Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Latter-day Saints and Science, Part 3

Originally published in Meridian Magazine, November 16-21, 2002
By Mark W. Cannon

About the Author:
Mark W. Cannon served as Administrative Assistant (deputy for planning, management and liaison) to the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren E. Burger, for 13 years. He also served as Staff Director of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution; Director, Institute of Public Administration, New York; Chairman, BYU Department of Political Science; Legislative Assistant to Senator Wallace Bennett; Administrative Assistant to Congressman Henry Aldous Dixon. He was a founding owner of Geneva Steel. He obtained his Ph.D. at Harvard University in Political Economy and Government.

Fruits of Mormonism: Mormon Scientists Maintain Their Faith in Christ and His Re-established Church

Mormons Find Science and Religion are Compatible

Do these scientific leaders find their science undermines their religious faith? Generally not. Most of them continued to be active Church members and many also held leadership positions in the Church. For example, Henry Eyring, who published over 500 scientific articles, was a long time member of the General Sunday School Board for the whole Church.

LDS scientists generally reconcile science with their religion. In 1956, Richard Wootton found that 74 percent of Mormon scientists born in Utah believed that Joseph Smith was inspired by God in the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (61 percent strong or very strong, 14 percent fair.)(30) The same researcher found that in 1992 the proportion of LDS scientists who had received baccalaureate degrees from universities in Utah who believed that Joseph Smith was inspired by God in the formation of the Church was 91 percent (85 percent strong or very strong, 6 percent fair).(31) Such a high proportion of faithful scientists seemed so improbable to some, that Wootton redid the study with a second sample - which confirmed the first sample.

Dr. Wootton redid the study using the 1998-99 edition of American Men and Women of Science with the same methodology. When asked if they believed that Joseph Smith was inspired by God in the formation of the Mormon Church, the proportion of believers was 94 percent (86 percent strong or very strong, 6 percent fair) - no decline, but even higher than in the previous studies.(32) Virtually the same percentage believed that "Jesus of Nazareth is a divine person of the Godhead." Of the Utah spawned LDS scientists, 88 percent are active in the Church - more by 6 percent than were active when they were 18-25 years of age.

The astounding character of the widespread faith of LDS scientists in the restored Church is shown by the contrast of a national study of scientists in American Men and Women of Science.(33) Only 40% believed in a God influenced by worship or in an afterlife with personal identity. This is less than half of the proportion of LDS scientists who find the claims of the restored Church credible and have faith.
On www.angelfire.com/az2/saintsci, you can obtain details of the Wootton studies. He is also willing to respond to questions by email. His address is rtw7555@cs.com.
In the 1992 survey, 92 percent of responding Utah spawned scientists, including non-LDS, believed the LDS Church promotes human welfare.(34)

The Wootton first study was based on birth in Utah. Since the data was not available by birth for the second study, it was based upon completion of undergraduate study at a university in Utah, Despite the ambiguity of a different method of identifying Utah spawned LDS scientists, it appears that there has been an increase in faith among LDS scientists from an already high earlier level. This seems partially attributable to the growth of scientific evidence of the validity of LDS scriptures done particularly by the Foundation for Research in Mormon Scriptures (FARMS). Many studies have also reinforced the fruitfulness of LDS beliefs and practices, such as the studies of non-Mormon UCLA professor James E. Enstrom that indicate that LDS high priests in California live 10 to 12 years longer, on average, than comparable non-Mormons.(35)

It may also be of interest to note that some non-Mormon scientists have become increasingly willing to bare their own religious faith.(36)

Not only do LDS scientists continue to be religiously active, but well-educated LDS generally are religiously active. Survey research indicated that 41 percent of Mormons with only elementary school education attend Church regularly. By contrast, 76 percent of LDS college graduates attend Church regularly and 78 percent of LDS who went beyond their college degrees to do graduate study attend Church regularly.(37)

The novelty of the LDS correlation between education and religious faith and activity was illustrated when Harvard Professor David Riesman visited BYU campus in the 1960's. He was intrigued to find that Mormons with Ph.D.s lined up to obtain faculty positions at BYU. He noted, by contrast, that it was common for people from other Churches to feel liberated from their religion when they obtained Ph.D.s, and not to be motivated to teach at religious institutions of higher education.
Scientists are Among Top LDS Church Leaders

Not only is there a remarkable record of many LDS becoming scientists while continuing to be religiously faithful, but leading scientists and engineers have been among the Church's leaders from its inception. The original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the early 1800s included Orson Pratt, a mathematician. When the Mormons first crossed the plains in 1847, Orson Pratt calculated the daily distances traveled as well as latitude, longitude and altitude.

Among subsequent Apostles were Dr. James E. Talmage, a geologist who studied at Lehigh and Johns Hopkins Universities; Joseph F. Merrill, who obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from Johns Hopkins, and John A. Widtsoe, a native of Norway who studied biochemistry at Harvard University and obtained his Ph.D. from Gottingen University in Germany, also in the 1800s. He served as President of Utah State Agricultural College and the University of Utah.

