’m missing when you refer to violent and threatening behavior. I see R. Gary as a giant buffoon who does great harm to the church, but not violent.

  • R. Gary certainly does violence to reason and fair representation. He tries to bully people using dog-whistle Mormon speak. No physical violence, no, but he’ll make your head spin if you try to reason with him. And he’ll make wink-wink statements that are intended to threaten employment and/or church standing because he thinks he’s the orthodox police. He’s done the same to me, though SteveP would seem to be in a more precarious spot. (And cool enough, stands as a present witness that the Church endorses no single unified perspective on these matters, hence R. Gary’s fervent efforts to monitor him.)

    Now that R. Gary may discover that SteveP was asked to present his views to seminary teachers we might expect another alarmed cry of “FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE!” Yes Gary, there is a fox in the hen house. I just hope we chickens can find a way to survive. ;)

  • Cogs

    You’re allowed to believe and teach evolution, you’re just not allowed to teach that the church is okay with it or church teachings can possibly be reconciled with the idea. See, you can dance around the issue and teach students empirically proven facts that overwhelmingly point to human evolution and the like, but you can’t suggest that this might have anything to do with their testimonies. See? Easy! Believe whatever you want! Just remember that the church is unofficially officially against even the remotest possibility of evolution as indicated by literally dozens of paragraphs from 1918 First Presidency statements, plus an apostle today who was a heart surgeon and doesn’t seem to accept evolution (because, as is well known, being a medical doctor is as critical and relevant to the studies of evolution and cosmology as it is to being an apostle). Plus, you can’t find one church manual, not ONE, that allows for the possibility of evolution, and it is equally well-known that church manuals are the infallible guides to all mormon doctrine. So just keep your heathen doctrines away from our kids’ precious testimonies.

  • “You’re allowed to believe and teach evolution, you’re just not allowed to teach that the church is okay with it or church teachings can possibly be reconciled with the idea.” Wrong on every count. See what damage the likes of which I write do? This person obviously believes the nonsense these creationismizers are selling. Thanks for the illustration Cogs.

    I just realized you were likely being sarcastic. It’s hard to tell because I get letters just like this all the time.

  • Exactly BHodges, To a Church employee, the threatening, bullying language was a crystal clear attempt at intimidation.

  • Dave

    Fair enough, I can agree that R. Gary saying your “wild accusations” against Elder Nelson will “assuredly come back to haunt” you is an attempt at intimidation, although I don’t imagine that you take it very seriously. I am curious, though about whether he actually does anything about it – ie. does he write to Dean Brown or Pres. Samuelson to complain about you? Does he write to GAs to bring these things to their attention?
    I kind of hope he does do these things. Not because I would wish on you the extra hassles that may come, but because I hope that by highlighting some of the tension that is caused by anti-science statements in General Conference or in lesson manuals, there might be more reconciliation and reconsideration of these ideas at the higher levels, or at the very least fewer future statements that R. Gary can use as fodder.

  • Ardis

    About time somebody responded this way to that — whatever he is — who has nothing of value to offer and no talent in offering it.

  • Cogs

    Sorry, Poe’s Law strikes again :). I’m actually closer to believing that the teachings of the church are incompatible with human evolution, but I also reject R. Gary’s fundamentalist assumptions about prophethood and revelation, so there’s definitely some tension between my acceptance of human evolution and my desire to be a faithful Mormon…but I’d never deny anyone’s right to harmonize the gospel and science however they like. There are Mormon blogs that attempt to bring a more orthodox or “faithful” perspective to science issues (sometimes by denying the science via global warming denialism and such, and other times more positively), and I’m happy to agree or disagree with them, but R. Gary is different. He attempts not to debate ideas, but to control the terms of debate. He continually questions the faithfulness of his targets, denies their right to have opinions he dislikes using a veneer of church authority he does not possess, and then hides behind the defense of “Well, they can believe what they like, but they shouldn’t claim that the church teaches X” when challenged. It’s cowardly, and it makes debate on his terms impossible (well, that and his aggressive comment moderation). But the echo-chamber nature of the bloggernacle also artificially raises the stakes, so I’m convinced that the General Authorities, whatever their private beliefs, have better things to worry about…as do I if I’m gonna be ready to home teach this evening :)

  • Ardis, You shine like the sun. Well said.

