Science as Friend or Foe

May 27, 2013 | 53 comments
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GalileoOn a recent long drive, I listened to all 12 lectures of a Science and Religion audio book by Professor Lawrence Principe of Johns Hopkins. A topic of personal interest (see my earlier T&S series here, here, here , and here), the science-religion issue should also be more of an interest to LDS scholars and apologists in general, given the role that science, scientism, or a mixture of the two often seems to play in the thinking of young Mormons who choose to exit the Church. My sense is that most people pick up from the media or general education a rather naive view of the relation between religion and science, and that nothing taught in the LDS curriculum does anything to remedy the situation. It is certainly a topic that deserves more attention and better coverage. On this topic, we are failing our youth.

Here are a few ideas that emerge from the lecture series, followed by an application or two to Mormonism.

1. The Conflict Model is simply wrong. Popular culture and media often depict science and religion as necessarily in conflict, suggesting that historically religion opposed science but that modernly science is now displacing religion. The author explains how this influential model, embraced by zealous New Atheists and religious fundamentalists alike, is simply wrong. It is founded on the faulty and now quite dated scholarship of John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White published a century ago. The Conflict Model may advance some agendas but it is not an accurate reading of the relation between religion and science or of the historical record.

2. Both science and religion incorporate faith and reason. The popular story ties faith to religion and reason to science. The author points out that Christian theologians and thinkers have employed careful reasoning about God and doctrine since the beginning of Christianity, and that science employs a mode of faith in adopting a set of assumptions or presuppositions that frame scientific inquiry. The author also notes Augustine’s doctrine of the unity of truth (there is not one truth for religion or the supernatural world and another truth for science or the natural world) and the doctrine of the two books (the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature: we need to study both books). Religion needs and uses reason as well as faith.

3. The argument from design leads to a dead end. The author traces the emergence of natural theology in the English-speaking world and the subsequent refinement of the argument from design, most notably in Paley’s 1802 book. Unfortunately, evolution, which explains apparent design in the natural world without a designer, undercuts much of that carefully constructed theological project. In any case, the classical argument from design and its modern incarnation, Intelligent Design, don’t really deliver what proponents hoped for. The argument from design doesn’t convince believers (who typically already believe for other reasons) or nonbelievers (who view the same natural world and draw different conclusions). By leading adherents to confuse methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism, it fosters anti-science attitudes for no good reason. It leads to God-of-the-gaps problems. Modernly, as an argument, the argument from design offers very little.

How might we profitably apply these ideas to Mormon religious education? First, the Conflict Model is alive and well at CES. I think this is a legacy of the thinking of Joseph Fielding Smith and his son-in-law, but it is strengthened by the absence of scientists in the senior leadership of the Church since the mid-20th century. The strong presence of natural science programs and research at BYU balances this to a certain extent, but that has very little impact on the vast majority of Latter-day Saints who have no contact with BYU and for many BYU students who have little contact with the science faculty. How about a lesson in the Gospel Doctrine manual on this theme: “Both the study of the scriptures and the study of the natural world lead to truths about God and the Universe.” Or maybe: “Testimony built on faith and reason.”

Second, I think we need to recalibrate the faith and reason mixture in Mormonism. The standard LDS approach to many faith issues now borders on fideism. This was not where we started out. Over the years, the LDS doctrine of continuing revelation went from a means of updating, revising, restating, and expanding LDS doctrine to a conviction that no LDS doctrine can be updated, revised, restated, or expanded (or at least it cannot be publicly acknowledged that this occurs). Somehow we need to spray a little doctrinal WD-40 into the mechanism and get the gears moving again.

In theory, the LDS view of God and the Universe is quite open to the views of science; in practice, a different mentality prevails. I’m not sure whether it is the curriculum materials, seminary and institute culture, general Mormon culture, or hints from the General Conference pulpit that are responsible for this development, but it seems to be hurting us, not helping us, in the ongoing task of educating our youth and retaining our membership both young and old. What has your experience been with faith and science discussion inside Mormonism?

53 Responses to Science as Friend or Foe

  1. Brian on May 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    1) What model do you propose in place of the conflict model?
    2) What role does anti-intellectualism (as a superset of anti-scientism) play in this?
    3) Science requires a willingness to doubt, but faith requires a willingness to believe. How would the general membership respond to a top-tier leader with the former in abundant supply?

