Sunday, June 28, 2015

Science AND Religion

Absolutely compatible!

That may be enough to challenge plenty of belief systems. But my daughter, faithful LDS, great Mom, and Jr. High Science Teacher, explains it all so well in this newspaper article from the Salt Lake Tribune:

This article tries to stir up a little controversy, but my daughter's position is not at all extreme. Note the references to Brigham Young University.

Text of Trib Article:

Evolution is spoken at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, but not in lots of Mormon homes.
The disconnect has gone public as state education managers debate how to implement a new set of science standards.
As far as leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are concerned, scientific theory does not conflict with faith.
During his dedication of BYU's new Life Sciences Building in April, Mormon apostle Russell M. Nelson downplayed the divide between science and religion.
Nelson said the perceived schism arises out of an incomplete understanding of either science or religion, or both."Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible."One day after Nelson's remarks, the state school board tentatively approved updated science guidelines for Utah's middle schools.
The board's vote kicked off a 90-day review period and set the stage for a weeks-long debate over local control and the compatibility of scientific theory and conservative religious beliefs.
While the debate in other states may be between the faithful and nonbelievers, in Utah, home to the predominant LDS Church, public hearings have pitted Mormons against fellow Mormons.
For some, biblical literalism precludes human evolution and the big bang.
"Adam and Eve were the first teachers," a Utah County man said at a May meeting, "and the family predates the state Office of Education."
Others see scientific theory playing a role in a more allegorical creation narrative.
BYU science professors don't shy away from teaching controversial subjects, according to Duane Merrell, an associate physics professor at the LDS Church-owned Provo school.
"If you don't teach evolution, it's like throwing out the underlying concept of all life science," he says. "They teach science. They don't teach something else. They teach science."
Still, many Utah parents are picking and choosing the concepts they pass on to their children.
In the lab • While organizing her Kaysville classroom for summer break, Centennial Junior High teacher Angela Stewart pauses to do an experiment with sons Davis, 7, and Kimball, 3.
Safety goggles on and stopwatch in hand, she drops a half tablet of Alka-Seltzer into a sealed film canister filled with water.
After 11.86 seconds — according to Davis' measurements — the canister bursts open with a loud "pop," spilling foamy water onto the desk.
"Do you remember what gas you breathe out?" Stewart asks, quizzing her son.
"Carbon dioxide," Davis says, correctly.
The demonstration, in which baking soda and vinegar in the tablet dissolve and create carbon dioxide gas — is one of her son's favorites, Stewart says.
It is also indicative of a national trend in science education. Parents may equate science with memorizing the periodic table of elements, but today's students may one day recall hands-on simulations, laboratory tests and experimentation.
"The movement in science [education]," Stewart says, "is to have kids doing science."
The big bang and Legos • Heber City parent Jenny Cook also does science experiments with her kids — at home.
Cook never planned on home schooling. But three years ago, she felt directed by God to remove her five children from public education.
The at-home format allows her to incorporate LDS beliefs into every subject, she says, like reading verses from the Mormon Pearl of Great Price scriptures during a lesson on planets and stars.
"We try to teach with the Bible and the Book of Mormon," she says, "so they understand: This is what the philosophies of men are, and this is what the philosophies of God are."
For a recent lesson on the big-bang theory, Cook asked her children to build something out of Lego bricks.
The bricks were then disassembled — or "unorganized" — and placed in bags, which Cook's children tossed and shook in simulated "big bangs" to see if they would form shapes independently.
"They know the logic behind [big bang] is flawed," Cook says. "Things just don't miraculously come together. There has to be somebody behind it helping to create things."
Cook believes that guided creation extends to human beings.
"I see no room for human evolution," she says. "We are what we are. We are how Heavenly Father created us in the beginning."
Cook says public schools can be overly defeatist on environmental issues, causing children to believe the sun is bad and to feel guilty about living in wood houses.
"I, of course, think that we need to take care of the Earth and respect the Earth," she says. "But I also think that we've been given dominion over the Earth and things are here for our use."
A petri dish of beliefs • The proposed science standards draw heavily from a multi-state effort known as the Next Generation Science Standards, which are meant to stimulate problem-solving and hands-on learning.
The effort has been dogged by objections, stemming from its out-of-state origins and what some see as a politicized approach to sensitive topics such as evolution and climate change.
Not all Mormons, of course, march in lockstep with either Cook's approach or Stewart's, choosing somewhere in between.
Brittney Bills, a Utah County parent and a Latter-day Saint, believes the biblical creation story is full of metaphor and symbolism, which leaves the door open for evolution.
"I feel like God kind of works line upon line," she says. "That's the way evolution works also — one little change at a time."
Kara Edwards, a Mormon parent from American Fork, says she appreciates the way schools approach climate science.
After a unit on conservation, she recalls, her first-grade daughter came home encouraging everyone in the family to shut off the faucets and recycle.
"I liked that," Edwards says. "They're already being taught evolution and climate science in the standards we have now. I think that's important to be taught, and I want them to be taught by people who know what they're talking about."
Sheila Johnston, a Mormon and science teacher at Heber City's Rocky Mountain Middle School, says people may be skeptical about human impact on climate change, but the climate trends are beyond dispute.
"Climate change is real," she says. "I don't know how you cannot accept it is real."
Johnston believes science and religion are complementary — God is the creator and science is his toolbox.
"He formed us," she says, "but it was done according to scientific law."
Mormon scientists • During its history, the LDS Church has produced several notable scientists, including the late chemist Henry Eyring, biochemist John Widtsoe, geologist James Talmage and nuclear engineer Richard G. Scott, a current LDS apostle.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins says members may differ on specifics, but the doctrine of the church is firm that human beings are God's creations.
"In relation to this subject, the most important teaching of the church is that God created this Earth as a place where his children can live and learn," Hawkins says. "His processes, timelines and the scientific methods he used are not as important as an understanding of the Earth's purpose."
Many of the faithful are willing to have some ambiguity.
Bills says she doesn't have all the answers for how her faith coexists with science. But the disconnect doesn't bother her or make her concerned about what her children learn in school.
"I don't feel a need to reconcile everything in my life with religion," she says, "because I can't."
Whatever people of faith do or do not believe, Utah is due for a science update, Stewart says. The state's current standards have been in place for roughly 20 years, and she believes they lack the focus on engineering, experimentation and problem-solving included in the Next Generation update.
In her classroom, decorations include an illustrated poster of the prehistoric world — complete with humankind's evolutionary ancestors — and a smiling planet Earth encouraging conservation.
A Mormon and an 11-year educator, Stewart says students occasionally ask if she believes in evolution and climate change, to which she responds that science is not a belief system.
"It's not the intent of science to disqualify your religion," she says. "Religions just have a different way of knowing — it's faith-based."
Shutting off learning • For Utah science educators, the range of their students' conceptual understanding can be difficult to navigate.
Merrell says he rarely gets pushback from his BYU students, but his colleagues, who deal more directly with cosmology, climate change and evolution, field angry phone calls.
LDS students, he said, are generally accepting of evolution in the plant and animal kingdoms, but are less receptive when the same principles are applied to humans.
"At least they're learning the concepts," he says. "If they want to shut off learning, they can decide where they want to shut that off."
In the meantime, the state Office of Education is seeking feedback on the new standards through its website. After the public review period, which ends July 10, the board will either adopt or reject the proposed update.
New school standards would not affect home-schooling parents such as Jenny Cook, who says she's learned more teaching her children than she did in any high school or university class.
"There is nobody on this planet who loves my kids more than me," she says, "and is more interested in them getting the best, top-notch education available to them."


