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Mormonism and Science: A Short History (but a long blog post)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 02, 2009

Mormonism directs the faithful to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), and finds no incompatibility between truth that is revealed by God and truth that is discovered by the observation and patient inquiry of thoughtful humanity. Apparent contradiction between religion and science is due to misunderstanding and the temporary incompleteness of both revelation and human knowledge; ultimately, there will be no conflict.

Mormonism tolerates an element of ambiguity where scientific questions are concerned. For example, latter-day scripture affirms the historical reality of Old Testament figures such as Moses, Noah, and Abraham; some facts of their lives are specifically endorsed by Mormon doctrine, yet individual Mormons may hold various opinions as to other details of Old Testament accounts. Mormonism has no official position on the mechanism by which the Red Sea was parted for the crossing of the Israelites (Exodus 14:21-22), and does not explain the phenomenon described by Joshua as “the sun [standing] still in the midst of heaven” (Joshua 10:12-13), among other scriptural challenges to modern scientific understanding.

Joseph Smith’s theology embraced ideas which are usually considered the province of science, or which contradict common Christian ideas of scientific issues: “God had materials to organize the world out of chaos … The pure principles of element are principles which never can be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed.” (Smith, History of the Church, 6:308-9); “Spirit is a substance … more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; … it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body” (Smith, History of the Church, 4:575); “Kolob [a star] is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as the [Earth]” (Abraham 3:9); and “Worlds without number have I [God] created” (Moses 1:33). The books of Abraham and Moses – published in the Pearl of Great Price – contain many uniquely Mormon concepts of creation and the organization of the cosmos.

Related ideas are sometimes mistakenly attributed to Smith. It is claimed by some, for example, that Smith taught that the moon was inhabited by men averaging six feet in height, who dressed as Quakers and lived for 1,000 years. This notion cannot be traced to Smith, however. It appeared in the 1881 writings of Oliver B. Huntington (Young Woman’s Journal, 3:263) as the reminiscence of events nearly 30 years earlier, when Huntington had been a child. Despite its frequent citation by critics of Mormonism, this idea is absent from the writings of Smith himself and of his adult contemporaries.

Discussions among Smith and his associates encouraged speculation on scientific subjects, and in a few cases provoked serious scientific study among men who, had their lives not been spent in the hardships of the frontier and the needs of a missionary church, might have been dedicated to scientific study. Apostle Orson Pratt may have been such a man. After the church was established in Utah, Pratt operated an observatory on the grounds of the Salt Lake Temple. The observatory was sponsored by the U.S. Coastal Survey, one of a chain of observatories across the continent; there Pratt took daily solar readings to establish the correct time for the city’s clocks. Pratt also kept his 3-inch telescope there, scanning the night sky through movable slats in the observatory’s roof. The observatory also held the stone shaft marking the intersection of the Salt Lake Base and Meridian, the point established by Pratt from which the Great Basin was surveyed. (A replica stone now stands a short distance away, outside the southeast corner of Temple Square where it is easily seen by tourists.) In addition to his studies and observations, Pratt taught at the University of Deseret, gave public lectures on scientific topics, and published works on mathematics and cosmology.

Archaeology was another focus for early Mormon scientific interest. Because the Book of Mormon purports to be a literal history of the inhabitants of the New World from ca. 600 B.C.-421 A.D., Mormons have looked to archaeology to demonstrate the historicity of scripture, and have tended to interpret archaeological discoveries in the light of scripture. Geographical features in the Palmyra area were tentatively identified with events in the Book of Mormon (the hill where Joseph Smith reported finding the plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon was proposed as the Book of Mormon Cumorah, the site of the great final battle), and during the 1834 march of Zion’s Camp Smith identified a skeleton unearthed by the expedition as that of Zelph, a Lamanite. The first systematic attempt to identify Book of Mormon settings with archaeological sites was published in 1841 (and excerpted the next year in the Nauvoo newspaper) by Charles Thompson. His Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon compares artifacts and excavations described by Josiah Priest in his American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West (1834) with the Book of Mormon narrative.

Mormon belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the existence of metal plates from which it was translated has occasionally made Mormonism the target of deliberate hoaxes. The most famous of these occurred in 1843 when six bell-shaped brass plates were presented to Joseph Smith for evaluation. The story told by their owners was that these mysterious engraved plates had been found buried in Kinderhook, Illinois, south of Nauvoo. The Mormon public was greatly interested in the discovery. Although some Mormons claimed that Smith planned to translate the plates (an entry to that effect appears in the diary of Smith’s clerk, William Clayton), no translation exists and no definitive evidence has been forwarded to show that Smith in fact ever did try to translate the plates, either through prophetic power or through his growing knowledge of ancient languages. The owners of the Kinderhook plates eventually reported their creation of the plates as a deliberate attempt to discredit Smith.