  2. Dave on May 27, 2013 at 12:56 pm
  3. MC on May 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    By “argument from design,” you mean “God must exist because look at the intricate order of the universe,” right? I completely disagree that people are never persuaded by this argument. I was in an investigator’s home the other day, and it was the first reason she gave when asked why she believes in God. Before I gained a strong testimony, I would have given it as the most convincing reason for belief in God (even though I’ve never had a problem with Darwinism). I know that the radical atheists believe that their explanations cover all that, but most people don’t.

    Not to mention, the argument from design is scriptural:
    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/30.44?lang=eng

    That said, I have no problem with your larger point, that we don’t do a good job of explaining the lack of conflict between science and faith. That would actually be a fine task for higher-brow Mormon blogs like this one, since a curious scientifically-inclined kid is likely to employ Google to answer his questions.

  4. James Olsen on May 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    “Somehow we need to spray a little doctrinal WD-40 into the mechanism and get the gears moving again.”

    Awesome.

    In my experience, the prejudices you point to are alive and well – usually at an inarticulate level. When I raise these issues explicitly with people I generally get a two-tiered response. First, individuals are visibly uncomfortable and defensive. Second, after talking carefully through these issues I get one of two responses: either visible relief and excitement and a sort of embracing of Mormonism’s ability to be open to science; or retreat to a should-shrugging agnosticism (e.g., “Sure, maybe evolution’s true; it doesn’t really matter; all that matter’s is God’s behind it…”).

  5. Cameron N on May 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    One of my favorite quotes is from Dori Tunstall, a design anthropologist and probably not a religious person. But, I think the quote pertains to our faith as well: “there is an inherent intelligence to beauty [...]” I for one think the design argument is quite compelling, but of course I’m an industrial designer, so I’m in that realm.

    Darwin’s finches do seem to indicate natural selection. To a designer familiar with the iterative process of ideation and trial and error, they also seem like varied iterations on similar ideas. What if they were both?

  6. dallske on May 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    MC,
    I don’t think you are interpreting the point Dave made about the “argument from design” model. People are more than welcome to believe based on what they see in nature and the natural world around them….I know I do. But I don’t replace the theory of evolution with an intelligent design model when it comes to the reasoning world I live in (Sorry I don’t articulate as well as I wish). I consider my testimony on solid ground. I practice faith in the things I need to have faith in, and I apply reason to the things I need to apply reason to. What I believe Dave is saying is there is no hope for an intelligent design model in the scientific world. Even though people have a hard time properly articulating a fully harmonious world of science with a world of faith doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Am I making any sense?

  7. Cameron N on May 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I think there is hope for an intelligent design model in the scientific world. It just has to live up to its namesake.

  8. dallske on May 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Cameron,
    I hope not. If it is a legitimate scientific theory, then it would be more based on reason than faith. Isn’t faith an essential part of your belief system? If I diminish my faith to a minimalist aspect in my life, I don’t think my spirituality is at a healthy level. I think an integration model is good, but only to a point. Like Dave was saying, we need to have a good balance of faith and reason applied to every aspect of our lives, that doesn’t mean all aspects get 50/50. Certain aspects get more faith, others get more reason. I prefer to accept science on its own terms, then internalize it and see how it fits with the faith I hold in my spiritual life.

  9. Adam Miller on May 27, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Excellent, Dave.

  10. Eric Facer on May 27, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    There is absolutely no room for the intelligent design model in the scientific world for one simple reason: it is not science. The intelligent theory cannot be tested empirically nor is it falsifiable. And something that is incapable of being tested through a process of experimentation or mathematical calculation, cannot be proven or disproven. Nor can it develop mechanisms (such as natural selection) to explain its observations. Simply stated, it is not science.

    Intelligent design is species of religion. Teach it all you want in your religion or Sunday school classes. But keep it out of the science curriculum. It has no place there.

  11. Howard on May 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    No conflict? How is the fossil record reconciled with a 6,000 year old earth?

  12. Nate W. on May 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    I think that the only way you can claim that “the conflict model is wrong” is if you adopt a definition of religion that’s much different than the commonly accepted one. For example, when Stephen Jay Gould argues for non-overlapping magisteria, He states:

    “The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.”

