Renowned chemist Henry Eyring (1901-1981), father of contemporary Apostle Henry B. Eyring, was nominated six times for the Nobel Prize. He pioneered the application of quantum mechanics to chemistry, and devolved ART, The Absolute Rate Theory of chemical reactions. Fellow scientist Steven M. Kuznicki, Ph.D. (physical chemistry) a non-Mormon, speculates the reason why Henry never won the Nobel Prize - religious bigotry. Kuznicki notes Eyring was equally famous for “powerfully articulating his faith in God (and in the Mormon Church) and science”. . Henry easily conveyed his rationale this way:
“I have been announced as a student of science. But I also like to think of myself as one who loves the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For me there is no serious difficulty in reconciling the principles of true science with the principles of true religion, for both are concerned with the eternal verities of the universe.
And yet there are many people...who regard the field of science and the field of religion as two wholly different spheres, the one entirely separated and unrelated to the other...Science has rendered a service to religion. The scientific spirit is a spirit of inquiry, a spirit of reaching out for truth. In the final analysis, this spirit is likewise of the essence of religion. The Savior said: “Ask,and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” The scientist has in effect reaffirmed this great fundamental laid down by the Master, and in doing so has given a new impetus to religion.
Just as science has proved a help to religion, so religion in its finest expression has given impetus to science. I should like to quote again from modern scripture: “That which is of God is of light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (Doctrine & Covenants 50:24) 1
For convenience sake, it may be appropriate to allow that LDS perspective “should be sympathetic to and supportive of intelligent design.” 2 The serious Latter-day Saint’s faith is not threatened by scientific exploration and dialogue. The logic of reasonable thinking and the resultant analysis of theory rings loud and clear to the mind of a Mormon who has been taught all his/her life to seek truth. The debate does not frighten us. In most cases, it encourages us. We recognize that man does not have all the answers, and not all of his attempts to develop answers pan out. Much of science after all is subjective. Likewise, faith is also a subjective experience. Although unlike science, the potential for arriving at an absolute truth is reliably promised to those who humbly seek it from a generous Father in Heaven who desires to give it. An ancient prophet declared, “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 9:5)
No Fear in Faith
Scientific theories have come and gone. The earth is not flat, the solar system does not revolve around it, and leeches are employed to bleed patients only rarely now days - but the ability of God to influence man and his physical world has not changed. Rejecting contemporary Christian doctrine from the start in 1830 when Joseph Smith Jr. officially organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through modern revelation, Joseph actively cultivated an appreciation for learning and even scholarship in secular themes as well as spiritual ones. As a result, members today might even view God as the ultimate Scientist, and be glad of it. We are not threatened by molecular structure or the intrigues of advanced physics and medicine. We are not opposed to utilizing technological advancements nor do we eschew the lure of space exploration for fear it will displease a God who denied us wings. We readily give enthusiastic credit to the two sources of enriching advancements modern society enjoys; the dogged explorer, and The Master.
“...The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)
While the common Protestant or Catholic adherent of Smith’s day was violently opposed to anything other than a literal interpretation of The Bible, the first Prophet of the Last Dispensation pronounced a new era of cooperation between the thinking mind and the spiritual mind. Joseph Smith was confident enough to claim principles of worship that shocked traditions established since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. He boldly declared that God the Father and His son Jesus the Christ were two separate personages with bodies of flesh and bone, and assisted by a spirit personage in the Holy Ghost. These three were of singular purpose, which is to bring about the salvation of mankind.
The new dogma presented difficulties for Christian sects of the day who saw a more distant, unapproachable and indefinable God, which persist even to the present time. We may be intrigued by the attempt to scandalize our core beliefs witnessed during the last Presidential campaign, but we are not unsettled by it. Some things never change. If religious persecution is an ideological badge of honor, then we are in very good company. Socrates suffered death at the hands of superstitious priests, Galileo endured censure and imprisonment, and Newton was forced to keep his inspired theological conclusions secret to avoid the Inquisition that had claimed Galileo, but managed to publish many of his revolutionary scientific findings. Much was at risk for their intelligent exploration. Convinced advancing rational thought was a “calling from God” that could not be denied, and fearing for their eternal souls should they keep silent, they suffered persecution for the sake of speaking truth.
Our affinity for welcoming scientific principles as they compliment our spiritual identity is part of an age old process wherein man humbles himself to be tutored by the enlightening Spirit of the Lord, from which ‘all knowledge’ is gained. In 1911, preeminent chemist, geologist and historian James E. Talmage was ordained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He made no apologies for the abundant geological record which verified a very, very old earth. His analysis complements what scholars now stipulate; the reckoning of time is not a universal.
For example: one day on Jupiter is 9.9 earth hours. One day on Venus is 243 earth days. 3 Is it heretical to theorize that God’s time is enormously different from our time? Another serious consideration is the fact that the word day in Hebrew can also mean “time period”. Exhaustive calculations about the rate of expansion from the starting point of the universe (or ‘Big Bang’) to the far outer edges where our humble little solar system is actually support the concept of disparate time-reckoning as a necessity. It’s physics.
