When I discovered that Mayim Bialik is also Jewish, and doesn't apologize for her religious beliefs, I really appreciated her on a new level. Because in the Age of Outrage, admitting you're religious can make you a target for a lot of unnecessary vitriol. Knowing that someone like her exists, living a life of faith in the public eye, it's refreshing to see. Her vlog about her views on the relationship between science and religion is no exception. And it really got me thinking about how I would explain my beliefs about this relationship in my life.
I'm a deeply religious person who believes wholeheartedly in God. I also believe in the scientific method as a way of learning about the world and people in it. I'm much more of a historian than a scientist—but good historians, objective historians in pursuit of facts, are scientific storytellers. As a historian, I'm obsessed with evidence, source citations, and dissecting assumptions. I love nothing more than a good research project or experiment to challenge a theory. To that end, there is a great deal in science that I believe in and support.
God, the ScientistThe only idea some people have of God is what they see in people who believe in him. They see closed-minded people who never question, even when questioning would greatly improve their religious sensibilities. But God is not like this, and undoing the contradiction between religion and science begins with a correct understanding of who God is.
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God is a scientist, embarking on a great experiment. He knew we had the potential to be so much more than innocent children in his presence. So he designed a plan, or an experiment, where we would gain an education. He created an earth for us, where we would gain our own bodies. We would live as mortals, cut off from his presence, so we would learn to think, reason, and make our own decisions.
Perhaps a better way of expressing this, rather than an experiment God was doing on us, or even with us, is one he was allowing us to do for ourselves. Our world is full of physical forces, laws, rules, opposites to be explored. And he would allow us to have that experience, without him physically being present, to decide for ourselves how we would improve ourselves. As anyone who has ever been to school can attest, not everyone takes learning seriously. So it is with learning here on earth. We have the choice to include in that education a knowledge of God, to live in harmony with his plan, to love and serve him, and prepare to live with him again. Or we can reject him, his plan for us, and refuse to be governed by laws, reason, or limitations.
God is also omniscient. "He knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it." (2 Nephi 9: 20) Although he knows the end from the beginning, he does not force us to choose differently than the sincerest desires of our hearts. And like any scientist, he observes our choices objectively. He will not interfere with the choices his children make, even when they don't choose him. To do so would jeopardize the results of the experiment, and make them useless to us, in terms of truly measuring our progress.
God, the CreatorTo me, God isn't just a scientist. He's the perfect scientist. He has a perfect understanding of all physical laws, and their interrelationship with every other scientific discipline. I believe he used his perfect knowledge of the material universe to create the earth. What we study in physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and geology are more rudimentary grasps of everything that God knows and understands. And I believe he spent a lot more time than six, 24-hour days forming and preparing the earth.
Many religious people don't understand what it means to be a Creationist. They think being a Creationist means believing that God created the earth. But it also means believing God created the earth in six 24 hour days. They seem to have missed the glaring problem with that conclusion, in that the sun and moon—the objects created to rule (or measure) the day and night—were not created until the third day.
Time, as we have defined it, literally did not exist when God began creating the earth. There is no scriptural injunction to interpret these six creative periods (referred to as "days" in the Bible) as identical periods of time. And there's certainly no reason to measure them as 24 hour-long days. Relying on an honest look at the Bible alone, we can see how Creationism is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches.
Once the six 24 hour-long day Creation is undone, the inference that the earth is 6000 years old (because "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day"), also cannot stand. Even if that 1 day/1000 years reckoning of time is literal instead of metaphorical, there is no limit to how old this earth can be, if we don't limit the creation to only 6 days.
From my perspective, as a Latter-day Saint Christian who believes God created the earth and reveres the Bible, there is nothing wrong with believing the earth is 4.7 billion years old. While this may put me at odds with the opinions and interpretations of other religious people, I'm not bound by their conceptions of God and his creations. I have no moral imperative whatsoever to hold up any idea of theirs when it is false. And God, who is omniscient and can speak for himself, has every ability to guide me to the truth. I must ask questions, then educate myself sufficiently to understand his answers, and listen for his answers. But the imperative of gaining knowledge is on me—not on the imperfect people of faith who are trying to reason for themselves beside me.
Their imperfections and mistakes no more disprove the existence of God than my calculation error could disprove physics, or an error on a star chart could blot out the sun. Errors and mistakes are not a source of truth, and should not be used as evidence against God. If what is really up for examination is God, and not the approximations that people have of him, then focusing on their errors is logically wanting in every sense.
Science, A MethodThe truth may come as a surprise to lovers of science who question the validity of religion, but serious religious people rely on the scientific method to deepen their faith. They question what they're taught, and how to approach it from a variety of perspectives. They scrutinize the principles of faith, usually within the context of a scriptural canon, which has proven its value and relevance over hundreds, if not thousands of years. They ask profound questions, including in response to challenging subjects, because being a believer is an intellectually rich experience.