    Gould is talking about something different than what most people think of as religion. How much different would religion look if, as Gould suggests, it were limited to questions of meaning and value?

    For one thing, there would be no miracles, or at least not as miracles are currently regarded. It is a tenet of most believers’ faith that God answers prayers not only through inner peace and inspiration, but also through actual intervention in the physical world. If God were to intervene in that way, science would be able to detect his presence. The problem with actual, physical miracles is that they are not normative, but rather descriptive. The believer is claiming that an event was brought about by divine intervention. That is a testable claim.

    The way to get around this dilemma would be to posit that God does not actually intervene in the physical world, but rather, being omniscient, had the foreknowledge to plant the seed of the miracle in the foundations of the universe. While this is a perfectly reasonable way of reformulating the idea of miracles, it calls into question the necessity of prayer. Why should the believer ask for divine favor when the die has been cast already? While one can argue that it is to show faith and penitence, that is a much different view of prayer than most adhere to.

  13. Cameron N on May 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    To be clear, when I say ‘intelligent design’ I mean only the involvement in some way of intelligence with designing our planet and its contents. I’m not referring to the specific young-earth/ex-nihilo brand that rightly deserves mockery.

    We could also make a case that Moroni 10:5 is empirical (as are many other promises). Not saying it would be fruitful, but we can define it that way. Same thing with ‘If any man will know of My Doctrine…’

  14. Ben S. on May 27, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Howard, Earth’s not 6000 years old, and the scriptures aren’t compellingly read that way.

  15. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 1:00 am

    I also listened to that lecture series. He seemed to side-step the conflict historically by saying the conflict were between individuals with religious jobs and the views of particular scientists and not between Religion and Science.

    One of the interesting things that course brought up is that many, if not all, historical scientists did not hold what we would regard today as a particularly scientific worldview. Isaac Newton is the paradigmatic case. Great scientist and by today’s lights, a religious wacko and nutjob for pursuing astronomy and lifelong celibacy.

    However, the big issue for me is not that science and religion conflict, its that religion has a spectacularly poor track record of understanding the physical operation of the world. Almost none of the progress in understanding the world has come from specific revelations or religious doctrines. Many scientists have taken inspiration from religion and the notion that the world is comprehensible appears to originate in religion but as to specifics, its useless.

    This is very hard for me to square with LDS theology. Even if a physical understanding of the universe is not essential for salvation, it would seem to be pretty easy for the righteous to figure out if they have access to the intelligence that is the glory of god.

    Doesn’t seem to be the case though.

  16. Hedgehog on May 28, 2013 at 2:14 am

    Back in the late 80s as a new university student at a science and technology institution, and starting CES Institute, we were given an ‘evolution’ pack giving an assortment of different views, including the ‘for’ views. It was apparently based on materials given to BYU students. But I don’t think Institute in London was necessarily typical for the rest of the UK, and it was refreshing after the views I’d grown up hearing in my home ward.

    My YW–age daughter was recently incensed at the anti-evolution views expressed by a ward member in testimony meeting. Since she had a speaking assignment for the following week and had been given the topic knowledge, she included the importance of scientific knowledge, and said at the end she believed science and religion were both important.

  17. Dave on May 28, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Hedgehog, good for you and good for your daughter. We don’t need a narrow answer on this issue, or a Handbook answer, or for local members or local leaders to act as if there is a Handbook answer when there is not. What we needs is a broader range of legitimate discussion, a broader range of actual discussion. That includes in particular, I think, what is presented to our youth, lest they perceive a rigid, limited view and think themselves outside it.

    I did a post looking at how Creation was discussed in CES materials and was pleasantly surprised with the actual content:
    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/09/creationism-and-lds-seminary/

  18. Naismith on May 28, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Lee Smolin’s “The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next” talks a lot about the role of faith in science. People repeat the same things over and over, and believe it is true without having experimental data.

    The chapter toward the end on the sociology of science should be required reading for any new faculty member.

    And I could cite dozens of other examples from medicine, where folks have an agenda behind their questions and make assumptions, leading to “science” that is little more than reciting catechism.