    Cogs, we might disagree on evolution and such, but I love someone who will talk rationally and who is willing to explore their thought and willing to let me explore things as I’m inspired to peruse them. Wise words.

  • Gary

    I am probably a lot like Cogs. I am glad there are people like you. I applaud faithful Mormon scientists who teach good science and don’t let dogma dicate their conclusions. But I am still looking for the reconciliation between Mormon doctrine and evolution. I think evolution requires that we reject a number of teachings that would under most definitions of the term, qualify as Mormon doctrine. I believe that it is easier to reconcile traditional Christian doctrine with evolution than it is to reconcile Mormon doctrine. I think I have made an uneasy peace with these conclusions, but I can understand why so many resist evolution so strongly.

    If you disagree or have some suggestions on how we can reconcile our scriptures and doctrine with what science teaches us about the origin of humanity, I am all ears.

  • Gary

    Just one more comment. R. Gary definitely represents a very deep rooted and wide spread tradition in Mormonism. As much as you detest his approach, is there any doubt in your mind that somebody like President Joseph Fielding Smith, or Bruce R. McKonkie or any number of other apostles would have been at least as hostile to your teachings? He is not an outlier–his opinions represent mainstream Mormon thought at least among the rank and file.

  • Thanks Blair, those are the very things I was going to share. Also this blog is chalk full of attempts to reconcile Mormonism and evolution. Look at my SMPT paper in particular. I disagree with Gary above on the idea that other Christianity’s have an easier time with evolution. As the podcast discusses, Mormonism I think is the easiest to reconcile with evolution. Not the Mormonism adding creeping evangelical Christianity that the R. Gary’s of the world add (the phrase “No death before the Fall” is actually found no where in the LDS Canon, it comes out of evangelical young Earth Creationism as early as the 1830s and became prevalent in that same group in the 1920s).

    Gary, R. Gary does represent a strain of Mormonism, but it should be resisted. He runs a very similar site to that of the censored Religion Professor, who sadly had to be chastised by the Church’s News Room for promoting views constructed from opinions from the past no longer relevant. He thought he was doing the Lord’s work because he had long strings of quotes from GAs that he had pulled together and constructed something far removed from genuine LDS doctrine. These men are often interpreted as holding tenaciously to the iron rod, but the truth is they’ve sawed a small piece off, and wander around beating people up with it.

  • Keep fighting the good fight, brother Steve. You’ll most likely be able to see much better data than me on this, but in my experience, rejection of evolution/insistence on creationism is much less prevalent in younger generations of Mormons than in older generations. I think those who fight science are gradually coming over to the other side.

    P.S. your spam filter doesn’t seem to work in Chrome…

  • Mommie Dearest

    In my limited and increasingly more ancient experience with BYU, the science dept. was among the most enlightened, and I very much enjoyed my classes in the ESC. (One of my fondest memories of my time there was Kent Van De Graaff’s human anatomy class/lab.) Because the devotional spirit and academic tradition I experienced there were both well-grounded in reality, and thoroughly vetted, I’ve never felt any difficulty in reconciling the theories of science with the doctrines of the gospel. It mystifies me when I see LDS members getting sucked into such controversies, and I give the credit for that to sensible teaching I had in school.

    Y’all are saints to endure the pathetic slander that I would prefer not to credit with any more undue attention.

  • Wow, great article and well said.

    “I cannot compartmentalize truth. It goes against my nature to not revel in the beauty and wonder of the universe without and within.”

    All truth can be circumscribed into one great whole. And that’s that. :)

  • Beautifully written. One of my favorite things about BYU has been the joy of learning biology, chemistry, physics, all from and within a gospel perspective, the rejoicing of realizing that just because _some_ few scientists (or teachers) get confused and think that religion and science must be separate, we know and rejoice in the knowledge that just because we do not just understand how everything fits together, we know that our understanding of science is our Father’s way and means and rules by which He has designed and directed our universe. It cemented by concept of … everything, and was the reason for great rejoicing in my soul!!!

    As to “violent” or not… whenever anyone personally attacks anyone else, it it almost always felt, and violently. I know I had an experience recently where I found out that someone was directly hating and gossiping against me and, the horror and frustration I felt as I continued to attempt to follow truth and goodness…whether I was attacked or not, it sure felt violent.

  • Last Lemming

    These men are often interpreted as holding tenaciously to the iron rod, but the truth is they’ve sawed a small piece off, and wander around beating people up with it.

