Noah’s flood in light of the Restored Gospel

April 12, 2008 | 71 comments

There was an interesting post in September 2007 about a Dialogue article discussing the usual interpretation of the flood of Noah as being scientifically implausible. A couple of comments touched upon, but did not fully explicate, the way that the scriptures of the Restored Gospel and other insights from Joseph Smith can suggest a more scientifically feasible interpretation of Noah’s flood.

(1) The Book of Moses affirms that Noah was a real individual, the grandson of Enoch, who was chosen to remain behind on the earth and carry on a righteous posterity while the rest of the righteous were translated with Enoch in the City of Zion.

(2) We are told by the Prophet Joseph Smith that Noah is Gabriel, the angel who announced Christ’s birth to Mary and John the Baptist’s birth to his father Zacharias. Again, he is a real person.

(3) The Doctrine and Covenants includes the revelation that “Spring Hill is named by the Lord Adam-ondi-Ahman, because, said he, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” (D&C 116: 1) Joseph is reported as saying that “I saw Adam in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. He called together his children and blessed them with a patriarchal blessing. The Lord appeared in their midst, and he (Adam) blessed them all, and foretold what should befall them to the latest generation.” (History of the Church, 3:388–89; first set of bracketed words in second paragraph in original; punctuation modernized; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith about July 1839 in Commerce, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.) “President Brigham Young and others reported that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.” (See Journal of Discourses, 10:235; Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (1964), 481, 545–46; Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 15 Mar. 1857.) So Adam and his descendants lived in a region around what is now western Missouri.

(4) The Book of Mormon tells us that the eight Jaredite barges (is there a relationship to the “eight souls” on Noah’s Ark?) were constructed according to the same pattern as Noah’s Ark: They were “tight like unto a dish”, in other words, they were impermeable to water. A demonstration of how poorly we read scripture is the notion, shown in some Book of Mormon childrens’ books, that the barges were shaped like flying saucers, even though we are told that “the ends thereof were peaked”. Thus they resembled other historical boats we know of in both the old and new worlds. Hugh Nibley points out that extra-Biblical Jewish narratives speak of Noah’s Ark also being lit by shining stones, making the similarity even tighter. Perhaps their knowledge of the nature of Noah’s Ark also suggested to the Brother of Jared how to answer the question the Lord asked him about illuminating the interior of the ships.

Thus, unlike the rest of Christendom, we understand that Adam and his descendants up to Noah were living in the region around the western bend of the Missouri River. Yet we also know from Genesis that Noah ended up in the Middle East, with the descendants of his son Shem spreading into Mesopotamia and modern Palestine.
This seems to me to tell us that Noah starts his voyage in the misnamed “New World” and ends up in the misnamed “Old World.” Whatever else Noah is experiencing, his voyage is one halfway around the world, from one major continent complex to the other. It is the means by which the righteous survivors of a flood that destroyed evil people would move to a new area of settlement, a new “promised land”. The similarities in the length of the voyage (190 days for Noah versus a year for the Jaredites), the intentional similarity in the design of the vessels, the similarity in the means by which they were lighted, and the similarity in how they were propelled by winds and waves (according to ancient Jewish legend cited by Nibley), show that the voyage of the Jaredites was a recapitulation of Noah’s voyage in the other direction.

The former land of Noah, after the flood has destroyed the wicked and receded, has had a chance to rest and return to a natural condition, and can now be reoccupied by people God chooses, and function as their “land of promise.”

Recall that the pattern all through the Bible and the Book of Mormon has the basic elements of (1) Many people in the land are intolerably wicked, (2) God will “destroy” them, (3) God calls a righteous man to lead the righteous remnant out of the land of the wicked so they will escape this destruction, and (4) they are promised that if they are faithful in the journey, God will lead them to a “land of promise”.

This is the pattern with (1) the Israelites leaving Egypt after the wicked people there are “destroyed” by a series of plagues (even though Egypt obviously continued to exist and even thrive); (2) the departure of Lehi’s group from Jerusalem just ahead of the Babylonian conquest; (3) the departure of Nephi from the “land of our first inheritance” to the Land of Nephi; (4) the departure of the righteous Nephites under Mosiah I from the Land of Nephi, finding Zarahemla, their new capital, where he becomes king over the prior inhabitants as well; (5) the destruction of Nephites at the death of Christ, leaving a righteous remnant in charge of the surviving cities; and (6) the final destruction of the Nephites in 385 AD, where the sole righteous survivors are Moroni and the Book of Mormon record.

Moroni also summarizes (6) the history of the Jaredites, who depart from the destructive consequences of the Tower of Babel, and journey to a promised land, culminating in the destruction of the Jaredite nations, except for the short term survival of Ether with his record on gold plates and Coriantumr, who is found by the people of Zarahemla, the capital of what becomes the new Nephite promised land.

Noah’s journey fits into this pattern: The people around him are wicked (if they were righteous, they would have gone with Enoch); they are warned of destruction; they are “destroyed”; the righteous few are led by divine revelation away from the scene of destruction and given a new “promised land”.

Note that the “destruction” in each case is of a nation, not necessarily of every individual in that nation. The Nephite survivors of the battle at Cumorah simply joined the other side (the Lamanites) in order to survive. Nibley and other scholars have pointed to the occurrence of many potentially Jaredite names among the Nephites, indicating that there were other survivors besides the king. The destruction of Noah’s nation is consistent with what is actually described in Genesis.

It seems to me that God does not arbitrarily destroy people unless they have “ripened in iniquity.” The people in Noah’s day had done so, both by becoming wicked, and by having the righteous removed from their midst with the people of Enoch. To say that people on all parts of the earth were destroyed is to assert that (1) there were people all over the globe (How did they migrate? Genesis does not say), (2) they were wicked, and (3) they had been taught sufficiently what righteousness was so their rejection of it was culpable and deserving of God’s sanction. We are told that Noah was telling people to repent, but how many people could hear Noah’s warning? Who was in the zone of culpable rebellion against God? We are told nothing specific about people in the far reaches of the earth (e.g. central Asia and the area near the Himalayas that were supposedly covered by the same flood) being wicked and being warned to repent to avoid destruction.

Assuming the narrative of Noah is based on a real account (whether originally oral or written), it appears to me that the viewpoint was that of Noah or another of his surviving group, and not of an omniscient observer (God). What we see is the destruction from the perspective of the cabin on the Ark. “All the earth” within sight of the Ark was flooded and the people destroyed.

Now how much destruction was there? What does Genesis actually say? It says that it rained for 40 days and nights, and killed all men and their cattle. Then Noah’s Ark sailed on the waters, without a great rain, for half a year. He then lands somewhere, and establishes a new nation, just as the Jaredites later did.

Forty days and nights of steady heavy rain is more than we have experienced in modern times. No historical storm could sustain itself over that length of time. The great sustained storms of hurricanes can cover large areas over the ocean, but the same force that powers the cyclonic movement also forces it to migrate, staying over one place for only a few days at most, and petering out when it travels over land, where it does not receive power from evaporating seawater. To have a heavy rain that continues for 40 days would take extraordinary weather. However it was formed, that storm was miraculous in nature. Some of the scenarios that have been worked out for comet strikes on the earth have speculated that a large comet hit in the ocean could heat it so much that enormous clouds of water vapor would be generated for a sustained period. It could form a self-sustaining superstorm that could maintain itself for a long time.

I note that the only depth of water that is given in Genesis indicates 30 to 40 feet. That surely does not fill up the valleys between mountains. But anyone who has seen the impact of a 20 foot storm surge associated with a Hurricane like Katrina knows how its mass and movement will mow down anything in its path. Any civilization in that era was likely near rivers that would have swollen and flooded as the rain far exceeded their capacity of flow. We have seen intense rains over the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers create flooding that spreads out for miles beyond the banks, and the effect would be many times greater from a sustained inundation of 40 days. Certainly, if the rain were sustained for 40 days, the affected “mountains would be covered” with water. Every square inch would be very wet. Edible plants would be destroyed, both crops and many trees. Stores of food in the ground would be washed away, spoiled, or contaminated by the sewage in the floodwater (a constant problem even today). People without well stocked boats would starve to death, if they were not physically swept away or drowned or dead of hypothermia. There could be very widespread destruction of mankind, without having to cover the earth with five miles deep of new but temporary ocean. That notion is an unnecessary reading of the Genesis story, one that comes more from our traditional depictions and summaries of the story than from the actual scripture.

A steady heavy rain of 40 days would clearly cover all of the affected land, including mountains, with water. Looked at in this way, it was not necessary to create a new sea level of 25,000 feet above current sea level just to cover mountains in water. Even in the usual interpretation, the tops of the mountains are barely covered with water, so varying depth is already assumed.

The theme that the flood of Noah “baptized” the earth does not have to drive us to the “new sea level” scenario. You are immersed at baptism if your big toe is under a half inch of water, period. You are not required to be held down at the bottom of the baptismal font. When we are discussing symbolic baptism, we should also note that the crossing by Israel of the Red Sea, and 40 years later of the Jordan River, has been referred to as a “baptism”, even though the narrative insists they went through “on dry ground”.

Note that the context of Noah’s narrative does not seem to place the location of the original of the Ark anywhere near a sea. If there had been a fleet of fishing boats or merchant ships nearby, people would obviously resort to them, and fishermen might live off the food in the sea (though massive fresh water overlaid on the sea would disrupt the salt water ecology). The civilization destroyed around the Ark seems to have been a dry land culture, unprepared to float above the flood as Noah was. This also indicates that this was a local or regional destruction. If Noah lived near the former location of Adam’s Eden and Enoch’s Zion, he would have been near the Missouri or its tributaries. As the flood waters rose to 30 feet, it would have lifted the Ark and carried it down to the ocean, presumably right through the Mississippi Delta and across the site of New Orleans.
The story of sending out birds to find evidence of nearby dry land is consistent with sailing across the sea. No dove would be able to fly very far in the course of a day. Noah was checking for the presence of land within a short distance of the Ark. He did not know the location of the shore, had not sailed those waters before, so was guessing about the location of a landing. The description of both Noah’s Ark and the Jaredite barges gives no indication of a steering mechanism, or of sails and a keel to direct the ship at an angle across the wind. Without steering, Noah was waiting for the ship to run aground when land got in the way of the Ark’s wind-driven path. Knowing that land was close would let him brace for impact.

Placed in the context of modern revelation, the voyage of Noah’s Ark is one of many examples of local destruction of the wicked, and travel by a righteous remnant under divine guidance and with miraculous aid to a promised land, where a new nation is founded. Noah’s experience can thus be seen as the original voyage, to which the Jaredite voyage is a mirror image.

Why is Noah’s flood important? Belief in the flood is not a prerequisite to salvation or exaltation, and in particular belief in the flood as creating a temporary 5 mile change in the depth of the ocean is not explicitly required by Christ. Peter testified that during Christ’s ministry to the Spirit World, he preached to the spirits of people destroyed in the flood, but the flood can be a real event without the assumptions that we lard onto the story to make it seem more spectacular. And it can have its full weight as a lesson in the differential fate of the wicked and the righteous without insisting on perceptions that are not required by the text.

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71 Responses to Noah’s flood in light of the Restored Gospel

  1. R. Gary on April 12, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Should we as Latter-day Saints change our religious beliefs and the teachings of the past to conform to modern thought and critical research? Here is President Howard W. Hunter’s answer to that question:

  2. anon on April 12, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    interesting, thanks. i remember hearing once that JS said noah lived in north carolina–anyone know details?

  3. California Condor on April 12, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    R. Gary,


    God provides us with further light and knowledge line upon line, precept upon precept. His children in 2008 know more than His children did when the Bible was compiled.

  4. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 12, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    #1 R. Gary: What exactly were the “religious beliefs” and the “teachings”? The actual scriptures or the interpretations that we gave to the scriptures?

