Latter-day Saints/Doctrinal Questions
I have a couple of questions.
1) How does the LDS church view and reconcile scientific things like the dinosaurs?
2) Why was plural marriage instituted in the first place? Was there a reason? It is my understanding that the practice was stopped when it became against the law and the church beliefs are to uphold the law of the land. I am just wondering what the motivation was behind it.
Thanks in advance for the LDS perspective on these things.
In regards to #1, It's probably less a question about the "church view" and more about the "individual view". The church feels no need to reconcile itself with "science" as it's known. The order, doctrines, etc. of the Church are dictated by God through revelation. The church holds that "pure science" and religion are one and the same. "pure science" represents truth and all truth comes from God. The issue with science today is it's not "pure" in the sense we don't have a complete understanding. The scientific method itself (our approach to science) makes this pretty obvious. There are often things we misunderstand or only understood in part that are necessary to correct at a later date.
We believe God to have all knowledge and all power, and hence place revelation from God as the ultimate authority on anything. Because we believe pure religion and pure science to be one and the same, we also believe there to be important "scientific" truths to be discovered in the study of religion (which really boils down to the study of revelation from God be it to a long dead prophet, a prophet currently living, or to yourself). One truth that may be relevant here is that God revealed to Joseph Smith that the Biblical translation of the creation was incorrect - God didn't actually "create" the Earth, He organized it from existing matter. Now this may still be thought of as "creating" by some, but the point is, He didn't create it out of nothing - God organized existing matter to form the Earth. How much "from scratch" God started is a question that's never been fully answered. That said, it's also quite possible carbon dating is far more inaccurate than we think and man coexisted with what we now think of as dinosaurs for some period of time. I'm sure there are other possibilities I've not considered.
The question itself is only a curiosity unless one considers it to be faith challenging. It should not be a challenge to faith - not for any LDS member who truly understands his/her faith. No amount of study, knowledge, examination, etc. (short of talking to God) will ever bring anyone to a certain conclusion as to whether or not their religion (any religion) is true, or even whether or not there is a God. It may make them feel strongly in one direction or another, but it's still a guess. For certain truth, one has to go to God. We believe in personal revelation. God speaks to man through the Holy Ghost, the 3rd member of the Godhead. When God speaks to you, there is an understanding and a recognition that transcends what words can describe. We have faith when we believe the things that God tells us are true. In time, through following God and observing the results, that faith may become knowledge.
When God tells us something is true, we know it. When we encounter something that appears to go counter to what God has told us, it is not (or should not be) a challenge to our faith. We know what we've been told is true. This thing that appears to contradict it is either misunderstood, or false. Given that our understanding is incomplete, it's can often be the former, but sometimes it's the latter.
This brings us to your second question - plural marriage. The LDS Church instituted plural marriage because God told us to. Any other answer is either speculation, or is wrong. There's some pretty good speculation as to why God may have done what He did, but the point is, He told us to, so we did it. We stopped it for the same reason. Given, all indications are that the legality was the catalyst for stopping (the prophet foresaw the destruction of the Church if we did not), but had God not directed the prophet to halt plural marriage, it would not have stopped despite the law. Understand that Plural marriage is in no way a "new" doctrine, nor is it in any way (even today) an "incorrect" doctrine. It was practiced anciently by many of the prophets including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What they did was not evil, incorrect, or disapproved of by God. However, in any time period in which it is practiced, it has always had to have the approval of God to be good and just. The prophet holds the keys (or the authority to control given him by God) of the ordinance of marriage. He can bestow authority on others to exercise that authority as needed, but he controls it. Plural marriage requires that authority to be righteous and good. Without it, it's a sin. A good example can be found in the Book of Mormon where the people were practicing plural marriage at one point without the proper authority and were rebuked for it. When plural marriage was revoked, the prophet retained the keys to it. It could (and may) be reinstituted at any time if God commands it through His chosen prophet. Until such a time, any practice of it is sin and is grounds for excommunication from the Church as sexual sins of that nature are some of the most severe.
Speculating about why things like plural marriage were instituted seem to be a favorite LDS pastime as we try to understand why God does things, but no actual answer has ever been given as to the why beyond what can be found in scripture ((Book of Mormon) Jacob 2:30) for possible indication of why God has done it in times past. Personally, I think that's a pretty good explanation for why it would have been done in the 1800s, but once again, that's my personal speculation and should not be construed as doctrine. The official answer is "Because God said so."
There's a quote from Joseph Smith that may help you better understand some of these things that I very much like, but can be somewhat difficult to locate. You can find it here:
Go to page 64 under the topic "Happiness".
(The source is cited at the end)
I hope I've answered your question sufficiently. If you need more detail, or have other questions, please let me know.