Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: Science isn't the only road to knowledge’

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Published: Thursday, Aug. 29 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

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Unwieldy Toaster
Bluffdale, UT

It seems to me like your missing the boat on this one Dr. Petersen. To paraphrase Michael Shermer "science gives us provisional truths about conditional realities." Comparatively science is much more humble and tentative with regards to truth claims as opposed to dogmatic religion.

One fun exercise might be to draw a line down a chalk board and list science and religion at the top of each column. Then list the discoveries of each. Lets have at it!

Unwieldy Toaster
Bluffdale, UT

Another interesting point I've heard John Larsen make is that it would have been nice for an early prophet to make this kind of statement: "thou shalt boilest thine water before thou drinkest it."

Twin Lights
Louisville, KY

One (of several) cogent point from Dr. Peterson's article:

"Both [religion and science] are important. Neither can replace the other."

Please let this not devolve into the "only science" or "only religion" camps. James Talmage was a great apostle and religious writer. He was also a well regarded scientist. Several on the Quorum of Twelve have been or are men of science.

There need be no war here. The conflict is, in my view, a trumped up thing. On one side it creates the view that science cannot be trusted and makes us potential political pawns for movements that have no real religious value. On the other side, it creates the view that science can answer all relevant questions and that there is not only no value in a spiritual life but that those who practice a spiritual way are suspect and of lesser intelligence.

Newton would be aghast.

Orem, Ut

“'Holy books,' declared a recent critic of this column, 'cannot be witnesses to the truth. Truth can only be demonstrated with the scientific method.'"

Was this declared in a private email, in a private conversation, on a blog, on Facebook, on a message board, in a letter to the editor, in the comments section on this site, or another venue? Can you link to the comment? Was that the entirety of the declaration or did the critic say anything further?

Salt Lake City, UT

Interesting juxtaposition today between this column and the A1 above-the-fold story in the crosstown rival about the GOP slipping away from science.

Stephen Jay Gould addressed similar questions in his discussion of nonoverlapping magisteria. Worth looking into.

Gluckman, quoted by Peterson: “A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation.”

Let's apply this quotation to the question of human origins. On one hand you have the speculations of Bronze Age shepherds that were passed down orally, eventually written down, and were given the luster of literal truth without much testing or questioning. No modern fools surpassing the ancient geniuses. On the other hand, you have folks who collected observation-based data, made hypotheses, and tested them. Some hypotheses, like Lamarck's idea of acquired characteristics, didn't pass muster and were dropped, while others, like Darwinian natural selection, soldiered on. Mendel would be a fool in today's Genetics 101. Steno, Wallace, Darwin, Huxley, Mendel, Dobzhansky, Watson & Crick, Leakey, Gould, etc. Like Newton, standing on the shoulders of the chain of giants (or fools) that came before them.

Phoenix, AZ

Mr Peterson seems confused by his comparing of apples and oranges. Maybe what is needed to sort it all out is a good seer stone.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

The good Dr. desperately needs to take a course on epistemology.

Dr. Peterson is mixing terms and definitions in ways that make it nearly impossible to derive any rational conclusions – is “truth” the same as “facts?”

I don’t know any scientist who would deny the “truth” of a Shakespeare sonnet, but this is almost never what they’re talking about when they speak about knowledge. For a scientist knowledge in their domain is objective facts about the natural world (not to be confused, again as Dr. Peterson does here, with subjective experiences).

I think what any rational scientist would say regarding “holy books” is if they are making claims about the natural objective world, then those claims are open to the realm of scientific inquiry.

And Dr. Peterson’s last paragraph is just a mess of blind assertions. Surely science has had a lot to say about where God is not (everything that we now have natural explanations for that used to be explained by the supernatural) and science is making great inroads in laying the foundations for objective morality as well.

Brigham City, UT

The medical profession knows religious people live longer lives.

Centerville, UT

Religion and science seek the same end, Truth. Dogmatic science and dogmatic religion are both an attempt to silence the other.


@ unwieldy toaster

The Old Testament Pentateuch is full of sound advice on diet, quarantine, and sanitation, so your sarcasm, or whoever's it was, is expressed without sufficient research into scripture. The prophet who delivered these sound counsels was Moses.

The Word of Wisdom, given in 1833, through Joseph Smith, would have saved millions of lives had there been sufficient faith to adopt it.
It was far ahead of the "science' of the day, and still is ahead of the 'cultural lag' and actual practice.

College Station, TX

I'm a scientist. I'm also a believing LDS church member. As much as I sympathize with Peterson's frustration at such unfounded belief in science to answer everything, I was disappointed by his silly allusions to scientific application. Picking some ludicrously-random technology as a failed answer to difficult life questions adds nothing to a meaningful response. It only proves in the mind of people already against religion that we really are a bunch of ignorant dimwits. That's as frustrating as someone laughing at my faith when they suppose that I get daily news from seer stones, or wondering if angles appear at breakfast telling me what cereal to eat.

Latter-day Saints generally believe that someday all of our knowledge will be reconciled in a grand understanding of all things. Ultimately, what we gain from science and spirituality will complement each. For most of us on day-to-day, practical basis, science may be "outside the domain" of answering many questions, but it's also unnecessary in context of the restored gospel to take such a hard-nosed stance on the subject. Such an attitude is unhelpful in convincing others to explore spiritual avenues of understanding.

