Is Mormonism Anti-Science?
By Ken K. Gourdin
I responded to a poster whose screen name (which I presume is his real name) is Adam Ford at Patheos who opined that one must abandon science to believe in Mormonism. In part, he wrote, “To be a believing orthodox Mormon one must abandon science, the scientific method, and scientifically understandable processes and adopt a magic world view.”
I acknowledge that your assertion that one must confine oneself to use of a single paradigm for consideration (and potential resolution) of all questions, problems, and issues is a popular approach, favored by many; I also acknowledge that such an approach would dictate that I must jettison any information or perspective that is not consistent with that paradigm.
If it’s all the same to you, however, I prefer a much more multifaceted, much more flexible, nuanced approach, one that involves use of multiple and differing paradigms for the consideration of various questions, problems, and issues. I find such a flexible approach to be quite beneficial. For example, science can tell me what is happening, based on currently-available data; from other than a physical, material perspective, however, science cannot tell me WHY the particular phenomenon under consideration is happening. To resolve that question, perhaps it is better to resort to another paradigm, say, a philosophical or even a religious one.
One of the advantages I enjoy as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the principle that if it is true, I believe it: period. It matters not whether that truth is religious, or scientific, or philosophical, or historical in nature. Man, due to limits in cognition, perception, attention, differing strengths, weaknesses, interests, priorities, and so on, may find such distinctions useful. However, God need not bother with them. As one of the most important rites in the Church of Jesus Christ expresses it, “All truth may be circumscribed into one great whole.” It’s not that I believe God can ignore science (or that He can ignore truth from any other discipline) because He is God: it’s that God simply is the most knowledgeable scientist in existence. And the same superlative could be applied to Him with respect to any other discipline. And even in science, some things must be accepted essentially on faith (even if that’s not how scientists would put it). For example, astronomers hypothesize an infinite number of stars in the universe. Am I to believe they know that because they have counted them all? Of course not, since infinity, by definition, is uncountable. Thus, even the most hardened scientist must accept that principle essentially on faith.
All of this having been said, however, while you, apparently, live in a world in which all truth is of equal importance (assuming that you, with all of the limits I describe above, are even capable of perceiving ultimate truth), I do not. (If you are right that all truth is of equal importance, you better hit the books: so much truth, so little time!) While, for example, the law of gravity might be important in the abstract, it wouldn’t be likely to have much of an effect on me unless I were to decide to jump off of a sixth-story balcony without a parachute or without other means to minimize the impact of the termination of my descent. The same weighing principle can be applied to other, purportedly religious, truths: the age of the earth as a religious principle has little, if any, impact on my day-to-day life. By contrast, the notion that I should strive to love my fellow human beings as I believe God loves them has a much greater impact on my everyday life (and, I hope, on the lives of others).
And while your intent may be to wield your broad brush carefully enough that only religions and their adherents are tarred, I’m afraid such precision as you might desire is impossible: the ultimate questions that religions and their adherents strive to answer are not solely the domain of faith; philosophers, poets and writers, and artists of every stripe have also been striving to answer such questions for thousands of years. To borrow and slightly alter a line from Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Mr. Ford, than are dreamt of in your science.” And to alter yet another line from yet another poet, “The heart has reasons that science knows not of.” As fascinating as so much of science is on so many levels, t’would be a dreary world, indeed, if science were the only lens through which one could view it. To borrow and alter yet another saying, “Science may make the world go ’round, but only such things as art, philosophy, and yes, religion, can make the trip worthwhile.”
Philosopher Stephen R. Covey once wrote that, whatever our claims to strict objectivity, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are,” and yes, Mr. Ford, that includes even you. If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to continue using my multiparadigmatic approach, employing a scientific paradigm for consideration of scientific questions, a religious one for religious questions, a philosophical one for philosophical questions, a legal one for legal questions, a historical one for historical questions (including a commitment to judge historical figures by the standards of their time rather than those of my own), and so on.
Thank you for your consideration. Any disagreement between us notwithstanding, I wish you well.
-Ken K. Gourdin