3/10/2005

Science and Religion

There is a difference of domain, it is often claimed, between science and religion. Theologians say it so as to not be held responsible to science in their claims. Scientists say it so as to not be held responsible by religionists. Mormons say it too.

Science answers the questions of "how did things happen?" Religion answers the question "why do things happen?" Two completely seperate and non-overlapping sets of questions. That would be nice, but as a wise man once said, "there goes another great idea about to be murdered by a gang of facts." This separation is simply non-existent.

It is not the scientists that cross the line usually. It is the religionists. Popular religion, our religion, talks about Adam, the creation, the flood, geographic location, genetic lineages and much, much more. All of these things, if we really maintain that they did, in fact happen, can be subjected to the question, "How?"

Simply put, there would be no conflict between science and religion only if our religion talked about things that didn't and never did exist. It is possible, lot's of people do it. Other go the other way and define their religion as what ever science is. This is what Hawkin and Eistein mean when they say God, the immutable physical laws of the universe.

I mention this to say that we cannot simply evade the question of evolution by this technique. Mormon doctrine doesn't allow it. The how's are intricately interwoven with the why's and I don't think they can or should be disentangled. It is with this in mind that we approach evolution, the epitomy of the Science vs. Religion conflict.

Summary:
Some people try to disengage from the science vs. religion debate by claiming that the two deal with two separate questions, how and why respectively. This is not entirely true for the hows and the why are intimately connected. Any mention by religionists regarding creation and human nature are attempts to answer how questions and are, therefore, open to scientific criticism.


18 Comments:

I have always felt the biggest problem we have of reconciling science and religion is our limited knowledge of both.

We see such a limited view of both. The scriptures are not complete. They are not as detailed as they could be.

Our knowledge of science is not complete and continues to change.

I think Mormons believe that when all is revealed and all is known about science the two will not be in conflict.

The fun is the debate about the two with our limited perspective.

3/16/2005 10:09:00 AM  

That's true. One person wrote to me in response to the creation of this blog, that both science and the church are both moving targets. I agreed with the assessment, but also thought that the two are moving slow enough to at least say something about it. After all, isn't that how the revelations that will reconcile all are going to be be recieved, after the study the issues and start asking questions?

In the mean time, yes, it is fun debating the two with partial knowledge.

3/16/2005 10:20:00 AM  

Jeffrey, you're right that science and religion, including Mormonism, overlap on a number of issues. But I think you're overplaying the conflict between evolution and Mormonism. Evolution is taught at BYU, it is accepted by most educated Mormons, and it does not receive negative comment in Conference. Elder McConkie railed against it, but who cares? The only modern Mormons who have a problem with evolution are CES and teachers of religion at BYU.

3/16/2005 10:23:00 AM  

I meant to include in my last comment that I think the worst thing we can do on the subject is simply keep quiet. That accomplishes nothing.

Dave,

I know that the only people who speak out against evolution are CES and the like, and I agree, so what? BYU teaches it because it is true. But all is not hunkie dorie. (I have no idea how to spell that.)

Lots of writing have been done to show that evolution is true and lots of church leaders thought so. Even more has been done showing why evolution is false and how lots of church leaders thought so. But very, very little has been done by way of reconciliation between the two. There are strong points of conflict and while it is easy to say that they do not conflict with one another, it is a whole other ball game to show it.

I have high hopes for our project, but I do not think that we will be able to satisfy everybody. That's why participation by other people, such as yourself, is always more than welcome.

Am I making a mountian out of a mole hill on some occasions? Probably, but if reconciliation were so easy, we probably wouldn't have much to say.

3/16/2005 10:35:00 AM  

Isn't the whole aim of advanced physics these days to answer why?

3/16/2005 11:26:00 AM  

"Moving targets" is right! One thing I continue to find about the evolution side of the argument is the changing of the "facts" to verify the theory.

Case in point is an article in Meridian Magazine: http://www.ldsmag.com/sci_rel/050316wood.html

It deals with petrified forests. Science claims they are millions of years old and the process takes millions of years. New evidence shows this is simply not true.

Another argument I have a bit of a problem with is using all the textbooks / articles / scientists and what they say as proof of evolution.

Science / textbooks / etc. used to tell us the earth was the center of the universe, or the four elements were fire, water, earth and air.

Science seems to be the "moving target" in this relationship between science and religion.