    You need to use this line in somebody else’s blog so I can nominate it for comment of the week.

  • Carl Youngblood

    While I’m a hearty believer in evolution, I do think that the mainstream understanding of some church doctrines as expressed in the manuals is at odds with it. One thing that I often see in the church are folks who believe in evolution except for the evolution of humans. But believing in evolution without common descent is nonsensical. Even official First Presidency statements insist that Adam was a real person and that he was the first man. I think we need to reject this literalism. Modern biblical scholarship demonstrates that the creation account in Genesis is the combination of four earlier oral traditions. The preponderance of evidence indicates that it’s not real history, but we continue to treat it as such, and Joseph Smith’s revelations about Adam just make it that much harder not to think of him as a real individual. Steve, I’d like to hear how you reconcile these things, if you have the time.

  • Nice thoughts, Steve — the project of reconciling science and religion is too important to be denied or ignored. I am heartened by your comments about the BYU Religion department, which in the past has been working on the wrong project (trying to boost religion by denigrating science). It will take them some time to regain their lost credibility.

    One interesting revelation that came out of the Putnam and Campbell book American Grace was the data showing that contemporary Americans tend to choose a church the matches their politics rather than change their politics to conform with the views of their church. I suspect that pattern reaches further than just politics: I’ll bet people also tend to choose a church that matches their view of science rather than change their science to match that of their church. That’s one more reason the Church should act more quickly to eradicate the outdated anti-science line of thinking that still pervades the CES curriculum. That kind of thinking doesn’t enlighten or edify anyone, but does discourage some people from joining the LDS Church or from staying active in it.

    Note: the Dave who comments earlier in this post is not me — I generally comment as “Dave” but I always link it back to my DMI website.

  • You know, just because you don’t mention anybodies name, doesn’t mean your attack isn’t ad hominem.

    On a less tangential point, I think the power behind the religious critique of science has been seriously underestimated. Let me illustrate this by first showing what the argument is *not* about:

    Science and religion can, should and will be reconciled with each other.

    Nobody disagrees with this statement so bringing it up in these debates is pointless. Here is a better way of framing the debate:

    What constitutes a legitimate reconciliation of religion and science? Who makes up the rules and who keeps score?

    So many times we have people acting as if they had science in one hand and religion in the other and they are the entirely neutral and unbiased judge between the two. This is never the case.

    For example, Steve clearly advocates a *scientific* reconciliation between the two, something which Gary has no interest in. Gary rightly thinks that this is to give the game away from the start. But Gary doesn’t care about logical consistency or third person verifiable evidence. And even if we was, it would still be like a boxer keeping the scorecard for his own fight.

    Yes, people get led out of the church when science is shown to be logically inconsistent with religion. But who was it that said that logical consistency was the final arbiter if not science?! In other words, my beef with Steve is that in this very post he promotes the very principles which lead people out of the church: not evolution, but the idea that if evolution isn’t consistent with the church then there must be a problem.

  • “Steve clearly advocates a *scientific* reconciliation between the two, something which Gary has no interest in” I think in my writings I’ve made it very clear that I think a reconciliation means one between science and religion , not a scientific reconciliation (Whatever that would mean) but any reconciliation takes a give and take between two partners. My Zygon article looks at how science must accommodate faith. You are misreading me pretty badly here.

    “But who was it that said that logical consistency was the final arbiter if not science?! In other words, my beef with Steve is that in this very post he promotes the very principles which lead people out of the church: not evolution, but the idea that if evolution isn’t consistent with the church then there must be a problem.” Actually rationality itself demands logical consistency, which is used in both faith and science. Both science and religion have claimed logical consistency as the final arbitrator, its the bases of any rational discussion. If two ideas are logically incompatible one or both cannot be true. If you are arguing that logical consistency is not important then you have no stake in any argument, why bother if one minute something is true the next not or it’s random. But logical consistency is really irrelevant here, that’s the strongest standard among truth claims and I’ve never ever heard any one argue that there is logical inconsistency between science and religion (i.e., there is no conceivable world where the two could exist together). I believe the challenge is showing empirical consistency. If they are not consistant, then there is a set of religious facts that make evolution impossible, or, there is a set of scientific facts that make religious views empirically impossible. R. Gary’s position is the former. Many unbelievers claim the second. Mine is that there is no set of facts that limit either option. I’m not seeing how that leads people out of the church.

  • Paul A.