    We should all remember that many Latter-day Saints have been under the impression that, because we call the hill in manchest County, New York “Cumorah” that it must be the same hill of that name that is mentioned by Mormon and Moroni as the repository of the records he abridged. Yet there is no specific statement to that effect in scripture, and the sole reference to the Hill Cumorah in D&C 128 uses that name because it had become established by the 1840s as customary for the Saints. There is no more reason to believe that our New York Cumorah is the same as Mormon’s Cumorah than there is to believe that our Manchester County is the same as the Manchester in Britain, or that our Palmyra is the same as the Palmyra in ancient Syria.

    I am well aware that some people who believe in the “young earth creationist” interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 then try to make up for the lack of geological tranformation in that scenario by using Noah’s flood as an instrument to produce the erosion attributed by geologists to glaciers and the sedimentation attributed to no longer existent seas and gradual long term deposition. The flood becomes the backstop for salvaging the geological impotence of the “young earth” hypothesis. To do so, the flood has to be a lollapalooza, and it has to be “universal” because the effects of millions of years of both erosion and deposition have to be explained all over the planet.

    But if you can reconcile yourself to an understanding of creation that does not disregard the evidence that the earth is five billion years old, then the need for the flood to be universal and five miles deep evaporates. (pun intended)

    The reaction of geologists to the young earth/universal flood theory prejudiced them for a century against accepting the occurrence of any kind of sudden, large scale catastrophe. Until recent times, they had no idea what super eruptions of volcanos could do (and therefore discounted the 3 Nephi destructions as preposterous). It has only been a few decades that geologists have accepted that a sudden bursting of an ice age dam in western Montana produced a ginormous flash flood that scoured the scablands of eastern Washington and pushed a thousand foot high wall of water down the Columbia Gorge, which carried house-size boulders embedded in icebergs up the Willamette Valley before dissipating in the Pacific.

    We now know that earth’s history includes both excruciatingly slow long term processes as well as catastrophes of incredible energy, such as a possible asteroid strike about 250 million years ago that generated a shock wave that converged at the opposite end of the planet and burst magma onto the surface of the Deccan Traps in India, extinguishing most species then on the earth through the poisonous vapors released.

    Some Latter-day Saints who adopted the Protestant Young Earth Creationism theory have reached back to off-hand statements by Joseph Smith to resolve quandaries like the fossils of dinosaurs. They have cited his statement that the earth was made out of previously existing “worlds” (in one account) or “globes” (in another journal), and then proposed that dinosaurs inhabited these prior planets.

    But it should be noted that, within the last couple of decades, some scientists have used computer modeling of planet formation to argue that the earth would not accrete directly from cosmic dust and gas into its current large form, but that in an early version of the solar system there were a hundred or so rocky planets the size of Mercury or Mars, and that chaotic gravitational pulls among them led to ten or twelve of them colliding to form the earth. The last of these was a Mars-sized planet that struck the earth at an angle that imparted its high spin rate and the massive angular momentum that is held in the earth’s moon. The collision vaporized the earth’s outer rock layers, and they expanded under vapor pressure out into space, where they cooled and formed a ring and then coalesced into the moon (thus lacking a heavy iron core and magnetic field), which gradually slowed and moved into its current distant orbit. Our huge mooon, and the tides it generates, are vital to the long term stabiloity of the earth’s spin axis and our steady progression of seasons (otherwise eventually the tilt would grow from 23 degrees to 90 degrees so that for several months each year the hemisphere toward the sun would boil while the other froze). It has also prevented the kind of thick atmosphere that has given Venus a runaway greenhouse effect and 700 degree heat.

    Clearly, the moon is miraculous. The fact that on a regular basis the moon eclipses the sun, so precisely that we can see only then in profile the phenomena at the surface of the sun, has caused more than one scientist to wonder at how unlikely that is. It truly is a sign of God’s control of the process of creation.

    The only thing President Hunter said was that Noah and the flood were real and historical. He did not specify the depth of the water covering the earth at any given place, where the water came from or where it went.

    I assert that the interpretation I advance here is a more comprehensive account that integrates Genesis with the Book of Ether and the Doctrine & Covenants and Joseph’s belief that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County. It places Noah’s flood and his voyage in the context of similar destructions of the wicked recounted in scripture, and explains the length of time he was on the water not as waiting for the water to go down some drain or evaporate into space, but rather as the time for an intercontinental ocean voyage, precisely mirrored in the voyage of the Jaredites in similar ships in the other direction.

    I assert that this is a superior interpretation of Genesis and just as well supported by the text, and places the reality of Noah and the flood on a more scientifically sustainable basis. It does not ask Latter-day Saints to reject geology and physics in order to pass some kind of test of their ability to believe in five impossible things before breakfast. As Henry Eyring’s father told him, Mormons are only required to believe in what is true.

  5. Bob on April 12, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I don’t think you should introduce evidence from Science to prove the Bible. You must then accept the evidence from Science that disproves what you believe. The test of the Truth of the Bible or Book of Mormon must be left to the Spirit.

  6. Geoff J on April 12, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    I think this is the post mentioned:

  7. Geoff J on April 12, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    I think this is the post mentioned:

  8. R. Gary on April 12, 2008 at 5:55 pm


    “Some Latter-day Saints … have reached back to off-hand statements by Joseph Smith to resolve quandaries like the fossils of dinosaurs. They have cited his statement that the earth was made out of previously existing ‘worlds’ (in one account) or ‘globes’ (in another journal), and then proposed that dinosaurs inhabited these prior planets.”

    Yup, poor uneducated Joseph didn’t know anything about modern scientific research and scholarship, did he! – In fact, none other than President Wilford Woodruff said “Joseph Smith was an illiterate man.”

    But President Woodruff qualified that assessment by reminding that Joseph’s “teachers and instructors were angels” (Tambuli, Dec. 1978, p.17).

    What have LDS prophets and apostles taught about the Flood?

    Here is Duane E. Jeffery’s answer:

    “To date, all seem to have accepted Noah as an historical personage [and] uniformly there seems to be a tacit assumption that [the Flood] was universal. Usually it is treated as a miracle to be accepted without further analysis.” (Sunstone, October 2004, p.36.)

    I’m staying with the LDS prophets and apostles on this one, particularaly those responsible for the current Guide to the Scriptures which says:

    “During Noah’s time the earth was completely covered with water. This was the baptism of the earth and symbolized a cleansing.”

  9. mlu on April 12, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the link to President Hunter’s remarks.

    A demonstration of how poorly we read scripture. . .

    Yes, this is one of the things that has become more and more clear to me. We misread scripture and we also misread prophetic interpretations and we also misread scientific theories and we also misread our own observations and experiences. We see through a glass darkly.

    I think science and other humanistic studies are pushing us toward reading scripture better, so I like reading the struggles of thinkers to re-explain things, and I don’t worry overmuch if science for a time appears to some to “disprove” scripture, since I don’t think science every really proves anything since scientists need to make so many assumptions before they can even begin.

    I trust the prophets and the scriptures and I honor the scientists and the thinkers and I live with lots of unanswered questions. I very much enjoy posts such as this, done in a spirit of truth-seeking.

  10. gst on April 12, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    R. Gary, I don’t think that the Guide to the Scriptures that you cite necessarily supports a universal flood.

    “During Noah’s time the earth was completely covered with water.”

    does not mean the same thing as

    “During Noah’s time the Earth was completely covered with water.”

  11. Dennis on April 12, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Raymond, I like your analysis, but I see a few (potential) problems.

    First, it’s curious how little you consult the Book of Moses. Now, I fully admit that there is room for multiple interpretations; nonetheless, a compelling case can be made from the Book of Moses that the flood destroyed ALL individuals except Noah and company.

    In Enoch’s grand vision with God, we read: “And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth” (Moses 7:45). Later, we read that “Methusaleh prophesied that from his loins should spring all the kingdoms of the earth (through Noah)” (8:2). Seems to me to be pretty clear that the ENTIRE human family can be traced to Noah, if we take these verses seriously. The implication of course being that all rival ancestors must have been destroyed.

    I suppose one could equivocate (for the sake of science) on the meaning of “all” and “earth,” but there are good reasons (for the sake of scripture) not to. Consider the Lord’s words to Noah: “My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for he shall know that all flesh shall die; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years; and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them” (8:17). Now, I admit this passage is a little fuzzy, but if we take the ages of Noah and his ancestors seriously, the implication is clear: before the flood, men lived for hundreds of years, after the flood, men will not live 120 years at most. If so, the flood indicates a cataclysmic change in the state of mortality — how would this work if not all individuals were destroyed? From this reading, the entire earth is in a state of utter corruption: “The earth was corrupt before God, and it was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah: The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence, and behold I will destroy all flesh from off the earth.”

    This change in the age of man helps us to understand 2 Nephi 2:21: “[Speaking of the family of Adam and Eve:] And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh.” Stephen Robinson made an interesting observation in this regard (in a BYU course I took), albeit speculative: There is no spirit world repentance for those who lived before the flood; they lived a sufficient amount of time and all had the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel. After the flood, however, God (in his mercy) shortened the days of men and extended the time of repentance to the spirit world. This makes Peter’s reference to the spirit world all the more meaningful.

    I admit that this is simply one interpretation, but it is one that strives to be grounded in the scriptures. Extending from this interpretation is my own personal opinion that if we take the story of Noah seriously (including their ages) it throws a major wrench in trying to approach the issue from a scientific perspective. My own personal opinion, entirely speculative, is that the entire pre-Noah civilization is sealed off from mortal understanding. They lived in a qualitatively different world, and so our methods cannot capture it. Thus, I would argue that the flood is much MORE enormous than some would consider, not less. It is plausible to argue otherwise, but to do so requires one to leave the scriptures to cater scientific assumptions that I find no need to take seriously. I don’t even see why we have to see the earth as operating under the same so-called natural laws prior to the flood than it does now. Nor do I see any need to speculate anything about the pre-flood geography. To do so requires major faith in the scientific method (including its assumptions about the world, including the pre-flood world) that I think is not scriptural nor necessary.

  12. Dennis on April 12, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    One other thing: I find it amusing that we try to reconcile the flood with science, but then we kind of leave the whole city-of-Enoch-being-taken-to-heaven thing alone.

  13. Dennis on April 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    # 4:

    I sense a kind of scientific elitism in your comments here. I don’t think it’s fair for you to say that those who, for example, don’t buy into “the evidence” of the earth’s age (there is no evidence, by the way, of the metaphysical assumptions that this evidence has to rely upon) or other non-science-friendly claims believe in “impossible things.”

    Believe it or not, there are intelligent Latter-day Saints who do not have faith in the scientific method. I consider myself one of them, and this is not simply a religious standpoint. There are many intellectuals (both believers and non-believers) who do not place a lot of stock in uncorroborated claims of science that rest on ENORMOUS metaphysical assumptions (e.g., pre-historical carbon dating, many of the claims of evolution, theories of the age of the earth, etc.) For me, science is a pragmatic tool, never a truth teller. If you want to buy into the assumptions of science, then in my opinion you have to buy the whole farm, which is hostile to the gospel. From my experience, many LDS proponents of science have not thought deeply about the tenuous assumptions that scientific naturalism rests upon, and how these assumptions are (in my opinion) incompatible with theism.

  14. Bob on April 12, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I think if you leave the understanding of the scriptures to the common man, his faith. and the Spirit, then the Bible is open to all men in all ages.
    If you now add a need of understanding that includes modern science, and newly reveled scriptures, you have taken away the rights of everyone before 2,000, or who has not had classes at BYU, a chance to know the Truth.

  15. bfwebster on April 12, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I posted about this issue a few months ago, in response to the same Dialogue article (here and here are two follow-up posts, the first one humorous).

    I stand by the statement made by Elder Eyring’s grandfather to Elder Eyring’s father before he went off to college: “In this Church, you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.” There is zero evidence of any kind for a cover-the-mountains flood in the commonly cited timeframe (~2350 BC), and the evidence for such an event would be overwhelming. I fully believe that God could have done it; there’s just no evidence that He ever did. Which suggest that the ‘Flood’ event was something different than we commonly envision and likely happened in a timeframe other than that promoted by fundamentalist Christians. ..bruce..

