Monday, September 1, 2014

Science vs. Doctrine

I am an engineer. I use the scientific method in my work and have found it to be the consistently most reliable way to get to the bottom of things in my professional life. The conflict between science and the religion I grew up with has always been very difficult for me. Frequently, LDS church leaders will refer to scientists as "so-called intellectuals" and "so-called scientists" when scientific theory conflicts with religious doctrine. I hate that. Putting "so-called" in front of a description of a person is rude and does not increase our ability to empathize with others. I am sure that President Monson would feel insulted if I called him a "so-called prophet." I so much wish that we could graduate from such polarizing rhetoric, but I digress.

Scientists make guesses about how things work, perform experiments to attempt to prove or disprove their guess, and come up with theories based on the data gathered in those experiments. Their theories are sometimes wrong. Any good scientist knows this. Good science is people doing their best to explain how the world works and make sense of their existence. When done correctly, science has a very good success rate and has been good to humanity.

I want to analyze a few LDS beliefs and how they compare to scientific theory.
  • Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings and lived around 4000 BC.
  • Before 2000 BC, everyone spoke the same language.  Around that year, the people attempted to build a tower to heaven and as a result God became angry and confounded their languages.  A group of these people split off and traveled to the Americas. These people could smelt steel. (Ether 7:9)
  • Around 600 BC, a group of Hebrews traveled to the Americas and populated the land. These people could also smelt steel. The author of the Book of Mormon makes repeated references to 'dross', a byproduct of smelting, throughout the book.
I don't think you'll be surprised to hear that prevailing scientific theory disagrees with Adam and Eve being the first humans at 4000 BC. We have found human remains that are tens of thousands of years old. Some will argue that dating via radioisotopes must be way wrong. I personally have difficulty believing that. Also, we have sequenced Neanderthal DNA and have found Neanderthal genes in European and Asian humans. That's right, I'm probably part Neanderthal, but that wouldn't be possible if the first humans were Adam and Eve 6000 years ago. We also find evidence of domestication of plants long before 4000 BC. The LDS church released an essay entitled The Book of Mormon and DNA Studies which attempts to explain why scientists have been unable to detect Hebrew DNA in Native American populations if the Book of Mormon narrative is true. The essay at one point states:
The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians.
I find it odd that a church that believes that the first humans lived in 4000 BC would cite theories that humans migrated to the Americas over the Siberian land bridge in the time frame of 15,000 to 30,000 years ago to support their arguments that the Americas were inhabited prior to the arrival of the Jaredites, Lehites, and Mulekites. A migration over the land bridge to Siberia 15-30,000 years ago just doesn't seem to fit into Mormon beliefs at present.

As far as a global flood in the year 2300 BC goes, there is really no scientific evidence to support it and much to contradict it. I find the evidence too difficult to ignore. We have no geological evidence of the earth being completely covered in water at that time and certainly no evidence of continents moving at that late of a date. We have a lot of evidence of continuous civilizations that predate the accepted flood date by 1000 years or more and continue right through it for thousands of years. We just don't see evidence of a mass extinction event at 2300 BC and then a gradual re-population. Plus, I can't even imagine all animals in the world fitting onto a boat the size of Noah's ark. Did you know that there are 35,000 species of spiders that we know of? Where would all of the animals in the world fit? The story just seems to be a fable or an allegory. In the end, I just don't find it believable.

Let's consider linguistic archaeology and the tower of Babel for a moment.  We have a few written languages that predate 2300 BC. Sumerian starts to appear around 3500 BC with a well developed written language appearing by 2500 BC. Egyptian starts showing up around 3300 BC and becomes well developed by around 2700 BC, and the Akkadian language starts appearing in Sumerian script by 2400 BC. All predate the Tower of Babel by hundreds of years, when there is still supposed to be only a single language on the earth. In fact, we see the Egyptian written language developing from 3300 BC all the way until it dies off as Coptic around 1600 AD. It is hard to imagine how the flood didn't wipe it out of existence, if there was a flood.

Evolution is another scientific theory that gets vilified from time to time, yet evidence in its favor is very strong. The translation of Joseph Smith's explanations of Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham don't withstand scrutiny from science. The Book of Mormon claims a lot of steel smelting, yet steel smelting seems to have been an unknown art to the Native Americans. We've done a lot of digging and never found any Native American steel swords or Native American bloomeries. Contrast that with the fact that we have found only a handful of Viking settlements in North America and they have bloomeries and slag piles, showing that they were smelting iron. Viking populations were tiny compared to the populations claimed in the Book of Mormon.

I just want to take a moment and make it clear that I don't begrudge anyone their beliefs. If you want to believe something that contradicts any given scientific theory, go for it! What I have a beef with is the constant vilification of scientists, the us-vs-them mentality. They have good reasons for believing the things that they do. They should be respected for that. They aren't trying to destroy faith by studying their respective fields, they are just making sense of the world around them.

As far as my personal beliefs go, given the difficulty I have setting aside facts that lead me to believe things that contradict Mormon beliefs, I would love to treat scripture metaphorically and still try to discuss things with my friends at church. But right now, in the faith that I grew up in, viewing scripture as metaphor isn't a respected way to look at things. My way of viewing the world is met with hostility and disdain by the leadership of the church. It makes it difficult to be there at all, and it has nothing to do with the good people who are there, but is due to the tone and direction from the top.

9/3/14 Edit: I previously had a sentence in this article that asserted that atomic clocks run on principles of radioactive decay, which is not correct.

I also want to state that I have not provided many references for my assertions in this post. That's because I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. I have looked at evidence concerning these issues and have satisfied myself. I just want to present my point of view to increase understanding.


  1. Can you please cite your facts "Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings and lived around 4000 BC." I went to church a bunch of times and I don't remember hearing that in sunday school

    1. Here is a source for the 4000 BC date: