The Manner In Which I’m Mormon: Dealing With Difficult Doctrines

November 16, 2011 | 52 comments
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(This post began as a response to James Olsen’s question in my recent post on my personal articles of faith. As I put it together it got to be too big for a comment, so it gets its own post here.)

Each church member responds to problematic issues in church history, doctrine, and culture in their own way. [Why, yes, that was "their" in the singular neuter, thanks for noticing.] Some people ignore them, some engage in apologetics, and some leave the church entirely.

As for me, I’m a categorizer. I categorize them away.

I separate human knowledge and experience into two overarching spheres — science and religion. For this to make sense, let me start with my definitions of those two spheres.

Science answers questions about what is, what was, and what will be. Science is descriptive and predictive. It describes things, how they work, and it predicts outcomes based on inputs. If you release two spheres from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, science can tell you what will happen.

Religion answers questions about what we, as human beings, should do with the knowledge we gain from science. Religion is about distinguishing the good from the bad and choosing the good. Religion is about being able to envision an ideal and then act toward achieving that ideal.

Using these definitions, hope and charity sit squarely in religion. Faith — being our belief in how the world works —is part of science.

Science is about “is-ness”; religion is about “ought-ness”.

Science is about determining what is true. Religion is about determining what is good.

Science asks, “How did we get here?” Religion asks, “Given that we are here, what should we do?”

***

I believe that most of our problematic issues in the church are the result of getting these two spheres confused. When religion attempts to answer scientific questions with religious tools, the outcome isn’t pretty.

“How was the universe created?” and “Where did people come from?” are questions for science to answer. They deal with objective truth. It’s possible that the big bang and evolution will eventually lose their status as the favored scientific theories to answer those questions, but should that happen it will be in the wake of a superior scientific explanation, not a religious one.

***

What are the tools of each, then?

Both science and religion are founded on the concept of experimentation.

In science, someone suggests a possible truth — a hypothesis. Then an experiment is devised to test whether the hypothesis is false. After the experiment is run, the hypothesis is either rejected or strengthened depending on the results. That’s the scientific method for discovering truth.

As I said earlier, religion’s role isn’t to determine what is true, but rather what is good. We are directed to “experiment upon the word”. So how does religion go about that? What is religion’s “scientific method”?

I believe that it is what we call “the admonition of Paul”: “[W]hatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

While this begins with truth (“whatsoever things are true”), it then moves on. Science is a tool of religion, but religion expands beyond science, from just “truth” on to honest, just, pure, and lovely.

The difference is that the scientific method provides results that are independently verifiable, while the admonition of Paul is subjective and personal. There’s no way to demonstrate that a principle is “good”. The best we can do is present it to people, and trust that their hearts and minds will judge the principle on its merits.

***

If life is a process of building a house, then religion is the blueprint and science is the tool set. Good religion assists us in getting where we want to go, but it can’t ignore the principles of science in the process. When science tries to answer religious questions, or when religion tries to answer scientific questions, problems arise.

Neither scientific nor religious truth can be asserted through authority. Indiana’s infamous attempt to declare the value of pi to be 3.2 is as laughable as the long-lived belief that left-handedness is a sin. The scientific method tells us that the first is false, and the admonition Paul tells me (I say “me” because I can’t use “us” for religious knowledge — it is personal and subjective) that the second is wrong.

52 Responses to The Manner In Which I’m Mormon: Dealing With Difficult Doctrines

  1. ji on November 16, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Excellent article. Thanks!

    I look at faith, hope, and charity as all within the bounds of religion. For me, faith is not a belief of how the world works, and it certainly is not scientific. When everything else fails, and all experiments fail, and hypotheses seem unsupportable, I hope that my faith (centered in the Lord Jesus Christ) will still stand firm. Even so, particular elements of faith might mature over time and experience.

  2. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 16, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Dane, I am scratching my head hete. You seem to be starting from the assumption that the two words, science and religion, each have their own inherent meaning and even jurusdiction, that they are nonintersecting, and that their union covers all of reality. The word science in its modern sense has only been in use a coyple hundred years or so; before that, it simply meant “knowledge” or “knowing”, as in its yse in the King James Version as a translation ogbthe Greek word gnosis.

    “Religion” on the other hand covers a broad swath of human activities and ideas, and encompasses not only Mormonism, Catholucism, Judaism, and Islam, but also the animistic ideas of Japan’s Shinto and the pagan myths if pre-Christian Europe.

    You take these broad categories and describe how you woyld assign a few ideas to each, surprisingly placing “faith” in the jurisdiction of science. You also offer suggestions as to how this dichotomy is lived in the world.

    It is not clear to me how your proffeted nomenclature makes sense from the stance of euther religious believers or scientists. For my own part, I find many parts if my thought and experience where both scuence and religion offer perspectives. For example, the Word of Wisdom is offered as revelatory religious advuce, with promised benefits of both health and “wisdom”, which may encompass scientific or religious knowledge. On the ither hand, scuentific study saysnthat alcohol and tobacco have deleterious health effects which ends up coinciding with much of the advice of the WOW. Therefore, science and religion are nit mutually exclusive categories if knowledge, and a theory which requires assigning other ideas to one or the other fails. QED.

