Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thought of the Day from Mike Parker

In a recent post, Mike Parker made the following insightful comment:
"Just because this is God's Church doesn't mean that He has revealed all truth, or enforces the correct understanding of every principle. The purpose of the Church is to bring back the authority, ordinances, and revelation necessary to exalt mankind, not to enforce some sort of perfectionist doctrinal kingdom. God reveals just enough to save us, and leaves the rest up to us to sort out for ourselves. Just because the Saints have some beliefs or interpretations that are not "universally true" (whatever that means) does not mean that the Church should be discarded."
For those of you who expect God to take over the minds of true prophets so that every thought they have is in line with ultimate scientific truth, think again. It wasn't that way in the Old Testament (Moses, for example, classified bats as birds), New Testament writers did not seem to be up on modern scientific findings about the age of the earth, and LDS Church leaders have sometimes failed to be decades ahead of the scientific community in their assumptions and opinions. Maybe someday the Lord will call "science prophets" to the Church whose job will be to satisfy our scientific curiosity and gratify our desire for impressive miracles by answering anthropological and biological questions in ways that will eventually be verified by scientists (plus a few accredited science prophets on FDA panels could be a huge boon in approving new drugs - could completely eliminate the need for lengthy trials). But for now, the Lord seems more concerned with teaching us to repent and love one another than He is in explaining the details of the Creation or of the genetics of the Americas. Sorry about that. It's really bad news, actually: it means we'll have to sort through a lot of things on our own and still exercise faith in the cloudy areas.

15 comments:

Steve said...

It's wonderful knowing we haven't had everything revealed to us; it means there are things that will be revealed! Thus, God and His Son continue to watch out for us and guide us to this very day - and beyond!

Maybe if many of us heed the Prophet's call to read the BoM by the end of the year, we will be blessed with many things, including more revealed truth.

Steve C said...

What God revealed to the prophets was true, whether historical OR scientific. This does NOT mean he revealed ALL of history or science. But rather that what WAS revealed was correct.
The bats as birds argument is a silly one. Bats fly, and are a "flying thing". A cursory look at a bat would classify them with other flying things. We are NOT looking at bats from a scientific (man-made, by the way) classification schema here, thus it is NOT an error. If however the Scriptures talked about bats living in the water, swimming, etc. then there would be an issue.
The same goes with creation. The creation account is written from a somewhat historical perspective. This means, AT LEAST, that God DID create the heavens and the earth.
Remember, if we cannot believe the historicity of Scripture, then who is to say that Jesus ever lived? Then our faith is in vain and we are to be the most pitied.

Steve C said...

When science and the scripture agree, excellent. When science and the Scripture DISAGREE, I will take the Scriptures.
I have frustrations with those who discount what Scripture plainly says in favor of science. Remember, in Joseph Smith's time there were NUMEROUS items in the Book of Mormon that would be "disproved" by science. As Jeff Lindsay's website shows, those have since been given plausible explanations or even proved!
So, lest we stab ourselves in the back, please, please, please give the Bible a fair shake against the scientists, some of whom have ulterior motives in "disproving" the Word of God.

THE Mike Parker said...

steve: When science and the scripture agree, excellent. When science and the Scripture DISAGREE, I will take the Scriptures.

The problem with this is determining what the scriptures say versus what we think they say. Interpretation is the crux of the matter, and it is interpretation that divided Christianity over and over again for 2,000 years.

For example, the literalist reading of Genesis 1 would indicate that the earth was created in 6 days of 24 hours each, with light created first, then a solid dome ("firmament") for the sky, then dry land and plants, then stars, and so forth. But we know — not theorize, know — that the sky isn't a solid structure and that stars existed before dry land.

So we're left with three options: (1) reject science and believe that the sky really is solid, etc., or (2) interpret Genesis 1 to make it fit with our understanding of science, or (3) accept that the Genesis account reflects the understanding of the writers, and is not a scientific textbook.

(Personally I vouch for 3.)

But to insist that "when science and the Scripture disagree, I will take the Scriptures" is an overly dogmatic view that leads to unreasonable interpretations and an unfortunate rejection of scientific understanding of the universe that God has allowed us to grasp.

Bookslinger said...

The Mike:

Genesis 1:6-7. There was a firmament placed, and there were waters above the firmament and waters below the firmament. What is a "firmament"? And is it still there?

If the firmament is "heaven" as in verse 8, then is "sky" or "atmosphere" a proper synonym for firmament?

What were the waters above it? Was there a layer of water or water vapor in orbit over the earth above the atmosphere?

Was the "firmament" actually a dome or barrier up in the sky or just an expanse?

My grandfather theorized that the waters that were above the firmament came down in Noah's flood. And that the down-flow of that water did several things:

1. Removed the partial "filter" that the water vapor provided from the sun's rays and other cosmic radiation.

2. Washed trace minerals out of the earth and into the sea.

As the life span of men decreased from pre-flood to post-flood, my grandfather theorized that a cause may have been the reduction of trace minerals in the diet.

Mike Parker said...

Books of Mormon in Indy,

The cosmology of the ancient Hebrews was not much different than those of the surrounding cultures.

They believed that the earth was flat, bordered on the edges where mountains connected with a solid dome that was the sky (translated "firmament" in the KJV).

There were bodies of water covering the face of the earth (oceans, lakes, etc.), below the earth, and above the firmament. The firmament had door-like openings which could be opened by God to let down rain or cast down other blessings (Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2; Malachi 3:10). Job 37:18 refers to the skies poured out like a molten mirror, and Daniel 12:3 and Ezekiel 1:22 portray it as shiny — the sky was thought to be like a glass dome.

Above the firmament was the dwelling place of God. Under the earth were pillars that supported it as well as Sheol, the dwelling place of the dead.