    I’ve asked time and again for somebody to explain how evolution could be possible in a pre-Fall earth where death did not exist. How does natural selection happen when there is no death to make a selection? So far no answers from anybody.

  • Gary

    SteveP: The reasons for my opinion expressed above that reconciliation is more difficult for Mormonism than it is for tradtional Christianity are precisely the issues raised by Carl Youngblood above. It is not that hard to explain Genesis. All you need to do is reject a few fundamentalist premises and you have no difficulty reconciling evolution with religion. Mormonism however, has other complications. Quite apart from Genesis, I think we are doctrinally committed to a literal Adam and Eve who are indeed the first parents of all humans and who lived in the Garden of Eden located in Missouri. It is much harder to reject all of those teachings than it is to reject the simplistic hyperliteral reading of Genesis that ensares the Christian fundamentalists.

    I will do more reading on your blog, but if you can point me to something that addresses this issue directly, I would be grateful. I have done some reading on the issue, but am always left with the conclusion that that there is no reconciliation that does not involve rejection of what I take to be Mormon doctrine. That might be ok, and it might the answer. Maybe our teachings are simply wrong and that is all there is to it. I can live with that, but I don’t think you should be too hard on those who find that to be an unacceptable “reconciliation”.

  • Paul and Gary,

    I address these in my four part Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology address that begins here and more fully in my Dialogue article here. In this years SMPT I am addressing the issue of death. Biblical scholars have identified four ways ‘death’ is used in the scriptures. The Book of Mormon follows this. By understanding how the word is used, many of these problems disappear. Its important to remember every act of scripture reading relies on the culture and interpretive assumptions and apparatuses of its age, as we gain more information on how to the read the scriptures it is healthy and important to examine all of our assumptions and make some hermeneutic adjustments in light of more information (such as the recent scholarship that shows that Genesis was never written to be a manual on how the Earth was created, but rather was a temple ceremony establishing our relationship to God, which is coming from non-LDS scholars yet fits into our theology beautifully). This was exactly what Joseph Smith challenged us to do and exemplified for us. To lock our step to evangelical Christianities, which is what we do now, seems like a mistake for LDS thought.

  • Ronan

    Dickensian!

  • “Actually rationality itself demands logical consistency, which is used in both faith and science. Both science and religion have claimed logical consistency as the final arbitrator, its the bases of any rational discussion.”

    I think this is exactly wrong. Rationality and logical consistency are the product and go-to tool of the philosopher, theologian and scientist… but definitely not the prophet. To be sure, there is a kind of consistency and rationality which does lie at the very heart of religion, but it is not logical consistency. Logical inconsistencies are a dime a dozen in the scriptures, but this is only a problem for the scientifically minded.

    It is for this reason that Paul asks what Athens has to do with Jerusalem. It is for this reason that the reasoning of man is as nothing. It is for this reason that the philosophies of men should not be mingled with scripture. At least that’s what a religious person who hasn’t already been drinking the science-kool-aid would say.

    Now I don’t have too much of a problem, personally, with the theologians attempts at harmonizing religion and science, but let’s not fool ourselves. They are doing so according to the rules of science. They are trying to see how much of their religion they can save in the face of a non-negotiable science. This is to bias the question of religion vs. science from the very beginning in a way which is totally unacceptable to the likes of Gary.

    In the end, to imagine that there is no such thing as an argument which plays by any rules other than logical consistency shows a serious lack of imagination. But then, that’s not really true, is it? It’s actually a rhetorical ploy by New Atheists and other scientistically minded people which forces religious people to play on the latter’s court and by the latter’s rules.

  • Carl Youngblood

    “This is what the conflict between science and religion is about. People often have an inaccurate idea of it. Some say that science denies religion in principle. But religion exists; it is a system of given facts; in short, it is a reality. How could science deny a reality? Moreover, insofar as religion is action, insofar as it is a human way of living, science could not possibly take its place, for it expresses life, it does not create it. Science can indeed seek to explain faith, but by this very fact it presupposes it. So there is no conflict except on one limited point. Of the two functions that religion originally performed, one exists, but only one, which tends increasingly to escape it: that is the speculative function. What science disputes in religion is not its right to exist but the right to be dogmatic about the nature of things, the kind of special competence it claimed for its knowledge of man and the world. In fact, religion does not know itself. It knows neither what it is made of nor what needs it satisfies. Far from handing down the law to science, it is itself an object of scientific study! And on the other hand, since apart from the reality to which scientific reflection applies, religious speculation has no proper object, religion clearly cannot play the same role in the future that it has in the past.

