Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

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DevilsAdvocate
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Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by DevilsAdvocate » 04 Mar 2010, 17:30

Here is some interesting advice from Thomas S. Monson:
"Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: 'I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God's word. I wasn't with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it'"
This quote is typical of what I have seen in many other reactions from Church leaders to the perceived threat of science and scholarship in general to the LDS Church. Basically the general idea seems to be along the lines of don't worry about what the scientists say because faith in the revealed "word of God" is more important than any wisdom of the world.

However, for some members simply accepting the supposed "word of God" at face value is not so easy to do especially in cases where it appears to directly contradict overwhelming evidence. I can rationalize and shrug off questions about the Book of Abraham and other anti-Mormon propaganda but one of the hardest things for me to understand about the Church is the literal interpretation of dubious Old Testament stories such as the 6-day creation of the earth about 6000 years ago, Adam being the first man around 4000 BC, a global flood, the Tower of Babel, etc. by many of our past prophets and apostles. In fact some of the newer revelations given to us through Joseph Smith also appear to support a literal interpretation of these Old Testament stories as well (D&C 77:6-7,10, Ether 13:2, Moses 8).

It would have been nice if these new revelations had cleared up some of the confusion surrounding these Bible stories rather than adding even more questions to the mix. I don't have any problem with believing in miracles in general like Jesus walking on water and being resurrected when there is no real evidence to the contrary but when we already have significant evidence suggesting that some things just didn't happen the way the Bible says they did then it's a lot harder to deal with the cognitive dissonance.

I know that there are Mormon apologists and many active members who are fully aware of some of these apparent contradictions that have come up with explanations to resolve these issues to their own satisfaction. However, other members that keep running into one question after another can just as easily start to think that maybe it's just the accepted religious books that are wrong and then give up on the Church entirely.

It's not like people can always choose what to believe; sometimes after considering an idea we either believe it or we don't and there's not much we can do about it. It's hard to believe that God would give us eyes and a brain and then expect us to just ignore or deny anything we can see and understand for ourselves just because it appears to disagree with something some prophet supposedly said thousands of years ago.

Personally, I would like to see the Church tone it down a bit with the attitude of expecting members to just fall in line and agree with some pre-set list of accepted beliefs or else they are evil apostates. I doubt that this kind of rigid letter-of-the-law approach is going to work out in the Church's favor over the long run. People will vote with their feet and this will cause unnecessary divisions in families and communities. It seems like we could just make our suggestions while recognizing that there are different opinions that are perfectly reasonable as well similar to the way the RLDS Church has been more flexible about personal beliefs regarding the Book of Mormon.
"Truth is what works." - William James

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Cadence
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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by Cadence » 04 Mar 2010, 18:41

The big flaw with this statement and the general approach is the claim that happiness will ensue if you stay faithful and do not question. This is a blatantly false assumption. I have heard this many times from church members. Just keep the commandments and follow the prophet and you will be happy. This may work for some members but not all. I know individuals who were miserable until they left the church. I myself have a much better outlook and less anxiety not feeling compelled to believe everything I am told. Being naive and unwilling to address your doubts is just as likely to make you unhappy.
Faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction--faith in fiction is a damnable false hope. Thomas A. Edison

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Euhemerus
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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by Euhemerus » 04 Mar 2010, 18:51

Oh man, I have a whole boatload of thoughts on such an issue. Let me try to articulate some of them:
1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the earth is not 6000 years old. I am aware of the subtle insinuations by some, but I can't believe that most members actually believe this. I mean Henry Eyring was pointing out to Joseph Fielding Smith that the earth is 4 billion years over 50 years ago. I would probably have to lump people who still believe this into the same category as the "Flat earth society" (yes there is one) and the ghost hunters. I don't think anymore needs to be said on this issue. There are people the world over that believe all kinds of crazy stuff but they certainly aren't the majority.

2. I think the quote from Pres Monson was from quite some time ago (I have seen that before and it is an old talk). I think this type of rhetoric was much more common before the days of Henry Eyring. He did much to combat this type of sentiment, and he provides a shining example of one who thoroughly trusts science and uses it as it was meant to be used, yet remains a devout member of the church. I see no reason why science and religion can't live in harmony. The problem arises when religion decides to make pronouncements that science is better equipped to tackle, and vice versa with science.

