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

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

Guest - October 26, 2007

Having explored some of the ways we deal with conflicts between faith and science, or between doctrine and personal beliefs, let’s turn now to some of my favorite “conflict” questions. I’m interested to see what you have to say.

A few months ago, my graduate school advisor was in town and we had dinner together. He is a paleontologist, highly intelligent and highly enthusiastic. He reads widely and voraciously, and one of his favorite topics is Darwin and the history of evolutionary thought. His research and professional writings deal with evolutionary biology as a science, but he is also personally interested in how people engage with the implications of evolutionary theory in their real lives. In particular, he is interested in how people reconcile belief in God, and current scientific thinking about the origin of the universe and of life (or, alternatively, how they can’t reconcile the two and instead choose one to the exclusion of the other). During our dinner, we began talking about how students (and others) inevitably bring up the question of how scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists, can maintain a belief in God. Without getting into the specific arguments, suffice it to say that there are contradictions between the current interpretations of LDS doctrine about the creation and the current interpretations of evolutionary biologists about the origin of the earth and Homo sapiens. It is easy enough to cover most of the questions that students pose by simply stating that a liberal interpretation of scripture, combined with the many unknowns in science, leaves plenty of room for a peaceful co-existence. And this answer is truthful, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Getting back to dinner with my advisor, I ended up telling him that frankly I am lazy when it comes to generating more satisfying answers. Here are some of his questions, paraphrased and with a dose of my own musings thrown in.

Given the scientific explanations of how the world operates (which you are clearly convinced of), why do you believe in God?

What evidence do you have that causes you to believe in God?

How do you conceive of God in relation to scientific explanations of how the world works? Did he just set everything in motion and then let it go according to natural laws? Can he intervene in contradiction to natural laws?

And particularly interesting: When you pray for something and God answers, can he somehow intervene and change what would have happened if you hadn’t prayed? And if so, does this invalidate a materialistic explanation of the events that unfold?

Parenthetically, my former advisor doesn’t believe in God. (It took me several years to find this out about him, although the topic came up frequently. I think he was thinking it over himself for quite a long time.) Many other scientists are atheistic. But there are quite a few, including many well-respected evolutionary biologists, who do believe in God. My colleague told me some of their responses to the questions above. Some were general answers and some were really detailed, but the bottom line of the conversation was this: If you are a scientist and a believer, then it is incumbent upon you to devote considerable thought to answering these questions. I would add that whether or not you are a believer, every scientist needs to come up with their honest opinions on the subject and some solid reasoning to back them up. I would also add that this applies to everyone, not just scientists. We all live in a world and a society that tends very strongly toward rational, materialistic explanations of our observations. All of us subscribe to at least most of the scientific explanations for the realities of the physical world, and at the same time, all of us (at least most of us reading this blog) also subscribe to a belief in God that at least occasionally presents us with contradictions of the scientific explanations. So for all of us, some kind of reconciliation is necessary. So, what kinds of answers have you come up with to these or similar questions?

10 Comments »

  1. I find those interesting and thought producing questions. Just a few days ago my wife and I were waiting to get on a flight (our son works for United so we were flying stand-by) she suggested we pray so we could get on the next flight. I asked her if she thought God would influence someone else not to get on, or cancel their flight just so we can get on.

    I guess I have a problem with believing that my prayers can somehow change the agency of someone else.

    My personal justification of God and science is two fold, first science continues to change their “theories” as they learn more and refine them, so who knows really where these theories will end up. And second I’ve just had too many personal spiritual experiences to say God doesn’t exist.

    Comment by don — October 26, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  2. All of us subscribe to at least most of the scientific explanations for the realities of the physical world, and at the same time, all of us (at least most of us reading this blog) also subscribe to a belief in God that at least occasionally presents us with contradictions of the scientific explanations. So for all of us, some kind of reconciliation is necessary.

    Perhaps this is where I disagree.

