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

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Christian Fellowship Breakfast in San Francisco

Yesterday I attended a Christian fellowship breakfast held for those attending the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, a large meeting with over 4,000 attendees here in the heart of San Francisco. The breakfast gathering was small, with only about 20 people, but I was glad that a large portion of the group (three that I knew of) were LDS. I'm happy to report that our strong representation at this early morning Christian fellowship breakfast probably showed other Christians that, no matter what some people say, Mormons really do believe in free food.

The fellowship breakfast was a fabulous couple hours of fellowship and discussion. I was pleased to meet a few significant names in academia and some great thinkers. We heard a speech from an outstanding professor of one of the nation's top chemical engineering departments (I'd like to check with him before putting his name in this blog, just in case) who discussed the problem of anti-intellectualism in the Church. He dealt constructively with four problems he sees in some areas of Christianity:

  1. Teaching that evolution is an evil atheistic myth.

  2. Teaching that stem cell research is inherently evil.

  3. Teaching that Christians should support one particular political party.

  4. Thinking that the Church should take a stand on global warming.

As with most Christians I know in science, the Christians at this fellowship generally accept the idea that modern science has a reasonable description of what has happened in the past. At the same time, they view it as part of the process God used to achieve the marvelous Creation that we behold.

I also strongly agree with the critique of Christians putting faith in a single political party. People need to think critically about the issues and not simply assume that one party is going to be "God's party." From my perspective, one can debate about whether there has been a major apostasy in Christianity over the centuries, but when it comes to politics, there should be no room for doubt: both major parties have apostatized at least in some degree from the principles this nation was founded on -- so why trust them unthinkingly?

I was pleased to meet Robert Enick of the University of Pittsburgh, author of the book, Evolving in Eden. (I'm buying the book - it looks outstanding.) He made the salient point that every step of the Creation process does not need to be miraculous for God to be a good Creator. Using a system that includes natural evolutionary processes does not detract from His divinity and brilliance. This may be a key weakness of the philosophical approach in the Intelligent Design movement, implicitly linking God's skill as a Creator to items in nature that appear to be too complex to have originated naturally. When natural explanations can later be derived, it can be disappointing and challenge faith. Isn't it even more skillful and marvelous for God to have created a system where such complexity could arise with no or relatively few acts of subsequent intervention, rather than one that requires extensive intervention along the way? I really appreciate his perspectives.

I tend to think that intervention must have occurred in many matters and at many points, but who knows? Why get hung up in the details that are muddy to both theologians and scientists?

As for my personal belief in free food, it was sorely shaken in this meeting when a collection plate was passed around at the end. Since the breakfast was not sponsored by AIChE and was done with pricey hotel catering, the suggested donation was $20. Yet I gladly ate that cost, and soon found my faith renewed when I was blessed shortly thereafter with an invitation to a free dinner. Sweet!

(San Francisco is an amazing place.)

19 comments:

Bishop Rick said...

Jeff,

Very good points. I think science has proven that the creation story (as stated in the book of Genesis) is not literal, but as you say, that does not mean that the real creation story wasn't influenced by a supreme being, and wasn't the real plan all along.

I'm glad you were not offered a free lunch, because we all know there is no such thing.

Pops said...

Let's see -- engineers + Mormons + "free" food -- that's a pretty sure thing...

It doesn't bother me that my children were taught in public schools that they descended from monkeys. [If you saw my picture, you wouldn't think that to be far off.] But that's because they know better -- they understand the science as well as the religion, and understand that some day the conflicts will be resolved, even if not in this life.

I worry about those who don't get much education in the home -- is a system of moral behavior meaningful or rational within the context of the animal kingdom? What are the social ramifications of demoting humans to "mere animal" status?

In the mean time, our inability to prove scientifically that God exists should not be taken as proof that he does not. Nobody is going to discover God unless they go about it in the way that God promotes. I'm pretty sure that God is an expert at plausible deniability, if you will, and chaotic systems make great cover.

BRoz said...

I like that the LDS chuch hasn't taken an official position on evolution/creation/design because it provides room for everyone under the tent.

Bishop Rick said...

Unless you call the Pearl of Great Price an official position.

Roy W. Wright said...

What verse(s) are you referring to?

Bishop Rick said...

Mainly chapters 2-4 of Book of Moses.

Anonymous said...

My Dad has taught me from my earliest days that this earth life is a level playing field; that God has designed it in such a way that almost anything can be explained from the point of view of an absence of God, and that almost anything can be explained from the point of view of divine intervention.