  3. Sam Brunson on November 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

    RTS,
    I’m not so sure Dane is trying to provide objective categories to answer, once and for all, the question of how to reconcile conflicts between firmly held beliefs (of course, if I’m wrong, he can certainly correct me); instead, he’s providing his method of dealing with apparent conflicts. That is, he categorizes them in subjective categories. Some things (“science”) are descriptive, others (“religion”) are normative. As such, he says, religion doesn’t need to—and, in fact, doesn’t—describe how the world was created. Instead, it describes what we need to do about the world. Therefore, no conflict.

    Dane’s categorization isn’t really qualitatively different than, e.g., Camilla Kimball’s idea of a shelf of things she didn’t understand: both are mental exercises to try to deal with tension between faith and the observed world. And, I suspect, we all have our own version of the shelf/categorization; if we are thinking, believing people, something we believe will come into conflict with something that we see, and we’ll need somehow to resolve the apparent (or real) conflict.

    Take your alcohol example: sure, science says that alcohol can be bad for us, which is in line with the WoW. But it also says that alcohol, in moderation, is good for us, which conflicts with the WoW. Under Dane’s categorization, though, he could argue that it doesn’t matter whether alcohol is scientifically good or bad for us, because the realm of science doesn’t tell us what we should do, it just tells us how the world around us is. We move to religion for the should, and our religion includes an injunction against drinking alcohol. As such, irrespective of its benefits or detriments to us, we don’t drink it.

    Dane, I appreciate your sharing how you resolve such conflicts.

  4. Dane Laverty on November 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

    ji — you’re welcome :)

    RTS — The WOW is a perfect representation of the distinction I’m making here. To say “Coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol are unhealthy” is a scientific statement, an objective truth claim. To say “We shouldn’t use coffee, tea, tobacco, or alcohol” is a religious statement, a moral imperative. It’s nice but not necessary for the first to be true in order to state the second.

    Are coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol unhealthy? That’s a question for science, and our best science to date (speaking in sweeping generalities here) indicates that tobacco and alcohol are unhealthy, but that tea and coffee provide health benefits. Revelation doesn’t speak to that issue, because it’s not revelation’s role.

    Is it the case that we shouldn’t use any of those substances? That’s a personal and subjective question, one that we answer by applying the admonition of Paul. Church is collective, but religion is individual.

  5. Dane Laverty on November 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Sam — yup, that’s pretty much right on. The one clarification I’d make is your comparison to “the shelf”. When the church uses religious tools to assert scientific truths, it creates dissonance. Camilla gave the church the benefit of the doubt in those situations, putting those issues on the shelf until she understood them. She accepted the burden of proof upon herself. My shelf looks more like a trash can. When the church uses religious tools to assert scientific truths, I put those claims in my trash can. In this case, the burden of proof is upon the church to justify that I should take them out of the trash can.

  6. Sam Brunson on November 16, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Thanks, Dane. I didn’t mean to suggest that your categorization was substantively the same as Kimball’s shelf, just that you were both using mental exercises in order to deal with conflicts that you experienced. I lean more toward the disregard-things-that-don’t-make-sense camp, though my approach is probably more holistic than your categorizations. There is, I believe, value in acknowledging the dissonance, though, rather than trying to pretend there is no dissonance.

  7. Ben S on November 16, 2011 at 11:54 am

    “I categorize them away.”

    Sounds like Zero Mostel on the Muppets :)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxb1P9-8pT0&feature=related

    “Once they are counted and compelled, they can quickly be dispelled.”

  8. Paul on November 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Dane, this is an interesting way to organize your thinking. I suspect that many have not (yet) been so careful in their own process for sorting through these things. While I am not sure I would place faith in the scientific sphere, I can see where it helps your analysis.

  9. chris on November 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    #4 “Revelation doesn’t speak to that issue, because it’s not revelation’s role.”

    I’m kind of with you in fencing off some generalities between the factual observation and the moral imperative difference between science and religion, but then you toss out the above statement and I have to strongly disagree.

    Revelation certainly can tell you want is good or bad for you in addition to guiding you as to what you should or should not do. I would not limit revelation in such a manner. It can and does, in my experience, reveal all things. (Not claiming all things have been revealed to “me” obviously, but all types of truths can be had via revelation)

    I have often found revelation comes not just on a need to know basis, but on a fervent desire to the degree of anxiety over a particular issue or subject.

  10. Cameron N. on November 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    One more concise way of putting it that my BYU chemistry professor articulated is this:

    Science answers how. Religion answers why.

  11. Mike D. on November 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    “Science is about determining what is true. Religion is about determining what is good.”

    Joseph didn’t go into the grove to seek what was good. He went into the grove, and came out of the grove, with what was true. He didn’t merely come out of the grove with “subjective and personal” truths. He came out of the grove with objective truths, and a foundation has been laid in the restoration based on objective truth.