3/16/2005 11:29:00 AM  

Don,

I would be hesitant to call some of those things science by today's standards. Not because of how wrong they are, but becasue they simply didn't use the scientific method as it is used today.

The reason I mention all of the articles and what not, is because it show that there are thousands of people who are dedicated to making a name for themselves by proving other people wrong. This is what science does, it proves people wrong.

I also mention it to show that evolution isn't like a person tied down by one chain which creationists are busy searching for a weak link in. Evolution is tied down, so to speak, by lots an lots of chains from which it will take an unfathomable amount of work to release.

To expect science to eventually reject the basic tenets of evolution is about as reasonable as expecting astronomers to go back to an earth centered universe. Could it happen? Sure, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

3/16/2005 11:40:00 AM  

The scientific method is actually used to prove things right, and then through the use of the scientific method prove that it is right again.

Someone discovers something and is this duplicatable process that proves the discovery correct. If no one else can duplicate the experiment, or discovery then it remains as either false or at best questionable.

My point of the earth centered universe was more to demonstrate that what we accept as true in science today, with all of its textbooks and scientists change, sometimes dramatically with time.

A more current example would be molecular science. It wasn't that many years ago that the smallest particle in the universe, according to scientists and all the textbooks, was an electron. And those electrons revolved around in an atom. Not anymore.

How about time. Not that many years ago time was a linear absolute. Not anymore.

Did the facts change? No, just our understanding of these things changed.

Will our facts about evolution change?

3/16/2005 03:49:00 PM  

Evolution is on very solid ground. Although science is frequently dogmatic, and paradigm shifts do occur, these usually take the form of refining an existing theory to take into account observations which cannot be explained. Quantum mechanics is one such example. It was a major change in thinking in physics. however, it didn't throw out or invalidate Newtonian mechanics at all. It merely showed that the old mechanics was an approximation which described nature almost perfectly except on the scale of very small distances, where the approximations broke down. Quantum theory harmonized previously unexplained phenomena (photoelectric effect etc.) with the then-current conceptions of mechanics (inherited from Newton et al) into a new theory which adequately explained both. Further enhancements and refinements of this theory then continued and still continue today, bringing us knowledge of quarks and other particles smaller than electrons.

Also, it is not really fair to use pre-Enlightenment examples of "science" (earth at center of universe, etc.) as counterexamples. Science didn't really come into its own (as separate from religion) until the scientific revolution in the sixteenth century, when the scientific method became established, and theories were based on solid empirical evidence.

So yes, the understanding of facts evolves. theories are refined. Sometimes even new theories are posited. But they still have to explain all the facts. The details of evolution are being and will continue to be refined and debated. But science will never abandon the theory of evolution for a more creationist approach. To use your example of molecular science, that would be akin to saying, "It turns out an electron is not really the smallest particle in the universe. The smallest particle is actually a grain of sand."

3/16/2005 08:58:00 PM  

Dave, to continue with your rejection, which deserves a better response than I gave:

My point in bringing up Mc Conkie is not to make him a target for me to bomb. I quote him because not only does he not like evolution (like you said, who cares?), but he gives reasons for his dislike. It is these reasons I am addressing, not necessarily him or any other CES teacher.

3/16/2005 11:48:00 PM  

Woodboy, I couldn't have put it better myself.

3/16/2005 11:49:00 PM  

Dave said: "Evolution is taught at BYU, it is accepted by most educated Mormons, and it does not receive negative comment in Conference, it is accepted by most educated Mormons, and it does not receive negative comment in Conference. Elder McConkie railed against it, but who cares? The only modern Mormons who have a problem with evolution are CES and teachers of religion at BYU."

Dave - I don't know if you are correct about most educated Mormons accepting Evolution. However, if you include Adam's body in the definition, I think you might be wrong - but, that is not what I want to discuss.

There are actual reasons why BYU Religion and CES teachers are very concerned about (this brand) of evolution. It has to do with the isssue of DOCTRINE. Jeff senses this, I think. No one has really dealt with this maturely, which is why I applaud this site.

When I am not on this blog, and am teaching at Institute, or Gospel Essentials, or Priesthood, or in Primary (I am a little old for Family Home Evening) - here is what I am concerned about. As Alma and Amulek told Zeezrom, I believe that someday both me, my students, and members of my family are going to die.

