Farewell to Eden -- Coming to terms with Mormonism and Science
Duwayne R. Anderson
1st Books Library , 2003. Quality Paperback:
ISBN: 1-4107-5384-0 (Paperback, other bindings available)
Suggested retail price: $22.95 paperback, $29.95 hardback(US)
The author explains in an introduction that he is, in effect, a disaffectedLatter-day Saint. Active in leadership roles early in life, when hiscareer path led to the study of science, specifically physics, he began tosense some lack of agreement between what his religion taught vis a vis thesciences, and what he was learning as a working scientist.
His major problems are with the Book of Abraham and Moses, both from thePearl of Great Price, inasmuch as these documents deal more directly withscience than with other LDS scripture.
In Chapter 1, he asks the question, "What is Mormonism?" His treatment isremarkably balanced, given his clear rejection of Mormon principles. Hesurveys a bit of Mormon history, discusses the translation of the Book ofMormon, and offers highlights from the career of Joseph Smith, Jr.
Chapter 2 asks the correlative question, "What is Science?" In thischapter he makes the case that religious questions cannot be answered usingthe "scientific method." He argues in particular that, while religiousquestions seek certainty, science does not guarantee it. But science doesprovide a process by which questions may be answered, and religion simplydoesn't play by the same rules.
The next five chapters get down to specifics -- how do the claims ofMormonism fare when compared to the findings of modern science? Thechapter titles are:
- Mormonism and the science of complexity
- Mormonism and astronomy
- Mormonism and geology
- Mormonism and biology
- Mormonism and archaeology
(This final study, "Mormonism and Archaeology," is a fairly comprehensiveand easily grasped discussion of the complex issue of Book of Mormonhistory vs. archaeological and DNA studies. Much has already been said onthis subject; Anderson summarizes the arguments nicely.)
His method in each chapter is the same: he presents the "Mormon position,"he follows it with a discussion of science's discoveries and conclusions,and ends with a critique, in every instance showing how the teachings ofMormonism do not agree with the finds of science.
As a non-scientist, I found some of the discussions arcane and confusing.To his credit, Anderson has a straight-forward writing style, and heprovides numerous illustrations, flow charts and other visual aids to helporganize and explain the material. But it takes a real talent tosynthesize a complex scientific idea into prose that can be understood bythe layperson. This is clearly Anderson's goal, and he comes close, butsome of the discussions remain a mystery.
As I was reading, two issues arose in my mind.
- 1. Throughout the book, Anderson represents the findings and methods of science as the arbiter in the Mormonism vs. Science conflict. But he also presents science as in a constant state of flux. From Newton, to Einstein, to "uncertainty" and "chaos," science doesn't seem to stay still for very long. Given the shifting nature of scientific discovery and growth, how then can science be the standard against which Mormonism is judged? (In making this statement, I am not taking sides in this debate. I only wish Anderson had treated this question in his book.)
- 2. I began to wonder who the author considered his target audience. Was it the non-Mormon physicist? I'm not sure any would be interested. Was it the Mormon non-scientist? If so, then I suspect most would be lost in the science and the mathematics, and never read the entire book. In the end, I decided his audience was the Mormon scientist who had never fully examined his faith in the light of science. And he clearly wants to move such a person from Mormonism into science.
As a non-scientist, I had no convenient way to evaluate the accuracy of hisexplanations, but they seemed reasonable, given my own general knowledgeand my few readings in physics. A scientist would be better qualified tomake such decisions.
This could have been an angry book. Given the radical shift Anderson wasforced to make in his life, it is worth noting that he attempts to explainboth positions in an unbiased way. His conclusions, however, are certainlybiased toward science.
All of this raises the question of how a Mormon scientist can reconcile twosuch diverse points of view. I believe it was Henry Eyring who talkedabout his own need to compartmentalize his thinking, to separate hisreligious life from his vocation as a scientist. Can one really sothoroughly divide his intellectual apparatus without weakening bothaspects? Eyring seemed to think so. Anderson, alas, thinks not.
As with many privately published books, "Farewell to Eden" is peppered withtypographical errors, mostly spelling. I would have liked the book more ifI weren't so distracted by such flaws.
I'm glad I read this book. Although I was lost in some of the science, Igained a new appreciation, not just for the sciences, but for thescientific views contained in Mormon scripture. While the reader may notbe convinced that the Pearl of Great Price contains authentic science, hestill comes away from that collection with a sense of intrigue andcuriosity.
I commend Anderson for his hard work and commitment. The book deserves tobe read, if only for the sake of discussion.
Jeff Needle March 21, 2004
© 2004 Jeff Needle