    I find your distinction between good and true problematic as well. In your description of the scientific method, you leave out a crucial point. While scientific testing does an exceptional job of weeding out untrue hypothesis, a successful test does not necessarily reveal the truth. At best, it gives us a window on what the truth might be, and the reasoned out explanations for why the experiment ended the way it did may or may not be accurate. The history of science is littered with scientifically verified “truths” that keep getting revised. Gravity is a great example of this. We understand certain mechanical aspects well enough to keep satellites in orbit, but the ability to put a satellite in orbit doesn’t equal a knowledge of the truth of gravity. Scientific knowledge, or a belief in scientific truth, is illusory. It’s all good until Einstein comes along and proves we were all blind. It’ll all be good again until someone else shows up and shows us how blind Einstein was.

    As a result, the distinction between the robustness and objectivity of science versus the subjectivity of religion breaks down completely. Most, and perhaps all, scientific “truth” is merely a subjective analysis of data generated from experimentation. Just because something is repeatable, and we can learn to make certain predictions as a result, doesn’t mean we’ve gotten to the truth of what’s actually going on.

    Your distinction between truth and good then really has more to do with our own fallibility and ignorance. Our inability to conclusively demonstrate the truth of some good principle doesn’t mean that the truth isn’t demonstrable. The big irony here is that your line between the objective and subjective appears to be determined quite subjectively.

    “Revelation doesn’t speak to that issue, because it’s not revelation’s role.”

    I was unaware on any such limitations on the scope of revelation. I may have been praying about a lot of things over the years that I shouldn’t have bothered with, as I may have been asking questions I couldn’t get answers to.

  12. Ben S on November 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    It’s true that God tends not to speak in scientific propositions.

  13. Dane Laverty on November 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    chris and Mike D., I wish I had time right now to respond more extensively (just finishing up lunch and have to get back to work.) So here are a couple quick thoughts:

    – Mike, I do make the distinction you mention in that the scientific method may disprove, but it cannot prove (“strengthen” was the word I used in the OP). Revelation, however, hasn’t proven any more reliable. To repurpose your words, “The history of [our church] is littered with [revelationally] verified truths that keep getting revised.”

    – Can you give me an example where a scientific conflict between science and religion was decided in favor of religion? You’re right that science makes mistakes, but its mistakes are then rectified by science, not by religion.

    Again, my point isn’t that religion isn’t useful, only that it’s not useful in ascertaining scientific truths.

  14. Bob on November 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Science seeks to control the world through man’s thinking.
    Religion seeks to contol the world through a divine power.
    Magic seeks to control the world through special gifts.

    ” It’s all good until Einstein comes along and proves we were all blind.”
    Didn’t you say the samething about Joseph Smith in the grove?

  15. Alison Moore Smith on November 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I grew up around faithful scientists. I married one, too. It is always interesting to me how others describe the supposed divide between science and religion. My scientific associates haven’t seen the need (or truth) in that categorization.

  16. chris on November 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Dane,
    Let’s just cut to the mother of all questions on science and religion and go straight to evolution. I’m coming at this evolution example as an agnostic on whether it’s “true” or not. True/False is not the point of this thought experiment and I don’t want to debate about if it’s not true.

    You suggest that there is no way revelation can reveal science to be wrong and that only science can do that.

    I suppose in a broad sense, there is no revelation the prophet can receive that will demonstrate to every scientist that evolution is wrong (but he could say “It’s wrong and I’m going to part the red sea by the power of God to prove it to you”). But I don’t see how one can accept that it’s not possible for the prophet to receive revelation on whether it’s accurate or not.

    We’ve already come into a world with our minds wiped clear, a world with immense suffering and cruelties, and to suggest that a God who puts us through this for our own good wouldn’t put some clues in place that allow us to act on our own desires for belief or unbelief isn’t logical. “I’ll place spirits in an area of the world where they are butchered as children by evil monsters, but I refuse to permit an archaic duck billed platypus fossil to lead people astray (as they chose to put their trust in a particular interpretation of it)” just doesn’t seem like it makes sense.

    Again, this is not a debate on the merits of evolution, as I can’t fathom any other explanation out there according to scientific way we approach the world.

    But it’s highly likely that God could speak to a prophet or individual on the truth of this matter. And if it’s likely God sent his Son to Earth to die and rise again and through that process in some unscientific way enable us to live again, then it’s likely science is wrong in a lot of ways. If you choose to limit the confines of revelation in a way that prohibits this, that’s either your own personal bias or desires to compartmentalize revelation. Moreover, according to my understanding of revelation doing so would actually prevent further revelation on the matter. If we close our minds to the possibilities, we should not be surprised that we do not receive greater light to add unto what we already have. Likewise, I’d say that if we close our minds to studying things in the earth and things in the cells of plants, etc. it’s also likely we’ll not be able to receive revelation on these things.

    I’m not suggesting that God does actively reveal all we need to know about the details of science or creation, etc. But I also don’t suggest that any of us are actually living a 100% fulltime Christlike life that would merit us of knowing the mind and will of God about all things.

