Evolution? My First Impressions

Are we really related to monkeys? Sounds suspicious.

Are we really related to monkeys? Sounds suspicious.

For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth…  And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul. (Moses 3:5, 9)

I have written a couple articles in recent weeks about some of my first impressions on subjects that are sometimes seen as dividing points between Church “doctrine” and scientific discovery.  These subjects were the age of the Earth, which I thought could reasonably be found to be billions of years old and therefore agree with the findings of science while not contradicting the doctrines of the gospel or the teachings of the Church.  The other subject was death before the Fall, which I also thought could reasonably be found that there has been life and death on the Earth for billions of years and therefore concur with the findings of science while not contradicting the doctrines of the gospel or the teachings of the Church.  In both cases, the subjects can be in harmony both with science and our religion.  Those posts were only the beginning of some of my first thoughts on these matters, are not comprehensive or exhaustive.  Likewise here I will try to give some first thoughts on evolution, perhaps the most hotly debated subject with regards to science and the Church, and religion in general.

First I want to recognize that there are good people on both sides of the issue who have strong beliefs and opinions.  I will simply try to present some of my current thoughts on the matter which may be able to reasonably reconcile the ever-advancing and exponentially expanding discoveries of science and technology with the doctrines and statements of the Church.  The reason for doing so is because these subjects can be a cause of severe cognitive dissonance for many members in the Church, which can weaken faith, and even cause some to leave the Church.  It is my opinion that this should not be!  The findings of science can be reconciled with the truths of the gospel.  Truth wherever its source can be found to be in harmony.

We will ask more questions than we answer, as in previous posts.  Nothing is absolutely certain here.  Nothing definitive has been revealed by God, either through his authoritative priesthood channels, or through inspired scientific learning.  We are all still learning, and more is yet to be revealed (Articles of Faith 9).  Yet there has been a lot that we’ve learned already, and I think we need to recognize that portion we have today.

What is our Doctrine?

Before I launch into this discussion we should first recognize that these things are not a part or portion of the doctrine of Christ or his Church.  The doctrine of the gospel was stated quite clearly by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and is repeated endlessly throughout the scriptures, and is that which focuses on our Savior Jesus Christ:

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.1

This is the fundamental core of our religion, the testimony of Jesus Christ, what he came into the world to do, which is effectuate the Atonement on behalf of all of God’s children.  This is the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Those who would make something else more important, more far-reaching, or more all-encompassing than this are forgetting this point.  So any thoughts on evolution should be viewed in that light.  In 1931 the First Presidency, in addressing some of these same issues, wrote to the General Authorities:

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored Gospel to the people of the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.2

The studies and findings of science do not bear upon the salvation of the souls of mankind.  We continue to do our duty in the church no matter what the findings of science bear out, and we know that we are doing the work of God.  More often than not, we will find that the truths revealed by science are in perfect harmony with the teachings of the gospel, because all truth comes from the same source, which is God.

Henry Eyring, the LDS scientist, chemist, member of the Sunday School General Board, and father to President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, once wrote in addressing these divisive subjects:

Such a topic becomes controversial partly because it is interesting to us, but it seems to be sufficiently nonessential to our salvation that the Creator has only briefly treated it in the scriptures. If you think about it, it makes almost no difference at all to the way we should live our lives and treat one another. Still, there are those who line up on both sides as if everything depended on the outcome of this year’s “monkey trial.”3

We should keep this issue in that perspective as we discuss it.  The question of the details of creation, of how it all came together, whether by evolution or otherwise, is not expounded upon in the scriptures, not at length nor in repetition, therefore it must be that God found it not to be a central issue to the gospel of salvation.  We may find some hints in the scriptures, which point one way or the other, but nothing conclusive is revealed.  In fact, all of the acts of creation are only briefly mentioned, and then only figuratively, and in them we are not told how they happened, but only why they happened, and the purpose of our existence.  The “how” of creation is not the hinge upon which rests the whole of the gospel, as many might want to make it.  That hinge is Christ, and him alone (Mosiah 3:17).