The church has no official position as to the location of events narrated in the Book of Mormon, other than a general view that the setting was somewhere in the New World. Secondhand accounts attribute to Joseph Smith the claim that Lehi’s voyage ended on the coast of Chile (a view accepted and taught by Orson Pratt), or, alternatively, south of the Isthmus of Panama. Neither statement can be conclusively traced to Smith. Church officials have preferred to remain aloof from the discussion, with reminders that “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question” (Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 16).

Such official distancing has not discouraged individuals from attempting to define the geography of the Book of Mormon. Attempts generally take one of two approaches: developing an internal geography based on the relative positions of cities, rivers, and seacoasts mentioned in the narrative; or identifying Book of Mormon features with existing features (which of course must also take into account the book’s internal geography). Proposals have been made to identify the scene of the Book of Mormon as the full continents of North and South America, or Central and South America, or the Great Lakes region of North America, or other limited geographical regions.

An ambitious project in relation to Book of Mormon archaeology was mounted in 1900. Benjamin Cluff, president of Brigham Young Academy (precursor to Brigham Young University), sought permission from the church’s First Presidency to send a student expedition into Central and South America. The men would study geography, geology, botany and zoology in an attempt to locate sites and verify the material culture described within the Book of Mormon. Some of the students would remain in South America long enough to learn native languages and record local lore and legend. The First Presidency agreed to the project as a scholarly endeavor sponsored by the school; Cluff, however, recruited his participants and backers by claiming that his was a religious mission call extended by church authority. The line between the academic and ecclesiastic was further blurred when the participants were blessed by church apostles and counseled to conduct themselves as missionaries.

On April 17, fifteen students, two faculty members, and a half dozen volunteers set out on horseback for their trek to South America. The expedition reached Thatcher, Arizona, about six weeks after leaving Provo, having been feted at nine banquets and five dances on the southward trail. There Cluff left his young men with instructions to proselyte as missionaries while he went into Mexico to negotiate with officials for the group’s passage through that country. Rather than meeting with Mexican officials, Cluff joined a young woman with whom he had made arrangements to enter a polygamous marriage. Left without supervision and eager to get on with their adventure, the students in Thatcher became restless; when they eventually learned the real reason for their leader’s absence, the young men abandoned any pretense of missionary work. Word of the disintegrating expedition reached church leaders, who advised its discontinuance. Most of the students returned to Provo; a few pushed on to Colombia where, after one week’s stay, all but one returned to the United States. Chester Van Buren, the last member of the expedition, remained in Colombia long enough to collect wildlife specimens for shipment to Provo.

Today, although “Book of Mormon tours” are popular among lay Mormon tourists, few expeditions are undertaken with the specific goal to prove the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Mormon scientists continue to examine artifacts in light of Book of Mormon testimony, and linguistic studies linking literary characteristics of the Book of Mormon with Near Eastern counterparts are especially popular. Many such studies are sponsored by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies (formerly Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies — FARMS), an organization affiliated with Brigham Young University.

Mormonism did not escape the controversy over organic evolution, the age of the earth, Biblical higher criticism, and related issues that disturbed other churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These ideas reached the Mormon people slowly, in part because so few Mormons studied at eastern universities until the 1890s. A new emphasis on scholarship was adopted at BYU with the opening years of the 20th century, and professors with advanced degrees were hired, bringing with them ideas that were largely unfamiliar in the intermountain west. A new and livelier approach to modern education swept through the Mormon school: “subjects ranging from communism to eugenics were hotly debated both in and out of class” (Bergera, Brigham Young University, 135).

As Mormon students, and especially their parents, became aware of the new studies, church leaders were besieged by inquiries asking whether these scientific theories could be reconciled with scriptural descriptions of creation and the nature of man. The First Presidency requested apostle Orson F. Whitney to draft a statement reflecting the church’s position on these questions. Whitney’s draft was reviewed and revised by an apostolic committee, endorsed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and published in November 1909. This statement confirmed Mormon belief in both a spiritual and physical creation, God’s organization of the earth, and man’s position as the literal offspring of God.

Perhaps because this statement did not address evolution directly, partisan debate within the church and at BYU continued. By 1911, the question had become so contentious that three BYU professors were fired and church president Joseph F. Smith issued another statement pleading for church schools to avoid the theoretical questions of science, explicitly refusing “to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false” (Evenson, Mormonism and Evolution, 49).

