It would be so easy if science could prove religion in our quest for truth, and vice versa. Many people hold tenaciously to one or the other and won’t allow for even the slightest deviation in what they believe. Sadly, by doing so, they miss out on incredible possibilities that could broaden their understanding and illuminate truths that are right at their fingertips. The more study we put into this God-science conundrum, the more we discover that the two really do go hand in hand. They provide more harmony than dissonance and in those areas where it may appear that neither side has a conclusive answer, there is enough agreement to maintain a working symbiosis.
The Savior said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). Science and religion can actually harmonize because both involve a spirit of inquiry that seeks out truth. Since the gospel welcomes and incorporates all truth, both science and religion have important roles in separating fact from fantasy.
God’s counsel to Joseph Smith opened a world of resources for learning truth: “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; of things both in heaven and in the earth and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are upon the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:78-79).
Other prophets also have taught this principle. Brigham Young said, “All wisdom, and all the arts and sciences in the world are from God, and are designed for the good of his people.”[i] He also reminded us that we are obligated and indebted to God for the benefits that flow to us from the truths He has revealed, whether “scientific or religious.”[ii] President Harold B. Lee stated, “All truths, whether called science or religion, or philosophy, come from a divine source.”[iii] President Spencer W. Kimball said modern scientific findings “harmonize with revelation through the ages.”[iv] He also said, “No conflict exists between the gospel and any truth … All true principles are a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no principle that we need to fear.”[v] President Ezra Taft Benson once stated that Mormons “have no fear that any discovery of new truths will ever be in conflict with … any fundamental basic principle which we advocate in the Gospel.” He affirmed his comfort with “any new truths, whether discovered in the laboratory, through the research of the scientist, or whether revealed from heaven through prophets of God.”[vi]
It is clear that God sees no conflict in putting science and scholarship right alongside revelation and spirituality in establishing truth. It is also clear that mankind has assimilated elements of science over time in a kind of evolution of belief.
History shows us that flanking even the most rudimentary discoveries in science since early man, is evidence of various cultures in worship of a deity. Ancient Egyptians held such strong belief in their gods that they built massive pyramids to honor them. Ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus, early Romans worshipped Jupiter, and the Aztecs in Mexico offered human sacrifice to keep their god happy. Today, Hindus believe in the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; Islamic theology espouses Allah as being above all comprehension; and of course, Christians worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and view him as the only true God.
Though only a few are mentioned here, the list of deities today and throughout history is enormous, to say the least. Why is that? What is it that pushes humans to seek out and ultimately devote their lives to a supreme being they can’t even see? Some argue that the ancients believed in a God because their limited world view and sometimes barbaric lifestyles easily led them to Pagan-type ideologies. In today’s modern world with its ever accelerating technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, some find it ludicrous that people still believe in a Supreme Being.
Those who adopt science as their main purveyor of truth simply can’t understand why any intelligent, rationally thinking person would continually look to the supernatural for answers to their existence. They can’t grasp why people so tenaciously hope that things they can’t see are nevertheless true. Could it be that we humans have always gravitated toward God because we are connected to him as his children? Could it be that as God’s literal offspring, we have a spark of the divine that makes us long for the filial connection we once had and a desire to find our way back home? Could it be that the longing, yearning, all-consuming need to know God is not because we are delusional people who need some outside support to get through life, but because we are connected like an umbilical cord to a Heavenly Father who loves us?
Atheists often suggest that belief in God exists to bridge the gap between what we can understand about life and what we can’t. They purport our use of religion is a crutch to help us limp through life, buoy ourselves up, and give our lives meaning. Science, they say, can now explain what has historically been inexplicable. Those gaps in information and evidence that supported the need for a belief in God in times past have now been filled, making a belief in God superfluous. And while this argument may seem logical on its face, scientists are usually the first to say they don’t know everything.
Historically, many scientists actually held a strong belief in God because they grew to acknowledge a spiritual element to the universe. Even Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time, couldn’t completely disavow the notion of God. While developing his general theory of relativity, his calculations led him to draw only one conclusion—there had to be a beginning. (Later, Hubble discovered the universe was expanding, which further verified this requirement for a beginning). This troubled Einstein because it meant the universe and all that it holds must have been created by a deity, something he had always rejected. Ultimately, he became a deist—a believer in an impersonal creator God, who “did not concern himself with fates and actions of human beings.”[vii]
The atheist, or just the simple Doubting Thomas who would like to believe in his heart of hearts, is sometimes duped into thinking the scientific method is the only way to investigate, research, and find truth. They limit their quest to only what they can see and touch. We can’t see and touch gravity. We can’t see and touch thoughts. We can’t see and touch atoms, yet we know through evidence that each of these things is real.
