science and faith

I generally don’t post thoughts on controversial topics, since I’m not one for jumping into debates that can quickly deteriorate, but I do think it’s okay now and then to post my own thoughts and perspectives on the matter, in case anyone might find it of interest.

I was watching an IMAX documentary tonight, I have a few of them on DVD, and I’ve always loved watching them.  Tonight, it was Cosmic Voyage, a really great one that explores how massive our universe is, and how much life there is in it.  It’s a really cool movie to watch.

As a Christian, I have a unique perspective on the origin of the universe that doesn’t agree with the secular conclusions.  However, unlike mainstream religions, I do not believe that science and faith are mutually exclusive.  I believe in evolution as much as anyone else, since, for one, it’s not only scientifically plausible, but proven.  I draw the line that evolution was the cause of the origin of life though, instead taking the doctrine on faith that man was placed here by God, with a purpose to life that He has since revealed to His children through prophets, which have been recorded as scripture.

I never know quite how to explain my perspective, since it’s so different from everything else, and probably pretty unexpected to start with.  It’d be easy to gloss over my take on things and just sum me up as another crazy creationist that thinks some invisible force created everything then dumped us here to let us figure things out.

And so, in an effort to meet critics on their own grounds, I’ll ask the hard questions myself, but provide the answers the best I can.  I’m not trying to convince anyone of the truth — and it’s not my belief that it should be forced on others involuntarily, in school or any other setting.  But I would like the fair chance to present my side. :)

How was the earth created?

First of all, going to the creation of the earth.  There is a misconception that God created the universe ex nihilo, or, out of nothing.  This belief springs from a poor translation of the original text.  In Hebrew, the book of Genesis says that the earth was organized, not created — meaning from existing matter.  In modern revelation, the Lord has said that “the elements are eternal.”  Science would agree that matter can be neither destroyed nor created.  My religion concurs. :)

How long did it take to create the earth?

The truth is, we don’t really know.  There are a few accounts given of the creation (Genesis, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham), and they all offer a few more details.  In Abraham’s account, each of the creationary periods are called a “time”.  For example, “And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time.” (emphasis mine).

You can read the whole account of Abraham’s record of the creation, starting with chapter 4, although the entire book covers some amazing doctrine.

The next question is more interesting, though, I think.

Why doesn’t the Lord reveal to us the details of the creation?

The answer to that is pretty simple, and I imagine probably going to be a little frustrating to some, and maybe some reason to scoff to others.

The answer is it’s not necessary to our salvation.

The reason we are here on earth, living our mortal lives, is to see if, once we have left the presence of our Father in Heaven, we will choose to obey him.  A knowledge of the creation of the earth is not a prerequisite to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, the Lord does at times reveal knowledge of the mysteries of creation and of life as a testimony of His work, and to strengthen our faith.

In a more simple analogy, say you were taking a test on mathematics … it wouldn’t do you much good to study lots of history before going into the exam, because it is superfluous and not necessary for our passing grade in that area of study.  Likewise, we don’t need to understand all things to be able to successfully pass the mortal test, to follow God, choose the right, and achieve happiness.  He requires of us a willing mind and an obedient spirit, something that everyone can give individually.

That is not to say that God does *not* want us to know these things, though.  It would be an incorrect conclusion to assume that since God does not reveal His word to us, that He has no interest in us finding these things out.  The Lord gave us many tools, both personally and collectively, to study these things out for ourselves.

He has said, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;  Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (emphasis mine)

Also, just because the knowledge is withheld, does not mean it will always be that way.  Just as parents teach their children principles line upon line, precept upon precept, our Heavenly Father does not burden us with things that would be too hard to grasp at this point in our existence — partly, because they would prove unto us a stumbling block (even the limited knowledge we have now is a struggle of faith for many, and keeps them from believing).

He has promised to eventually reveal to us “things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof–Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.” (emphasis mine)

So, while it may be frustrating, now, to not know the reason and purpose behind all things, they will eventually be revealed to us — either in this life or the next.  In the meantime, we can rest safely in the knowledge that it is not required of us to understand.  That in no way excuses us from either trying or should prevent us from wanting to understand though.

How can we take things on faith?

I think a simpler way to ask the question might be, “how can you really believe all that stuff?”

Well, to be honest, for me it comes pretty easily, so I have a really hard time understanding how it would be hard sometimes *not* to believe it.  So I apologize in advance if my explanation of things seems a bit simple … a bit of a loop, saying “I believe it’s true because I believe it’s true.”  There’s actually a base to that — and that is a witness from God, that comes by asking sincerely if these things are true.

