Secular learning is a blessing. Secular knowledge enlightens minds, enriches lives, and empowers people to accomplish great things. It should come as no surprise that the Lord has said “to be learned is good” (2 Nephi 9:29). At the same time, however, secular learning can be a curse. It can ensnare us by causing us to forget the Lord. This ensnaring potential explains why the Lord added caution to the previous statement. He said, “to be learned is good if one hearkens unto the counsels of God.”
Faith can be weakened by secular learning. At greatest risk are those who study from mechanistic theory books in one hand while letting go of the iron rod with the other. They allow themselves to be carried away by the mist of secularism and eventually abdicate their childhood faith. They wander away from the teachings of the gospel because they do not hearken unto the counsels of God. Ezra Taft Benson acknowledged this problem when He said, “Students at universities are sometimes so filled with the doctrines of the world they begin to question the doctrines of the [Lord’s] gospel.”
This is what happened to Charles Darwin.
You see, Charles was a brilliant naturalist. He greatly advanced our understanding of evolutionary processes that create variety within species. But like so many others, the more he studied evolution, the more he loosened his grip on the iron rod of faith. The study of evolution was not to blame for his faltering faith. On the contrary, his study of evolution was a good thing. His faith faltered because he did not “hearken unto the counsels of God” while studying evolution. Remember: studying evolution = good; not hearkening unto the counsels of God while studying evolution = bad.
Let’s take a closer look at his digression from believer into agnostic in his own words. The following are excerpts from the “Life and Letter of Charles Darwin”.
1. He was once a believer.
During these three years (1836-1839) I was led to think much about religion. Whilst aboard the Beagle I was quite orthodox [in Christian belief] and remember being laughed at by several of the officers for quoting the Bible as an…authority on some point of morality.
2. He had a spiritual witness that God lives.
[T]he most unusual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward convictions and feelings which are experienced by most persons…. I was led by such feelings…to the firm conviction of the existence of God.
3. Atheistic influences in evolution worked on him gradually.
But I had gradually come by this time to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than sacred books of the Hindoos…. By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, and that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become…I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.
4. His disbelief grew little by little.
I was unwilling to give up my belief,…but I found it more and more difficult…to invent evidence that would suffice to convince me [to believe in God]. This disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never doubted for a single moment that my conclusion was correct.
5. Natural selection led him away from God.
The old argument from design in nature…which formerly seemed so conclusive, fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.
6. He let go of the iron rod.
[Once] I deserved to be called a theist,…[now] I must be content to remain an agnostic.
This post is not a diatribe against science and evolution. Studying science and evolution is cool and highly recommended. The Lord wants us to study scientific theories (see, for example, D&C 88:78). What is neither cool nor recommended is allowing science to displace faith.
Science usually displaces faith when the two disagree. So what should we do when science contradicts fundamental gospel principles? The answer is to recognize that scientific theories are constantly changing and being replaced by better theories; hence science is not perfect. A scientific principle that contradicts a fundamental gospel truth today may be replaced by a scientific principle that is consistent with the gospel tomorrow.
It also helps to remember that our understanding of how the Lord created and governs the natural world is not perfect. The gospel is silent on most natural matters. However, when the Lord comes again He will reveal secrets regarding life, the earth, and the heavens, things currently not revealed in the gospel (D&C 101:32-34). We may be surprised to learn that some of these secrets are consistent with modern theories of science.
(Note: mechanistic refers to scientific theories that explain natural phenomena solely by physical material and physical forces.)
Well, I am trying to keep things merry for the Christmas season by avoiding hard hitting and controversial issues. It’s important to smile and be thankful during the holidays. In keeping with this sentiment, this brief blog is on a technological invention that provided a great boon to science - the printing press.
Here are a few of huge benefits:
1. The printing press made it possible for people to catalogue and disseminate scientific information so that others did not have to rediscover what had already been learned.
