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CES Reply: Science!

Science Concerns & Questions:

The problem Mormonism encounters is that so many of its claims are well within the realm of scientific study, and as such, can be proven or disproven.

No, the real problem is that you’re about to make a lot of scientific claims about Mormonism that Mormonism doesn’t make for itself.

To cling to faith in these areas, where the overwhelming evidence is against it, is willful ignorance, not spiritual dedication.

That’s probably true, except it’s not necessarily for Mormons to “cling to faith” in the areas you’re going to describe.

1.2 Nephi 2:22 and Alma 12:23-24 state there was no death of any kind (humans, all animals, birds, fish, dinosaurs, etc.) on this earth until the “Fall of Adam”,

Here’s 2 Nephi 2:22:

“And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.”

Where does this say there was no death of any kind on this earth before the Fall?

Here’s Alma 12: 23-24:

“And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die.

“And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.”

Where does this say there was no death of any kind on this earth before the Fall?

which according to D&C 77:6-7 occurred 7,000 years ago.

Here’s D&C 77:6-7:

6 Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?

A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.

Where do these scriptures mention the date of the Fall of Adam?

This scripture has long fascinated me, as it refers to the seven thousand years of the earth’s “temporal existence.” What does that mean? Since we reject ex nihilo creation and believe the matter out of which the earth was made is eternal, surely that dirt is older than 7,000 years – it’s so old, in fact, that it can’t really be measured. Is that what D&C 77 is saying – the physical planet has only existed for 7,000 years? (Actually, the real number would be less than 6,000 years, because the last thousand years of the temporal existence would constitute the millennium in which Christ reigns personally on the earth.) Because that’s not just inconsistent with science; it’s inconsistent with scripture.

7,000 years isn’t the chronological age of dirt; it’s the length of earth’s “continuance” or “temporal existence.” So what does that mean?
I think of it in these terms. How old is the city of London?

According to Wikipedia, infallible source of all wisdom, the city was founded in 43 AD and first referred to as “Londinium” a little less than a century later. Did London exist prior to 43 AD? Well, physically, yes, of course it did. The Thames was flowing, but it wasn’t called the Thames. All the dirt was presumably there, too, but it wasn’t called London, because there was no one there to call it London. So it really wasn’t quite London yet, despite its geographical relationship to the town and then city that would later occupy that spot of ground.

History is concerned with chronology and where there is no chronology, there isn’t really any history to speak of, either. Anthropologists refer to the era prior to man’s arrival as “pre-history,” as in “prehistoric times.” So when does history begin?

Specifically, if the chunks of matter that make up the earth have always existed, at what point did they participate in earth’s “continuance” or “temporal,” i.e. time-based, “existence?” I submit that the criteria is the same as that of when London began.

History began when people showed up who were capable of recording time, which would require mathematics, writing, and philosophy – in a word, civilization. It’s not scientifically ludicrous to say that, regardless of biological origins, functional human civilization is somewhere around 7,000 years old, give or take. In any case, I don’t think the idea of earth’s 7,000 year-old temporal existence mentioned in Latter-Day Saint scripture ought to be viewed through an ex nihilo filter, nor do I think it presents a significant intellectual roadblock to credible theories about the origins of both the earth and the life upon it.

So where does the Fall of Adam fit into that timeframe? No idea. God has not seen fit to reveal the dates or the process, so I feel no responsibility to worry about it or to reject scientific evidence about both the age of the earth and the origins of life.

It is scientifically established there has been life and death on this planet for billions of years. How does the Church reconcile this?

It doesn’t.

“Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.” (Improvement Era, August, 1908, 778.)

“The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world”
(Joseph F. Smith, Juvenile Instructor 46 (April 1911): 208-09).