In 1930-1931, several church leaders, notably Joseph Fielding Smith (apostle, and son of the church president), B.H. Roberts (a Seventy, and philosopher/historian), and James E. Talmage (apostle, chemist, and geologist) engaged in an extended and often rancorous exchange of views in various Mormon publications, with Smith taking a fundamentalist, anti-evolutionary position and Roberts and Talmage advocating elements of the secular scientific theories. The public argument called forth a memorandum of the First Presidency addressed to all of the church’s general authorities. This memorandum noted the detrimental effect of such disputations on the church and commanded: “Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church” (Evenson, Evolution and Mormonism, 67).

The controversy was renewed briefly in 1954 when Smith, the last survivor of the leaders so prominent in the earlier debates, published Man, His Origin and Destiny. This volume ignored the First Presidency’s injunction to leave such matters alone; Smith instead declared organic evolution “to be the most pernicious doctrine ever entering the mind of man” and dismissed explanations of the geologic record as “ridiculous” and “rubbish.” When Smith requested that his book be adopted as a textbook for the church’s seminary and institute program, instructors, objecting to Smith’s dogmatic positions, took their concerns directly to the First Presidency, who essentially repeated the decision of the earlier leaders: “The Brethren were agreed that inasmuch as this book has not been passed upon by the Church that it should not be used as a study course in the seminaries and institutes. They felt that the matter therein discussed is really not essential to the advancement of the cardinal principles of the Church” (David O. McKay office diary, Aug. 18, 1954).

The question remains today essentially as it has throughout the 20th century: The church neither condemns nor endorses secular scientific explanations for the development of life and the origin of man, the age of the Earth, and related matters. Since 1992, a packet of materials commonly called the “BYU Evolution Packet,” or “Evolution and the Origin of Man,” has been distributed to BYU students and is widely available elsewhere. This packet reproduces all of the church’s official statements on these topics and constitutes a handy reference for a debate that continues to flare at irregular intervals.

Less controversial within Mormon history has been the Mormon attitude toward health care. Mormons follow the scriptural injunction to call for the elders to bless the sick; Mormons also make full use of modern medicine. Historically, there was some hesitation to rely on primitive medical treatments during the early 19th century; by 1866, as medical and especially surgical care became more reliable, such hesitation all but vanished. Brigham Young encouraged women to study midwifery, and the Relief Society provided training. The church established and maintained hospitals, including Salt Lake City’s LDS Hospital with its nurses’ training facilities, and Primary Children’s Hospital which provides charitable care to children from throughout the world; with the increasing availability of other facilities, the church sold its hospitals in the 1970s. Mormons accept all treatments generally recognized by the broader culture, including blood transfusions, organ transplants, fertility treatments, birth control, and vaccinations. Some Mormons, placing more than ordinary emphasis on the Word of Wisdom’s endorsement of “wholesome herbs” (D&C 89:10-11), practice various forms of so-called natural medicine, but such practices are not dictated by church teaching. It is becoming increasingly common for Mormon doctors and dentists to render periodic humanitarian service in remote and needy regions of the world, especially in areas where doctors served previously as missionaries.

As the 21st century opens, the scientific question most debated in relation to Mormonism concerns DNA and the Book of Mormon. Critics have pointed toward recent studies showing a lack of affinity between the DNA of modern Jews and Native Americans, claiming this disproves the Book of Mormon teaching that a family group left Jerusalem anciently and traveled to the New World. Supporters of the Book of Mormon have countered such claims with their own arguments, attacking the science of their opponents and promoting alternate hypotheses. The debate will no doubt continue for the foreseeable future, generating much heat and little light, and swaying few participants from their original positions.

While this essay has focused on scientific topics, it should not be overlooked that Mormonism is fully compatible with applied technology: Mormons value labor and cherish tradition, but see no special virtue in shunning technological advancements.

One widely known example of Mormon technology is the odometer (or “roadometer”) built during the 1847 trek across the plains. Charged with recording the mileage of each day’s travel, William Clayton wearied of counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel and calculating distance by multiplying the wheel’s circumference by the number of revolutions made in each day’s travel. Consulting with Orson Pratt to determine precise measurements, Clayton designed a set of cogwheels, whereby the wagon wheel’s revolutions would be recorded mechanically. The device was built from wood by the pioneer company’s carpenter and put into use on the morning of May 12, 1847. The odometer was not invented on this occasion, but it is believed that the Mormon odometer was the first used on the Mormon/Oregon Trail.

