Correlation: FAIL

So, on a recent Sunday morning in our high priest group we took up the lesson on “creation” from the “Gospel Principles” manual published by the LDS Church.

Our group is an eclectic bunch in terms of training. Ex-car salesmen, olympic coaches, astronomers, mathematicians, physicians, dentists, farmers, classicists, historians, inventory specialists, elevator technicians, programmers, business executives, mailmen, music teachers, linguists and that’s only the ones I can think of right now. (I used the plural, but actually in a number of cases, there’s only one example.)

The instructor’s comments were interesting but for the most part outside the lesson’s intent (I think). The instructor started off by debunking the “big bang theory” as a devilish fiction. There’s a guy trained in astrophysics who was sitting in front of me. But he kept his cool throughout, mostly. And of course the exhaustive foreknowledge of God came up again, this time from a new commenter in the group. My home teaching companion, who is usually one to get nervous about speculation (or obscure fact-he’s very correlated ;-)), kept his mouth shut for most of the time. No one dared to utter the awful word “evolution” on either side of the “divide.” I think I may have heard the scientists and intellects in the church compared to Nehor/Korihor by our instructor. He clearly had an axe to grind, but no one seemed willing to really offer up a wheel.

Since the lesson had capsized for me, I settled for reading it from my iphone. Our instructor brought along some helpful literature, Eric Skousen’s 1996 tome, “Earth, In The Beginning.” This book is, well, how can I say it? Interesting. But lesson material? And 19th century speculations about rocks having thoughts. In case you didn’t know, that’s how creation was accomplished. Tell the rocks what to do, and wait until they do it![1] They’re intelligent! If only I could make the molecules in my car listen.

You should not take away that I’m making fun of this, for two reasons.

(1) This kind of thinking may fuel an anti-science suspicion that still lurks in Mormonism. I think that’s bad, even hurtful for kids. You can cultivate faith in kids without advocating some whacky form of creationism. Trust the Holy Spirit on this one. Of course Mormonism is not exceptional here.

(2) Much of scripture gives us lessons for life. If you want geology, planetary science, astrophysics, quantum field theory, paleontology, biology, medicine, M-theory, you won’t find it in the holy books. That’s not what they’re for. To understand those other things, you’re going to have to put in the time. And you won’t find the texts you need at Deseret Book.

I have no trouble with the idea that God is the “why” of the universe. But I don’t see the point of warring with the “how” that science struggles with. I can see some people feel that their faith is threatened: by having the truth claims of science impact their expectations gathered from theological opinion. Transplanted life, intelligent rocks, whatever. I’m not even saying that such speculations are absolutely incorrect. But even that last bastion of occasional nuttiness, the seminary classroom, is better than this. Isn’t it?[2]

Can faith and science coexist? For some, maybe not. But they do for me. I’m willing to sit back and wait for the dust to settle. How ever long it takes. Joseph Smith says, I’ve got forever. How about considering what the creation stories mean in our present lives? Isn’t that the “brand” of correlation?[3]



[1] Orson Pratt. I love him.

[2] I don’t paint all seminary teachers with this broad brush. It’s only the few weirdnessess that get circulated. I’m sure that’s true. Sure.

[3] Personally, I like context. It’s what I’ve been trained to discover, in science, history and religion. But I’ll go for the correlated version in this case, any day. Please.

25 Responses to Correlation: FAIL

  1. Charise says:

    Our lesson was definitely more correlated than yours 🙂 But faith and science coexist for me as well.

  2. john willis says:

    I had the same lesson yesterday. I pushed the idea of the scriptures tell us why the world was created and science tells us how. Don’t know if I changed andybody’s mind but at least the perspective got presented.

    Have you seen the new issue of Dialogue that came out this week? It has a good article by Stepen Peck a biologist at BYU diccussin the theological implications of Evolution for Mormonism.

  3. ricke says:

    In our class, we spent the entire time reviewing what was accomplished on the various days. We thus avoided any discussion about the time or processes involved. I was originally scheduled to teach this lesson, but I would have taken it in a much different, uncorrelated, and potentially more contentious direction, so it was probably best that I didn’t.

  4. Jared T. says:

    Thanks for the report, WVS. Correlation is definitely a double-edged sword.

  5. Jacob F says:

    I also don’t understand why many Mormons (or religious people in general) find it necessary to do intellectual gymnastics around evolution, geology, etc. We know certain gospel truths, and when additional truth comes to light–regardless of the source–we should embrace them!!! End of story. Seriously, what’s the big deal?