3. I don't think God expects you to ignore your brain. I struggled with this for a long time, and I just don't believe that God is in the business of asking us to believe unbelievable things without a shred of evidence. In fact, you're ahead of me because I don't believe half of the miracles as reported from the NT either (a little history on the NT will likely persuade you of this). What I do believe is that they are great stories, but they do not provide me with any sort of evidence of Jesus's divinity. The real value of Jesus's life is in his example, and teachings, and the implications for mankind if we actually chose to live by them rather than argue over who is authorized to preach them. Additionally, His atonement provides us with a mechanism for repentance, and renewing our lives. This is of far more value than supposed miracles. I read an interesting quote in an op-ed the other day. In this quote the author is referring to those who gain a higher education and begin to doubt their faith:
They discover that Jesus wasn't asking us to believe the unbelievable, but rather to love the unlovable - something much more worthy of committing one's life to attempt.
4. I honestly don't get the impression that this same sentiment in the church is that prevalent anymore. I mean we are a church encouraging education, and even have a fairly renowned university dedicated to it. And with greater education comes more introspection, a deeper search for truth, and a greater amount of skepticism. What I do think people find is that they need not abandon their faith just because some leaders many years ago were foolish enough to speculate on that which they knew nothing about. This is why you won't find any official doctrinal position on such issues.

I admit this quote is frustrating, but I wouldn't take it as a representation of the sentiment in the modern church. I know from a reliable source that the Brethren know that they ought to get out of the business of biology, geology, and history, and stick to theology.
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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by Brian Johnston » 04 Mar 2010, 23:48

I'm not sure what your point is DevilsAdvocate. If you are trying to let us know that a leader in the Church might say something incorrect, or that you don't believe them, that isn't newsworthy here. We get it. That's why we are here.

You have to post something about a reconciliation strategy or a solution to the problem.
DevilsAdvocate wrote:Personally, I would like to see the Church tone it down a bit with the attitude of expecting members to just fall in line and agree with some pre-set list of accepted beliefs or else they are evil apostates. I doubt that this kind of rigid letter-of-the-law approach is going to work out in the Church's favor over the long run. People will vote with their feet and this will cause unnecessary divisions in families and communities. It seems like we could just make our suggestions while recognizing that there are different opinions that are perfectly reasonable as well similar to the way the RLDS Church has been more flexible about personal beliefs regarding the Book of Mormon.
We aren't really here to tell the Church what to do. What are YOU going to do?
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by MWallace57 » 05 Mar 2010, 04:03

I believe that truth is truth regardless of its source.

I love Lucretia Mott's testimony:

My conviction led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth for authority, not on authority for truth.

I believe that all science and nature testify of God and His divinity.

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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by MWallace57 » 05 Mar 2010, 04:25

Mankind cannot be saved in ignorance.

"We cannot be saved until we have risen above all our enemies, not the least of which is ignorance."

Joseph Smith

"The glory of God is intelligence"
D &C Section 93

Curt Sunshine
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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by Curt Sunshine » 05 Mar 2010, 07:21

So he said, essentially:
We don't know the process of creation, but we know God was involved. Don't let science take you away from that belief.


Really reactionary disrespect there - particularly toward intellectual freedom.

Honestly, I don't mean that to be sarcastic, but it highlights one of the problems of taking statements and over-applying them to pet issues. I know this statement is making the rounds of anti-Mormon sites since it was excerpted in the Church news earlier this year, but it was an attempt to explain in very simple terms to youth (published in the New Era) that science doesn't have to destroy faith.

Could I quibble with certain words and phrases? Sure, but that would miss the point of what he was saying and to whom. Could I over-generalize it and make it into a sweeping broadside against all science and intellectual exploration? Sure, but that's not what it actually was in context. Would I have said it in these exact words? Nope, and that's fine.

As the resident parser, my first stance with what ANYONE says is to look for what the words themselves mean and then to the context to determine what I think the writer was trying to say. In that light, DA, I read this post for what your words actually mean and for the context to determine what you meant in posting them. What I got was, in summary, and trying to maintain your overall tone:
I'm ticked at what I perceive to be an anti-science stance in the Church, and I think the culture of the Church stifles my ability to believe whatever I want to believe.


