Mormon Scientists Need to Emulate Historians of Mormonism

Historians of Mormonism have done a lot to bring more "truth" to LDS history. Their efforts, coupled with the global impact of the Internet, have had a lasting impact on our understanding of our past. Mormon history has evolved from "faith-promoting stories" to actual, factual history. And the work of historians — like D. Michael Quinn, Richard L. Bushman, and John G. Turner — has caused important changes in the Church.

Edwin Gaustad, a noted historian of American religion addressed this very issue: “[Historians] are the scholarly profession with the [LDS Church] ... In no other denomination in American religious life do historians occupy so central, so sensitive, potentially significant a place.”

The work of historians has also resulted in a major reevaluation of how LDS Church leaders view history. In a recent speech at a history conference at Brigham Young University, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf made the following comment: “Truth and transparency complement each other. We always need to remember that transparency and openness keep us clear of the negative effects of secrecy or the cliché of faith-promoting rumor.”

Something similar to the Mormon history "rebellion" needs to happen with Mormon scientists. For example, there are still many members of the Church who believe in a literal Genesis (OT). To do this, one has to reject a lot of science (and history as well). Many Mormons believe that to be a good member of the LDS Church you have to believe in a real-life Adam, Eve, Noah, Lot, etc. That the earth was created in 7 or 7,000 days. That there was no death before the Fall. And that people lived to be 900+ years old.

Mormon scientists need to explain to Church members that there was no Universal Flood, Tower of Babel, curse of Cain (or Ham), pillar of salt, or big fish (whale); that there was death before the Fall (if there was a literal Fall); and that organic evolution is more than a theory. There are no discrepancies between true science and true religion. The two are very compatible.

When individuals see a marked dichotomy between science and religion, and perceive themselves to be religious, they frequently reject scientific observations and discoveries. And conversely when studying science, individuals can lose their faith in needlessly conservative Christianity. Both of these scenarios are bad for the LDS Church. For example, rejecting scientific discoveries can (and has) led to: racism; a disbelief in global warming; a lack of environmental sensitivity; distrust in vaccinations and immunizations; and neo-Luddism. Rejecting conservative Christianity — OT literalism — is leading to a loss of important members, the type of members that the LDS Church needs to be a vibrant, viable organization.

Contemporary LDS scientists like Duane E. Jeffery, David H. Bailey, and William E. Everson are speaking out, but not enough in numbers sufficient to move the LDS Church into the 21st century. Mormon scientists need to look at the example of late Apostle John A. Widtsoe (who died in 1954). He was willing to speak out on important issues related to science and religion. And he himself saw no conflict between the two.

Much in the Book of Genesis is fiction, myth, allegory, parable, whatever. The Mormon Church needs to deal with this fact in an overt and open fashion. That doesn't mean there aren't important lessons in Genesis, it just means it's not history and definitely not science.

[1] (accessed November 7, 2014)

[2] (accessed November 7, 2014)