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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Guest Series: The Case For Reconciliation (Part 1 of 3) » Guest Series: The Case For Reconciliation (Part 1 of 3)

Guest Series: The Case For Reconciliation (Part 1 of 3)

Guest - October 24, 2007

Hi, I’m Kris. Rusty and I have been in the same ward for over four years and since he found out that I’m a regular lurker/non-commenter on his blog he’s been asking me to write something for it (it’s only been a couple years, did I cave too soon?). By way of background I’m from upstate New York and have been a member of the church all my life. I’m a scientist, and I study evolution in ammonites, which were similar to squid but with a much more interesting design sense. When I’m not doing research, I teach biology to students who are mostly planning to be wealthy doctors, provided they can pass remedial math. I love my job and I love living in Brooklyn.

Part I (I will post Part II tomorrow and Part III on Friday)

I’m a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist. I love my research and am also fascinated by the different ways people understand and reconcile their religious beliefs with established scientific theories. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on that process of reconciliation. Don’t worry, this is (hopefully) not going to be the same old re-hashing of how the creation story is compatible with evolutionary theory if you understand Hebrew allegory properly.

It was musing on the possibilities of scientific and religious reconciliation that first got me interested in evolutionary biology. When I was in 4th or 5th grade, I remember standing in the library at my elementary school and suddenly realizing that there was a conflict between the story I had learned about the biblical creation, and the information I had learned about the existence of dinosaurs. If the creation had only taken one week, then how could the dinosaurs have lived and died so many millions of years ago? Now, I was only 9 or 10 years old, so I hadn’t yet heard any of the arguments and alternative interpretations that people use to explain the apparent contradictions in these two narratives. At that age, I didn’t have a nuanced view of the issue, but I understood intuitively (and immediately) that an explanation must exist that would allow me to reconcile the religious view with the scientific view, and I felt sure that this explanation, whatever it was, would require me to sacrifice neither rationality nor faith.

I still feel that way, but the question at hand is, have I found that explanation? Let me emphasize at the outset, this post is not meant to deal explicitly with explanations of how science and religion can be reconciled (see post #2 for some of that). It is more about how we deal with the specific questions that bother each of us as we attempt to strengthen our faith in the face of challenges. For example, for me, one of those challenges is explaining how a doctrine such as the Fall fits in with what we know about physiology, developmental biology, and human evolution. Another recent example of such a challenge came a year or so ago when church members were asked to write to their senators about a proposed amendment to the US Constitution, defining marriage as a an institution between one man and one woman. Everyone has their own questions—yours may be the same or different from mine—but I think everyone at one time or another comes up against issues where the doctrines or the leaders of the church are saying something that seems to run contrary to what science, trusted experts, or the inclination of our own hearts tells us is right or true.

The question I want to pose here is, what do we do about those challenges? And whatever we choose to do, what is our motivation for that particular choice?

20 Comments »

  1. St Augustine said something like, “Believe first, then you’ll understand.” First, just believe that God lives, that Christ saves, that Joseph Smith restored. Those are fundamental and if you refuse to let anything shake your belief in those principles, than you can confront (and I mean CONFRONT) any issue without fear. Failure to confront the issues in question, however, will result in the cancer of fear nesting itself deep inside of you. And fear is what shatters testimony.

    I personnally have confronted the evolution spector and found out it isn’t nearly as scary. My respect for God more than doubled when I allowed for the fact that evolution occurs. Other people I know are so afraid of evolution, that they avoid it as if it were some anti-Mormon tract!

    The same goes for other things in my life. Stay rooted in the ‘big three’ and you’ll be fine. You’ll even have your mind expanded.

    Comment by John Cline — October 24, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  2. I like John’s comments.

    I’m not an intellectual by any means. Many times I’ve been accused of being emotional and silly. And ignorant.

    But I’ve tried to have an open mind when it comes to things that are uncomfortable and/or confusing. Evolution is one of those things that have never bothered me. Same-gender attraction was harder, but wasn’t hard enough that I couldn’t learn to understand it. But to be honest, there really hasn’t been anything that has pushed myself to an impasse between faith and science. I just assume that God knows more than any man knows.
    And my “Well, God will let us know one day” attitude tends to rub people the wrong way sometimes. I don’t mean for it to –but, well…let’s just say my ignorance tends to annoy people. Go figure.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 24, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

  3. What on earth, Kris, is an ammonite? Is it different from an Ammonite?

    Sorry for the detour, but what can you expect from a lawyer who knows nothing about biology?