2. People could read their own copies of the Bible and therefore come up with their own interpretation of scripture. This loosened the shackles that the Church had on the minds of people. With the printed word of God in their hands, people learned to think and discover truth for themselves.
3. Printing made it possible for more people to get educated and carry out scientific experiments.
The discovery of the printing press was not without its drawbacks, however. Watch the short video below for an illustration of some of the problems that arose as the printing press grew in popularity.
Christian religions across America are concerned about the effects of education on religiosity, and with good reason – past research shows a negative correlation between level of education and religiosity. In other words, data show that as level of education rises, level of religiosity drops. Here’s some data for all Christian religions.
However, there is one Christian religion that bucks this trend. For this religion there is a positive correlation, meaning that as education level rises, so does religiosity. That religion is Mormonism. This unusual positive correlation between education and religiosity among Mormons even made it into the Wiki article on “religiosity and intelligence”. Here’s some religiosity data for Mormons.
Why does Mormonism buck the trend that exists among other religions? I think that latter-day revelation on the importance of learning plays a role. The Lord has instructed us to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study” (D&C 88:118). He is not just referring to scriptures here; He is referring to all good books. Christian religions that reject latter-day revelation have not accepted this instruction from the Lord - they have not gotten the message that the Lord wants us to continually learn.
The LDS faith is also unique in the sense that it lays all its cards on the table. It encourages people to thoroughly explore its doctrines of salvation and the lifestyle it engenders among its members. It encourages people to study the Book of Mormon and revelations from the prophets – go ahead and scrutinize the teachings, ask questions in church classes, and talk with others about church doctrine. With regard to the doctrines of salvation, there is nothing to hide.
The fact that educated Mormons score relatively high on measures of religiosity suggests that they are finding harmony between what they’ve learned in their studies of the gospel and in their studies of science, philosophy, arts, and literature. If this harmony did not exist, measures of religiosity would certainly be lower among educated Mormons.
I have found much harmony between my religious and secular studies; these have strengthened my testimony. At the same time, however, I have found some inconsistencies, particularly between science and religion. Inconsistencies have not created a faith crisis in my life, nor should they. Inconsistencies between secular and religious learning should not be shunned – they should be sought out and explored with the understanding that secular knowledge is continually evolving, as is our knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven.
Acknowledging inconsistencies between secular and religious learning is an important step in moving closer to the truth of all things.
Sources of graphs: Princeton Religion Research Center
Other sources: The Consequential Dimension of Mormon Religiosity, by Stan L. Albrecht; Secularization, Higher Education, and Religiosity, by Stan L. Albrecht and Tim B. Heaton.
I am not an evolutionist, but I like evolution. Some parts of the theory of evolution are really cool, like explaining variety within species and how bacteria become antibiotic resistent. At the same time, however, some aspects of the theory are on shaky ground and apparently inconsistent with mainstream LDS theology. The notion that mankind evolved from lower life forms is one example. But as is the case with most scientific theories, you take the good with the bad.
I am not an intelligent designer, but I like Intelligent Design (ID). The thing I like best about ID is that its central theme is consistent with LDS theology. According to Intelligentdesign.org, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” This statement sounds really good to me. It is a welcome breath of fresh air in an increasingly secular and godless science. But as we shall see below, ID also has its problems.
Proponents of ID and evolution are currently in conflict with each other. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn might have called it a Revolution, but I am going to dispense with the academic jargon and use a more vibrant description: a boxing match. That right, right now there is a big slug fest going on between evolution and ID.
Here is a description of the boxing match thus far.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!
Welcome to the science battle royale! In the left corner we have evolution’s goliath. He weighs in at 150 years of hegemony in the natural sciences. In the right corner we have the upstart Intelligent Design. ID weighs in at 10 years of “can’t get no respect” in the natural sciences.
As the two boxers meet in center ring to receive instructions, evolution bounces up and down in anticipation. Evolution points at ID and tauntingly says: “I own you! You’re mine! You’re going down, punk!” ID looks up in stoic fashion and doesn’t respond.