At that point, our spirits will go somewhere to await the resurrection. Then - at some point, whether we like it or not, our spirits and bodies will be reunited, inseparably connected, and we will be judged, and sent somewhere to dwell - forever.

Now, I notice that here in California, I am not living in the presence of God, my real Father. Life is interesting enough, but, I happen to want more. I have had experiences, both good and bad, that convince me that if I am going to live somewhere forever, I would rather live with my Father than here in California (even on the Central Coast). I also want to live with my wife, Peggy, and with those whom we are intimately associated.

Nothing I have learned from "Science," or ever expect to - is going to tell me how to get from California in mortality to the Celestial Kingdom in the next life - with my wife and family intact. If I am going to do that, the TOE, the Big Bang, or even a PHD are not going to help me. I need someone who knows the way to show me.

Breaking it down somewhat, I want a resurrected body like the one Jesus has, so that I can live in the Celestial Kingdom. How do I get one? How does Peggy get one? In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I have been taught DOCTRINES by scriptures, Apostles and Prophets, and teachers with faith in these doctrines how I and my loved ones can get from where we are now to the Celestial Kingdom.

In order to apply the doctrines concerning these things that I have been taught, I have needed faith and confidence that they are correct. Thus, there needs to be a regular method of testing the validity of doctrine that can even be used by "a little child", or someone with a lower IQ or less education.

If I stand up in class and (forgive me) "bear my witness" that through the ordinances of the
Gospel and the Atonement of Christ, my family and I can get from here to the Celestial Kingdom - and a class member says, "what is the source of authority, or standard, for this DOCTRINE", I can say something like "read this Scripture, read what this Prophet has said, live the principles and pray. Then you may have a (forgive me again) spiritual experience of your own, which may sustain your faith and enable you to live these doctrines long enough to have them work for you" I cannot say "go to Dave's and Jeff's blog and follow them for a while."

I am not critizing what is going on here, I am just saying that there is an indispensible need for "traditional" doctrine in the Church. And, once there is a need for doctrine, there is a need for authority. In the law, the supreme authority is the U.S. Supreme Court. You may have noticed that, recently, it decided that criminals who committed capital crimes while juveniles will no longer be suject to the death penalty. And, because of this, about 70 individuals are now going to not be executed. The point is that real doctrines backed by authority have real consequences even in this world.

In the Church, we need similarly constituted authority (I only said "similarly). Since I have been following things closely for the past 33 years, this has been plain, clear, oft-repeated (in various places) Scripture, supplemented by statements of the First Presidency. When a secular theory directly competes with a key doctrinal tenet, a potential conflict arises.

I submit that many CES teachers, in good faith, with their eyes open, and their minds clear, believe that TOE as defined above conflicts with certain basic doctrines (as defined above), and this is why they CARE. They care because, when they are attempting to teach how to get from here to the Celestial Kingdom they must necessarily rely on doctrine.

In order to rely on doctrine, there must be authority backing it up. If a secular theory challenges basic doctrine that is backed up by authority, the concern is that - if both are allowed to "stand," the very notion of "saving doctrines," and thus of SALVATION itself is challenged in the minds of some. I personally know of several individuals who recognized this issue; accepted TOE, experienced a crisis of faith, and abondoned their faith in the ordinances of salvation.

I see Jeff's role or mission here as a bit like that of Nietzche. He believed that modern science would cause most educated people to abandon Christianity. In doing so, they would also lose their concepts of right and wrong and thus, he feared anarchy. His role was to provide them with substitute, secular faith, so that they could survive their crisis. Similarly, I believe that Jeff believes that eventually, most Mormons will have to come to terms with the fact that they are descended from Apes, and that the Adam and Eve story is a myth. He is trying to provide a framework to help them survive this.

3/17/2005 04:56:00 PM  

I am not sure i understand. how does evolution conflict with the doctrines you mention--spirit world, resurrection, and exaltation?

3/17/2005 07:25:00 PM  

Greg,

I appreciate your last comments and I think you make some good points. If anything you seem to be validating what the First Presidency said under Heber J. Grant--basically that the sciences have nothing to do with the salvation of man.

I know you aren't accusing us of this, but I feel to clarify anyway--we're not trying to undermine anybody's faith. We're just trying to see how we can fit things together.

