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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Science not always a good bet

According to today's Mormon Organon, science has two main goals:

"(1) Figure out why things are as they are; and (2) be able to predict the way things will be."

What about the way things will be "when the lamb and the lion shall lie down together without any ire." (Hymns, 2; see also Isaiah 11:6-7). What are the scientific principles or natural laws that explain how this will happen?

What about the way things will be when earth moves from its present stage of existence into the next, when "Christ will reign personally upon the earth" (A of F 1:10) and certain of today's natural laws no longer apply?

What about the way things will be, for example, when there "there shall be no sorrow because there is no death" (D&C 101:29)? Can the condition of "no death" be observed in today's world? Can experiments be done to test hypothetical ideas about such a world?

What about the way things will be during the Resurrection? What can science tell us about the eventual Resurrection of all men?

All of the telestial knowledge accumulated by man cannot tell anyone anything about terrestrial or celestial worlds. And if you're talking about extrapolating current telestial knowledge very far into the future, science is simply a bad bet.

Take, for example, Carl Sagan's view of earth's future. Carl Sagan was an astronomer who excelled at popularizing science. His book Cosmos is one of the best-selling science books ever published in the English language. His award-winning series by the same name stands as the most widely watched TV series in the history of American public television.

Carl Sagan believed that "solar evolution is inexorable." (Cosmos, New York: Random House, 1980, Ballentine paperback edition, p.188.) He used physics and astronomy to predict that our sun will become

"a degenerate white dwarf, cooling like all those points of light we see at the centers of planetary nebulae from high surface temperatures to its ultimate state, a dark and dead black dwarf." (op. cit., p.189; emphasis added.)

Prior to our sun's death, according to Sagan, earth's

"oceans will boil, the atmosphere will evaporate away to space and a catastrophe of the most immense proportions imaginable will overtake our planet." (op. cit., p.188.)

Should Latter-day Saints bet with Carl Sagan or should they bet with their own apostle scientist who said:

"It is decreed that this earth shall become a celestialized, glorified sphere; such is the revealed word. Science has nothing to say on the matter; it can neither refute nor prove." (James E. Talmage, The Earth and Man, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1931, p. 16; emphasis added.)


11 Comments:

Anonymous The Only True and Living Nathan said...

I don't think the Sagan/Talmage comparison really plays fair. Sagan's conclusion does not postulate an intelligent actor which steps in and deliberately acts, whereas Talmage's statement is predicated on it.

It's a bit like taking a statement like, "Ice does not form in July in a temperate clime like Utah," and countering it with, "Oh yeah? What if I put some water in my freezer?" The first statement only takes into account natural processes and cycles; the second depends on an intelligent actor to step in and deliberately counter those processes.

7/15/2008 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Jeff G said...

I gotta agree with Nathan to a large extent. By what standards do you judge science or religion? If you take the standards of religion, as you do, then there should be no surprise that science doesn't come out on top. The same can be said if one measures religion by the standards of science.

So how can this apparent stalemate be broken? Either by 1) finding some independent standards against which to measure both, and/or 2) seeing whether science or religion explains the other better.

Since you didn't do this, however, your post amounts to little more than preaching to the converted.

7/15/2008 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

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total Nathan:

I like your comment but my point is that God can and does place earth under the laws of physics of His choice and He does this according to His timetable. And even though some scientists believe that isn't fair, it is reality.

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Jeff G:

I like your comment also but I didn't intentionally preach to the converted. I thought I addressed eight questions to those who would measure religion by the standards of science.

7/15/2008 09:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Lincoln Cannon said...

Science does enable us to predict how futures similar to those you've described may be possible, particularly given long-standing trends in technology. Lambs and lions laying down together, if you want to interpret that literally, may be achieved through genetic manipulation of lambs and lions. Transformation of the Earth into something more like our imaginations of paradise may be the result of nanotechnological environmental interventions. Transcendence of natural laws happens all the time; there was a day when humans could not see so far, fly so high, or swim so deep as we now can, and science predicted such capacities prior to our technological implementation of such capacities. Even death, now, has come within the scope of engineering problems, as we quickly learn the causes of aging and work to counteract them. From there, I trust we'll engage in the work of learning, as all other gods before us, the detailed processes involved in resurrection, so that we may join Jesus as saviors on Mount Zion and continue forward with the glorious work of redeeming the dead.

Science is not a bad bet for any of these things. To the contrary, it is the best bet currently available to us for seeking after and understanding the details necessary for working actively toward fulfillment of futures foreseen in prophetic vision. Prophecy and science are in opposition only to the extent we so insist. We can, however, leverage science for what it is, inspired knowledge, and technology for what it is, endowed power, and work together in practical ways toward the better world long prophesied.

For more on this subject, see an article written by the Mormon Transhumanist Association:

http://transfigurism.org/community/files/11/sunstone_west_2007/entry2338.aspx

7/15/2008 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous The Only True and Living Nathan said...