That one’s kind of fun, as Joseph F.’s son, Joseph Fielding Smith, wrote a book called Man: His Origin and Destiny to refute evolution and claim the earth was only a few thousand years old. He tried to get the Church to publish the book, but my great-grandfather David O. McKay, who was a firm believer in evolution, death before the Fall, and geological time, disagreed with Joseph Fielding Smith on just about everything in that book.

Here’s a letter President McKay wrote on the subject:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 E. South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
David O. McKay, President

February 3, 1959

Dr. A. Kent Christensen
Department of Anatomy
Cornell University Medical College
1300 York Avenue
New York 21, New York
Dear Brother Christensen:

I have your letter of January 23, 1959 in which you ask for a statement of the Church’s position on the subject of evolution.

The Church has issued no official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution.

Neither ‘Man, His Origin and Destiny’ by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor ‘Mormon Doctrine’ by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church…

Sincerely yours,

[signed]

David O. McKay

(President)

How do we explain the massive fossil evidence showing not only animal death but also the deaths of at least 14 different Hominin species over the span of 250,000 years prior to Adam?

We explain it by teaching precisely that information in biology classes at church-owned universities like BYU and BYU-Idaho.

2.If Adam and Eve are the first humans, how do we explain the 14 other Hominin species who lived and died 35,000 – 250,000 years before Adam? When did those guys stop being human?

That’s a question that B.H. Roberts and James E. Talmage frequently asked, as they believed in the idea of “pre-Adamites,” as they called them. It is true many prophets and apostles doubted evolution, but many more have not. The Church has taken no official position on the subject, so there’s no need for it to “explain” any of this, as it’s not spiritually relevant. The Church is concerned with why God created the heavens and the earth, not how.

3.Science has proven that there was no worldwide flood 4,500 years ago. 

No, it hasn’t, because it’s impossible to prove a negative.

Time for Dan the Illogical Scientist to make an encore presentation:

illogical scientist

I will grant you, however, that science has provided compelling evidence that suggests a worldwide flood 4,500 years ago or at any other time would be highly unlikely.

Do you really literally believe in the flood story where 600-year-old Noah built a massive ark with dimensions that equate to about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet deep?

You’ve touched on a sore spot in the Bennett household. Because there was a time when I answered an unequivocal “yes” to that question. Then I married a brilliant biology major who, while a faithful Latter-day Saint, also believed that much of the story of Noah is kind of ridiculous.

I’ve since discovered that there fully active and faithful Latter-day Saints of every stripe who believe anything and everything that it is possible to believe about the story of Noah – some who insist that it is 100% scientifically accurate, and others who insist the whole thing is a fable, and everywhere in between. The Church does not require its members to believe any scientific information about Noah and the ark.

That Noah and his very small family took two of each unclean creature and seven of every clean creature and all the food and fresh water that would be needed on board for 6 months? And that after the flood, Noah and his family released the animals and they, along with Noah’s family of eight repopulated – via incest – the entire planet?

Simple mathematics show that there was insufficient room on the ark to house all the animal species found on the planet, let alone the food required to feed all of them.

How did the carnivores survive?  There would not have been nearly enough herbivores to sustain the carnivores during the voyage and the months after the ark landed.  What would the herbivores eat after the flood subsided?

There are a bunch of other problems with the global flood and Noah’s ark story but I find it incredible that this is supposed to be taken literally considering the abundance of evidence against it.

Well, for my part, as I’ve discussed the matter with my brilliant wife, I’ve been persuaded that, while I believe there was an actual, historical prophet named Noah who built an ark and put animals on it and survived a flood, I also believe that a great deal of the story is figurative and/or allegorical, and I neither know nor particularly care which parts are which.

While I remain open to the supernatural possibility that God engineered miracle after miracle to make the impossible possible, I am also open to the possibility that the flood was smaller and more localized than many assume, and that Noah’s world, at least as he perceived it, may not have been the entire globe. In any case, I do not see the story of Noah as an impediment to honest scientific inquiry, nor do I see any action on the part of the Church to punish or even counsel Church members who are not willing to read Genesis as a literal scientific treatise.

