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.