Think about it. For God to create the vast expanse of the universe, he, himself, would have had to exist far beyond the limitations of his creation and the science associated with it. Therefore, in our efforts to find him, we would likewise need to look beyond the laws of physics for more cosmic measuring devices that could lead to his doorstep.
Consider the account of Korihor in Alma 30, who antagonistically argued against the existence of God in the Book of Mormon. Gerald Lund, LDS author (Work and the Glory series), Church Education System director, and former General Authority, put it this way:
Korihor will consider only evidence that can be gathered through the senses. In such a system, it is much easier to prove there is a God than to prove there is not a God. To prove there is a God, all it takes is for one person to see, hear, or otherwise have an experience with God, and thereafter the existence of God cannot be disproved. But here is what it would take to prove there is no God:
“Since God is not confined to this earth, we would have to search throughout the universe for him. We assume God is able to move about, so it would not be enough to start at point A in the universe and search through to point Z. What if after we leave point A, God moves there and stays there for the rest of the search? In other words, for Korihor to say that there is no God, based on the very criteria he himself has established, he would have to perceive every cubic meter of the universe simultaneously. This creates a paradox: In order for Korihor to prove there is no God, he would have to be a god himself! Therefore, in declaring there is no God, he is acting on faith, the very thing for which he so sharply derides the religious leaders!”[viii]
It’s an astoundingly complex topic and one in which volumes of literature have barely scratched the surface. After pouring through these volumes, it’s easy to conclude there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of God using empirical scientific methods. This methodology excludes anything that cannot be tested with our five senses. But while there is no scientific proof of God’s existence, there certainly is an abundance of evidence—evidence that can create fertile ground for a seed of faith to be planted and nourished (see Alma 32).
From a biblical perspective, God has not left us alone and without verification of his divine signature all around us. In fact, we learn that the world is replete with evidence of God, so much so that we are “without excuse” if we reject him (Romans 1:19-20). Paul said to “prove all things,” (1 Thessalonians. 5:21), and to use reasoning instead of blind faith in matters of God and his plan of salvation (Acts 18:4, 19). In essence, though we can’t see God, he is evident in every facet of life. In any court of law when there is no smoking gun, a preponderance of evidence will provide a conviction every time. It is that kind of evidence that helps establish the groundwork for the existence of God and the restored gospel.
As we explore the evidence of creation, we should understand that it is not only acceptable, but also beneficial, to look at science as a way of adding beauty and clarity to gospel doctrine. Evidence is always a great defender of truth by pointing out error, and provides broader meaning and perspective for the honest seeker of truth. Elder Neal A. Maxwell counseled that learning through discoveries would help “make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along.”[ix] President Gordon B. Hinckley said that evidence derived from scientific and historical research can “be helpful to some” and “confirmatory.”[x]
It’s the melding of research with revelation that provides the confirmatory weight so many of us need for faith to flourish. Until we accept how interlocked science and theology are, even the explosion of information we enjoy today as compared with the ancients, will not be enough to provide sufficient answers to many of our questions. It’s amazing what we know, but equally amazing what we don’t know. As predicted by Paul, we are truly “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
In our quest to meld what we know through science with the restored gospel, it’s important to acknowledge scholars are continually learning about our world. What was once considered truth in science in the past is often disproved as new information is discovered. As Christians, and Mormons in particular, we are instructed to seek out and embrace truth wherever we find it. But if scientists go beyond or fall short of what they can actually prove, we are not obligated to buy into their theories.
Some Church members may have no interest in what these secular experts have to say because their faith is sufficient the way it is. But others who grapple with the very existence of God will be keenly attentive to scientific and historical findings because their faith may require the added value of physical evidence. There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, great blessings will surely come to anyone who sincerely seeks out God and Christ wherever they may be found.
[i] Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), 247.
[ii] Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 17.
[iii] Harold B. Lee, Life under Control, Brigham Young University commencement speech, June 4, 1951, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 19.
[iv] Spencer W. Kimball, Modern Scientific Findings Harmonize with Revelation through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1962).
[v] Edward L. Kimball, ed., The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 391.
[vi] Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1958, 60.
[viii] Gerald Lund, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophies,” Ensign, July 1992, online at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/07/countering-korihors-philosophy?lang=eng.
[ix] Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 16.
[x] Gordon B. Hinckley, Faith: The Essence of True Religion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 10.