When I went to my high priests’ group a few weeks ago to discuss Elder Hales’ talk on Agency and Bishop Edgely’s talk on Faith (both from the October 2010 conference), I did not expect we’d also be talking about dinosaurs and cavemen.
I love my high priests’ group. I have lots of friends there who truly are my brothers. We laugh together, we help each other, we mourn together and comfort one another. Our gospel discussions tend to stay in the middle of the road; it’s a “stick to the manual” group for sure.
So this week, our instructor (who really does a great job with the Teaching For Our Times lessons -- he prepares carefully, asks thought provoking questions, and leads good discussions), wandered into a discussion of dinosaurs and cavemen and their relationship to gospel teaching. His point was delivered by a bishop of his years ago: This is something you don’t need to worry about as it’s not essential to your salvation.
Then I stuck my foot in it. I commented that my fourteen year old son was wrestling with the perceived battle between religion and science and that we talked about it often. It was not something he was willing to put on the shelf or stop worrying about. I had hoped to hear helpful suggestions and ideas about how to teach faith to a teenager, and I did get some of that. But I also heard:
1. Various theories of how dinosaur bones came to the earth (including cosmic dump trucks bringing in material from other worlds and that Adam may have been an alien)
2. That Science was written in today’s world by atheists specifically to exclude God, and if one carefully reviewed the facts, he would see that the scientists are manipulating data to their own ends
Fascinating (and just a little disturbing). What I realized is that we come to these questions with our own level of knowledge and our own experience. No one in my group meeting that day is a scientist; most are folks with business or engingeering degrees, though one is a medical technician and another a social worker. I was, therefore, not terribly surprised that we didn’t have any serious students of geology or biology or zoology among us (at least none who were willing to speak up). And most are around 50 years old or more, like me, so unless they’ve made a specific effort, their impression of church teachings is likely based on 30+-year old seminary lessons.
One group member suggested (as he always does; his faith is rock-solid, and well protected by his particular approach) that we need to teach our kids to remember what they know when they find questions they can’t answer right away.
I agree with that idea. But I also agree that there’s value in understanding what my church teaches and what the scriptures teach. (I’ve mentioned to my son half-jokingly that if he’s going to leave the church, he ought to be sure he’s leaving the right one, and not leave his church because he disagrees with what some other church teaches.)
We also came around to the idea that there are many in the church who have carefully studied the science and continue to be faithful latter-day saints. There’s value in learning how they’ve done it.
In the end, not every issue is important to every person. And what’s important to me now is different from what was important when I was younger. But the things that are important are important. It’s ok to ask questions, and to seek answers. And, as my friend said, it’s good to remember what we already know in the face of what we don’t.