Instead of waving a magic God-wand to spur creation, we find Divine authority performing cooperatively within a physical framework of scientific principles in order to acquire the end result of a living, abundant earth environment. As much as mankind might long for the details of how this was done, imagine the communication issue God encounters when trying to explain concepts that are completely foreign to mortals. Moses was one favored recipient of direct communication with the Lord about the mysteries of the universe. Why shouldn’t God speak to us in a manner in which we can understand? "...For the Lord God giveth light unto understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding." (2 Nephi 31:3) When the Lord indicates six “days” of creation, the record at least does not stipulate how long each day (or epoch) was, or even if each was of an equal amount of time. We are given enough hints in holy writ to apply to the geological record a remarkable partnership of faith and physical fact. 4
When we read the Biblical account of Genesis, we find a brief summary of Creation basics. We are abruptly introduced to a sketchy Adam and Eve. Many lost details to the account and the famous parental protagonists are supplied through modern revelation in the Pearl of Great Price. Throughout the record we are encouraged to see beyond what is understood in a modern, Western European interpretation. Rich symbolism aplenty is often lost on the casual reader who, accepting whole-heartedly the Lord’s frequent use of parables in the New Testament, will often fail to allow room for a similar presentation in Genesis.
Knowledge Given By God To Man
Perhaps we are lulled by the ultra-familiarity of what appears to be a very simple chain of events. How might our appreciation for the Bible’s Father Adam expand if we ponder a little longer what it would mean to be “tutored by the Lord in all things”. Expelled from the Garden into a foreign environment, our first parents were not abandoned to their own devices. They did not discover fire through trial and error, or gradually develop from a hunter-gatherer sustenance to an advanced agricultural, tool-wielding, literate society over many generations. If God is going to immediately attend to such details as pointing out how to construct clothing, (tanning - which by the way, is a complicated process and even more so the skill required to then cut and sew), He certainly is considerate enough to provide hands-on instruction in much more important issues. There was no crash-course on survival in the ‘lone and dreary world’. There was instead a very intimate student-teacher relationship between those who had recently become mortal and the Divine. The Lord offers His own summary: “...and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them...” (Moses 7:32)
Noah was “instructed” to build an ark. O.K. Done. And the people mocked, the family and the animals got onboard, the rains fell and the floods came up. But what exactly was involved, here? Assuming Noah and sons had not already hung a shingle as the town engineers/metallurgists/dog-whisperers, of necessity the Lord would be obliged to guide them through all required steps involved in the miraculous construction of a very, very unique craft. The record simply states, “...And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him” (Genesis 7:5) Somewhere, there must have been a lot of note-taking and question and answer on the whole adventure. Beginning with expeditions for minerals and ore, the smelting process and the design and implementation of useful tools to the harvesting and preparation of proper lumber, to the gathering of animals (not all two by two; “...of clean beasts by sevens” - Genesis 7:2) ~ there is much, much more to the story than we are accustomed to visualizing. Thinking larger on Noah’s experience tends to increase appreciation for what he (and his family) accomplished. Scientific principles such as engineering and metallurgy were communicated sufficiently to a faithful man that he was successful in mastering it, and sharing this knowledge with others.
Noah’s son Shem is the traditional forefather of the semitic races. LDS doctrine refers to him as “the great high priest”, or none other than “the king of peace”, Melchizedek (D&C 138:41). The Sumerians were among his descendants. Father Abraham speaks of these when he states he possessed scriptures on the Creation and astronomy compiled by his righteous forefathers, who in turn claimed to have received this knowledge from the Lord (Abraham 1:31). From the archeological record, early Sumarian society indeed appears to have been a culture devoted to the “holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them” (Abraham 1:5) as Abraham stated. Abhorring idol worship, they reverenced “truth, law and order, justice and freedom, righteousness...and mercy”. 5
Reflecting on this picture of an advanced culture, a knowledgeable people who excelled in metallurgy, textiles, pottery (inventing the wheel!) and agriculture, an enlightened society which honored the Holy Priesthood - their fall into corruption is a truly tragic one. The impotent Tower of Babel is a fitting precursor to finding Abraham more than a thousand years later strapped to a sacrificial altar dedicated to fantastic pagan gods.
Abraham, escaping his would-be execution by divine intervention, fled the land of Chaldea (or Sumer) and brought to ancient Egypt great scientific ‘secrets’ in mathematics, astronomy and ‘the reckoning of time’ in which he was instructed by the Lord to share with the early Egyptians.