  19. Kristine on May 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

    We also need more scientists writing about the process of doing science. I hear lots of people who have left Mormonism and cultivated a thoroughly naive faith in the omnipotence of a mystical entity called Science. Practicing scientists will tell you that there’s plenty of guesswork and intuition and something very like faith in their work–it tends to happen at a different point in the process than for religion; scientists have hunches _before_ they measure, religion tells us to trust feelings that come _after_ we “study it out in our minds.” But it’s folly to believe that science is thoroughly rational and naturalistic, and not enough non-scientists understand this, as they proudly proclaim that they trust in reason and evidence and don’t need faith.

    I know this one journal that would LOVE to publish the work of Mormon scientists thinking about some aspect of science besides evolution…

  20. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Ben S,
    Is it religion that compels us to read the scriptures other than plainly or science? Isn’t it the conflict between religion and science that encourages an other than plain reading? If science didn’t yet exist wouldn’t we / didn’t they interpret the scriptures literally? Sure if we keep modifying religion to match science we can argue no conflict exists.

  21. Steve Smith on May 28, 2013 at 9:08 am

    The difference between science and religion is that science informs itself of truth and knowledge more through empiricism and reason, and less through authority and intuition. By contrast, religion informs itself of truth and knowledge much more through intuition and the authority of a particular religious text or tradition than by empiricism and reason. Science certainly does invoke the authority of ‘common knowledge’ and intuition to a certain extent, but those factor in much less than they do in religion.

    Mormonism can be compatible with science to a certain extent (i.e. Mormonism can accommodate evolution, theories of the origins of the universe, and other matters to some degree). But it does maintain a protected space of traditional doctrine that it tries to defend against scientific inquiry, or at least inquiry that is prone to develop conclusions that would challenge the veracity of such doctrines. Mormonism is uneasy with scientific inquiry into the plausibility of an ancient Book of Mormon, New Testament miracles, the existence of God, prophetic ability to foresee the future, and the existence of divine revelation. Science is hard-pressed to come up with a theory that would defend such matters using reason and empiricism as methods of inquiry.

  22. Steve Smith on May 28, 2013 at 9:16 am

    “We also need more scientists writing about the process of doing science. I hear lots of people who have left Mormonism and cultivated a thoroughly naive faith in the omnipotence of a mystical entity called Science.”

    There is lots and lots of literature about scientific methods of inquiry and lots of junk science out there. But you need to be a bit more sympathetic towards those who disassociate themselves from Mormonism because they don’t find it compatible with science. Mormonism insists that its followers accept many beliefs as unquestionable truths that are rather hard to swallow, and really can’t be established as true based on empiricism or reason. Sure science is based on guesswork and intuition to an extent, but as I said in comment #21, religion tends to insist on the acceptance of its authoritative doctrinal traditions based on intuition much more than science. Science tends to be much more open to questioning and exploration than religion, which often stubbornly sticks to its traditions even at great social costs.

  23. Steve Smith on May 28, 2013 at 9:35 am

    “We could also make a case that Moroni 10:5 is empirical”

    No, it’s intuition. Something can only be empirically established when all normally-functioning people can see it through their eyes, smell it through their noses, hear it through their ears, taste it with their tongues, or sense it through their nerves. For instance I know that if you mix bleach and ammonia together it will produce a toxic vapor. I can routinely establish this beyond a reasonable doubt to any observer this by mixing the two substances. I cannot, however, routinely demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt to supposedly impartial observers that the Book of Mormon can be established as true by a ritual utterance of words. Many claim to have prayed about the BOM and not felt anything beyond what they usually feel. In fact some claim to have received spiritual witness that the BOM is a 19th century text. What we can know by praying is far too subjective to be established as empirical.

  24. stephenchardy on May 28, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I think that the “science vs religion” debate is also based, at least in Mormonism as practiced today, on our overall tension with “the world.” GC talks, Ensign articles, lesson manuals repeatedly emphasize our “otherness”. We don’t accept the standards of others. Rejecting science is, for some Mormons, part of the package of rejection of “the world.” We don’t believe in seuxal relations before marriage. We don’t believe in drinking alcohol. We don’t believe that we ought to shop on Sundays. Once we have rejected a number of “worldy” practices, it become easy to include a disregard for science, especially if that science seems to conflict with relgion. We are used to conflict; we even revel in it. Thus, the rejection of science can be a badge of honor. “His faith is so strong that the doesn’t believe in an ancient earth.”