    I sympathize with it, as we all have to deal with inconsistencies somehow. But I don’t find it entirely faith promoting.

    To go in a different direction, don’t you think it’s likely God has inspired scientists? That he revealed the truth to them as they were searching for it, according to His own will and purposes? (and now this could tilt back in favor of evolution)

  17. Mike D. on November 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    @Dane, perhaps I’m too sensitive on the topic of the infallibility of science. I did notice your “strengthen” language, but I deal with many “scientists” in my work in environmental law that treat their current hypothesi (is that the plural of hypothesis?) as the infallible, gospel truth, and religiously defend the same with a zealotry that is unsurpassed. I get suspicious of people who make claims of knowledge of absolute truth based on scientific inquiry alone.

    I’ve got two responses to your repurposing of my words. First, the weakness is in the manner in which we understand the voice of God. There have been times when I misunderstood promptings in and revelation in my own life. It wasn’t that truth hadn’t been communicated, but I wasn’t able to understand it fully until later. This happens most often when I seek guidance and then try to infer God’s rational from such guidance. We often try to put words in God’s mouth by trying to read between the lines.

    A simple example illustrates this point. While I was in college I was dating a girl I really liked. I prayed about how things were going, and I received a very strong answer at one point that I should continue dating her. I inferred from this that I would marry this girl, because I equated my first answer to lead naturally to marriage. When it got close to planning a marriage, I got a clear no signal. This confused me to no end until I realized that I had read too much into the first answer.

    There aren’t a lot of places where science and revealed religion directly butt heads, but the WOW is one such place. It wasn’t too long ago that tobacco use was considered to have health benefits. Arguments are made today for the health benefits from wine, coffee and even marijuana use. The problem I see with these arguments is that they focus on a specific component of these items (like the antioxidants in wine) but ignore the harmful components.

    @Bob and Dane, I did say the same thing about Joseph in the Grove. The world was blind before that, but there was more to be revealed after that time. To the extent that we perceive changes, it is due to our own lack of understanding of the truths previously revealed, or the directions given with respect to truths which we may not understand at that point.

    @Alison, you’ve likely already read this, but Pres. Eyring’s dad wrote a great book about this topic.

  18. Brian on November 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    If the institutional church wasn’t so adamant about the “one true and living” aspect of the church, I might have stayed around because of the “goodness”. In good conscience, there were too many things I could not teach my kids about the church. I stayed silent for many years, then decided it was time to exit because my silence was an endorsement.

    Enjoyed the post. Nice to get differing perspectives. I especially enjoy faithful, but alternative, voices.

  19. Lucy on November 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Which “difficult doctrines” are you referring to?

  20. Dave R on November 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Dane, I don’t take time to comment often, but thanks for this and your Articles of Faith post. I love posts that help me to think about religious topics in new ways, so I appreciate your time on these.

  21. Brian on November 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Lucy–For me, it was probably as much the sources of the doctrines as the doctrines themselves. The Book of Abraham, a book I thoroughly enjoy from an inspirational viewpoint, was not “translated” in my view and I could never consider the Book of Mormon a historical document for all the reasons that Thomas Stuart Ferguson pointed out. For all the richness that may be in the BofM, there were stumbling blocks for me such as 3,000,000 Etherians dying in battle on one side alone. My brain won the battle with my heart.

  22. Cameron N on November 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Brian, I don’t mean to disrespect your feelings, but I find your example of 3,000,000 Etherians dying to be rather odd. Do you not believe it was possible to have so many people at that time?

    Dane, I find your dichotomy between good and true to be interesting. Even more interesting would be to compare how both words are used in the scriptures. EG: ‘and God saw that it was good’ …..

    I find that good and truth often correlate, if not always. Mormon makes a similar correlation when he says that everything good comes of Christ, and vice versa. A bitter fountain cannot produce sweet water.

    One quote that I really like is by Dori Tunstall, a design anthropologist, who said ‘there is an inherent intelligence to beauty. I can’t quite put it into words, but I think this phrase deals well with the intersection of goodness and truth, religion and science.

  23. Bob on November 17, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Cameron N:
    I guess I am not understanding this__truth and good are the same thing(?)
    There are a lot of things true, but not good. And there are a lot of things good, but not true.
    IMO, everday, Science and Religion become different things and different from each other.

  24. Dane Laverty on November 17, 2011 at 12:32 am

    Thanks for all the great comments. I’m going to try and respond to each of you in reverse order. But writing comments takes me a while, so we’ll see how far I get. Starting, then, with Cameron N (#22) :)

    I’m not sure how good and truth can correlate. That’s like saying that mass and velocity correlate. They’re two totally different measurements. That said, truth can certainly serve good. For example, it’s good for us to help the helpless, to ease the burdens of those who suffer. Thanks to the truths we’ve discovered through science, we have developed technologies that give us more power to help others than we’ve ever had before. So I suppose in a sense that the good (charitable service) and the truth (modern technology) go together. But modern technology can certainly be used for evil purposes as well.