    “Yet it seems called upon to transform itself rather than to disappear. We have said that there is something eternal in religion, namely the cult, the faith. But men cannot celebrate ceremonies for which they see no rationale, nor accept a faith they cannot understand. To spread it, or simply to maintain it, one must justify it — in other words, generate a theory of it. A theory of this kind is, of course, bound to rely on various sciences from the moment they exist: first, the social sciences, since religious faith has its origins in society; then psychology, since society is a synthesis of human consciousnesses; and of course the natural sciences, since man and society are a function of the universe and can be separated from it artificially. But as important as these borrowings from the sciences might be, they would not suffice; for faith is above all an impulse to act, and science, even pushed to its limits, always remains at a distance from action. Science is fragmentary, incomplete; it progresses slowly and is never finished; life cannot wait. Theories that are meant to promote living and acting are therefore compelled to run ahead of science and complete it prematurely. They are possible only if the demands of practice and vital necessities, such as we feel without any clear perception, push thought ahead of what science allows us to confirm. Thus religions, even the most rational and secularized, cannot and will never be able to dispense with a very special sort of speculation that, while having the same objects as science itself, could never be properly scientific: in it, the obscure intuitions of sensation and sentiment often take the place of logic. On the one hand, this speculation resembles the kind we encounter in older religions; but on the other it is quite distinctive. While claiming to go beyond science, it must begin by knowing science and finding inspiration in it. Once the authority of science is established, it must be reckoned with; one can go further than science under the pressure of necessity, but science is the starting point. One can affirm nothing that science denies, deny nothing that it affirms, establish nothing that does not rest, directly or indirectly, on the principles borrowed from it. From then on, faith no longer exerts the same hegemony as before over the system of ideas that we can continue to call religious. It is countered by a rival power that, born from it, submits it henceforth to its criticism and control. And all indicators predict that this control will become ever more extensive and effective, with no possibility of assigning a limit to its future influence.”

    Emile Durkheim (2001). Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Carol Gosman, Trans.). Oxford: University Press. (Original work published 1912). pg. 325-327

  • I take it then that you hold we need not have reasons to believe? I think we do. I believe in the Church for lots of reasons. If you come to a testimony meeting where I lay them out you’d find out what they are. I’m not sure how you are using logical consistency here. Science is a empirically based method of obtaining information and make inferences about the world. As with any method it has strengths and weakness, it is the best we have though for it’s purposes. It plays by a lot more rules than logical consistency, which is necessary but not sufficient for any knowledge accession weither science or religion. I suspect we have completely different meanings for the words science, logical consistency, philosophy as they way you use them seems mystifying to me. I can’t imagine how to harmonize two things by using just one of the things, so what you are getting by ‘harmonizing science and religion with science’ has completely confused me.

  • Fair enough. Let’s see if I can’t do a little better.

    I completely agree with your description of science. When it comes to prediction, explanation, generalization, etc. there is simply nothing which competes with it.

    However, these aren’t the things that religion is primarily aimed at. It’s aimed at getting people to heaven. Sure, religion will sometimes predict, explain, generalize, etc. but they aren’t terribly concerned about whether all these things are completely consistent with one another under close scrutiny. What matters to them is whether they consistently get people to heaven. This is the main rule by which religious people like Gary play.

    Thus, we have two ways in which religion and science can by “reconciled”. One way is where scientific minded people salvage, reinterpret or totally scrap religious doctrine in a way that makes it logically consistent with sound science. It is *this* project which leads many students away from the gospel. The other way is where religious minded people salvage, reinterpret or totally scrap scientific theories in such a way that they still lead people to heaven. It is this project which leads many church members away from sound science.

    Now the real issue is not whether science and religion should be reconciled, but how and according to which rules? Until you and Gary agree on which game you are actually playing neither one of you will ever win.

  • “Now the real issue is not whether science and religion should be reconciled, but how and according to which rules?”

    I could not agree more. That is the challenge and not an easy one. My feeling is that there must be an genuine back and forth among the players who are genuinely committed to a reconciliation. R. Gary has no such commitments, nor do the Dawkins style atheists, and because neither has a stake are unlikely participants.