The Church’s official position (or lack thereof)

As recently as 2007, leaders of the Church, namely Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Lance B. Wickman formerly a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, answered direct questions about evolution in an interview by the Pew Forum:

Conservative denominations tend to have more trouble with Darwinian evolution. Does the church have an official position on this topic?

Nelson: We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life. It’s interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are. We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being. We owe a lot to those lower species. But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.

Why is that?

Nelson: Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.

Wickman: The Scripture describing the Lord as the creator of all of these things says very little about how it was done. I don’t know of anybody in the ranks of the First Presidency and the Twelve [Apostles] who has ever spent much time worrying about this matter of evolution.

Nelson: We have this doctrine, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101: “When the Lord shall come again, he shall reveal all things, things which have passed, hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth by which it was made and the purpose and the end thereof, things most precious, things that are above, things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, upon the earth, and in heaven.” So as I close that quotation, I realize that there are just some things that we won’t know until that day.4

What might we glean from this?  Elder Nelson said plainly that we believe God is our creator.  He shared his view that we are remarkably similar to all the other forms of life on our planet.  Indeed, we can even experiment on animals for human purposes because of that similarity.  The reason he gives for this similarity is because we have the same creator.  But he believes that evolving from one species to another is incomprehensible.  Why?  Because in everything that we can casually observe in our lifetimes and in recorded history, species simply do not change.  We have never seen one species of animal change to another species.  He says that this is how genetics works, at least his understanding of it.

On the other hand, the field of genetics is inseparably connected to and relies upon evolutionary theory.  As we will see later, there is actually a lot more going on in genetics and many other fields of science, much more that we’ve learned even in the last two decades in these fields of study, that shows that a species doesn’t simply giving rise to the exactly the same species, ad infinitum.  Six thousand years of recorded history is but a single drop in the bucket, nay, the swimming pool, in the history of the earth (0.000132% of earth’s history), and it is relatively true that we have not witnessed animals changing from one species to an entirely different species, particularly in our own comparably infinitesimally short lifetimes.  Dogs remain dogs for the most part.  We have not been around long enough to observe otherwise, or record it in writing.  However, we do have the geologic record in the Earth which gives witness to many things, and there are some excellent living examples illustrating that genes can change quite a bit given enough generations.

A simple example for the present is that new varieties of the common cold and flu viruses appear every year, as well as bacterial infections, which is why we can’t simply get the flu shot once in our lifetime and be done with it.  These viruses and bacteria replicate and reproduce exceptionally fast, and only since the invention of the most powerful microscopes and genetic tools have we discovered that these microorganisms are actually changing into different forms, with significantly different genetic structures, such that they are classified by different names, and such that the inoculations, vaccines, and antibiotics of last year don’t work today.  You need a new flu shot every year.  These new organisms didn’t exist last year.  Their “creation” was this year.  They are brand new types of microorganisms that haven’t lived before, similar but different from the ones which preceded them, and they came from changes in the ones we dealt with last year, changes which are significant enough, over enough generations of reproduction, that we need to develop new defenses every year to protect humanity against them.  The reason we can witness the creation of these new organisms, with their significant DNA changes, is because of the speed of their reproduction, which can be as little as a few minutes.  Consequently, there are millions of varieties of viruses,5, with new ones emerging each year, but only 5,000 have ever been described in detail6.  We will return to more examples later.

What about Elder Wickman’s comments?  He simply said that the Lord has revealed very little about “how” the creation was done, and that no one among the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve has spent much time thinking about it, or said much about it.  If there had been a revelation on the subject, some new knowledge given by God through the priesthood on this topic, you can be sure that they would have spoken much more on the matter.  As it is, Elder Nelson concludes that we believe God has simply not revealed, through priesthood channels, many of the mechanisms of the creation of the earth, or its lifeforms.  The Lord tells us in D&C 101 that at the time when he will come again that these things will be revealed.  It is my opinion that we are living near the time of the Lord’s coming, and such knowledge is being revealed from God to man, but via many different channels and means, only one of which is the priesthood.

