Friday, July 1, 2016

Approaching Science and Philosophy

Editor's note: This is number 34 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the introductory post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            While science has done a tremendous, almost unquantifiable amount of good in the world, it has also been used by some as a tool to do great harm to religious faith. False or weak religion will usually not stand up very well against solid, demonstrated science. Further, the weaker and less testable/demonstrable historical sciences are often the main culprits used against both true and false religion. Scientific “evidence” can be a tricky thing.

            One blogger, holding a somewhat influential academic position, who must have thought he was somehow helping, wrote this paragraph which is devoid of truth: “This . . . doesn’t mean that we should let our beliefs about what’s true govern our methodologies and conclusions. Religious conviction is and should always remain a personal, sacred, ineffable matter, which we should avoid reducing to some kind of self-constructed truth paradigm within which to fit the evidence. This, to my thinking, is completely wrong headed. To me this backwards approach only leads to strange mental gymnastics, feigned certitude, premature (and mostly false) conclusions, selective evidence, and a veneer of disingenuousness—not a real, lasting help to most members with serious doubts and questions.”

            Firstly, the only thing that will ever really help people with “serious doubts” is for them to work and strive with all their might, mind, and strength, until they prevail upon the Lord to give them personal revelation. Then the doubt is gone and with it the philosophies of men they have been clinging to.

If the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are true, and they are because God says they are, then if there is “evidence” saying otherwise, it is not the scriptures—the word of God—that is suspect, it is the evidence. How often have critics used supposed scientific evidence or reputations or authorities to seek to weaken faith in these scriptural books? Do we therefore cast the books aside as the devil would have us do? We do not force round evidence to fit a square hole, but we are patient and work until we find true and verifiable square evidence, which may not come in this life despite all our work.

If religious conviction was only a “personal” and “ineffable” matter, then we should no longer have testimony meetings and we should shut the mouths of the Apostles who are sent to us and all the world to bear witness of the living reality of Jesus Christ as the Son of God—a mighty truth confirmed to receptive hearts both individually and en masse by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes there is nothing very personal or ineffable about it, it is simply the Holy Spirit bearing witness to receptive hearts. We do not construct our own truth paradigm, we get them from scripture and from prophets who determine the doctrine. Again, if some evidence does not fit an eternal truth, we can know of a surety that it is faulty, bad, unreliable, or erroneous evidence. We must often use mental gymnastics in any field to try to discover truth (we call that theorizing), but not in the realm of spiritual things. There, mental gymnastics are synonyms for speculation. I for one am offended and profoundly resent having my testimony and witness called “feigned certitude.” I have paid a high price for what I know to be true.

I could go on and on, but the prophets and apostles already have.

            From Determining Doctrine:

Mark E. Petersen:

            The anthropologists tell us that religion among early men evolved from superstitions. But how far afield they are! Religion was revealed by God to the very first man, whom he ordained to be a high priest and to whom he gave the First Presidency! First Presidency of what? Why, of the Church of Jesus Christ, the only organization in which there is a true First Presidency, with the divine keys and powers thereof. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157.) (Adam: Who Is He? [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], 58-59; emphasis in original.)

Richard L. Evans:

            I have a horror of the phrase “science says.”  I have seen so much controversy among the experts that to personalize them, characterize them, and collectivize them under the generalization that “science says” is a pretty flagrant abuse of fact.  You have got to know what scientist said it, when he said it, why he said it, how good a scientist he is, how long what he has said has lived, and who is challenging it.  There is a great deal of positive opinion in the world, and there always has been.  Men ride hobbies and hunches.  It isn’t only in the courtroom that they select the evidence and ignore what does not lead where they want to go.  Whenever I read or hear “science says,” I begin to bristle.  I have a great respect for science and a great respect for some scientists, but they are not all of the same clan, color, or competence; and all the tentative conclusions they reach are not the final word, not the ultimate nor the complete one. (“The Unanswerable Questions,” Address given to Church History and Philosophy 245—Advanced Theory, June 29, 1956, 6.)

