Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mormonism and Science

I found this article totally by chance and found it very satisfying. If we take Joseph Smith's statement:
One the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth; let it come from where it may... Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true "Mormons."
along with the contents of the follow article by Talmage, it is not a stretch to say that "true" mormonism is synonymous with science.


BY DR. JAMES E. TALMAGE, PROFESSOR OP GEOLOGY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH. (This address was delivered in the Logan Temple about 12 years before he became an apostle) 

It is possible that a question may arise in the minds of some as to the propriety of this choice of subject for treatment within these sacred precincts. The thought, if it occur at all, is probably dependent upon the very prevalent idea that science is a man-made system, of earth earthy; and that its study is attended with possible if not certain dangers to the faith which man should foster within his soul toward the source of superior knowledge and true wisdom. Indeed, there are many who openly declare that a man cannot be both scientific and religious in his views and practices. Yet there is probably little justification for this conception of supposed antagonism between the healthful operation of man's reason in his effort to comprehend the language of God as declared in the divine works, and the yearnings of the human heart for the beauties of the truth that is revealed by more direct communication between the heavens and the earth. It is not my purpose on this occasion to deal with the trite topic of religion versus science, but rather to speak of the motives that impel the scientific man in his labor, and the fundamental principles of his methods. Such an inquiry, if prosecuted in the spirit of scientific research, cannot be out of place even here; and, if the effort be strengthened by our instinct of reverence for truth and its divine source, it will be found to be friendly to faith and akin to worship. 

The word "science" with its many derivatives, and such combinations as "scientific habits" and "scientific spirit" are of common usage today. In spite of the vague and indefinite way in which these and other expressions are used by those who are habitually inaccurate in their sayings and doings, the terms have come to have a meaning specific and definite. Science is not merely knowledge; a simple accumulation of facts, of however valuable a kind, would not constitute a science, any more than a collection of brick and stone, wood, iron and glass, sand, lime, and all the other necessary materials of construction, would constitute a house. The parts must be placed in proper relative position, and only as this true relationship is established and maintained, will the structure approach completeness, or even the condition of convenient service. Science is collated knowledge; its materials are arranged in orderly manner, its facts are so classified and placed as to afford for one another the advantage of mutual support, as the walls bear the roof, and the foundations the walls. 

Our rational conclusions regarding the propriety of any occurrence or cause of action are based on two distinct mental processes: — (1) observation and apprehension of facts, and (2) the shaping of opinions and judgments in accordance with those facts. Concerning such Winchell has said, "Aptness, readiness, and spontaneity in the execution of those processes constitute what we mean by the scientific habit. Eagerness to act on determinations reached by such processes is the scientific spirit. The scientific habit of mind is therefore the precise habit required for most just judgments within the sphere of all activities possessing an ethical character. * * * This spirit, first of all, loves the truth supremely. It feels that the passive acceptance of error is an affront to truth and intelligence. It therefore seeks earnestly to arrive at truth and to avoid error either in conception or conclusion. It therefore maintains a habit of watchfulness and scrutiny. It seeks to be accurate in its observation of facts, in its collocation of them, and in the inferences drawn from them. It is cautious; it pauses and reflects; it repeats its observations; it accumulates many facts to enlarge the basis of its generalizations. It enounces inferences tentatively and verifies them at every opportunity. It refuses to swerve from the teachings of the evidence. Interest, prejudice, friendships, advantage, all must be pushed aside. An attitude of absolute indifference toward collateral ends must be maintained. It knows no motives but one, that is the exact truth. This is true judicial attitude. It is an ideal attainment. Probably under human conditions it is never reached; but the scientific spirit approaches it as the asymptote approaches the curve." 