  16. Ray on April 12, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Why does the Biblical account have to be literal and translated correctly? Why can’t it be translated correctly and figurative – or literal but not translated correctly? Why does it matter if the flood was local (probably to every location, but never universal on one occasion) or global? Why can’t prophets take accounts of antiquity both literally AND figuratively – whichever fits the need best to liken it unto their day? Why can’t this be true of OT and NT and BofM and modern prophets? Why can’t Moses have done what others after him appear to have done – taken ancient narratives and applied them to all within his stewardship? Our scriptures and modern pronouncements are full of hyperbolic statements in order to make a general point (“all the world should be taxed” – “every member a missionary”); why can’t the flood be such a case without invalidating later references to it?

    More importantly, why must we keep trying to have prophets be scientists when we don’t ask scientists to be prophets?

    I have no idea if the flood was local or global, but I enjoyed reading this post. It’s as good an interpretation as any of the rest of our speculation.

  17. Guy Murray on April 12, 2008 at 9:19 pm


    Fascinating post and analysis. Thank you.

  18. Tatiana on April 12, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    “In this church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.” Amen, amen, amen!

    Interesting hypothesis, Raymond. Thanks for posting it.

  19. Dan Ellsworth on April 12, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    …and then there are people like me, who believe in a regional flood and reject Missouri as the location of Eden. Prophets sometimes make mistakes, both in inspiration and interpretation.

  20. Bob on April 12, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    #16: I agree Ray.
    I think “figurative” is much more the norm in the history of religious narrative than ” literal “. Plus, it seems less ‘heavy lifting’ required. No proof is needed. You can go right to : What does this mean?

  21. Hans Hansen on April 12, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    #16. “More importantly, why must we keep trying to have prophets be scientists when we don’t ask scientists to be prophets?”

    General Authorities (i.e., Apostles, Prophets) who have been scientists:

    1. James E. Talmage: B.S., geology, Lehigh University; Ph.D., geology, Illinois Wesleyan University
    2. John A. Widtsoe: B.S., biochemistry, Harvard University; Ph.D., chemistry, Göttingen University, Germany,
    3. Joseph F. Merrill: Ph.D., physics, Johns Hopkins University
    4. Richard R. Lyman: B.S., Brigham Young College, Logan, Utah; studied civil engineering, University of Michigan.
    5. Russell M. Nelson: M.D., University of Utah; Ph.D., surgery, University of Minnesota
    6. Richard G. Scott: B.S., mechanical engineering,; equivalent of a Ph.D., nuclear engineering, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

  22. Clark on April 13, 2008 at 12:22 am

    There are many intellectuals (both believers and non-believers) who do not place a lot of stock in uncorroborated claims of science that rest on ENORMOUS metaphysical assumptions (e.g., pre-historical carbon dating, many of the claims of evolution, theories of the age of the earth, etc.)

    It seems to me that the metaphysics necessary to reject science is going to be much more difficult. I’m not saying science is always right but I have a hard time with your comments.

  23. Matthew on April 13, 2008 at 12:46 am

    I agree with #22. The mental gymnastics required to reject the weight of reason and science is an order of magnitude above that required to accept it. I think that rejecting the scientific method wholesale is arrogant because it is underpinned by the belief that man has the ability to reconcile every truth to every other truth and every evidence to every evidence. Finding that this cannot be done, something gets rejected. The need to do this reflects a binary view of the world that is helpful as an analytical tool neither for things temporal nor for things spiritual.

  24. Dennis on April 13, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Clark # 22:

    Only if the metaphysics supposedly needed to reject science is one in which laws are fundamental. Indeed, I would argue that we wouldn’t even need a metaphysics at all to replace science (at least not in the traditional sense).

    Regardless, I think most Latter-day Saints do not think about the major metaphysical assumptions that are required in accepting a claim such as the earth being a million-ba-jillion years old. Such a claim only makes sense with an assumption of linear time — that time is objective, universal, continuous, and reductive. An alternative claim that time is nonlinear — that time is interpretive, contextual, discontinuous, and holistic — would make such a claim meaningless. We are quick to accept the assumptions of the linear model without even considering the nonlinear, in spite of the LDS beliefs of eternal and uncreated matter which ultimately make linear dating untenable.

  25. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 12:49 am

    #21 – *sigh*

  26. Dennis on April 13, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Matthew #23:

    Could you spell out your views more fully? I’m having a hard time understanding what you’re saying. Maybe it’s simply my ignorance (or arrogance), but I’m going to need a little more…

  27. Bookslinger on April 13, 2008 at 1:04 am

    I think

    1. perhaps the mountains weren’t as tall pre-flood.
    2. perhaps the ocean wasn’t as deep pre-flood.
    3. perhaps the continents hadn’t divided pre-flood, and were together as “Pangea.” s Perhaps that is what is meant by: in the days of Peleg the earth was divided. So maybe Missouri and Palestine weren’t so far apart back then.
    4. I’m intrigued by the idea that there may have been a layer of water in the upper atmosphere, ie, the firmament divided the waters that were above the firmament from the waters that were below the firmament. Perhaps that orbiting or upper atmospheric water came down to cause the flood.
    5. perhaps then there were upheavals of the earth’s surface which caused more variations in elevation. Some spots became higher, becoming highlands and mountains; some spots became deeper, becoming deeper ocean, which naturally gave the appearance of the water receeding.

    The Flood was also a dividing point in the longevity of man. After the Flood, people didn’t live so long as before.

  28. Matthew on April 13, 2008 at 1:10 am

    #26, far be it from me to leave you dissatisfied. :-) What I am saying is that light is both particle and wave depending on how you look at it. That we are unable to comprehend how it can be both doesn’t compel us to dismiss one of those properties. I think that some in their well intentioned but overzealous defense of literalist interpretations of scripture often conclude that they must dismiss scientific evidence (or even the method itself) in order to be intellectually consistent. The arrogance comes in the belief that if I cannot resolve the apparent conflict then it cannot be resolved. My preference is for accepting all those things which either spirit or reason tell me are true and not feeling troubled if there are apparent contradictions. This seems to me a much more conservative approach then either rejecting science (which many do) or rejecting faith (which many do). Hope that clears it up.

  29. Dennis on April 13, 2008 at 1:23 am

    28: That helps, thanks.

    I’m completely fine with your tolerance of apparent contradictions. I feel the same way about many, many things.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that someone has to dismiss science wholesale. I don’t, although I am never satisfied with science as a Truth-teller (with a capital T).

    I do, think, however, that sometimes people give scientific claims too much credit, as though there is this infallible authority that a person would be unreasonable to doubt or dismiss. Science is, after all, a human endeavor, and one that rests entirely on certain metaphysical assumptions. These assumptions can never be proven (at least not by science). Put differently, there is no scientific evidence for science. One must believe in it. Now, it is one thing to see the good that science can do by way of innovation, but it is quite another to see science as an ultimate revealer of the truths of the world. I think that many of the scientific-minded will be surprised at the nature of some of the things that Christ will reveal when He comes again. And certainly some non-scientific-minded people will probably be surprised as well. But in either case, we ought to be very suspicious of an enterprise that rests on the assumption that the world can be explained by natural laws, without reference to God (and this is what science is, at bottom). Thus, God can be nothing more than an add on to the more fundamental natural laws. Thus, law is fundamental, not God. This is an enormous assumption that we ought to think twice before we buy into. I like to entertain an alternative assumption, that eternal beings are fundamental, not laws. Anything we call a “law” would only make sense in light of the things of eternity.

    But I could be wrong… But it doesn’t mean I’m an unthoughtful, irrational person for expressing doubt in the fundamental assumptions and claims of modernist, naturalistic science.

  30. Matthew on April 13, 2008 at 1:33 am

    29. I don’t think you are irrational, but I struggle with taking the true proposition that “knowing” anything rests on certain assumptions and morphing it into the belief that we cannot therefor rely on anything we observe or reason. I look at the end of my arm and I see my hand. I can certainly go through the exercise that Descartes did and ask myself whether or not my eyes could be deceived or whether or not an omnipotent evil genius might be tricking me. I have to concede these possibilities. But this concession doesn’t lead me to think that my eyes and my brain are sources of information that I should view with skepticism.

  31. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 13, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Blogger’s response to comments: Please note that I brought up the Joseph Smith statements about creation of the earth out of prior “globes” to demonstrate that Joseph was either prophetic in this case or a darned good guesser. He made a statement that was unintelligible under astronomy prior to 1990, but his statement appears to describe the most current scientific theory of the earth’s formation.

    John A. Widtsoe wrote a little book called “Joseph Smith as Scientist,” in which he points out examples of how Joseph’s observations presaged scientific discoveries. Based on the best information we have about the creation of the earth, Joseph could have been witnessing it.

    As for prophets not being scientists and scientists not being prophets: Thanks for the listing of scientifically trained professionals among the Twelve. I would add President Uchtdorf as a professional pilot had to be well versed in meteorology, aerodynamics, and avionics and aircraft design. Science and spirituality are clearly NOT mutually exclusive categories. Having the education and skills of a scientist or engineer does not disqualify a man from receiving revelation for himself or his family or, if he is a bishop, stake president, or mission president, those he serves.

    It is not at all clear to me that we have been required by God to make a particular interpretation of the flood story into a test of faith or orthodoxy. We are enjoined to have faith in Christ, not in how deep or extensive the flood was.

    As was noted in the comments to the previous blog posting on the flood, when you tell people they MUST swallow the most extreme version of the flood story, and reject all sciences–geology, physics, astronomy, cosmology, radiology, chemistry, paleontology, biology, etc.–you are going to lose people from the Church, and for no good reason that I can see. This is a result that was decried by Henry Eyring, a world class scientist and a faithful Latter-day Saint who served as a branch president, a district president, on a high council and on the Sunday School General Board. He was very perturbed when Mormons would insist that all of science must yield before their personal interpretation of a particular scripture.

    For goodness sake, even the authors and editors of the Book of Mormon acknowledged that their book was NOT “inerrant” nor so perfect that it could NOT be misunderstood. And we officially believe the Bible is not nearly that “perfect”. We have no charter as Latter-day Saints to insist that every word in the Bible must be binding on us in the way a contract is. Judges recognize that even contracts, documents which are supposed to be a specific guide to actions and obligations, whose meaning has been agreed to in full by the two parties, and which generally contain a statement that they have come to a full meeting of the minds, can be discovered to be full of ambiguities and assumptions by one party not shared by the other. We never negotiated with Moses that we would accept every sentence of Genesis as perfectly clear in its meaning and be unavoidably bound by it. It is a written document, and therefore has meaning only to the extent that there is a social context of communication in which the words and phrases have meaning to both the originator and the recipient. We think we know that Moses originated Genesis, but he clearly had a lot of help over the millennia in transmitting it to us, through different languages, and variations in the same languages.

    I see no warrant for Latter-day Saints making a particular hard-to-believe interpretation of the flood story into a disqualifying test that is equivalent to the way traditional Christians use the three-in-one, one-substance, no body, no emotions god of the Nicene and Chalcedon creeds. The traditional Christian theologians admit that the Trinity as they describe it is logically inconsistent as a statement, but they insist it is a mystery that must be believed or one will go to hell.

    Are we going to have a question added to the baptismal interview about the flood? The temple recommend interview? The interview for missionaries? Does Alma say this is a precondition for baptism? Does D&C 20? Or Moroni or Nephi? Does Alma the Younger say that he was forgiven when he cried out that he accepted that the flood was five miles deep?

    The proper relationship of the flood narrative to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel is that, once we have exercised faith in Christ and repented, we then can begin accepting the truth of scripture generally, though that is not a requirement that we accept someone’s particular interpretation of one part of scripture.