Brigham Young:

            If there is anything that is great and good and wise among men, it cometh from God. If there are men who possess great ability as statesmen, or as philosophers, or who possess remarkable scientific knowledge and skill, the credit thereof belongs to God, for He dispenses it to His children whether they believe in Him or not, or whether they sin against Him or not; it makes no difference; but all will have to account to Him for the way and manner in which they have used the talents committed unto them. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-86], 11: 123.)

A. Theodore Tuttle:

            I want to mention the difficulties we create between the philosophies of men and religion and between “science” and religion.  These are areas in which we sometimes experience difficulties in teaching our students.  You brethren can’t know everything.  You can’t know all about philosophy.  You can’t know all about science.  You can’t know all about the rest of the world.  You can know a great deal about the gospel doctrine.  You ought to stay in that area rather than getting “out of the field.”  I know you have to venture there to answer students’ questions.  May I read to you a statement from President Joseph Fielding Smith which was given in the October conference of 1952.  Keep in mind the areas of difficulty which have been mentioned. Then let this be a guide to you.  President Smith said:

            So far as the philosophy and the wisdom of the World are concerned, they mean nothing unless they conform to the revealed word of God.  Any doctrine, whether it comes in the name of religion, science, philosophy or whatever it may be, if it is in conflict with the revealed word of the Lord, will fail.  It may appear plausible, it may be put before you in language that appeals and which you may not be able to answer.  It may appear to be established by evidence that you cannot controvert, but all you need to do is to bide your time. Time will level all things.  You will find that every doctrine, every principle, no matter how universally believed, if it is not in accord with the divine word of the Lord to his servants, will perish. Nor is it necessary for us to try to stretch the word of the Lord in a vain attempt to make it conform to these theories and teachings.  The word of the Lord shall not pass away unfulfilled, but these false doctrines and theories will all fail.  Truth, and only truth, will remain when all else has perished.(in CR, Oct. 1952, 60).  (“Teaching the Word to the Rising Generation,” Address to religious educators, 10 July 1970; in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church Educational System, 1982], 131.)

Joseph Fielding Smith:

            If the psychology teachers teach any truth that corresponds and confirms the scriptures, we accept it.  If they teach something that doesn’t then we don’t accept it. (“The Fundamentals of the Gospel,” unpublished discourse given at Brigham Young University, with questions and answers, August 25, 1954, 13.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            We ought to judge everything by gospel standards, not the reverse.  Do not take a scientific principle, so-called, and try to make the gospel conform to it.  Take the gospel for what it is, and, insofar as you can, make other things conform to it, and if they do not conform to it, forget them.  Forget them; do not worry.  They will vanish away eventually.  In the true sense of the word, the gospel embraces all truth.  And everything that is true is going to conform to the principles that God has revealed. (Mark L. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons & Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989], 336-37.)

Joseph F. Smith:

            Our young people are diligent students. They reach out after truth and knowledge with commendable zeal, and in so doing they must necessarily adopt for temporary use, many theories of men. As long, however, as they recognize them as scaffolding useful for research purposes, there can be no special harm in them. It is when these theories are settled upon as basic truth that trouble appears, and the searcher then stands in grave danger of being led hopelessly from the right way….

            The Church holds to the definite authority of divine revelation which must be the standard; and that, as so-called "Science" has changed from age to age in its deductions, and as divine revelation is truth, and must abide forever, views as to the lesser should conform to the positive statements of the greater, and, further, that in institutions founded by the Church for the teaching of theology, as well as other branches of education, its instructors must be in harmony in their teachings with its principles and doctrines….