I can only speak for myself, but it seems to me that the atonement, the priesthood (which includes prophets and ordinances), and the Book of Mormon (and other scriptures) are foundational. For me this little exercise is partially an inquiry as to whether I have beliefs based on unauthoritative or unwarranted traditions that have been tacked on to these foundational concepts/doctrines.

3/17/2005 07:47:00 PM  

I personally feel that my goal is much more humble than some may be thinking. I'm not trying to out right criticize Mormon doctrine as taught by any particular person. I'm not trying to revolutionize the church in any way. What I am trying to do is show where the points of conflict stand. If somebody wants to be a full-fledged Mormon, what points of evolution are they going to have to reject? If somebody wants to be a full-fledged evolutionist, what points of Mormon doctrine are they going to have to modify and/or reject? And for those who really don't care, more power to you. I'm not trying to place Mormonism on a surer foundation, but I am trying to curb cognative dissonance.

3/18/2005 09:17:00 AM  

Greg,

Here is another quote from "Evolution and Mormonism: a Quest for Understanding" by Trent Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum:

Henry Eyring, one of Mormonism's best known scientists, said: "It is just as important to keep fact and fancy separated in religion as in science... One of the problems of the Church is the unsound arguments sometimes used in its defense. People examine such arguments, find they don't hold water, and say, 'My, the gospel must be unsound.' The conception that the gospel should only be defended on the right ground is of utmost importance, since otherwise one may choose a position to defend which is indefensible; and in its defeat it may be mistakenly supposed that the gospel in at fault."
This sound advice pertains directly to issues of human origins. If we take, for example, the notion proposed by some LDS church members that humans were placed upon the earth by special creation or that they were transplanted from another from another planet and are not, as a result, related to the animals of this planet, we should be able to find ample scientific evidence for this human uniqueness. On the other hand, if, as proposed by the theory of evolution, humans are closely related to all life on this planet, there ought to be scientific evidence for this similarity. These two ideas pose simple, testable, alternative scientific hypothesies: either humans are unique or they are similar to the rest of creation. These hypotheses have been tested thousands of times at the levels of anatomy, physiology, developmental biology, biochemistry, genetics, paleontology, and molecular biology. The data overwhelmingly indicate that humans are not unique but are related to other animals. In fact, this similarity is so close that, at the cellular level and below, humans are largely indistinguishable from other mammals. There is no scientific evidence supporting the notion that humans are physically unique. In spite of these data, many people continue to claim, in the name of religion, that humans are physically unique.

End quote.

The reasons for this, are what we are trying to explore on this site.

3/18/2005 10:09:00 AM  

I've always held that the separation between science and religion lies not in the knowledge, but in how we aquire it. Both science and religion are processes by which we aquire knowledge.

Science is a process of educated guesses, rigorous testing and experiment, and an asymptotical approach to certainty in all areas of study.

Religion is (generally) a process of prayer and revelation. Those who subscribe to a certain religion claims that this process will grant them absolute certainty of truths which science has or may never reveal.

What happens with religion is that once someone believes they have received a spiritual confirmation of a truth that they've been praying about, the rigorous testing that science demands is unnecessary. The issue of tangible evidence is rendered utterly moot, because the truth in question was revealed by God.

Often times this revealed truth will come in direct conflict with a scientific truth, and thus religion clashes with science.

In situations such as these, it is rare that someone will abandon the religious truth, because to do so would be a tacit admission that they are delusional, which makes some minds very uncomfortable.

Others may try to juxtapose the religious and scientific truths with ad hoc hypotheses, or perhaps by redifining the religious belief in such a way that it remains consistent with the letter of the scripture but which takes on a somewhat different meaning.

Others will reject the scientific believe outright, and claim that the devil has led scientists astray, or perhaps that the scientists themselves are anti-God and are willingly deceiving the public.

A small majority of people will reject the religious belief in favor of the scientific belief, because they believe that the scientific method is more reliable than one that relies on personal revelation, which is untestable and prone to delusion.

3/27/2005 08:38:00 PM  

Frank, (I'm sure you get this all the time, but you must have liked the movie Frequency, eh?)
I don't disagree with your analysis. It is kind of easy to see why many God-fearing folk accuse scientists of being anti-God, especially if these people are big fans of the teleological argument for God's existence are like to think of Him intervening in our lives a lot. One of the purposes of science is basically to attack the teleological argument. So we can't be too surprised that some people get so offended.

3/28/2005 12:58:00 PM  

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