    Science is always changing –constantly changing –based on new discoveries. Things that once were deemed “truth” because of research and data, are now changed (Pluto is not a planet, smoking is now bad for you, the earth is actually round, big machines can fly, etc.). But, of course, God doesn’t change. And any truth that is discovered by man was already known by God.

    It sounds extremely arrogant (and ignorant?) of me, but I guess I don’t see a need to reconcile. God trumps science every time. The only time this becomes a problem is when truth is distorted through a man-made religion. Of course, in that case, the two can (and usually) go head-to-head.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 26, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  3. p.s. Don, God can influence people to make choices, though. Following a prompting of the Spirit usually does answer someone else’s prayer. So, I guess we pray that others will be listening? :)

    Comment by Cheryl — October 26, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  4. If you are a scientist and a believer, then it is incumbent upon you to devote considerable thought to answering these questions.

    Why?

    As a (hack) biologist and a believer I have thought a lot about how a creator God fits in to the history of the Earth. I have a lot of ideas, some of which work for me, but to be honest I don’t feel like those are very urgent questions. At least not to me. I don’t need Genesis to be literally true in order to maintain my faith that God exists. I don’t care at all whether there was a worldwide flood and I don’t care if anyone else believes that there was one.

    Why do I, as a scientist, believe in God? I don’t believe in God as a scientist. The scientist in me won’t believe anything for which there isn’t convincing evidence. There is no scientific evidence I can point to and say, “This is why you should believe in God.” But I am more than a scientist and I’m not devoted to believing only things for which there is enough evidence to convince people. As a human I look at the world, I consider the fact that I exist, that happiness and joy and love exist, that mankind can wonder about God and about his own place in the universe, and I can’t believe that it’s all an accident. I feel compelled to believe that there is something beyond us, something that makes us and our existence meaningful. To be sure, it’s not logically incoherent to believe that it’s all an accident, but that belief is incoherent to me as I look through my own eyes at the whole experience of being.

    Comment by Tom — October 26, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  5. Elder Talmage makes a great case in “Jesus the Christ” stating that God does not contradict natural laws, He just institutes a higher law that we may or may not yet discover.

    I like what Tom said about being more than a scientist. It’s always bothered me that many scientists believe the scientific method to be the end-all-be-all of gaining truth and understanding.

    Don,
    I like the example in “The Other Side of Heaven” when Elder Groberg’s counselor asks that they pray for a “good” wind instead of a headwind so that they don’t end up contradicting someone else out there praying for a tailwind.

    Plus, ya know. God knows in advance whether you’ll pray for something or not so He may have it all set up anyway.

    Comment by Bret — October 26, 2007 @ 4:16 pm

  6. I reject mysticism as a whole and believe we humans are loaded with hubris when it comes to Science.

    Given the scientific explanations of how the world operates (which you are clearly convinced of), why do you believe in God?

    Because of experiences in my life that convince me of God’s reality, existence and action in my life.

    What evidence do you have that causes you to believe in God?

    When I live what the Scriptures teach the quality of my life is better and I have rapport with the Spirit.

    How do you conceive of God in relation to scientific explanations of how the world works? Did he just set everything in motion and then let it go according to natural laws? Can he intervene in contradiction to natural laws?

    Natural laws, in and of themselves (meaning: as they really are and not as man conceives/perceives them), are immutable and God does not warp them or invalidate them, they are tools in His hand and His mastery of such vastly exceeds anything we can comprehend.

    No.

    No. Acts of providence can occur in what appears to be contradictory manners, but that contradiction is only a result of our naive understanding of natural laws.

    And particularly interesting: When you pray for something and God answers, can he somehow intervene and change what would have happened if you hadn’t prayed? And if so, does this invalidate a materialistic explanation of the events that unfold?

    Yes.

    No, if by “materialistic” you make reference to the use of natural laws. That word is loaded when it comes to philosophy and religion, so there may be semantical problems in its use in this kind of conversation.

