A week ago Saturday (November 9, 1013), I attended a symposium called Science and Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth, and Man. We heard several lectures throughout the day, then ended with a panel that mostly discussed questions of evolution and LDS theology. In general, this isn’t a blog on religion, but this week I find it impossible to not write about it. Science and Faith and how they intersect are passions of mine.
Here is a link to the abstracts for all the papers. I’ll cover it more by personal impressions than by lecture. Much of the information here originated from the symposium, but the flavor of my opinion colors all of it. After my own ad hoc ramblings will be a list of what all the essays were about. The videos will be on youtube as well, and you’ll be able to purchase a volume of the papers.
Are Science and Religion compatible? In my mind, this is a dead horse. YES! They most certainly are. Truth is truth, no matter where it comes from. Theists who are anti-science and atheists who are anti-religion are the ones waging this war. The interesting thing is that both outspoken anti-science and anti-religion fanatics are not respected in the academic and peer reviewed leadership of either of their respective camps.
In other words, the New Atheist movement is to Atheists what the Westboro Baptists are to Christians. It’s a rough analogy, but I hope you get my point.
Science has no stake in the existence of God. Whether God exists or not, the results of scientific experiments remain the same. Science can make no claims about God.
Science cannot explain everything. It deals only with quantifiable, physical reality. It isn’t appropriate to use when studying such things as art, history, political science, law, and of course, religion and spirituality. In general, hese depend on the subjective experience of a single person or an entire group.
Can we and should we use a rational approach to these non-scientific subjects? Yes.
Another subject that proved interesting to me was the lectures dealing with the age of the earth and evolution. In short, LDS theology, deep time, and evolution are fully compatible. In fact, Joseph Smith, way before his time, made claims that Earth was 4.555 billion years old. (Though, of course, the exact number comes through silly means, it is true that early LDS theology held to an Earth that was billions of years old.)
I have finally been able to let go of two terms that I have previously identified with in the past. Creationism and Intelligent Design. It’s been difficult for me to stand myself against these two because I believe that God created the Earth and that life is the result of intelligent design. A great lie of anti-religionist is that theists are not rational. They often claim that believers are suffering from delusions – a claim they cannot back up, since they are claiming to know what goes on in someone’s head. Furthermore, it is a claim that cannot be proven by science. They claim that believers follow blindly, a claim that is easily refuted by the great body of discourse by scholars and laymen using a rational approach to theological subjects such as faith itself, agency, the nature of God and God’s creation, what our relationship to God is, how we acquired scripture, hope, what it means to love thine enemy, etc.
However, Creationists generally believe that Earth is young and that it took six days to create. These claims can easily be refuted in scripture and are thoroughly unsupported by our observations of Earth and space.
And Intelligent Design advocates believe in irreducible complexity. There are two problems with this. First: almost every irreducibly complex phenomenon they’ve introduced has been proven to evolve without the need for special intervention. Second, it is a “God of the Gaps” belief.
“God of the Gaps” is an attempt to prove that God exists by finding a physical reality that is unexplainable by science and can only be attributed to God. Once upon a time, this was the whole universe as we understood it. But over the eons, this has shrunk down to tiny gaps in our knowledge that keep getting smaller.
Is this really the God that is the great I Am?
Do we only believe in God to explain our existence? Then what explains God? How did God come to be? And if there is no God, how did the universe or the meta-universe come to be? What is nothing? What is something? You see – an explanation of our existence is just not a really good place to hang our belief on, no matter what it is.
Which God is greater? Is it the one that creates everything individually or the one that creates a simple set of commands by which everything evolves? I’ve seen two analogies to this reasoning. One I heard at the symposium. Which is the greater computer programmer: one who has created and programed hundreds of games or one that has created a few lines of code that creates the games by itself? Which is a more impressive feat, takes more knowledge and is simpler to execute? Another way I’ve seen it is comparing God’s word of creation to a grand fractal. A few laws of nature and we get life on Earth.
I suppose people worry that this God who gave the simple command at the beginning is no longer invested in His creation. But again, why? God was great enough to know how to start off this simple command, but not great enough to know me and all the other trillions of people and countless creatures who have walked the earth?
Well, that’s why we have revelation. We don’t prove God by our existence. We prove God by our relationship with him through reading and acting on the revelations of ancient prophets found in scripture and in the case of the LDS faith, the revelations to modern prophets as well as personal revelation.
And we can prove revelation. We can experiment on that. That is a whole other subject, but put in simple terms: Desire to know Truth. Study. Pray. Obey. Rinse and repeat.
Faith is not blind. We aren’t expected to be blind followers. We’re expected to come to know for ourselves. Rationality and Faith are not only compatible, they’re necessary for each other if we are to have a mature understanding of God, the universe, and our place in it.
The Outer Solar System: A Window to the Creative Breadth of Divinity
Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University
From All Eternity to All Eternity: Deep Time and the Gospel
Bart J. Kowallis
Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University
Answering New Atheism and Seeking a Sure Knowledge of God
Amy L. Williams
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Columbia University
Why Evolution and LDS Thought are Fully Compatible:
Overcoming our Suspicions of Science
Steven L. Peck
Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Brigham Young
Life Sciences Panel
Michael R. Stark
Associate Professor, Department of Physiology & Developmental Biology, Brigham Young University
Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Bates Laboratory at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine
R. Paul Evans
Assistant Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University
Steven L. Peck
Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Brigham Young University
Trent D. Stephens
Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Embryology, Idaho State University