Mormonism: A theology even a secularist could like?
IMAGE: PHOTO OF EARTH
As a teenager growing up in the 1970’s who was interested in all things science and technology related while also a Mormon with strong Mormon roots, I had to come to grips with what appeared to be some basic incompatibilities between scientific truth and religious truth.
What I discovered over time is that most of the incompatibility lay not with disagreements between fundamental tenets of Mormon theology and science, but lay with disagreements between the theologies of other Christian religions and science. Albeit there are elements of Mormonism that may be problematic for the scientist, these have to do more with culture, practice, and policy than with cosmology. Indeed, as I continued to pursue my education—eventually getting a PhD in Electrical Engineering and continuing for many more years as a tenured professor at a university—I found that the theistic cosmology first espoused by Joseph Smith in the early nineteenth century, is uncannily becoming more compatible, not less, with advances in scientific knowledge.
I never was attracted to other religions, but I felt a need to be able to justify and explain how to be both religious and scientific. There is an exponential growth rate in the percentage of those not affiliated with any religion, apparently, because of either the attraction of secularism or the disaffection with traditional religions. ([http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/]).
Over the years, I developed some insights on how to reconcile both my scientific and religious experiences. I hope that some of these insights might be helpful to secularists who might wonder about theism and also to both Mormons and the non-affiliated religious, who might be challenged by secularism.
Why should a secularist care?
Some of the most ardent atheists agree that “religious” inclinations are part of being human. These include: the desire to act altruistically; the compassion one feels for the less fortunate; the desire to love and be loved by others; the need to have enduring relationships; the willingness to sacrifice for those we love; the pain and loss felt when a child or spouse dies; the desire to be part of something bigger and more meaningful than just one’s self; the hope in continued existence beyond this mortality.
One can argue about the source of these “baked in” religious or moral inclinations, but it is hard to argue against their existence. The question, then, for any secularist is how to respond to these moral or religious “inclinations,” how to understand them, and how to give them meaning both in the context of one’s own life and intelligent life in general. Here lies the intersection where a secularist might choose to take a different path, one towards a form of theism that also embraces scientific truth. I call a secularist who is open to the idea of theism a proto-theist.
A framework for a scientific faith
What is often surprising, to those first learning about Mormonism, is how peculiar (in a good sense), fundamental Mormon beliefs are with respect to science when contrasted with other religions. There has never been a war (at worst a skirmish or two) between science and religion in Mormonism. The fundamental position is that truth is truth, all truth is of the same kind, no matter the source, so there should never be disagreement between scientific and religious truth. A good book that explores in more depth Mormon cosmology is Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology, 1992 by E. R. Paul.
Albeit colored by their nineteenth century origin, here are some notable quotes:
The nature of man and God
It is the peculiar Mormon view of the nature of God and man that may be the most attractive to a proto-theist. It is also the source of much animosity from fundamentalist Christian sects. The core belief is that God and man are the same type of beings. God is much more advanced, but mankind has to potential to advance as God did. The purpose of this life is to further mankind’s advancement. Some notable quotes follow:
The way forward
Some features of Mormon cosmology that these quotes illustrate are as follows:
- There is no disagreement between religious truth and scientific truth, they are both the same kind of truth.
- God operates using the laws of nature, within the universe, not outside of it.
- Creation is organization.
- God and humanity are of the same race.
- The earth is not the only planet inhabited by God’s children.
- God has progressed over time, based on knowledge and understanding of the laws of nature.
- God’s purposeful relationship with humanity, is as parent to child, and is to foster the same sort of progression, that is, a system of Godhood.
- Intelligence is eternal, pre-mortal and post-mortal.
There are some interesting implications of Mormon cosmology with respect to science, mortality, the future of the human race, and individual behavior. One difference between a theist and a proto-theist is that the theist recognizes, at least operationally, the plausibility of the existence of some form of God whereas the proto-theist has not rejected out of hand the possibility of some form of God. Is the Mormon concept of God more accessible, understandable, practical, believable, falsifiable, motivational, or inspirational, to the scientifically minded be they theists or proto-theists?