Note what Elders Nelson and Wickman did not do; they did not report an official Church position on the issue of evolution, which was explicitly part of the original question, other than noting that we believe God is the creator of life.  What that means, they did not elaborate.  The “how” of creation is something we know very little about through the revelations.  Their answer was vague as it applies to the findings of science and evolution, simply stating that God has not revealed specifics on the questions of creation through his Church.  We will return to this later.

The Church and Science

The Church has experienced a long and comfortable relationship with science since its restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Indeed, we believe science to be one of the methods that God uses to reveal knowledge to mankind.  So we shouldn’t be troubled when we learn new things through scientific means.  God is the originator of those truths, inspiring mankind to new heights and depths.  Whether new knowledge is revealed and comes through priesthood channels or through inspired study, it is all from God, and he is the ultimate source of truth, and the one that gives it to us.  We are told that it is by study (using our mind with logic and reason) and also by faith (using our spirit and priesthood channels) that we learn and grow (D&C 88:118; D&C 109:7, 14).  There is no conflict between true science and true religion, but they do reveal knowledge of different types.  Usually religion reveals the why of things, the purpose of them, whereas science reveals the how, and the details of the operations of our physical reality.

Consider the following quotes:

Joseph Smith – “I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.”7

“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism, is to accept truth, let it come from whence it may.”8

Brigham Young – “We are not at all under the necessity of falling into the mistake that [others] fall into. They think, when they are handling or dealing in the things of this world, that those things have nothing to do with their religion. Our religion takes within its wide embrace not only things of heaven, but also things of earth. It circumscribes all art, science, and literature pertaining to heaven, earth, and hell.”9

“When the elements melt with fervent heat, the Lord Almighty will send forth his angels, who are well instructed in chemistry, and they will separate the elements and make new combinations thereof.”10

“In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular… whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.”11

Orson Pratt – “The study of science is the study of something eternal. If we study astronomy, we study the works of God. If we study chemistry, geology, optics, or any other branch of science, every new truth we come to the understanding of is eternal; it is a part of the great system of universal truth. It is truth that exists throughout universal nature; and God is the dispenser of all truth—scientific, religious, and political.”12

James E. Talmage – “In proportion as any one of these [scientists] may learn of the ways of God he becomes wise. To be able to think as God thinks, to comprehend in any degree His purposes and methods, is to become in that measure like unto Him, and to that extent to be prepared for eventual companionship in His presence.”13

“Within the Gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known. The Gospel is not behind the times, on the contrary it is up-to-date and ever shall be… Believe not those who assert that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is in any way opposed to progress or inconsistent with advancement.” ((James E. Talmage, “The Earth and Man”))

First Presidency 1910 – “Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense. But everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us no matter where it may be found.”14

There are many more quotes where these came from.  One of my favorite quotes on science in general was given by Elder James E. Talmage in his monumental book Jesus the Christ, still considered one of the best studies of the life and teachings of the Savior, where he is discussing the miracle of Christ changing water into wine.

Miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized. Gravitation is everywhere operative, but the local and special application of other agencies may appear to nullify it—as by muscular effort or mechanical impulse a stone is lifted from the ground, poised aloft, or sent hurtling through space. At every stage of the process, however, gravity is in full play, though its effect is modified by that of other and locally superior energy. The human sense of the miraculous wanes as comprehension of the operative process increases. Achievements made possible by modern invention of telegraph and telephone with or without wires, the transmutation of mechanical power into electricity with its manifold present applications and yet future possibilities, the development of the gasoline motor, the present accomplishments in aerial navigation—these are no longer miracles in man’s estimation, because they are all in some degree understood, are controlled by human agency, and, moreover, are continuous in their operation and not phenomenal. We arbitrarily classify as miracles only such phenomena as are unusual, special, transitory, and wrought by an agency beyond the power of man’s control.