One last quote, this time from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.  Alma (an ancient prophet of God) says, “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

It’s a curious pasttime of mine to try and find parts of those “all things” that denote the existence of God.  The complexity of life goes deeper than just a testimony of the existence of God, they are actually living parables — analogies that to the simple and humble are opened up, and show similarities to the Gospel itself.

For example, the seasons of the earth are just as the stages of mortality are.  Spring represents the birth and renewal of life, summer the prime of our lives, fall is the stages of death, decay and our twilight years, and then winter, in all its glorious white, represents the resurrection of life.

There’s lots more examples, and I was trying to think of one that I had come up with when writing this, but nothing is coming to me right now.  I went looking for one in my notes on scripture study, and I couldn’t find one quickly either.

That’s generally how my presentation feels though — a little lacking on the solid examples, and I feel like I’m not really getting my point across too well, but I can rely on the fact that I believe and even know that these things are true, and I can’t deny that … even if I can’t explain it eloquently. :)

There was also this great quote from Brigham Young about how all truth was circumscribed into one whole (or maybe it was Joseph Smith).  Anyway.  I remember President Young would talk about it a lot at length.  I’ll have to go find my book of his quotes somewhere.

But yah, the simple point I wanted to make is that science and religion actually are the same pursuit of truth, and application of that knowledge.  There is no conflict between the two for true religion, for God operates by eternal laws, many of which we don’t understand yet.

Alright, I’ll stop preaching now. :)  I just wanted to point out that for some Christians, there is no conflict .. no crisis of faith when presented with science.  It’s a common tactic that those who actively try to undermine the faith of others will use the fact that “you can’t explain it” as a reason to disbelieve.  Instead of letting this despair me, I actually consider it a requisite of my faith.  The Lord wants me to grow spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally, and each of those require risks … stepping out into the dark, having faith that if I follow the best path, that I will grow and be redeemed and rewarded after my labor is done.  I don’t know everything, that is true, but I do know the basics and have a testimony of their truth.  I know enough. :)

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “science and faith

  1. Tim

    Steve,

    I am not a religious man in the classic sense. I prefer the thought that I believe in God, but I don’t necessarily believe in the church. However, I carry around the same precepts as you, that science and faith are not mutually exclusive, but I believe you don’t take that dictum far enough. I’ll try to explain, but I’m not an expert in scripture, so forgive me if I wildly paraphrase.

    If you take Genesis by itself, it doesn’t really matter what translation, it speaks of the creation of the world in various stages. I believe those stages, though highly symbolic in nature according to the Bible and other religious texts, are actually very prescient in regards to the physical, yet mostly theoretical forces of the universe. Would it surprise you to hear that I believe the authors of the Bible actually predicted a singularity event such as the Big Bang theory?

    If you take each stage of the world’s creation one at a time, and see each “day” as being representative of a period of history, a period that could last for millenia, the first thing that God creates is light. One would think of this as being a pretty majestic event, and I would say the Big Bang certainly qualifies. Later on, the creation of Heaven and Earth, which could very well describe the coalescing of matter from that singular event into the planets that we know today. Further along came the land and seas, then creatures to walk on its face. Metaphorically, these can still align with theories of geological and biological evolution. That the original prophets left out certain events like mass extinctions and such is understandable, since it was an effort to cram much information into a relatively brief narrative.

    I think that it lends a little credibility to the vision of those before us. Science could learn much about the observations and imagination that sprang from the roots of religion, just as religion could learn a few things from the careful and methodical processes of science.

    • Tim, that’s an awesome perspective, and I agree with your conclusion whole-heartedly. :)

      One thing I wanted to add in there, but forgot, was my personal approach that if the Big Bang Theory is true, it still doesn’t have to conflict … perhaps that is the way that God *did* create the universe. We just don’t know. The really important thing to take from the beginning chapters of Genesis is that it was God who created things, and placed man here.

      Take care!

  2. Lonnie Olson

    I really applaud your recognition of the truths of science. Not everyone does this, and they often believe in the literal translation of the bible as it currently stands. Take, for example, this crazy Texas State Board of Education member, Don McLeroy, who believes “Evolution is hooey.” http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1001.blake.html
    This is very sad, especially for someone with control over children’s education.

    I also find it very interesting how you reconcile your beliefs in the face of scientific evidence. In my opinion, most people just ignore whichever one they feel less connected to.

    However you still have a major flaw that has yet to be reconciled, but it is likely not possible to reconcile. The faith vs. science question. You already offered one problem, that of circular reasoning. However that is not the only issue. The issue is even more fundamental than that. Faith is belief in something even without any proof or evidence. Science is the complete opposite, one of critical thinking.