    (By the way I was raised with five brothers who taught me to be skeptical of all things Skousen–they meant Cleon Skousen, but apparently I need to expand the scope.)

  6. W. V. Smith says:

    People want sureness. They want bedrock to establish their lives on. Once you decide what the bedrock is, and you pour the foundation of your life on top of it, the more you don’t want it to shake or break. Conflict occurs when people sense that some of the bedrock they chose is being threatened. The principles of evolutionary biology effect nearly every branch of modern life science. Want to throw it out? It would be much tougher that just saying “we didn’t come from apes!”

    But I think Mormonism has historically been open to what science and the humanities have to offer in the way of “truth,” right? One of the early mantras, now being repeated occasionally is, we accept truth, no matter where it comes from. Our religion circumscribes all truth. This can be an uncomfortable doctrine in a number of ways. Correlation is all about shrinking the bedrock. That can be a good thing. But it’s what happened in early Christianity in a way. And Protestantism: another shrinkage attempt.

  7. Jacob F says:

    sorry for my grammar – “additional truth…we should embrace [it]”

    I agree it can be gut-wrenching to have your bedrock threatened, but in the end one’s testimony is, I think, stronger because it is built on a better foundation.

    For example, reading Rough Stone Rolling was wrenching for me, but in the end I had a clearer picture of church history and of what a prophet really is. It was a testimony BUILDING experience.

    People need to go through these experiences if their testimony is based on tradition, folklore, etc. Otherwise they’ll be rocked someday when faced with incontrovertible evidence that that tradition or folklore is false!

  8. LDSAgitator says:

    I had studied some of the material ahead of time, being properly armed just in case the teacher started getting off on a tangent (B.H. Roberts, Eyring, Brigham Young) and started extolling the virtues of young earthism and anti-scientific evidence. Minutes before the class was to begin, I was informed that the teacher had not arrived. I was asked to give the lesson. I decided to play the middle ground, and emphasize the importance of a creator, but also placing equal importance on use of appropriate scientific facts. I made it clear that God respects such principles as laws on which he “organized matter.” Not one person disputed my assertion. I was pleasantly surprised.

  9. Jacob J says:

    Amen WVS, amen.

  10. Relief Society went the same way for us. The teacher had a stack of newspaper clippings “proving” that science can’t be depended upon because scientists are always changing their minds about what is nutritious and what isn’t, and whether the earth is getting warmer or cooler, and whether Pluto is a planet, and what is the best treatment for this disease, and what age should women start getting that test, and so on. The teacher even called on her daughter-in-law, a 2nd grade teacher, who said that she loves science, it’s her favorite thing to teach, “but I always tell my kids that science isn’t true. Everything I learned when I was there age isn’t true anymore, and everything you learn will be wrong when you’re my age.” I kid you not. (I guess the law of gravity has been repealed, and water freezes at a different temperature now, and vitamin C is no longer useful for preventing scurvy. All the old stuff is false now,evidently.)

    There is a serious strain of anti-intellectualism in the church, and it always crops out when we discuss the early chapters of Genesis. That’s to be expected among the rank and file, I guess, when the Institute manual doesn’t really offer any commentary on Creation, but instead prints page after page of diatribe by Joseph Fielding Smith claiming that you can’t reconcile evolution with the Plan of Salvation.

  11. … when I was THEIR age …

  12. LDSAgitator says:

    @Ardis That is way over the top by the teacher. Embarrassing that such nonsense would be preached. In fact, when I taught my class, I made it clear that we in the LDS Church are privileged to have a very nuanced view of things that support science (I quoted Brigham Young). I also facilitated the discussion into how we need to be good stewards, because our planet is degrading, and that global warming is likely a result of man failing to live in balance with such a stewardship.

  13. Kristine says:

    John Willis (and all)–I just uploaded the pdf of Stephen’s article, so you can read it online here:

  14. john willis says:

    Thank you. Kristine

  15. R. Gary says:

    Re: Steven Peck’s article

    I actually enjoyed the article, partly because he says more than a dozen times that it’s speculative. And maybe also because he speculatively and technically acknowledges “no death before the Fall” (p.26). Go Steve!

  16. Paul says:

    Great post. Amazing, but great.

    Ardis, your experience astounds me! (Glad that woman is not my child’s second grade teacher; we’re firm believers in gravity in our house!)