In a broader sense, all nature is miracle. Man has learned that by planting the seed of the grape in suitable soil, and by due cultivation, he may conduce to the growth of what shall be a mature and fruitful vine; but is there no miracle, even in the sense of inscrutable processes, in that development? Is there less of real miracle in the so-called natural course of plant development—the growth of root, stem, leaves, and fruit, with the final elaboration of the rich nectar of the vine—than there was in what appears supernatural in the transmutation of water into wine at Cana?

In the contemplation of the miracles wrought by Christ, we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding. In this field, science has not yet advanced far enough to analyze and explain. To deny the actuality of miracles on the ground that, because we cannot comprehend the means, the reported results are fictitious, is to arrogate to the human mind the attribute of omniscience, by implying that what man cannot comprehend cannot be, and that therefore he is able to comprehend all that is. The miracles of record in the Gospels are as fully supported by evidence as are many of the historical events which call forth neither protest nor demand for further proof. To the believer in the divinity of Christ, the miracles are sufficiently attested; to the unbeliever they appear but as myths and fables.15

That is a great quote.  Miracles are miracles because we can’t understand them.  If we understood how it all happened, it would no longer be miraculous, for we would understand how it works.  As Brigham Young said above, “If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.”  In this sense, evolution may seem miraculous, or even unbelievable, because of our personal inability to understand it.  It was not too long ago that science had not yet advanced far enough to analyze or explain such phenomena as the adaptation and emergence of new viruses, why the geologic record in the earth is the way it is, or the similarities and relationships between traits and DNA among all living things.  Our science has progressed in recent times at exponential speed.

What do we know about evolution today?  Is it still a “theory” in the minds of men?  Are there other reasonable options for the development of life besides evolution?  What have we learned even in the last decade?  Is there a possibility that evolution could be wrong, be a myth?  What impact and application has evolution made in other scientific fields and in scientific innovations?  What about evolution and man?  What about what the Church has said about evolution?  Church leaders?  What do the scriptures teach?  How can we reconcile it all?  These are some of the questions I’ll try to comment on here.

What do we know about evolution today?

The answer is, a lot.  The National Academy of Sciences stated recently that “Evolutionary biology has been and continues to be a cornerstone of modern science”16  Furthermore,

The theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and experiments that the overwhelming majority of scientists no longer question whether evolution has occurred and continues to occur and instead investigate the processes of evolution. Scientists are confident that the basic components of evolution will continue to be supported by new evidence, as they have been for the past 150 years.17

Evolutionary theory has been a fundamental part of not only biology, but many other fields of science including the domestication of plants and animals, genetic engineering, genetic disorders, computer science, ecology, life history theory, evolutionary developmental biology, molecular biology, medicine, antibiotics, virology, anthropology, psychology, paleontology, archaeology, astrophysics, chemistry, bioinformatics, epidemiology, geology, physics, mathematics, behavioral sciences, social sciences, and many others.  I don’t think we realize just how deep and vast the implications of evolution reach.  It is the backbone of much of modern science.  Without evolution, we would not have much of science as it stands today.  It has affected almost every discipline of science known to man, not only theoretically, but effectively.  Much of the innovation that we’ve been able to make in the past century has been a direct or indirect result of advancing studies of evolutionary theory about life on earth.

We cannot simply wipe evolution from the map of our understandings in science, and move forward, as some are wont to do.  Evolution is thoroughly established in nearly every field of science today, and has contributed to the advancement of our knowledge in countless areas.  The evidences of evolution are not growing weaker, but quite the opposite; the evidences have been so numerous, and the studies so vast, that the majority of scientists don’t question whether evolution is accurate, whether it has occurred, or whether it continues to occur.  That’s now beside the point of their current studies.  Thousands of scientists have conducted thousands upon thousands of studies into the assumptions and predictions of evolutionary theory for over 150 years, and the evidence and observations they make support it from countless angles, far too many to ignore.  They are not asking still if it’s true, but are now studying the processes of evolution, and the particulars of how it occurs, and the implications for life today and in the future.  Of course, studying the particulars continues to mount evidence in support of the broader foundations of the theory too.  Again, evolution provides the basis for most of modern science.  Without it, the world would be a very different place today.  We’ll examine some examples later.