    Also I disagree in your connection that both science and religion are in the pursuit of truth. In my experience religion is not pursuing any truth, as they purport to already have it. No pursuit needed. Religion is more about dissemination of truth.

    For me, it’s faith, and the expectations that you must have faith (belief without evidence) that is the primary factor turning me away from religion. There are plenty of other, less spiritual reasons, but this is my underlying force.

    I am happy that you are actually thinking for yourself, and working on this reconciliation of your beliefs to the scientific evidence around you. That is extremely commendable.

    • fungus, you are the freaking man. That is all. :) Keep keeping it real, yo.

    • So in science we formulate ideas based on what we do know, and then we experiment. How often are we able to establish absolute facts? To me, that matters less than our ability to refine our theories and make good use of them.

      I realize it’s not a perfect analogy, but I like to think of belief as a hypothesis, faith as the test of our beliefs, and life itself as an ongoing experiment.

      Spiritual experiences are indeed very different from science in that they can’t be consistently reproduced or universally observed. That doesn’t really diminish their worth, though, and their existence (albeit difficult to prove) doesn’t diminish science, either. Again, establishing universal truth is a touchy subject here, but in the end, it’s all about what we do with what we’ve got.

  3. Great post. One way that I’ve looked at science and religion is, how vs. why. This ties into your “Why doesn’t the Lord reveal to us the details of the creation?” section. Science tends to focus on details to figure out how things happened. Religion tends to focus on details to provide why something happened.

    Or to really geek out, religion is the specification, science is the implementation :-)

  4. Steve,

    Similar to you, I believe that true science (man’s pursuit of truth {not encumbered by prejudice, agenda or any other distractors}) and religion are not at odds.

    |->science today – an exercise in hubris <-|
    While man has achieved a great many splended things, man's knowledge isn't without it's faults and erronous thinking. you know, it wasn't too long ago that something called Luminiferous aether (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminiferous_aether) was something used by scientist to describe the medium through which light traveled. scientist tried for years to detect and prove its existance, only in the end to prove it didn't.

    I use that example to say that just because science says it is fact, does not ACTUALLY make it so.

    Likewise, you'll see that the theory of evolution i was taught as a child, including the premoridal soup, has been changed with the soup part omitted as commonly now, scientist don't think it ever existed.

    The whole point of angst in this equation is this, today's science, like religion requires a leap of faith. Just as there is no physical evidence that there is a God; there is also no complete physical chain of evidence of evolution.

    Which brings me to my point. Man. Why does it matter from whence he sprang? Was it "Divine Evolution" or was he(man) created as the Scriptures teach? What is the difference and why is that difference important.

    My belief is that we are indeed created in His image and that that difference is significant. We aren't some mutated estranged offspring. My thought is that "Divine Evolution" abstracts us away from Diety – as it conotates that we aren't actually made in his image. Believing that we are his children requires us to take the higher road and make the difficult decisions to act as He would.

    Look at Moses 1:6 "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son…" Do you see the difference between how Diety speaks with Moses and what "Divine Evolution" would suggest? If you read that whole chapter, you'll see Moses is refered to that way several times.

    My belief isn't that evolution didn't happen, with animals, it very well could have been, and for what it is worth, it's a great way to catalog the animals. But when it comes to man, I'm willing to take Diety at His word.

  5. *applaud* – Holy cow, Steve. That was brilliant! Thank you so much for taking the dive and posting this. Loved it!

  6. Great thoughts, Steve. And I love the talk you linked to.

  7. Tobe

    First off, I want to say that I respect your position although I cannot agree with it. I write this not to offend or mock but to see if you have answers or reactions to my problems with religion because it is always interesting to let others challenge one’s view ;-)

    I found the following quote by H.L. Mencken which somehow sums up what I don’t “get” about religion:

    “To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.”

    You say that you accept evolution and (if I interpret correctly) that the scientific and religious views on the origin of the universe are not mutually exclusive; i.e. that there may have been a big bang created by god (the details don’t matter so I’m not very precise here).

    You also say that “The reason we are here on earth, living our mortal lives, is to see if, once we have left the presence of our Father in Heaven, we will choose to obey him.”, which means that at least our existence if not the whole universe exist as a kind of experiment (lack of a better word). This seems rather impractical and wasteful for an omnipotent being. Given some time even humans could perhaps conceive of a much simpler world which would enable the same “experiment”. Why a whole universe full of stars and planets which do not contain sentient beings? Why are there effects like relativity if Newton’s laws would have been enough? And what is the purpose of the “experiment”? Why create beings with souls to see if they obey an entity they can’t see, hear, smell, touch, taste or even measure with modern scientific equipment? This sounds very cruel to me.

