“We are obsessed with ourselves. We study our history. Our psychology, our philosophy…Much of our knowledge revolves around ourselves, as if we were the most important thing in the universe. I think I like physics because it opens a window through which we can see further. It gives me the sense of fresh air entering the house. What we see out there through the window is constantly surprising us.”
“The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God…All these are kingdoms, and any[one] who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God.”
D&C 88:45, 47
In explaining his belief in God, scientist Francis Collins (a world leaders in genome research), expressed something that many believers can relate to when he said, “I’ve never heard God speak out loud to me. That’s not an experience I have had.” For him, like for so many, God does not speak with an audible voice. There is, however, another way that God reaches him. “I believe God did intend, in giving us intelligence, to give us the opportunity to investigate and appreciate the wonders of his creation.”
I am not a scientist. Science bored me to tears when I was a kid. When I went to college I found it somewhat interesting so long as we didn’t have to do math, but math is kind of a thing with science so my knowledge didn’t go much farther than a few introductory courses to a few different subjects. Also, I vaguely knew that the more you were into science, the less faithful you became because you started believing in evolution and stuff. (My understanding may not have been comprehensive but it was certainly conclusive.) Science, in other words, may be good in many ways, but it needed to be treated with great care, if not suspicion, and while it may have been interesting, it wasn’t “pertinent to salvation”.
Some years ago I was praying intently about something and was given an answer. The problem was I didn’t understand that answer, and I wondered about it for years. One day I came across a lecture about Quantum Field Theory, and being somewhat more curious than I was as a kid I tuned in to see what the heck Quantum Field Theory was. And received revelation. Almost point by point the revelation I had received years ago (which I had not been thinking of when I began listening to the lecture) was explained to me. Learning about quantum fields ended up being one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.
For millennia people in the west have been inclined to draw stark lines of delineation between the spiritual and the material; the spiritual being good and perfect while the material is just kind of…gross. For centuries science and religion have been seen as at best having an uneasy truce, at worst being at war. This is partly because the bible and science do not always align, (though as Latter-day Saints that doesn’t have to concern us as much as we sometimes let it; we’ve got some wiggle room there). I think even more at heart to this tension, however, is a distrust of this old, sinful world and the sinful people in it, and therefore a distrust of what it and they tell us. This earth is separate from, and far inferior to, God’s heaven.
But is it? Consider when God says, “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.” According to modern revelation, the material world is not separate from heaven—it is an extension of it. This means that the world is not in opposition to heaven, it is actually part of it.
We often talk about God being a creator but it is important that we follow through to the conclusion of what that means. If I want to understand Emily Dickinson or Frida Kahlo or Mozart, I would need to study their work. In fact, it is reasonable to say that I could not understand them without seriously studying the things they created. Isn’t it reasonable to suppose the same goes for God? That what is revealed to us in the creation teaches us about its creator?
From the perspective of faith, what we call science is the processes by which creation comes into being and functions. As mentioned previously, we are speaking in this series as spirit being the connection between us and God. What better way to connect to our Heavenly Parents than by seriously studying what they have made? What better way of seeing into the mind of someone than by understanding what they have crafted with that mind? How better to know someone than to seek to understand how they have used their time and resources and abilities? How better to see the hand of God than in studying what that hand has created?
It doesn’t matter what it is—mapping the geologic formation of planets, understanding how the wings of a butterfly work, studying the human mind, charting the growth of ecosystems—to study the universe is to see into the mind and heart of God. It is to see God moving in majesty and power. The study of science can be a profound spiritual experience. It may not make us feel warm and fuzzy, but warm fuzzies are not the only, or even best, fruit of the spirit. The fruits of the spirit are also humility. Awe. The power to heal. Knowledge. Wisdom. Scientific inquiry is among the most powerful ways this spiritual fruit can be born in our lives. Through it lives are enriched, minds are opened, and literally billions have been healed; in other words, through scientific inquiry the spirit has spoken and born fruit. The creation is a powerful voice of the spirit. It is not necessary that everyone must hear and speak this spiritual language, but thank heaven for the blessings we have all been able to reap from the efforts and sacrifices of those who do.