After the opponents move back to their corners, evolution looks at the audience and shouts, “I pity the fool! He don’t belong in the same ring as me.”
(Bell rings) Ding Ding
Evolution comes out swinging with: “You’re not science! You’re repackaged creationism! Dover! Scopes! Monkey Trial! Pandas and People! Take that, you fool! Arrgh!”
Many of the punches hit their mark, but ID is still standing.
After the first round coach Dave says to ID: “You’ve got to publish in mainstream journals. Expunge creationist influences; they are not scientific. Don’t use legislation to gain access into schools. And above all, avoid embarrassing trials and text books! ”
(Bell rings) Ding Ding
Evolution comes out swinging with: “You say evolution lacks scientific rigor and should not be taught in schools? Well then you’re not getting into our universities! You ain’t even getting in BYU and Notre Dame, sucker! No grants! No tenure! No faculty positions! No research positions! No soup for you! Argh!”
ID took a serious beating during that round. His right eye is swollen and he has trouble seeing. “Cut me!” he begs. Coach Dave grabs a razor blade and reduces the swelling by cutting above the eye. After patching the wound, coach Dave turns to ID and says: “Stop trying to restrict evolutionary education. You are not going to get ahead by stepping on evolutionists. Prove your metal by producing solid, scientific work!”
(Bell rings) Ding Ding
Now ID comes out swinging with credible science methodology. It is deflecting evolution’s punches by not limiting evolutionary education. It is also avoiding embarrassing books and court cases. It has learned that if it is going to gain respect in science, it must do so through scientific means.
No one knows the outcome of this match. One thing is certain, however; it is going to be a difficult struggle for ID. Evolution is much larger and hits harder, but ID has one advantage that most evolutionists are unaware of; it is that most evolutionists have a prideful and arrogant attitude toward their theory. This pride among evolutionists may prove its downfall. In the Bible, Job teaches us that pride cometh before the fall, which you could say, in boxing terms, translates into "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."
We'll have to wait and see.
Unlocking the secret of evolution, which is that natural selection acts on random genetic mutations, has greatly enriched our understanding of the natural world. This understanding has lead to scientific breakthroughs in genetics, medicine, pharmaceuticals, computer science, and in learning how variation arises within species. These breakthroughs have had a positive impact on our society, whether we realize it or not (Source: Scientific American, January, 2009 issue).
The theory of evolution contains theoretical assumptions about the world that are inconsistent with the doctrines of the restored gospel. At a fundamental level, evolution is mechanistic. By mechanistic I mean that evolution makes two ontological assertions about the fundamental nature of the natural world, namely materialism and efficient causation.
Materialism is the belief that the fundamental nature of the world is physical material. Everything that truly exists is made up of matter. In a manner of speaking, what matters is matter. There is no such thing as the non-physical. Spirits are not real, neither are your thoughts, emotions, and personal sense of identity - these are nothing more than the actions of electrochemical processes in your nervous system.
Efficient causation is the belief that events or change result from natural laws acting on physical material. There are no supernatural, spiritual, or cognitive sources of change. Also there is no purpose or agency in events; there are just the unintentional forces of nature which determine how matter is to behave. Mother Nature is like a blind watch maker that creates a beautifully complex world without a purpose or goal in mind.
Unfortunately we cannot simply pay attention to the Good while ignoring the Bad in evolution because the Bad has ugly consequences. The Bad provides an impetus for people to not believe in God.
According to a 2005 Rice University survey by Elaine Howard-Eckland, 66% of all scientists surveyed said that they believed in God. Pretty good. But when the researchers divided the survey responses by area of expertise, namely natural vs. social science, they found startling differences. Natural scientists are less likely to believe in God than are social scientists.
Other studies support these results.
According to a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), nearly 95% of biologists are either atheists or agnostics, much higher than all scientists in general! (SOURCE: Larry Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.)
