Is Mormonism compatible with science? An explanation of the scientific method and Mormonism’s non-adhearance to it.

Is Mormonism compatible with science? An explanation of the scientific method and Mormonism’s non-adhearance to it.


If lack of evidence for the proposition allows inference that the proposition is wrong, then the lack of evidence for the proposition constitutes evidence (though not necessarily proof) against the proposition.

A useful tool for evaluating faulty reasoning is to determine if the argument applies to cases that result in ludicrous conclusions. I could say that the lack of evidence for unicorns and leprechauns does not constitute evidence against them. Similarly, your argument could be used to defend the possible existence of any unobservable phenomena. One could always claim the evidence is really there, just not yet discovered. This may bring a certain sense or serenity to some individuals, but I personally find it a useless philosophy around which to construct one’s life. Perhaps they teach this “principle” of logic in Mormon Sunday school, or seminary, but it certainly is not part of the accepted process of science.

Within the framework of science, a hypothesis must have predictive value (it must be falsifiable) [1] [2]. Because of its predictive value, the hypothesis must foretell the outcome of an experiment. If the experiment is performed, and the predicted outcome is not observed, then the absence of evidence for the hypothesis (the predicted observation) constitutes evidence against the hypothesis.

In such cases, the hypothesis may be modified or discarded, or the experiment may be repeated with more careful controls and greater sensitivity. If, after repeated experimentation with the requisite sensitivity and control, the predicted outcome is not observed (an absence of evidence) the hypothesis is discarded. [In some cases the hypothesis may have limited utility – where it correctly predicts the outcome of experiments in a limited number of cases. In such cases the hypothesis may be adopted by engineers as a useful tool. If the hypothesis fails to properly predict the outcome in all experiments, however, it cannot be used as part of the foundation of scientific knowledge. Examples are the “ray” model of light and Newtonian physics. Both provide a measure of predictive value, but fail to properly predict the outcomes of important scientific experiments. They are, therefore, only approximations – though very valuable approximations in some instances because of their mathematical simplicity.]

There exist in the history of science a number of very good examples that illustrate this principle. I will refer to the standard model of stellar evolution. Among other things, this model predicts that the sun should emit a certain flux of particles called neutrinos. Accordingly, scientists have constructed elaborate experiments designed to measure the solar neutrino flux. Early experiments showed the measured flux to be about half the theoretically predicted value. In response, the scientific community has designed more sensitive experiments (early detectors did not measure the flux of all types of neutrinos, and they only measured neutrinos of limited energy).Additionally, theorists have reviewed the standard model to determine if the low neutrino flux can be made consistent with theory. All the scientific work has not yet been completed. However, if the neutrino flux problem cannot be resolved, then the standard theory of stellar evolution must be modified or discarded for a more accurate theory. In this case, as in many similar cases throughout scientific history, the absence of observed phenomena does indeed constitute evidence against the hypothesis.

Consider a second theory. In the early 1800’s a young Mormon prophet pretended to receive from god a description of astronomy that included an explanation for solar radiation. The man’s name was Joseph Smith. According to Joseph Smith, the sun gets its light from god’s home planet, a world Joseph called Kolob [3], [4]. No evidence supporting this hypothesis exists. None.

There is no significant, measurable influx of mass or energy pouring into the sun from any source outside our solar system. Accordingly, the absence of evidence supporting Joseph Smith’s hypothesis is compelling evidence against his claim to divine revelation. Presumably, god knows how the sun shines, and Joseph Smith did not. It seems a simple conclusion to say, therefore, that Joseph Smith was not inspired by god when he wrote the Book of Abraham.

Similar arguments apply to the Book of Mormon. According to the Book of Mormon, a large literate society existed in the western hemisphere as recently as 1600 years ago. This society, presumably, forged steel swords, had horse-drawn chariots, and used an altered form of Hebrew and Egyptian. As described in the Book of Mormon, this society was huge, numbering in the millions. Accordingly, we expect that if the Book of Mormon is true, archeological evidence of such a civilization exists. Yet there is no archeological evidence in the Western Hemisphere that supports the notion of a large, literate society that used horse- drawn chariots, steel swords, and Hebrew or Egyptian [5]. [Anyone who disputes this is invited to support their disputation with references to scientific journals.] This lack of supporting archeological observations is strong evidence against the Book of Mormon.

[1] There are hundreds of references one might give to support this statement. Most first-year text books on Physics, for example, contain introductory information about the nature of science. A good summary is found in chapter 1 of Charles Ruhla’s book “The Physics of Chance”, published by Oxford University Press, 1992. [Incidentally, I purchased this book at the BYU bookstore.]

[2] An excellent resource describing the scientific process and philosophy of science is Thomas S. Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” published by University of Chicago, 1970.

[3] “… Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the Grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars … (all) receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.” Figure 5, second Facsimile, Book of Abraham (Pearl of Great Price)

[4] Science and Mormonism, Melvin A. Cook, M. Garfield Cook, Copyright 1976, printed by Deseret News Press. See chapter four, Source of the Radiant Energy of the Sun. The Cooks argue, based on Mormon scriptures, that the sun acquires its light and energy from accretion. This was a common theory when Joseph wrote the Book of Abraham, long before nuclear fusion had been discovered by modern science.

[5] The closest possibility are the Maya, yet the Maya could not possibly be the mythical civilization from the Book of Mormon. There are hundreds of dissimilarities, the most significant being the fact the Maya did not domesticate horses, did not use wheeled chariots, and did not smelt steel. See, for example, Michael D. Coe’s book “The Maya”, published by Thames and Hudson, 5th edition, 1993.

A reader writes in, responding to the two paragraphs beginning here, with the following:

I think it would be a good idea to clarify that this statement comes from the explanation for Fig. 5 for facsimile No. 2 and suggest careful attention to the wording. I reccomend this for a couple of reasons:

1-This is not part of the Book of Abraham proper and the argument can be made that it is not a cannonized statement, though a very compelling argument can be made that it did originate with Joseph Smith since these facsimiles come from the Times and Seasons and appeared with the Book of Abraham’s initial serial publication. If it is not definitely cannonized, one could say that is not doctrine. Then again, many individuals within Mormonism seem to believe that not all cannonized propositions should be regarded as doctrine.

2-The wording in the explanation for Fig 5. is somewhat difficult to understand and could be open to different interpretations. Especially the phrase “said by the Egyptians to be the sun.” This phrase doesn’t necessarily indicate that “Enish-go-on-dosh” was our sun since “the Egyptians” may have been mistaken. However, whatever governing planet (heavenly body) this refers to, the text seems to clearly indicate that the same governing power or medium which allows “Enish-go-on-dosh” to borrow light from Kolob governs the Moon (“Floeese”), the Earth and the Sun. While I personally do interpret this to mean that Joseph Smith thought that our sun borrowed light from Kolob, I think assertion of certainty in interpretation of this passage may perceived to be misleading by some readers.