This spirit is that of the just judge who is above all human temptation toward bias or prejudice, and in this degree well may we call it an ideal attainment. Man is a creature of bias, a bundle of prejudices, some of them good, many of them assuredly bad. The world teems with dread examples of this prejudice; we scarcely know where to look for unbiased decision. This spirit sits in judgment, but not as the dumb jury in the box, sworn to decide upon such evidence and that only, as sharp-witted lawyers are able to bring forward, or such as a biased judge may see fit to allow; compelled to ignore every fact, the admission of which has been ruled out through some technical victory of the interested pleader; not sworn to render a verdict according to the law as construed by the court, who may or may not be true and worthy; but sworn to try every issue by the most crucial tests, to search for evidence in every nook and corner of the world; to count no costs of court in securing testimony, to search not for evidence on one side alone, but for evidence though it prove or disprove, to construe the law in the spirit of the law-maker and according to equity, to strive not for triumph but for truth, to know no victory but the discomfiture of error and the vindication of right. This spirit will impel him upon whom it rests to a condition at least approaching absolute unselfishness; he must sink himself with all his desires and preconceived opinions, into oblivion. As he works, he is a machine finely constructed, nicely adjusted; responding to every manifestation of force, recording every movement, calm, deliberate, unemotional. Not as the magnetic needle, which is held by the attractive force of that greater magnet, the earth, so that it cannot move in response to another force, unless this latter be strong enough to overcome the earth's directive power; but like the astatic needle, the pronounced tendency of which to swing North and South is overcome, so that it is rendered free to recognize and obey the outer force. 

With such purpose and motive the scientific man strives to develop his power of accurate observation, and to train his reason in the forming of judgments on the facts supplied through observation. Every teacher knows how deficient is the ordinary student in the performance of these processes. Observations incomplete, and in other ways unreliable as a basis for opinion and judgment, are in the usual order. It is difficult to bring the mind into a condition of neutrality; we persist in thinking that we see things as we believe they ought to be, or perhaps as we would like to have them, rather than as they are. Lack of skill in observation, aided by active and untrained fancy, is capable of working miracles on a scale otherwise unknown. It is said that the veteran microscopist, Dr. Carpenter, once had his attention directed to the work of a young student, who offered for inspection a marvelous collection of drawings representing alleged revelations of the microscope; there were animals never seen before or since by others; and all of these he had discovered, so Dr. Carpenter was told by an enthusiastic acquaintance, in spite of his inexperience and the imperfections of his instrument. The master's reply was: "Say not in spite of but because of those disadvantages." 

May I offer another illustration? A tyro in the use of the microscope found a dead cat lying in a pool of water; the water was stagnant and filthy; he placed a drop under his glass, and saw to his amazement numerous living creatures darting through that liquid drop, which to them was a world, chasing, tearing, rending, devouring one another. Those creatures he declared, though infinitesimally small, had all of them the general appearance of cats; the departed spirits of all the cat tribe were there congregated. Confident of the result of a further observation, he put the carcass of a dog in another pool, and when decay had reached a convenient stage he examined that water and demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the liquid was swarming with canine ghosts. Tis a pity he did not mix a drop of water from each of the pools; he might have heard the savage barks and have seen the fur fly. He confidently communicated to a friend that he had found the land, or rather the water, of departed spirits. The friend proceeded to test his conclusions, and fully demonstrated their falsity. Wherein lay the error? Was it in the glass? No, the second observer used the same instrument; it rested with the man. One was in a fit condition to consider evidence and to give judgment, the other was prejudiced; one was sober, the other was drunken with the wine of his own bias; one was sane, the other mad. Even in the seemingly simple operation of sketching, but few are able to show a thing as it is; some features are sure to be exaggerated, others suppressed; characteristics not appearing in the original are introduced, and essentials are entirely omitted. I speak not of the ideal representations in the work of the artist, his purpose is not so much to copy nature as to portray the beauties, which, while appealing to his trained eye, may be beyond the perception of others. 

But even the highest development of skill in observation does not insure correctness of judgment. We may err in interpreting the simplest facts, and the same fact may impress different people in many ways. A well-trained ear might be able to analyze the ticks of a telegraphic receiver, but a knowledge of the code is essential to a proper interpretation of the sounds. We blame the barometer as an untrustworthy instrument, if a rise be not followed by fine weather, or a fall by rain; forgetting that it revealed a change of atmospheric pressure only, and that the definite prophecy of fair or other conditions was not made by the barometer but by ourselves, as a judgment which was perhaps poorly supported.