Henry Eyring, father to President Henry B. Eyring as introduced above, once had these comments about the work of scientists:

What, then, is to prevent us from seeking to understand God’s methods of creation by any and all means available to us? Many avoid seeking understanding from science because they believe that any theory in conflict with the Lord’s revelations will finally be proven false. Of course, given those assumptions, the position is clearly correct, since I don’t believe that God intentionally misleads his children.

We have a dilemma, however, because God has left messages all over in the physical world that scientists have learned to read. These messages are quite clear, well-understood, and accepted in science. That is, the theories that the earth is about four-and-one-half billion years old and that life evolved over the last billion years or so are as well established scientifically as many theories ever are. So, if the word of God found in the scriptures and the word of God found in the rocks are contradictory, must we choose between them, or is there some way they can be reconciled?…

I think it is perfectly appropriate for us to study and learn as much as we can about this wonderful place God has prepared for us.

We should keep in mind that scientists are as diligent and truthful as anyone else. Organic evolution is the honest result of capable people trying to explain the evidence to the best of their ability. From my limited study of the subject I would say that the physical evidence supporting the theory is considerable from a scientific viewpoint.

In my opinion it would be a very sad mistake if a parent or teacher were to belittle scientists as being wicked charlatans or else fools having been duped by half-baked ideas that gloss over inconsistencies. That isn’t an accurate assessment of the situation, and our children or students will be able to see that when they begin their scientific studies…

The only important thing is that God did it. I might say in that regard that in my mind the theory of evolution has to include a notion that the dice have been loaded from the beginning in favor of more complex life forms. That is, without intelligent design of the natural laws in such a way as to favor evolution from lower forms to higher forms of life, I don’t think the theory holds water. I can’t see randomly generated natural laws producing these remarkable results. So, in my mind, God is behind it all whether we evolved or not.18

In the Church we are taught that by the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (D&C 6:28; D&C 128:3; Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; Deut. 17:6).  Indeed, such witnesses attest to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and are printed directly in the introduction of the book for all to read.  Witnesses are involved and even required in many of the ordinances we perform in the Church.  The law of witnesses is as central and important a law as any in the Church.  But when it comes to evolution, for some reason the Mount Everest of witnesses in support of it, including many witnesses which are a part of our everyday experience, does not apply the same way for many people.  It does not seem to matter what scientists study, say, or produce in this regard, or how much evidence mounts, the witnesses are ignored by many of us.

A recent research study by the Pew Forum in 2007 shows that Mormons are one of the least likely religious groups to believe evolution is a good explanation for life on earth, specifically human life, being outnumbered in disbelief only by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Source: Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007, released in 2008.

Source: Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007, released in 2008.

This seems incomprehensible to me.  We have 150 years of evidences supporting evolution, yet we still want to deny it.  How many more years, how many more scientists, how many more studies, how many more evidences do we need in order to believe what God seems to have revealed to mankind through his own creation?  We might ask ourselves, “what greater witness can [we] have than from God?” (D&C 6:23).  As Professor Eyring noted, the Earth that God has given us is littered from top to bottom with messages, evidences, of the truth of the history of earth and life upon it.  The tremendous speed of the developments in our technology and learning has allowed us to read these messages at ever more fine resolution and accuracy every day.  As Eyring noted, these messages are “quite clear, well-understood, and accepted in science.”  These too are the word of God.  God left them for us to discover and decipher, and our understandings are mounting and are fundamentally changing our world.  It is not disputed among Mormons that God inspires man to learn more about the world that surrounds us, and that technological innovations and advancements in our civilization have had the divine hand in them.  So it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that all the evidence that has been mounting for some time in support of evolution is somehow false, inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, misunderstood, wrong, deceitful, or even evil.  I tend to agree with Dr. Eyring: I don’t believe that God intentionally misleads his children.  Why would He do that?  Does He want to distract us or divert us to a wrong path?  Does He not want us to know the truth?  This seems incomprehensible to me.