  • I’m not so sure. I think Gary is committed to reconciliation since that is what the brethren teach. However, he just happens to be unwilling to compromise on some issues which you are willing to compromise on and all too willing to compromise on things which you are not very anxious to compromise on. While I agree that the back and forth between you two is helpful, the way in which you paint yourself as an advocate of reconciliation who, *unlike Gary*, is willing to compromise just doesn’t sit well with me.

  • Well, the day R. Gary actually says he’s looking at the science that has to reconciled, the data, the. inferential apparatuses that support it, and such, I’ll believe you. The constant way you insist I’m not compromising ignores the body of my work like the SMPT article where I try to lay out the sticking points and offer several reconciliations of fairly standard LDS readings. So maybe you could point out somewhere where I’m painting myself as a an avocate of reconciliation and not producing the effort? Heaven knows I don’t want someone not sitting well with my lack of reconciliation and R. Gary’s monumental efforts to do so. Show me how to catch up to his great body of reconciliation efforts. In the meantime look more closely at what I’ve actually done rather than getting your knowledge about me from R Gary.

  • Of course you compromise on lots of issues in the debate. So does Gary. The problem is that you are each willing to compromise on things which the other takes to be non-negotiable.

    Btw, you and I are far closer to each other than Gary and I are on this issue. I just think that it’s difficult for the science-minded reader that blogs like yours attract to appreciate the force of Gary’s position.

  • BHodges

    Jeff, you simply misrepresent what R. Gary does. R. Gary does not reconcile science and religion. He does, as you suggest, play a diferent game than Steve. His game adheres largely to a fundamentalist mindset regardng what prophets do. They receive the word of God as revelation and then deliver it, whereas members of the church are merely to agree with them. R. Gary has gathered a collection of statements on issues like evolution, the age of the earth and so forth, and treats them as the reveald word of God. For him, something becomes official and true by virtue of being published. And all members are either suposed to ascribe to the whole of it or else stay silent. But there are several problems with this. For one, our leaders don’t claim infallibility. Two, they are not presently, nor have they been in the past, entirely consistent or agreed on these matters. He ovelooks the power dynamics within the highest governing bodies of the church. He fails to account for the fact that leaders have relied upon secular sources and sometimes advanced logical propositions, rather than simply speaking revelation. He tries to cash in on the secular credentials of Elder Nelson to bolster his claims about the big bang. He praises aspects of God’s revealed world but denies the power thereof. And he goes a step further by calling into question the righteousness or Mormonness of those who disagree. It isn’t a matter of Steve privileging reason over revelation, but rather R. Gary making people think reason is all but useless. He sets up fundamentalist assumptions and argues for their normativity, using them as leverage against those with whom he disagrees. I know he’s your buddy, but he’s also a bully.

  • BHodges

    Further, it makes little sense to me to judge these matters according to how much one is willing to compromise, as though truth is like trading baseball cards and you have to sometimes give up a favorite card to someone for a lesser card in order to prove or establish good will. R. Gary doesn’t “compromise” anything. He repeats his selected quotes and says QED.

  • Paul and Gary,

    I also treated the Adam and Eve issue in a series of posts here. You might find them helpful (or not).

  • Of course Gary is willing to compromise! He is more than happy with the reinterpretation and piecemeal rejection of evolution. He is willing to keep evolution at arms length: “I know how things look at first glance, but I’m sure there will be a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything.” These are all forms of compromise, just not on the issues that scientists would find acceptable.

  • To paraphrase Inigo from Princess Bride, ” ‘Compromise.’ You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • Now that I’m using my laptop instead of my kindle I can leave a more substantive response.

    Jeff G: I don’t know what you mean by “willing to compromise.” I don’t think anyone was advancing a “compromise” type approach to the question of science and religion, which seems to be a rubric of reciprocity based on preference more than what we typically conceive of as “fact” or “truth.”

    You said:

    these aren’t the things that religion is primarily aimed at. It’s aimed at getting people to heaven. Sure, religion will sometimes predict, explain, generalize, etc. but they aren’t terribly concerned about whether all these things are completely consistent with one another under close scrutiny. What matters to them is whether they consistently get people to heaven. This is the main rule by which religious people like Gary play.

    This is where I think you’re misrepresenting the circumstances most acutely. R. Gary (and you, by extension) are conceiving of science as a discourse which is positivist, which excludes faith, takes precedence over faith, challenges the prerogative of prophets, tends to be over-dogmatic, etc. Peck plays into this stereotype accidentally by affirming his confidence in various scientific practices in terms of how well they predict certain things or achieve certain aims.

