Mormonism and Science
Mormons are somewhat unique in that they do not reject science, nor do they believe that science and religion are incompatible. Many journalists noted that during the 2012 presidential election campaigns, the two Mormon candidates—Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman—were the only pro-science candidates in the Republican race.
Mormons believe that God created the laws of science and would, therefore, naturally use the laws He created. They teach that science is not doctrine and they generally avoid teaching scientific issues as doctrinal, preferring to focus on the spiritual aspects of a topic. While many leaders and even prophets had personal opinions about scientific issues, they are generally not canonized doctrines. Mormons believe that even prophets are entitled to personal opinions.
Utah, which is highly Mormon, has produced an unusually high number of scientists, even among Mormons. Some have attained high levels of respect, including Henry Eyring, who developed the Absolute Rate Theory of chemical reactions and has most major chemistry awards to his name. He was considered a serious contender for the Nobel Prize. The official Nobel Prize website says:
“Nobel’s will laid down that the prize should be awarded for work done during the preceding year, but in the statutes governing the committee work this has been interpreted to mean the most recent results, or for older work provided its significance has only recently been demonstrated. It was undoubtedly this rule that excluded Stanislao Cannizzaro from receiving one of the first Nobel Prizes, since his work on drawing up a reliable table of atomic weights, helping to establish the periodic system, was done in the middle of the 19th century. A more recent example is Henry Eyring, whose brilliant theory for the rates of chemical reactions, published in 1935, was apparently not understood by members of the Nobel Committee until much later. As a compensation the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences gave him, in 1977, its highest honor, other than the Nobel Prize, the Berzelius Medal in gold.”
His son, also named Henry, serves in the highest ranking leadership body of the Church as the First Counselor. Henry Eyring (the scientist), said, “Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.”
While still poor and persecuted, Mormons formed a small adult university that included the teaching of math, chemistry, and geology. Joseph Smith, who had only been able to obtain three years of formal education supplemented by some home education, was passionate about learning, both secular and spiritual. Throughout his life, he worked to overcome his early lack of education, which was caused by living where there were no schools. When adult education classes were held, he was a regular attendee and the Hebrew instructor, a non-Mormon brought in to teach, noted that he was the most diligent and successful student in the class.
The Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern revelation used by Mormons has a revelation that outlines God’s approval of both spiritual and secular learning:
“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—” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-79).
This scripture obviously includes some references to science. Mormons believe that there is no contradiction between science and religion once both are completely understood. Many of the common disagreements among religious and academic scholars are non-issues for Mormons. For instance, Mormons have no official stance on how long it took to create the earth or on the process of doing so. They do not believe the Bible is a science book. Its purpose is not to give a scholarly step-by-step outline of creation, but to explain why it was created and who created it.
“…Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular…whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.”—Brigham Young, (May 14, 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:116.
For Mormons, science is another example of God’s wisdom and planning for our world. Mormons celebrate science and honor its findings, while recognizing that science is not yet a perfect art. Many things Mormons knew all along are only now beginning to be understood by science. In time, we will discover there is no contradiction at all between the two.