I am reminded of another case in which such fantastic, overabundant, and undeniable witnesses is met by such staunch and resolute disbelief, denial, and incredulity.  It is the son of perdition.  The Prophet Joseph Smith once taught what a son of perdition is:

All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it.19

Having so many evidences that witness to the truth, and yet so strongly denying them, seems to me to be very dangerous territory.  Remember again that the physical environment we find ourselves in, with its abundant resources that we have learned so much more about, are all given of God, and God inspires man to search out and learn more about them, and to uncover more truths about them.  The scripture in D&C 101 that Elder Nelson noted is interesting, as it states that God will reveal such things that are in the heaven above and in the earth beneath.  In D&C 88:77–80 the Lord notes that we can, even now, seek out and teach ourselves and each other some of these same things:

And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms— (D&C 88:77–79)

And so we go forth and dig into the earth, finding a treasure trove of artifacts, in the earth and under it, that teach us of the beginnings of our world, its history, things which have been, and things that are, and then we tend to flatly deny what they speak so plainly to us.  Nephi, the son of Helaman, testified to the people in the city of Zarahemla of the many witnesses which God had given unto the convincing of men, and yet they denied them to great consequence:

And now, seeing ye know these things and cannot deny them except ye shall lie, therefore in this ye have sinned, for ye have rejected all these things, notwithstanding so many evidences which ye have received; yea, even ye have received all things, both things in heaven, and all things which are in the earth, as a witness that they are true.  But behold, ye have rejected the truth… (Helaman 8:24)

We have received all these things, both in heaven, and which are in the earth, as a witness of the truth, yet we still reject them, and deny them.  Many scientists, even LDS scientists, cannot deny them except they should lie.  Why should they?  They are, as of now, staring directly into the  spectacular brilliance of the shining sun, and they cannot say otherwise.  They might join with Joseph, and he with Paul, in saying,

I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. (JS-H 1:25)

Isn’t evolution still a theory?

Yes, it is still called the “theory of evolution” or “evolutionary theory.”  But what is termed a theory in the scientific community has a very different meaning than the way we use it in colloquial quotidian speech.  The theory of evolution is as much a theory as the theory of gravity, the theory of continental drift, the theory of plate tectonics, the theory of relativity, the theory of cells, the theory of atoms, the theory of heliocentrism (the Earth revolves around the Sun), and a host of other theories that we take for granted today as facts of life.  The definition of a scientific theory is,

a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.20

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has further explained,

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed… ((National Academy of Sciences (2008), Science, Evolution, and Creationism.))

Furthermore, it has been noted in regards to evolution,

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than “just a theory.” It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.21

So why don’t scientists call evolution a “fact” if they are so sure of it?  In fact, they do:

In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions. ((National Academy of Sciences (2008), Science, Evolution, and Creationism.))

So we need not assume that since evolution is still commonly referred to as a “theory” that it is still quite vague, unsure, that there are gaping holes or significant problems with it.  There are not.  Evolution has been demonstrated by scientists again, and again, and again, both in the lab and in nature, so many times that the truthfulness of its existence is not in question.  Indeed, as we will see, not only has the theory been tested so thoroughly as to not necessitate further testing of its fundamentals, but what we understand about it can and does make incredibly precise predictions about the natural world and how life behaves.  It explains much of what we observe on Earth today, in the labs of scientists, and in the future, which has a profound effect on every other area of modern science and innovation.  As the First Presidency noted in 1925, “That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy.”  So why haven’t we accepted this?

Are there other options?

There will always be other options besides evolution, unless God himself tells us otherwise, which he has not done.  Scientists admit that we do not know absolutely everything about evolution.  That is the whole purpose of scientific inquiry, to unceasingly learn more about the world in which we live.  For example, they cannot explain where the first life came from, or how it was first formed, although they are studying this intensely.  They will never arrive at a full explanation for everything, but they strive to advance our knowledge as far as possible every day.  Science is not about arriving at a full knowledge, but in pursuing truth inasmuch as is possible, through observation and experimentation.