Similarly, according to a 2003 Cornell survey of leading evolutionists, a whopping 87% deny existence of God, 88% disbelieve in life after death, and 90% reject idea that evolution directed toward “ultimate purpose!” (SOURCE: Gregory W. Graffin and William B. Provine, Evolution, Religion and Free Will, American Scientist, vol. 95 (July-August 2007.)
And according to a 2007 national survey of faculty at colleges and universities, more than 60% of all college biologists consider themselves atheists or agnostics! (SOURCE: Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, How Religious are America’s College and University Professors? Feb. 6, 2007.)
The scriptures teach us that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” It appears that one of the fruits of the theory of evolution is atheism, or it may be that evolution biology attracts atheists. I expect that both are true, but given that, as President Ezra Taft Benson observed, “Students at universities are sometimes so filled with the doctrines of the world they begin to question the doctrines of the [Lord’s] gospel,” it is fairly safe to conclude that evolution is driving some people away from God.
So what should we do? Well we can’t just stop teaching evolution; it is an important part of science (look at the “Good”). As a scientific theory it has its faults, but that is no reason to stop teaching evolution either. If we start restricting science education to only theories that are perfect, soon there would be no theories left to teach. Science is not perfect. It is an ever progressing and self-correcting manmade endeavor.
From an LDS perspective, I think the key is to make LDS youngsters aware of the mechanistic assumptions underlying evolution. We commit a grave injustice by pretending that evolution is free from faults, especially those faults that are at odds with the gospel. More importantly, we need to help our youth develop a strong testimony of the gospel so that they will not be deceived by evolution’s atheistic allure. In other words, the perfect mix is a good understanding of evolution (including its underlying assumptions) and a strong testimony of the gospel. With a sound understanding of evolution and the gospel, we can celebrate the Good without fearing the Bad and the Ugly.
Mormon Scholars in the Humanities is an association that explores the relationship between religious and secular scholarship. Last year their annual conference was held at Southern Virginia University. This year’s conference will be held on May 8th and 9th at BYU Provo and Aspen Grove, Utah.
The theme of this year’s conference is Religions and Critical Practices: Prospects for Scholarship in the Humanities. I will be a presenter at this year’s conference. The title of my presentation is From the Inspired Scientific Revolution, to the Spiritually Unenlightened Enlightenment, to Atheistic Secular Humanism in Science.
Here is a brief outline of what I'll have to say:
The 16th–17th century Scientific Revolution has long been recognized as the period that ended the scientific dark ages and ushered in an era of rapid discovery. Pioneers of the Scientific Revolution, scholars like Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton were instrumental in breaking the bands of apostate religious dogma that hung over people’s minds. Some of their greatest contributions include encouraging free-thinking societies, preparing the earth for the Restoration, and laying the groundwork of modern science. They were devout believers in God, yet notwithstanding their theism, they demonstrated that it is possible to accept and recognize deity while producing rigorous scientific work. These pioneers would be uncomfortable with the atheistic secular humanism that arose during the 18th century Enlightenment and is now endemic in science today. The commonly held belief that science must avoid any recognition of God is a grand deception. By rejecting God, secular humanists are turning the blessings of modern science into a curse - as the apostle Paul prophesied, they are ever learning without coming to a knowledge of the truth.
If you are looking for interesting presentations and engaging discussions on issues exploring the crossroads of LDS theology, philosophy, history, and science, I recommend attending this year’s conference. If you wish to join the association, memberships are only $10 per year.
For a synopsis of presentations by Latter-day Saint scholars during previous conferences, visit here and then click on current newsletters.
In aviation it’s called a “course correction”. When a flight crew realizes that they’ve deviated from the pre-established direction of flight, they correct their course.
It seems the BYU Biology department needs a course correction.
The biology department’s mandate is to teach the science of biology, including evolution, within the light of the gospel. I am sure they are doing an excellent job of teaching the principles of biology and evolution, but when it comes to integrating the principles of biology with the principles of the gospel, they’ve goofed. They are way off course. That’s right; if they were NASA, the Mars rover would have crashed landed on Venus.