           There are so many demonstrated, practical, material truths, so many spiritual certainties, with which the youth of Zion should become familiar, that it appears a waste of time and means, and detrimental to faith and religion to enter too extensively into the undemonstrated theories of men on philosophies relating to the origin of life, or the methods adopted by an Allwise Creator in peopling the earth with the bodies of men, birds and beasts. Let us rather turn our abilities to the practical analysis of the soil, the study of the elements, the productions of the earth, the invention of useful machinery, the social welfare of the race, and its material amelioration; and for the rest cultivate an abiding faith in the revealed word of God and the saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which give joy in this world and in the world to come eternal life and salvation.

            Philosophic theories of life have their place and use, but it is not in the classes of the Church schools, and particularly are they out of place here or anywhere else, when they seek to supplant the revelations of God. The ordinary student cannot delve into these subjects deep enough to make them of any practical use to him, and a smattering of knowledge in this line only tends to upset his simple faith in the gospel, which is of more value to him in life than all the learning of the world without it.

            The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth. "That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy," said the First Presidency in their Christmas greeting to the Saints, "but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men we do not accept, nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense, but everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us, no matter where it may be found."

            A good motto for young people to adopt, who are determined to delve into philosophic theories, is to search all things, but be careful to hold on only to that which is true. The truth persists, but the theories of philosophers change and are overthrown. What men use today as a scaffolding for scientific purposes from which to reach out into the unknown for truth, may be torn down tomorrow, having served its purpose; but faith is an eternal principle through which the humble believer may secure everlasting solace. It is the only way to find God..—Improvement Era, Vol. 14, p. 548.

           Science and philosophy through all the ages have undergone change after change. Scarcely a century has passed but they have introduced new theories of science and philosophy, that supersede the old traditions and the old faith and the old doctrines entertained by philosophers and scientists. These things may undergo continuous changes, but the word of God is always true, is always right. The principles of the gospel are always true, the principles of faith in God, repentance from sin, baptism for the remission of sins by authority of God, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost—these principles are always true, and are always absolutely necessary for the salvation of the children of men, no matter who they are and where they are. No other name under heaven is given but that of Jesus Christ, by which you can be saved or exalted in the kingdom of God. Not only has God declared them, not only has Christ declared these principles, by his voice to his disciples, from generation to generation, in the old time, but in these latter days, they have taken up the same testimony and declared these things to the world. They are true today as they were then, and we must obey these things..—Improvement Era, Vol. 14, p. 641. (Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939], 38.)

Mark E. Petersen:

            I am always sorry when I hear about teachers in our public schools who try to destroy the faith of our young people. It always grieves me to hear of instances like this. I know that the great majority of the schoolteachers, themselves, are wonderful people; they are believers in God. Many of them are devoted students of the scriptures. But unfortunately, occasionally we find a teacher, whether in the field of philosophy or science, who seems to take it upon himself to destroy the faith of our young people.

I appeal to our young folk to realize that true science is not anti-religion, and that there is no unity among the scientists with respect to many things now being taught by some instructors who interpret them to mean that there is no God. Science has never come to a unity of understanding on that point, young people, so do not be disturbed by the godless teachings you may get in the classroom.

            I would like you to know that some of the great scientists, many of them, in fact, are devoted believers in God, and some of them have declared that atheism has no place among the true scientists. (Conference Report, April 1952, 105.)

Paul H. Dunn:

            The true answer is that the Lord has not told us the exact age of the earth and, therefore, each of us can only speculate.  You will find in your teaching that even some of the brethren have different points of view depending on their own training and observations.

            I think it is important that we keep in mind that the scriptures are not “how to” books on scientific laws.  Scriptures are testimonies of the reality and existence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and their concern for us.  The minute a person tries to reconstruct scientifically such things as the age of the earth or ideas like unto it, you move from the revelations of the Lord to human speculation.  I think it is important to remember that as you are trying to build faith and testimony, the scriptures are very valid.  If you are trying to reconstruct history, you are walking on thin ground. (Paul H. Dunn Correspondence, 1990.)

