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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Guest Series: The Case For Reconciliation (Part 2 of 3) » Guest Series: The Case For Reconciliation (Part 2 of 3)

Guest Series: The Case For Reconciliation (Part 2 of 3)

Guest - October 25, 2007

Part II
In my last post, I was wondering what you do when you face an intellectual challenge, specifically an apparent contradiction between your faith and the evidence of science (or your own heart). One option is to decide to stick with the doctrine and take it at face value, whether that conflicts with the secular world’s current understanding or not. In the case of evolution, I can see no real harm in that choice. I mean, if you want to be creationist, then who are you really hurting? With some other issues, that type of conservative, blind-faith thinking may have more of an impact on your quality of life or the lives of those around you, but still, I think some prefer this “safe-bet” choice, rationalizing that even if the scientists turn out to be right, or if their choice is unpopular or actually even has negative effects on others, no one can be blamed for having chosen to follow God’s teachings to the best of their understanding. Even if that understanding was a literal interpretation of something God intended to be symbolic, if literal was the best that person could do at that time, then God accepts that understanding as obedience. (I’m not claiming that he does, but let’s assume so for the sake of that side of the argument.)

In principle, I agree with the idea that no one can be blamed for following God’s teachings to the best of their understanding. But this is based on a (clearly faulty) assumption that those who believe in some sort of God will share my general idea of the kinds of things God approves and disapproves of (think of suicide bombers for example). But getting back to issues such as human evolution, stem cell research, and the legal definition of marriage, here is an interesting question for any believer: what actually constitutes “the best of our understanding?” With an issue like evolution, maybe it doesn’t really matter if you figure out a way to reconcile the sticky biological details with the doctrinal account of man’s origins, as long as you hold to the belief that we are children of God and that Adam is “the primal parent of our race.” (This quote comes from a series of First Presidency statements on the church’s non-position on evolution.) But with other issues, such as homosexuality and the definition of marriage, it may matter quite a lot whether we can achieve some kind of understanding. My point is, when we come up against questions that are probably irreconcilable (at least in this life), to what extent are we responsible for obtaining the best understanding that we can?

Is it okay to be “lazy” and opt for blind faith or putting off any attempts at reconciliation until we get to that Great Information Booth in the Sky? Or is it better for us to work on these ideas, even those we know we can’t solve in this life, and try continually to improve our understanding? How much work is enough? Which issues should we work on, just the ones that personally bother us, or are some more critical than others?


  1. Let me illustrate an answer to your question. I’m a smoker and a drinker, I live in 1902 (prior to scientific evidence of the harmful effects of either or both of these). I have a problem because I see no science that confirms the WofW revelation. Do I live it anyway, taking it literally or do I justify my situation by saying I can’t reconcile the commandment with science.

    What about tithing, any scientific reconciliation to whether it works or not?

    Maybe your question is more doctrinal rather than commandment. What about blacks and the priesthood, or women and the priesthood for that matter?

    I think my best answer is what have the modern prophets said about the subject / doctrine / commandment. If there is a conflict or problem that really effects my personal christian walk, my actions then error on the side of a literal meaning. I just don’t see that happening. Those things that seem to conflict are idealogical….they’ll work themselves out sometime.

    Comment by don — October 25, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  2. Don,

    You bring up an interesting point, there may be a difference in how we respond to commandments vs. more abstract doctrinal questions. But even so, there is often a real conflict, not just an intellectual problem. As I pointed out, this may not be the case with the evolution question, but what about other issues that impact us personally? For example, if you are gay, and the church requests that you write your senator regarding the proposed amendment to the constitution. (btw, the church did not tell anyone specificlly what they should write to their senator, although I think it was clearly implied.) But you feel in your heart that although you peronally will obey the Lord’s commandment not to get married to someone of the same sex, it’s not right to deny other people the legal benefits of marriage based on their exercise of agency. There are other issues that can illustrate this point, that sometimes there really is an impact on your life when conflct issues arise.

    Another note: my personal choices about whether or not to confront issues head on always rest on the assumption that reconciliation is possible. I realize that many people may not begin from that assumption, which would complicate matters.

    Comment by Kris — October 25, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

  3. Kris-
    Have you read Joseph Smith’s lectures on Faith? I really think that they answer the questions that have been asked.

    I’m also curious as to why you keep referring to gay marriage. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but since you started this series out as a kind of scientific-type thing, it’s kind of sounding like you have something else you’re getting at. I’m not concerned, just curious.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 25, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  4. Can we be lazy? Absolutely not. The scriptures forbid idleness and laziness and prods us to seek after truth. Just because I’m content to say “I’ll find out someday” doesn’t give me license to sit around waiting for an answer.