Fine. Then say that simply, and open a calm discussion about it. Seek input in a way that doesn't automatically pit everyone against you who might see it differently. Take an intellectual approach, if you want, but consider the effect of posting something charging others with "disrespect" for "intellectual freedom" in a manner that discourages disagreement and shows "disrespect" for others' intellectual freedom.

Finding peace and joy in life, much less in a particular organization, requires approaching things in a peaceful, joyful manner - even things that rub you wrong upon first exposure. Does the Church culture stifle intellectual freedom? It can in certain situations and with certain leaders - but I'd be willing to bet my bottom dollar that Pres. Eyring doesn't feel the same way about this quote (or the person who said it) as you do. There's great peace in realizing that simple fact - that the son of a great scientist doesn't view this quote in the same way as your initial emotional reaction. There's also great insight in realizing that your reaction was NOT an intellectual one; it was an emotional one.

Stepping back and examining why you reacted the way you reacted is important - and that often happens only when others show why they aren't as bothered as you are. On one level, I don't like this quote in isolation, but I am not outraged by it in the actual context of how it was said. I can look for the "truth" in it (and there is truth in it) even as I dismiss the "opinion" in it - and the differences in how I might have worded the central message.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by flower » 05 Mar 2010, 07:45

Euhemerus wrote:They discover that Jesus wasn't asking us to believe the unbelievable, but rather to love the unlovable - something much more worthy of committing one's life to attempt.
Love this!
"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." ~Rudyard Kipling

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DevilsAdvocate
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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by DevilsAdvocate » 05 Mar 2010, 18:47

Brian Johnston wrote:I'm not sure what your point is DevilsAdvocate. If you are trying to let us know that a leader in the Church might say something incorrect, or that you don't believe them, that isn't newsworthy here. We get it. That's why we are here.

You have to post something about a reconciliation strategy or a solution to the problem.
It's not a matter of whether I believe them or not the thing that bothers me is that they try to tie membership in the Church to the expectation that we should just believe them without questioning their authority or accuracy. If the prophets say the scientists are wrong then they must be wrong and anyone who thinks otherwise is on the road to apostasy according to TBMs. That's my main point. Look at this part of the Monson quote again:
"I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there"
Then there is this quote from Gordon B. Hinckley:
"Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."
Reading between the lines the idea seems to be that if you don't believe in the major claims of the Church then you might as well just leave it behind. Never mind the sense of community and promoting Christian values and any good the Church does for people, if Joseph Smith lied then we might as well just forget about it according to this line of reasoning.

For many members leaving can be a painful thing to even consider and it's not that easy to just walk away. So what will help ease the pain? If you ask them the answer is that you just need to try harder to believe and fall in line with the accepted doctrines and ignore the questions and "little flicks" of history.

To me the Church should ideally be about Christian fellowship first and foremost more than insisting on the acceptance of certain doctrines and telling people what to do in great detail. Sure they have backed off on the idea of young earth creationism, a global flood, etc. since the heyday of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie and they've backed off on other things like birth control whenever convenient. However, it's no surprise that they still insist that we should pay them a full 10% of our income so we can be blessed and have an eternal family. Now if I don't do what they say in a case like this it doesn't just affect me it upsets my family like I'm letting them down.

The only reconciliation strategy I see is for more members to stop listening to them when they say something questionable and maybe talk to their bishop or stake president and hope some of it reaches the top.
Last edited by DevilsAdvocate on 06 Mar 2010, 11:28, edited 3 times in total.
"Truth is what works." - William James

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Re: Reactionary disrespect for science and intellectual freedom

Post by Curt Sunshine » 05 Mar 2010, 19:41

Reading between the lines

The only reconciliation strategy I see is for more members to stop listening to them and maybe talk to their bishop or stake president and hope some of it reaches the top.


Questions for internal contemplation, that I believe you are going to have to consider if you are going to find peace and joy within the LDS Church:

1) Why do you need to read between the lines?

2) Are you open to an attempt to discover something else (a different reconciliation strategy) - or, at the very least, that such a strategy as you suggest is not good for the vast majority of people in ANY organization, including yourself?

3) Do you really think that ignoring what leaders say and telling other leaders that they also need to ignore those leaders is a "reconciliation strategy"? It seems more like an "I'm right and you need to agree with me" strategy - that it's a reconciliation of others "to" YOU, not a reconciliation of you "with" the group.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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