Other Mormon inventors and innovators include Philo T. Farnsworth, who patented elements of the first electronic television; Jonathan Browning, frontier gunsmith, and his even more innovative son Jonathan Moses Browning, who patented several versions of repeating shotguns and machine guns; H. Tracy Hall, who developed the tetrahedron press and was the first producer of synthetic diamonds; Harvey Fletcher, who invented the electronic hearing aid; and William DeVries, the surgeon who performed the first implantation of an artificial heart into a human patient (Barney Clark, also a Mormon).

A list of Mormon accomplishments in the pure sciences, particularly medicine, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, and nuclear engineering, is beyond the scope of this essay. Studies of the birthplaces of scientists whose biographies appear in American Men and Women of Science from 1938 to 1999 purportedly demonstrate that Utah’s per capita representation – presumably heavily Mormon – is consistently higher than any other state.

While much remains to be received through revelation and learned through investigation, Mormons believe that science and religion will ultimately be fully reconciled. In the words of chemist and apostle John A. Widtsoe, “The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:129).

Bibliography:

Bergera, Gary James and Ronald Priddis. Brigham Young University: A House of Faith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985.

Bush, Lester E., “The Mormon Tradition,” Caring and Curing: Health and Medicine in Western Religion Traditions. New York, 1986, 397-420.

Ehat, Andrew and Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith. Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1993.

Evenson, William E. and Duane E. Jeffery. Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005.

Eyring, Henry. Reflections of a Scientist. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983.

Green, Paul R., comp. Science and Your Faith in God: A Selected Compilation of Writings and Talks by Prominent Latter-day Saint Scientists on the Subject of Science and Religion. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958.

Hunter, J. Michael. “The Kinderhook Plates, the Tucson Artifacts, and Mormon Archaeological Zeal,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 31, no. 1 (Spring 2005), 31-70.

Parry, Donald W., Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks, eds. Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen. Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002.

Reeve, W. Paul. “‘As Ugly as Evil’ and ‘As Wicked as Hell’: Gadianton Robbers and the Legend Process among the Mormons,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 27, no. 2 (Fall 2001), 125-149.

Smith, Joseph Jr. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev., 7 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971.

Smith, Joseph F., John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund. “Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, vol. 13, no. 1 (November 1909), 75-81.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. Man, His Origin and Destiny. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954.

Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985.

Thorndike, Edward L. “The Production, Retention and Attraction of Men of Science,” Science 92 (Aug. 16, 1940): 137-41. [Related studies were conducted in 1949 by Richard T. Wootton; in 1962 by H.E. Zabel; and in 1999 by Wootton]

Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations. 3 vols. Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1951.

Wilkinson, Ernest L., ed. Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years. 4 vols. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1975.

“Words in Season from the First Presidency,” Deseret Evening News, 17 December 1910, 3.



31 Comments »

  1. Re: The 1930-1931 events, which actually began in 1928.

    The 1931 decision you mention closed the LDS Church’s official evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted in 1928 by Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy. Neither the author nor his manuscript were sympathetic to evolution. Problems arose for the manual, however, because it attempted to reconcile fossils with scripture using a science theory invented by Roberts himself. The 1931 First Presidency memo says:

    “Elder Roberts quotes from the scripture and extensively from the conclusions reached by the leading scientists of the world, to show that the earth is older than the time given to its creation in Genesis indicates.”

    The 1931 First Presidency admonition applies specifically to the Roberts book (not then published). That is where the First Presidency’s words Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology originated.

    In his manuscript, and in his presentation before the Twelve (which was taken from Chapter 31 of the manuscript) Roberts used the conclusions of scientists in the fields of Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology to support his theory.

    The 1931 First Presidency memo was given privately to the 1931 General Authorities. It was a directive to NOT attempt reconciliations of science with scripture such as Roberts had attempted. Taken in context, the 1931 First Presidency conclusion means, Don’t use science to interpret scripture. What the 1931 First Presidency clearly was NOT saying is: Let science interpret scripture.

    In 1972, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions was published “by the First Presidency” and distributed to the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums of the Church. The manual says:

    “The animals were all created and placed on the earth preceding the coming of Adam and Eve. In fact the whole earth and the creatures on it were prepared for Adam and Eve before Adam’s fall…. The earth and all upon it were not subject to death until Adam fell…. It was through the fall of Adam that death came into the world.” (pp. 53-54, 111.)