  25. Dane Laverty on November 17, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Sorry Bob, I hadn’t seen your comment when I posted…but yeah, same general idea :)

    Brian (#21) — Those are good examples of the sorts of “difficult doctrines” I’m talking about. They are scientific assertions, claims of objective fact. Since I’ve decided that science isn’t part of religion’s sphere, I don’t have to worry about those anymore.

    Dave R, thanks for taking the time to comment this time. It’s always nice to hear complimentary feedback :)

  26. Dane Laverty on November 17, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Lucy — None in particular. If there aren’t any teachings in the church that trouble you, then this post doesn’t have anything to offer you.

    Mike D. (#17) — In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the weakness is in the source of the revelation or in the conveyance of the revelation. The result is the same; revelation is not a reliable medium for determining scientific truths.

    As for the Word of Wisdom, that gets really complicated and deserves its own post. However, you’re right that science doesn’t have a perfect track record. It’s just that, for all its faults, it’s the best tool we have at this time. Imagine a contest with the General Authorities in competition with Lawrence Livermore National Lab to discover cold fusion. As spiritual as our church leaders our, my bet would still be on the scientists to win the contest ;)

    chris (#16) — It seems to me that one if your key points is, as you say, “it’s highly likely that God could speak to a prophet or individual on the truth of [evolution]“. Would you expand on that? Because my observations that motivated this post are exactly the opposite. God seems pretty determined not to reveal any useful science through prophets. He could have saved billions of people from suffering needlessly if He had sent a revelation about penicillin or vaccinations a couple thousand years ago. He could have revealed the principles of physics to Ezekiel so that we wouldn’t have been stuck with Aristotle for 2,000 years until Newton finally came around to figure things out. If God were to provide a revelation on the science behind evolution and creation, that would be a major break from how He’s worked so far.

    AMS (#15) — The scientists in my family haven’t been quite so sanguine about revealed religion’s ability to harmonize peacefully with science.

  27. Mike D. on November 17, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Dane, your cold fusion comment first was amusing, then reminded me of 1 Kings 18:17-40 and then it got me thinking that (at the risk of beating a dead horse) it wouldn’t take much for the Lord to point Elder Scott in the right direction were He to choose to do so. I don’t think that it would take the Lord much effort to point me in the right direction should He choose to do so. Just think of all the tithing I would be paying on the royalties from a patent on a commercially viable cold fusion reactor system.

    Of course, revelation isn’t the same as having free access to some celestial Lexus Nexus database with which we could download any ol’ truth we wished to pursue at will, nor do I think that such a thing would be desirable. The pursuit of technology isn’t really the purpose of this life, after all.

  28. Brian on November 17, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Cameron–No problem. I find the three million on one side in an ancient war (I would suppose a similar number on the other side also died) to be in total an astronomical number of deaths considering the estimated world population, the presumably smaller geographical population and an assumed large number of injured in the war also. When you take faith in the scriptures out of the picture it is extremely difficult to think it can be a historical event.

    Dane–I am envious. Life would be so much simpler to have remained a believer.

  29. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 17, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Dane, mass is DIRECTLY dependent on velocity, according to Special Relativity. An observer watching something else moving at speeds that are a substantial fraction of the speed of light observes the moving object as increasing its mass toward infinity as it approaches light speed. That is why only massless objects like photons and neutrinos can move at that maximum speed.

    When we get into the world of quantum physics, the common sense world of certainty transforms into situations where an electron can appear to teleport to the other side of a barrier, and some folks argue that the most scientific approach is to assume that every possible alternative outcome of an event actually happens, creating an infinity of branching universes. A serious hypothesis is that our universe us actually a supercomputer created at a higher level of reality. The most popular candidate for a unifying theory says we live in a reality of eleven dimensions. Gravity is proposed to be weaker than other forces like electromagnetusm because it is leaking into another universe displaced from ours in a fifth dimension. This is serious science, and our cell phones depend on these freaky phenomena. Frankly, Mormon cosmoligy sounds positively prosaic and simple next to this.

    I personally think that God, defined by Henry Eyring the scientist as the smartest guy in our universe, understands all of this physics to the point of making it serve his purposes, namely to promote the growth of intelligence that can master this universe. In the sense of both comprehension and control, God has made the universe instrumental to his goals. “Science” and “religion” are human concepts, but they do not control the actions of the uber-scientist and Creator who also reveals to us our identity as his children and potential heirs.

  30. jmb275 on November 17, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Absolutely brilliant! I loved this Dane, I couldn’t agree more.

    For the record, I don’t glean from this article that Dane is indicating there is a conflict between science and religion. My impression is that these are tools in a toolbox. Treating them like conflicting and intersecting spheres is like saying a hammer and a screwdriver are in conflict and intersecting. You just wouldn’t use a hammer to screw in a screw. You could, but you’d be stupid!

  31. Meldrum the Less on November 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    “Can you give me an example where a scientific conflict between science and religion was decided in favor of religion?”

    Eugenics!

