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Dogmatism, not Religion, is the Enemy of Science

22 September 2007 (updated 29 September 2021)

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Dogmatism, not Religion, is the Enemy of Science

Gary Shapiro is an apologist for the decreasing segment of Mormonism that is hostile to evolution theory. He recently posed on his blog a question to Mormons like me:

“Where and when has the Church published an apostolic statement endorsing the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man?”

My response is a question: where and when has the Church published an apostolic statement endorsing any scientific idea? More to the point, where and when has the Church published an apostolic statement endorsing any anti-scientific idea?

The fact of the matter is that the LDS Church does not pretend to be the arbiter of scientific understanding. To the contrary, its highest leaders have repeatedly spoken out in favor of secular education, encouraging all members to engage in the endeavor while seeking inspiration.

In more recent posts to his blog, Gary has alluded to scriptural evidence for a worldwide flood. And he has advocated positioning the Bible above science when considering such matters. At the end of one of those posts, Gary states:

“All of us may believe whatever we want. But we are not authorized to teach it in a Church setting unless it is grounded in the scriptures.”

A problem with this perspective is that it does not acknowledge that there are many things in the scriptures that we simply do not teach in a Church setting, and for good reason. The Bible contains many ideas that we now consider immoral or factually inaccurate. Most persons who think otherwise probably haven’t actually read the Bible.

Whereas this may be a problem for religions that assert the infallibility and completeness of scripture, this is no problem for Mormonism. Our authorities have explicitly and repeatedly acknowledged scripture fallibility and incompleteness. Indeed, the recognition of such fallibility and incompleteness is essential to Mormonism, which has held in high esteem, since its founding, the idea of ongoing revelation.

Even in regards to the Book of Mormon itself, Brigham Young claimed (Journal of Discourses 9: 311):

“Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiff-necked, the Lord can tell them but little.”

There is no necessary conflict between science and religion. One is an epistemic process that has proven itself highly capable of reproducing knowledge. The other is a form of community that has proven itself powerful, both for benefit and detriment, according to how we use or abuse it.

The two can work together. However, there is dogmatism and absolutism among adherents of most ideologies, religious and otherwise. It is the dogmatism and absolutism, not the religion, that conflicts with science.

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