J. Reuben Clark:

            I was always much impressed with one feature of the teaching of Dr. James E. Talmage.  Dr. James E. Talmage had a reputation as a scientist.  For years I was his secretary.  I often jokingly observed that I wrote the Articles of Faith.  Which I did, on the typewriter.  But I know that Dr. Talmage always used the maximum of his ability.  His powers of argumentation, his powers of analysis, in order to bring to the support of the doctrines of the Church, that is, all the facts of science, of which he had any knowledge….

            I remember once hearing Dr. Talmage, overhearing, I was working in the room where he and Colonel Willard Young were talking, and I remember hearing him say in the course of the talk with the two men, and this is a common saying, that scriptures were never written as a textbook on science.  I’m not sure.  It may be that when we get farther along and know more we’ll find that they’re more than that….

            I have a feeling that the Lord has revealed to us more about science, but particularly astronomy, in the scriptures than we appreciate.  (“Preparation of Teachers—Build a Simple Faith,” Pre-School Faculty Meeting Address, September 19, 1956, 24.)

Orson Pratt:

            Here, then, the Latter-day Saints have the advantage of the present generation.  In the first place, we have the same natural facilities that the learned of the world have; we have the same books they have, and the same privilege of searching out knowledge; and, in addition to all those facilities, if we are living up to our privileges before God, we are entitled to the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the Spirit of revelation, which, when we properly train our minds according to the law of God, can open to us the hidden mysteries of the works of God—the mysteries of astronomy, chemistry, geology, and ten thousand mysteries which never could be unfolded by the natural reasoning of man.  (Cited in N. B. Lundwall, comp., Masterful Discourses and Writings of Orson Pratt [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962], 40.)

Charles W. Penrose:

            The revelations that we have are not simply utterances of the Prophet Joseph or others to whom they have been given.  They are the word of the Lord.  Don’t let us forget that.  When we talk about Joseph Smith as a scientist, that is all right when we go to show that things revealed to him as truths have since been received and understood by the learned of the age and have come to them without knowing that he predicted them, but was he their author?  We do not pit him against them, but we take the word of the Lord, and don’t let us forget that it is the word of the Lord that has come to us, and this Church is founded upon it....  The word of the Lord…is truth and can be relied upon, and we can take our stand upon it and bring everything to it, and that should be with us the standard.  We don’t want to prevent men from thinking.  I have heard some of my brethren say, “Well, do you want to stop men from thinking?”  Not at all.  Liberty to think and liberty to act upon the thought if you don’t infringe the rights of others.  Liberty to think, liberty to read, liberty to have theories and notions and ideas; but, my brethren, it isn’t your province nor mine to introduce theories into the Church that are not in accordance with the revelations that have been given.  Don’t forget that.  And if any change in policy is to be introduced, it is to come through the proper channel.  The Lord said only his servant Joseph should do that while he lived, and then after he died others were to be called to occupy the place, and the key is in the hands of the man who stands at the head, if any change is to be introduced in our Church.  Don’t let us fix our minds too much on the ideas and notions that are called science.  If it is really science that they produce, something demonstrated, something proved to be true, that is all right, and there is not a doctrine of our Church that I can find that comes in direct conflict or contradiction to the sciences of the times if they are sciences, but a great deal of that which is called science is only philosophy, and much of it speculative philosophy, and these ideas change with the ages, as we can see by reference to what has been called science in times that are past.

            …We do not want to cripple men’s minds, we do not want to wean men from investigating and reaching out into the field of thought.  The boundless universe is before us all to learn and to live and to come up to the standard occupied by our Eternal Father and to be fit for his society: Let our minds enlarge, our understanding increase and let everything that is proved to be true and established and demonstrated come in to us as part of our belief, but the theories and notions of men that are in contradiction to the revelations of Almighty God are not to be considered in the light that some people view them.  Let us be very careful about these things. (Conference Report, April 1918, 21-22.)

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