    It is odd when you consider that we really like technology.

  25. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

    It is odd when you consider that we really like technology.. At first glance it seems incongruous but what’s really going on is the creation of a tribe, a tribe of Mormons. Being in the world but not OF the world, claiming religious persecution or persecution for being different, amplification of fears that the world is becoming more sinful or evil or of satan’s influence, dressing differently creates bonding, obedience and great tithing collections which supports the craving for more buildings.

  26. Ben S on May 28, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Howard, “plain reading” requires context. A modern Westerner, reading the KJV cannot access the “plain reading” of a text that is thousands of years old, from a radically different culture and worldview. I tried to get at this a bit here. It will be unconsciously recontextualized and seriously deformed in the process.
    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2013/03/genesis-vs-science-background-readings-and-discussion/

  27. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 11:47 am

    You make a very good point as usual Ben S but prior to the fossil record arguing loudly against a young earth were the scriptures typically read by religion and by our church as old earth? I think not.

  28. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 28, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    The Book of Moses in chapter 1 is quite explicit that our earth is just one of many creations by God, and that it was preceded by many other inhabited worlds. It goes on to specify that the account in Genesis 1 is focused just on this earth, and is NOT an account of the creation of the entire universe. The emphasis throughout the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price on the eternal scope of God and his creations, backwards in time, does not in any way demand that the earth was created in only 6 24 hour days or in 6 “days” of 1,000 years. When Joseph Fielding Smith speculated about some of the material of the earth coming from previous worlds, he is endorsing an understanding of God’s activity that predates Genesis 1. Frankly, the insistence of Young Earth Creationism on a very young earth and a rapid creation has no necessary relationship to the eternal nature of God’s work with populations on innumerable earths. The acceptance of YEC among Mormons seems to stem from the assumption that there are only two possible views about the creation, which is a false assumption. There are not even just two views on creation among traditional Christians and their theologies.

    The infinity of inhabited worlds in both space and time is a clear principle taught by Joseph Smith, and it offends the view of most YEC
    advocates that the earth is utterly unique as an abode of humanity. On the other hand, Smith’s teachings to a great extent presage the development of cosmology after his time, as we began to understand that each star is a sun and a potential host of planets, and that the number of stars and galaxies is vastly beyond what scientists had thought in 1830.

    LDS members and youth should be taught that there are LDS scientists in every field of study who are both faithful believers in spiritual things and capable scientists. At the very least, our curriculum can make the case that one needs to study both science and the Restored Gospel before coming to any broad conclusions about whether they are inconsistent or consistent. In my experience, most of the people who proclaim that science has freed them from the LDS faith don’t really know that much science, and their conception of LDS teachings is very much second hand as well. I have seen people blogging about their rejection of Joseph Smith because his cosmology of eternity is incompatible with “The Big Bang”. The problem for them is that the initial version of the Big Bang theory is no longer the governing paradigm of cosmology, and has been seriously modified by concepts like “inflation”, and the deduction that the Big Bang may be merely one of an infinite succession of sudden inflationary episodes in the encompassing, eternal universe.

    I also have concluded that anyone who talks about “the God of the gaps” has apparently bought into a usually unspoken assumption, that human knowledge of the universe is quickly approaching totality, in which everything that can be known will be known by mankind, and there will be no room for God, whose only function in intelligent discourse is to serve as a miraculous cause of all unexplained phenomena. The assumption is tremendously egotistical, and hardly verifiable as a scientific hypothesis. Besides, the complete comprehension of all knowledge of nature would put all theoretical scientists out of work! Yet no matter what amazing discoveries they produce (Higgs boson anyone?) the scientists always seem to be ready to describe significant unanswered questions that cry out for new grant funding. The reality of the scientific enterprise is that every observed phenomenon that seems to answer one question also poses at least one more question, so that there is a never-ending need for more research. That big “gap” in mankind’s knowledge is not closing in the foreseeable future, and thank goodness. Just two examples: Observation of the rotational speed of stars in galaxies shows that they rotate, NOT like lots of individual stars in their own orbits around the center of mass, but instead more like a solid disk. That is because over 2/3 of the mass of a galaxy is Dark Matter, which is not observable in any way except through the gravitational pull it exerts. We don’t know what it is, but it is not regular matter.

