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Must Religion & Science Conflict? (Part 8 of 8)

Must science and religion conflict?  In our final conversation with Ben Spackman, he will compare two events that require a lot of faith to believe:  Noah’s Flood and the resurrection of Jesus.  What can we learn from science and religion on these two stories?

Ben:  When it comes to the flood, what kind of evidence would a global flood that covered all the mountains to, I don’t remember 30 cubits deep, so we’re talking 30 cubits over the top of the Himalayas for at least 40 days. What kind of evidence should that leave in the historical record? Absolute masses of evidence everywhere should be in the historical record across dozens of disciplines and it’s simply not there. That again, is one area where I say, well, what does contextual reading actually get us with the flood? What is the flood actually trying to teach? Is it a historical event and that’s the important thing? Or is it doing something different? And like Genesis, I think it’s doing something quite different, but that’s another book.

So what can science tell us about scripture? Some things, not everything, and it depends on the question. Generalizing is dangerous and being simplistic is dangerous because things are rarely simplistic, which is a generalization.

We also talk about some of our most favorite scientists, and their relationship to religion.

Ben:  Newton comes up with calculus and the laws of motion and all this stuff. What you’re not told is that Newton was doing this as a way to study God. What you’re not told is that Newton, who was somewhat unorthodox was still deeply religious and of the roughly 5 million words of his that we have preserved, 60-70 percent of that is interpreting the Bible, writing about the Tabernacle, trying to figure out the Old Testament timeline. These people who we think we’re doing science, not religion, they thought they were doing religion. So we have to be careful as we look back in time at these people, at religion and science in the past. [If you] think about Galileo’s story as theology crushing science, it doesn’t matter who you read, they’ll tell you it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Galileo, for example, was not a very subtle guy. He was friends with the pope and he put the pope’s argument in the mouth of one of his characters named Idiot. That’s not going to go over very well.

Check out our conversation…

Is Noah's flood about science, or faith?
Is Noah’s flood about science, or faith?

Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations with Ben!

248: Did Pres. McKay Support Evolution?

247: What is a Literal Reading of Genesis?

246: Misreading Genesis

245: Does the Bible Supports a Flat Earth?

244: Did Man Evolve From Apes?

243: Did Joseph Fielding Smith Win the Evolution Battle?

242: Evolution & Bible: Irreconcilable Differences?


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Evolution & the Bible: Irreconcilable Differences? (Part 1 of 8)

Can evolution be reconciled with the Bible?  Ben Spackman is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University, and he says “Yes, but not the way people think.”  He introduces us to the idea of “Concordism.”  What is that?

Ben: This is not a question that is answered easily within 30 seconds, because it requires dealing with assumptions that people don’t even know they have. The main one is something called “concordism.” It’s an assumption that science, especially evolution or the age of the earth or various aspects of that, and scripture are speaking the same language. They’re talking about the same thing and therefore they have to match up or one of them is false. They have to be in concord with each other.

The assumption that Genesis is providing a natural history of the earth, a physical history of the earth, is simply not an accurate assumption, but most people have it. So you end up going in a couple of different ways. You have people who say, well, this is what my reading of the Bible says, so I’m going to make the science match that. You get young-earth creationists who say that the earth is only a couple of thousand years old. Everything was created more or less in its current form as we know it within the last couple of thousand years. Then you have the people who go the other way and they say, well, here’s what science tells us. So obviously that’s what scripture must be saying in some kind of veiled or poetic or metaphoric way.

You may wonder why I decided to talk to Ben. He has a very interesting background.

Ben:  If you really want to understand evolution and how different religious people have thought about it, you need three different areas of expertise. You need to understand the science of evolution, at least basically. That’s what my two major rounds of science as an undergrad and then as a post-bacc premed have given me. I have more science than a lot of people. But you also need history, especially intellectual history of about the last 500 years. That is history of ideas. That’s where two of my three Ph.D. exams come in, American Religious History and Reformation History. My third exam will be History of Science. So I’m really getting at the history of the worldview that people have today that leads them to read Genesis in certain ways. What are the roots of that worldview, of those unspoken assumptions back 500 years ago?

