Over the years, as I've worked with young teenage women in the LDS Church (and heck, their mothers and grandmothers too!) I am often discouraged by what a bad rap science gets. Too many religious women view science as something for men to glom onto, or as something whose purpose is to undermine faith. For the uber-religious, science is too often synonymous with atheism. Because I usually am in the context of a church setting when working with these kids, it is not always appropriate for me to challenge their thinking when it comes to secular knowledge.
My young friend gave me a perfect opportunity to both share my faith, and my own seemingly contradictory journey to marry science with religion. It also caused me to do some careful research. A generation before the years that had a strong bearing on my adult self--both religiously and intellectually--the Church also underwent a time of growing pains. When Dallin H. Oaks (now an apostle of the LDS Church) was the president of Brigham Young University, there were deep divisions in Church administration regarding whether or not the subject of evolution should be presented at BYU. Though the Scopes Monkey Trial had been fifty years earlier, there were statements by general authorities in place--both official and unofficial--that were problematic for determining a mainstream course of action at the Church University.
Oaks settled the question by offering his professional opinion to those who made such decisions for BYU (including President Hinckley) by making the following statement, "If we stopped teaching this theory, within a few years students from BYU would not be admitted to…graduate schools. At that point we would cease to function as a recognized university and would, in the eyes of the world (especially the world of higher education), be little more than a seminary with added courses in the humanities. I have no doubt whatever that our accreditation as an institution of higher education would be lost."
He then added, though I must say he hardly needed to, "The issue is just loaded."
For further information, there are a couple of really great websites I found. The first contains any statement the author could EVER find on evolution put out by the Church. It is important to point out, however, that only four of these statements are deemed "official." The most recent of these official statements was actually given in the 1930's, and though each builds on a First Presidency Statement made in the very early part of the 1900's, over the years, each statement becomes more and more general, in the end merely emphasizing that God created the earth and that Adam was the "first man" and prophet. The eternal progression of man in the world to come is also reiterated (talk about evolving). This softening of language is indicative of a view of science at odds with those who would use the Bible as a scientific manual to teach Creationism.
The second website emphasizes the official statements, quotes from faithful LDS people and scientists regarding knowledge and the attainment of it, and a wonderful talk from Hugh B. Brown under the "LDS Articles" link. There is enough here to keep you busy for days if you are interested. If you are not, well, you've probably already quit and I'm already over it.
Years before going to bat for evolution, Elder Oaks issued statements to the faculty at BYU strongly condemning those who would make assumptions about their colleagues' commitment to the Church based on their training in the sciences. As your read excerpts from the letter I sent to my former student, I would ask you to do the same for me.
"My intention is not to convince you of a certain way of thinking: as always I want my students to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions, but sharing my story might help you to see that any worthwhile journey of faith and knowledge takes time, and that some answers and conclusions don’t immediately reveal themselves.
“My first good life science class was my AP Biology class. It was a bit intimidating—I was a young sophomore and my teacher was the head football coach. He was loud and disorganized and sometimes lazy. But I loved him. His perspective was unique. He had arrived at an interest in science only later in life when he realized that if he wanted to coach high school ball, he was going to have to actually get a major in something besides PE. Though in his early 40’s when I first knew him, he had only been a member of the Church a few years.
“When he taught the chapter on evolution (he called it “evilution” just to nettle us), he presented the information in the book and I found myself very conflicted. Though it seemed to contradict everything I’d been taught at church, the theory deeply appealed to my sense of logic. Furthermore, that appeal was disturbing to me—wasn’t my faith already weak enough to be wondering about such things?
“Then, on the last day of the unit he gave us time to express our opinions and discuss discrepancies between the stories of creation we had been taught and evolutionary theory. Most of us, though not all, were LDS, but most of the other kids were Christians of some variety and the conversation was lively and fascinating. Though I’m pretty sure neither our science or our religion was very factual that morning, it was wonderful to have such a discussion in an atmosphere where we didn’t feel chided for our questions about God, or unsophisticated for our belief in something beyond biological chemicals. It was because of his class I became a science teacher.
