Monday, September 10, 2012
Just How Fundamentalist are Mormons Anyway?
On this week’s Penn’s Sunday School podcast, Penn Jillette and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) were having an interesting conversation about creationism and belief and the like. Penn asked Bill a question about the last time he (Bill) had had an in-person conversation with somebody who truly believed in the inerrancy of the Bible and in creationism. Bill’s answer was that his most recent experience in this regard was when a couple of Mormon missionaries knocked on his door a few years earlier.
They didn’t pursue the conversation very far, and Bill didn’t offer any specifics but the answer he gave struck me as very odd. Having grown up Mormon and served as a missionary myself, I would never think of lumping Mormons into the fundamentalist camp when it comes to Biblical accuracy. Certainly I was never raised to believe that the Earth was only six or ten thousand years old - yes, Mormons believe in creation as an act of God, but they don’t believe the Bible is any sort of inerrant history text (in fact, that's part of the reason the Book of Mormon was necessary, to correct the errors that had crept into the Bible over the centuries).
In my experience, Mormons have a healthy respect for, and invest a huge amount of money in, modern science. Certainly many paleontologists are Mormons (lots of dinosaur bones out there in Utah). I remember being taught evolution in science classes at BYU, and, when some students complained about it, the professor calmly explained that, whatever anyone’s religious beliefs, evolution was the state of modern science, and it was the University’s obligation to teach it. That’s maybe not the most ringing endorsement of evolution one could hear, but it’s a far cry from what you’d get at a fundamentalist Christian college.
So the conversation made me curious. In the 25 or so years since I've been to church, have things changed in this regard? Are missionaries now out there extolling the virtues of young Earth creationism?
Certainly Mormons have made common cause with fundamentalists in the political arena in recent decades, so maybe they’ve changed the way they look at and teach these doctrines as well. My hunch, though, is that the very fact that Mormons and conservative Christians have been so publicly supportive of each other politically has led people to lump them into that same category. But I'm definitely curious.
I’ll have to check it out.