I had a friend a few years ago who suggested that he needed empirical evidence for anything he was to believe. Further, he suggested, science had, by then (I think this was the late 1980's) pretty much discovered everything there was to know.
So, my friend was a little short-sighted on both counts, I think. Clearly new things have been discovered since the late 1980's (Hubble telescope, Mars rovers, laser eye surgery, dismissal of Pluto as a planet...). And there are surely still things to be discovered. But he did highlight dramatically a tendency in humans: we think we know it all.
Which brings me to his second bit of shortsightedness, namely the need for empirical evidence for everything. I live differently. In some aspects of my life, I live by faith. Now, I like my gravity as much as the next guy. And I like the regularity with which the electricity in my house works. But I have to take on faith that my teenager will come home on time the first time he takes the car on his own. And I exercise faith in a whole range of religious pursuits.
I don't see a conflict with empirical evidence on the one hand and faith on the other. In some cases, one leads to another (the more often my teenager comes home on time, the more I trust him). In other cases the link may not be as strong. But I still rely on both.
My eighth grader came home a few months ago talking in favor of creation science (aka Intelligent Design) – that odd interpretation of scientific events that supports a six-day creation timeline and a 6,000 year old earth. Apparently he has a couple of friends at school who are evangelical Christians and they were sharing all they knew about creation science and why it makes so much more sense than Darwin.
I was dumbfounded. And I wasn't. When I was in ninth grade, we learned about Darwin and evolution in biology. My gut reaction was to oppose it. No one at home had told me to, but I lived in a conservative town with lots of religious folks, and there was plenty of chatter among my classmates and in the media opposing the idea of evolution, especially the evolution of man.
So I understood the idea that a kid who hasn't been around the block yet might resist the idea of evolution, especially if he has religious friends who show him an alternative. He and I argued creation science (he in favor, I opposed), but there's not a lot you can do to reason with an eighth grader, especially when you're just the dumb dad.
Another blog cited a bit of work in a science class at BYU-I which asked students to respond to questions about the age of the earth and the King Follett address by Joseph Smith. I don't know any more about the science class than that it included these questions and apparently included at least some discussion of Joseph Smith's doctrinal teaching in a science class.
That seemed odd to me, as my view is that science class is for science and religion class is for religion. Now I suppose it's possible this class was a survey of religious topics in science, but the blogger referred to it as his "online science class at BYU-I."
Tying it all together: I'm a big fan of religion in general, and huge fan of Mormonism, specifically. I'm an active, practicing Mormon and I sustain my church leaders (and have served myself in leadership positions).
I'm also a fan of science. I admire those who work their whole lives to make sense of our world from a scientific point of view. I'm a little in awe of them because I did not have the discipline as a young man to master those subjects (though had I had the discipline, I suspect I could have). I'm grateful for the practical advances and continuing discovery in science.
I don't believe that the scientific world and the religious world are mutually exclusive, nor do I believe they are necessarily in conflict with one another, even if the methods of observation may differ between the two. I acknowledge that there are plenty of scientists who do not believe in God, but there are plenty of non-scientists who don't believe in God either.
But I am frustrated by the desire of some to superimpose religious teaching on top of scientific discovery. I mean those who would teach Intelligent Design in the classroom. And I mean those who mix religious doctrine with science in the university classroom. (Note, I am not criticizing the BYU-I curriculum; I don't know enough about it to know why those two subjects were mixed in the online course of the blogger. Nor am I suggesting that a science course may not also discuss ethical or even spiritual things, as long as it labels them as such.)
I do not believe that religion needs to defend itself in the face of science or that it needs to rewrite science to suit itself. Doing so smacks of the acts of the church at the time of Galileo. At the same time, assuming we have the final word on many scientific subjects is also naïve. But until we disprove the assumptions we have, assumptions that offer credible scientific explanations, we ought not to pretend they are wrong.
I am grateful for great scientists who are also believers who have helped to bridge the gap. I appreciate that there may be some who study science and lose faith in the process, but I'm also aware that there are others who study science and have their faith strengthened.
My teenagers helped me long ago realize that I don't know everything (that is why we have them – teenagers – isn't it?), so I'm not overly troubled by scientific discovery that does not immediately confirm revealed truth. I can allow those two schools of thought to exist in my brain for now. In my own case, as I grew up a bit from my ninth-grade self, I realized that my slavish devotion to a literal six day period of creation was misguided: it did not reflect the teachings of my church or a correct understanding of scripture, and it was inconsistent with modern revelation. And as I've grown older still, I've come to realize that members of the Quorum of the Twelve themselves (including distinguished scientists) discussed (and even disagreed on) evolutionary theory.
To be sure there will be plenty of ethical issues with advances in science, but that is nothing new. And as a society we'll take those as they come, and hopefully those ethical decisions will be informed by eternal truths where possible. But let us not decry or ignore science because we fear it, or even worse because we lack the faith to embrace it.