    More recently, astronomers discovered Dark Energy, which in terms of the matter=energy equivalence we know from Einstein, is 3/4 of the matter-/energy of the universe. It is ACCELERATING the expansion of the universe that had led to the Big Bang Theory. Again, we have no idea what it is. When 95% of all the stuff of reality is utterly mysterious, the claim that human knowledge is about to become absolute is laughable. There is more Gap than anything else in modern science.

    The core concepts of Intelligent Design, which are NOT YEC, are that the most logical and reasonable conclusion to draw about the cause of certain observed phenomena is that they are evidence of action by a purposive intelligence. We adopt that principle of deduction to intent every time we do archeology and distinguish a mere rock from an arrowhead, and every time we do forensic science and conclude that a death was caused by intentional human action and not by an accident. On September 11, 2001, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, it was reasonable to think that perhaps an accident of flight had resulted in the collission. But when a second plane hit the other tower minutes later, it was clear to every thinking person that such an unlikely event was created the same way other unlikely events are caused: by human intention. We knew someone had deliberately killed people in the planes and in the towers. Because we are reasoning persons, we can recognize evidence of reasoninig action. And that is just as legitimate a part of science as forensic science and archeology are.

    Whether a particular set of facts is a reasonable basis to draw a conclusion of intentional action causing those facts, is an hypothesis that can be tested, and compared to the explanatory power of other theories about the cause of those observed facts.

    Right now, because I worked as a computer software designer, my favorite example is the creation of the first living cell. A cell is a factory that can build a duplicate of itself from raw materials. It includes both machinery and a complete computer program describing that machinery, one-for-one. Anyone who has wrestled with writing a complex computer program knows that randomness is the enemy of coherent and operational code. Even a minor change to a program will usually result in a total breakdown. So how can you explain the creation of a complex mechanism PLUS a complete computer code description of the mechanism? No random process can cut it as an explanation. And the various attempts to explain the first cell all sidestep this essential problem. MAYBE the mechanism could come together through random processes, but HOW do your create a computer code (RNA or DNA) that matches the mechanism in every detail? To say “trial and error” only works if you have a computer programmer evaluating the result of each trial and judging whether it is an error. Natural processes don’t give you credit for a 99% program; a 99% program does not work.

    Darwinian evolution does not even purport to explain the first cell. It just assumes it, because what it explains is ASSUMIING you have a cell, THEN you can get variations in the cell over time. The belief among some scientists that they can find an utterly naturalistic explanation for the first cell is an utter expression of faith, without any evidence to back it up.

  29. Dennis on May 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Kristine,

    A fascinating book I recommend — ethnographic research about scientists doing science (though not about Mormons) — is “Science as Psychology: Sense-Making and Identity in Science Practice.” The book “reveals the complexity and richness of rationality by demonstrating how social relationships, emotion, culture, and identity are implicated in the problem-solving practices of laboratory scientists.” See http://www.amazon.com/Science-Psychology-Sense-Making-Identity-Practice/dp/0521882079

  30. Dennis on May 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Kristine,

    A fascinating book I recommend — ethnographic research about scientists doing science (though not about Mormons) — is “Science as Psychology: Sense-Making and Identity in Science Practice.” The book “reveals the complexity and richness of rationality by demonstrating how social relationships, emotion, culture, and identity are implicated in the problem-solving practices of laboratory scientists.” See http://www.amazon.com/Science-Psychology-Sense-Making-Identity-Practice/dp/0521882079

  31. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Rather than cosmology and evolution, I find neuroscience and psychology to be the scientific areas with the most interesting dynamic between science and religion.

    The first reason is that consciousness and choice are enigmas to science, but enigmas where new discoveries are particularly fascinating.

    Whether it is addiction or choice or feelings of spirituality, the perspectives of science are not identical with those of religion.