The cultivation of the scientific spirit has been objected to for many reasons. We are told that it is opposed to the poetic impulse and tends to quench the emotional fire which is essential to the growth of man's perfect nature; and that it is therefore bad. Such a conclusion is hastily drawn; it is contrary to fact. There is no truer poet than the man of science, he must needs indulge his imagination as much as does the singer who deals with sweet sounds, the one who pours out his soul in verse, or he who finds expression for his ideal in beauteous forms in stone, or in colors in canvas. But the scientific man knows that when he sings, the demands of melody and the requirements of harmony may lead him to exaggeration; he remembers that when he makes verses his ardor to secure rhythm and rhyme may intoxicate him; that in the use of chisel and brush he aims rather to please than to teach.

As already stated, the purpose of art is not simply to imitate nature; else photography would be in higher esteem than painting; for it is an evident fact that the good photograph is a likeness representing the subject as it is, while the painted portrait is often an attempt to show forth the artist's ideal. Art strives to recognize and portray this ideal in nature. The mission of poetry, which is but one manifestation of the spirit of art, is to please, incidentally it may teach, but its prime purpose is not didactic. The poet's effort is to find and show forth beauty. And yet the scientist is poetically inclined; he is a lover of beauty in its highest, purest phases. He stands side by side with his brother the poet, in the presence of the simplest manifestations of beauty, admiring the colors of the flower, entranced with the sweet song of the bird and the murmuring of the wind. But he goes farther than his brother, analyzes the color and the sound, and strives to trace these effects back to their causes.

There are other and higher manifestations of beauty than those which appeal only to eye and ear, harmony of color and sound. There is the beauty of adaptation, the fitting of purpose to end, the existence and operation of law. To this, the highest type of beauty, the scientist is passionately devoted. He is a lover of beauty for its own sake; not because it pleases his eye or ear, but because it appeals to his reason and judgment; he loves it for its intrinsic worth. Novelty sways him but lightly; truths to others old and gray, are yet youthful and rosy to him; his affection knows no cooling as the charms of fresh acquaintance disappear; he cares less for the face and the figure than for the heart and its prompting. Tell me, which is the true lover and which the admirer only, he who is charmed by complexion and bust, or he who is attracted by the spirit, though it be encased in a body that is feeble and scarred? Let the poetic feeling be indulged; its indulgence oft-times marks the higher moments of our existence; but in these exalted states we do not work methodically and systematically; as Winchell has said, were the Creator to unveil his face to us, our power of work would be gone, we could do naught but worship.

Again, I hear some say that this scientific tendency is of doubtful propriety, for being cold, calculating, discerning, judging, its devotee being cautious and at times even skeptical, he has no place in his soul for trusting, all-abiding faith; in other words, that the scientific spirit being in contrast with the poetic, is opposed to faith. The conclusion upon which such a statement rests is plain, that he who makes it classes faith as a poetic impulse, an emanation of the art spirit. As if faith were a mere emotion, its purpose solely to please; as if it had its foundation in the sweet but yet light bubblings of poesy. It has a deeper seat, a firmer anchorage. Liken it to a tree, then its roots penetrate to the profoundest recesses of the soil. The scientific spirit is the fruit of that tree. None sees more clearly than does the scientist the necessity of all-abiding trust, none recognizes more readily than he the existence of laws which he has scarcely begun to comprehend, the results of which are nevertheless exalting. Faith is not blind submission, passive obedience with no effort at thought or reason. Faith, if worthy of its name, rests upon truth; and truth is the foundation of science. 

The scientific worker pursues his investigation step by step, inviting inspection and criticism at every stage. He makes as plain a trail as he can, blazes the trees of his path through the forest, cuts his footprints in the rocks that others may more readily follow to test his results. He welcomes every new worker in the field, for the work of others will diminish the chances of error going undetected in his own. The scientific man welcomes the stimulant of competition, but he has no room within his soul for feelings of rivalry.