If we look at the Quorum of Twelve Apostles today, it may well be unique among leadership councils of churches for having scientists, engineers and prominent educators as a majority of its members. These Apostles include (alphabetically listed):

• Henry B. Eyring obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard, was a Sloan faculty fellow at MIT and taught nine years at Stanford University focusing on the management of scientists and technicians. He was also President of Ricks College and has served as Commissioner of Education for the LDS Church.
• Jeffrey Holland received his Ph.D. at Yale University, became Commissioner of Education for the Church and then was President of Brigham Young University. He served as President of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities.
• Neal A. Maxwell was Executive Vice President of the University of Utah, as well as Commissioner of Education for the Church.
• Russell M. Nelson. In addition to his medical degree from University of Utah, he obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota where he was a member of the team that produced the first successful artificial heart and lungs to keep a patient's body functioning during heart surgery. He became Chief of the Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgery Division of the LDS Hospital and a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery. He is internationally recognized. For example, he was named Honorary Professor, Shandong Medical University, Jinan; Old People University, Jinan; and Xi-An Medical College.
• Dallin H. Oaks, a former law clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren, became a professor, and Associate and Acting Dean, at the University of Chicago Law School, He was also Executive Director of the American Bar Association Foundation, and then became President of Brigham Young University. He was President of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities. He was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the national PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) and has served as a Justice of the Utah Supreme Court.
• Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, obtained a doctorate from BYU and taught at universities in the Church Institute.
• Richard G. Scott, a nuclear engineer, completed the equivalent of a Ph.D. at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was instrumental in the establishment of the first peacetime nuclear power plant, and was co-editor of two books related to the construction and use of nuclear power plants. For 12 years he worked with Hymen Rickover in developing nuclear powered systems.

The other Apostles also came from distinguished backgrounds in business, management and law.

Among the second tier of General Authorities of the contemporary Church are such scientists as Dr. James O. Mason, former Director of the National Center for Disease Control.

Concluding Comments
LDS diligence in seeking and embracing all knowledge and wisdom has been fruitful. As a result, committed LDS:
• have exemplary health and live ten to twelve years longer than their countrymen;
• produce wholesome youth who tend to avoid drugs, alcohol problems and venereal diseases, and who are often athletes—as examples, this year, 8 Olympic contenders, including aeriel silver medal winner Joe Pack, were LDS representing 6 countries, and in the 1998 NCAA tournament, nine members of the top four basketball teams were LDS.
• have a high educational level and scientific orientation;
• work effectively and have high ability to sustain themselves economically, have produced successful multi-national businesses, and made Utah a world center of new computer software (as identified by the Economist magazine and others);
• have improved the quality of personal and family life, peace of mind, and harmony with others in the many countries in which Church members live;
• and generate productive, service-oriented citizens, loyal to their own laws and governments—of whom any country can be pleased and proud.(38)

30. Richard T. Wootton, "Religious Orientations of Utah Scientists Related to Certain Problems of LDS Education," doctoral thesis, University of Utah, 1956, summarized in Wootton, Op. Cit., p.61.
31. Wootton, Op. Cit., p. 61.
32. Wootton, The Year 2000 Update of the Sixty Year Utah Scientists Study (published by author, 2000) and accompanying press release.
33. Edward J. Larson and Larry Whitham, "Scientists and Religion in America" Scientific American, September, 1999..
34. Wootton, Op. Cit., p. 60 and chart opposite p. 60.
35. James E. Enstrom, "Health Practices and Cancer Mortality Among Active California Mormons", Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 81 Issue 23, December 6, 1989, pp. 1807-14; "Cancer Mortality Among Mormons in California during 1968-75", Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 65, November 1980, pp. 1073-82; "Cancer and Total Mortality Among Active Mormons", Cancer: Journal of the American Cancer Society, October 1978, pp. 1943-51.
36. See, for example, Patrick Glynn, God The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World (Forum/Prima Publishing, 1997); John Marks Templeton, ed. How Large is God?: The Voices of Scientists and Theologians (Philadelphia & London: Templeton Foundation Press, 1997); John Marks Templeton, ed. Evidence of Purpose: Scientists Discover the Creator (New York: Continuum, 1994); Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore: The Free Press, 1997); Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming--Natural, Divine and Human (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993); Herbert Benson, Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief (New York: Scribner, 1996); Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way you Feel (New York: Scribner, 1997).
37. Stan L. Albrecht, "The Consequential Dimension of Mormon Religiosity", Brigham Young University, Feb. 15, 1989. Slide 35.
38. For bibliography, see Richard F. Haglund Jr. and Erich Robert Paul, "Resources for the Study of Science, Technology, and Mormon Culture", in Mormon Americana, David J. Whittaker, ed., (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1995).


  1. Thanks for this piece. It's often the secular teachings of evolution and constructed sexuality that is now increasingly leading our youth to an unfortunate wrong conclusion that there is a disconnect between faith and science, between faith and reality as taught in some classrooms. We desperately need to bridge the gap and teach and illustrate that the Bible, and modern day revelation embraces the Creation, and every scientific find that is accurate, even all truth, and reinforce in universities and on the knee that we can know the truth. It's not unknowable, all relative. Thanks for sharing.

  2. When I say 'secular teaching of evolution,' I don't mean to discount the process of some things evolving in the creation process, but am referring to the teaching that we, as humans, are anything less than the spirit children of God, and descendants of a literal couple, Adam and Eve.