Mormonism allows for flexibility in thought and ideas, which is necessary for healthy individuals and societies, said Bryan V. Wallis, a PhD student in English at the University of California Davis. This flexibility is evident in various aspects of the faith, though Wallis focused his remarks at the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference last weekend on its role in creation stories. "I believe Mormonism provides a requisite framework of flexibility," he said. Citing church leaders and historians in addition to other scholars, Wallis presented his paper, "Flexibility in the Ecology of Ideas: an LDS Perspective on Creation" in a session of the conference which focused on religion and science.He said some ideas are so prevalent in cultures, they become automatically accepted and aren't as scrutinized as they should be, which leads to stunted understanding and curiosity. He used the example of the long-held view of the world — inherited from Aristotle — in which the earth was the center of the universe with all planets and stars revolving around it. That view became so prevalent that it was eventually accepted as fact in religious circles and treated as above criticism. "It was assumed to be an accurate picture of the world and was therefore not in need of further revision or critical examination," Wallis said. Eventually, though, when thinkers such as Galileo asserted otherwise, the church's inflexibility showed itself. "As the church inflexibly wedded itself to a particular — and in this case largely extra-scriptural — sense of the world, threats to the validity of (that view of the) universe were perceived as threats to the validity of the church itself," he said. Similarly, some wed themselves to specifics in creation stories and are unwilling to re-examine them. And when others do, they view it as heresy. Wallis didn't advocate any one interpretation of the creation story over another, but rather advocated that currently-held views be up for examination. He said, "If a system of thought becomes so rigid that it loses the flexibility to evaluate even its unconscious assumptions, or so supple that it loses all form, then it will consequently fall."Wallis said he believes the account of chemist Henry Eyring, father of apostle Henry B. Eyring, is a good example of the flexibility he was talking about. Referencing the biography of Eyring, "Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring," Wallis said the chemist believed in the possibility of biological evolution as the way some life could have been created on earth. Ultimately, however, Erying never took a definite stand. "Eyring maintained a certain humble agnosticism, refusing to definitively align himself with either faction. Rather than simply being non-comital however, his position recognizes humankind's place of ignorance amongst a largely unknown and unknowable creation," he said. Early leaders of the church spoke often about the need for continued revelation. Though not necessarily in terms of the earth's origins, these leaders' statements set a framework for the openness members can take to the discussion of the earth's origins, Wallis said. "(Joseph) Smith emphasized revelation and spoke of it in flexible terms, able to be adapted to changing circumstances," Wallis said. "Smith emphasized a certain degree of flexibility necessary in the Mormon system of thought in order to maintain its vitality." Wallis said Brigham Young believed knowledge could come from sources other than the scriptures. Quoting Young, he said "Fields and mountains, trees and flowers, all that fly, swim or move upon the ground are lessons for study in the great school our heavenly Father has instituted for the benefit of his children. Let us explore this great fountain of information that is open before us in ... the great laboratory of nature."


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