Am I expected to believe in a god who would wipe out the entire planet like that?  Kill millions of women and innocent children for the actions of others?  What kind of a god is this?

If you take the story at face value, the people who were wiped out were not innocents. Everyone in Noah’s world was corrupt and wicked. I am open to the possibility, however, that Noah’s world, as he understood it, was not the entirety of the globe, and that there were innocents outside of Noah’s awareness who did not perish in what may have been a localized and not a global flood.

 

Other events/claims that science has discredited:

  • Tower of Babel

Science has nothing whatsoever to say about the Tower of Babel. Nobody knows where it was, or where it was supposed to have been. As with Noah, I think this story is based in some kind of historical fact. I think there was an actual Tower of Babel, but I neither know nor particularly care how much of the story that has been handed down is literal or figurative. I assume there are elements of both.

  • People living to be 600+ years old

Hmmm. Never really thought about that one, to be honest. I guess I would have to treat this little tidbit the way I deal with all supposed conflicts between religion and science – with a humble recognition that we neither fully understand religion or science, and that all such conflicts will vanish when our knowledge is perfect. In the meantime, people should continue to pursue knowledge both by study and by faith, both in science and in religion.

  • Humans and animals having their origins from Noah’s family and the animals contained in the ark 4,500 years ago. It is scientifically impossible, for example, for the bear to have evolved into several species (Sun Bear, Polar Bear, Grizzly Bear, etc.) from common ancestors from Noah’s time.

Again, how much of Noah’s story should be taken literally and how much of it is figurative? We simply don’t know.

  • Jonah and the whale

Man, that’s a freaky story from beginning to end, no doubt. The finale is priceless – Jonah sits under a magic gourd that grows overnight and gets mad when God doesn’t blow Ninevah away, and then a worm eats the gourd. It’s just – odd. My reaction is that there is kernel of historical truth in there somewhere, but there’s also a lot of ancient cultural weirdness that modern readers like you and me just don’t get.

  • People turning into salt in Sodom & Gomorrah

This one doesn’t bug me all that much. If you run back into a war zone where everything is on fire, then what happens to you? I think this was less magic and more burned-alive stuff described with magical language.

  • As mentioned in Book of Abraham section, the sun receives its “light from the revolutions of Kolob.”

And as replied to in the Book of Abraham section, the text itself suggests this is merely an Egyptian metaphor. (Also, you are the sunshine of my life.)

They carried honey bees across the ocean?  Swarms of them?  All manner of them which was upon the face of the land? (Ether 2:3)

barges

For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37.)

Or, if you want to go secular…

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  • Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Maybe this makes me naïve, but I feel no need to raise my hand in Sunday School and point out the scientific improbability of 600-year-old people, but neither do I get indignant when a biology teacher describes the evolutionary process. Mormonism teaches that we should seek after truth wherever we can find it, which means we should learn more about science, not less, because we assume that eventually all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.

Tomorrow: Scriptural Weirdness

CES Reply: Shake It! (Also Masons.)
CES Reply: Scriptural Weirdness

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  1. Great to see your thoughts, Jim. The LDS Church has produced many, many brilliant scientists that appropriately balance faith and reason. In fact, the so many believing scientists of all faiths do this: believe in a Creator and still (naturally) do good Science. Unfortunately, Jeremy bought into the false narrative that Science is at war with religion, and that the 2 are completely incompatible. But it’s simply not true. No war, at all. Each pursues truth: Science pursues truth about the natural world and faith pursues truth relative to the spiritual. Some scientists, however, — Dawkins, Harris, and others — are at war with religion. But their war is based on a war of world views, not Science itself. Their belief is that Science proves certain things about the universe, making faith unnecesary. However, Science can’t disprove God and many other issues of faith. Science can’t prove how everything started. Faith answers questions related to philosophy and religion. Science does how. Faith does why…