Science & Religion #13: Series Recap

By: Mike S
April 19, 2011

After a “mini-break” from the Science & Religion series, we’re going to get back into it.  The next group of posts may be a bit more controversial, however, so I wanted to review the groundwork for the Science & Religion series that we’ve covered so far.  So, as a recap:

Six Foundation Posts

Science & Religion #1: A Modern Towel of Babel – This post starts the series off.  It contrasts sending the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft to Saturn (including landing a probe on Titan) with the previous teaching that earth was the center of the universe up through Galileo’s time.  And in case we think these issues are “old”, in 1961, President Joseph Fielding Smith told us we would never send a man to the moon and that we could “write down in your books that this will never happen.”  Hmmm.  Maybe NASA did fake the moon landings.  So how do we resolve this?

Science & Religion #2: What Are We Doing? – This post asks WHY we should even talk about science and religion.  Shouldn’t we just focus on religion and what we need to do to get back to God?  Isn’t the whole point of this series a waste of time?  Importantly, this post gives 3 assumptions that I will use in the rest of the series:

  • Truth exists
  • God is NOT trying to trick us
  • As we progress, we are getting CLOSER to the truth

Science & Religion #3: Scientific Search For Truth – This post starts out with a cool picture of an atomic bomb – I don’t know why these pictures fascinate me.  It talks about the scientific method and how we determine truth in science.  While I have heard science disparaged in various church meetings because it “changes” and only religious truths are “eternal”, that is the point – science is SUPPOSED to change as we get more knowledge.  We will use these concepts in future posts.

Science & Religion #4: Religious Search For Truth – This post talks about how we determine religious truth.  It recounts the similar stories of Joseph Smith and Muhammad.  How do we determine religious truth, when prophets and apostles are also mortal men entitled to their own opinion (such as what the inhabitants of the moon look like)?  This post covers principles of universality, consistency, and a ranking system for LDS teachings proposed by Neal A Maxwell.  These concepts are going to be important, for example, when we talk about The Flood – where a single leader’s comment 150 years ago can form the basis of an entire line of thought that completely conflicts with everything else.

Science & Religion #5: Inside Out Paradigm – This post looks are one way of reconciling science and religion.  It basically involves and “inside-out” view of the world.  Someone reads a religious text and determines what this text MUST mean.  They then attempt to impose this view on the world OUTSIDE them.  Where evidence supports the foregone conclusion, it is seen as evidence for God.  Where evidence conflicts, it is rejected.  This method has flaws pointed out in this post, and certainly doesn’t tend to get closer to reality.

Science & Religion #6: Outside In Paradigm – This post examines what I propose is a better way of reconciling things.  It accepts what we see in the world around us, and looks to see how this might work with religious texts.  It supposes the God reveals many scientific truths through scientific developments as opposed to General Conference.  It is the general outline used for the rest of the series:

  • Introduce a topic
  • Tell what we know about it from a scientific point-of-view
  • Tell what we know about it from a religious point-of-view
  • See how these may or may not reconcile

So, these 6 posts form the basis for this series.  The next 6 posts used this “Outside In” paradigm to examine a few “cosmic” things.

Six “Universe” Posts

Science & Religion #7: In The Beginning… – How did this all start?  What was the Big Bang?  Was God before the Big Bang and therefore outside the universe?  Or does God live INSIDE the universe, and was He therefore created in the Big Bang, just like us?

Science & Religion #8: We Are All Made Of Stars – God may have created our bodies, but he had to get the material from somewhere.  The stuff in our bodies is made of exploded stars.  Abraham also talks about stars.  I don’t really know how to reconcile what we think we know about the universe with what Joseph Smith revealed in the Book of Abraham.  Maybe you do?

Science & Religion #9: Is Moroni A Sphere? – This post gets into Flatland and other dimensions.  Many things we talk about in religion make more sense when other dimensions are introduced to our “boring” 3-D world.  Does Moroni live in another dimension?  Can God see my “guts”?

Science & Religion #10: Strings and Spirits – This takes the dimension thing to another level – actually 10 dimensions.  We talk about String Theory here.  Does spirit represent vibrations (intelligence) which forms and influences everything we see (coarse matter)?  Maybe.  Is the answer to everything 42?  Who knows?

