On Judgement and Theistic Science

This quote from Andrew Steane is insightful.

Atheists fear that theism is oppressive because it sets an all-powerful judge over us. Obviously, all good things can be abused, but theism is not oppressive when it connects God profoundly to weakness, not power when it comes to personal relationships. It does include judgement, because caring about how someone behaves is unavoidably part of loving them. But if God is like a good parent, as we assert, then His boundless power sets boundaries–––the laws of nature–––but His dealings with us as people are not on the basis of power but of meaning, which is all about holding back and not overpowering; all about teaching, winning over, liberating, sending. All this is practical because people are empowered most deeply when another person, not just an idea, invites them, in love, to rise to be the one they can be. We do that for one another, but we flag–––our springs run dry. What we needs are springs that don’t run dry.

(Andrew Steane, Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014], 131.)

This is a remarkably succinct summation of my own views on God’s judgement, and the purpose of having and keeping commandments.

On the question of theism’s relationship with science, Steane wisely observes:

One can find examples of tension and resistance to scientific ideas coming from religious concerns, but this is the exception not the rule, and furthermore, on investigation it is found that what is at issue is never science as such, but the uses to which it is put, and the inferences that can be drawn from it.  

Notwithstanding this history, modern-day spokespeople for the more extreme form of atheism tend to set up science and religion as alternatives, in which the former eradicates the latter. The plain fact, the fact as plain as day, that science is, and always has been, a part of theism just as much as it is a part of atheism is either ignored or mistrusted. We theists might appear a little muted in our praise for science on occasions, but this is not because we don’t embrace it, it is because we are aware of the dangers involved in its possible abuse, and that abuse includes regarding it as something that can accomplish everything and never mislead.

(Steane, Faithful to Science, 139–140.)

This is very similar to what the First Presidency (at the time Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) said in 1910:

Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense. But everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us no matter where it may be found.

(Deseret Evening News, December 17, 1910, part 1, 3.)

Finally, Steane’s comment that “science is, and always has been, a part of theism” is in harmony with what is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants.

  • “And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. 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 on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.” (D&C 88:77–80)
  • “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” (D&C 88:118–119)
  • “And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” (D&C 90:15)
  • “And, verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should hasten to translate my scriptures, and to obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion. Amen.” (D&C 93:53)

Scientific inquiry and scholarship is just as much a part of being a Mormon theist as faith and prayer.