    If the 1931 First Presidency memo (never published by the Church) is important, and if President McKay’s diary (also never published by the Church) is important, why is the 1972 First Presidency published manual NOT important?

    Comment by R. Gary — August 2, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  2. Excellent history, Ardis. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your blog posts, as well as the wonderful results.

    Comment by Phoebe — August 2, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  3. Gary, we always know what you’re going to say, just never quite how you’re going to say it. Thanks for not disappointing. Tell me … do you ever read anything but those few lines that reflect on your gospel hobbyhorse? Or do other ideas just never quite register in your vision?

    Thanks, Phoebe. It’s at least as much fun as it is work, especially when there are comments from readers!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

  4. Ardis:

    Excellent review and analysis.

    I have worked in the sciences (as an advocate) for three decades, covering Skinnerianism, Darwinism, and neuroscience. Never once has any Church leader tried to alter my thinking in any of these areas. Science, although independent of religion, has helped strengthen my convictions.

    Honesty and humility are key. Scientists need to be clear with the general public what they know and what they don’t.

    Although there are many fascinating internal correlations and verifications in the Book of Mormon (a number of which I have deeply studied), we simply must admit there is no recognizable archeology that is clearly from a Book of Mormon culture. Church members do a disservice (in my opinion) when they claim otherwise.

    Science requires external review. When non-LDS archeologists or expert scholars start acknowledging Book of Mormon external correlations, then we LDS would have full license to brag. For now, we must simply be satisfied that the Book of Mormon is a great book of FAITH.

    Of course, Nibley and others have identified little tidbits here and there that substantially provoke our curiosity, but there is still a gulf between our fundamental scriptural sources and any external scientific verification.

    Yes, I know there are various BYU authorities who would argue otherwise, but they are mostly lone voices in the scholarly world.

    The good news is that we don’t need science to have a deep understanding of our religion, and we certainly do NOT go to Church to learn science.

    I am just stating my opinion.

    Comment by S.Faux — August 2, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  5. Me, too, S.Faux. Thanks.

    This piece was written to introduce non-Mormons to the general attitude Mormons have taken toward scientific issues through our history (emphasis on history, rather than on doctrine). I wanted to touch on matters that sometimes confuse people (are Mormons the ones who don’t use electricity? the ones who refuse blood transfusions?) as well as show how Mormons have engaged in scientific endeavors through the years. Any suggestions on broad areas I missed would be especially welcome.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  6. Ardis, This is a wonderful synopsis of science and the Church. It will be useful in my classes as a brief, but very complete and nicely done overview of the key issues. I can’t believe you said so much, so concisely. Thank you! This is very helpful.

    I need make something fancy to hang on my wall with your last paragraph.

    Comment by SteveP — August 2, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  7. {beaming} Thanks, Steve!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  8. Ardis, your article probably represents your sources quite accurately regarding Joseph Fielding Smith. However, other sources show him in a more favorable light. If giving your readers the opportunity to decide which view is more correct constitutes a gospel hobbyhorse, I’m on it.

    Comment by R. Gary — August 2, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

  9. Thanks for posting this, Ardis. Very informative and interesting.

    Comment by Matt A — August 2, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

  10. I’m more than willing to dictate that science not dictate scripture, as long as we’re willing to concede that scripture not dictate science.

    (I would take credit for those, but I’ll give the credit to my father, a faithful member who was a Biology professor for 25 years.)

    I especially like these thoughts from S. Faux:

    Of course, Nibley and others have identified little tidbits here and there that substantially provoke our curiosity, but there is still a gulf between our fundamental scriptural sources and any external scientific verification.

    One of my primary highlights from BYU was Dr. John Higgins, who was a mathematician who had migrated to the CS department. He commented one time that many of his science peers had asked him if recent scientific discoveries had challenged his faith in God. He commented that, more to the point, they weren’t actually scientific discoveries but solely analysis, and that said analysis had led him to question his faith in science.

    Both Higgins and my father were/are staunch advocates of scientists presenting the facts and not overreaching on analysis, and that Church leaders should stick to doctrine and not overreach by committing themselves to predicting what science may discover down the road.

    Comment by queuno — August 2, 2009 @ 10:14 pm

  11. Ardis, this was extremely interesting to me. I don’t delve into these subjects on my own, but they fascinate me when other people, like you, do the research and let me just read and gain new understanding that way.