A faculty member recently said, “We [the biology department] spend time dispelling the myth that evolution and religion are incompatible” (Feb. 9, 2009 BYU newspaper, The Daily Universe). In other words, they are teaching that the doctrines of evolution and religion are in complete harmony. I can only assume that this statement includes the restored gospel.
Can someone please tell me how a godless and directionless theory of the descent of mankind is in harmony with a purpose-driven and divinely-directed theology of creation? BYU biology professors who do not recognize these inconsistencies between the evolutionary and gospel accounts of the creation of mankind need to do some reading. Those who avoid the conflict by compartmentalizing dissimilar gospel and evolutionary teachings and then tell their students that the two are compatible are being disingenuous. In either event, a course correction is needed.
Apparently I am not the only member of the church who has pointed out the glaring inconsistencies between gospel and evolutionary accounts of the origin of mankind.
Joseph Fielding Smith, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding McConkie, and Boyd K. Packer also recognized the inconsistencies. Here is what they said:
Joseph Fielding Smith
“This idea that everything commenced from a small beginning, from the scum upon the surface of the sea, and has gradually developed until all forms of life, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, and the plants upon the face of the earth, have all sprung from that one source, is a falsehood absolutely. There is no truth in it, for God has given us his word by which we may know.”
According to gospel doctrine, “The principles [of creation] do not change, as represented by evolutionists of the Darwinian school, but the primitive organisms of all living beings exist in the same form as when they first received their impress from their Maker. There are, indeed, some very slight exceptions, as for instance, the ass may mix with the mare and produce the mule; but there it ends, the violation of the laws of procreation receives a check, and its operations can go no further.”
Joseph Fielding McConkie
"Is the theory of evolution compatible with the doctrine of the Fall? No. We can tug, twist, contort, and sell our birthright, but we cannot overcome the irreconcilable differences between the theory of organic evolution and the doctrine of the Fall. Some have argued for a form of theistic evolution—that is, a God-inspired evolution—in which lower forms of life progressed over great periods of time to the point that God could take the spirit of the man Adam and place it in an animal and declare it to be the first man. The argument is at odds both with scripture and with an official declaration of the First Presidency on the origin of man."
Boyd K. Packer
"No lesson is more manifest in nature than that all living things do as the Lord commanded them in the Creation. They reproduce after their own kind. They follow the pattern of their parentage. Everyone knows that. Every four-year-old knows that! A bird will not become an animal nor a fish. . . . Each is a child of God. He is not a monkey; neither were his ancestors."
It is time for the BYU biology department to change course on their approach to evolution and Mormonism. First, they need to stop spreading the myth that Mormon theology and evolution are in complete harmony. Second, they should study the underlying differences, acknowledge that differences exist, tell their students about the inconsistencies, and let their students make up their own minds on the matter.
Post #2 on Intelligent Design (ID) (see below) argues that ID is scientific, as long as it focuses on natural processes and approaches these in an empirical and rational fashion. But perhaps the more important question is: “Is ID science rigorous?” Let’s take a look at how well ID satisfies commonly accepted criteria of scientific rigor.
Testable Predictions – A good theory allows us to frame testable hypotheses. Does ID allow us to make predictions about what is going to happen or what has happened in the past, and are we able to investigate these phenomena in an empirical manner?
Sure. The theory of ID can produce hypotheses that may be tested in an empirical manner. For instance, a common ID hypothesis is that there are systems that are irreducibly complex. (Irreducible complexity is the idea that some living mechanisms are too complex to have arisen through the gradual process of natural selection because each part must be in place for the structure to function.) We can test this hypothesis by looking for irreducibly complex systems in nature. In time more complex hypotheses such as “biological systems smaller than size X designed to carry out functions of sophistication Y are irreducibly complex” may be possible.
