Science and Religion, FAR too Far

On 8 Feb 2011, I had an op-ed piece published in the SLTrib.  The article was an expansion of one of my blog posts (https://rogerdhansen.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/the-anti-science-movement) which encouraged churches and their leaders to stop fighting science, particularly in the areas of human sexuality, organic evolution, and man’s impact on the environment.  This prompted a Mormon apologetic’s group–FAR or the Foundation for Attraction Research–to publish a rejoinder (25 Feb 2011) which dealt with the sole issue of same-sex attraction.

My op-ed piece, states that there is a stong genetic component to sexuality, and that conservative religions need to “deal with it” and quit pretending otherwise.  FAR dismisses the scientist I quote, who by the way is a professor emeritus, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, BYU.  And they quote from a book titled The Language of God by Frances S. Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and the current director of NIH.

Collins is an interesting man for FAR to quote.  I have not read the book The Language of God, but according to Amazon: 

  • The book argues that belief in a transcent, personal God . . . can and should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution.
  • The book expounds a theistic view, which assumes organic evolution is fact, and constitutes a divine means of creation.
  • Collins’ support for the Big Bang Theory and organic evolution, and his beliefs in a non-literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis is going to make conservative Christians uncomfortable.

So, I’m sure that Collins would support my contention that conservative Christians need to come to grips with advancements in science and technology, the premise of my original op-ed piece.  The authors of the FAR op-ed piece seem to be cherry picking which parts of Collins’ book they choose to support.  Is FAR co-author, John P. Livingstone, associate professor of Church History and Doctrine in Religious Education at BYU, ready to believe in organic evolution, including common descent?  Is he ready to give up on the early chapters in the Book of Genesis?  If he is, we are making progress.

On the issue of same-sex attraction, I suspect that Collins would be very uncomfortable with the way his quote is used in the FAR op-ed piece.  FAR quotes him as writing that homosexuality is “genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.”  Since his book was published, Collins has stated that this use of his words misrepresents his position, which he subsequently clarified as follows:  “No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component [of sexual orientation], but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years.”

We need to let science determine the biological nature of human sexuality, organic evolution (including common descent), and the impacts of humans on the environment, and discourage church leaders and their surrogates from speculating.

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6 Responses to Science and Religion, FAR too Far

  1. Pingback: World Spinner

  2. raedyohed says:

    Just read your Feb 5 Op-Ed, and also the post you linked. Well said.

    The FAR op-ed neither seems to dismiss science, nor reject evolutionary-genetic theory per se. It favors a psychological-behavioral view. So what? By participating in the discussion on scientific grounds, referencing sources from behavioral and biological sciences, isn’t FAR doing what you ask of them? Does it really matter if they misrepresent Collins anyway, since he’s just a technocrat at this point? His scientific pontifications carry little weight for anyone not trying to get funding from him.

    It seems they took him at his word in their Op-ed. I suppose it’s bad enough that anyone would appeal to Collins in the first place. He is not the expert on much these days, since his “common traits common alleles” theory turned out to be the total BS people were afraid to admit it was 15 years ago. But the final analysis it seems FAR has appealed to scientific sources that favor their position whereas you appealed to sources that favored yours. Both can arguably be called scientific positions. Where’s the beef?

    Oh also, I love the Widstoe quote. It’s very similar to a Geo Q. Cannon one I like. Is that from “Evidences?”

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    Thanx for you comments. I’m currently living on the Navajo Reservation. I will be back in my office in a couple of weeks. I will look up the reference then.

    I would be very interested in the George Q. Cannon quote.

    My beef is with any church official who makes uninformed statements. For example, the Mormon Church needs another Widtsoe who is willing to discuss and think through the issues, instead of making “strange” pronouncements. Widtsoe was a great moderating influence on JFS, but when he died that moderation stopped. Mormons need someone to carry on the Widtsoe tradition.

  4. raedyohed says:

    “Who is there that believes more in true evolution than the Latter-day Saints?—the evolution of man until he shall become a god, until he shall sit at the right hand of the Father, until he shall be a joint heir with Jesus!” Of course, in fairness, he continues: “That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, believed in by the Latter-day Saints. That is the kind of evolution we believe in, but not the evolution of man from some low type of animal life.” Oh well… In actuality I think the Widtsoe quote you reference in your Feb 5 op-ed falls squarely within this line of thinking; that ‘evolution’ to a Mormon means eternal progress and not common ancestry with other primates. I agree with your analysis that Elder Widtsoe likely moderated Elder Smith’s views. He and others certainly provided counterpoint. That is a matter of record. Historically there seems to have always been a fair amount of moderation and mutual consideration among LDS leadership. Though I tend to prefer views along the lines of a Widtsoe or Talmage, I couldn’t comment on whether or not there are similarly-minded individuals among LDS leadership presently.

    [The Cannon quote is from remarks given at the tabernacle on Sunday, Sept 24th 1893. I don’t know the occasion, but it is presumably at a General Conference, or other similar meeting. (Sept. 24, 1893, Deseret Weekly 47:506)]

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    Thanks for the quote. I think Widtsoe was confortable with many aspect of organic evolution. But common descent was a problem for him. It would be interesting to speculate on what Widtsoe might believe if he were alive today, with the advances in paleontology, DNA research, physical anthropology, etc.

    The reason this issue of science and religion is a bit troubling for me is because I think I’ve read somewhere that 50 percent of Mormons do not believe in organic evolution and would rather believe in a literal reading of early Genesis.

  6. raedyohed says:

    While I share your general sentiments about the need to better understand evolution and the science it is founded on, I think the statistic you’re referencing is less problematic than it seems. The results you may be thinking of are from a PEW poll (http://tinyurl.com/4fxrr7s) which suggests that evolution is generally accepted by only 20% of LDS. There are several problems with the survey, not the least of which, among Mormons, is the fact that the question is worded in a way that would seem to prompt more negative responses than is reflective of Mormons’ perceptions of evolution. I suspect we are more around the mainline protestantism levels (which is average for Americans at about 50%). We also need to take into account socio-economic status in how these beliefs are going to be distributed throughout the Church. Geography is correlated with income is correlated with education is correlated with acceptance of evolution.

    All of that notwithstanding, I too, yearn for a more expansive theological framework with which to view evolution. I find that on a personal level, with the exception of some strongly worded personal views of a few General Authorities, I am able to develop such a framework for my own sake. I see some promising developments from other LDS thinkers as well, and I hope that over time a more science & evolution-friendly theology is will emerge. This will happen faster if we all follow President Hinckley’s council to get all the education that we can.

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