“Fast-forward to college, where I spent much of my first year spinning my wheels both spiritually and intellectually. Gone were the days of Christian science teachers helping you navigate your way through tough concepts—evolution wasn’t merely a subject you studied in biology, this theory and its huge body of supporting evidence provided the entire foundation for most of my biology classes. There was no question of it being ‘just’ a theory, this was THE theory. (If you look at the word theory from a scientific standpoint, you know that 'just' doesn’t really apply anyway.)
“. . . . I spent a lot of time questioning. I didn’t think it was at all possible for religious doctrine to reconcile with scientific teaching. Some people are given the gift of faith. My mother is one of these, and so is my sister. I am not. In fact, quite the opposite. My own gifts of intellect, practicality, logic and curiosity sometimes seem to work in direct opposition to having faith.
“Then, halfway through my freshman year until about halfway through my sophomore year, I was faced with a series of unexpected and very serious challenges. The details here would fill pages, so I will spare you, but suffice it to say, I had to really find out for myself if the Church was true, or if all this eternal-families-stuff was just a nice fairy tale to make us feel better about death and trials.
“It took some time, but I’m glad I didn’t give up. I came to know for myself that the Lord had a hand in my life, that the Atonement was real and personal . . . once I was finally at peace with my own beliefs, I was able to compartmentalize the science. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined not to let my perceived inconsistencies between faith and science either deter me from my religion or from the subject I loved.
“Time passed, and as my spiritual faith and secular knowledge both deepened, I came to realize that I no longer had to compartmentalize the two. My study of science had given me a greater appreciation for God and His magnificent creation. My study of religion had given me the influence of the Holy Ghost which helped me to separate truth from error, or to be settled with the questions that weren’t answerable. I eventually became a missionary and recognized how simple the core message of the gospel is, how simple salvation is. The more questions I asked and more curious I became, the more I also realized how few of the questions really NEED to be answered in order for you to live a good, righteous life. . . .
"Deseret Book published a collection of essays some years ago called “Reflections of a Scientist” by Henry Eyring (the current apostle’s father) that says some amazing things about faith and religion. (Excerpts here.) I will not quote it directly—I loaned the book out and it seems I didn’t get it back. But I remember him saying that true science and true religion would never be in conflict with one another. That if they seemed to contradict, it was because we didn’t have enough knowledge. As a member of the General Sunday School board, he of course asserted the truthfulness of the Church, but readily acknowledged how little had been revealed to us by God about the majestic workings of the universe, and that human curiosity should be boundless in trying to figure things out. . . .
“When my husband took his core biology classes, he was taught the evolution portion by a wonderful professor named Dr. Frank Messina. (I’d had
“Dr. Messina came to the conclusion . . . that both religion and science were ways of knowing. Religion uses the 'evidence of things NOT seen' (Hebrews 11:1) and science uses evidence we can observe through our five senses. Interestingly enough, at the same time I attended a Utah State Science Teachers conference and one of our break-out groups was facilitated by a BYU professor who broached the subject of teaching evolution in a conservative community. Many of his conclusions were identical to Dr. Messina—who are we to say how God created life on our planet? It is enough for salvation to know that He did. For me, my own life would be incomplete if I had not learned to use both the seen and the unseen to help guide my decisions and stimulate my mind and spirit.
“As for specifics? I’ve come to some of my own (very un-doctrinal!) conclusions there, and won’t share them. In time, if the reconciliation seems important to you, the Spirit will guide you into your own truth. Or it will help you to know that NOT knowing (at least for now) is okay too. What I will say very specifically is I . . . believe whole-heartedly that Adam was the first prophet—the first man who in body and mind was created in God’s image and with potential to become like our Father in Heaven. I believe that same potential lies in each one of us as well. I know that having faith makes life richer, fuller and better. . . ."
I told you in my last post that I was bundle of contradictions.