Saint George, UT

I find it rather ironic that the theory of darwinian evolution can't be replicated, shown, produced, or proven, yet athiests want us to endure their 'facts' without showing any proof! Absolutely stunning arrogance! Ask them to prove the theory that man evolved from an ape, or a reptile evolved from fish, or a dinosaur evolved to a bird, and they can't, not once, even intimate of such foolishness. Yet, there they go wearily pouncing on faith as a relic of ancient and outdated thinking, while their 'faith' in darwinian evolution is taught in our universities as an unquestioned fact, without any scientific proof to show the untethered minds therein. Mirror, mirror on the wall whose the fairest of them all? In our universities, it is vanity, ignorance, unproven myths, and perpetual absurdity. No wonder the concept of 'higher learning' at our universities is being questioned, as it should.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@bandersen – “I find it rather ironic that the theory of darwinian evolution can't be replicated, shown, produced, or proven, yet athiests want us to endure their 'facts' without showing any proof!”

Actually that’s not true. We have been replicating evolution (by artificial selection) for thousands of years in everything from creating new dog breeds to a wide variety of apples.

Evolution by natural selection is the same process only nature requires much longer periods of time. And if the age the Earth is represented by one year, modern humans have been on the planet since about 11:45pm on December 31st (i.e., so evolution by natural selection has had abundant time to do its work).

And unless you are a plant (as in mole or saboteur) engaged in Poe’s Law (in which case, bravo!), you really do religious believers a tremendous disservice by expressing such ignorance about science. The evidence for evolution by natural selection is overwhelming and the “theory” (in quotes because theory means sometimes entirely different to a scientist) is on as solid ground as the germ theory of disease and the theory of gravity.

Salt Lake City, UT

banderson: "...darwinian evolution is taught in our universities as an unquestioned fact, without any scientific proof.."

At the risk of hijacking this thread from Dr. Peterson's essay to a evolution/creation/ID debate, let me just offer that there is plenty of evidence out there if you take the effort to examine it. Evolutionary theory generates testable hypotheses and plausible naturalistic mechanisms. Now contrast that with the alternatives.

When I closed my original post with the allusion to the Newton quotation (If I have accomplished anything, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants-- paraphrased), I had the mental image of those scientists literally standing on the shoulders of their predecessors like circus acrobats. That image in turn prompted another also related to a famous quotation in evolutionary circles ("It's turtles all the way down."). I guess the difference is that there are no Gluckman-esque geniuses in the turtle stack and therefore no progression of knowledge, whereas there is progress with the pillar of scientists. Nothing against turtles, but I prefer scientists holding up my world-- all the way down.

Far East USA, SC

Some of the Religious claim that the earth is only 6000 years old based on the biblical teachings that nothing died before Adam inhabited the earth.

There are many things that science cannot prove or disprove. Unicorns?

Religion has gotten just too many things completely wrong to be the "go-to" source for much that is claimed to be truth. (flat earth?)

I am not saying that there is no truth in religion, but when I weigh the scientific evidence that the earth is round and much older than 6000 years compared to biblical account to the contrary, my money is on science.

Unwieldy Toaster
Bluffdale, UT

Science certainly doesn't have the answer for everything, but I would argue that it is by far the best we've got for converging in on truth.

I'm sure we are all familiar with the age old maxim that "some truths are not very useful." I think that you can also make that statement work in reverse: "some things that are untrue can be useful." If religion is workin for you then go for it! But I really have trouble seeing how religion is just as good or superior to science when it comes to getting closer to truth.

Saint George, UT

Athiests: Show me! Isn't that what objective scientific experiments do? Show me one example where a species evolved into a different species, not something with a longer beak or toe? dog to cat? Fish to lion? Man to ape? Just show me? Don't tell me about your 'millions' of years of 'faith'. I want your own objective 'scientific' experiment that I can see today, not an athiestic 'faith' of million years from now or a million years ago? If you can't show me today how to believe in your 'theories' why should I be persuaded to believe them! I want to believe, show me!


It seems that the world no longer has real faith in the power of God, or religion. It's a crime in modern society to deny your child medical care that is based on real science. In the days of Christ we read that Christ cured all manner of afflictions. I've been told that this power exists today on the earth yet it cannot be a reliable cure for anything more than lost keys.

Show me the lame that was made to walk through priesthood blessings.

Show me the deaf that is healed through God's power.

Show me the leper that is made clean through consecrated oil.

Until then I think I'll put my faith in science. It would be criminal to do otherwise. Thanks to science we all have a healthy sceptcism of the promises of religion.

Chandler, AZ

I find myself in substantial agreement with Dr. Peterson on this one-- a rare occurrence, indeed (I'm still waiting for a public retraction of Dr. Peterson's misrepresentation of the Eastern teaching on theosis, but we'll table that for now).

I think what Dr. Peterson is inveighing against in this article is the epistemology of scientific positivism. Despite having been thoroughly debunked and then largely abandoned earlier in this century, we are seeing a "renaissance" of this teaching among a younger generation that hasn't taken enough time to become acquainted with the past philosophical literature. This is unfortunate. As Dr. Peterson points out, positivism is logically self-refuting.

Some advocate a sort of "soft" positivism, that doesn't make the explicit, blanket statement that knowledge only comes from science, but it nevertheless, for all practical intents and purposes, does in fact do so by relegating all other epistemologies to second-rate knowledge, at best.

The comedy of this approach is that they've chosen an epistemology that ONLY studies material realities, and then they wonder mockingly why they can never find God-- an immaterial being. I think Reformed Epistemology is worth studying at this juncture.

m.g. scott
clearfield, UT

I mentioned this before in another post on DN, but if you took a look at my 1970s astronomy book you'd see a lot that was not known then but is now. Science evolves and changes. And it will continue to do so.

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