Does God have a place in science? How should science and religion interact?
Last month’s article “Has Satan Hijacked Science” has raised several questions concerning the proper roles of science and religion and just how they should interact. As in all of my articles, the following answers are my personal perspectives, and should not be understood to represent the views of the LDS Church nor even of most LDS scientists.
Q1. What is the principal difference between true science and true religion?
A1. The principal difference between science and religion is in the source of the knowledge. Scientific knowledge at its best comes from the scientific method. Systematic observations are made and theories are proposed to explain the observations. No claim is ever made by a real scientist that he has found absolute truth. Scientists have theories which have been very successful at predicting results of experiments, but which could be modified or replaced when new experiments disprove current views.
Religion, on the other hand, claims a different source of knowledge. It arrives are “truth” through other means, such as dreams, visions, and visitations from beings from invisible realms. Often the claim is indeed made in religion that absolute truth has been revealed, such as when the Creator of the heavens and the earth shares his knowledge with us.
Philosophy is men using only their powers of reason to understand the universe. It has had a measure of success because the universe sometimes is indeed reasonable. But sometimes it is does not appear to be logical. For example, some philosophers rejected prophecies of Jesus Christ before he was born because “it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come.”
To me, science far outweighs philosophy because often the universe is completely counterintuitive. Experiments demonstrate what actually happens, no matter what men reasoned should happen. That has been one of the great lessons of the very successful scientific theory of quantum mechanics, which even Einstein thought was unreasonable.
Similarly, true religion far outweighs true science in the cases where they differ. Man is merely trying to guess what the laws of God really are when he does his experiments. That is better than nothing as long as God remains mute, but when he speaks, man’s simpleminded conclusions often pale as complete foolishness in comparison to his word.
Note that the difference between science and religion is not the subject matter they discuss. We are often told that science deals with the laws of nature and the religion with ethics and moral issues, and that as long as each stays on its own turf, there should be no disputes between them. But that draws a false line between them, giving almost all of “reality” to science and leaving religion with myths and unscientific “commandments.” True religion deals with any topic that the Lord wants to talk about, and if that happens to be a scientific subject like astronomy, then so be it.
Q2. What is the principal similarity between true science and true religion?
A2. To me the principal similarity is that both science and religion are seeking to understand the truth of how things really are, how they were, and how they will become. Both are seeking to understand the laws of God, but they employ different methods. There can be large areas of overlap between the two disciplines. Almost every article that I have written has emphasized research where science and religion have combined forces to become two witnesses of the truth.
Q3. What is the correct interplay of science and religion?
A3. To me it is that in true religion God reveals things that we never would have been able to deduce from scientific observation. For example, we never could have known that mankind was created in the image of God, who is literally our Father in Heaven. But there is a lot which we can figure out by ourselves, and many of the details of just how this universe functions God has left as “an exercise for the student.”
To me the universe is a big puzzle that the Lord expects us to solve as best we can with scientific methods. The scriptures are like the answers to the odd numbered problems at the back of the book, which we should learn from because they were written by the great Teacher. When the Savior returns, he might correct our papers when he reveals just how the creation really was done. At that time there could very well be a lot of surprises because many things have been “hidden” from us (D&C 101:32-33). Hidden means they were not observable, and hence “unscientific,” but they were true just the same. When they are revealed, they will become “scientific.”
But when scientists insist that they are right and the Creator’s answers are wrong, I can see where we could look very foolish in his eyes. True science and true religion will always agree when all of the experiments are completed.
Q4. You say that science and religion overlap, but isn’t the LDS Church officially neutral on the theory of organic evolution? Hasn’t it made statements that geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology should be left to scientists? If so, doesn’t that imply a complete separation of the fields of science and religion?
A4. The answer is “yes” to the first two questions, but “no” to the third. I am not aware of any statement of the First Presidency that there must be a complete separation of science and religion. They have made it clear that the only reason the Church has no stand on organic evolution is that the Lord has not spoken in the scriptures about exactly how the different species of plants and animals were created, nor even the bodies of Adam and Eve. But where the Lord has spoken, such as that Adam was “the first man of all men” who was created in the image of God, the First Presidency has repeatedly affirmed his word to be true and the official church doctrine which we are “duty bound” to accept. There is much revealed in scripture about the science of astronomy, which could be considered to be official church doctrine, even though on a scientific subject.
Q5. If science only concerns what is observable, and if God remains hidden, then would there be a proper place for God in scientific journals? Isn’t the real reason that God is not mentioned in scientific journals because he has no place there, rather than a result of a Satanic conspiracy to keep him out?
A5. As an example of how God might fit into scientific articles, consider articles about the origin of life on earth. There could be a whole array of scientific hypotheses put forward, all of which could lead to scientific tests, especially in the field of genetics. For example, there could be a theory that a) atoms just came together by themselves, forming all plant and animal life with no need for a Creator; b) same as a) but directed by a Creator; c) same as b) with the requirement added that spirits are needed for life; d) all instructions for life were encoded by the Creator into the first single cell, which was then left on its own to evolve into all plants and animals; e) several separate kinds of plants and animals were created, which are not related to each other at all, but rather share similar “good design” features; f) the various kinds of plant and animal life were transplanted to the earth; g) the real creation was all done in the spirit world where DNA codes were written, and the physical creation consisted of planting seeds, watering them, etc.; and h) God’s creations are never “left alone” but God is actively involved with all of his creatures.