    Comment by Mark B. — October 24, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

  4. An ammonite is a pre-historic mollusk I believe.

    I think keeping an open mind to the possibilities at all times is probably the best approach.

    I believe God created the earth in accordance with the findings of modern science. I believe the account of Genesis to be either allegorical or hopelessly obscured by the long passage of time until its arrival before modern readers. But I’m open to the whole science thing being utterly discredited too.

    I prefer the stance on faith that allows for the maximum scope for pursuit of knowledge. I believe “faith” itself to be an open-minded word – a willingness to embrace life’s possibilities. I see both atheism and orthodoxy as a closing of the mind to these possibilities. Reality is impoverished as a result.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 24, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

  5. This could be interesting to this lurker. In general, my approach is to trust that God does not really care what I believe. That alone is heretical, I know, but I believe it. So if God does not care, I can follow the evidence wherever it leads me, trusting that a loving God will not condemn me for my sincerely held beliefs. That has led me to abandon some of my religious beliefs. But I just can’t pretend to believe some of those things if the evidence I see all around contradicts those beliefs.

    Incidentally, I am desperately hoping for a persuasive reconciliation of evolution with the Church’s teachings. That is a significant question for me, and I think it is too easily dismissed by some.

    Comment by Doubter — October 24, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

  6. I like the question, Kris and welcome to your own coming out party!:)

    The above comments are great and I heartily agree. I find the greatest growth I receive is usually when a Conference talk tells me something contrary to what I’d previously thought and then I have to change. It’s usually long and arduous but my faith and reason are strengthened in the end.

    However, this doesn’t always happen, but it never is earth shattering. Rusty did a post a few years ago on Pres. Hinckley’s talk on gambling. I agreed with him them and still don’t understand what gambling is. I thought I did before that talk but now I’m confused. I’ll know eventually though, like Cheryl said.

    Comment by Bret — October 24, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  7. Thanks for the warm welcome. Coming out party, I like that. John’s comment about confronting these “conflict issues” without fear is a good one. Since I think it’s important to confront, obviously going in with no fear is best.

    However, I sometimes find myself on Cheryl’s side of the fence, just letting it go and figuring we’ll find out someday. Stay tuned for post 2 tomorrow, for an argument as to why we SHOULD confront. (also see Bret’s comment #6 that when we do, that’s when we grow. good point.)

    Mark B, yeah, ammonites are not related to Ammonites. And yes, they’re extinct mollusks. Google them for cool photos.

    Doubter, I hope the next couple of posts will be interesting for you, although I confess right now that I haven’t yet found a really deeply satisfying reconciliation for evolution and some aspects of LDS/Christian doctrine. I’m convinced it exists though, and it’s interesting to try. I agree it’s often too easily explained away.

    Comment by Kris — October 24, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  8. Re John Cline’s comment, I don’t think you really confront these issues until you are really prepared to abandon your most cherished beliefs. I don’t mean that you must abandon them. You might or might not. However, if those beliefs are not negotiable, then you aren’t confronting. You are still rationalizing.

    Comment by Doubter — October 24, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

  9. Until you are willing to put your most cherished beliefs on the alter, where they may need to be sacrificed, you are not ready to seek truth. Beliefs we are not willing to challenge or question become dogma. Dogma and science cannot be reconciled.

    Testimonies that crumble in the light of honest scientific inquiry should crumble. I would liken someone who shuns honest inquiry because of fear it would damage their testimony to the unwise servent. Burying your talent in the ground, missing out on the greater truth.

    Comment by BC — October 24, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  10. Kris,

    Actually I’d like to see some live shots on youtube. Any chance?

    Comment by Mark B. — October 24, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  11. I’m curious, Kris, about your comment that you haven’t found a satisfying way to reconcile evolution and LDS doctrine… I thought the idea that God used evolution, nudged it this way and that to achieve hominids, then waited for the vessels to properly evolve before he endowed them with our spirits (which is my belief) to be fairly wide-spread — and, at least for me, fully satisfying.