    Kristen, some questions for your friend:

    Why don’t atheistic believers in Darwinian evolution act according to their beliefs? (e.g., have as many offspring as possible, invest in their offspring to maximize greater success of offspring and increased likelihood of reproduction)? Western society is secularizing and trending towards minimizing offspring and selfishly investing in adults who are non-reproductive or who minimize reproduction. (Counter arguments based on scarcity of resources fall flat in a competitive environment, the question here is on the disconnect between belief and behavior of atheists who use Darwinianism to justify their belief system.)

    If one accepts the Scientific Method as a valid means of establishing truth, then why not apply it to a religious lifestyle? Complexity of the experiment is not a compelling reason to not engage in the experiment.

    As we people are really quite irrational and selfish, how can we ever be confidant that the atheistic materialistic notions of humans are not just convenient rationalizations for a predilection for selfishness? When it comes to sophistry, we humans are awfully good at after-the-fact self-deception to falsely justify our vanity. How can we ever come to something meaningful and substantive that informs our personal lives from this thing called “Science”? (e.g., smoking, drinking, and over-eating is bad for us, Science tells us so, yet we still do it.) Where is the power in science to change behavior? Or do you have to “believe” in Science first? Just as every religious person acts hypocritically at times, so does every atheistic materialist act irrationally at times, ignoring what Science teaches. How can we ever come to a morally and ethically absolute Truth that benefits humanity when people are so intrinsically flawed? Isn’t anything human-generated (e.g., Science) also intrinsically flawed? Religion’s appeal is to an external authority, can Science make such an appeal?

    Comment by Kurt — October 27, 2007 @ 4:38 am

  7. Thanks so much for your comments, it’s been an interesting conversation. Kurt, many of your answers are similar to my current thinking on these questions, although it seems you’ve thought it about it more than I have yet. I never thought of “materialism” as being a loaded word, very interesting. What do you mean by “applying the scientific method to a religious lifestyle”?

    Tom, interesting way to put it (“as a scientist, I don’t believe in God.”) Do you think that someday you will begin to comprehend God in the same way that you comprehend & learn more about the natural world? (which, of course, is really all part of the same creation, spiritual and natural being distinct only to [some] people.) Or will spiritual and secular always be understood & comprehended in different ways? I haven’t thought iof this question before, but it seems to me that somehow, sometime, the two methods must come together.

    Comment by Kris — October 27, 2007 @ 5:59 am

  8. I never thought of “materialism” as being a loaded word, very interesting.

    It is “loaded” because in certain contexts it means very specific things. In the religio-philisophical context of theism versus atheism “materialism” means the rejection of anything spiritual, supernatural, unseen or not observable by the senses. Your friend might not mean that, he may just be referring to “the material world” and not necessarily to the exclusion of the spiritual world.

    What do you mean by “applying the scientific method to a religious lifestyle”?

    Alma 32:26-43. Test the religious lifestyle and see if does what it claims.

    Comment by Kurt — October 27, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

  9. I graduated from college with a BS in Zoology, loved my evolution class, drank up physiology, and wrote my senior thesis paper on the influence of higher education and Mormon belief in evolution. And I am an avid believer in God.

    How do I reconcile this? Let’s just say that to me, God is the greatest scientist, and abides by the laws of the universe, which we are still trying to understand. The more I lean about how things work in this world, the more amazed I become, and the more convinced I am that there had to be some divine master plan and creator. Random chance and probability just doesn’t cut it for me. His hand is everywhere, from the sunset, to the lightning storms, the intricacies of the cell and metabolism, to the perfect balance of gravity, earth and water on this planet. I ask, how can you not see God?

    He is like a gardener, first preparing the soil, and then planting the seeds. As they grow, the garden is weeded, watered, fertilized, and pruned in the manipulation of the laws of nature, not in contradiction to them.

    God is also all knowing. He knows the beginning from the end, and He stands outside of time. It is possible that events were set in motion before you prayed in order to answer your prayers. The “change” could have already occurred. He knew your prayer and that you would pray before you even did it.

    Comment by Misty — October 28, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

  10. Not so good as before.

    Comment by Nona — December 25, 2008 @ 5:19 am

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