Are Science and Faith Compatible in Mormon Religion?

Feb 10, 2011 by

Mormons believe that science and the Mormon religion are not incompatibleIt’s not uncommon for people to wonder if science and religious belief are incompatible. Read what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have to say about how science and our Mormon religion and beliefs for them (us) can and do co-exist.

Dr. Anne Osborne Poelman (a neuroradiologist), Dr. Phil Low (a Purdue biochemist) and others share some thoughts on faith and science in this article (a report of a LDS Life Sciences Symposium): “No ‘believing gene,’ just faith and work, says LDS doctor, scientist

Dr. Larry St. Clair (Ph.D from the Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology at the University of Colorado) focuses his whole Mormon Scholars Testify entry on the question of “Faith and Science as Ways of Knowing: Dealing With the Ostensible Conflicts” (included in his essay are thoughts on evolution and the age/creation of the earth):

In all honesty, I have never encountered any idea or theory in science that threatened or challenged my faith. Why? Because there are a few things that are central to my testimony and I diligently protect and sustain them with my faith. For example, I know that God lives, and I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is both the Creator and Savior of the world. These are gifts given to me and regularly renewed for me by the Holy Ghost. With this knowledge firmly in place, I find that I am free to explore and examine any combination of spiritual and/or temporal questions. There are times when I think I might have reached a plausible conclusion about an issue or question, but I carefully protect myself from the tendency to deal in absolutes. I am always open to more data and more revelation as I seek to refine and purify my knowledge. I am also perfectly willing to leave the resolution of some issues to a future “celestial classroom” where “perfect knowledge” will surely abound and where “perfect love casteth out all fear.”5

Dr. Milton Lee (Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Indiana University) talks of the pursuit of truth as a scientist and as a member of the Mormon religion:

As a scientist, I seek for truth, and as a believer in Jesus Christ and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I seek for truth. I believe that these two efforts are not exclusive of one another, but should come together when absolute truth becomes known. In fact, I have found that one enhances the other in a number of ways. For instance, the allegory of the seed told by Alma in the Book of Mormon (Alma 32) follows the pattern of the scientific method. -Dr. Milton Lee

Speaking of the scientific method, here’s another post, The Scientific Method, that explores similar thoughts: “In a science experiment you would use statistics to determine if your hypothesis can be rejected, something any statistician will tell you that you can never know for sure, but rather only with a certain level of confidence. Instead, when seeking answers to spiritual hypotheses, you have to receive your answer from the source of spiritual knowledge: God himself.”

Dr. Angela M. Berg Robertson (Ph.D., Harvard University, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology) shares her conviction that God knows “infinitely more” than we ever could.

“’[M]an doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend,” not only applies in research. I find great comfort in knowing that God understands what I do not. He understands how we can live again after we die. He understands how we can be bound forever to our families. He understands how the suffering of Jesus Christ paid for my mistakes. He understands infinitely more. [Link not in the original]

Dr. Lynn H. Slaugh (Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Washington)

It was never intended that we should prove scientifically the existence of our Savior and our Father in Heaven. Nevertheless, there are numerous observations that certainly proclaim a divine creator. Many have observed and marveled at the amazing ORDER and complexity of living things, especially man, and have taken this to be a strong indicator of a divine, all-powerful creator.

Read more thoughts from more Mormon scientists and Mormons in other professional specialties at Mormon Scholars Testify.

This essay on Mormon Science and Scientists looks at these questions with an historical perspective.

You can read numerous profiles of Mormons who are also scientists at Mormon.org

For example, Kenneth (a Mormon who has a Ph.D. in chemistry) says: ‘[D]espite all my schooling and secular knowledge, I know God is real and lives. Indeed all the science I understand shows to me The handiwork of a divine creator, God.”

Jon says: “I am a chemist who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and love being both a scientist and a Mormon, because the ultimate goal of both is truth. I have absolutely no problem reconciling science and religion.”

