Joseph Smith: Astronomer and Scientist

Joseph Smith: Astronomer and Scientist

For our final paper in my Cultural Astronomy class we were asked to write about an individual who we feel has greatly impacted the field of astronomy.  I chose a farm boy from Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont.

Joseph Smith: Astronomer and Scientist

Upon considering which astronomer and culture to write about, my mind was drawn to the constant ongoing discord between science and religion. This disagreement has been serious enough to lead many Christians—who conclude that one or the other must come out conqueror—to choose to abandon their faith, and embrace the doctrines of so-called science. Modern astronomy has its own reserved front row parking space, right next to evolution, inside the protected “academic” garage for faith destroying ideologies, and hence finds direct relevance in this discussion. In observing this continuous debate, I find great satisfaction and reassurance in belonging to a Church that not only embraces all truth, but whose founder has so beautifully harmonized religion and science that they have become circumscribed into the same circle of truth. Joseph Smith has done this by teaching scientific principles, gained by the farm boy not through experiments or observations, but, according to him, by direct revelation from God. I would like to focus on three of these concepts, and their impact on the school of astronomy in light of the science vs. religion debate—the indestructibility of matter, our sun gets its light from Kolob, and the indestructibility of energy.

Indestructibility of Matter

In his 1908 work Joseph Smith as Scientist Apostle John A. Widtsoe noted, “It was believed by the philosophers of ancient and medieval times, especially by those devoted to the study of alchemy, that it was possible through mystical powers, often of a supernatural order, to annihilate matter or to create it from nothing. . . Naturally enough, the systems of religion became colored with the philosophical doctrines of the times; and it was held to be a fundamental religious truth that God created the world from nothing” (Widtsoe, p.10). He then contrasts this observation with the radical, conflicting teaching of the Mormon prophet: “No doctrine taught by Joseph Smith is better understood by his followers than that matter in its elementary condition is eternal, and that it can neither be increased nor diminished. As early as May, 1833, the Prophet declared that “the elements are eternal,” and in a sermon delivered in April, 1844, he said ‘Element had an existence from the time God had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end’” (Widtsoe, p.12). While a theory such as the big bang may have fit in to the religious doctrine of churches in medieval times, Joseph Smith left no room in his doctrine for such a notion. In the same 1844 sermon quoted by Elder Widtsoe, the Prophet said that the supposed biblical support for the idea of God creating the world out of nothing was due to a mistranslation, stating that “the word create came from the wordbaurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as man would organize materials and build a ship” (HC 6:302-317). So, according to Joseph Smith, God did not create the world, he organized it.

This idea of matter never being created or destroyed leaves no room for the big bang, because the big bang requires a beginning, a time when the universe suddenly came into existence by expanding from a singularity. If matter has always existed, there can be no beginning or end. Moreover, matter cannot act for itself, it is inert and can only be acted upon. It requires energy for it to be put in motion, and someone or something to apply that energy. Consider the wristwatch; when functioning properly with a charged battery, the hour, minute, and second hands on this device move in a set motion to tell time. But without the energy from the battery, the watch is nothing more than a collection of inanimate raw materials—which could not have organized themselves into a watch.  And the battery itself did not provide the energy, it had to be collected and harnessed by someone, then put inside the battery, thus allowing it to be applied to the watch. It is inconceivable for the watch to have suddenly expanded out of a singularity into a fully organized and functioning tool to wear on our wrist, complete with charged battery and all. Clearly, there must be an orchestrator in this process—the same with the universe. Inert matter cannot organize itself into galaxies and solar systems, to be moved it requires energy, and energy must be harnessed and applied by someone or something.

Read the rest at Kunks Noteworthy Notes

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Jeremy Goff was born in Denver and raised in Orem, Utah. He served a mission in the Manchester New Hampshire Mission (’12-’14). He is passionate about many things: he blogs, loves food, family, politics, and religion. He travels for work and loves to visit temples and share the gospel along the way! Follow Jeremy’s journey on his blog www.mylifebygogogoff.com

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