Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Real science, truth
coincide with real Mormon scholarship
By Michael R. Ash , For the Deseret News
Published: Monday, Feb. 22 2010 12:19 a.m. MST
Before we get to Book of Mormon geography, archaeology
and anachronisms, (as well as related issues such as DNA) we need to
take another side-trip to a general topic that relates to the studies of
these issues — Mormonism, science, and truth.
Joseph Smith explained that "One of the grand fundamental principles of
Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may."
"We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and
treasure them up," he said another time, "or we shall not come out true
While science is unable to answer the questions about the purpose for
life, the hereafter, or many other things that must be taken on faith,
accurate science is necessary for telling us about the world in which we
live. As Elder John A. Widtsoe said: "Truth is truth forever. Scientific
truth cannot be theological lie."
Dr. Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an atheist
who became a (non-LDS) Christian, explains that "Science is the only
legitimate way to investigate the natural world."
" ...Yes, experiments can fail spectacularly, interpretations of
experiments can be misguided, and science can make mistakes. But the
nature of science is self-correcting. No major fallacy can long persist
in the face of a progressive increase in knowledge" (Francis Collins,
The Language of God, 228).
It's my opinion that there are at least a few immutable laws that govern
all things in all places, and that even God adheres to these laws (some
would argue that he is part of such laws or created these laws). Other
laws may be specific for individual realms or spheres and cannot
typically be broken (or broken frequently) without causing havoc in that
sphere. Science is the tool by which we can learn something of these
laws as they pertain to our mortal existence.
Through the years some members have claimed that God gives us false
information through science to test our faith. To apply a quote
attributed to Albert Einstein, I believe "God is subtle, not malicious."
Other vocal members have made anti-science comments or have implied that
science and intellectualism are at odds with faith and truth.
While it's OK to believe that science doesn't have all the answers, we
need to be careful not to turn healthy skepticism into cynicism of the
methods and knowledge that make our world a better, safer, and healthier
place. We must remember that God is also the author of science.
What does this have to do with the Book of Mormon? First, we should be
careful not to conflate folklore, opinion, and tradition with
revelation. In the absence of revelation (on any topic), we are left on
our own to form theories and conclusions. Second, our intellectual
efforts should utilize the tools of science and scholarship — such as
evidence, analysis, and argument. Third, we should also be wary of those
who claim that science has "proven" the Book of Mormon.
Years ago, LDS anthropologist Dr. John Sorenson wrote an article
lamenting the myths contrived and perpetuated by LDS writers using bad
logic and even worse science. Such approaches, Sorenson wrote, are
naïve, logically inconsistent, and in the end are harmful to the church
and members. How could supposedly "faith-promoting" material be harmful?
Sorenson gave three reasons:
First, they train the reader that serious, critical thought is
unnecessary and maybe even undesirable, that any source of information
will serve no matter how unreliable, and that logical absurdity is as
good as sound analysis.
Second, the reader gets the false impression that all is well in Zion,
that the outside world is being forced to the LDS point of view, and
that the only role LDS scholars need play in Book of Mormon-related
studies is to use scissors and paste effectively.
Third, the underlying complexity and subtlety of the Book of Mormon are
masked by a pseudo-scholarship to which everything is simple.
Such pseudo-scholarship, Sorenson points out, sets up "a straw-man Book
of Mormon to attack based on what Mormons have said about it instead of
what it says itself." As Hyrum Smith once said, "It is better not to
have so much faith, than to have so much as to believe all the lies."
When we examine issues like Book of Mormon DNA, geography, and
archaeology, we need to approach these topics with real science and
scholarship — not pseudo-science and soft assumptions. We need to be
prepared to change our views from what we've been taught through
non-revelatory sources such as tradition and folklore. In doing so, we
can gain new insights on those things that have been restored by the
power of God.
Copyright 2014, Deseret News Publishing Company