Things To Act
Monday, February 02, 2004
Scientific Methodology & Religion
A class discussion today featured someone dogmatically asserting that his opinions on certain views (relating to eternal progression of God and evolution, among other things) were incontrovertibly supported by certain General Authority quotes, which I found rather annoying.

The reason I found it annoying, however, seems worth further pondering. It is not that I disapprove, in principle, of people holding opinions different from my own on matters which the Lord has not seen fit to reveal and make binding on the Saints through their sustaining in General Conference (as neither of the above-mentioned matters has been). Rather, it annoys me to no end when people take their opinions and assert them as doctrine, or even as 'no reasonable person can come to any conclusion but...'

Part of the reason, I think, is because I tend to approach many questions of theology with an approach similar to the scientific method (as described in textbooks, if not as actually employed by scientists): virtually all knowledge is tentative, all reasoning is public, and all conclusions are replicable. This obviously doesn't work for most intensely private spiritual experiences--but such experiences are generally not to be shared publicly, and are certainly not the basis for teaching doctrine in the Church. Rather, if we want to know the doctrine on some obscure controversy, such as angels and pinheads, the approach should be something along the lines of: 'scriptures A, B, and C teach such-and-such, in my understanding, while scripture D seems to reject an alternate understanding. Meanwhile, GAs A and B have made these public statements on the matter, which seem to confirm my understanding. Hence, my (tentative) opinion is such and such, until I see reason to change it. However, I understand that others have alternate explanations for the scriptures I cited, and rely on implications of statements by GAs C and D to reach a different conclusion. I suspect that they are misguided, but recognize that it could just as easily be me, or that both explanations could be wrong, and the true answer something quite different.'

Of course, such an approach only applies to those doctrines and beliefs applying to matters on which the Lord has not made His will quite clear. However, I suspect that the sphere covered by such matters is smaller than many members suspect.

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