Gary,

I think you're missing my point. Science assumes that the natural processes in effect will continue to work barring some divine intervention, because science is based on logical predictability, and one cannot assess statistically the likelihood of (for instance) an angel visiting a New York farmboy. Based on what we see, what others have seen, and what we can generalize as laws of nature from those records, what can we forecast as future behavior? A God who is intelligent and self-directed works outside that paradigm, but that doesn't invalidate the paradigm. Sagan's postulate is entirely reasonable; barring a divine intervention, which actions are not scientifically predictable, his view of the future is what will likely take place. If it helps you harmonize them, simply look to Sagan's forecasts as "what would happen if the universe as presently observed continued on its course and God decided not to intervene." Which, really, is the assumption for all scientific, technological, and common-sense enterprises, and it is rarely wrong on the grounds that God intervened. If I'm allergic to flowers and put my nose into a bouquet of them, I can reasonably assume an allergic reaction, even though it is entirely possible for God to intervene with an antiallergic miracle. If my workplace was south of my home yesterday and the day before and the year before, I can reasonably assume that it will still be south tomorrow even though it's entirely possible that God will rearrange geography overnight and my workplace will end up somewhere to the northeast. And if God reveals to me that He is indeed planning on rearranging local geography, that still doesn't show that the scientific method is mortally flawed; it still is the best predictor based on the generally available evidence. Nor would I think my neighbors fools if they decided to disbelieve my word alone that they're getting on the wrong onramp.

7/15/2008 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

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total Nathan, it seems we're just talking past each other here.

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Regarding science and resurrection, Lincoln Cannon, said: "Even death, now, has come within the scope of engineering problems, as we quickly learn the causes of aging and work to counteract them." But that is not what the Church teaches.

Here is what the Church teaches: "When you die, your spirit will enter the spirit world and await the resurrection. At the time of the resurrection, your spirit and body will reunite, and you will be judged and received into a kingdom of glory. The glory you inherit will depend on the depth of your conversion and your obedience to the Lord’s commandments." (True to the Faith, pp.116-117.)

Lincoln, my friend, resurrection involves returning to life after the decaying process of the grave. It is infinitely more than merely prolonging life. Apparently, you and I are not even talking about the same theology.

7/15/2008 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

"And if you're talking about extrapolating current telestial knowledge very far into the future, science is simply a bad bet."
Gary, 99.99999% of science (and maybe more) does not try to predict "very far into the future." It predicts the (relatively) near future.
Since "no man knows" when Christ will come again, when should we say that science should stop predicting? Meanwhile, in some areas science is very good at prediction, while in other areas, it struggles (although the predictions are improving).
We can use these predictions for all sorts of things--to know what areas are in danger of earthquakes, for example, so we can build safer buildings.
As long as we don't know when the Second Coming will be, we shouldn't expect it (although we should certainly be prepared for it). If I recall, Joseph Smith talked about being prepared for the Second Coming (even way back then) but he also said that the saints needed to plant trees (and plan for the future--in the natural, scientific world).
I would say that that advice is still relevant today, and I think that's what Steve at Mormon Organon was getting at.

7/15/2008 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Lincoln Cannon said...

Gary, regarding resurrection, I trust information persists in more ways than we can now imagine. Although not my favorite hypothesis, Omega Point is interesting to consider. It's interesting to note that both Joseph and Brigham taught that resurrection is an ordinance we'll perform for each other.

If your theology is about supernaturalism or immaterialism then we're certainly not talking about the same theology. My faith is in a natural material God, like whom we may become through natural material processes.

7/15/2008 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous The Only True and Living Nathan said...

Regarding science and resurrection, Lincoln Cannon, said: "Even death, now, has come within the scope of engineering problems, as we quickly learn the causes of aging and work to counteract them." But that is not what the Church teaches.

Here is what the Church teaches: "When you die, your spirit will enter the spirit world and await the resurrection. At the time of the resurrection, your spirit and body will reunite, and you will be judged and received into a kingdom of glory. The glory you inherit will depend on the depth of your conversion and your obedience to the Lord’s commandments." (True to the Faith, pp.116-117.)


Call me blind, but I don't see the contradiction here, unless you deny the existence of the Pacemaker, gene therapy, and other medical advances which treat organ failure and death as "engineering" problems. You're right; we must be talking past each other.

7/16/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger richard Sherlock said...

Gary I would very much like to hear your view on two questions. Why do you think NDBF is so important. I have argued for a long time that evolution by natural selection is patently anti religious and will do so till I die. But why NDBF ? Also why do you think in recent decades what we have most heard in NDBF when at least in the past Talmage, Widtsoe, and Roberts for sure didn't believe it

7/17/2008 12:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anthony Larson said...

Science has a poor track record where it comes to prediction. One quick example: When I was in school (many centuries ago, according to my children), we were taught that dinosaurs were slow, lumbering, swamp dwelling, tail draggers who were related to today's reptiles. Turns out, they actually moved freely. Some even leapt about like Gazelles. And now we're told that they were more like birds than reptiles. So in this case, paleontogists' predictions turned out wrong.
The astral or planetary sciences are certainly a bad bet just now. Based on their own repeated expressions of "surprise" at every new discovery by space probes, there seems to be a disconnect. That indicates that their fundamental paradigm must be flawed. If a theory or thesis cannot be used to predict what this or that experiment will produce, it fails the smell test. Discard it, and find a better one. Instead, today's planetary scientists insist their paradigm is correct, it just needs some "adjusting." Bah! Their persistant exclamations of "surprise" at the phenomena and conditions their space probes report says it all: The planetary sciences are a real poor bet, and they have been for the last half century. They've invented so many theoretical constructs (myths) to exlain the universe that it's starting to sound like mysticism: black holes, dark matter, dark energy, ultramassive objects, other dimentions, wormholes, light that is both a wave and a particle, etc, etc. Come on! Who believes this stuff?
At least religion is honest in it's claims to the metaphysical. Science tries to hide behind rationalism and empericism, but it has become equally metaphysical in many respects.
So, in my view, science (the institution, not the philosophy) has never been a good bet.

7/27/2008 08:53:00 AM  

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