Gods of Science and Religion

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A recent opposing viewpoints article on the Wall Street Journal online pits “man” and God against each other in a verbose battle of words and ideas. The two authors wield their inky swords in a contest defending their theistic and atheistic ideals. However, there is no victor and no captive because their battle is not against each other; instead it is merely a clanging of swords and a rattling of shields in a feat of intimidation. Whose god will win? God of Christians or the god of science and evolution? [Note: please read the end of my post – I believe all truth comes from God, including the truths of science. Belief in God and belief in science are not mutually exclusive categories. Actually, I believe that with a belief in God that one can more fully understand and appreciate science, including its shortcomings].

The first author, Ms. Karen Armstrong argues from the theistic perspective. The second author, Dr. Richard Dawkins, argues from the atheistic perspective. It is a confrontation like that between Elijah and the priests of Baal but Dr. Dawkins’ god is not one of wood, stone, and gold but one of science and humanism. His is a dead god whereas Ms. Armstrong’s is a living God with real power (I’m certainly not calling Ms. Armstrong Elijah though!).

This is a religious blog and so I will only critique Dr. Dawkins’ arguments (and I am only really focusing on one particular part of his essay). That is my bias at this time. I am currently choosing not to critique Ms. Armstrong’s post. Dawkins wrote:

“What if the greatest show on earth [Darwinian evolution] is not the greatest show in the universe? What if there are life forms on other planets that have evolved so far beyond our level of intelligence and creativity that we should regard them as gods, were we ever so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to meet them? Would they indeed be gods? Wouldn’t we be tempted to fall on our knees and worship them, as a medieval peasant might if suddenly confronted with such miracles as a Boeing 747, a mobile telephone or Google Earth? But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us. Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.”

With this paragraph, Dr. Dawkins reveals his biases and short-sightedness. He gives a good example and asks a good question: What if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? What if life evolved to the point where those beings appeared god-like to us? Within Mormon theological tradition the answer to this question is, yes, there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. We claim that we here on earth are only some of God’s children. He has children on other planets who are also part of His Plan of Salvation. So for Latter-day Saints the question of life on other planets is moot. Further, God Himself dwells in a Celestial world, a physical place elsewhere in the universe (or multiverse in our dimensional space or a higher dimensional space; but that is speculation and is not the point of this article). There is a God dwelling elsewhere in the universe. Even Dawkins cannot definitively say “There is no God!” He can only state that he does not believe there is any supporting evidence for God.

Returning to Dr. Dawkins’ example: “But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us.” This is where his example falls short and is limited by his atheism. He does not continue his example like he could with an evolved race of beings who developed to the point where they have all the attributes and characteristics we ascribe to God, even eternal life. They may have evolved to the point where they can in fact create life. We have scientists who try to, by experiment, recreate or encourage evolution in the lab. Some scientists are “forcing evolution” (see also this article) whereas others are trying to create new life. We have the curiosity and desire to create life. Surely, an evolved race of god-like beings would also have the desire to control and create life! It might be faulty logic to state that but on the other hand, to deny some beings some where at some time both the desires to create and the power to create, goes against evolutionary principles. Even as “statistically improbable” it may be, there is still that minute probability, according to Darwinian evolution.

At least one race might even have evolved the ability to create life and “drive” evolution. They might have evolved the ability to create entire worlds or universes. To deny this possibility from an evolutionary perspective is to limit evolution in such a manner that destroys its basic tenets. Placing this limit codifies and canonizes a limit that is not inherent to evolution. How can you argue that it is not possible for a god-like race to evolve god-like powers yet argue that we evolved from a lower state and will continue to evolve to a higher state (or at least something more fitting to survival will out-evolve us)? If there has not been “time enough” in our universe, why could there not have been enough time in a different universe (and then that race of god-like creatures – even just one of them – created our universe by acting in a way that “forced evolution” or even started it outright)?!

Dr. Dawkins stated: “Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.” With this statement he lets his atheism limit his argument (plus he equates Darwinian evolution with physics, which it is not). He does not believe there is a God so he cannot conceive that some being somewhere could create the universe using the power and knowledge of scientific principles to create life. “Darwinian evolution is the only process we know that is ultimately capable of generating anything as complicated as creative intelligences.” So in the end Dr. Dawkins is not atheistic after all! Yes, he might be traditionally atheistic but his god is evolution and science. Dr. Dawkins exhibits faith in his god of mathematics, physics, biology, Darwinian evolution, theory, and statistics. His god is changeable and not well-understood. Our understanding of evolution has changed significantly since the days of Darwin. As new evidence of evolution is discovered we modify the theory and laws of evolution to fit the new data. Such is science. One thing I’ve learned as a scientist is that the more I do science, the less sure I am about my results or data. That does not mean they are wrong but they might be. Science is wonderful but flawed too. We humans are also flawed as is our understanding of science. But we can have unshaken faith in and knowledge of God – a faith that is neither misplaced nor flawed.