Science & Religion #11: When Is God? – This builds upon the Big Bang, multi-dimensions, etc.  When is God?  Does He exist in our time?  How can He see past, present and future?  If God was once mortal in THIS UNIVERSE, how does this work?

Science & Religion #12: Uncertain Why We’re Here? – This is the last of the “theoretical” posts.  There is a very real “uncertainty” built into the fabric of this universe.  Is this necessary for mortality?  Do we need “uncertainty” in order for this to be a “test”?  Are you uncertain what the uncertainty principle even is?  Then check out this post.

And that’s the series so far.  I did then veer off a bit into General Conference statistics regarding LDS membership growth.  While not specifically part of the Science & Religion series, it was somewhat related.  Predicting future trends is obviously fraught with error, but there is some mathematics involved.  I tried to predict general conference numbers, and was fairly close.  While predicting future trends can “iffy” (remember 280 million Mormons in the next 70 years?), it does make sense to look at the path you are on to see: 1) if you like where it is going and 2) if there is something you might be able to change if you don’t like where it is going.

Unfortunately, the trends suggested by the past might not be favorable.  The post does make some suggestions for things we might do if we don’t like where things might be headed.  Or else we can just keep doing what we’re doing and hope for the best.  It’s not really my decision anyway.

So, that is the series to date.  While some of the topics have been a bit esoteric, there was less controversy related to them.  There was also a purpose for the progression.  We covered the basis of using an “Outside In” paradigm.  We covered “universal” topics that form the foundation of everything.  The next set of topics covers the “earth”.  Some of these are going to include:

  • The age of the earth
  • Creation of the earth
  • When did Adam live?
  • Did someone live here before Adam?
  • Did Adam have a belly button?
  • Where was Eden?
  • Human migrations and revealed truth
  • Hunters vs farmers
  • Old dudes (Did people really live 900 years?)
  • Noah and a worldwide flood
  • Continental drift
  • Moses and Ramses
  • Parting the Red Sea
  • Ten Tribes and Ice Caps
  • Etc

After that, we are going to continue to move down in scope from a “earth” level to a “personal” level.

  • Faith vs knowledge
  • Behavioral reinforcement / Skinnerism
  • Healing and prayer
  • WofW: Tobacco
  • WofW: Meat
  • WofW: Wine
  • Depression and religion
  • Etc

So, there are a lot of topics we’ll be going through.  I just wanted to bring everyone up to speed that may be new, and also remind everyone of how the series is going to be set up (and WHY).  Again, we will introduce a topic, see what science has to say on the topic, see what religion has to say on the topic, and see how the two do or don’t correlate.  And, as always, these posts are just starting points.  I’ve learned a lot from discussions so far.

Cheers and Happy Spring!

Questions:

  • Do you think the Outside In paradigm is a valid way to approach these issues?
  • Are there any questions on topics we’ve addressed so far?
  • Do you have any suggested topics as we go forward?

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5 Responses to Science & Religion #13: Series Recap

  1. Badger on April 19, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    “Depression and religion” is worthy of a post in its own right, but it also brings to mind some other topics, which may or may not interest you, about religion and neurobiology.

    Under the assumption that the series continues its hard-science focus, I think some natural topics would be functional brain studies related to religious experience, theories linking very out-of-the-ordinary experiences to physiological processes in the brain (“frontal-lobe epilepsy for St Theresa”), and creating or enabling religious experiences by artificial means, such as hallucinogens or magnetic induction. I’m not well informed and not sure how good the science is, but I see a lot about things like this in nonscientific writing.

    A specific Mormon instance appears in an article I’ve seen online suggesting hallucinogens as a component of early Mormon visions (http://www.i4m.com/think/history/holy-ghost.htm; discussion of similar ideas in a less “anti” setting at http://www.staylds.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=1393). I find the idea fascinating, and if true, not detrimental to the dignity and sacredness of these experiences. However, and please consider this a reader advisory, I think I’m in a small minority. I expect that most faithful Mormons would find the article offensive, and most nonbelievers would view the proposed explanation (again, if true) as discrediting the experiences in question. So, maybe this particular topic is best avoided, but I thought I’d mention it.

    For depression in an LDS context, I think anxiety disorders and their potential interaction with LDS thought and culture are also deserving of recognition, not necessarily a separate post. I personally view this as something of a Mormon parallel to OCD and scrupulosity in Catholicism, but there is no comparable institutional recognition in the Mormon setting.