See more about the faith of more Mormons who are scientists at Mormon.org

Kathleen has a master’s degree in physics and is working on her Ph.D. in astronomy (and is thinking about medical school!)

Suzanne has a Ph.D. and teaches chemistry and biology

Chantel has a Ph.D. in genetics and is doing postdoctoral work

Kirk is almost ready to retire from his career in biometerology

Jen is a conservation biologist

Laura is an environmental scientist

Jillian is working on her Ph.D. in biomedical science

Michal has a Ph.D. with a focus on microbiology/infectious disease

You can find many more profiles by going to “Meet Mormons” at Mormon.org and searching on ‘scientist’ in the search bar.

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Image courtesy of -grimbart- at Wikimedia Commons

 

 

6 Comments

  1. The more science I study, the more it strengthens my faith in God and a divine creation.

    A beautiful book on this is “The Science of God,” by Gerald Schroeder. He gives an excellent Jewish perspective of how the Bible and the fossil record and scientific discoveries are highly compatible and support each other.

  2. Cora Judd

    Since you place scientists in such high esteem, you probably already know that, of the highest-ranking scientist in America, those of the National Academy of Scientists, 97% are non-believers. I, too, am an atheist.

    No rational person would claim that science and religion are compatible. Science is a method of discovering truth that includes measurable, testable and predictable hypothosies. Religion of any kind offers nothing that can be measured, nor any result that can be replicated, other than by chance.

    Religion is strictly feeling-based; the more intently a religious person feels her church to be true, the more intently she believes it to be true. When scientists claim a religious foundation, you can be absolutely sure they’re not entirely credible among their colleagues. When they claim to find “knowledge” of a God in their work, they should also not enjoy credibility among their faith-based peers.

  3. mormonwomen

    Cora,
    It’s understandable why you would say what you say, but there is a bit of a catch-22 here. If you are an atheist, presumably you have never claimed to have experienced the process of faith in God and how one can have a knowledge of truth through spiritual means. Of course, that is “measured” differently, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. And it is replicated time and time again in the lives of millions of people.

    I think it’s also important to note that just because a scientist has faith in God does not mean that he/she tries to use faith directly in their work. The links above show that it is possible to have faith in God and be a scientist, but that shouldn’t threaten their credibility within their fields.

    Yes, our faith in God is informed by every means of learning, including “book” knowledge, scientific processes, experiential learning, and so on. But I am hoping that in your last paragraph you aren’t implying that if you find out a scientist is religious that you dismiss them as not credible. I would hope that you would let their scientific work stand on its own scientific merit, which in my experience with religious scientists is what they would expect.

    ~Michelle
    Editor

  4. Eric

    In D&C 77, God (allegedly) tells Joseph Smith straight out that the world is 6000 years old. There was no time for millions of years of evolution in Mormon doctrine. Yet science has shown quite conclusively that evolution has occurred over millions of years in the past, and continues to occur now. (In the case of microbes, this is directly observable.)

  5. Eric,

    Although I can see why some might conclude that Mormon doctrine and evolution are incompatible, such a conclusion doesn’t square with the way most of us as Mormons feel.

    You might find the following articles of interest:

    http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/science.shtml#spec

    That article includes some thoughts on the verse in D&C 77.

    This article was written by an LDS geologist:
    Do we know how the earth’s history as indicated from fossils fits with the earth’s history as the scriptures present it?

    And this one by a Mormon biologist.

    Here’s the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Evolution

    And as is noted in the post, there are many perspectives from Latter-day Saint scientists at Mormon Scholars Testify. They explain more about how Mormon doctrine and science are not incompatible. Mormon doctrine leaves plenty of room for science, evolution, the fossil record, and more.

    I’m sure you have already read statements and thoughts on this subject. I think the following quoted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism sums things up nicely, though.
    “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the soul of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church….”

  6. “For example, I know that God lives, and I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is both the Creator and Savior of the world.”

    Then, 2 seconds later:

    “There are times when I think I might have reached a plausible conclusion about an issue or question, but I carefully protect myself from the tendency to deal in absolutes.”

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