    It makes perfect scientific sense to selectively breed people for certain desirable traits like we have been doing with dogs, horses, cattle, and mice for a long time. Traits like: size, strength, attractiveness, intelligence, loyalty, maybe obnoxiousness (in my case). But most everyone agrees that it is morally wrong.

    This was done in the American South during 300 years of slavery. Some slaves were bred for size and strength. Others to serve as courtesans, musicians, entertainers, etc. But it is questionable whether that was long enough to make much of a genetic difference. We also had the little problem of not strictly following “the plan” such as when the plantation owner and/or his sons didn’t restrain themsselves and got into the slave quarters and ravished the young girls habitually.

    Nazi Germany gave the whole field a bad name with both bogus science and extreme selective tactics such as death camps, etc. In America today we are indirectly encouraguing the most undesirable citizens to reproduce early and often with our widespread filty lifestyles and our welfare state supports them just enough to allow another larger generation to be produced. (I hope some of these immigrants will save us).

    As animals were domesticated, most decreased in intelligence. Consider for example wolves, working dogs and lap dogs. Or wild goats, goats and sheep. As the human population is increasingly domesticated, I think a similar process is happening. A few highly specialized people are keeping technology rolling along with benefits to all while the rest of us are getting dumber by the hour, day, year, and generation.(Except my children are geniuses). I think it is obvious that a man and especially a woman living in the ice age had to have far more intelligence to survive with far less room for error than a person living today.

    So we might have to rethink this victory of religion over science in the field of Eugenics. Or else the amusing premise of a long forgotten series of movies called the Planet of the Apes might prove to be half true; the half where the humans degenerate back into less intelligent beasts.

    Some claim (based upon looking at the base of skulls and calculating/guessing at the anatomy of the larynx) that prehumans could sing long before they could speak words and that music is sort of a proto-language. In a similar fashion I wonder if religion is sort of a proto-science. It got people thinking and solving problems. In this view I put God above and beyond both science and relgion.

    Music has moved from the function of practical communication to the realm of art. Perhaps religion might consider a similar transistion towards aesthetics and uplifting entertainment, and moving away from the question answering business. When I compare the typical Protestant service with my ward, I think they are a few steps ahead of us.

  32. Rachel Whipple on November 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Dane, I like your method of dealing with conflict through categories. I was initially surprised to see you put faith in the science camp, but your definition of faith makes that appropriate. According to Hume, our confidence in our explanations of how the world works is a matter of habit and belief, and not reason. (Hume limits the knowledge gained through reason to be relations of ideas, such as mathematical or geometric proofs, that are bound by the law of non-contradiction. Everything else is a matter of fact, from apparent natural laws to our religious inclination. Because we cannot know them with certainty in a rational way, we are compelled to accept them a matters of faith.)

  33. Bob on November 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Meldrum the Less : Funny, but mostly untrue.
    When Mankind replaced Human Evolution with his Cultures, it was a whole new game__with new rules.
    Eugenics are only good for BYU students.
    Rachel: Hume was wrong. ” knowledge ” for Mankind is contained in his Cultures. It is passed on by way of science, religion, stories, etc. Science does not need ‘faith’ when it has evidence such as TVs and Smartphones.

  34. Dane Laverty on November 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Meldrum, you’re making my point for me.

    - How to perform eugenics is a question for science.
    - Whether to perform eugenics is a question for religion.

    You’ve given a great example of what happens when science tries to answer religious questions with the tools of science — the results are not good, just as when religion tries to answer scientific questions with the tools of religion.

  35. Bob on November 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Dane:
    Do you think only religion deals with Ethics?
    IMO, religion deals with the supernatural and science with the natural.
    But where do you place the Greek philosophers who tells us about Ethics?

  36. Dane Laverty on November 18, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Bob, as I’ve defined religion in the post here, yes. Only religion deals with ethics. Science deals with “the way things are”, which would include both the natural and supernatural. Religion deals with “how things could and should be”. So when Greek philosophers are working in ethics, they’re working in religion.

  37. Bob on November 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Dane,
    That’s fine Dane. I think we (people) understand each other better when we define our words and give our context when we state our thinkings.
    On the blog’s Right Sidebar is “Is neuroscience the death of free will? (James)” This article is near to my thinking.

  38. david packard on November 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Dane,
    Very helpful way to look at purpose of each domain in order to resolve conflicts. I like it very much.

    Part of me doesn’t want to entirely “punt” on the ability of Mormonism to eventually merge back into “how things are” and thus unite with science. I’ll agree that it is mostly at a theoretical level, but the LDS version of theology involves things that, although untestable at the present (by scientific standards), are claims about the “what” that give a structure for much of Joseph Smith’s teachings. I will list a few: God is physically in our universe, not the creator of it. Our spirits consist of matter. There is communication of ideas between physical entities in our universe, some of which live on earth.

    Again, none of this is really testable (except with methods prescribed by religion, not science), so maybe that’s your point. But the claims of mormonism especially are ones that either could be amenable to science at one point in the future, or at least exist in the real world that science attempts to discover.

  39. Nate R on November 19, 2011 at 2:10 am

    I’m hopping in this a bit late, but here I go anyway.