Even in religious inquiry and faith we arrive at knowledge through similar processes of observation and experimentation, not unlike the scientific method.  Alma 32 is perhaps the best treatise we have on the relationship between giving place for a seed of belief, and then testing it thoroughly to know if it is right, good, true, and correct.  If it is a good seed, it will grow and flourish, and give us knowledge and insight unknown before, such that we know our faith in that thing is right because it enlarges our soul.  If it is a bad seed, then it will wilt and die, and not produce fruit, such that we know our faith in that thing is likely wrong, and mistaken.  Science has and is presenting a seed of something that has been tested over a century and a half by good and intelligent people around the globe, and they have only seen it grow into a large tree (in some very figurative and literal ways as we’ll see later), and provide knowledge and insight which is having an unmistakable impact in every corner of our lives.  Yes, science is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have science ye seek for things which are not known, which are true (cf. Alma 32:21).  Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than science is a perfect knowledge (cf. Alma 32:26).  Indeed, the entire chapter could be written from a scientific point of view, simply replacing the term faith with science.  They are two ways of coming to a knowledge of the truth, through similar means, but often different types of knowledge.

Creationism and intelligent design are other options which have been offered as explanations for the diversity of life on earth.  These take into account a Creator, even a God, who is at the helm, and is in control of things at some level.  These theories state that a divine being either wholly created all life on Earth as it now stands abruptly a short time ago (creationism), or that life shows complexities that only could have been developed by an intelligent thinker and designer (intelligent design).  As I noted in previous posts, I believe the Earth has been around for quite some time, and that life has existed on Earth for quite some time, so I am not of the opinion that it was all created abruptly a short time ago as the creationists claim.  Whether life shows a divine intelligence at work at fundamental levels is a fascinating question to me that I am still learning about (even quantum mechanics seems to exhibit a consciousness).  But I don’t believe intelligent design movement is the right way to go about it, since it is largely a socio-political movement to get it taught in the public classroom as science.  While trying to discover evidence of God’s hand in the workings of life at fundamental levels is interesting, I do not think it will yield substantial results scientifically because of the veil (see my post on alethiology).  You cannot simply pull back the veil and uncover God scientifically.  Either of these theories must, if to be regarded as science, explain the findings of evolutionary theory over the past 150 years, as well as all of its implications and uses today.  So there is a real paradox here, I think, for the creationists and intelligent design.

Along with many others, I do not believe evolution and a Creator are mutually exclusive.  Evolution doesn’t bar God from being at the helm, and being involved in creation in some manner.  Evolution doesn’t prove or deny anything about God.  On the contrary, it makes us ask more questions.  As any quantum physicist will tell you, there are many more questions that we need to ask about the very real possibility of a divine being than we’ve asked in the past, even from a scientific point of view!  This is quite mind-boggling to scientists.  And neither does believing in a Creator assume that evolution is wholly inadequate, false, or evil.  I am in agreement with Dr. Eyring that God is behind it all whether evolution is true or not.

The problem is that most that propose creationism or intelligent design hold it as the only theory that could be valid.  It’s not a combination of God and evolution that might work together, it is either evolution or creationism/intelligent design. There is not a lot of room for many creationists or intelligent design proponents to allow for evolution to be part of their theories, at least not the way science has explained evolution.  Creationists simply reject the theory of evolution, and intelligent design proponents don’t believe evolution can explain the complexities of life.  Given the entrenched nature of evolution in all modern sciences, doing away with it entirely simply doesn’t work, and can’t happen unless we rewind history a couple centuries.