    For me, the truth of the Book of Mormon and the D&C and Pearl of Great Price tells me that there is truth in the Noah narrative. What I propose here is a hypothesis that I think is consistent with scripture as well as with reason and observation. Mormons are ridiculed for believing that the Garden of Eden was real, and even more for the idea that it was anywhere in the vicinity of Kansas City, a location that is treated with disdain by America’s bi-coastal media elites. Yet I propose that this belief gives a rationale for the whole Noah narrative, as an escape from destruction that takes the narrative from the Americas to the EurAsia/Africa stage where the rest of the Bible takes place.

    Astronomy shows us galaxies that are over ten billion light years away. They are therefore at least ten billion years old. Our observations of them do not indicate any significant change in the laws of nature over that time span. The notion that none of the rules of science apply to pre-Noah mankind, as distinct from pre-Adamic creation, is not something that I see required by scripture. It is a kind of “want-um physics” a plot device used in science fiction to allow us to tell the story we want to tell without the intrusion of reality. Those who reject the real science relevant to issues like this have a tendency to make up new “science” on the spot in order to produce the desired result.

    It is ironic that it is precisely the laws of nature that are one of the most eloquent arguments for the existence of God. There are over a dozen apparently arbitrary constants that govern the physical universe, completely independent of each other and other values, and yet, if any of them were altered by 10%, larger or smaller, life as we know it would be impossible in this universe. Such changes could destroy stars, destroy water, destroy the ability of hydrogen to fuse into helium and produce the energy life depends on, or destroy the ability of helium to fuse into carbon, the basis of all life. To say that natural laws are arbitrary and have no real meaning is to undercut one of the major counterarguments against atheism.

    I think those who think they can essentially tell God that He has to make up new laws of nature so that a particular story can turn out the way they want it to are ironically taking the position of Islam that God has total arbitrary power to create the laws of nature or modify them at any time. Indeed, they argue there was no need for an atoning sacrifice by Christ because Allah could simply decide to forgive men without being bound by any rules of justice that require some kind of penalty being paid. One of the great flaws of the creeds held tightly by traditional Christianity is that their Aristotelian god is not bound by any rules exterior to itself, so they are vulnerable to the Muslim’s argument.

    By contrast, the Restored Gospel is adamant that even God is subject to certain basic laws of the universe, including Justice. There are laws “irrevocably decreed” that even God cannot set aside, and which bind Him. The LDS approach to miracles is that they manifest a deeper understanding and utilization of the laws of the universe beyond our present understanding, rather than a suspension by God of those laws in which He gets to be arbitrary and capricious.

    Radiology and the study of nuclear fission is what has given us nuclear reactors as well as nuclear weapons. The science that tells us how much radiation we are exposed to from radon in our basements is also the science that tells us that the earth is over 4.5 billion years old. Radioactive decay is so constant and predictable that it drives the national atomic clock at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Boulder Colorado, which broadcasts the time signature for our atomic clocks and watches. It is the most accurate time measuring device on earth. And the same kind of mechanism tells us the age of the earth is vastly more than 12,000 years. These are things within the professional competence of Elder Richard G. Scott of the Twelve, who was a nuclear engineer for the Navy.

    I don’t see the translation of the City of Enoch as any more problematical than the translation of Elijah and the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the descent of Moroni or of the Father and Son from heaven to converse with Joseph Smith. If you think that buildings and roads and perhaps sewer systems were taken into heaven, you have missed the point. A “city” is the citizens, the polis, the people. When the City of Zion returns, it is not going to be dropping a huge chunk of adobe on Independence, Missouri, but will be thousands of translated individuals descending with the Savior, in the same way the Savior and others have descended in ones and twos and threes. Note that the Book of Moses notes that even after the City of Enoch ascends, there are other righteous people who are caught up into heaven to dwell with them. Similarly, the city of Melchizedek, or Salem, on the site of what is now Jerusalem, also was translated and joined with Enoch’s group, while Abraham was left on earth to be the father of a righteous lineage.

    Statistically, anyone who lived in the days of Abraham, or earlier, and who has ANY living descendants today, MUST also be an ancestor of ALL mankind. Noah clearly meets that condition, so he IS our ancestor, even though we have many others (including the parents of his wife and of his daughters-in-law). He could never be our SOLE ancestor.

    We are also told that at the end of the earth, it will be baptized with fire, analogous to receipt of the Holy Ghost. Will this fire have to be 5 miles deep over the oceans, so it presents a perfect oblate spheroid when seen from space, in order to fulfill this prophecy, or will it be sufficient if fire or intense heat simply sweeps over the surface of the earth? If the latter, why not the same for the water in the flood?

    Again, I am not saying anyone has to accept my hypothesis. I may learn something next week that makes me reject it. But I do NOT think that we have any right to tell Latter-day Saints they MUST accept a particular interpretation of Noah’s story or of the creation in order to be in good standing in the Church. And the notion that we can ignore science and make up our own pseudo-science in order to produce one particular result is to support all the stereotypes about ignorant Mormons that atheists try to foist upon us.

  32. Peter LLC on April 13, 2008 at 5:38 am

    I assert that the interpretation I advance here is a more comprehensive account that integrates Genesis with the Book of Ether and the Doctrine & Covenants and Joseph’s belief that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County.

    There is a long tradition of integrating earlier accounts into a broader narrative that ties the present to the past, reaching back to the creation of the Biblical narratives themselves.

    The proper relationship of the flood narrative to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel is that, once we have exercised faith in Christ and repented, we then can begin accepting the truth of scripture generally, though that is not a requirement that we accept someone’s particular interpretation of one part of scripture.

    I agree, especially if “accepting the truth of scripture generally” refers to theological truth, i.e., that God makes and fulfills convenants and promises, redeems His children and so on. I agree too that it is not a requirement that we accept someone’s particular interpretation, especially those relating to mundane, non-salvational details. Having said that, I do find Carol Redmount’s view of the Exodus relevant to the discussion at hand as well as generally thought-provoking:

    “There is an inherent tension between an ancient and a modern understanding of the historicity of the Exodus. Mythical and historical categories of thought were not mutually exclusive in antiquity; on the contrary, the very miracles that make modern readers uncomfortable intensified the drama and significance of the historical base for the ancient. We do the Exodus narrative a profound disservice by uncritically seeking natural explanations for the clearly miraculous, and it is misguided to supply scientific explanations for such nonhistorical events as the ten plauges of Egypt, the burning bush that spoke to Moses, or the pillars of cloud and fire that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness.

    “In the end, the Exodus saga is neither pure history nor pure literature, but an inseperable amalgam of both…. For the Israelites, the Exodus events were anchored in history, but at the same time rose above it. The Exodus saga incorporated and reflected an original historical reality, and this reflection was all that was necessary to make the account historical in ancient eyes. The Egyptian captivity and deliverance were seen through a lens of communal faith, in which history provided the skeletal framework for structuring the actions of God. This skeleton was fleshed out by a variety of predominately literary and religious forms. (“Bitter Lives,” The Oxford History of the Biblical World, p. 64.)

  33. Snow White on April 13, 2008 at 11:04 am

    The glory of God is intelligence.

    I think if Heavenly Father didn’t want us to be thinking, reasoning individuals who could find ways to reconcile religion and science, he wouldn’t have made us intelligent.

    What sets us apart from our eclesiastical brethren is the knowledge that we will not be sitting on clouds strumming harps and singing hymns for eternity after this life. We have an important work to do, and this work will require us to have a complete understanding of the natural laws of this universe in all it’s forms (physics, biology, chemistry, microbiology, etc). As has been pointed out previously, Heavenly Father is bound to act within a set of natural laws. Science isn’t just suspended for him, and part of our duty will be to learn how to act within those laws so we can be like Him.

    Heavenly Father has also worked to inspire scientists to new discoveries when they will be of benefit of mankind. I don’t think he intends for us to live like cavemen. As long as we approach ideas about the flood or evolution from the position that Brother Swenson did, namely that the gospel is true, and then seeking to reconcile what’s written with what evidence is shown, we do no harm. Our testimonies are centered in the gospel, not in science. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use the science. Since we know Heavenly Father operates not by magic but by a superior understanding and utilization of natural law, we can use that knowledge to determine how certain events could have occured. There are things we may never understand in this life, but at least we won’t be guilty of not trying.

    I found it a fascinating and plausible explanation.

  34. Jason J on April 13, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Count me among the fans of RTS’s posts. I have enjoyed all your posts this week, but somehow, I enjoy your follow-up comments even more. Keep it coming.

  35. Rob Osborn on April 13, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    How many times is this topic going to be hashed over? I mean really? We don’t hash over the topic if we really will be resurrected do we? I mean after all, science says it is impossible to resurrect a dead body and give it eternal life. Why is it we believe in the resurrection which is way more miraculous than a flood? Is it because we “must” believe in the resurrection because without it our future is pretty bleak?

    “Because science says so” is such a weak argument and pillar to live by. Science- good science, is proven to be incorrect everyday. What we are really saying is that good men who work in the fields of science are not always correct and are at times misdirected in their endeavors.

    Science has proven that there was a global flood. Sure, it may not be the **** wing science group (it’s all political anyway), but there are reputable scientists with real degrees in biology and geology that have proven that there was a global catastrophe- a flood of global proportions in the recent geological past. Scientists have shown how a global flood not only happened, but also the ramifications it has created in our present day earth.

    In fact, the evidence is so overwhelming (if one opens his or her eyes) that a global flood occurred, that it is like not being able to see the forest because of the trees.

    The flood waters never had to cover Mt. Everset because Mt. Everest was created after and as a result of the flood. Anyone who knows anything about pro-flood arguments, knows that people believing in the global flood realize and aknowledge that the mountain chains we have today were created as a direct result of the flood. The mountains that existed pre-flood were destroyed (however high they were?) and the mountains we have now were created as a barrier so that the flood waters would no more cover the earth.

    Another argument is that not only did it rain for 40 days continuously, the fountains of the “great deep” were broken up. This means that water was coming both from under the earth and from over the earth.

    The city of Enoch (Zion) was also taken up pre-flood. Has anyone ever considered what natural, scientific, geologic repurcussions this would have upon the earth? Could the city being taken up have anythging to do with starting a chain reaction leading to a global catastrophe?

    I like how it was brought up earlier that no one ever questions how a big chunk of land was taken from the earth (city of Enoch) but yet they endlessly question if the flood really happened like the bible repeatedly says over and over again. Even Christ himself testified of it’s global destruction and impact. Do we justify ourselves in calling him a liar? Or do we place ourselves outside of that by just saying that he meant something else or that the translation was incorrect?

    Hopefully Christ really meant that we will be reurrected and that it wasn’t just a mistranslation or that Christ was really just referring to something else!

    The flood really did happen. It was a global catastrophe. I testify as Christ himself that it really did happen. I also testify that we will be resurrected just as true as the flood really did destroy the whole earth by it’s global covering of water.

  36. Matthew on April 13, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Rob, thanks for your testimony. I’ll see your stage 3 head scratching at my approach and raise you a stage 4 (entering 5) knowing look down my nose at yours.

  37. Peter LLC on April 13, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Since we know Heavenly Father operates not by magic but by a superior understanding and utilization of natural law, we can use that knowledge to determine how certain events could have occured.

    Yes, assuming that the events in question actually occured and that there is no other explanation for their inclusion in the Good Book except to supply the kind of objective evidence preferred by modern historians.

  38. Brad Kramer on April 13, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Can I drop in my testimony to the truth of a Ptolemaic model of the universe as well as to the fact that objects fall to the Earth not because of some impersonal, random “force” called gravity but because they are willed to do so by an obviously Intelligent being?

  39. chris j on April 13, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    “If the Spirit hasn’t obviously testified to your heart that something is true, then be prepared to jettison it from your set of beliefs when you find out it’s false. And most of what you believe is false.”

    I’m pretty sure an icy comet hit the earth, added more water, and then mutated homo sapien DNA so the lifespans shortened dramatically. The entire earth got sprinkled like a Catholic ordinance.

  40. chris j on April 13, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    “If the Spirit hasn’t obviously testified to your heart that something is true, then be prepared to jettison it from your set of beliefs when you find out it’s false. And most of what you believe is false.”