    The claim that science gives us truth and religion gives us normativity can’t be right.

    My religion tells me:
    God exists (a descriptive claim)
    where I have been (a descriptive claim)
    where I am going (a prediction)
    why I am here (a descriptive claim, albeit a complicated one)
    Jesus is the Son of God (a descriptive claim)
    Jesus died for my sins (a descriptive claim)
    the dead will rise again at the last day (a prediction)

    All these claims, and this is a tiny sample of claims of this sort, which are all descriptive claims or predictions that are either TRUE or FALSE.

    I don’t think God restricts himself to revealing only normative truths.

    I take it that the point of the scriptures is to tell us truths about God (including descriptive claims that can be TRUE or FALSE) and to instruct us on how we ought to live (and so include normative claims). And so I am sympathetic to the view that the scriptures are not a GUIDE to science or metaphysics. However, religion can properly make all kinds of claims that are either TRUE of FALSE, and thus does not need to (and I suspect CAN’T) restrict itself to claims about GOOD and BAD.

  40. david packard on November 19, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Dane, I’m challenging your model precisely because I like it so much. What about the descriptive claims we make in religion that many of us think think are probably not literal, or that we “see though a glass darkly” and yet they still produce predictive value.

    Clearly religion spends a great deal of its resources convincing its believers to believe in objective claims. And these claims, based on your model, fall squarely within the sphere of science, not religion. Over time, some of these religious descriptive claims get validated by science, and others often get discarded by religion, because science presents such a satisfying case that they are in fact untrue.

    But aren’t the normative questions (addressed properly by religion) often taught through stories and narratives that probably are not objectively true, but that symbolize objective truth? In other words, don’t many religious people believe that the models we create in religion through stories and even dogma, that purport to describe reality, are nevertheless descriptively accurate in the way that an (over)simplified map of Magic Kingdom describes the real theme park? The normative value is thus achieved because you obtain the truth, albeit at a highly symbolic level, and this truth indeed creates a predictable map, where an IMPLIED normative (“you ought to turn here otherwise you’ll run into a wall!) claim become OBVIOUS. Some normative claims only come into existence within a context, and religion creates a context that make the normative claims compelling and obvious.

  41. Sharee Hughes on November 19, 2011 at 11:22 am

    #17, the plural of hypothesis is hypotheses.

  42. Bob on November 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

    david packard:
    “… symbolize objective truth ..”
    But who makes up the symbols, and why not just use the truth?
    Is God just a symbol of the “Unknowable”?

  43. Dane Laverty on November 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    David and nate, you’re right that churches do make claims about the nature of things (what I call “scientific” claims here). To make sense of it, I should distinguish between “church” and “religion”.

    - Religion (again, as I use it here) is a sphere of understanding. It deals with our hopes, duties, and dreams.
    - Churches are institutions. They make both scientific and religious claims.

    Using our church as an example, priesthood leaders have made plenty of scientific claims over the decades, like the items on your lists in #38 & #39.

    As david points out, these claims shift in response to actual science. A church’s scientific claims (and this isn’t specific to our church) tend to be based on the way church leaders want things to be rather than on how things have been demonstrated to be. In other words, churches’ scientific claims are truth “assertions”, but the problem is that truth can’t be asserted — as Pres. Packer put it, you can’t vote on truth. Truth is determined by reality rather than our desires.

    This is the phenomenon knows as “God of the gaps”, which basically says that religions’ attempts to assert scientific claims in the areas that science can’t test will ultimately fail when actual science progresses to the point when it can test those assertions. This is what leads to my question in #13, “Can you give me an example where a scientific conflict between science and religion was decided in favor of religion?”

    However, also as david states, churches can use scientific assertions in order to support religious truths. Eve doesn’t have to have been actually made from a rib (“The story of the rib, of course, is figurative”, said Spencer W. Kimball) in order for us to use the Genesis story as a chance to reflect on who we are, why we’re here, and what we should be doing — all of which are questions that fall squarely in the realm of religion.

  44. Meldrum the Less on November 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Bob:

    I won’t let you dismis me without kicking a bucking at least a little. Which paragraphs, specifically, do you think are untrue?

    I thought the first three (after the word Eugenics) were common knowledge and I would be surprized to see any dissention.

    The fourth, about the stipufication of the human population is admittedly controversial and goes against our modern arrogance with our technology. I did not originate this idea but borrowed it from others. We now use both native intelligence and cultural tools to cope with our environoment. The ice age woman had fewer cultural tools and a less forgiving environment. She had to be smart to make it.

    Culture didn’t replace human evolution, only re-directed it. Unless we stopped sexually reproducing. Which as far as I can tell has not happened even at BYU.

    The 6th paragraph about music probably being a proto-language is right out of current course work at Emory University. I don’t think it is much of a leap to consider what the Jews have been doing with the Torah for 4000 years as sort of a prototype of the scientific revolution of the last 500 years.

