“Wait!” my friend said as he stared into his computer screen. “I found another rating.” It was a rating of 1 out of 5 stars at another website I’ve long since forgotten, or tried to forget. “What? You can’t be serious,” I said as I moved in for a closer look. “It must be a review by a rabid atheist.”
It turns out the basement rating of my book came from a distinguished BYU professor! Aren’t we supposed to be on the same team?
A basement book review usually means one of two things. Either the words it contains are not worth the paper they are printed on, or the reviewer is expressing, in a childish sort of way, disagreement with something the author said, without seeing the broader value of the book. My thinking is that this BYU professor gave a low rating because he was offended by something I wrote. He disagreed with one or two things and assumed that the rest of the book was junk.
Searching for an Answer
I wanted to know why he gave my book such a low rating. My friend Brad sent him an email. The professor replied. He wrote that Truth and Science (T&S) has too many “ibids” in the sources suggesting that I did not do a good job of integrating ideas from different books. You’ve got to be kidding, right? He also responded that T&S supports a conflict scenario between religion and science because it points out differences between the two. Hm?
Even if he were right about these two criticisms, and he is not, they do not justify giving T&S a basement rating. Gee, I hope he’s not this tough on his students.
His reasons for giving my book a basement rating had me searching for answers. Perhaps my blog post “Course Correction Needed for the BYU Biology Department” lingers in his mind. That blog post probably ruffled the feathers of more than a couple of BYU Biology professors. Or perhaps he disagreed with my brief statement in T&S about macroevolution, the one where I characterized evolutionary common descent as a deception. How could I ever know?
Well this guy recently wrote a book about science and religion for the LDS Setting the Record Straight series. I read his book and found the answer to my question.
In his book, Mormons and Science: Setting the Record Straight, the professor correctly claims that that true science and true religion always agree. I made the same claim in my book. But then he gets off the rails when, on page 4, he states that it is easy to balance scientific theories with LDS theology. He proceeds to support this position by discussing how scientific facts are indisputable and must agree with our theology. While he is right about necessary agreement between facts and theology, he is wrong to conflate basic scientific facts with scientific theory. Facts are indisputable, theories are not. Theories are attempts to explain scientific facts within a coherent framework. Theories are subject to correction and refutation; facts are not. It is risky to claim that scientific theories are in complete agreement with LDS theology because scientific theories change and are sometimes refuted.
In my book T&S, I point out some areas where scientific theory and LDS disagree (and point out several areas where they agree and where the gospel can be used to progress science, I might add). Why is this professor so put off by writing contrasting science and religion? I’ve heard the same criticism from someone else in the BYU Biology Department.
I think I know why.
Some BYU Biology Department faculty are concerned that pointing out differences between scientific theory and religion will create a faith crisis in their students – a situation where students are faced with having to choose between the gospel and science. To avoid this sort of crisis in their students they push the “faith and science can be completely compatible” agenda, even to the point of claiming things like the theory of common descent is completely compatible with the gospel.
The Main Point
BYU Biology faculty can choose to believe that Adam and Eve’s immortal bodies evolved from lower life forms if they want, but they are incorrect to assume that impressionable LDS students need to be sheltered from scientific and religious conflicts. Nay! Exploring differences and similarities between science and religion enriches the educational experience. What a great way to promote learning and discovery – to use, when possible, fundamental truths in the gospel as a metric to personally judge the accuracy of scientific theories! This sort of pursuit captures the BYU spirit of teaching secular principles within the light of the gospel.
Understanding science within the light of the gospel is what my book Truth and Science attempts to do. To concerned faculty of the BYU Biology Department I say that there is no harm in exploring differences as long as one recognizes that the basic tenets of the gospel are perfect, and that the theories of science are not. Faith crises are only possible when people make the mistake of thinking that scientific theories contain absolute truths with which gospel truths must agree.