    I once listened to an evangelical podcast (“Impossible Gospel”?) that criticized the Mormon approach to salvation on the basis that no one could ever be secure in their own worthiness, or have confidence that in the end Christ’s atonement would be sufficient for their own salvation. I remember it containing quite a few quotes from “Miracle of Forgiveness”, for obvious reasons.

    The religious views expressed in the podcast are different from mine, but I thought there was a lot of validity to the description of anxiety over one’s own salvation in Mormon thought (contrasted, unfavorably in the podcast, with the assurance of a saved-by-grace “true Christian”). It’s something that unhealthy anxiety can build on, just as the related matter of worthiness is a natural handle for depression.

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  2. Mike S on April 19, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    Badger:

    I, too, think those are great topics for future posts.

    I think there is a potential relationship between depression and the LDS faith, as Utah has the highest use of anti-depressant use in the United States (we’ll investigate causation vs correlation there).

    I have read some fascinating things correlating a “God center” in the brain. Scientists have stimulated specific centers in the brain and evoked specific feelings and experiences.

    Also, there are many accounts of hallucinogenic experiences which have many parallels with religious experiences.

    And I wouldn’t worry too much about “offensiveness” of links. I haven’t specifically looked at yours yet (but will). If it is something attacking something else for no good reason, I might think it weak. But if there is something well presented with which I disagree, then maybe I can learn something and expand my own world view.

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  3. BeansDude on April 19, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    I have enjoyed this series very much so far, and I’m happy that you’ll be picking it back up again.

    “Do you think the Outside In paradigm is a valid way to approach these issues?”

    Yes. Much better than the reverse.

    “Are there any questions on topics we’ve addressed so far?”

    Yes, lots and lots of them, but not the kind that I would expect anyone to be able to answer for sure. I love that these posts have given me more to think about and better questions to ponder.

    Perhaps this has been covered, but how might things like dark matter and anti-matter play into this discussion? I’m no physicist, but in my very limited knowledge of the universe I think that most of the mass in our universe is NOT found in ‘conventional’ matter (stars and planets etc.), but is actually in the dark matter which we cannot see. I wonder what thats all about? Does it have something to do with “opposition in all things”?

    The Scriptures refer to ‘Light’ as being associated with God in significant ways. For example; “That which is of God is Light” and Christ regularly being referred to as “The Light of the World”. Is this purely symbolic? Is there something Godly about light itself?

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  4. Badger on April 19, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    Thanks, Mike. About possible offensiveness, I wasn’t thinking of your sensibilities specifically, but thought some readers might appreciate the it, and I wonder about the potential for having a discussion about it that maintains the sort of focus I think you’re after in this series, rather than a “Joseph Smith was a drug-using Svengali” flamewar.

    On Utah antidepressant use, I’m skeptical (but willing to be persuaded) that there is anything like a demonstrated statistical link between Mormonism and depression. That’s in spite of a personal inclination to see connections, as my previous comment may have suggested. In addition to the standard “correlation vs causation” stuff, may I suggest something on the specific difficulties of reaching conclusions about individuals from aggregate data? “Ecological fallacy” would be a good search term, and I think the beginning of this essay by David Freedman has a couple good examples: http://www.stanford.edu/class/ed260/freedman549.pdf.

    Here’s my attempt at a quick version: (1) Fact: some US states have higher proportions of non-US born residents than others; (2) plausible assertion (it may be true; if not, pretend it is for the sake of illustration): states with more foreign-born residents tend to have higher average incomes; (3) incorrect conclusion: in the US, the foreign-born have higher incomes than than the US-born. Items (1) and (2) would be more believably explained by the supposition that foreigners, who have to move anyway to get to the US, go where the jobs are.

    This incorrect reasoning is exactly parallel to the argument linking Utah’s antidepressant use to the LDS religion. The only difference is that it’s not immediately obvious that the LDS-depression conclusion is wrong (and it may not be), and that there’s no self-evident alternative explanation as with immigrant incomes. As a piece of evidence, it’s pretty weak.

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  5. Clark on April 20, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    It seems to me the problematic claim is that more anti-depressant use = more depression. And that is a bit more problematic. It might simply be that Mormons are more concerned about being healthy, don’t self-medicate and the like.

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