Jamie L. Jensen
Dr. Jamie L. Jensen, Ph.D.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Brigham Young University
Thoughts on the intersection of science and religion on human origins
Speaking from my own personal perspective, growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the ‘Mormons’), I echo the words of the founding prophet of the Church, Joseph Smith, spoken in 1843, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from which it may.” I believe that both science and religion are legitimate ways of knowing. Together, they bring enhanced light and knowledge to our world. Rather than taking a separation approach, relegating each line of inquiry to its own sphere such that no possible conflict can arise, I take a reconciliatory approach, bringing them both in harmony, recognizing, with great humility, that any potential conflict is a result of my lack of understanding in one sphere or the other. I subscribe to the words of modern-day prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, “There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both…Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible.” When it comes to contemplating the origins of my own species over a multi-million-year time period, everything I learn from science serves to further strengthen my faith in an awe-inspiring Creator who understands and uses the laws of nature to bring about His divine processes. Given the neutral position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on evolution (see Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 78; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 5, 1992; and New Era, vol. 10, 2016), I believe we can study the creation through both religious eyes and a scientific lens to better understand both the majesty and the love of our Father in Heaven. I am humbled that the study of evolution, and especially human evolution, allows us, as His children, to catch a small glimpse of His creative hand.
Reflections on the Anthropocene
The Anthropocene, or age of humans, has ushered in a tremendous time of art, beauty, intelligence, and technological advances. But with it, it has brought conflict, violence, and desecration of many of God’s creations. I do not believe that humans inherently aim to destroy our resources and drive organisms to extinction. Much of the negative consequences of mankind is likely a result of our drive for survival, equal to that of any other living organism with an innate natural drive resulting from evolution, coupled with our ignorance of effective methods of conservation as we learn to be better stewards of this earth. Part of the issue today may also be a lack of awareness and/or an unwillingness to accept the degree of our influence. In our Doctrine and Covenants (104: 13-17), we are taught by the Lord, “For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.” We are stewards of this earth, not owners. We should feel a responsibility to God but also to those generations who are to inherit the earth from us. This responsibility should be to work to discover sustainable methods for humans to live in harmony with the rest of the organisms on this planet and to manage our natural resources in a way that benefits society. A keen awareness of Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons (1968) can help individuals feel a collective responsibility for preserving our Earth, as this is an effort that will take the diligence and dedication of all of us in a combined effort for humanity.