The secularists who take the greatest issue with religion do so, at least in part, because they find our fundamental assumptions distasteful, or even intellectually irresponsible. You can't prove the existence of God if you assume the existence of God. And on, and on, ad nauseam.
If God, Then God is not how people arrive at a faith or conviction that God exists, because that argument does not produce knowledge. A religious person cannot sustain devotion on that kind of shallow reasoning. If it makes for useless science, it makes for equally useless theology. Rather, the same investigative qualities that lead to scientific discovery lead to the assurance that God exists. It all begins with an honest question, developing and testing a hypothesis, gathering data, and formulating a conclusion from that data.
- Question: Is God real?
- Research: If God were real, what would that look, feel, and sound like to me? Have I ever experienced that before? Is there another explanation that is simpler, or more likely? How can I experience God for myself? How can I measure that experience? Can I replicate the experiences of other believers who came before me? Should I come to the same conclusions they did based on those results?
- Hypothesis: If I replicate the behaviors of a believer, and the process they followed allows me to know and understand God for myself, then I will know he is real.
- Procedure: Establish an honest and objective baseline to describe my thoughts and feelings about God. Replicate the experiments put forth by other believers. Observe and measure changes in my own life, and in my feelings about God.
(As a Mormon, that experiment was put forth to me directly by The Book of Mormon the first time I read it, in Alma 32 and Moroni 10: 3-5. How to adapt these into an experiment should be an individual experience. And just because it's subjective and intangible doesn't mean it isn't real. Subjective and intangible experiences can still be measured and analyzed.)
- Experiment: Study the scriptures. Consider them honestly, and with an open mind. Pray to know if they are true. Change my behavior to be consistent with that of a believer. Observe the difference over a period of time. Record the data.
- Data Analysis: Observe and interpret significant changes. Compare results to baseline or control, as established in your procedures.
- Conclusion: Confirm or reject your hypothesis
- Abstract: Summarize your findings
- Presentation: I "presented" my findings by agreeing to be baptized.
The idea of religion and theology having room for this kind of experimentation was shocking to me when I first heard it. What helped me to view myself within this more complex framework of thought was actually The Book of Mormon.
In Alma 32, Alma describes faith not as a destination, but a starting place. He argues that faith and knowledge are distinct from each other. Wherever there is faith, there is a degree of uncertainty. This is where everyone begins whenever they learn a new principle, but ignorance is not what God wants for his children. Faith that resists knowledge from God is not faith at all. Rather, the purpose of faith is to produce knowledge and increase intelligence, to transition from a place of not knowing and being uncertain, to having knowledge and having certainty. Whether this relates to a law, a principle, or even the nature of God himself, Alma outlines the process to transition from faith in the word to "a perfect knowledge" of the word. (See Alma 32:26-43)
No other religious tradition I had ever seen proposed such a deliciously intellectual approach to worship. But to Mormons, "the glory of God is intelligence." (D&C 93:36) Because I cannot fully appreciate that about him without his perfect instruction, part of worshiping him has to mean increasing my knowledge and wisdom. "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance," said Joseph Smith, because "whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection." (See D&C 131:6 and 130:18)
Education and learning are forms of worship in my religious tradition. Challenging my own beliefs until they become increasingly true approximations of God, and laying aside all falsehood. Engaging with God in perfect submission until I become as he is: the embodiment of perfect, knowable, universal truth.
What could be more scientific?
"From Grace to Grace"At the time I was exploring these questions and probing into religious ways of thinking, I was the living embodiment of the law of inertia. I was never going to move or change myself, until I was moved upon by a sufficiently large force to do so. For many years, I called myself the most unlikely of believers for that reason. If God didn't exist, nothing should have ever interrupted my trajectory as an unbeliever.
But when I was about as confused and closed off to religion as I had ever been, I had a collision with the divine of sufficient magnitude, I could never go back to my life as a skeptical, disinterested agnostic. God had acted upon me, that much I could not deny. And instantly, I could see equal and opposite reactions, precisely calculated by the Engineer of time and space, changing my trajectory forever.
That was ten years ago. In every way that could be scientific and impartial, my life is objectively better with my Heavenly Father in it. I have had greater educational and professional opportunities as a woman of faith than I ever would have had before. In the languages I've learned, cultures I've experienced, the places I've lived and traveled—nothing has been better for my intellectual advancement than the discovery of God. He has been the catalyst of every good thing that has ever happened to me.
I accepted the invitation from the Book of Mormon to "consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God." (Mosiah 2:41) I have determined that I am a better person because I have Jesus Christ in my life. I have lost nothing of my analytical and curious nature by becoming a Latter-day Saint. In fact, the longer I am a Christian, the more I see that an intelligent woman is exactly who God intends me to be. And I can't accomplish the purpose he has given me without a knowledge of a variety of subjects, not the least of which are science and religion.
I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I learned these truths by the same process the Savior used to understand Heavenly Father during his mortal probation, having "received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness." (D&C 93:11-14)
I invite anyone with a desire to know God to do the same. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.