    Interestingly our lesson said almost nothing about the creation itself. Our instructor sort of glossed over that bit and moved on to the why’s of creation (eg, Plan of Salvation) and a discussion of whether the earth was a perfect creation, and what that meant. It was in interesting twist that allowed for discussion of the need for oppostion, allowed for discussion of our Father in Heaven’s love for us, and plenty on the Plan of Salvation. Of course, this lesson was in Shanghai — about as far from Salt Lake as you can get…

  17. Last Lemming says:

    Since the lesson had capsized for me, I settled for reading it from my iphone.

    I hope you noticed that the printed lesson was free of any explicit science-bashing.

    Out instructor opened the floodgates by writing on the board “What does the world teach about creation?” Once the invited bashing had begun, he disavowed any intent to bash science, but even after he had moved on, people kept coming back to it. One class member channeled Richard Dawkins and insisted that if you accepted the big bang and evolution, you had to reject God. I took exception to that, and got some support from other class members.

    I should also point out that our local CES coordinator made a good faith effort to stem the bashing. He is scrupulous about following the party line and avoiding anything remotely speculative. I’ve concluded that he is very useful to have around.

  18. W. V. Smith says:

    I hope you noticed that the printed lesson was free of any explicit science-bashing.


    There is very little in the way of text volume in any of the lessons. So you can’t expect much but a few scripture quotations with some glosses. I suppose many instructors will use this as an excuse to pick the hot pimple.

  19. R. Gary says:

    I hope you noticed that the printed lesson was free of any explicit science-bashing.

    True. But we’ll see an exception to that next week in Chapter 6: “When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden,… there was no death” (p.28). “Their part in our Father’s plan was to bring mortality into the world” (p.27).

    Chapter 38 corroborates: “Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world” (p.219).

  20. Not that R. Gary recognizes what he is doing, but his ellipsis and his creative selection of this bit from p. 28 carefully placed in front of that bit from p. 27 differs very little from clipping stray words from a magazine to rearrange them into a ransom note. Chapter 6 makes nothing like the cogent argument he sets out in his comment.

    First, it seems very odd to me that no scriptural support — zero — is given in Chapter 6 for either statement “Their part in our Father’s plan was to bring mortality into the world” or “There was no death.” Scripture is cited for each statement immediately before and immediately after each of those two statements, but none of the cited scriptures say anything about death, one way or the other, in any sense. That is peculiar in a scripture-heavy manual, isn’t it?

    Also, the paragraph R. Gary kinda sorta quotes from p. 28 is specifically about the conditions under which Adam and Eve lived in the Garden. Nothing about that paragraph (or any scripture I’ve read, for that matter) teaches that the mortal conditions of Adam and Eve were applicable to all other forms of life, whether in the Garden or out of it — I think the R. Garys of this world forget that the Garden was, apparently, of limited geographic extent, since Adam and Eve were drive out of it into a lone and dreary world (it existed contemporaneously with the Garden of Eden — the Garden was still there after the Fall, when man was driven out and cherubim were placed to prevent re-entry). Why would anyone assume that conditions in the lone and dreary world were identical to conditions in the Garden? Why was the garden a paradise, if its paradisaical conditions were the norm throughout the world?

    The paragraph on p. 27 from which R. Gary cherry-picks his phrases speaks of spiritual life as well as physical life. I suppose R. Gary can come up with some explanation as to why any reference to death must always be read as thought it applied to physical death rather than spiritual death — but when he does, I’ll check carefully for signs of his having clipped and pasted words in order to express his holding hostage the scriptures.

  21. Paul says:

    I taught Lesson 6 — not in Priesthood, but in Gospel Essentials a month ago. We focused on Adam and Eve’s role in the plan of salvation almost exclusively, and what their experience teaches us, both in and out of the Garden.

  22. R. Gary says:

    The fact is that in my adult lifetime, including my high school and mission years plus more than 40 years of marriage, there has not been one Church published statement by any apostle or prophet that teaches death before the fall. In addition, the LDS Church has never published a statement by any apostle or prophet sympathetic to human evolution.

    By contrast, *no death before the fall* is taught repeatedly in current official Church media, as I’ve pointed out again and again for over five years.

    It is not required, however that a person believe all Church media. You can believe whatever you want. You are free to believe, for example, that what the Church’s Tenth Prophet teaches about evolution is just “diatribe.”

  23. Pingback: Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden-This Week. «'s Blog

  24. R. Gary says:

    Re Clipping stray words from a magazine to rearrange them into a ransom note.

  25. BHodges says:

    A good friend of mine from the mission left the church a few years after coming home. He had been home-schooled and told that modern science is largely a tool of the devil. He later came to believe science wasn’t so much hogwash after all.

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