In His beautiful and powerful intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Our goal, our purpose, in life is to know God and Jesus Christ. Dr. Dawkins does not know God. He does not even fully know his god of Darwinian evolution. He knows a lot about them but science and evolution are abstract principles and as such are immaterial (while founded upon the philosophy of materialism) and unknowable. Evolution raises as many questions as it answers. We do not fully know God either, but we can know God. God is material and knowable (fully in the next life). Even in this life we can know God with a greater surety than we can know science. God testifies to us through His prophets and through the Holy Ghost. Science has its prophets but it has no testator like the Holy Ghost. Science is great and powerful. I am not anti-science. I am a scientist. But more importantly I am a man of faith. True science and true religion have no conflict.

I do not fully understand how the earth was created but I know that it was by a loving Heavenly Father who did so in order for us to progress – to evolve – and become like Him as we are faithful to His laws and ordinances and through the grace of Christ.

Science and Religion: The Creation

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I do not generally write posts like this one but I had to comment about something I read today. Yesterday morning I saw a bumper sticker that had the following words: “Creationism is a product of the Christian Taliban.” The inflammatory comparison is obvious but the whole statement is ambiguous at best (i.e., if you ignore the spurious comparison, the statement – according to a very narrow definition of creationism – could be interpreted as true by some).

First, the idea that the earth was created by a supreme being or higher power is as old as religion itself (actually, it’s older than “religion”; besides, it is true). The broader term creationism simply refers to any idea that the earth was created. In this sense, that bumper sticker is blatantly wrong. However, the term creationism was not coined until the early 1900s, when conservative (fundamentalist) Christian groups started a major backlash against evolution (more accurately evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, which had all animal life – man included – descended from a common ancestor like branches on a large blossoming tree of life). Today some people equate creationism with intelligent design. However, while intelligent design is a subset of creationism, the two are not exactly the same. In other words, all intelligent design is creationism but not all creationism is intelligent design. It is only in this very narrow interpretation of creationism that the bumper sticker could be viewed as true (again, completely ignoring the inflammatory conservative Christian / Taliban comparison).

This we do know – the earth was created by Jesus Christ. We do not fully understand the process by which He created the earth (and the “heavens”). We can glean a few golden kernels from the book of Abraham. As an example, here is a selection from the creation story:

“And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time” (Abraham 4:17-19).

The first key point is that during the creation, “the Gods [a reference – at least – to the Godhead] watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” Those involved in the creation watched and were active in the process until what they had ordered obeyed (i.e., finished the process They started and maintained). The creation took time; a lot of time. In fact, that is the second key point from these verses: “it was the fourth time.” The creation did not occur in “days” it occurred in different periods of time. The Genesis rendering of the creation using the word “day” is not wrong because “day” can be used to reference a particular span of time – 24 hours on earth – or some other interval of time (e.g., a “work day”, which might consist of 8 hours or some other length of time and might occur during the day or night; or, another example is where “day” is used to reference an event and not necessarily an actual time: “the day of vengeance of our God” {Isaiah 61:2}).

At least some scientific explanations of the origin of the universe and the earth can be interpreted as being in harmony with the gospel (one example is the Big Bang but I will not explain here how that can be viewed as being in line with the gospel). I’ve found that the more I study science, the more I do science, or just about anything, the more I believe in God. Non-believers may balk at that statement but when I see the beauty of the brain or in mathematics or physics or nature, I, like Alma, believe that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

In the end, that bumper sticker I saw is nothing but a cheap political shot at Christianity (ostensibly it is only a cheap shot against Christian fundamentalists who deny evolution but it really is an attack on Christianity in general). We do not understand the creation. We do not even understand science and anyone who places his or her trust completely in science (or, at least the preachings of scientists) really does not understand science. It is in God that we must place our trust. Whenever science and the gospel seem to clash, there are at least two explanations: the science is wrong (or at least partially wrong) or our understanding of the gospel (specifically, the extent of what has been revealed or our understanding of what has been revealed) is incomplete. Unlike science, the gospel is never wrong. So for me, if it ever really came down to a decision between science and the gospel, the gospel would always win.