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A Believing Scientist

From early boyhood I had a strong curiosity about nature. My first grade teacher in Los Angeles, Mrs. Cunningham, sent a note home to my parents to this effect. It’s one I now possess. It seems that I was born with an inquiring mind. This apparently annoyed some people, as I was told, “Why do you question everything?” I soon stopped, or at least curtailed my questioning. Then a college professor said in a class of his that I was taking, that the only foolish questions, in his opinion, were those not asked. I felt vindicated. Years later when I first started teaching in college, I did all I could to encourage thinking and questioning. This helped me become more aware of what students understood (or didn’t) and were actually saying. This same attitude of mine has been applied to the teaching I’ve done over the years in the LDS Church wards I was in—from Primary to Gospel Doctrine classes.

During my non-questioning period as a youth, I basically accepted all my teachers taught, both in Church and in school. Should teachers ever be challenged? I didn’t think so at the time. But as I started college in southern California things were being taught, especially in science, that seemed to conflict with what I was taught in Church. These seeming conflicts had to do with the age of the earth, with Noah’s Flood, with evolution and many other subjects. Who was right on these issues, Church or science? It took many years, but the more I studied both science and religion, the more I realized that the conflict was more apparent than real. The more I studied the more I became aware that most of the problems concerned man’s interpretations. For example, Galileo with his telescopic observations confirmed Copernicus’ earlier concept that it was the sun and not the earth that was the center of our Solar System. Galileo was a devout Roman Catholic but was branded a heretic for speaking out against church teachings. The real problem was not Galileo’s findings and conclusions, which were accurate, but a false interpretation of Biblical scriptures held by church leaders of the time.

Although a Sunday School teacher taught our class many years ago that the earth was only several thousand years old, science taught it was a few billion years in age. Who was to be believed? Again, it was a matter of interpretation that was involved. While some Latter-day Saint Church leaders have thought our earth was only 11,000 or so years old, others, especially those knowledgeable in science, accepted a very ancient age for the earth. They saw no conflict with the scriptures in what science had revealed. The problem arises when some people make an interpretation of the scriptures on this matter. When the scriptures state that a thousand years on earth is as one day to the Lord (e.g., 2 Peter 3:8; Abraham 3:4), they have mistakenly taken this to mean that the days of earth’s creation were each a thousand years in duration. But nowhere in the scriptures does it say that the equating of the Lord’s time to ours has anything to do with the length of time of earth’s creation. It does not contradict scriptures to believe that the earth is indeed billions of years old. It has been determined with very good evidence that our earth is 4.6 billion years in age.

Our universe is a marvel to behold. In our present mortal state we cannot fully comprehend it. Even though our earth is but a speck when compared to the universe, it, too, is a marvelous creation. The Hubble space telescope has revealed that even at present, solar systems are being created in the universe. Many now have been observed to contain planets. A few hundred exoplanets are now known. Since the Lord has created so many worlds that they cannot be numbered by man (Moses 1:33), it seems to me that He works through natural laws in His continual creating of worlds. Concerning time involved in creations, it says in the Book of Alma (40:8) that “all is as one day with God.” Time certainly is not a factor—only with man. Working through natural laws seems to me to be a much more efficient way for God to create worlds.

One of the issues that had greatly bothered me when I was going through college happened in a Historical Geology class I took. The professor as well as our text book taught that evolution was a fact. This greatly bothered me, as I thought this could not possibly be true. Didn’t LDS Church leaders speak out against it? Yes, some have. However, as I began to do more study on this issue, I found that some Church leaders did in fact accept the principle of evolution. Since he was a geologist by training, the works of James E. Talmage (the same apostle who wrote Jesus the Christ) became very important to me. He indeed is on record as accepting the concept of evolution regarding life on earth. There are others of the Twelve and the Seventy who have also accepted it. In recent years, however, Church leaders have been advised not to discuss their ideas on science that might be considered controversial. For many years I have personally studied evidences that show evolution has taken place throughout the history of life on earth. This has not affected my testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Scientific truths are compatible with Gospel truths.