However, to the best of my knowledge irreducible complexity (IC) is currently limited to “let’s go out and find evidence for IC.” What is lacking is some sort of manipulation of the IC process in the laboratory that would allow conclusions like: We manipulated biological system X in our laboratory and, true to our prediction, the system evolved irreducibly complex mechanism Y because of our manipulation. In my opinion, this limitation puts IC on the same level as macroevolution – there is plenty of evidence in the real world supporting both hypotheses, but currently neither is capable of being subjected to crucial tests in a controlled laboratory setting. Two limiting factors are (a) in the case of macroevolution, a very long time is required for new life forms to supposedly evolve, and (b) in the case of IC, we know very little about the intelligent design language and whether or not we can influence it.
Presently evolution has the upper hand on testability and predictability because we are able to manipulate genomic and environmental events in a way that allows us to test and predict microevolutionary events. If ID is to become a viable competitor, it will need to generate the same level of testability. According to influential historian of science Thomas Kuhn, new, competing scientific theories gain credibility when they offer fruitful alternatives to explaining existing phenomena and predicting new phenomena. Anyway, ID is a relatively new science; we’ll see what happens in the next few decades.
Falsifiability – A good theory is falsifiable. Does ID allow for risky predictions that will allow us to prove that it is false?
Sure. In fact, opponents of ID are hard at work falsifying the irreducible complexity (IC) hypothesis. This is a good thing because it means that a major hypothesis of ID is falsifiable. So has IC been falsified? Scholars like Ken Miller say yes. He claims that the creation of the bacterial flagellum (a complex, multi-part propeller system) can be explained by natural selection and is thus not irreducibly complex. He has pointed out that if we remove 40 of the 50 separate parts in a bacterial flagellum and left the 10 protein parts connected to the membrane of the cell, those remaining 10 parts may function as a Type-III secretory system. So this discovery refutes IC, right?
In a strict Popperian sense, the answer is yes, but Popper’s theory of scientific progress is too idealistic - the correct answer is no. Science does not progress according to the strict falsificationist doctrine, and for good reasons which I will not go into here, but here are three important points to consider.
First, scientific hypotheses are rarely in final form straight-out-of-the box, so to speak. At the first sign of contrary evidence, proponents don’t outright reject their hypothesis, much to the chagrin of their opponents. Advocates of a hypothesis usually modify the hypothesis to save it from rejection (called ad hoc explanations). As the evidence against a hypothesis builds and the hypothesis becomes overly complex due to constant modifications, then the possibility of outright rejection by the scientific community becomes a reality. Some say evidence against IC is mounting, so we will have to see what happens.
Second, a crucial test of the secretory system is needed to provide more definitive evidence, yet no such test has been done. Such as test might include taking the 10 genes that produce the part of the bacterial flagellum that connects to the cell membrane and replacing them with the corresponding 10 genes in the secretory system to see if a working flagellum results, and vice versa. This sort of test would establish whether or not the two mechanisms are truly similar.
Third, by themselves, individual disconfirming tests rarely provide sufficient evidence to disprove a theory. Theories rely on several hypotheses and rejecting one hypothesis does not bring the whole theory crashing down. If research on the secretory mechanism ends up disproving IC, will this disprove ID? Well, it usually takes several disproved hypotheses to disprove a larger theory so the answer is ‘no’, that is, unless the theory rests on ONE major hypothesis. In this case, IDers would be wise to not place all their eggs into the irreducible complexity basket. If this is the case and IC falls, then ID will fall too.
Tentative Stance – scientists must recognize that their theories may one day be proven false. Are proponents of ID willing to accept that their theory may one day be proven false?
The idea that ID may be proven false is a HUGE problem here, folks. What sincere believer would be willing to consider that there is no God, or be willing to accept that there is no evidence of divine design in nature when the scriptures say otherwise? Here we see the real danger of tying up theology with science. If you bet your religious beliefs on a scientific idea being true, what happens when that scientific idea is eventually proven false, as so often happens? You could go into a faith crisis tail spin.