    I’m pretty sure an icy comet hit the earth, added more water, and the impact mutated homo sapien DNA so the lifespans shortened dramatically. The entire earth got splashed/sprinkled like a Catholic ordinance.

  41. Dennis on April 13, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Raymond #31 (and other science-enthusiasts):

    First, let me agree wholeheartedly that we need to have room for multiple interpretations. I am a huge champion of pluralism in this regard, and I also am glad that there are members of the Church who take science seriously. I also take science seriously — so seriously that I am willing to question its foundational assumptions of naturalistic laws being fundamental. If certain atheists are going to characterize me for having thoughtful and intelligent criticisms of science, so be it. It’s far different from being naive about science’s claims. It is simply not believing in their underlying assumptions. (By the way, there are other people of all stripes of religious orientations — including atheists — who don’t buy into science’s assumptions, and, by your argument, we ought to not insist for them to bow down at the altar of science.)

    By way of pluralism, let me make one thing clear. We do NOT have to believe that God operates by natural law. I realize that this view has become somewhat popular via apostles like Talmage and Widstoe (as well as noteworthy members like Henry Eyring), but this hardly makes it Church doctrine any more than the interpretations of older prophets and apostles (e.g., biblical) that are often disputed by many science-minded Latter-day Saints. Had these apostles been raised in a more postmodern era, they might not have been so quick to ally the gospel with science. Don’t get me wrong, I respect these brethren an enormous deal, but I do not have to agree with their scientific assumptions. The brethren have made it clear, time and again, that they are not to be considered experts in science. Such would include, I presume, problematic assumptions made that reflect one’s philosophy of science.

    So, allow me to dispute a few claims as being THE LDS position.

    First (re #33): “We know Heavenly Father operates not by magic but by a superior understanding and utilization of natural law.” Allow me to say that I, as a Latter-day Saint do not know this. Also, you are making a false dichotomy between “magic” and “natural law.” This dichotomy only makes sense from a modernist perspective. More on this as I discuss law further…

    Second (re Raymond # 31): “Restored Gospel is adamant that even God is subject to certain basic laws of the universe, including Justice. There are laws “irrevocably decreed” that even God cannot set aside, and which bind Him.”

    The question is not whether God is subject to “laws,” but what are the nature of these laws. Are they the same in quality as so-called “natural laws”? That would require a compelling argument that you certainly couldn’t call the restored gospel being “adamant” about. Interestingly, you talk about laws that are “irrevocably decreed.” Decreed by whom? By what? Seems to me that something decreed requires a decreer. At any rate, it is quite a stretch to say that this scripture applies to God, rather than solely to men. My reading: God is the decreer.

    But this point doesn’t fully get to the bottom of things. Here is what the restored gospel is (somewhat) adamant about: Intelligence and matter are eternal and cannot be created or made. From here, you do not have to posit a metaphysics. So, for example, even if we hold that God is bound to keep his promises, this claim does not require that we posit a law that is “out there” somewhere that is binding Him. Rather, HE is binding Himself. And if he didn’t, then it simply would be the case that He wouldn’t be God, because a God, by His very nature, would not be duplicitous in this manner. But this does not require that we posit a law that is a FORCE that is acting upon God. We, who are entrenched in modernism, are quick to reify, or make real, laws, when they might simply be abstractions that we use to describe more fundamental relational realities. We simply do not have to make the laws the fundamental building blocks of the universe. (Many science-happy Latter-day Saints that I have spoken with have never really thought about this.)

    By way of example, we don’t have to see “justice” as a fundamental law. Rather, it is a handy abstraction for describing the character of God. God is simply just. Could he be otherwise and still be God? I would say no, but why? Because of the “law of justice” that is floating around somewhere? No, because (in my opinion) it would betray his relationships with others (the other intelligences who are co-eternal with Him; this could certainly include his own Father, via the mainstream LDS generation of God’s theory).

    From this view it is relationships, not laws, that make the world go round. Of course, I know what you’re thinking. Is that not itself a law: “Relationships make the world go round”? I suppose you could say that it is an admittedly abstract description of a concrete reality, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say that it is describing laws in the natural law sense.

    So who could possibly give a crap about any of this? Is it nothing more than some kind of mental masturbation? In my opinion, no. The upshot of what I am describing here is that we can only understand abstractions like “laws” in proper relationship with God. When Jesus says “I am the … truth,” I take him literally. He is not simply the person who has mastery of the truth, or who leads us to the truth, but he is Truth itself (see Terry Warner’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on truth for more on this: )

    Thus, any claim of science has to be grounded in proper relationship with Christ. Now, is it possible that the current approach to science is — whether they know it or not — doing this? Yes, I would say it is possible. But not likely. There is no room in science for the incarnation, miracles, and resurrection of Christ, not to mention His atoning sacrifice.

    Well, yes, but there are “higher laws” right? Well, there are laws that are dictated by God. And maybe there are even higher laws (I don’t believe this, but I could be wrong). But regardless, THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THESE HIGHER LAWS ARE CONNECTED IN ANY WAY AT ALL WITH THE “NATURAL LAWS” OF SCIENCE. It could be, theoretically, that the so-called “higher laws” reveal science as a groundless great and spacious building and Tower of Babel.

    But hasn’t science been so successful, leading to all kind of innovations and technologies — which the Brethren of the Church laud? Yes — but we can accept the innovation of science without accepting its metaphysical assumptions about the nature of the world. In this sense, science is art, not a transparent window on reality.

    Now, I know my comments here regarding relationalism vs. lawful metaphysics is not going to satisfy many of you. I encourage you to read a BYU Studies article by Brent Slife, in which he makes the case for such much better than I have here. You can access a draft copy from his website:

    Dr. Slife’s provocative argument is that if laws are seen as the fundamental guiding force in our lives, not God, then do we put another God (i.e., natural laws) before Him?

    One more thing I need to comment on: Raymond seems to suggest that what I was doing above (#11) consists of a “pseudo-science.” He is simply wrong, because it would only be a pseudo-science if I was trying to be (or sound) scientific. I am not. Moreover, I never suggested that God would have to be arbitrary or capricious. This view only makes sense if you already buy into a modernist notion of natural laws. I do not. In other words, I do not see God as creating whatever He wants ex nihilo. You are creating a false dichotomy to suggest that the existence of fundamental realities (e.g., matter and intelligence) means that God has to act by natural laws.

    Similarly, I do not see what I am doing as making up a pseudo-science in order fit a particular result, as you suggest. This would only be the case if I ALREADY was a modernist. I am not. However, YOU could possibly be dubbed as a pseudo-scientist (by some scientists) for taking the resurrection, Atonement, incarnation, miracles, etc. seriously. (I am not calling you this, but you certainly would be called it by some.)

    What I am doing is doing my best to articulate certain possibilities that are meaningful to me in light of my relationship with God, others, and the scriptural text. I have no allegiance to science per se (though I certainly could if it was meaningful to these more fundamental relationships). So you can hardly accuse me of trying to have my cake and eat it too, ala pseudo-science.

    And … I’m still waiting for an explanation on the whole (supposed?) life-span reduction after the flood….

  42. AHLDuke on April 13, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I think the life-span reduction may be another key to embracing a non-literal interpretation of the Flood. There is nothing about the Flood event that would suggest a change in the basic physical structures of Noah and the other survivors, something that would radically alter their change in longevity. My own take is that the super-long lifespans of the ancient patriarchs is mythic (not in the pejorative sense) and that the Flood is simply a mythic demarcator of a move into another age of the world’s history.

    What nobody has brought up here is the fact that Flood stories appear in so many other ancient cultures. Of course, that fact alone proves nothing. It could mean that it really did happen, or it could mean that one culture (the Mesopotamians for example) had a great myth and everyone else just copied it.

  43. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    or that there has been a Katrina-like flood in every civilization at one point or another. Without the knowledge that modern technology has brought, it would be easy for the survivors of Katrina (or, better yet, the Southeast Asian tsunami) to write exactly such a narrative – of the whole earth being flooded by the wall of water that swept away everyone they knew and loved.

    Also, and I’m too lazy right now to find the source, the number 40 has been linked to “an inordinately long period of testing / probation” by many Biblical scholars. The flood, the wandering of Israel, the Lord’s fast, etc. – all can mean “a long time relative to the normal event” in Biblical usage. So, a fast of 40 days might mean “a very long fast”; 40 years in the wilderness might mean “a very long time in the wilderness”; and 40 days and nights of rain might simply mean “an incredibly long storm that seemed to never end”. That definition would fit many narratives of many floods that survived many civilizations. (I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of numerology. The basic point is enough.)

    As I said earlier, I don’t care, since the way we (and others) liken things unto themselves is more important religiously than the scientific nature of those things in academic isolation.

  44. Bookslinger on April 13, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    AHLDuke, #42,
    Non-LDS Christian apologists have pointed to a couple things about the flood that could have influenced life-span. These are merely speculation, but interesting to think on.

    1. The high alttitude water or water-vapor before the flood may have mitigated the oxidizing or aging effects of the sun’s radiation and other cosmic radiation that reaches the earth’s surface.

    2. What are now called trace elements may have been much more abundant in the topsoil, and hence in plants, pre-flood. These trace elements are found in higher concentration in the oceans than in topsoil. Perhaps these elements being more abundant in man’s diet pre-flood, and had an effect on longevity before the flood and subsequent millenia of rains washed more and more elements from the topsoil.

  45. Bob on April 13, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    #42: Funny, for Egypt, the yearly flood by the Nile, was considered “God’s Gift”.
    #44: Does this mean I will live longer due to “Global Warming”.

  46. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 13, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    #41 (Dennis): “Scientists” are not a cult with a creed that all members must take a blood oath to uphold. There is no inherent logical compulsion in the practice of science to a total materialist outlook that asserts that there can be nothing outside the physical aspects of the world we can readily observe. Look at modern physics, where the dominant theory about the nature of matter is that every subatomic particle is an eleven-dimensional loop of string that acquires different masses and electric charges from the frequencies of its vibration. Then there are a whole raft of scientists who assert that the Copenhagen theory of quantum indeterminacy is wrong, and that every quantum event with alternatives actually spawns two complete new universes, one from each possible outcome.

    Scinece actually leaves a lot of room for metaphysical events beyond the scope of observation. It simoly uses discipline in figuring out what we do observe.

    The creation of the Himalayas and other high mountain ranges is due to movements of crustal plates against each other. The Matterhorn is made of pieces of Africa sitting atop Europe. These movements take tremendous energy and therefore time. The notion that a flood could cause them is something you are going to have a lot of explanation to convince me of, especially to abandon theories that logically explain so much.

  47. Dennis on April 13, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Raymond #46:

    ““Scientists” are not a cult with a creed that all members must take a blood oath to uphold.”

    Maybe not, but if I am a scientist who doesn’t believe in the scientific method then it is a problem. As someone who is a member of a scientific organization (American Psychological Association), you can trust me on this one. Yes, there is a group of us (Society for Philosophical and Theoretical Psychology) who don’t typically place a lot of stock in the scientific method — this hardly means that we abandon reason, logic, and so forth — but we are pretty marginalized by the rest of the discipline. Moreover, the scientific method is talked about as if it is fact, rather than a human construction (including in our public schools).

    Regarding all that stuff about the Himalayas, I don’t need to convince you of anything because I never took issue with a flood that doesn’t cover the entire earth. That’s not all that important to me. So you’re putting me in a box that I never entered. But of course you wouldn’t be convinced anyway because, for you, logic apparently means metaphysically continuous. So you’re not going to be convinced by any argument I can offer because I am simply illogical because I don’t bow down to the altar of scientific logic. You, on the other hand, are making claims about how we can be so confident in the metaphysical assumptions of science — without acknowledging (realizing?) that such a claim is ITSELF grounded in the assumptions of the metaphysics in question. It’s a matter of belief, Raymond. Your confidence in science is grounded in a belief. Mine is also grounded in a belief. Don’t pretend it’s a matter of “logic” or “evidence” because the very logic or evidence in question is itself grounded on what one believes. You may call mine irrational or illogical, but I’d like to hear you do so in a way that doesn’t already take for granted scientific assumptions.

