Recently I can't stop bumping into information on scientific discoveries about early humanity. First it was science websites talking about the earliest proved artifacts of deep sea fishing and bug repellant bedding arrangements. Next it was my biology class ending with a section on human evolution. Now, it looks like my general education humanities class begins with a discussion of cro-magnon culture and artifacts. The introduction to the course spent an entire page warning me that I was going to have to deal with information that contradicted or failed to support the bible.
Believe it or not, I'm actually somewhat pleased that my human evolution studies are being followed almost immediately by a discussion of cro-magnon culture and ancient civilizations. It will be almost like picking up where I left off on the subject. The best sum up of what I've learned so far is that "anatomically modern humans" have been around for a long time as far as science can tell, probably 100,000 years or more. Even early in that time they made stone tools, developed art work, and ritual behavior probably indicative of religion.
There are two things that bother me the most upon encountering these subjects. First is that the people who purported to teach me about these subjects before and propose rudimentary systems of synthesizing scientific and religious knowledge apparently either knew very little or they were rejecting scientific reality to replace it with their own. One professor claimed that neanderthals disappearing and anatomically modern humans appearing lined up with the Book of Genesis time lines. Apparently he never really bothered fact checking who ever told him that or he made it up. Neanderthals disappear from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago and overlapped in time a lot with and hybridized a little with modern humans. Another professor claimed that we should simply view any human fossil from more than 5-6 thousand years ago to simply be non human. Again, there's no science to back that up, from all appearances he simply made that up because it was the easiest way for him to reconcile the subjects. Speculation proposed as fact with no evidence isn't something I should have been wasting my time listening to. This doesn't bother me as much as it might because I've come to suspect anything that I learned from that set of professors as highly suspect. At George Wythe it is quiet possible to be an academic jack of all trades and a master of none.
The second thing that really bothers me is that there has been little evolution of LDS doctrine to constructively deal with new evidence. The Articles of Faith explicitly describe that God will yet reveal many important things, the D&C describes a line upon line process of gaining knowledge, the D&C describes all knowledge as being the inheritance of the saints, and doctrinal practice as described across the ancient and modern scripture makes it clear that God is frequently willing to let us rest on the laurels of our own cultural misunderstandings if it isn't particularly urgent that we learn better. That all being said I think we should anticipate that as new knowledge and discoveries are made that church doctrine will somehow constructively adapt to avoid dogmatizing what were probably misunderstandings to begin with. I propose no synthesis of doctrines. I'm just sharply disappointed that none has been forthcoming.
Instead of any attempt to show that the different points of view can or
should be reconciled with science we get talks quoted in lesson manuals
about how a supposedly more careful reading of Genesis will prove that
no organisms were mortal or died before Adam partook of the fruit.
Given an extensive fossil record that shows that people and organisms
died before the garden ever took place this claim is so weak that it
doesn't deserve to be part of the teaching. But it is still there. Believing this doctrine requires us to come up with explanations about how all those buried fossils weren't actually dead but were simply in a suspended animation till Adam partook of the fruit at which point a whole bunch of stuff died rather quickly. It's always 'possible' this or some other explanation could reconcile our approved Institute manuals with science but it hardly seems likely. Rather than acknowledging scientific evidence and flexibly suggesting that reinterpretation is possible we seem to be stuck in a position of trying to pick fights with science.
Here is what I believe has happened to us. The LDS church has made statements from time to time discouraging us from exploring science based on religious belief or religion based on science. If you link the two together when the science turns out to be wrong or incomplete the religious ideas you attached to it go out the window along with it. However, in practice this restriction only appears to apply forwards in time. Nobody ever gets up and says that we should throw out our pre restoration of the church ideas about science and religion- only avoid making new ones. From Plato and Aristotle down animals and plants were considered to be unchanging over time, if I remember my biology textbook said because it was believed the species represented divine platonic "forms". The LDS church latches onto this idea when it describes animals and plants being physical manifestations of spiritual creations. Darwin didn't publish his ideas confronting the "mutability of species" until after Joseph Smith's death. Without exploring science and religion together in the ways discouraged by the church pre-Darwinian ideas about science and religion are therefore essentially locked into place because it was the default assumption to make. Granted, trying to come up with something logically consistent that divorces LDS thought from Aristotle on the mutability of species would be very hard. It gives me headaches to think about. However, I'd rather have the church actively engaging with the possibility of doctrinal reinterpretation rather than teaching us to assume all new discoveries in archeology and biology are false.
1 month ago