    Comment by Maurine — August 2, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

  12. As for Evolution –
    I believe that the there is defiantly a type of evolution that happens but not as science says that man came from the primordial-goo.
    God placed Adam & Eva upon the earth & commanded them to pro-create – which they did and they produced a delightful offspring. Their offspring then cover the pre-flood land; we then know the story of Cain & Able and their children/offspring.
    The wicked evolved into a somewhat hideous or non-delightsome people [just like the offspring of Lamen & Lemuel in the BofM] or I believe as into the Cave-men & etc.
    As time went by some of them again found God and they and their offspring evolved [as moved upon by the Holy Ghost] into a delightsome person/people.
    When we lose a belief in God we also lose the blessing of the Holy Ghost and we evolve/evolution into a dark-spirited person.

    When I was a student at BYU in a Geology class we had a teacher who told us not to believe the story about the destruction and the changes to the earth at the death of the Savior. Needless to say he was not teaching at BYU the next year.

    Comment by DR Daines — August 3, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  13. We’re hearing from all the evolutionary experts — is there no one who wants to pitch a favorite nutritional supplement? no explanations for the parting of the Red Sea? no personal encounters with Zelph to tell?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  14. I remember an article written by Nibley some time ago, perhaps in the late 60s, in which he referred to (as I recollect) a Scottish geologist who, while walking along the seashore looked at the cliff rising above him, which consisted of multiple strata containing marine fossils. Immediately, the gentleman wrote, the idea came to him of the endless ages and millions of years it would have required for the sea to have deposited those strata and then the for their accumulated mass to have risen above the sea.

    Nibley’s point was that the geologist in question leapt to a conclusion with no discernible reflection intervening, which, he implied was not unusual in the world of science, and probably not very helpful in advancing real knowledge. Dr. Nibley’s point should be carefully considered-the hypothesis which finally turns out to accommodate all of the evidence may be far stranger in the context of our preconceptions than any of us can imagine. It is a very human tendency to bite off some small piece of the facts and attempt to jump to some final conclusion. We all need to give Karl Popper a second read.

    Nibley might have added that the same tendency sometimes afflicts theologians, who sometimes appear to feel no great need to account for too much of the evidence one might find lying around.

    A friend (a very clever and successful attorney)once explained that he was pretty sure that dinosaur bones and other fossils had been placed on the earth by the Lord to try our faith.

    One is reminded of Steve Martin’s “cruel shoes” routine. It does not matter if the shoes really fit, as long as they can be somehow wedged onto the foot.

    Could it be that, for most of us, an unresolved question is simply too painful to be allowed to persist, no matter how procrustean the means may be required to put it to an untimely end?

    Comment by S. Taylor — August 3, 2009 @ 10:50 am

  15. What is your source on Robert Jarvik? Those that I can find seem to confuse him with William deVries, the surgeon who performed the transplant. Page 605 of Essays in Medical Sociology by Renee Claire Fox (searchable through Google Books) divides the main players in the artificial heart saga into Mormon and non-Mormon camps. Jarvik is listed in the latter category.

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 3, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

  16. This is great, Ardis. It’s a wonderful resource to sort of identify the issues and the overall framework, especially for scientific half-wits like me.

    Comment by Hunter — August 3, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  17. There are enough holes in the Genesis record to drive a Mack truck through. When the full story of creation, and the history of the “materials” mentioned in Abraham 3:24 come to light, we’re all going to slap our foreheads and say “Doht!”

    The filled-in gaps in the Genesis account will put religionists to shame for having made so many wrong presumptions.

    And the filled-in gaps in current scientific understanding will put many scientists and science-worshipers to shame for their presumptions too. (IE, what if the half-life decay of Carbon-14 and other radio-isotopes was not constant over the eons due to atmospheric vapor and due to the earth having been moved closer or farther away from the sun?)

    Can someone help me by looking something up? I can’t find it online. Joseph Smith was alleged to have said that the Earth came from a previous or pre-existing planet, or was a melded conglomerate of several planets. Can anyone find that reference? Or is my mind playing tricks on me?

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 3, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

  18. Thanks, Last Lemming — you’re right. I was confusing the two men. I appreciate the correction.

    Bookslinger, SteveP has been hosting a discussion of this idea, with two statements by Joseph Smith that are used to support the “melded conglomerate” idea, although they could just as well be used to support an idea of assembling used parts on an atomic scale. See here for that discussion.

    S., Hunter, and all, thanks for your comments, too. It’s fun to stretch in a little different direction than I usually head, and your thoughts help me.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

  19. Ardis,

    I can only skim for now, but it looks like a nice introduction.

    Comment by Jared* — August 3, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  20. Bookslinger, the Church’s Newsroom posted an article in 2007, “Approaching Mormon Doctrine,” which links to an Ensign article that quotes Joseph Smith saying:

    “This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live.” (Ensign, Jan 1989, p.27.)

    Comment by R. Gary — August 3, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

  21. … which, as I noted, works as well to support the idea that this world was made out of the most basic elements of past worlds as it does to support the idea that this world is “a melded conglomerate.” Observation of the orderliness of geology suggests that the first interpretation is right (only those who need a handy explanation for fossils that “couldn’t possibly belong to this 6,000-year-old earth” support the second).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  22. … and since today’s Church declines to endorse either the first or the second interpretation, either one is fine.

    In terms of alignment with what the Church does teach, however, the first interpretation has a problem, because all fossils are dead; and the Church’s Bible Dictionary, Guide to the Scriptures, True to the Faith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, and Gospel Principles 2009 (to name a few) all teach no death before the fall of Adam.

    Which is why I lean toward the second interpretation, not because it’s a handy explanation for fossils.

    Comment by R. Gary — August 4, 2009 @ 12:18 am

  23. Ah, Gary, poor soul. You cling to this one lone idea as if all the eternities depended on it, with a fervor that is usually reserved for faith in Christ. The gospel is less a religion to you than it is a political ideology built around this single detail, and you twist and turn to “prove” that the prophets are as ideological as you are!

    You can make one response to this if you wish, but make it a good one. You’re like a radio station that plays an endless loop of a single song by a tone-deaf artist with a one-string guitar. It’s fun for a little while, for laughs, but the fun turns to boredom pretty fast. I’m about to change the station.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2009 @ 8:12 am

  24. It’s all true, Ardis. So lets change the station and pretend NDBF exists only in my tone deaf one-string twisted little mind. I will say this, however, it hasn’t been near as bad as I thought it would be commenting on your blog. Have a nice day.

    Comment by R. Gary — August 4, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  25. Ardis, a very handy collection. Thanks.

    Comment by W. Smith — August 4, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

  26. Current scientific theories about the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago suggests that the first stage of planet formation resulted in a 100 or so bodies about the size of Mercury to Mars. They were attracted to each other and perturbed out of their orbits by Jupiter and started colliding. According to this theory, the earth is the result of eight or ten of these bodies colliding together over time. The last such collision, between Earth Mark I and another planet about the size of Mars melted the combined bodies , turning lighter elements into gas, which pushed themselves into space, cooling and coalescing into rings and then the moon. This is the only theory which explains the composition of moon rocks, its lack of magnetic field, and the high momentum the moon has. It was worked out in simulations on supercomputers. The large moon earth has is responsible not only for tides, but also for stabilizing the spin axis of the earth to prevent weather extremes.

    When we understand the current scientific theory of earth’s formation, we see that it seems to be perfectly consistent with the statement attributed to Joseph Smith (which apparently has at least a couple of contemporary brethren affirming it). The statement says nothing about peeling and rearranging layers to assemble the earth (in the fashion that the earth is made on a “factory floor” in Hitchhiker’s guide to the Universe). It is consistent with the science picture of massive collisions that vaporize and melt the elements of the earth. This all took place circa 4.3 billion BC, and the first clear fossils don’t show up until about 1 billion BC.

    Note that this dating is way beyond Carbon 14, but involves long-half-life elements like Uranium. And uranium decay is not affected by atmosphere.

    Final comment: Since God told Moses that countless worlds had already “passed away”, while others were being created, clearly “death” of living things existed in the universe before the Fall of Adam and Eve on earth. Even the “patch job” theory of fossil origin assumes that death predated Adam and Eve on OTHER planets. So what is the significance of claiming that there was no death of any living thing on earth before the Fall? What does the death of plants, for example, which took place when they were eaten, mean as far as the significance of the Fall for God’s children? God tells Adam and Eve that THEY will die in the day they eat of the forbidden fruit, not that all the other plants and animals will die. This concept seems to be a picture that is superimposed on the scriptures rather than actually in them. For that matter, it may have been a condition limited to the Garden itself, not to the entire earth, which was clearly larger than the Garden. It just seems to me that we are tempted to make the gospel too hard to believe, just as a proof of oour own faithfulness. It becomes a form of “looking beyond the mark”.