    How much work is enough? I’d refer to the Serenity Prayer for that one:)

    The “Great Information Booth in the Sky”! I’ve always called it the Heavenly Archives but yours seems more fun.

    Comment by Bret — October 25, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  5. Cheryl, Yes, I read the lectures on faith, but it has been a long time. I’ll have to look again, would be interesting. As for references to gay marriage, I bring that up simply because it’s one of those issues for me where I really wonder. Not about gay marriage specifically, but about how our perspectives on homosexuality in general may change as we grow in wisdom. Certainly the church’s advice on how to handle the issue has changed quite a lot over the last 20 years; it just makes me wonder what we might find out someday. Just like evolution. I think it will be surprising and fascinating and wonderful to see how all these things are “worked out”, and I’m so curious that I can’t help trying to figure out as much as possible right away.

    Bret, good answer about the serenity prayer. Contrary to the impression I may have created, I don’t spend much time worrying about how these issues will all be resolved, but I do find it extremely interesting and intellectually challenging.

    I can’t take credit for the Great Info Booth; that one belongs to my 9th grade seminary teacher.

    Comment by Kris — October 25, 2007 @ 7:37 pm

  6. don said “I think my best answer is what have the modern prophets said about the subject / doctrine / commandment.”

    Just lasy Sunday I experience a conflict over that very thought. In my HP Group I am one of perhaps 2 or 3 that would (proudly) consider themselves liberal. Another HP who is definitly liberal says that I’m not liberal, I’m just a Democrat. Whatever the case, the group is predominently conservative. I think we usually do a pretty good job of keeping politics out of our weekly discussions but last week we discussed President Kimball’s teaching on the Law of Chastity. We discussed the usual issues of pornography and the related dangers of that despicable industry. Then the instructor brought up recent legislation passed in the state of California that has obviously been influenced by “alternative lifestyles” that sometimes dominate the culture of that state. The discussion moved quickly to the issue of homosexuality and a quote from President Kimball was read. Without stating the actual quote (this may not be fair) I can tell you that President Kimball’s quote from 25 years ago was much more harsh than the words we have heard recently from President Hinckley and other General Authorities, including Elder Dallin Oaks, relating to homosexuality and that quote from President Kimball heightened the tone of the class discussion to a level that I thought was meanspirited. I felt it was unfair of the instructor to focus on that statement without acknowledging the more recent words of the Church hierarchy. I’m not suggesting that President Hinckly or any other GA has spoken in favor of the gay lifestyle, but they have softened their rhetoric (that’s probably the wrong term to use) on the issue. Call it PC or any other term but for those of us who count gay people as our friends (boy was that a cliche’?) it is welcomed change that I believe is influenced by the Spirit.

    Despite my feelings about the atmosphere of the class I didn’t take the opportunity to express my concern while in the classroom. I have since had a discussion with the instructor to let him know of my feelings.

    And so it seems that just listenng to what the modern day prophets have said can sometimes be confusing. I prefer to listen to my heart, which of course is informed by the words of the prophets, but more importantly it is influenced by the Holy Ghost.

    Comment by lamonte — October 26, 2007 @ 6:15 am

  7. Re: One option is to decide to stick with the doctrine and take it at face value, whether that conflicts with the secular world’s current understanding or not. In the case of evolution, I can see no real harm in that choice. I mean, if you want to be creationist, then who are you really hurting?

    It is reasonable to suggest that being a strict young-Earth creationist in your own home and personal life is harmless. I think the potential for harm comes in when you go from there to supposing that since this belief is right, it should replace heretical/wrong alternate ideas in the public sphere. This can lead to building “Creation Science” museums and claiming that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory that belongs in a science classroom.

    Such developments are harmful to both science and religion. On the one hand there’s potential to teach young people wrong ideas about how scientific reasoning works. On the other hand, there’s the potential to give young people the impression that religious people find science threatening; that religious people need to combat scientific thought if they are to protect their beliefs.

    Comment by C. L. Hanson — October 28, 2007 @ 3:43 am

  8. For me, there are too many things to worry about to try and reconcile everything. So I say, if the topic bugs you, you should work at it until you have found a place where you can be at peace. Sometimes, that is a life endeavor. Bur if you are comfortable with the discrepancy between science and our faith and choose to follow what we are counseled in the church, then put your effort somewhere else.

    As a side note, if no discrepancy bugs you, then you need to start asking yourself why.

    Comment by Misty — October 28, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

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