 Reality is Not What it Seems; Rovelli, Carlo; Riverhead Books, New York New York, 2017 pg. 5
 D&C 104:14
Mary, thanks so much for this. I love the theology of creation you draw into this, I’ve never heard the connection articulated quite this way.
I just want to add my testimony of this: the day after graduating BYU, I picked up a few books from the bookstore that had caught my eye: DK’s “Big History” book and Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” Those two books started a love affair with science that has really opened me up to spiritual experiences. And learning about evolution, about ecology, and about all the billions of years of effort that went into Creation has made me much more appreciative of how much care I put into taking care of the World that God has given me. These disciplines have drawn me to feel that I am related to and connected to all life on earth, and so I’d better act like a good steward. And of course, as you point out, it’s induced a lot of awe. Pictures from the hubble telescope, the latest fossil discoveries, the latest science on black holes, hearing about new minerals: it’s all pretty incredible!
One of the most spiritual experiences of my life came when I was tasked by a physics class with reproducing Newton’s proof that if you accept his laws of motion and gravity you can derive that planets will move according to the patterns Kepler had observed (elliptical orbits, etc.). I was struggling with the class and needed help, and I got it–as I studied I felt the closeness of the Spirit such as I’d normally associate with scripture study (and not all that often even then). More than that, I was deeply impressed by the beauty of the laws of God’s creation. (Newton agreed: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent being.” Not that he’d have much patience with the pseudo-science that makes up most “intelligent design” thinking today.)
But we now understand that Newton’s theory of gravity is just an approximation to Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, which is (presumably) an approximation to the quantum theory of gravity we haven’t worked out yet. But there is absolutely no way the first physicists could have gone straight to relativity, let alone quantum theory.
Think about that: God didn’t just create a universe that works and is beautiful. He made one that can be understood “line upon line and precept upon precept” through a series of approximations that bring us closer and closer to the truth, yet are individually beautiful and useful in and of themselves. Clearly He wants us to learn about him by learning about His creation, and has invited us to do so.
To find a conflict between science and religion requires warping at least one of them and usually both.
When it comes to the Creation, I prefer to think of it as a Creating, an ongoing Creation. This Belief is inspired by Prez Uchtdorf’s idea of an ongoing restoration, and ProcessTheology’s idea of everything being in a state of flux. The switch away from a noun to an action verb is critical. It means that we are co-creators of the Earth with Heavenly Parents and Christ.
As co-creators, we have a much stronger responsibility to protect and evolve the future of the Earth. We have a much more intense responsibility than as mere stewards.
Roger, does that mean you are a climate change activist?
On the east coast of Australia, where 2 years ago we had unprecidented fires, this summer we have had floods. We had once in 100 year floods in 2011, this year we have again had once in 100 year floods. Some places have had 2 once in 100 year floods this year.
Appearently this is related to increasing ocean temperatures, which have also bleached parts of the great barrier reef.
When we had the fires the following summer the west coast of America had fires too. Is the west coast of America subject to flooding?
Geoff, Utah has been in a drought for 20 yrs. Things are getting dire. The Great Salt Lake is disappearing, which could be an environmental nightmare. Lake Powell is at historic lows, endangering hydropower generation. With Climate Change, it looks like the Colorado River is over appropriated. So far the fires aren’t as bad as Australia and California. But things are getting so bad, that the Utah do-nothing legislature actually took positive actions.
While I was employed we worked to make water delivery more efficient. Since retirement, my family, friends, and I have been working to improve global schools in extremely remote locations. To do this we are involved in some green technologies: solar power, unfired bricks, water treatment, etc.
A scripture I love on this topic is Moses 6:63-
“And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things that are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath; all things bear record of me.”
I turned to it in college to explain my belief in religion despite studying science, but have used it far more (even when you look at the per year average to control for a much longer time out of college) at church to explain my love of science, which folks regularly seem to think is in opposition to my faith.