    The 5th and 7th paragraphs are speculation and somewhat tongue-in-cheek and you can disagree with no protest from me. But I think the 7th paragraph is worth another look. I really think if we consider the function of art in the secularized world view, that we might be closer to true religion on a conceptual level in the sacred world view than when we look at religion as a sort of science of the unscientific realm.

  45. Naismith on November 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    As a practical matter, though, there is a lot of belief in science. People cite things, and believe they are true, and just keep citing them over an over again.

    The book THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS by Lee Smolin should be required reading for any grad student. Skim through the first 100 pages about the specifics of string theory, but read more seriously the latter part about the sociology of science which applies to many fields and raises some serious questions about how science is done in the US.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trouble_with_Physics

    Also, the case of Barry Marshall and the discovery that ulcers are caused by bacteria is illustrative. USAmerican physicians were slow to embrace this approach (which ultimately won a Nobel prize). They were leery because Marshall was not an MD, was from the backwater of Australia, etc. The research eventually won out, but how many patients died in the meantime?

  46. Bob on November 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Meldrum the Less:
    Eugenics:
    ” most everyone agrees that it is morally wrong.” Not true. Most people like to marry their own race.
    “This was done in the American South during 300 years of slavery”. Prove that.
    “Nazi Germany use Eugenics in death camps”. Show me.
    #America today we are indirectly encouraguing the most undesirable citizens to reproduce early .” Prove?
    “As animals were domesticated, most decreased in intelligence.” Prove please.
    “prehumans could sing long before they could speak words “. Do you mean birds?
    I’m tired___.

  47. david packard on November 19, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Naismith — I agree, but ultimately science uses SCIENCE to eventually clean out these problems. Sometimes people can have so much invested personally in their own particular findings, that they fail to continue to use the method itself. Science still appears to be the best method of ascertaining objective reality, notwithstanding our corruptibility. Eventually, sunlight is the best disinfectant here, and science gets it going back on track.

    Bob — I see your point about receiving revelation about symbols of reality instead of reality. Some religions clearly rely on the inherent ambiguity of symbols in order to give more plausibility to their ultimate truth claims. HOWEVER, notwithstanding those shortcomings, religions indeed take on the challenge of providing meaning and purpose to humans by revealing things beyond the currently observable universe (but still what I would call objective truth). This is a huge undertaking. If this were possible (if religion is actually doing this!) then it would make sense that what would be revealed would be done in an ultra-simplified way, in order for human beings to be able to understand within our intellectual level, within our narrative/mindset, and within our culture. These ultimate “truth claims” are not scientifically verifiable one way or another. The symbols themselves are often claims that get debunked by science and replaced by slightly better ones by religions. But I don’t care much about the symbols (all of the symbols I treat like Dane treats religious descriptive claims). My rather modest point here is that these ultimate (untestable) claims are indeed “truth claims” not merely normative claims. For the most part, I agree with you, I believe, and Dane.

  48. Steve Dalton on November 21, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for the great post. I find it interesting to see how we all handle difficult issues from the Church’s past differently. For me personally, I don’t know why we had to implement polygamy and I don’t know why worthy men of African descent were denied the priesthood, among other difficult issues from the past. But you know what? I don’t need to know. Because I DO know that God the Father and Jesus Christ actually appeared to Joseph Smith, that Joseph actually translated the Book of Mormon from Golden Plates, and that the Priesthood keys have been handed down to from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson today. I know that, and that is good enough for me.

  49. Enna on November 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Dane, this was wonderful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have often considered my “categories” or science and religion to hopefully be moving towards the same point: science seeking truth through proving what is not, and religion seeking truth through the progression of it’s people. I considered them both as non-parallel lines slowly moving towards the same point. Nirvana, I guess.

    But lately I have been moving towards a personal religious belief less focused on truths, and I think I like you’re breakdown a little better now. For religion (at least in my life), the dogma or the assertations of truth matter less and less, and what I do with what I know matters more and more.

    Thanks, you always give me something to think about!

  50. Enna on November 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    *ugh, sorry for the typos… reading and responding at work…

  51. Dane Laverty on November 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Naismith — I don’t have anything to add to david’s reply; the solution to bad science is good science, not good religion.

    Steve Dalton — I’m glad that you’re comfortable with those answers.

    Enna — Thanks much :) I hope your approach provides you with both answers and comfort.

  52. Naismith on November 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    “Naismith — I don’t have anything to add to david’s reply; the solution to bad science is good science, not good religion.”

    I am not so sure that religion and science are as far apart as the OP posits. For many of us, our religious experiment is as simple as a middle-school science fair project. We pray about it, and the answer we get is real and profound and undeniable.

    I realize that for many others, it is not as clear. But when I joined the church, I wouldn’t have understood all that admonition-of-Paul stuff. I just wanted to know if it was true, and I got an answer that supported the hypothesis.

    Also, while I agree that good science has the ability to provide answers, I am not sure that most folks realize how pervasive the problems within science can be with politics, cliques, and mindlessly citing the same flawed studies over and over as if they are true. Scientists often look down their noses at religious folks as relying on the inferior data sources of emotion and belief, but in practice, scientists can be just as irrational.

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