I believe that ID proponents will hang onto their theory in a dogmatic fashion if disconfirmatory evidence builds. They will do this because of their religious convictions in God, but it is not very scientific to hold onto a theory that has been disproven. In the past, those who have held onto dead theories are often viewed as nonconformists who are unwilling to accept scientific progress. Thomas Kuhn says that these people often go to their graves holding onto dead theories.
I have been fairly hard on ID with this last point, but I believe that it is risky to tie-up religious beliefs with science. I consider my religious beliefs infallible and my scientific beliefs to be fallible. Yes, I am more confident in the reality of my faith-based experiences than I am in the reality of scientific theories about the natural world.
Now, to level the playing field on this issue, it is fair to say that evolutionists are equally dogmatic about evolution. This claim is evidenced by the way the evolutionary community has attacked ID from the get-go. I am not talking about the legitimate concerns with religious creationism; I am talking about the “you are crazy and unscientific to challenge evolution” attitude. This dogmatic attitude, which was effectively portrayed in Ben Stein’s film Expelled, is unscholarly.
ID can be scientific. It is anti-scientific to deny a legitimate endeavor like ID a voice in the scientific marketplace of ideas. If ID has legitimate ideas to bring to the table, then let’s hear them out and then allow debate, refutation, and criticism. ID will live or die; either way, let the scientific process, not the political process, decide its fate.
ID should not be rejected outright just because it presents a theory that challenges evolution. One of the virtues of science is that it is a democratic institution in the sense of encouraging an open and free exchange of ideas. It should never prematurely foreclose on legitimate ways of viewing the natural world. This, I believe, is the main message of Expelled.
This is the first post in a 3-part series looking at Intelligent Design (ID). In this post I discuss the essence of ID.
The current debate surrounding ID is overly influenced by emotions. We often see emotions rise to surface in people’s comments on ID. There are believers who claim that anyone who attempts to silence ID is a godless scientific materialist. And there are scientists who claim that anyone favoring ID is a delusional and irrational IDiot. As it turns out, they are both wrong. There are theistic scientists who firmly oppose ID, and there are rigorous scientists who favor ID.
It is always a good idea to up front about your personal biases when discussing divisive issues, so here are a few of my biases. First, I am a theist. Second, I regret the rise of secularism in science that began with the Enlightenment. Third, I strongly believe that religion belongs in our Sunday schools and not in our secular schools.
Here is a question: If people want to learn about the Mormon Church, who should they talk to? You will probably agree that they should talk to Mormons. More specifically, they should talk to Mormon missionaries. Likewise, if people want to learn about what ID is all about, they should talk to ID proponents, especially those who are tasked with educating others on ID. For this reason I went to the Discovery Institute to learn about ID. The Discovery Institute is the leading “think tank” on intelligent design.
Here are seven points characterizing the ID movement, followed by some comments from me.
1. The basic tenet of ID is that there is undeniable evidence pointing to intelligence in the design of nature.
--- I agree that creation points to God. I don’t see a problem with this claim.
2. ID is a scientific enterprise.
--- This claim depends on whether ID fits the traditional definition of science, and whether it satisfies the traditionally accepted criteria for being called a science. I am not sure if ID satisfies these criteria - honestly, I am skeptical. The next post will focus on this issue.
3. ID is not creationism.
--- From what I’ve read so far, I tend to agree - I have found no biblical narratives in ID. Even if ID is an outgrowth of the creationist movement, it is unfair to classify it as such if it has truly separated itself from creationism. IDers say they are not pushing creationism, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. As long as they are not planning a bait-and-switch on us, I have no problem here.
4. Evolution should be taught in schools.
--- Yes, IDers are pro-evolution in the sense that they claim that it belongs in science curriculum.
5. Science education needs to consider the weaknesses behind evolutionary theory.
--- I wholeheartedly agree. Far too many evolutionists have gone around claiming that evolution is irrefutable. These sorts of claims are disingenuous. Microevolution has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, macroevolution has not. Sure there is evidence supporting macroevolutionary processes, but don’t insult my intelligence by telling me that it is a certainty. If have posted comments on this issue in this blog (listed in the "evolution" category).