    What R. Gary misses is that his opinions on the relationship between scientific claims like evolution and religious claims like salvation are not entirely separable to begin with. He is not operating in a science-free zone of religion which then serves as the arbiter over and above scientific claims. Rather, the expressions and claims of prophets and apostles (and by extension, R. Gary) are already inherently bound up in a human discourse which includes many of these scientific proposals and theories. Mormonism itself as a system of theology, I will argue in a future paper, was early on built by borrowing scientific and rationalist analogies. “Eternal progression” was in a sense a baptism of early strands of progressivist and Darwinist theories which make sense most within that historical context. This does *not* mean the doctrine is man-made, by necessity. There remains the believer’s option of pointing out that revelation is adapted to human capacities and understandings, as D&C 1 teaches.

    Regardless, then, of the rules by which you propose R. Gary plays, he is already intrinsically and inescapably bound up in discourses which he simultaneously wants to deny being bound up in. Steve Peck, on the other hand, recognizes the give and take, the ebb and flow, between revelation and reason, between seeking human and revealing God. The creative order itself serves, as much as canonical text, as a record by which the human can come to better understand/appreciate God. And it is an endeavor which must keep in mind its limitations. Some scientistic dogmatists like Richard Dawkins wish to proclaim themselves the ultimate arbiters of truth and relegate religious belief to fantasy. Peck, on the other hand, argues explicitly in his work that science leaves much room for the undiscovered, the mysterious, the puzzling, the muddy. Line upon line, precept upon precept.

    R. Gary, by contrast, essentially believes that we either already have all necessary knowledge (and thus science is just a nice thing to do on the side) or that any further truths will only come initially through (or be discernible by) LDS prophets and apostles. You say he would compromise regarding aspects of evolution? Actually he wouldn’t, and he doesn’t. Moreover, He believes in the primacy of doctrinal unity, which is that church members must all publicly say the same things, and any private deviations in belief are to be kept entirely to one’s self. But this is to assume that unity=exact same belief. But our own church history proves that church leaders have not spoken univocally on all matters, particularly regarding recent scientific questions. So R. Gary basically makes a rhetorical shift to what I call the “scales of truth” approach, whereby he piles up all his collected quotes on one side of the scale, asks Peck to pile up his GA quotes on the other side of the scale, and then we must all as Mormons assent to the weightier side. He sets up stakes and says go no further. But our own prophets don’t operate this way, and the Mormon belief in personal revelation and the glory of God being intelligence calls this assumptions into question anyway.

    So this is probably the chief difference I see between R. Gary’s approach and Peck’s: Peck the scientist is not being dogmatic because he is not demanding that the scientific tail wag the theological dog, as you and he seem to imply. Rather, Peck is arguing that we, as rational folks who also believe in revelation, have to struggle with the data God has provided with us, as agents unto ourselves, to make sense of the ongoing inexplicable.

    R. Gary’s view is much safer. It requires no ongoing struggle. It requires one to assume one has all one needs, and any extra is just gravy. Peck’s approach to faith requires ongoing study and struggle. And Peck does not even demand that every single person engage in the struggle in the exact way he does. All he asks is that there be more room within the community for those expressions of faith, searching expressions of faith. Unity even from different perspectives is possible. But there has been so much anti-evolutionist fervor over the years, even influencing the highest councils in the church, that Peck is doing his work on unequal ground. Note again that he isn’t saying science is to be master above all. He’s saying true science is like true religion, it seeks, it has puzzles, and it exists on a spectrum. The telescope and the still small voice are not antagonists, they operate in different ways for different reasons. But he is constantly attacked for these efforts by R. Gary, and people look at him with reluctance and skepticism because of things they’ve heard in seminary or Sunday schools. And these things need not be. In fact, they exist to the long-term detriment of the Church. I can guarantee that the dogmatism of R. Gary which asks people to entirely turn off their rational faculties has led more people out of this church than Peck’s difficult but exhilarating attempts to better understand the Creator and creation using faith and science.

