Continuing the conversation begun in my earlier post (God and Science), let’s look at the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry titled “Science and Religion.” It provides a good summary of what might be termed the conservative LDS position on the topic.
The article opens on a positive note: “Because of belief in the ultimate compatibility of all truth and in the eternal character of human knowledge, Latter-day Saints tend to take a more positive approach to science than do some people in other religious traditions who also claim a strong foundation in scripture.” While it is true that “Latter-day Saints” (you and me) take a positive view of science, the rise of Correlation has seemingly pushed most pro-science commentary out of LDS curriculum materials and periodicals. That, plus the striking absence of General Authorities with a scientific as opposed to a business or professional background, means there is very little LDS institutional support for pro-science views. Only the legacy of apostles Talmage and Widtsoe, plus the well-established science departments at BYU, keeps the Church from fully developing the anti-science mindset that typifies many other conservative Christian churches.
“[S]cholars today recognize that older descriptions of “conflict” or open “warfare” between science and Christianity are often mistaken. Nor could LDS thinking about science be described in this way. The Church is distinguished by its acceptance of ongoing revelation and the view that divine revelation underlies its scriptures and teachings. Consequently, Latter-day Saints assume that ultimate truths about religious matters and about God’s creations can never be in conflict, as God is the author of both. They look forward to a time when more complete knowledge in both areas will transcend all present perceptions of conflict.” I think it is correct that LDS commentators largely avoid a conflict approach and stress the ultimate reconciliation of religious and scientific truth.
The article goes on to state that Latter-day Saints “believe God expects them to use all forms of knowledge, including the revelatory and the scientific. Yet, revelation is always primary, and there is little sympathy among Latter-day Saints for the emphasis on science that leads to a rejection of scripturally based understanding.” On the other hand, science is very helpful in leading to a rejection of scripturally-based misundertanding. Modern science has created institutional mechanisms that, in the long run, allow contrary data to modify scientific misunderstandings. My impression is that organized religion, including the LDS Church, tends to develop institutional mechanisms that entrench rather than correct religious misunderstandings.
The article closes with a paragraph that praises LDS members and scientists for maintaining a postive view of science while, at the same time, rather indirectly noting how little support for that approach exists within the present ranks of senior LDS leadership.
Talmage, Widtsoe, and B. H. Roberts, writing in the first half of the twentieth century, probably have contributed more than any other LDS authorities … to scientific topics and their assumed general harmony with the gospel. That this attitude continues and is presently sustained within the larger Latter-day Saint culture, particularly among LDS scientists, is also supported by recent studies that suggest that the LDS community has produced more scientists per capita than most religious groups in twentieth-century America.