    Comment by Silus Grok — October 24, 2007 @ 7:34 pm

  12. Will we evolve into resurrected beings as well? In several million years perhaps?

    Comment by fregramis — October 24, 2007 @ 7:53 pm

  13. Kris – Welcome to Nine Moons and thanks for your thought provoking post. I served as bishop several years ago and I remember speaking with the local temple president about issues relating to sealing of families together (you might be wondering where I’m going with this so I’ll try to be brief). Ward members would sometimes ask me about complex family relationships – “If a couple marries in the temple, has children, then that sealing is canceled because the father was excommunicated and the mother remarried – in the temple – to another man, who adopted the kids then who are the children sealed to? What if their father is rebaptized and goes back to the temple?” Stuff like that. Our wise temple president would usually answer with something like, “The Lord will work all that out on the other side.”

    I think there are so many questions we don’t know the answers to and yet I don’t think those questions should cause us to lose our faith. Rather, like John Kline says above, our faith should increase and our love for God should quadruple because we realize he has blessed us with inquiring minds that seek truth. I remember hearing the old German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, who came over to the American side after WWII, once said that the further he saw into space, the more it convinced him of the existance of God. Paraphrasing John Kline again, we should not be afraid to ask the questions and seek the answers if we have a deep and abiding faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. If there are conflicts between our faith and our intellect just remember “the Lord will work all that out on the other side.”

    Comment by Lamonte — October 25, 2007 @ 4:28 am

  14. Kris, Have you been reading my mind? These questions have been at the forefront of my thoughts for a few years now (sorry, I’m a late bloomer). I like Doubters comment:


    I don’t think you really confront these issues until you are really prepared to abandon your most cherished beliefs.

    …but I believe this is a two way street. For instance, sometimes we receive counsel that not only contradicts science but also the very core feelings we’ve always had about life. In short, sometimes we have to be prepared to abandon our most cherished common sense if we are to ever come to any sort of reconciliation.

    Also, its hard to argue with evidence. For example I remember shouting at my OT seminary teacher, “but they found bones!!”. She refused to budge. Arguing with hard science is not very productive. BUT theories are only based on evidence, not the same as evidence.

    Comment by cj douglass — October 25, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  15. …theories ARE up for discussion just as much (if not more) as the words of prophets are.

    Comment by cj douglass — October 25, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  16. CJ, nice point, I agree. I already said this in the comments on today’s post (part 2), but just to disclose: I think we should confront these issues with an open mind, but my process of investigation into apparent conflicts rests on the assumption that reconciliation is always possible. Which itself rests on the assumption that God exists (one of those cherished beliefs Doubter references). I hadn’t realized I had these underlying assumptions until reading doubter’s comments. Very interesting.

    Comment by Kris — October 25, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  17. Lamonte, I agree that the Lord will work it all out on the other side, and I look forward to it very much. See tomorrow’s post 3 for a discussion (hopefully!) about why it might be important for us to try for reconciliation now anyway. I’m not sure it is, but I’m leaning that way.

    Silus, the reconciliation you mention for evolution/creation is the most prevalent and basically it works, but it definitely doesn’t cover everything. As I mentioned in the original post, what about the Fall? Was everything truly immortal in the Garden of Eden? NO death? How is this possible given what we know about physiology and indeed the law of entropy? (that’s not to say it isn’t possible, but I sure do want to know how to reconile that!) And how about all these animals and plants? were predators really not eating their prey? why not? what were they eating, and how did their systems (evolved for a certain kind of food) handle it? There are more questions like these but I’m lazy and also late to pick up my kid. Thanks for your comments.

    Mark B, I will bring you some very exciting photos and also live video.

    Comment by Kris — October 25, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  18. Personally, It was the evolution issue that got me questioning things as well, but I, alas, was in college at the time.

    It took me almost four years to reconcile my religious beliefs with the scientific proofs, but the biggest revelation came the very night that my doubts occurred. The scripture “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” came flooding to my mind as well as a couple of songs, one being from Disney’s The Rescuers, “Be Brave Little One”.

    For me, reconciliation takes time. It takes study, and it takes faith. You have to be willing to let go of what you think is true in order to be able to accept the answers that God can give you. And the experience can be very scary.

    Comment by Misty — October 28, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

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  20. Thank you. Good work.

    Comment by Loren — November 26, 2008 @ 6:48 am

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