    Sorry for the long post.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — August 5, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  27. Very welcome comment, Raymond. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 5, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

  28. Gary, thanks for the link. I’ll bookmark it this time.

    “NDBF” may also apply only to -our- “scope.” IE, NDBF might need to be qualified as not pertaining to anything prior to the relative beginning point of Genesis 1:1. Genesis 1:1 may represent a “do over” point, and from that point forward, there was no death prior to the fall. Since God apparently doesn’t want to tell us any of the story before _our_ story, (somewhere in the triple it says something like “only this planet and the inhabitants thereof do I tell you about”) all historical-type gospel statements may need to be circumscribed as applying only after the Genesis 1:1 point.

    (Another evidence of _scope_ or range of operability are OT statements that seem to preclude the existence of a multiplicty of gods in terms of heavenly grandparents/uncles/etc. Additionally, use of words such as eternal and everlasting, also seem to be circumscribed or delimited in terms of our existence or our story/history. Things, states of being, or conditions that have “always” existed, may not have existed in “a time” before “our time”, because “always” may be limited in scope to _our_ time. I’ve always liked the phrase, “time is a local phenomena”, though I forget the source, or the LDS person who quoted it.)

    I also assume that the Genesis 1:1 point is at or near the point denoted by Abraham 3:24 (“We will go down…”).

    Ardis/Ray: To me, the question of whether fossils were laid down pre or post conglomeration is open. Either way, it’s possible that the fossils were laid down prior to the point of Genesis 1:1, because we don’t know who’s or what’s “beginning” is being referenced.

    Anyway, that’s how I sometimes reconcile (in my mind at least) LDS doctrine against some of the Bible-based accusations that come from creedal Christians and other objections that come from atheists.

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 5, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  29. Bookslinger, I sure don’t claim to have the answers. Despite how I may sound on this topic sometimes, I don’t have much of a stake in the debate at all — I don’t understand evolution and geology in fine enough detail to have my opinion matter. My only real stake is in insisting that while various church authorities of very high rank have expressed various opinions at various times, the Church has no official position. I will continue to fight for that until a unified quorum or quorums announce otherwise.

    Beyond that, Gary and you and everybody else can believe what you want, with my cheerful blessing. I just won’t let it go unchallenged that because this or that individual religious authority, in this or that random publication that may have been sponsored by the Church and happens to include some incidental statement relative to the matter, such statement constitutes a revelation that is binding upon me or anyone else. It isn’t.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 5, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  30. Thanks for this Ardis. An excellent introduction.

    And to be completely honest, I would be disappointed if Gary didn’t comment on this post (and every other dealing with Mormonism and science). It’s one of the true constants in the bloggernacle, and I value that.

    Comment by Christopher — August 5, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  31. Ardis, I truly enjoyed this thorough yet concise rendition of the church’s dogmatic juxtaposition between science and faith. I am one who has always been very philosophical and religious minded, yet enjoy scientific inquiry and it’s particular discipline just as well. I guess I always viewed both as two paths to the same truth.

    I don’t understand those who need definite, black or white answers to every question, whether approached from a scientific or theological perspective. For theologians the gospel’s instruction to live by faith would seem to rule out such a requirement; for scientists Hiesenberg’s Uncertainty Principle requires a similar discipline. For any quantum particle – even light itself – we can know either it’s speed & direction or it’s precise location – we can *never* know both. For the time being, at least, we must satisfy ourselves with “probabilities.” It appears there is a similar containment to our current spiritual understanding, one the Joseph Smith and church leaders since have wisely recognized and adhered to.

    All this hand wringing brought about by apologists and critiques alike may all be in vain. We have assumed all along that the ‘arrow’ of time points in only one direction – from ‘past’ to future’ when, it turns out, there appears to be no law of physics that imposes such a requirement.

    “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

    Quantum mechanics suggest, and Super String or ‘M’ theory have proven there are unseen multiple dimensions and even entire universes all about us, under our noses quite literally. Since Einstein we have known that Space & Time are inseparably interwoven for us and that there simply is no preferred observational standpoint above any other in the space-time of our universe. What any one of us see and understand depends entirely on where we stand, giving an entirely new meaning to the scriptural admonition to “stand ye in holy places.”

    Stephen Hawking and collaborators are even now suggesting that the only way out of our conundrum toward a ‘theory of everything’ is to realize there are multiple histories to the creation of the universe as well. Of all the possible histories of any current phenomena, the one most appropriate may depend on “what you are attempting to measure.”

    Joseph Smith and church leaders are most wise to insist we not force a premature reconciliation between the worldly and the spiritual. In due course they will reconcile of their own accord quite nicely, thank you. In the meantime it is enough to soak it all in and wonder at the beauty of it all!

    Thanks again, and apologies for the length of this post.

    Comment by M Monroe Gollaher — August 5, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

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