Truth by Reason and by Revelation

This book, upon the much-abused subject of the conflict between science and religion, gives real insight into how one man, a deeply convinced Latter-day Saint and a recognized scientist in the field of biology, has dealt with the conflict. As the title indicates, Dr. Salisbury recognizes two channels to truth: reason, which he equates with the scientific method of experience and logic; and Revelation from God, which he treats as including the standard works of the Church and personal testimony. He accepts both sources as valid, recognizes that there are real conflicts between the present scientific understanding of the world and the teachings of Mormonism, and identifies as one factor in the conflict that the scientist has not yet learned to accept the validity of Revelation. His own avowed purpose in writing the book is “to give my fellow scientist, as well as the student, grounds for faith and reason to believe that the gospel has been restored.”

The book’s first and best section deals briefly with the two different approaches to truth, and the limitations of both. Dr. Salisbury presents a good discussion of the unique epistemological foundations of the Mormon position, and shows evidence of careful thinking in answering the casual objections whereby the skeptic usually wholly dismisses the possibility of knowledge by Revelation. He seems to recognize that the ultimate sources of the conflict are indeed epistemological and metaphysical—a natural versus a theistic approach toward the questions of the universe, each equally based upon faith in certain assumptions. He does point out that if Mormonism’s claims are true, it is possible to attain a certainty upon fundamental questions by Revelation, whereas by the inductive methods of science one is limited to arriving at only an increasing probability that any current interpretation of facts is the correct one.

The second section of the book is an attempt to analyze certain problems between science and religion especially that of evolution versus creation. Beginning with a commendable brief discussion of miracles, which ably fields Hume’s classic objection, the section continues with a little of everything from biological and theological exposition and a Word of Wisdom discussion to open and avowed speculation upon subjects as diverse as how Eve was created from Adam’s rib and how flying saucers may figure in the eschatological picture. There is a good treatment of the theory of evolution and certain of its strengths and weaknesses from a scientific viewpoint. Dr. Salisbury disappointingly makes an attempt to solve the problem by reconciling both viewpoints, with the usual result of a picture that is scientifically disquieting without being theologically satisfying. While defending strongly the doctrine of an anthropomorphic God in whose bodily image man was created, and even urging the doctrine of Adam’s supervising the whole creation process as an embodied being, the author seems to want to hold the door open to Darwinian evolution’s being possibly the creative process whereby the species that God and Adam already represented was brought by them into existence. Nor does he ever really come to grips with the problem of the Fall, or of the paradisiacal condition of the earth to which it is to be renewed by the Redemption.

However, his treatment of the theory of evolution, its assumptions and problems, is honest and lucid and perhaps the fairest yet given in a Latter-day Saint publication. This, together with its epistemological approach to the problems and its recognition of many usually hidden assumptions behind the problems, keeps the book from being just one more attempt to show that Mormonism is really scientific after all.

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