Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin, Science, and Truth

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. I am about as far away from a scientist as you can be, but I love my National Geographic and believe that we should all make efforts to understand as much science and art and law and everything else as we can. My belief is that science and religion are not at odds. Here is a fairly long quote from Brigham Young on the intersection of science and religion, taken from Cool New Thang:
It was observed here just now that we differ from the Christian world in our religious faith and belief; and so we do very materially. I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood. Says the scientific man, “I do not see your religion to be true; I do not understand the law, light, rules, religion, or whatever you call it, which you say God has revealed; it is confusion to me, and if I submit to and embrace your views and theories I must reject the facts which science demonstrates to me.” This is the position, and the line of demarcation has been plainly drawn, by those who profess Christianity, between the sciences and revealed religion. You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, “If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago, our studies are all vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain; we must be what you call infidels, with the demonstrated truths of science in our possession; or, rejecting those truths, become enthusiasts in, what you call, Christianity.”

In these respects we differ, from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts-they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways, we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. This we know by what we have learned naturally since we have had a being on the earth.” (Journal of Discourses 14:115-117)

I want to say a few words about our religion, but first I will ask you to remember this prayer which I offered at the commencement of my remarks with regard to the poor. If you will do that, they will be looked after and brought home. Now we will talk a little about our religion. Ask the scientific men of the world how many of the arts can be reduced to a science? When they are so reduced they become permanent; but until then they are uncertain. They go and come, appear and disappear. When they are reduced to science and system their permanency, and stability are assured. It is so with government-until it is reduced to science it is liable to be rent asunder by anarchy and confusion, and caprice and scattered to the four winds. Government, to be stable and permanent and have any show for success must be reduced to a science. It is the same with religion; but our traditions are such that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to make men believe that the revealed religion of heaven is a pure science, and all true science in the possession of men now is a part of the religion of heaven and has been revealed from that source. But it is hard to get the people to believe that God is a scientific character, that He lives by science or strict law, that by this He is, and by law he was made what He is; and will remain to all eternity because of His faithful adherence to law. It is a most difficult thing to make the people believe that every art and science and all wisdom comes from Him, and that He is their Author. Our spirits are His: He begot them. We are His children; He set the machine in motion to produce our tabernacles; and when men discard the principle of the existence of a Supreme Being and treat it with lightness, as Brother Taylor says, they are fools. It is strange that scientific men do not realize that, all they know is derived from Him; to suppose, or to foster the idea for one moment, that they are the originators of the wisdom they possess is folly in the highest! Such men do not know themselves. As for ignoring the principle of the existence of a Supreme Being, I would as soon ignore the idea that this house came into existence without the agency of intelligent beings. (Journal of Discourses 13:300)

I highlighted a few quotes that I thought were particularly important. I think this is a beautiful reconciliation of religious truth and scientific truth. And the reconciliation is this: there is nothing to reconcile. Our God is a God of science because there is only one Truth, and all true science is revealed by God. The closer we come to understanding how God works, the more knowledge we will gain of science, and visa versa.

When Darwin went to South America and the Galapagos Islands and began to formulate his theory of evolution, I believe he was inspired, as Brigham Young explains above. When geologists show that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that the universe started with a Big Bang 14 billion years ago, their theories and laws have an aspect of revealed Truth as far as we understand the laws of the universe correctly. As we study the scriptures, live faithfully, and grow closer to our Heavenly Father, the more we will see that He works through laws and principles that we can eventually understand.

I particularly like how Brigham Young expands science to include government. We know that God is a God of order in all things. Therefore we must also seek out order in all things. When our governments eschew science and are instead ruled by ideology alone, confusion, anarchy, and plain old ineffectiveness ensue. When law and government have for their basis science, rational thought, and deliberate understanding they can be stable and equitable. Too often our government leaders try to appeal to our basest and rawest emotions in order to pass laws whose only goal is to consolidate power or satisfy a whim, instead of appealing to our higher capacities of reason in order to promote the general welfare over the long term.

So on this 200th birthday of Darwin, I hope we can step back and rededicate ourselves to respectful discourse which enlightens and unifies instead of divides (myself includes, especially). I hope we can promote Truth wherever it is found, whether in science or art or religion, which are all one and come from the same Source anyway.


Josh said...

Good post, Jake.

Greg said...

Hi Jacob. Great post on this subject. I thought you might like to see my post Brigham Young on Darwin, Huxley, and Miall. It seems Brigham Young saw clearly how these ideas would form the basis for a new "political economy" and go far beyond what was intended to be a scientific theory. In any case, I thought you might be interested in my post on this subject.