    Personally, I have not met or heard of anyone that adopts a particularly scientific view of the world in their personal life. That is few people think of themselves as a thing in a systematically thoroughgoing manner. This doesn’t make me believe less that science points towards some facts, it just make me believe that humans have a pretty hard time not being religious, mythical, and lacking in perspective on their place in the universe. What I trust least about religion is not its absurdity relative to science but that it attempts to create meaningful narratives that attempt to remove the fundamental absurdity of consciousness that science can’t explain either.

  32. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    No conflict? Where is the scientific evidence for the historicity of Book of Mormon and non-Mormon scientists who support it?

  33. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Howard,

    What is the physics of the conflict of beliefs? How much mass does a “historicity” have? Logic is not scientifically proven, its just a tool.

    One can believe in anything one can imagine without violating any scientific principles, so where is the conflict? In fact, science may prove that it is evolutionarily beneficial to have many false beliefs, for example, that one is more attractive than one really is.

  34. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Mtnmarty,
    Well the funny thing is the Bible doesn’t seem to suffer from a similar vacuum of evidence or support.

  35. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Are you including the book of Revelations in that sentence?

  36. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    And all that water into wine and those loaves and fishes?

  37. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Sure along with talking snakes, virgin birth and resurrection, wouldn’t you?

  38. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Howard,

    If I had to bet my eternal soul on the reality of Nephites or of an ark with two of every animal, I’m going all in on Nephites.

  39. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Gee, I never thought of that! I guess that settles it the BoM IS true after all and the Bible isn’t.

  40. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for clearing that up!

  41. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    I do, however, like to think that love thy neighbor as thyself should be taken as literally as possible.

    So, I value your input and commentary.

  42. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks for that and come to think of it that kind of sentiment is valuable to humankind even if the book it is taken from lacks historical basis!

  43. Mtnmarty on May 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Howard,

    I believe that both the BOM and bible and fairly useless for scientific purposes. Symmetrically, I believe that science is fairly useless for positing values. After all it constrains no good acts or bad acts. It allows belief in falsehoods, it the BOM, the bible, in heaven’s gate.

    That is why it is not in conflict with religion. The only thing that is in conflict are predictions made by particular people using science or religion.

    What does the reality of the bible or the Book of Mormon have to do with the efficacy of the belief in the BOM or bible? It is only those that want their Truths to be True, that have a conflict, not religion or science as a practice.

  44. Howard on May 28, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    What does the reality of the bible or the Book of Mormon have to do with the efficacy of the belief in the BOM or bible? Sounds like something I would have said. But I do think there is conflict between religion and science because religion includes institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices and that introduces a lot of bias until it is reconciled to less biased science.

  45. Eric Facer on May 29, 2013 at 9:51 am

    The science vs. religion debate is part of a larger, more difficult question confronting the church that Dave alluded to in his post: the fact that the church has over-promised and under-delivered in numerous areas. Here is the problem, as I see it.

    You start with leaders proclaiming that this is the only “true” church, some going so far as to say that the church is “perfect.”

    Many leaders have expressed definitive, unequivocal opinions regarding the age of the earth, the evils of evolution, the godless nature of science. Many of those opinions are either highly questionable or incorrect.

    Many leaders, along with the Church Education System, have offered what they believe are authoritative interpretations of certain scriptures, such as Isaiah 29 referring to Martin Harris, Charles Anton and some characters from the gold plates. Biblical scholars—both LDS and non-LDS—have convincingly demonstrated that many of those opinions are either highly questionable or incorrect.

    CES generates teaching materials which it claims contain honest and accurate accounts of events in church history and the lives of past leaders. Those materials actually contain numerous errors, omissions and misinformation.

    Many church leaders are of the opinion that the doctrines taught by the restored church never change AND are identical to the doctrines taught in the ancient church as well. The faithful work of several LDS scholars has demonstrated that many of those opinions are either highly questionable or incorrect.

    My point isn’t that church leaders are infallible. On a certain level, we all know this (though some find it hard to accept). The problem isn’t that church leaders, or the institution itself, have expounded dubious teachings that are seemingly incompatible with science, history, or the scriptures. Rather, the issue is: how does a church that claims to be “true/perfect” retreat from those erroneous positions and still retain its credibility?