These early rulers interestingly enough, were cognizant of the true and Holy Priesthood, being descendants of Noah’s son Ham through his daughter, Egyptus. Lacking rights to the Priesthood, the first Pharaoh was nevertheless a righteous man who attempted to imitate the organization of the Priesthood which he knew was “established by the fathers...even in the reign of Adam...” (Abraham 1:25-26) 6 Legendary are the feats of engineering evident in the construction of the pyramids. Is it minimizing in any way to consider that the valuable knowledge necessary to conceive, calculate by the night sky and execute these incredible ancient structures was made possible by the inspiration of God? Science scoffs ~ but holy men are familiar with the enlightening language of the Spirit.
Through every age, there is a consistent record of God extending light and knowledge to his children as they merit advancement by their obedience to righteous principles. The spiritually-minded term these ‘blessings’. The secularly-minded qualify it as ‘pre-classic’ or ‘golden age’. Knowledge given can also be knowledge taken away; Adam, Enoch, Abraham and Moses were all schooled personally by the Lord and by His agents great truths about “...the heavenly bodies”, thousands of years before Newton and modern astronomers became familiar with them. 7 Generous evidence in Mesoamerican, Incan and other ancient cultures reveals a sophisticated knowledge of the planets and their systems, including advanced achievements in medicine, metallurgy and agriculture which continue to baffle scholars today. How did they do it? And once they had it, why did they lose it? Mormons understand the sensitive give and take of man’s cultural and intellectual development and its direct relationship with obedience to the Laws of God.
We don’t argue with the archaeological record, either. While we don’t necessarily agree with Darwin, we don’t panic about apparent species adaptation or even extinctions of species. Perhaps there was a time and a place designated for certain living organisms, and it is wisdom that they serve their usefulness and life moves on without them. It was after all very convenient of the dinosaurs to leave behind all these handy oil deposits! (And thank you, great inland seas for your coral beds which became our rich and varied mineral deposits! Or the alternate bathing and foresting of shallow-sea flooding and subtropical forests which produced many multiple layers of North American coal.) 8 Not that Mormons aren’t committed to a stewardship of the earth - we are. However, our relationship with her really is a spiritual one as much as it is a physical guardianship. We accept a spiritual creation of the earth before it was physically organized. In this respect, we have quite a bit in common with indigenous peoples who honor ‘mother’ earth and view all things in a spiritual context.
“And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?
And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth?...” (Moses 7:48-49)
I believe our joy as a reverent people to also be “ever learning” is a happy component of our greatest gift from God, our divine birth-right of free agency. What purpose would there be to provide man an amazing earthly home such as this if he was never inclined to ask a question or two about how things work? What triumph in creation if man exhibited no desire for self-improvement of the human condition? He who championed our right to think for ourselves, is counting on our efforts at self-mastery because it will be key in our ascendancy back to Him as we prove worthy of the Savior's atoning sacrifice.
The heart-felt thrill observing a little baby learn to reach for and successfully grasp a toy for the first time is priceless. Who said the heavens are somber and brooding all the time? Joy must also be an eternal principle and one that motivates even The Most High. I suggest our Father in Heaven is very happy when we reach for answers, when truth and light is something we study and ponder and work at as hard as we can to acquire for ourselves. The Great Creator is not diminished by our yearning to inquire, rather, He is summoned by it.
History is replete with examples of men and women who struggled to secure a mechanism by which to achieve some good end by way of sound scientific principles, or just lucky instinct. Failure in their pursuit accompanied them again and again, yet they believed they could find the answer if only they kept on looking. They applied sound principles of math or biology or logic or some other disciplined thinking. They made observations, they calculated and tested theories and verified, they walked the halls at night or retreated to the fields in an effort to find spiritual and mental clarity. They worked the issue until sheer exhaustion threatened to bury their quest. And then the moment of inspiration eventually came; a whisper, a new thought, a profound sense of confirmation, a mental vision, a vivid dream or even a voice ~ have all been described as the means by which true discovery came at last.
For a Divine Father, it must be a little like the moment when a baby’s fingers finally close decisively around the prize won. That we recognize from whence the inspiration came is added to His Joy, for He then may bestow even more light and knowledge upon His children. The secular and spiritual truths revealed in our day, unique from all previous generations - are a powerful witness, a moving witness, that the Light of Christ is absolutely accessible and dynamic; and most importantly, that we belong somewhere else.
1. Henry J. Eyring, “Mormon Scientist - The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring” (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2007).
2. Richard Sherlock, “Mormonism and Intelligent Design” FARMS Review 18/2 (2006)
3. EnchantedLearning.com, “The Planets”
4. Eric N. Skousen, Ph.D., “EARTH - In the Beginning” (Orem, UT, Verity Publishing, 2006)
5. Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerologist, in “Truth and Science” by Dave S. Collingridge, Ph.D. (speaking of cuneiform writings).
6. Dave S. Collingridge, Ph.D., “Truth and Science” (Orem, UT, Verity Publishing, 2006)
7. Joseph Fielding Smith, “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Salt Lake City, Deseret, 1976)
8. “EARTH - In the Beginning” 146-147