There are several artists conceptions of this that will help you grasp the idea:

Artist's conception 1
Artist's conception 2
Artist's conception 3

It's clear from your last post that you prefer option 2 in my last message (interpretation). I don't think, however, that it's necessary for the ancient Hebrew authors of the OT to have had a correct understanding of cosmology. What was important (and correct) was that God created the universe.

Steve C said...

"But to insist that "when science and the Scripture disagree, I will take the Scriptures" is an overly dogmatic view that leads to unreasonable interpretations and an unfortunate rejection of scientific understanding of the universe that God has allowed us to grasp."


You know what, you are right! It has been scientifically proved that one cannot rise from the dead, therefore Christ did not rise from the dead! And both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon are false.
This is fantastic, I now have MUCH more free time on Sundays!
Cheers,
Steve

Mike Parker said...

Steve,

There is no need for sarcasm. You misunderstand what I wrote.

The resurrection is a matter outside of science, it is one of faith. The NT does not make any scientific statements about how Jesus came back from the dead, it only says he did. I accept that on faith.

Genesis 1 is another matter. It makes specific claims about how the earth was created and what its nature is. We clearly know those claims — when read literally — to be wrong (we regularly send satellites and astronauts into orbit, so I think it's safe to say that the sky isn't a solid dome). So there has to be a way to harmonize the two. I laid out what I thought were three possible options: (1) science is wrong and the Bible is right, therefore the space program is a giant hoax; (2) science is right and the Bible is right, we only have to interpret the Bible correctly; and (3) science is right and the Bible is wrong.

Personally, in the case of Genesis 1, I take option 3. But that option does not require complete rejection of the Bible or the gospel, it only requires that one accept that the Bible reflects what its authors believed. It is possible to accept the Bible as historical and true, while believing that it incorporates some elements of myth and attempted explanations of the miraculous.

Another example is Noah and the ark. The biblical text does not demand that Noah got every animal in the world onto the ark, nor does it demand that the entire earth — as we moderns understand it — was completely covered in water. It only requires that Noah put all the animals on that he was commanded to, and that — from his perspective — the entire earth, horizon to horizon, was covered with water. It's when we try to synchronize our modern scientific understanding of the earth (57,500,000 square miles) with our preconceived interpretations of the Flood story (the entire earth sphere was covered with water), that we run into problems.

I hope I've been more clear.

Mike Parker said...

And I might add that the vast majority of the scientific problems with Bible are in the first 10 chapters of Genesis. It seems clear to me that the authors of Genesis were attempting to lay out a creation/foundation story to set the stage for Abraham and the founding of the Israelite nation. This creation/foundation story included elements of revelation (there were people named Adam and Noah, etc.) with their attempt to explain what happened to these people, based on their limited cosmology.

Steve C said...

You are all missing the point. If at any point the Scriptures are called into question, then the entire Scriptures are called into question. If Genesis 1-10 is "wrong", then why not Matthew through Revelation?

Mike Parker said...

Steve,

I reject your unsupported conclusion. That's an overly fundamentalist viewpoint that is likely to cause you to lose your testimony one day when incontrovertible scientific evidence flies in the face of your interpretation of the scriptures.

Just because scriptures were written by men who were inspired by God doesn't mean that they weren't still men. The Holy Ghost whispered to them, and they wrote as best they could what they received.

The authors of the Book of Mormon themselves explained several times that their writing was imperfect, but that the teachings in the book were from God (1 Nephi 19:6; 2 Nephi 33:4; Mormon 8:17; 9:31-33; Ether 12:23-26). Moroni pleaded on the title page, "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God...."

The ancient prophets believed things we know to be false, such as eating mandrakes assures conception, and having goats eat green poplar, hazel, and chestnut branches produces striped and spotted offspring (Genesis 30). These were scientific "facts" at the time, but we know them now to be nothing more than superstitions.

The scriptural authors were not dictation machines, nor did they receive a perfect knowledge of the things they were called to reveal. They often were required to fit God's revelations into their preexisting understanding of the world.

We can, therefore, accept the revelations while also accepting that the scientific and cosmological paradigm in which they operated was not correct.

Anonymous said...

joseph smith, on the other hand, was a dictation machine.

Anonymous said...

Mike Parker — I pretty much agree with you (although I might word some things differently). I firmly believe that what Scripture teaches is true; the question is what is it that Scripture is teaching. In the case of the first few chapters of Genesis, I don't believe that it teaches, or that its writer(s) intended to teach, scientific principles. It is written in the language of mythology and poetry, and to me there's plenty of truth about the nature of God and the nature of humankind to accept it on that level. And what if we don't know what's literally true and what's symbolically true? Well, that's what we have the Holy Spirit, modern revelations and our brains for.

Mike Parker said...

Anonymous: joseph smith, on the other hand, was a dictation machine.

I'm not sure if this post was meant to be funny or serious, but I'll proceed on on the presumption that it's serious.

Joseph Smith did not write his revelations by dictation; he heard the voice of the Spirit and used the best words and phrases at his disposal. This is evident by the fact that he went back and edited his early revelations years afterward to include additional material as well as revise some things.

Mike Parker said...

Anonymous: In the case of the first few chapters of Genesis, I don't believe that it teaches, or that its writer(s) intended to teach, scientific principles. It is written in the language of mythology and poetry, and to me there's plenty of truth about the nature of God and the nature of humankind to accept it on that level.

I agree with what you've written. The thing to watch out for is not to go too far and start thinking the Bible or the Book of Mormon are ahistorical — all allegory and "inspired fiction."

We can (and should, IMO) accept the scriptures as histories written by real people who sometimes had lots of revelation and limited scientific, geographic, and historical detail at their command.