This list could obviously be extended, but the point here is that only theory a) is allowed in scientific journals today because it is “unscientific” to mention God. Thus we are only allowed to discuss and teach in science classes the one theory that God has told us explicitly is guaranteed to be false, namely that God was not involved at all.
What will scientific journals be like after the Savior returns, and the Millennium is fully underway? Will we not still have schools where youth are taught science? Will they still learn Kepler’s laws of astronomy and Newton’s laws of physics? Will they study genetics and be taught how to understand the DNA code of life? I think so. But what about theory a) above, the atheistic theory of organic evolution, the only one taught in most schools today? Will it be taught any more at all? Will it still be forbidden to speak of the Creator in science classes? Of course not.
Q6. I have read books on science and religion, and you certainly don’t sound like a mainstream LDS scientist. You’ve written articles on rapid petrification, a literal worldwide Deluge in 2343 BC, and Adam living only 6,000 years ago. Where do you think you fit into the spectrum of LDS scientists?
A6. I definitely am not a mainstream scientist. When science and religion disagree, I believe the scriptures when there seems to be no mistaking their meaning. Even when other scientists interpret the scriptures as literally as I do, they may not have the academic freedom to publicly express their beliefs. But as stated above, I try to write articles about areas where modern science and the Christian religion agree, being two witnesses of the truth.
Some readers said they assume that I believe in a young earth because of those articles mentioned. While I indeed believe that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden 4,000 years before Christ was born, I have no opinion at all on the age of the earth. The only times I’ve mentioned it my articles, I applauded Dr. William Stokes of the U. of Utah Geology Dept. for having suggested that the seven “days” of creation as understood by the Egyptians might have each been 365,000,000 years long.
Q7. Aren’t you confusing science and religion when you suggest that spiritual phenomena such as the human aura or moving objects with the mind are really scientific subjects?
A7. I don’t see that the human aura, if it exists, has anything to do with religion at all, nor would moving objects mentally. The scriptures don’t talk much about either one, and I don’t know of any church doctrine on either. What I was saying is that spiritual phenomena should not be ruled out of science just because invisible powers might be at work. Scientific experiments can be done in all of these areas, by statistically comparing supposed psychic powers with a control group.
For example, my son’s elementary school science fair project was to determine whether some people can roll a “six” on one die (of a pair of dice) more than would be expected by chance. After doing tests to show his die was not observably biased, he found two people who together made 3,000 rolls and got a six more than one time in five, rather than the expected one in six. He showed that statistically there is almost no way that could happen by chance, so it convinced him through a very simple experiment, which attempted to be scientific, that physical objects can indeed be influenced by the mind. There was clearly no religion involved at all in this conclusion.
Q8. Isn’t the whole premise of your article, that Satan has introduced the concept of materialism as a scientific doctrine, merely a “straw man” that most scientists would reject? Where can you find any official declaration that scientists say that nothing exists beyond what can be observed?
A8. I totally agree that the concept of “materialism” is almost never explicitly stated. If it were, it would appear so absurd as to be immediately rejected. Rather, it is introduced extremely subtly, and has a profound effect. For example, the opening paragraph of one college text on astronomy I taught from said something like “Astronomy is the study of the entire universe.” I’ve never seen a text that explicitly says, “the observable part of the universe.” Hence, the student infers that science studies everything that exists.
An important example comes from the theory of relativity. Before Einstein, scientists considered light to be waves that traveled through the “ether” akin to how sound travels through the medium of air or ripples through a pool of water. Einstein decreed that no experiment could ever be done to detect ether, and so it would be pointless to talk about ether any more because it would be outside the realm of scientific observation. Technically he did not say ether does not exist, only that it is not scientific to talk about it.
But we now say that light travels through “the vacuum,” which really makes it sound like “space with absolutely nothing in it.” So now beginning students are taught that light travels through empty space and yet vibrates like a wave with about ten observable wave properties. If they ask, “And what is it that is vibrating?“, the answer is that it is the “electromagnetic field.”
Even after having studied the theory of quantum electrodynamics, to me it seems that our understanding has been crippled by having been forbidden to talk about ether in scientific papers. But now the “vacuum” not only has all the properties needed to transmit light, and to be “curved,” physicists also speak of it containing the “quantum foam” and the “zero point energy.” The “ether” has been renamed “the vacuum” and seems very real indeed.
Please do not misconstrue my words to mean I believe that Einstein was inspired by Satan. My point is that while Einstein followed true scientific principles precisely, it is the way his results have been interpreted by others that very subtly introduced the change from “ether is beyond science” to “ether does not exist.” Similarly, Einstein’s work on relativity was hijacked by other disciplines to support the idea that ethics are also relative, and that there is no absolute truth. That is totally beyond anything Einstein was discussing, but rather it is the kind of “hijacking” that does appear to have been inspired by Satan.