    Another big question is: “Which religion is right?” Not every religion can be right. Some believe in reincarnation others in an afterlife. So why is any of these correct? Which should I choose to be saved, or does it even matter? What has one religion that any other hasn’t? All of the main religions have scripture that the believers say is the truth; all religions have people who claim to have some sort of two-way connection to their deity/deities (during prayer, in churches and temples etc.). So why is one of these right? Are they all wrong?

    This makes the “experiment” even crueler: Let’s say a person is born as a Hindu but the Catholics were “right”. But the person has as much evidence as any believing Catholic that their religion is “right”. How can this person know the one true religion?

    So, all in all, as an agnostic I’m not denying the possibility that god created the universe and put us into it to test us, but I rather like to know how one could possibly believe this?

    • Tobe,

      Those are great questions, and I’ll try to answer some, but I don’t think I’m skilled enough to give you a great response to all of them.

      “Why a whole universe full of stars and planets which do not contain sentient beings?”

      Considering that because of how long it takes for light to travel to us, there could already be life on those countless planets … we’re just seeing snapshots of what life *used* to look like millions of years ago.

      “And what is the purpose of the “experiment”? Why create beings with souls to see if they obey an entity they can’t see, hear, smell, touch, taste or even measure with modern scientific equipment? This sounds very cruel to me.”

      There’s another way to discover him, and that’s by faith. I know it flies in the face of modern conventional scientific approach, but it’s because it’s something that can’t be quantified outside of human experience. We can all individually experience all kinds of emotions, and agree on a scientific definition based on collective experience, but eventually it’s all going to be a human element that we each have to experience to know what it’s like. It’s the same thing with discovering the existence of God … you have to seek it out personally, and gain a testimony of it. I can’t transfer that experience to anyone else anymore than I can share my emotions in their raw form.

      “Another big question is: “Which religion is right?” Not every religion can be right.”

      Joseph Smith had the same question, I’d encourage you to read his account on the matter, and what answers he found. http://scriptures.lds.org/en/js_h/1 I realize it’s a bit long (and I apologize for that), but it’s a good explanatory read, and I would hate to summarize it. You’ll find him asking the same questions you did.

      “This makes the “experiment” even crueler: Let’s say a person is born as a Hindu but the Catholics were “right”. But the person has as much evidence as any believing Catholic that their religion is “right”. How can this person know the one true religion?”

      The answer can come by the Spirit of the Lord. But we have to ask Him, in prayer, sincerely, which religion is right, and what we should do (or more specifically, where we can find the truth, and how we can recognize it when we do). The matter can’t be decided by personal debate, since there’s obvious bias. Asking God is going to be the only way to find out. :)

      “So, all in all, as an agnostic I’m not denying the possibility that god created the universe and put us into it to test us, but I rather like to know how one could possibly believe this?”

      Well, I can only speak for myself … but it’s more a matter of doctrine than a critical key area. That is, the real belief is that God lives. The fact that he created the earth is, at times, nothing more than an interesting intellectual curiosity, kind of a byproduct of believing the basics. If you can first gain a testimony of the truth of a living God, then everything else is far easier to accept. It’s a matter of, “I don’t understand everything, but I know the simplest truths.”

      I hope that helps.

      If you’d like more to read, that’ll elaborate on my points, I’d check out http://mormon.org/ Here’s a good one I think may help though: http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/the-restoration-of-truth/how-can-i-know-this-is-true

      Steve

      • Tobe

        Thanks for your answer. It was really enlightening.

        “That is, the real belief is that God lives. The fact that he created the earth is, at times, nothing more than an interesting intellectual curiosity, kind of a byproduct of believing the basics. If you can first gain a testimony of the truth of a living God, then everything else is far easier to accept.”

        This seems to be the main point. As soon as you “experience” god in some way or god reveals himself to you, everything else is obvious. If, like Joseph Smith in your link (very interesting by the way), god shows you the path, there can be no doubt anymore.

        That was also my main issue with understanding truly religious people. I always questioned parts of the beliefs. But if you see that all these beliefs stand on some foundation, it becomes obvious that everything stands and falls with that foundation. And that foundation is a very personal thing.

        As for me, I never found something that would lead me to believe in any foundation of a theistic religion. I also never found any reason to deny even the remotest possibility of the existence of a god or gods. That leaves me (at least for now) as a convinced agnostic.

        Thanks again,
        Tobe

        PS: your blog needs a “preview” button ;-)

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