    I’m still waiting for your explanation of the whole life-span deduction … particularly about why Moses would talk about the ages of the ancients in hundreds of years and then ALSO report the revelation from the Lord to Noah about how men would live to the age of 120 (Moses 8:17) — (poor Enoch … poor Moses…poor Joseph Smith … if only they were enlightened by the grand truths of 21st Century science!) I’m guessing you are going to say something about a poor interpretation or something. Otherwise, you’d have to open the window to a qualitatively different world prior to the flood. (Of course, you have to do that anyway if you take seriously the immortality of Adam and Eve prior to the Fall.)

    Now you COULD be right. It COULD be that our scientific understandings are more or less correct and we ought to interpret the scriptural account in a way that accords with it. But you also COULD be wrong. It COULD be that there really was a qualitatively different age prior to the flood (which is a very legitimate interpretation of scripture), and IF this is the case, then it throws an enormous wrench on scientific discovery prior to this time (as well as even after, but I won’t press it that far). Of course, you could say, oh well, we know that that couldn’t possibly be the case … but that’s only something we can know FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE RIGHT NOW, based on assumptions about a metaphysical continuity which would have a preinvestigatory bias against even the possibility of something like a drastic age-reduction of mortals. At the least, you have to own up to this bias.

  48. Dennis on April 13, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Raymond #46:

    Regarding your concern with all the time it would take for the movement of crustal plates…

    How much “time” does it take to turn water to wine? for bread and fish to regenerate? for a man whose body has rotted for three days to be restored to living flesh? for fire to be called down from heaven upon petition of a prophet? for a man to be able to walk on water? for Heavenly Father and Jesus to visit the earth on petition of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s prayer? for Jesus to suffer for the sins of the world in the garden of Gethsemane?

    Will I be served science, pseudo-science, or simply faith?

  49. Dennis on April 14, 2008 at 12:11 am

    A brief play from Wendell Berry’s Life is a Miracle:

    Isaiah (finger in the air and somewhat oblivious of the historical superiority of the modern audience): The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as of the flower of the field.

    Edward O. Wilson (somewhat impressed, but nevertheless determined to do his bit for “evolutionary progress”): But . . . but, sir! Are you aware of the existence of the electromagnetic spectrum?


  50. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 1:17 am

    #48 (Dennis)–I am really amazed. What scripture or authoritative revelation from a prophet tells us that plate tectonics is not real? You are assembling an amazing structure of supposition on an intepretation of the flood story that is not, in my view, compelled by the actual language of the text. Your theories are built on sand, and cannot withstand a deluge.

    My view of science is that it actually testifies of the existence of a powerful intelligence behind the universe, the creation of the earth, and the creation of life. Alma and Paul both spoke of how the heavens and the earth lead the honest in heart to belief in a creator. The assertion of the Intelligent Design movement is that, stripped of the materialist assumptions that many people carry with them into science, science per se not only leaves plenty of room for the existence and actions of God, it actually provides evidence that the most rational and logical explanation for certain observed phenomena is the existence of a highly intelligent agent who designed what we observe.

    The structure of the living cell is incredibly complex, a chemical factory that not only contains all the machinery for reproducing itself, and for obtaining the energy and materials for doing so, but the complete set of instructions for making and operating those mechanisms. The first living cell had to have all of these capabilities and components in place when it came into being. Nothing short of a complete system could perform the “simple” functions of life. And there is absolutely NO scientific explanation for how this complex system came into existence from inanimate random matter. The more we learn about it, and as our understanding of information processing and computers grows, the impossibility is even greater.

    This information and testimony about the creation of life comes from scientific observation and analysis, not a deduction from a few words in Genesis. But it affirms the assertion of the scriptures that God did indeed create life and the earth. It therefore seems to me that science, shorn of materialist assumptions that are NOT scientifically derived, but mere prejudices, in fact supports the truth of scripture. I am therefore loathe to cast real science away as a thing of no worth. I stand with Elders Widtsoe and Talmage, Merrill, Nelson and Scott, and Brother Eyring, and affirm that, while scientific knowledge will always be incomplete, it can be a second witness of the truths of the gospel, it can be “virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy” and is something we should seek and bring into the gospel.

    Latter-day Saints, perhaps alone among Christendom, Judaism and Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, assert that God will “yet reveal many great and important things” to us, line upon line and precept upon precept. Our gospel knowledge is by definition incomplete, just as our scientific knowledge is by definition incomplete. Indeed, the more we know, the more we learn our knowledge is incomplete, in both fields.

    If your authority for the rejection of science is scripture, where is the scripture that tells us we must reject science? Where is the First Presidency statement that tells us to not study astronomy, physics, nuclear engineering, chemistry, geology, or paleontology? The Church invests a lot of funds into the science departments at the various BYU campuses. The First Presidency and several apostles sit on the Church Board of Education. Apparently they have not gotten the message from you that these fields have no value. They are inviting members of the Church to learn them right there in the Church’s own university system.

    Within the publications of FARMS, I see no hostility toward science by the majority of the scholars who are among the best interpreters of scripture in the Church. Hugh Nibley, always the polymath, displays a familiarity with all sorts of scientific principles in his essays. Daniel Peterson, another eclectic genius (in my view), is also not hostile to science.

    As I have pointed out in my main post, I don’t think it is all that difficult to reconcile and unify Genesis and science. The conflict is completely a product of a rather unsophisticated way of reading scripture, which gives great weight to particular words and phrases, even while we affirm that we are bound to the Bible only to the extent it is “translated correctly.” We do not believe the text of the KJV is infallible, nor that of the Septuagint, or the Dead Sea Scrolls. So my own opinon is that your theories, which advise us to cast science adrift and not let it into our minds, is based on an interpretation of scripture that is not authoritative or binding for Latter-day Saints.

    The interpretation of Noah’s flood I offered is not in fact dependent upon science, but rather is based on a unified theory that relies on things we have learned through Joseph Smith. The fact that the resulting conclusions are consistent with science serves to support them, in my view, not detract from them. The interpretation that you support has its origins in a sectarian viewpoint that did not make any effort to incorporate the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, D&C, or other statements from the Prophet, and could be held by a Southern Baptist. You have not, in your comments, actually dealt with the picture that emerges if we consider Noah in light of these new revelatory souorces. It seems to me that your theories reject not only science, but also Restoration scriptures.

    Henry Eyring was concerned that a rejection of science in favor of some man’s nonauthoritative intepretation of scripture was liable to result in many intelligent young people losing confidence in the gospel and the scriptures, not just over specific scientific principles, but over the entire enmity to the use of the mental powers that God has endowed us with. That might be all well and good for a strioct Calvinist who doesn;t think anything any of us does will alter who is saved and who is damned. But for Latter-day Saints, we should be concerned about placing artificial barriers of our own making in the way of our sons and daughters exercising faith and acquiring testimony.

  51. Dennis on April 14, 2008 at 2:04 am


    OK, we are clearly talking past each other, as you haven’t really addressed my concerns and instead have set up a straw man to attack. I’m not sure how much this has been my fault in terms of not being clear. But I don’t really see you getting to the heart of my criticisms.

    I never suggested that the Church, the scriptures, are the brethren should be hostile towards science. When did I say that? I said that we as Latter-day Saints do not need to buy into the metaphysical assumptions of science. Moreover, there’s a big difference in terms of being friendly to the industry of science and taking our scriptural cues from science (which is what I was arguing about).

    Moreover, you are obviously not reading my criticism (or interpretation) very carefully, when you say that it “did not make any effort to incorporate the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, D&C, or other statements from the Prophet.” Ahem? Go back and read my comments.

    And if you want to believe that my view is grounded in a sectarian viewpoint, more power to you. I don’t see it that way, and I stated that.

    And I’m STILL waiting on how you rectify your “unified theory” with Moses 8:17 (this IS a restoration scripture, isn’t it?).

  52. Dennis on April 14, 2008 at 2:06 am

    Also Raymond 50:

    “What scripture or authoritative revelation from a prophet tells us that plate tectonics is not real?”

    I never made this claim. Did I? Indeed, I could throw the same question your way, omitting the “not”?

  53. Dennis on April 14, 2008 at 2:12 am

    I should add, by that same question I am throwing your way, that this would include all of the metaphysical assumptions involved in your theory of plate tectonics.

  54. Dan on April 14, 2008 at 4:41 am

    Raymond #50

    I sympathize with your worries that the outright and automatic dismissal of anything brought to light through the channels of science could be detrimental to the faith of some Mormons. Would you at least be open to the idea that scientific theories are neither authoritative nor binding for Latter-day Saints? Can I also suggest that there is nothing special about science that makes it any more or less ambiguous or authoritative than my interpretation of the scriptures? I certainly hope you aren\’t saying that there is something about the way you\’ve woven science into history that IS binding for Latter-day Saints.

    Your definition of science escapes me. What exactly does science look like \”shorn of materialist assumptions\”? This certainly isn\’t the kind of science I see being practiced in the field. Also, can you separate your definition of science from your definition of reason? The two are NOT synonymous. For example, you taking some established scientific \”truths\” and applying them to scripture is not science, but an act of reason. Reason is more fundamental, and more worthy of the aggressive defense that you are offering for science.

    In the end I think you\’ll find that placing too much stock in science (as currently practiced and preached) will be just as potentially damaging to faith as the complete dismissal of science could be. If it helps you feel better, I don\’t see myself as hostile toward science–just hostile toward a naive understanding of what science is. I don\’t argue for a complete dismissal of science, but for a better understanding of what it can and can\’t do for us.

    It can\’t discover eternal, unchanging natural laws. (just had to throw that in)

  55. Josh Smith on April 14, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I read the post and many of the comments. I’ve read similar posts–posts that try and harmonize historical claims based on the scientific method and historical claims based on authority (prophetic declarations).

    I’m not sure what I can do with a historical claim based on authority. A prophet walks up to a rock, declares a guy named Zederelf died there, and that Zederelf saw God. Maybe I can choose to believe the prophet (though I’m not sure belief is a choice). At the end of the day, do many historical claims dealing with faith really have to occur in time and space? If I woke up tomorrow with knowledge that the flood did not happen, what bearing would that have on a belief in God, prayer, and salvation? Finding peace of mind with life’s weighty issues (purpose of life, death) does not seem to hinge on the historical accuracy of 95% of prophetic declarations. I could be wrong. (If you want to tell me I’m wrong, don’t you dare type up some comment that begins, Prophet Smith said … .)

    Historical claims based on the scientific method are at least subject to scrutiny. At least there is a running dialogue. I can engage the mass on my shoulders, weigh the evidence, and use my God given powers of reason and discernment. I think I please God more exercising my limited powers of reason to discern truth than I would by blithely accepting authoritive claims–Noah and flood included.

  56. Kevinf on April 14, 2008 at 3:22 pm


    I appreciate your post and your reasoning here. I have also read about evidence of a Black Sea area catastrophic flood that fits in with the time frame of Noah’s flood, as well. I have especially enjoyed your responses to the the challenges made.

    Dennis, in your # 24, you made reference to a non-linear concept of time. For a long time, I thought that sounded like a great concept, but it ultimately fell victim to my increased understanding of the logical and theological flaws of the “Three Omni’s”, onmniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Not to get into too much detail here, but Joseph’s Smith later teachings about the nature of God don’t square very well with a non-linear time model. It’s attractive, but in the end, conflicts with several basic gospel concepts that are more important, such as the concept of agency, and the very basis of our pre-existent intelligences and spirits.

  57. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Yes, I am aware of the Black Sea hypothesis. It is based on recent work about teh rate at which the Black Sea filled versus the Mediterranean, leading to a sudden flood through the Bosporus. It has the virtue of being in the region of Ararat.

