Harmonizing Mormonism and Science “in the Valley of Sunshine and Shadow” by Blair Dee Hodges


In the lead-up to the March 31 release of our Peculiar Edition of Nephi Anderson’s novel Dorian we will be running a series of posts featuring the first paragraph (and one other paragraph of the editor’s whim) from the essays included in that volume. Come back for more every Tuesday and Thursday.


The turn of the twentieth century marked a period of intense cultural shifts, not least of all regarding widespread views about the relationship between the natural sciences and religion. John William Draper’s massively influential History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) promoted the view that these were irreconcilable foes fighting to the death. Draper’s book is one of the chief disseminators of “the greatest myth in the history of science and religion… that they have been in a state of constant conflict.” True, Enlightenment-inspired confidence in human reason and technological advances challenged religious beliefs as the nineteenth century closed. Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859) contributed to larger concerns about humanity’s place in an apparently indifferent universe. The Bible lost credibility due to developments in geology, biology, and textual criticism. Charles Taylor, who traces prehistories of skepticism, naturalism and humanism, identifies the nineteenth century as the period in which “unbelief comes of age,” but argues that science and religion have had a more interesting relationship than simple “subtraction stories” suggest….

Anderson’s eternal-progression evolution was not unique to him. It increasingly found expression in more sophisticated philosophical works by Mormon writers like Nels Nelson, but Added Upon reached more Mormon readers than more technical works could. Anderson’s preface presented the book’s speculative nature as a benefit rather than a drawback, hoping that “the mind of the reader, illumined by the Spirit of the Lord, will be able to fill in all the details that the heart may desire, to wander at will in the garden of the Lord, and dwell in peace in the mansions of the Father.” Anderson affirmed the ability of human imagination guided by inspiration to flesh out nascent possibilities in Mormon thought, reflecting the Romantic side of Mormonism’s “rational theology” as developed by educated Mormon leaders like apostle John A. Widtsoe and seventy B.H. Roberts, both of whom, like Anderson, emigrated from Europe to the United States after their families converted to the faith.

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