The third leg you need– so you need history, you need science, then you have to control the biblical interpretation. You have to be able to look at the Bible in its ancient setting, in its Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. The problem is that many people who write about evolution are scientists. They don’t have the history and they don’t control scripture. Most of the people who write about this, well, let me limit myself to a Latter-day Saint context. Most Latter-day Saints who have written about reconciling science and religion or evolution have either been scientists, so they get the science down well, but they don’t do the history or the scripture.

Most of the people who have written about it from a scriptural perspective, they don’t know the history. They don’t know the science. Because of our 19th century populist inheritance in Mormonism, that is, we were very skeptical of experts, very skeptical of clergy, very skeptical of authority telling us what this had to mean. If you look at all the books that have been written by a Latter-day Saints on this topic, the vast majority of them have no relevant expertise at all. They’re lawyers. They’re accountants. They’re doctors. They’re people who don’t really do the science. They don’t really do the history and they don’t really do the scripture either. So to my knowledge, I’m the only one who really has a foot kind of in all those different worlds, which is kind of a historical accident. I certainly didn’t choose to spend six years in graduate school and then be given the boot because of Babylonian or to not get into medical school. But in retrospect it’s worked out very well and my wife and I have been very lucky in certain ways. So that’s my story and my educational background. I consider myself an eclectic historian with different skills depending on the time period we’re looking at.

Check out our conversation….

Ben Spackman discusses whether reconciling Genesis & evolution is even an appropriate question.
Ben Spackman discusses whether reconciling Genesis & Evolution is even an appropriate question.

Here are some other conversations about Genesis & the Bible:

154: Simon’s Thoughts on Noah’s Flood, Religious Beliefs (Southerton)

075: Is Evolution Compatible with the Bible? (Perego)

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Female Priesthood, Cutlerite Endowment, & House of Aaron (Part 6 of 8)

The LDS Church recently made changes to their temple endowment ceremony.  Rumor has it that the Cutlerite endowment has changed very little since the death of Joseph Smith.  We’ll continue our discussion about Cutlerite temple practices with Steve Shields. It appears they believe women hold priesthood in their temple ordinances!

Steve: So, that building is, in all intents and purposes, it’s a temple and it would resemble the Kirtland Temple model except Kirtland had no font. But, the upstairs room for the priesthood on the second floor, they weren’t necessarily doing rituals there, but they did some washings and anointings upstairs on the third floor in the attic level. And so, on the second floor of the Cutlerite buildings in Minnesota and Independence, that’s dedicated as a holy place. They call it the upper room work. They don’t use the term endowment. They do know what that means because we’ve talked about it with them. But, I do know. They’ve told me this, that women are ordained as high priestesses in the celestial church, not in the outer church, not in the public church. They have no priesthood in the public church.

GT: Oh, so women have a temple priesthood, but not an Ecclesiastical priesthood.

Steve: Exactly. Yeah, that’s right. That’s the extent of my knowledge about that. A few years ago when…

GT:  That’s interesting, Michael Quinn, in my current interview, just kind of said the LDS have the same thing. Jonathan Stapley said, “Well, we don’t want to call it priesthood.” But Quinn wasn’t nearly as careful on that.

Steve: Yeah. Well, I’m in the Quinn camp on that issue.

We’ll also discuss a break off from the RLDS Church called the House of Aaron.

Steve:  The House of Aaron is based at Eskdale, Utah. And they used to be called the Aaronic Order or the Order of Aaron. Morris Glendening was the founder, promoter of that. In the recent 10 or 12 years, they’ve been having lots of conversation with Fred Larsen and the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. John Conrad, who is the leader of the House of Aaron, his father was Bob Conrad, who was the chief high priest successor to Morris Glendening as chief high priest. John has gone out to Independence many times with folks their church. They’ve shifted a lot since Glendening’s times in the ’40’s. They always said they were not Mormons and yet all of their members had been Mormons.

Have you heard of the House of Aaron before?  Check out our conversation….

Steve Shields says Cutlerites have female priesthood, and we talk about House of Aaron in Eskdale, Utah
Steve Shields says Cutlerites have female priesthood, and we talk about House of Aaron in Eskdale, Utah

Don’t forget out other conversations with Steve!

238: Fundamentalists and Cutlerites (Shields)

227: Conspiracy Theories:  William Smith, Samuel Smith, James Strang(Shields)

226: Sidney’s Unsung Role in Restoration (Shields)

225: Steve’s Shields Own Divergent Path

224: Who Owns the Temple Lot? (Shields)