In May 2007, a new museum and family discovery center was opened.  It covers 49 acres and cost an estimated $27 million to build.  It has a state-of-the-art planetarium, a 200-seat special effects theater with vibrating seats and mist, and Animatronic dinosaurs.  There are displays designed by people who worked at Universal Studios.  By its 3rd anniversary, it had reportedly had over one million visitors.

There are several unique things about this museum.  It displays dinosaurs side-by-side with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  It has a model of Noah’s ark under construction and explains how the 15,000 feet of sediment and fossils in the Grand Canyon were laid down in the Great Flood.  Its staff of 160 people explain how the earth was created in 6 literal days approximately 6000 years ago, and that the earth is certainly no more that 7000 years old.  To arrange a visit, you can visit the website for the Creation Museum.

When discussing science and religion, I define the Creation Museum as an example of an an “Inside Out” framework for thinking about the world.  According to this paradigm, the following steps occur:

1) Religious texts are read, often with a certain amount of literalism
2) Concepts from the texts are internalized
3) The outside world is examined for look for support for the internal concept
– If there is outside support, it is seen as proof of the concept
– If there is contradictory outside information, it is radically reinterpreted or else discarded

This “Inside Out” approach to science and religion has been used for millennia.  Ancient man attributed unexplained observations of the world around them to gods.  Nature gods needed to be appeased through sacrifices and rituals.  The sun was a fire drawn across the sky by a god in a chariot.  Some cultures had a plurality of gods to answer all of these questions.  Some had multiple gods as facets of one god.  The monotheistic religions rejected this.  But still, as they wrote things down, they intermingled their then-current knowledge about the world with revealed truths about God.  Given a lack of other sources and the emphasis on literalism, these became the guiding texts in all things to many people.  Hence, a number of teachings, of which just a few examples are given:

– Geocentrism: This was a viewpoint commonly held in Greek times.  But it is reflected in the Bible as well.  Joshua 10:12-13 states:

Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.

Other scriptures supporting this include Habakkuk 3:11, Psalms 19:4-6, Ecclesiastes 1:5, 1 Chronicles 16:30, 1 Samuel 2:8, etc.  The Bible talks about the earth being flat, of having edges, of being set upon pillars, etc.  Are these revealed truths from God, or are these merely Hebraic customs incorporated into scripture?

While there were many other circumstances intermingled with the situation, one aspect of the Galileo vs Church conflict involved a literal reading of these scriptures, or an “Inside Out” paradigm.  Scientists came up with increasingly complex mechanisms to keep the earth at the center of the solar system yet still account for variations in the orbits of the planets from perfect circles.  It was hard for them to let go of their attempt to impose their understanding of scripture on the world around them.

– Number of bones: In Islam, it is known that there are 360 bones/joints in the human body, as taught by Mohammed.  As an orthopedic surgeon, I was taught that there are that there are 206.  In Islamic circles, however, there are various unique ways of counting where it can be shown that there are exactly 360 bones/joints.  Again, an example of “Inside Out” thinking where scientific evidence is interpreted in light of a religious teaching, because the religious teaching cannot be wrong.

– Modern versions: In the Book of Mormon, we learn that people’s skin changes color based on their righteousness.  This continued into modern times where prophets taught that the amount of melanin in someone’s skin reflected their premortal valor, or that if Lamanites were raised in white LDS households that the melanin would decrease and their skin would become whiter.  Modern prophets have discounted evolution as a tool of Satan because it doesn’t fit their religious point-of-view.  And even more recently, there was a firestorm created with Packer’s comments which reflected an “Inside Out” framework for thinking about homosexuality.

There are advantages and disadvantages of the “Inside Out” paradigm.  Advantages might include the faith-promoting aspect that is necessarily a part of this.  In this viewpoint, we “follow the prophets” no matter what they may say, as reemphasized in the repeating of Benson’s 14 points in the last General Conference, twice.  In this approach, we accept all of the scriptures literally.  We avoid the danger of trying to decide which things our leaders are saying are true and which are perhaps just their opinion.  For many people, there is a very real peace that comes from knowing that “God is in control”, that our leaders will tell us what to do, and that questioning can lead away from the path back to God.

There are disadvantages, however.  There are times when science runs up against religious teachings, and the question is what to do.  The Catholic church clung to the geocentric teaching for a while, but eventually had to change.  Did anyone lose their “testimony” of the Catholic church over that? Wording in the Book of Mormon was changed from a “white and delightsome” people to a “pure and delightsome” people.  The wording on the title page was also changed regarding the relationship between the Lamanites and the American Indians.  Prophets and apostles admitted that they were wrong about some of the things they taught as truths over the years.

So, is an “Inside Out” paradigm the best way to approach religion and science?  I would argue that it is not, and that there are very real dangers to this approach.  Any potential upside is small compared to the potential downside.  There are numerous people who have left the Church over this conflict.  There are whole books written whose premise is that because prophets and apostles have been wrong about some of these issues, that the whole thing is a fraud and we are all deceived (ie. Farewell to Eden, etc).  While there may be a comforting aspect to having a leader who can speak about anything, there is much more potential for harm.

“Inside Out” is a dangerous way of approaching these issues.  In the next post (#6), I am going to talk about an “Outside In” paradigm that is ultimatelly more robust, though not without its detractors.  It’s actually the approach that I’ll use for the rest of the series.  Then in post #7, “In the beginning…”, we move past the background and get on with the fun.

Questions:
  • What do we make of the verses in the Bible that talk about the Sun moving around the earth or any of dozens of other examples?  Are these literal, figurative, representative of the thinking at the time it was written, etc?  And if not literal, how do we determine which things we ARE going to take literally and which things we are NOT?
  • How about the Book of Mormon.  Do you consider this more literal than the Bible, or are there things in there that are perhaps as figurative as some of the things in the Bible?
  • Without being too personal, has any cognitive dissonance caused by breaking of an “inside out” paradigm affected your testimony or that of someone you know?
  • The Creation Museum is based on a literal interpretation of an English translation of the Greek Septuagint from the 4th century AD.  The oldest version of Genesis are fragments on the Dead Sea scrolls from around the time of Christ.  We otherwise don’t know how they got from Moses’ time (around 1200-1300 BC) to then.  What do you make of that?  Could there be enough translation and transmission problems that basing a world-view on that might be problematic, or did God preserve that process so that what we read today is exact?
  • For bonus points: Has anyone ever actually been to the Creation Museum?  What are your impressions?

(NOTE: This post is mostly about tools for resolving literalism, an “inside out” paradigm, etc.  Feel free to discuss what you will.  However, know that we are going to have individual posts that specifically discuss creation, evolution, the flood, Tower of Babel, migration of mankind, giants in the land, dietary laws, homosexuality, behavioral patterns, marriage customs, etc. over the next months.  Also note: Despite the picture of a biography of the band written by Nick Mason, there is no association between Pink Floyd and the contents of this post.  They are my favorite band and have been for decades.)