Q9. Did all of these problems start with Darwin?
A9. Darwin was merely following a precedent set by a whole series of scientists before him. One of the most famous was Pierre Simon LaPlace, who proposed the nebular hypothesis for the formation of the solar system in 1796, more than half a century before Darwin’s book. It is reported that when his emperor Napoleon Bonaparte asked him “Where does God fit into your system?” the answer was “Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis.” That phrase is often quoted by creationists to condemn LaPlace as an atheist, even as Darwin is vilified. But I do not condemn them at all. They were both doing exactly what scientists do, which is to try to explain the world and the universe. Their personal religion should not be a factor, any more than it should be for Christians. If something can be explained without God, that is fine – let scientists be free to do so. But there is a big difference between “having no need” for God in a given theory, and the subtle extension which I am decrying, which is to insist that God be excluded from science even when he is needed. Theories involving God should not be portrayed as being weak theories that need the “crutch” of God for support. But I have no complaint against LaPlace’s statement, nor even with most of Darwin’s work. The problem is when atheism is considered required, rather than optional, for a theory to be scientific. That eliminates the voice of opposing views from even being heard, and the atheistic theory wins only because it has no competition.
Q10. Hasn’t atheism been a boon to science? Hasn’t it allowed science to progress much farther by trying to find the real cause of things rather than merely explaining everything away with the sweeping statement that God did it?
A10. While many have suggested that atheism has led to all of our advances, I do not believe that at all. I believe that atheism has hobbled science, so that it rarely discovers actual truth. The truth is that there is a whole spirit world around us, God and Satan are alive and well, and both are active participants in our world.
Let me give an example. The Book of Jasher, which I accept as an authentic historical source, states that God cursed some of the builders of the Tower of Babel to look like monkeys, in order to humiliate them (Jasher 9:35). Now suppose that is true and that God actually changed their genetic makeup to do so. If an atheist geneticist tested the DNA of the remains of such a man and compared it to normal human DNA, she might conclude that they were not related, nor perhaps even of the same species. Such a conclusion would be false, but it would go unchallenged in a world which cannot even talk about God in scientific literature.
Q11. You imply that there is no compelling scientific evidence that random mutations lead to an improved species. But what about bacteria that mutate and become resistant to our medicines?
A11. Today, it is well known that when some bacteria are dying, they mutate and produce other varieties – some of which are resistant to what was killing them, and hence survive better. Some bacteria now thrive on nylon. Those results sound like pages right out of Darwin’s book, and have been widely hailed as proving that random mutations lead to an improved species.
There is another interpretation that seems much more reasonable to me as someone who has programmed computers. What if all of the instructions to make all types of those bacteria were already genetically coded into the DNA by the Creator? When times get tough, the creature can cause a mutation, which may or may not be random at all. That mutation can be in one tiny area, which can switch the next generation to use a different “subroutine” hoping that it may survive better. That mutation is effected by a living organism, not by a random cosmic ray that just happened to hit a gene and cause a mutation.
To me all of this shows that God has created a wonderful ability for life to survive a variety of changing environments. I see no evidence that any new DNA code was actually written, nor that the results could be extrapolated to imply that whole new creatures could be produced. To believe that a bunch of atoms all just came together by themselves, built a computer themselves, wrote all their own programs to run on the computer, then programmed that computer to reproduce other computers, and then wrote super sophisticated artificial intelligence programs far beyond what man can do, complete with self-correcting code and stress genes to switch to other more viable forms, seems totally absurd to me.
It appears that we have discovered the self-correcting programs that God has written, running on the computers in the cell that he created, and now science is supposed to explain how all of that just happened by itself, because we are forbidden to talk about the Programmer. If scientists are forbidden to talk about God in peer-reviewed scientific journals, then we have really painted ourselves into a corner. That makes science look foolish and hampers it so much that it cannot make much real progress toward truth. I long for the day to sit at the feet of the Greatest Scientist to learn his true laws in a true science class.
- Pratt, John P., “Has Satan Hijacked Science?” Meridian Magazine (16 Nov 2005).
- Stated by Nephite philosophers only a year or so before Christ was born. See Helaman 16:18 in the Book of Mormon.
- For a detailed discussion of the areas covered by science and religion, see Pratt, John P., “Science and Religion Turf Wars,” Meridian Magazine (11 Dec 2002).
- An assortment of official and unofficial LDS statements about evolution can currently be found at eyring.hplx.net/Eyring/faq/evolution.
- The classic 1909 statement by the First Presidency was re-emphasized in “The Origin of Man,” Ensign, Feb. 2002, p. 26.
- See “Millennial Science,” in Charting a New Millennium, ed. Proctor, Maurine & Scot, (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1998), pp. 367-85 (Section 1.7), and “Science and Religion Turf Wars,” Meridian Magazine (11 Dec 2002), Section 4.2.
- Pratt, John P., “How Did the Book of Jasher Know?,“Meridian Magazine (7 Jan 2002).
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