    Orson Scott Card, science fiction author, wrote a story entitled “Atlantis” which hypothesizes that the flood stories and the Atlantis myth all originated from the sudden flooding circa 14,000 BP (before present) of the Red Sea as the last Ice Age ended and meltwater raised the sea level of the Indian Ocean faster than streams adjacent to the Red Sea could fill it. The Red Sea is basically a fault zone (an extension of the Great Rift Valley that runs from Galilee all the way into Kenya), and its sides are mountainous, diverting inflow of rainwater from surrounding areas. The southern end of the Red Sea has a high elevation/shallow depth which would serve as a dam against the Indian Ocean for a while. The story is in his new collection of short stories just published. It is a prequel to his novel, “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus”.

    By the way, the topography around the Red Sea, with mountains blocking most drainage, means that there are only a few locations which could qualify as the Valley of Lemuel described in 1 Nephi 1. It happens that one of these is near the south end of the Gulf of Aqaba, at the right distance from Jerusalem to match the narrative. See the Journey of Faith DVD from FARMS.

    One of my humanities professors at Utah told us that “There is no REASON, only reasonERS”. Most science does not have “metaphysical assumptions,” but many scientists do, some materialist, and others religious. Quantum physics, even with the precision it gives us in making computers and electronics, seems have metaphysical even to physicists. Geology, on the other hand, is only “metaphysical” in assuming that they cannot attribute the features they study to an intelligent but superpowerful entity who was directly moving continental plates, exploding volcanoes, and raising mountain ranges over geologically short time periods. The idea that the “earth divided” in the days of Peleg means the breaking up of the Pangaean supercontinent is nonsensical to me, since there is no reason in the text of Genesis to believe that the author was familiar with the concept of continents completely separated by water. Men “divide the earth” by marking boundary lines and borders. It is a mixing of some ideas from geology with others that have no basis there.

  58. Kevinf on April 14, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Raymond, I’ve read a couple of sources about the siting of the Valley of Lemuel, and spoke with George Potter about it a couple of years back at a church fireside. A couple of my friends who worked in Saudi Arabia had accompanied him on some of his explorations of the region.

    I have to agree with you about the geological record indicating millions and billions of years, a view that I do not find incompatible with basic gospel truths, nor apparently did a number of apostles, and even on one occasion, Pres. David O. McKay. He referred to the “millions of years” required in the creation in a talk at BYU, IIRC. Unfortunately at work, I don’t have the exact source, but I suspect it is referenced in Prince’s biography.

  59. hbar on April 15, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    A comment on scientists: most of the scientists who work on the cutting edge of science are looking everywhere they can for weak links in the received scientific ideas. Finding these is what making a career as a great scientist is composed of. Nothing makes scientists more excited than news of a received theory that is showing weakness. Immediately everyone in the field begins to work on ways to either establish it, or if they are lucky, extend, or even better, replace it. Right now we are waiting for the great new particle accelerator (LHC) to come online, and if you talk to the particle physicists, they are mostly hoping that something totally unexpected will happen. I\’ve even heard it said by prominent people on the project that the worst possible outcome would be to have our theories proven right. Such a culture of dissent does not make a good breeding ground for long standing conspiracies and unexamined foundations as are sometimes assumed to be endemic by those who criticize science to defend a religious interpretation. It also means that the fact that scientists come to consensus on many issues is astonishing, and only achieved after quite a lot of kicking, screaming and compelling displays of evidence (the APA member who posted above might agree that this is part of the reason there is less respected consensus in psychology, a much more difficult discipline than, e.g. physics or geology). The process is imperfect, but I believe it has to be taken very seriously. Part of the reason I believe that is because my understanding of church doctrine is that part of the purpose of our lives is to learn, including knowledge about creation. If we can\’t at least take very seriously such a careful process of studying \”things in heaven and earth\” then it seems that fulfilling that part of our purpose is essentially impossible.

    I have to take seriously the evidence that a worldwide flood did not happen. The scientific reasons are too strong to dismiss. They are not based on simple assumptions that can simply be shown to be false. They are checked and rechecked from the perspective of multiple disciplines and scientific traditions, each coming to a consensus internally, and with each other. So I don\’t believe in a worldwide flood. The science is enough. This doesn\’t mean that I deny the resurrection, or miracles in general; most of them easily coexist with the evidence I have about the world, from science and the spirit. I have no special testimony of the flood, or of an approach to scripture and church leaders that expects them to be scientifically above correction in all particulars. Given that, the universal flood quietly fades from my views with no great conflict. Does this mean that if overwhelming scientific evidence against a core component of the gospel was put forward that I would abandon the gospel? I\’m not sure. But what I have faith in is that the church is true, and that therefore, no such evidence will ever arise.

    Finally, a technical comment about \”nonlinear time\” from comment 22. Such approaches are troublesome, in that they need to be nonlinear with respect to something, or else it is simply an awkward relabel of variables without physical meaning (simply speaking, the statement \”time speeds up\” is nonsensical if taken in an absolute sense). Usually, a linear time is what you are nonlinear with respect to, which puts you right back where you started [note: I am well aware of general relativity which is sometimes put forward as a counter argument to my logic above. But GR has a perfectly well defined linear time in every reference frame, it simply partially does away with the notion of absolute time in a way that is useless in the current discussion.]

  60. anon this time on April 15, 2008 at 2:15 pm


    Thanks for the comment about non-linear time from a science perspective. I tried to address it from a theological perspective in my # 56, and lacked the hard sciences chops to deal with it from the physics angle. It’s problematic from both standpoints.

  61. kevinf on April 15, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Hmmm, blew my cover, I think.

  62. cinepro on April 15, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, people, but eventually the Church is going to adopt a mythical interpretation of the “Adam and Eve” and “Noah’s Ark” stories. The apologists are already doing their best to hack away at the frustratingly resilient literalist beliefs, but the roots for some beliefs run deep in the Church.

    I predict this will happen within the next 50 years, depending on the rapidity of turnover for GA’s and the ability for outstanding men with more scientifically sound understandings of these stories to be called to high positions.

    So hang on to your Gospel Doctrine manuals comparing Noah’s ark with other historical ships; it will one day be a collector’s item. Your grandkids might not believe you when you insist there used to be LDS who really thought Noah’s flood covered the whole Earth and Adam and Eve were the first two mortal humans.

  63. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 15, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    #62 (cinepro): Wow, since you know what is going to happen in the future, you must think you are a prophet. There is a lot of that assertion going around these days, including the claim by certain climatologists that they can foresee the next 100 years of earth’s weather. But at least they are extrapolating from a trend over the last 30 years. What trend are you extrapolating from? What Bibilical characters and events have been transformed into myth in this way that are precursors to the kind of situation you prophesy of?

    My own perception is that the Church has pretty consistently maintained its assertion that the Bible is “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” and that Adam and Noah were real actors on the stage of human history, but they refuse to offer any more details about either person than what is in the scriptures, which, as we have discussed here, have their own inherent ambiguity and in certain respects specified figurativeness (such as the creation of Eve). That’s been a pretty straight line over the 58 years of my life, and from what I know of doctrinal developments in the 100 years before that, it’s pretty much the same trajectory since the founding of the Church.

    Since a person who was very tied into the literalness of the Noah narrative (such as Dennis, above, seems to be) would not make such a prediction, I assume you are of the opposite mind, and that the change you predict would place the Brethren in line with your own views. As Dana Carvey used to say, “How convenient”. But I, for one, will take my prophecies from the Brethren.

  64. Dan on April 16, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Raymond #63

    Well said. However, there is a difference between being “tied to the literalness of the Noah narrative” and being willing to entertain the possibility that the Noah narrative is literal. To say that we are certain that the narrative is figurative is contrary to the spirit of taking your “prophecies from the Brethren”. I think the big point I want to make (which I see you as being reluctant to agree with) is that not everyone who believes in the literal account of the flood is necessarily wrong, nor are they necessarily naive, old-fashioned, and/or ignorant.

    hbar #59

    There are many great scientists, I agree. I must however, disagree that the culture of science in any way NECESSARILY protects itself against unexamined foundations(I don’t believe there are any long-standing conspiracies–this would imply that the scientists actually know that they are covering something up. I think they don’t even realize the assumptions which they are failing to examine) . Certainly there are many honest scientists who have integrity and skill and work hard to gain new understanding. Yet there remain some problematic interpretations of science. For example, you say that, “I\’ve even heard it said by prominent people on the project that the worst possible outcome would be to have our theories proven right.” Yet prominent philosophers of science have understood for years that theories are never “proven right”. Whatever we count as evidence can be gathered, but no scientific theories are ever proven right. This understanding should create a humble science and humble scientists–always looking for more disconfirming evidence AND acknowledging that what they currently “know” and assume could very well be false. Some scientists are humble, but many resist. Yes, many psychologists are among the prideful ones, but there are biologists and members of the other sciences that are also.

    Also, I agree that part of our purpose in life is to learn. However, practicing science is not the only means of obtaining learning. Some in this conversation might define science as “any systematic means of obtaining knowledge”, but this is not a terribly defensible (or useful) definition of science. Please do take the evidence against a literal flood seriously, but be like those good humble scientists who acknowledge that they might be wrong and that the flood might, in fact, be literal.

    Last, there have been a few arguments against nonlinear time, but they are little more than assertions. I see no reasons to absolutely reject a view of time which is nonlinear–neither spiritual, rational, or experiential. If any of you would care, I’d love to see your arguments against nonlinear time laid out in detail.

  65. Clark on April 16, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    We are quick to accept the assumptions of the linear model without even considering the nonlinear, in spite of the LDS beliefs of eternal and uncreated matter which ultimately make linear dating untenable.

    1. Time isn’t linear in physics. It is in Newtonian physics and arguably in most quantum mechanics which are background dependent but not in relativity.

    2. Whether time is linear or not says nothing about dating. If you feel it does please be clear how.

    3. Even if radioactive decay changes with time (and note that’s different from whether time in linear or not) this wouldn’t change the relative rates. Which is what Young Earth Creationists need.

    Science is, after all, a human endeavor, and one that rests entirely on certain metaphysical assumptions. These assumptions can never be proven (at least not by science).

    There isn’t a single metaphysics for science. Individual scientists certainly do make metaphysical assumptions. However those arguing for metaphysical assumptions making a particular reading of scripture they choose work and science wrong have the duty to explain how. Science is largely empirical and while that empirical data can be interpreted many ways the data is data and has to be explained. Merely throwing out the ‘metaphysics’ label really doesn’t achieve much.

    Dr. Slife’s provocative argument is that if laws are seen as the fundamental guiding force in our lives, not God, then do we put another God (i.e., natural laws) before Him?

    One should note though that this presupposes a view of Christianity in which there is creation ex nihilo which Joseph Smith formally rejected. The Mormon view, at least as laid out by Joseph Smith, is that matter and intelligence is pre-existent and in some sense eternal. Thus God always already finds himself in an universe. Logically this limits the kind of powers entailed by omnipotence. (Which is one reason why traditional Christians criticize whether the LDS view of God even entails omnipotence)

    There are two ways to take this. One is to say that for God to be God in LDS thought there must be pre-existing laws regulating element. The second is to say that law is itself a manifestation of underlying symmetries and thus is always merely a description of the configuration of matter. (That works for thermodynamics but gets a tad trickier with QM)

    The point being that God himself being subject to law is a pretty strong position within LDS thought. Arguably it is what Joseph Smith taught although that gets a bit complex.

    In any case from a purely logical point of view arguing that God isn’t fundamental to everything else is just a way of restating the rejection of creation ex nihilo. All a Mormon has to say is that law isn’t more fundamental than God. Rather law, element, intelligence and God are all equally fundamental. A choice your Dr. doesn’t allow for.

    BTW – a suggestion. Please be clear about what is a metaphysical assumption and what is a physical assumption. Many things you are throwing out as metaphysical assumptions are really physical assumptions which can themselves be tested.

  66. Clark on April 16, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, people, but eventually the Church is going to adopt a mythical interpretation of the “Adam and Eve” and “Noah’s Ark” stories. The apologists are already doing their best to hack away at the frustratingly resilient literalist beliefs, but the roots for some beliefs run deep in the Church.