Either way, it's a faith-based thing. Each soul is completely free to accept or reject God. My Dad teaches that God honors our agency above all else.

From this point of view, irreduceable complexity is probably not a valid approach to explaining God's existence. Our ancestors thought many things to be irreduceably complex that are well understood today. It seems we are constantly discovering answers to things once thought too complex to explain.

From my Dad's point of view, that will continue, and that is as it should be. God must be discovered and accepted based upon the principles he has outlined rather than on human reason and telestial evidence alone. This frees one to seek for truth and understanding where others would put blinders on.

Bishop Rick said...

reach upward,

Why do we believe the things that we do? Is it because of the traditions of our fathers? Does that make it right/wrong? Can we really explain away everything based solely on faith?

If someone tells you something that cannot be proven, why should you believe it? Why should you be required to believe something solely based on faith? That is dangerous, especially if it turns out not to be true. Many things that cannot be proven do turn out to be false.

Where does that leave all the people that believed it based solely on faith?

Walker said...

Bishop Rick

I'm a huge fan of asking tough questions. But it seems like I see little else.

What do you believe about this question? It might be wortwhile for all of us to understand a diff't point of view besides the standard Mormon responses.

Bishop Rick said...

Walker,

This is a really tough issue that I struggle with. I too have been taught the faith is necessary aspect my whole life, and understand that mindset.

The problem I have is that many things that I once defended mightily, based only one 1: what I was told, and 2: faith, have turned out to be false. These things have had a great influence on my willingness to simply accept things on faith.

Don't get me wrong, there are still things that I cling too - based solely on faith - like the existence of a Supreme Being...but I have said many times before, that I do not believe that the almighty interferes or influences the choices that we make here on earth. There is no justification for that belief (in my mind), and plenty of justification against it.

All I'm saying is that I don't think the earthly existence is a level playing field at all.

It makes no sense that the fate of Billions rides on the choices of a couple million.

Let's say that everything that we have all been taught in the LDS church is true...all of it.

Why, throughout the history of the world, was the true church of God only on the earth for 1 generation 2000 years ago, and in our time since the 1800s?

Does that sound like a level playing field to you? How can you make the right choice when all of the choices are wrong, except for .000001% of the human population that just happened to live during those times?

These tough questions are legitmate issues that I struggle with, that many people simply want to dismiss. Perhaps you don't hear the easy questions because they have been answered.

Pops said...

Bishop Rick,

What do you know that isn't based on faith? Don't limit it just to religious faith, recalling that faith is any belief strong enough to produce action.

We know gravity for sure, right? We can run experiment after experiment and get 32.2 ft/sec/sec, right? Except for the Voyager anomaly, the total eclipse - pendulum period anomaly, and the curious proposed behavior of gravity in Superstring Theory that forces things away. In other words, there appear to be situations where gravity doesn't behave the way we expect it to behave, and we can't explain why. Therefore we can't say with 100% certainty what will happen in a given situation. We can get to 99.999% or better with gravity, which is good enough to send man to the moon, along with a lot of other useful stuff. But it isn't certainty. There's no such thing in the physical realm. (If nothing else, there's the obstacle that we may not actually be experiencing what we think we are -- it could be a giant simulation, and we have no way of knowing whether it is or not. If it is, any physical "law" could be arbitrarily suspended or modified at any time.)

What I'm saying is don't ever get hung up on something that somebody "proves" one way or the other, particularly if it contradicts something you have experienced to be good. Just file it away in the "interesting, but more data is needed" compartment and move on.

I like Orson Scott Card's statement, "Knowledge is just opinion that you trust enough to act upon."

Walker said...

Believe it or not Rick, I do not a face somewhat similar problem.

I ask diff't questions, but the response is nevertheless the same. I often get platitudes, pat answers, and brush-offs. Such things frustrate me.

I could tic off other questions not mentioned here (or that have never been mentioned on the blog). I've asked such questions and received strange looks as a response.

However, I decided some ago that I was not going to let "fool religion take the place of my religion. I've found answers for myself, answers I find to be as rational as one can be given my assumptions. It fits the bill, enough to where I can go out there do some good with what I have.

Bishop Rick said...

Walker, Pops,

That's great that you guys have reached that point. I have not gotten to that place yet. When something doesn't make sense to me, I want to know the truth. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny made me feel good when I was a kid, but I'm 99.999% sure they are not real now, so I can't make myself believe it even though I really want it to be true.

Same goes for certain aspects of religion. There are just certain things I can't make myself believe even though I want them to be true. Nothing against those that choose to believe them, I just can't force myself to believe something that I am 99.999% sure is not true.