As has been stated by a number of scientists, as well as some religionists, the scriptural record and the record of the earth and its life forms (i.e., its geology) are not in conflict. I believe this. Years of study have taught me this. Both the scriptural record and the strata of the earth are two elements of God’s record. The earth is His, He made it through His Son, Jesus Christ, as scriptures testify (e.g., John 1:1-3; Moses 1:32-33). The more I’ve studied the scriptures and teachings of the prophets, as well as studying and teaching about our earth, the more harmony I see between them. God is a God of order. His two different types of records have to be compatible. They cannot fundamentally contradict each other. All the study I have done over the years confirms this, and I have no doubt that they are contained within God’s eternal plan for His children

Many critics over the years have tried to refute the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. I’ve noted that most of these criticisms relate to matters of science. From the beginning critics have stated that there were no ancient writings on gold plates anywhere in the world. They have now been found in several places—including in the Middle East – dating back past 600 B.C. It was also related by scoffers that some of the materials mentioned in the Book of Mormon, such as silk and linen, were not in the New World until after the time of Columbus. These materials have now been found or can logically be explained as being part of the Nephite culture. Wheat and barley were said by critics to be absent in America before Columbus and those that came after him with these grains. There are now records showing that these grains were in the New World long before Columbus (it should be noted that part of the problem is in name recognitions that have to do with word translations). Metals, for example, have been called by different names, with iron sometimes referred to as steel—which is just iron that has been hardened with the presence of carbon. Steel has been discovered in various ancient civilizations dating back many thousands of years. A steel sword was discovered at a site not many miles from Jerusalem that dated to at least 600 years B.C. A steel pick-head was found in Israel that was even older.

Horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and other animals have all been cited by Book of Mormon critics as not being present in the New World before being introduced by the Spaniards in the late 1400’s. The mention of elephants, too, was given as an additional “proof” that disproved the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. As a geologist/paleontologist I can testify that all these animals existed in Book of Mormon lands for many tens of thousands up to millions of years before Columbus discovered America. I have found and studied their fossils. The horse actually had its origin in North America!

More recently, some Book of Mormon critics have argued that DNA testing of Native Americans has “proved” that they have a genetic code which shows they came from Southeast Asia and not from the Middle East where Book of Mormon peoples (People of Lehi) were located before coming to the New World. However, these critics are not sufficiently well versed in population genetics. If they were they would realize that present DNA testing is not capable of either proving or disproving Nephite/Lamanite origins as based on current Native American populations.

Over the years of my teaching, especially at Brigham Young University, numerous students would ask me how I reconciled science—especially concepts in geology—with statements given in the scriptures and by Church Authorities. Much of this had to do with the creation of our earth. Many students at BYU also asked about matters concerning the Book of Mormon. After discussing such issues with students, many being controversial in their minds, I was repeatedly asked to write a book about these topics. After retirement from teaching at BYU I did just that. Actually two books came about—Creation of the Earth for Man, and Science and the Book of Mormon.

How could Joseph Smith, who had received essentially no real formal education have given us the Book of Mormon, which has stood the test of time, unless he truly was inspired of God to translate the gold plates containing the record of its peoples? His translated work has shown that the items relating to science alone contain solely truthful information. The details in this Book are ones that he could not possibly have known on his own. In fact the Book of Mormon contains some truths of science not even known to the scientists of his day. Only Joseph Smith’s being inspired of God can explain it. I testify as a scientist, and as an active Latter-day Saint, that the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, must be true. I further testify that Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God.

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Wade E. Miller earned his M.S. in geology from the University of Arizona and his Ph.D. in paleontology from the University of California at Berkeley, and is a retired professor of geology at Brigham Young University. He served as Chairman of the Geology Department for three terms and as Director of the Earth Science Museum at BYU. Additionally he was Sigma Xi lecturer in recognition of his achievements in science at the University.

For more than forty years Dr. Miller has done extensive research in geology and paleontology. This has taken place in the field as well as in the laboratory. He is currently active on a number of field projects in the western United States, as well as in Mexico. He has also been involved in research at museums in the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, Germany, and Japan, and has been a paleontological advisor to several museums, as well as to the Bureau of Land Management in the United States. Additionally he has served on various committees for professional organizations, including the National Science Foundation, and on the Governor’s board for paleontology in the state of Utah.

Wade Miller is a noted writer of more than seventy-five articles on paleontology and geology. He has also appeared on a variety of television programs, including Good Morning America and The Today Show, in addition to participating in several documentaries about fossils. One of these was A&E’s Dinosaur! narrated by Walter Cronkite. As an internationally recognized authority on life of the past, Dr. Miller has been an invited lecturer in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Italy and Japan. He has also presented many firesides and lectures on life of the past and the creation of the earth to LDS church audiences in the United States, Mexico, and Italy. In the area of Book of Mormon research, Dr. Miller has made a special study of items mentioned in the Book of Mormon that have caused several critics to question its veracity. His book Science and the Book of Mormon: Cureloms, Cumoms, Horses and More (2010) is intended to put to rest many of the arguments posed by these critics.

As a member of the LDS Church, Brother Miller has held a number of callings, including serving in three bishoprics, one of them as a bishop. He and his wife, Patricia, have three sons and five grandchildren.

Posted January 2011