    I strongly disagree. There’s a big difference between contrasting traditional readings of a text with more narrow readings and throwing out historicity. Likewise there’s a big difference between saying all the acceptable readings are either ‘literalistic’ (typically meaning conservative Protestant ways of reading) versus allegorical. One can, for instance, accept a basic historicity while noting that the people describing events are not omniscient and can only write from their perspective which is a cultural bound and flawed human perspective. And then noting that there are lots of questions about the transmission of stories.

    So there’s a lot of room to work with. The above is just an example of a false dichotomy.

  67. Dennis on April 16, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Raymond, Clark, and others:

    I’d like to continue this conversation about the assumptions of science and other things such as nonlinear time. You bring up some good points, but it has become clear to me that we are not on the same wavelength. Thus, much more groundwork is necessary to have an intelligent conversation without us simply caricaturing each other’s arguments. To keep us from threadjacking more on this post, I am going to write a post on my own blog and I welcome you to join me in the discussion there.

    I will simply say that I have been largely misunderstood on this blog, and that is my own fault. I have underestimated how I represent a camp that is not at all represented by the Times and Seasons readership (or at least by those who have commented on this post). I am not at all an island, however; my perspective is largely informed by a broad philosophy of science approach, but which is specialized in psychology. It is particularly informed by a relational (not relativist) ontology and hermeneutic epistemology.

    Here are some of the claims I wish to make (but which here are simply assertions):

    1. Latter-day Saints (ex-nihilo-creation rejection notwithstanding) do not have to accept that laws are fundamental, or even AS fundamental as God (as Clark has claimed). Rather, the simultaneous relationship between matter and intelligences can be seen as fundamental, while “laws” would be secondary and thus not timeless, objective, or universal. The danger occurs when these laws are reified — made AS real as matter and intelligence. However, even IF laws are fundamental, this says absolutely nothing about natural laws as they are presently understood.

    2. Some of the major mainstream scientific assumptions (I’ll go ahead and ditch the word “metaphysical,” Clark) with which I will take issue are: dualistic objectivity (there is an objective world outside of interpretation and experience); linear time (change is necessarily sequential, objective, continuous, reductive, and universal); narrow empiricism (sensory experience is all that can be known or all that is important, and this data, at some level, speaks for itself); efficient causation (that cause must precede effect, as opposed to cause and effect being simultaneous); and naturalism (the world can be explained in terms of universal “natural laws”).

    3. The “scientific method” is (usually) held up by all of the above assumptions, and such a method should not be seen to be synonymous with reason, rigor, intelligence, evidence, etc.

    4. My philosophical positions are not for the purpose of preserving a certain way of seeing the scriptures (e.g., a literalist interpretation); they are convincing to me on multiple levels, primarily in my own work in psychology. Moreover, I am neither defending nor decrying a literal OR figurative interpretation of the scriptures. (I was once asked on my mission if Mormons believe the Bible is figurative or literal. I felt inspired to answer, “We believe the Bible is figurative when it is figurative and literal when it is literal.” I still stand by that answer, and for that reason I try to maintain multiple viable possibilities of interpreting scripture. On this forum, I felt that more-literal interpretations of the Flood were being crowded out as irrational or pseudo-scientific, and so I was simply trying to create more room at the table. I am worried by people who have already decided when and where the scriptures are literal or figurative and so they don’t allow the text to reveal itself. As for me, I feel allegiance to God, the scriptures, my relationships, and the earth. I have no allegiance to the above scientific assumptions.)

    So if you’re up for this conversation (anyone), I’d be happy to discuss these things with you on my blog: I’ll leave another comment here when I have something posted — it might be a few days.

  68. cinepro on April 16, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    #63 (Raymond): In answer to the question “which trend am I extrapolating from”? Answer: the trend of Church leaders moving away from teachings or doctrines that contradict scientific or scholarly attitudes held by apologists (the most visible example being the recent change in the BoM introduction). There is certainly precedent for the Church holding its ground, so I could be wrong (the acknowledgment of which precludes this from being classified as a “prophecy”, as if the actual deadline didn’t already disqualify it from that distinction).

    As it is, the only way LDS members of a certain scientific education or rational thought process can keep their heads from exploding is to create some alternate reality where the Church doesn’t teach as doctrine (or revealed truth) that Adam and Eve were literally the first and only mortal humans at the time of the fall (not to mention plants or animals), or that Noah’s flood covered the entire Earth and killed all but 8 humans less than 6,000 years ago. They have to believe that the “reality” of these doctrines (teachings? opinions?) are periphery to the LDS experience, and open to drastic re framing to fit the scientific evidence.

    There won’t be a Letter from the First Presidency or anything. The manuals will eventually updated, and there will be less emphasis on the “literal” nature of these stories. Quotes from past Church leaders supporting a literal view will be classified as “opinion” or a “mistaken assumption”. Most new leaders will be careful that they don’t refer to the stories as actual history, but rather as inspired allegory. It won’t be quick, but it won’t be too painful either. The new, allegorical understanding will evolve over time, with some help from apologists of course.

  69. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 17, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    At I found the following statement from “former Apostle (1917) and counselor in the First Presidency (1951-59), Stephen L. Richards [2]:

    “What if Hebrew prophets, conversant with only a small fraction of the surface of the earth, thinking and writing in terms of their own limited geography and tribal relations did interpret [God] in terms of a tribal king and so limit His personality and the laws of the universe under His control to the dominion with which they were familiar? Can any interpreter, even though he be inspired, present an interpretation and conception in terms other than those with which he has had experience and acquaintance? Even under the assumption that Divinity may manifest to the prophet higher and more exalted truths than he has ever before known and unfold to his spiritual eyes visions of the past, forecasts of the future and circumstances of the utmost novelty, how will the inspired man interpret? Manifestly, I think, in the language he knows and in the terms of expression with which his knowledge and experience have made him familiar. So is it not therefore ungenerous, unfair and unreasonable to impugn the validity and the whole worth of the Bible merely because of the limited knowledge of astronomy and geography that its writers possessed?

    “(Stephen L Richards, “An Open Letter to College Students,” Improvement Era 36:451-453, 484-485. June 1933.)”

    I think this is relevant to my hypothesis.

    Now, almost everything said about anything is figurative to some extent (e.g. #68 cinepro’s “their heads will explode”). (I once was assigned to interview an Air Force pilot who was a witness in an investigation, but he was incapable of speaking except in figurative language, e.g. “Behind the power curve.”) Clearly, though, the dichotomy between literal and figurative speech is not only a misrepresentation of real speech, it is also a false dichotomy, because there are other dimensions of language, a major one being the fact that, as President Richards points out, we speak in the context of an existing world view shared by the speaker and the listener.

    Computer scientists thought it would be easy to create artificial intelligence (AI), but then they realized that every sentence we say is meaningful only in the context of everything we have said and heard before, as well as what we have seen and felt. Some computer scientists have tried to actually create a file of “common sense” so that AIs can understand the context and referants of ordinary speech. A simple sentence like “Come in and sit down” does not tell us that we should NOT sit down on the speaker’s lap, or on the floor (if there is a chair), or in a location in the room that is far away from the speaker or not facing the speaker.

    Terms we use casually as synonyms can vary widely in meaning, such as “earth,” “world”, “land”. We might ordinarily say “earth” and “world” are synonymous, but while we say “in the world but not of the world” it would usually be silly to say “in the earth but not of the earth.”

    The words “all” or “whole” are implicitly describing ratios; note that Sesame Street teaches “all” in connection with the word “some”. They relate to how much of the numerator (the subject of our sentence) compares to the denominator (what could be perceived as the potential limit of the subject matter’s volume). The numerator is often before us, while the denominator is only perceived fully in our heads. How big the numerator has to be to be perceived by us as “all” depends on our concept of how big the denominator is. If we can conceive only of land that is within a couple hours walk of our home, what is required to constitute “all” of that land is far less than if we conceive of the land in an entire state, or a country, or a continent, or a planet. Without knowing the speaker’s knowledge of the limits and size of the world, we can’t tell how much “all” of the world actually was meant to be. If Noah has only a limited grasp of the size of the world as a whole, “all the earth” can be quite literal but still be far more limited in scope than what a modern person thinks, who has model globes on his desk and has seen photos of the earth taken from the moon. But again, it would be quite literal from the speaker’s perspective.

    Dennis (#67), has listed one of the mainstream science assumptions as “naturalism”, but the fact is that this assumption is not used in certain fields of science where the question whether something is artificial or natural is precisely the interesting question. For example, archeology is often concerned with whether an interesting piece of rock was created by random forces or by the intention of a craftsman, an intelligent creator. Forensic science is focused on determining whether an event that harmed someone was a true accident caused by random forces, or was the result of intent or at least negligent action or unlawful inaction by a person accountable under the law. Breaking codes, both genetic and military, is a pursuit in which many lives are at stake, and the first step is sifting the wheat of meaningful transmission from the chaff of noise. And the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence requires us to be prepared to sort out intelligent messages from the radio waves generated randomly by stars and large planets like Jupiter.

    There has been a controversy over whether the particular microscopic formations on part of the “Mars meteor” that was found in Antarctica were created by living things or by simple chemistry. Asking this kind of question–What is the cause of this aspect of reality–is the duty of scientists, rather than precluding inquiry by saying “I don’t want to know that there is evidence that this was alive once” or “I don’t want to know that this piece of rock was shaped by human intelligence.”

    If humans can leave traces of their action in the rocks, why can’t God? And why can’t such traces be discoverable by scientific instruments and reason? The main hypothesis advanced by scientists advocating Intelligent Design (ID) is that it should be possible for us to detect evidence of intelligent action in nature and its laws, including in the design and operation of life. The ID critique of evolution suggests that the scientific tools we use to answer other questions also can tell us that there is evidence of intelligence that is not human, and may in fact be divine.

    So just as scientific tools can point logically from the mundane to the divine, what we know that is communicated from the divine (e.g. scripture) can point to scientific conclusions. We can unify our knowledge gained through revelation with our knowledge gained by accumulation of scientific study. There can be a fruitful interaction between the knowledge we get, however limited it is on both sides, from both science and revelation, contrary to the mutual exclusiveness that Stephen Jay Gould tried to promote with his idea of “non-overlapping magisteria”. We can avoid the a priori rejection of science by young earth creationists, and the arbitrary exclusion of scripture as truth by materialists like Richard Dawkins. Starting from an acknowledgement that we don’t know everything in either science or the gospel, we can use ALL of our knowledge in both areas to try to understand the ways in which scripture can coincide with science.

    And thus, my hypothesis about Noah and the nature of his voyage on the flood.

  70. Dennis on April 18, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Raymond 68:

    Your issue about artificial vs. natural things simply moves the issue to the nature of the creator (man or God). If the creative ability of man (or God) is simply the result of natural laws, then it’s still naturalism — all the way down. You don’t seem to be advocating for this, but this is certainly the approach of MOST scientists (recognizing, of course, that ID is not exactly in the scientific mainstream). And if it is NOT natural laws all the way down, that we are talking about a “science” that is quite different than the science I know of.

  71. cinepro on April 29, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    (Raymond #69) That is an awesome quote from President Richards, but if that is the case, shouldn’t we expect the modern prophets to assume the role of clarifying these murky and ambiguous statements? Every modern LDS leader has reiterated the global, worldwide flood from which only 8 humans survived on the entire planet. It continues to be taught to this day. At what point do we expect our leaders to be ahead of the curve on these things?

    LDS don’t believe in the global, catastrophic flood because of a few verses in Genesis. We believe in the global, catastrophic flood because it has been consistently taught by modern prophets and apostles from the pulpit, and in official lesson manuals and publications for the last 178 years. If there is ambiguity, I wish President Richards had let his fellow apostles know and didn’t confine his statement to a group of college students. It would also be awesome if his letter got more play in lesson manuals and Ensign articles.


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