In this day competition is severe, even fierce indeed; but the scientific spirit would make it friendly and ennobling. Its possessor acknowledges freely and gladly the aid he has gained from others. I see about me men who are ungrateful in the extreme, knowing only their own achievements, and having but a blind eye for all that was done before, and which made their work possible. They seek to blot out from the canvas on which they are permitted to work, the whole background of the picture, failing to see how they spoil their own foreground by so doing. I have little sympathy for the man who boasts that nothing was done in the field till he came in at the gate. And so of the bricklayer who thinks that he and he alone has reared the house, while but for the stonemason he would have had no foundation on which to build. The man who comes into position and immediately sets about demolishing the work of his predecessor, or, if he cannot dispense with it, who hides it, or disguises it, that it might appear as his own, has none of the scientific spirit, which is the spirit of manhood and of honor. Shame upon him who speaks slightingly of those who pioneered the way and made the path along which he travels with comparative ease! Double shame on the boy who sneers at the old-fashioned ways of father and mother; perhaps they were more typical representatives of the spirit of true propriety in their early days than is he in his. 

As with individuals so with institutions. There are some that seek to grow upon the ruins of others. The promoters of such see no good outside their own plans. They detest competition, and feel that they have a patent to the field. They advertise by denouncing others. Modesty has not a seat within their walls, manhood resides far from them. Look at the business advertisements of the day: every manufacturer, merchant, or huckster warns you against all others of his trade. He is a paragon of perfection, and the only one of his kind. 

The scientific spirit acknowledges without reserve the laws of God, but discriminates between such and the rules made by man. It abhors bigotry, denounces the extravagances of the blind zealot, religious or otherwise, and seeks to perfect the faith of its possessor as a purified, sanctified power, pleasing alike mind and heart, reason and soul. In the charges that have been preferred by the theologians against science, and the counter accusations by the scientists against theology, it is evident that in each case the accuser is not fully informed as to what he is attacking. Irrational zeal is not to be commended; and the substitution of theory for fact, though often declared to be the prevailing weakness of the scientist, is wholly unscientific. 

But it is easy to denounce; so to do is a favorite pastime of ignorance. That scientific theories have been and are being discarded as unworthy because untrue is well known; but no one is more ready to so renounce than the scientist himself. To him a theory is but a scaffolding whereon he stands while placing the facts which are his building blocks; and from these he rears the tower from which a wider horizon of truth is opened to his eye. When the structure is made, the scaffold,- unsightly, shaky, and unsafe, as it is likely to be, is removed. Tis not always possible to judge of the building from the rough poles and planks which serve the temporary purpose of him who builds. Yet how often may we hear from our pulpits, usually however when they are occupied by the little-great men, scathing denunciations of science, which is represented as a bundle of vagaries, and of scientific men, who are but Will-o-the-wisps enticing the traveler into quagmires of spiritual ruin. Would it not be better for those who so inveigh to acquaint themselves with at least the first principles of the doctrines of science? So general has this practice become amongst us, that the most inexperienced speaker feels justified in thus indulging himself, and in the minds of many the conclusion is reached, none the less pernicious in its present effects because unfounded, that the higher development of the intellect is not a part of the Gospel of Christ. I speak not against the true inspiration which as a manifestation of the spirit of prophecy has in many instances clearly indicated the errors of human beliefs. Were I to deny the existence of such a power and the potency of revelation I would be false to my love of science and its work, a betrayer of the testimony within my own soul. 

I place the prophet before the philosopher; of the two I have seen the former go less frequently astray; he is guided by a "more sure word," he is a privileged pupil of the greatest Master. Yet revelation is not given to save man from self effort; if he want knowledge let him ask of God, and prove himself worthy of the desired gift by his own faithful search. Such are the teachings of our Church. The leaders amongst us, those who are acknowledged as prophets and revelators to the people, are not heard in authoritative denunciation of the teachings of science. Yet under the freedom allowed by our liberal Church organization the lay speaker is prone to indulge in unguarded criticism, and the undiscriminating hearer is apt to regard such as the teachings of the Church. The scientist in his self-denying earnest labors is a true child of God; as he is strengthened spiritually will his work be the better. The scientific spirit is divine. 

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