When Faith and Facts Collide

All of us have those moments when we realize that our cherished beliefs contradict what we know to be true. A believing Mormon has to believe that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 is correct when it tells us that the earth will have only “seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.” But we know through science and hard evidence that the earth has been around much longer than 7,000 years, and those millions of years were not devoid of death. Most Mormons do one of two things: they reinterpret the facts or the scriptures to accommodate reality, or they simply compartmentalize, refusing to apply their knowledge and learning to matters of the spirit.

I think I did the former, for the most part. I understood, for example, that Church doctrine was incompatible with human evolution, even though there is ample evidence that we have evolved. I just put that item on the shelf and figured that either my understanding of evolution was flawed, or my interpretation of doctrine was. Either way, God created humans, however he had done it. I suspect that this kind of rationalizing goes on all the time in the church, as there are a lot of church claims and doctrines that do not conform to reality.

With the advent of the Internet, it’s become quite easy to find information about church history and doctrine, and much of it is problematic. Take, for example, the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from some papyrus scrolls discovered with some mummies. We learn that Joseph’s translation is completely wrong, and not only that, the church has known it was wrong since 1967. But unless you did your own research, you as a member would not have known that. You’re left with two options: find some way to make it work, or just ignore it. Some apologists, like John Gee, have made valiant (if not always honest) attempts to make it work, but most of us just ignored it. I always figured that God would explain it later.

The problem comes when you realize that every single one of Mormonism’s claims is in dispute as to whether it reflects reality. Mormonism makes a lot of claims about the history of the Americas, and when we attempt to verify them, they fall apart, just as the Book of Abraham does. No matter how you approach it, the job of reinterpreting or compartmentalizing is constant in Mormonism. I found out the hard way that it’s very difficult to maintain that kind of rationalization indefinitely.

So, how is the church responding to these kinds of situations? Here’s what current church president and prophet Thomas S. Monson has said about it:

“Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.

“Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: ‘I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God’s word. I wasn’t with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it'” (Thomas Monson, “The Lighthouse of the Lord:
A Message to the Youth of the Church,” Ensign, February 2001).

What he’s telling us is that we must willfully drive doubt from our minds before we ever get to a point at which we have to reinterpret or compartmentalize. Just will it away, and it will go away.

Years ago an episode of the Twilight Zone had a young boy who could read the minds of the people in his town. If they thought or did something he didn’t like, he would turn them into grotesque monsters or giant toys, and then he would wish them away into a cornfield, where they couldn’t disrupt his happy existence. This is what Monson is telling us to do: wish those evil thoughts of doubt and reason away into the cornfield of blissful ignorance.

How long do you think that’s going to work?


15 Responses to When Faith and Facts Collide

  1. Mina says:

    Why can’t faith and doubt co-exist? I don’t remember reading St. Augustine and getting the impression that you had to just ignore puzzling doctrinal or theological questions, or worse, pay no attention to other branches of human knowledge…

  2. runtu says:

    I’ve always thought that doubt was an essential part of faith. If you don’t doubt, you don’t learn. Apparently, the prophet sees it differently.

  3. ditchu says:

    The scientific findings have made assumtions not fact.

  4. runtu says:

    I take it you’re one of the “young earth” folks, ditchu?

  5. ama49 says:

    Science is pretty sketchy in and of itself. How many theories are out there that haven’t been proven?

    The same goes for religion. How many religions are out there with shaky histories? I’d say most of them.

    My take on it is to reason things out in your mind and then test things out by study and also by faith. If it works, stick with it. If not, then don’t.

    My own personal experience is that when I focus on trying to prove things logically (i.e. focusing on religious history, science, etc.) much doesn’t make sense. However, when the Spirit testifies to me of something, then it makes much more sense and it feels peaceful and isn’t that what we’re all after? Peace and feeling good about the direction we’re heading in life?

    What do you believe in, Runtu?


  6. runtu says:

    I have to disagree with the idea that if it feels good and gives you peace, it’s automatically true. A friend of mine described that approach as “spiritual hedonism.” I find that I’m most at peace when I approach truth with an open mind and follow truth where it leads me. But it’s the truth that is correct, not the feeling.

    What do I believe? Still sorting that out, to be honest. I do appreciate your comments.

  7. ditchu says:

    When Scientist look at something in the relative short term and make their assumption for the long term on what little they see, I do not like that people buy in to the thinking that these assumptions are fact. The age of the earth is a perfect topic of discussion for this matter. We have been collecting reliable scientific data for about 70 years now on the materials and methods used to discover the age of this planet. The best assumptions projected by the data that is taken as fact relies on a constant that we do not have good enough assurances that it remains constant.

  8. Good read runtu,
    I do believe every man will doubt their religion. Its natural for man to doubt at some points. Life is an emotional roller coaster, David seemed in the Psalms to go through ups and downs. Doubting Thomas doubted until his hands on experience. As far as earth is concerned, Augustine made it a point not to debate Genesis because we do not know. (I personally take it as is in Genesis, but would not call someone stupid for not believing it). As far as the age for the earth- lets analyze for a second the opening lines of Genesis.
    1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
    2. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
    -First notice how the time moves, God created the earth, and the earth was formless and void, then it moves to creation. Essentially this is saying that God created the earth, and who knows how long it sat before creation began, who knows how long each day really was. Who was here then? Not I, God created earth and thats all we know.

  9. Mina says:

    Wow, runtu. Looks like you’ve attracted some really bright lights here. Perhaps a lesson in how knowledge is produced is in order? Probably wouldn’t shake the hubris and ignorance, though…

  10. ama49 says:

    What is your definition of truth?

  11. Sounds like a flame war haha

  12. zackc says:

    Who doesn’t love a flame war?

    PS Runtu probably smells a bit before he takes his daily shower. Hah! I win.


  13. runtu says:

    I’m not looking for a flame war. I think I’m going to write up something about how I approach “truth” and “reality.” That might further the discussion without resorting to flames.

    It may take a couple of days because I want to do it right.

  14. I understand that your not, your merely expressing your thoughts/feelings on this subject matter through your experiences. I was just commenting on others responses to each other.

  15. ps- this isn’t meant to sound like a smart alec comment.

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