Walker said...

As do I, Bishop Rick. Really. Nor do I (and most everyone else I suspect) expect you to share the beliefs we hold.

When I find out something isn't true, I revisit it, I make an attempt for reconciliation--provided one can be made. If it cannot, then I look at what could have been causing my false assumptions. And after thoroughly examining relevant documentation on church doctrine (including teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, teachings of EVERY prophet, and others), I have found that if I disagree with something, it's normally something that they themselves have disagreed with.

I experienced tremendous disenchantment at my expectations for BYU--that it just didn't meet the snuff.

Yet if I make every question, every fact, and every detail life a potential "deal breaker," I live a precarious life indeed without any meaningful stability. I could not trust in ANYTHING. Perhaps I might believe in a God if I so chose, but that God would hardly be a God worth loving, given he created a universe so strewn with doctrinal eggshells. In any case, he wouldn't be a very useful God--hardly worth existing--if his existence did assist his subjects in one regard or another.

Bishop Rick said...

Walker,

That is exactly what we have...a universe created and strewn with doctrinal eggshells.

We are given information (and asked to believe it) that turns out to be totally (99.999%) false. We are left to sort out on our own, hundreds and hundreds of contradictions. We are fed doctrine that makes absolutely no sense, once broken down. We are put on earth with nothing for a compass save other people without a compass, and expected to have faith.

Faith in what?

Faith in the words of another man that is no more capable of discernment than I am?

Faith in scriptures that are filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods?

Faith in a religion that was propogated by the very people said to have corrupted its truthfulness, not to mention, were not even members at the time of said propogation?

Please tell me where I am to find this faith, and why I should rely on it?

Walker said...

I am saddened that you have not had a positive experience with this gospel as I have had. Yet both of us see the same evidence, the same problems. Why that is, I'm not sure--after all, this is just a blogosphere, not a psychologist's office.

That said, let's say I myself am having a difficult time with a particular doctrine right now and I might say that I feel this doctrine has been thrown (a greater cynic than I would say it was rubbed in his face) at me by a priesthood leader. Perfect grounds for doctrinal oppression, no?

ujlapana said...

Pops,

If "God" created a universe to perfectly mask Her existence, She overlooked a simple principle--reductionism. You present God vs. Naturalism as a simple dualism; in reality there are infinite options. Hindus assert that existence is an ever-repeating cycle, without a creation. Some people believe all of reality is entirely in their minds. I could as easily claim that I am God. If you ask me to prove it, I can simply say, "I choose to perform all of my actions such that they cannot be definitely attributed to me--you must simply believe, or I will torment you forever." That's the problem with arbitrary assertions--there are infinite possibilities.

Do you see how Law of Gravity is so unlike this? We have a Law, which we use out of convenience. If there are problems with the Law (although I am not familiar with most of the ones you cite) then they are revealed by the same inter-subjective, empirical method that got us the Law in the first place! The Law may need to be modified--so be it. But we don't change it because someone just starts asserting that they "feel" it should be changed. "God told me gravity is better described by this equation. Or rather, gravity can simply come and go as we please!" No, science and faith are diametrically opposed ways of defining knowledge.

Science, by it's questioning nature, is inherently self-correcting; faith, by it's accepting nature, is unable to reliably correct errors, even profound ones. Science always seeks a root cause for disharmony in observations; faith insists we take the preassigned answer and put everything else "on the shelf."

Bishop Rick said...

Walker,

I'm not sure what you mean by your second paragraph in your last post. Please expound.

Walker said...

I was in a bit of a hurry so I had to cut it short.

While I could argue that because this leader is forcing this uncomfortable doctrine at me in an unpleasant way, I am doing what I can to ferret out the truth of what he says, independent of how he has said or even independent of his rationale for teaching it (in the last post i said "rubbed in his face," I meant "my face").

So do I exercise faith in priesthood leaders? Yes but in their "Bottom-line/end of the day" counsel. For me to go further would be to place trust in flesh but for me to hold back further would be essentially denying the priesthood power I myself have claimed to hold.

And in regards to ujlapama's comment on faith, I would say he has not accurately described my faith. Rather, he has taken that easy potshot at the oft-caricaturized faith (which is so easily done, even for me) of Brady in that classic film INherit the Wind ("I am more concerned with the Rock of Ages than the Age of Rocks"). Incidentally, the Rock of Ages is more than I, and since I am commanded to become like him, I ought to determine how he made them too.