  1. I stumbled across your blog when searching for stories about obedience, and I have really enjoyed the few posts I have read. I have been sort of exploring my own political orientation since graduating from BYU five years ago, and have found that my opinions don't follow a hard and fast conservative agenda. I guess that should have been obvious my senior year in high school when we did a mock trial over same-sex marriage and many of my fellow-LDS classmates were giving me mean and disapproving looks when I didn't agree with them on every point. My opinions have evolved since I was 18, but I'd definitely consider myself more moderate in my political beliefs while still being completely committed to the Gospel and the counsel of the prophets. I haven't read everything on your blog, but I am appreciating your perspective so far and plan to check in now and then to read your thoughts. In all honesty, I think there are many Mormons who would realize they are more moderate than conservative if they truly examined their personal religious beliefs and how they line up with political issues. Anyway, specifically I liked this post because my husband and I often talk about the connections between LDS theology and science. It is clear to me that God is a God of order! In my opinion there is a scientific explanation for any miracle performed by the Lord, including the creation. Whether or not we currently have enough knowledge to understand the science behind all of His "mysterious works" is another story, but it is certainly interesting and awe-inspiring to see how He uses natural phenomena and laws of nature to achieve His great purpose. I'm definitely not a scientist, but the connection is clear to me, especially when I consider what I know about our Heavenly Father.


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