    To date, the church’s response appears to consist of instructing existing leaders to exercise more circumspection in what the say or write (mercifully, no GA will ever write another book called “Mormon Doctrine”), embracing institutional amnesia with respect to its past, and dismissing the incompatible teachings of certain prophets and apostles by saying: “Those guys are dead and their doctrines died with them.” I don’t think this is working too well. There is a way through this, and it must start with an admission that the church doesn’t have a satisfactory answer to every question.

    It has been my experience that there is an inverse correlation between a person’s seniority in an organization and their willingness to utter the words “I don’t know” or “I was mistaken.” If we can change this mentality, acknowledge both the limits of our stewardship (it doesn’t include science) and our knowledge, and, at the very least, admit that competing ideas, theories and explanations may have merit, then I think our retention rate, especially among new converts, will improve.

  46. jader3rd on May 29, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I think that the curriculum does a great job of teaching how truth can be found from revelation and from what we discover naturally.
    I think the source of the problem comes from the media/cultural mindset. Society tells us that religion and science have to conflict. So a good member, who isn’t too well versed in either LDS doctrine, nor science, will think “as someone who has strong faith in my religion, I have to disagree with science”; not knowing that those religious views don’t represent their beliefs.
    Or you have a mainstream Christian join the church and they carry over their anti-science beliefs with them. The church certainly doesn’t do a regular job in combating that.
    Another part of the problem may be that while it’s fun to speculate how some of the latest scientific discoveries align with certain LDS doctrines, if taught in class it may be taken as doctrine, and not speculation, and then it may upset someone’s testimony when the scientific discovery/theory is found to be invalid.

  47. Dave on May 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I will second the point Ben S. (#26) makes: “plain reading” requires context.

    RTS (#28), I guess I’d say that if we abandon the Conflict Model, then we have to think more carefully about the relation between religion and science and how we can or whether we should incorporate any religion into science or any science into religion. It’s easy to see when that kind of mixing goes awry (I think ID is a good example of that, but we seem to differ on that point), but much harder to describe how it should be properly done, if at all. Gould’s NOMA approach argues for keeping religion and science each in their separate sphere.

    Howard (#32), I think the point of the Conflict Model is that religion and science, as modes of thinking about the world, are *necessarily* in conflict. It’s a big-picture claim. Of course there will be particular claims or issues where a particular religious view (among many) will conflict with a particular scientific view (among many). That doesn’t establish the sort of conflict posited by the Conflict Model. As a historical claim about how religion and science have actually interacted, the Conflict Model is simply false.

    Eric (#45), I agree some positive discussion of science (or more of it) would be helpful in the manuals. Probably easier said than done. They could start by inviting LDS scientists onto the curriculum teams or committees that draft lessons, rather than continually using CES people with spare time on their hands (who seem to default to their folders full of old JFS and BRM quotes on most topics) or rank-and-file members. It seems obvious to me that if you want better lessons, upgrade your author pool.

  48. Dave on May 29, 2013 at 11:35 am

    It’s also worth noting that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Science and Religion is quite friendly to science. It rejects the Conflict Model and appears to endorse Augustine’s doctrine of the unity of truth referred to in the OP:

    [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.

  49. MC on May 29, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    RE: the argument from design, guess who said this:

    “If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design.”

    http://www.npr.org/2013/05/28/184827647/stephen-king-on-growing-up-believing-in-god-and-getting-scared

  50. Jax on July 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    I wonder if Dave or any of the other T&S “staff” (?) would be willing to watch this and give a good science v religion synopsis of it. I am not a scientist, so even though I have my own opinions of it, I’d love to hear from any of you who are scientists about its credibility and message.

  51. Steve Smith on July 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Evolution vs. God? Seen it. Already the title is based on a false dichotomy: namely, that belief in God and belief in evolution are mutually exclusive and contradictory. The documentary tries to make the false equation that belief in evolution is no different than belief in God; in essence, evolution is faith-based. It even tries to make the preposterous claim that scientists can’t cite any evidence for evolution. Basically the film-makers play gotcha with a few unsuspecting scientists. Garbage extraordinaire.

  52. Sonny on July 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Jax,

    I suggest you read a lot of of Steven Peck to answer your question. In short, I believe Steve Smith gave you an answer that Steven Peck would, but check out his site for a lot of science/religion related posts.

  53. Sonny on July 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Here is his latest.