6. Teaching ID in schools does not violate the separation of church and state.
--- I am not a constitutional lawyer, but it all depends on whether you define church as referring to a belief in God or organized religion. I don’t think that believing in God is a religion in the way that Mormonism, Catholicism, and Protestantism are religions.
7. Teachers should not be forced to teach ID.
--- The Discovery Institute does not want ID politicized. They say that if ID is to gain credibility, it should be done through the scientific process, not political fiat. I wholeheartedly agree.
Lastly, the Discovery Institute is advocating a reserved approach to getting ID in school education. They do not like the approach taken by the Pennsylvania Dover School District in 2004. That school district required teachers to read a statement favoring ID. In the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial that followed, a conservative and supposedly religious judge named John Jones ruled against the school board. I think these events have made the Discovery Institute more cautious – in fact they now urge teachers to avoid mentioning ID and to focus instead on the weaknesses of evolutionary theory.
I hate to see ID politicized. Politicization and federal mandates are not what science is about. If ID has legitimate scientific claims, then let’s see what it’s got. If it is a rigorous and promising line of research, then it will slowly work its way into the scientific community and gain credibility. If it is not promising and rigorous then it will die and go the way of alchemy. Unfortunately it may never get a fair shake because so many in the scientific community are anti-anything-resembling-god (a point brought out in Stein’s movie Expelled). What are you atheists so afraid of?
In the next post I will discuss whether ID is scientific by looking at whether ID satisfies the traditional definition of science.
Do you believe that natural remedies have the potential to heal wounds and cure diseases? I do because in Alma 46:40 it says that the Lord provided humanity with “many plants and roots [of excellent quality]...to remove the cause of diseases.” Yet if you are like me, you rarely turn to natural remedies. Like so many of you, I have taken a few herbs (the legal kind) and tried a couple of holistic remedies, but never knowing if they really worked, I quit.
What is wrong with this picture? Everything. The Book of Mormon tells us that there are plenty of high-potency natural remedies out there, but we have insufficient knowledge about what they are, where to find them, and how they work. Granted, there is literature on the efficacy and uses of herbs, but it is limited, especially in comparison to the literature on pharmaceutical drugs.
Drug development is a multi-billion dollar per year industry. Drug companies pour millions of dollars into testing drugs to uncover their potential benefits and drawbacks. The FDA drug testing process is standardized to optimize benefits and minimize harm to humans and animals. Before releasing a drug to the public we want to know everything there is to know about it. We want to know where it works, why it works, who benefits, and who does not benefit.
Why hasn’t our pharmaceutical industry given equal attention to natural remedies? If plants and herbs can heal and cure disease, then why are we not investigating natural resources with equal rigor? By expending all of our resources on synthetic drugs we are ignoring half of the possibilities. We’ve put all our eggs into one basket (the drug basket), and left the natural remedies basket largely empty. I hope that I am not the only person who has a problem with this. I believe that many people have died and countless others are leading less than healthy lives because we have largely ignored natural remedies.
We have not pursued natural remedies with the same rigor because natural remedies cannot be patented. You see, when a drug company develops a new drug, the company is allowed to put a patent on it so that no one else can develop and sell the same drug. Pharmaceutical patents are generally a good thing because they enable companies to recover and the millions they spent on testing and development, and make a profit. Without this protection there would be no incentive to develop drugs. After a company has recouped its costs and made some money, a patent usually expires and other companies are allowed to make generic versions of the drug and sell it at a lower price.
If a pharmaceutical company is unable to patent a natural remedy, then there is no financial incentive to develop and test herbs, plants, and roots – so they don’t.
This situation needs to change. We could start by allowing drug companies to patent natural remedies. By allowing patents, we will facilitate the rigorous testing of herbs, plants, and roots. Until then, we will largely be in the dark about the best plants, doses, and combinations of natural remedies to use to treat injuries and cure diseases. (Mormons and Science 09.08)