05 April 2007

Science and Traditions: A Nibleyesque Musing

I know I said I'd do something cool for post #201. Turns out it's just another Nibleyesque Musing. Oh well.

The way that Brother Nibley harmonizes science and religion in “Beyond Adam” is very interesting. As a chemistry student and a firm believer in science and the scientific method, I’m always grappling with these same issues in my life. For the most part, my solution has been what I call the “everything and nothing” approach—I seek to learn everything that’s true, believing everything that’s true comes from God, and that once I understand everything, nothing will be in conflict. As Nibley points out, science has an entirely different point from religion, so of course there will be some things that appear to conflict. But both are true frames for viewing the universe, and the real thing includes and supersedes both. Science and religion are both maps that tell us how to get to specific goals, but to insist that a map is reality is clear nonsense.

But back to Nibley’s thoughts on evolution—I liked the idea that a lot of the early destructions of massive numbers of people in the Bible might have had something to do with other forms of human beings. I find it very comforting that Nibley doesn’t feel the need to deny the possibility of evolution or something like unto it. I’ve never felt that there was any need for all this conflict. Why shouldn’t God work through evolution? “My ways are not your ways.” The promise to keep the seed of Enoch through Noah always on the earth makes a lot more sense when you have the idea that there might have been other types of humans to compete with. It also covers a lot of the ideas about giants and such that we read in the Old Testament. Sure, the timing of all this doesn’t seem to fit together quite yet, but I have a firm belief that it will all shake out in the end. Who knows how many things about our perceptions of both science and religion need to be corrected in the end?

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “How Firm a Foundation! What Makes It So.” Nibley starts out listing the necessary qualities that characterize the true gospel, but then wanders, in typical Nibley fashion, through the idea of consecration and into environmentalism, particularly discussing pollution in Utah. I enjoyed the list of characteristics of the true church: like Nibley, I was amazed that “I had no idea at that time how vast and solid the foundations of the Church really are.

I’m not sure how to phrase what I’m going to say next, so try not to take it too seriously if it’s overly offensive or odd. Although for the greater part of my life I’ve had a very strong testimony of the truth of the gospel and the Church, I’ve always felt a little bashful about the fact that it’s, well, so new. I mean, 170-odd years is really not that long for the existence of a religion, and though we of course claim that we are a restoration of ancient things, the very modern feeling of the Church has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I sometimes find myself wishing we had that long line of tradition in the same way as the Catholic Church or even better Judaism. Reading a lot of Nibley has helped me recover a sense of tradition—that Joseph Smith didn’t just make it up in 1830, but that the practices of the Church go far back, especially when it comes to the temple. Perhaps my thirst for tradition will finally be quenched when I go through for myself.


Courtney said...

Yes, Liz, I totally agree. I often think about the modernity of the church and it is a little odd to me. I often wish we had more of the traditions of Judaism or something. But you're right, the church still has those traditions, even if they seem new. Granted, they aren't the same, but I suppose it's all right in the end.
And yes, I don't see what all the evolution conflict is about. Can't we all just get along? :)

Steve M. said...

I mean, 170-odd years is really not that long for the existence of a religion, and though we of course claim that we are a restoration of ancient things, the very modern feeling of the Church has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I sometimes find myself wishing we had that long line of tradition in the same way as the Catholic Church or even better Judaism.

I agree that the Church has a very "modern" feel to it. It's a very young Church, especially relative to other world religions.

However, Latter-day Saints have a kind of "adopted" history. Joseph Smith had a real fascination with anything and everything ancient, and he regularly sought to incorporate ancient religion into his theology. Joseph's claims of restoration allow Mormons to tap into ancient religious traditions, effectually giving them a history that extends back to the beginning of time, predating every other religious tradition.

Oh, and I've never understood the problem with believing in evolution. I mean, Latter-day Saints don't even believe that the Bible is inerrant or that it should be read 100% literally, right? Believing that human history began just six thousand years ago isn't an informed or defensible position, in my opinion.

Sam B said...

While I agree that we aren't Bible inerrantists or literalists, I think two things get into some Mormons' way when evolution comes up. The big monkey in the room is that we're leader inerrantists. Not really, technically, but many, if not most, church members believe literally in every word that comes out of a prophet's/apostle's (and, for some, even bishop's) mouth. And, frankly, you don't have to look much further than McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith for some very strong animus toward evolution. (Which, of course, means selectively ignoring Talmage and BH Roberts, among others, but play the JFS was prophet card, and it's a pretty good trump.)

The other is, we come from a Protestant tradition, and are good at incorporating Protestant ideas, whether or not we look to their provenance.

But, of course, evolution (macro, not just micro) happened, and continues to happen, and nonetheless we're children of a loving God.

Steve M. said...
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Aaron said...

First of all, I really enjoy your style of writing and am happy to have discovered your blog. . .
I really like your "everything and nothing" approach in general, and it fits well to this topic of evolution.

Science is not a way of knowing truth per se, it is simply a method of observing. Revelation is the only way to know truth. This is not say that you may stumble upon a truth in some other way besides revelation (science, authority, etc.).

I don't see a conflict with evolution and mormonism. But my reasons might be different than others. I see evolution as a theory--a model that can help us understand our observations. I don't see evolution as an answer to the question of the man's origin. Mormon doctrine teaches me about my divine nature--and I am clear as the truth of that matter through personal revelation. I simply don't take it further than that.

Nibley is rather nebulous on the subject as well. He makes observations, scattering a bunch of new dots onto the landscape, but does little to connect them. I don't see a great need to connect all the dots at this point.

I often come back to Flatlands, a short book on dimensions (great read). Beings living in a 2D world cannot comprehend those living in a 3D world (unless, as the prophets were, they are lifted up, taught, tutored, and given revelations). For any scientist to pretend to understand the beginning of the world is silly. It would be like an ant living in my backyard trying to comprehend China's economic relationship with Great Britain.

It is fun to explore, and I'm not saying people can't try to connect the dots. I just think there are a million more dots to come, so I am going to wait before I get started.

Steve M. said...

Sam B,

I agree with everything you said. So, yeah, well said.

Liz Muir said...

Aaron: Thanks, glad you like the blog. Flatland is an amazing book. I need to finish it . . . . Plato's Allegory of the Cave is also a good one for the same idea. :D