    It is the highest irony that you would imply that Peck is the one in danger of closing off revelation, because Peck is the one even more open to further revelation be it through prophets or scientific advancement (which our prophets have also taught stems from the light of Christ). You add to that irony by lecturing Peck about “ad hominem” to defend your friend R. Gary, when in reality it is not the R. Gary’s of the LDS Church who need any such protection. It is high time the pendulum swing back. The fact that Peck was invited to speak directly to CES folks on these matters indicates just such a process is underway. (To R. Gary this is dangerous because it seems to place priority on “science” instead of “prophets.” On my reading of these matters it makes little sense to make such distinctions, because prophets aren’t all-knowing, they aren’t infallible, and that is perfectly fine; it only demands more of me to discern truth.)

  • This merits repeating …

    “I can guarantee that the dogmatism of R. Gary which asks people to entirely turn off their rational faculties has led more people out of this church than Peck’s difficult but exhilarating attempts to better understand the Creator and creation using faith and science.”

  • Blair, I stand in awe. That was a beautiful analysis and exposition of the struggle I’ve had against the dogmatists on evolution. Thank you. I am honored. Deeply.

  • I absolutely agree with Steve; that was a fascinating comment which I will definitely have to address once I’m not post from an iPhone. (I’m especially interested in this paper you have coming out.) At this point I will just say that you again assume many of the very scientific virtues which are in question in these debates… but I’m not yet sure how big of a problem this actually is for you.

  • Someone just asked me if I was ‘Anonymous’ over on the R. Gary blog that attacks me. Nope. I always post in my own name if I have anything to say.

  • I remember taking a Science class at BYU in the late ’80s and the lecture that I remember most was the one that the professor gave at the end. He taught that science as understood at the time was not in direct conflict with the doctrines of the church as we should always seek to know the mysteries of the church. However, it is up to God to reveal to man the answers to science, and all in due time.

    As such, I see no conflict between science as it is currently understood — or misunderstood as the case may be (see global warming) — and the doctrines of the gospel. Men advance theories and proofs all the time, and often they are changed or evolve based on additional evidence later on. Does that mean that science is wrong? No, because science is not infallible.

    Thanks for your post!

  • Ironically, it was a post discussing climate change which resulted in the present post:

    http://sciencebysteve.net/those-who-are-suspicious-of-science-are-missing-part-of-the-restoration/

    Here’s an interesting book regarding climate science skeptics who also played a part in defending the tobacco industry against charges that smoking causes cancer:

    http://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

  • Ken reed

    I’m a Mormon with a PhD in Systems Ecology. I don’t remember when I believed the Genesis story. I left the church while in high school. But I came back to the Church when I was on the faculty at Yale. It was tough, but the welcome I got in the New Haven ward was great. I felt the spirit but could not deny the science. And I still don’t believe the Genesis story. Nor do I believe that God has to design everything. The universe and the laws of physics that exist, with the parameter settings that enable life, speaks to a natural cause. The universe IS and does not have to be designed. Simple paradigm shift. Leonard Suskind (the string theory guy) wrote a great book “The Cosmic Landscape” wherein he proposes that our universe is but one a possible infinity of universes; one that can support life. Geology, evolutionary biology, archeology, chemistry, physics all speak to the universality (within our universe at least) of an integrated SYSTEM, self sustaining, self-modifying, evolving. Mormon theology is based on the concept of an embodied God, who’s work and glory is concerned with US, the humans or humanoids populating this self-sustaining evolving universe. The majesty of God is not that he “created” all of this. In fact, he may not have (I don’t know what God does when he goes to work). The majesty is that God UNDERSTANDS the universe and His and our place within it. The Glory is that we have an opportunity to learn this ourselves, that we’re not just mayflies, soon to become extinct. We may become as the Gods. Ever learning, ever growing, eternal progression.

    This is a simple paradigm shift that drops the Platonic concept of an immaterial God and the ancient view that God angrily destroys his creation and angrily throws all non-believers and sinners into a Hell of endless torment. I can’t believe in such a god. But I can believe that Joseph Smith saw an embodied God and His son, Jesus. Why not, if God exists?

    There one other requirement for my belief: I cannot accept Biblical inerrancy, nor can I accept any human infallibility. Mormonism does not teach inerrancy and infallibility. So what’s the problem? Jesus taught with parables that can be understood by the faithful, but which have many levels of meaning. The scriptures reflect the state of learning and understanding of their authors. They are products of their time and place. So what’s the problem with integrating science and current knowledge into our interpretation of the ancient scriptures? A hundred years from now, this will be the prevailing LDS paradigm.

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