Another problem is that these theories are not science.  As much as many of the proponents of these theories want to make creationism or intelligent design be like science, it is at a very fundamental level a question of faith and religion.  If a God, or divine being of some sort, is behind it all, there is no way of testing for it, or observing it, of performing experimentation for it in a publicly visible and socially acceptable manner.  God doesn’t work that way.  In a manner of speaking, the proponents of these theories that would make them as science are seeking a sign from God, something verifiable to show that life has been touched by Him, but this is an act that we are significantly warned and cautioned about in the scriptures.  While science and religion can inform one another in many ways, we believe that every man has a right to worship God “according to the dictates of [their] own conscience… let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 11).  This includes allowing man to not believe in God, if they so choose.  No one will be forced, or compelled, to believe in God by revealing incontrovertible truth about him.  That is not how faith works, and God will not allow it to happen.  God will protect our agency in this regard.

Matters of God, religion and faith should not be taught in the public classroom.  This was a core belief of the Founding Fathers in the United States.  They thought, and I think were divinely inspired so, that doing so would impose certain beliefs upon people, give preference to some beliefs over others (there are many thousands of faiths), and could eventually lead to a state-run religion.  They wanted religion to be free to express itself outside of government run processes, and, in fact, they gave religion the rights to do so.

Additionally, proponents of exclusive creationism or intelligent design have not shown any scientific basis for the theories.  They are not observable, predictable, testable, verifiable, repeatable, or have any part or portion with the scientific method.  And rightly so.  Those theories involve a God.  God is not observable, predictable, testable, verifiable, repeatable, or susceptible to the public scrutiny of the scientific method.  He is not known through those means.  The scientific method to discover God is by faith.  It is through individual prayer, fasting, priesthood, doing the work of God, and by the Spirit that we come to know God, at least in a Mormon sense, and many other religions are similar.  Thus I don’t believe we can teach creationism or intelligent design as a scientific theory.  It is faith, it is religion.  It is a different, yet complimentary, mode or means of arriving at truth.  I think it is dangerous to make God into “an evidence-based scientific theory” as the creationists or intelligent design proponents wish to do22.

Do I believe in a Creator?  Absolutely.  Do I believe that He had something to do with life on Earth?  Absolutely.  But the majority of theories that are presented give no place at all for the rich history of science for the past 150 years.  This simply cannot be.  Any theory which suggests that evolution is fundamentally flawed or mistaken cannot be right, unless it goes through the same rigorous process that evolution has gone through.  Any theory that would supplant or revise evolution must take into account and give reason for the tremendous amounts of scientific work that has been done over the past 150 years, including all its implications, predictions, insight, and value applied to all the other fields of science.

I think the most reasonable option is somewhere in the middle.  Man has tested the theory of evolution, and knows it to be true, through countless arguments.  How sure are the scientists?  Very likely greater than 99% sure.  Could there be new evidence discovered which turns evolution on its head?  Yes, but it is extremely unlikely.  I also believe that there is a God, through countless arguments of a different nature.  So, to me, the only reasonable reconciliation is that evolution, at some level, is a means, a tool that God is aware of, and perhaps consciously used and is continuing to use to develop life on Earth.  This is sometimes known as theistic evolution, which is not held as a “scientific theory” but simply a view of how the science of evolution relates to religious belief.  Interestingly, those that hold this view sound very much like statements from early Church leaders such as Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and later Elder Talmage, in rejecting the conflict thesis, proclaiming that “religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict.”23 I will expand upon this view later.

How this might square with the teachings of the Church I’ll also come to more thoroughly later, but here I’ll give one example of a similar consideration by the Church from the Improvement Era of 1910, which President Joseph F. Smith and Edward H. Anderson were editors of:

Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.24

President Joseph F. Smith it seems, if he wrote or edited this statement, allowed for the possibility that the mortal body of man could have evolved by natural processes to its present state, through the direction and power of God.  This is theistic evolution, or evolutionary creation.  It was noted, as the Church has noted many times since, even in 2007 as we saw above, that these questions are not fully answered in the revealed word of God, through priesthood channels.

What application has evolutionary theory made in the world?

The advances in many fields of scientific research are quickening at an exponential rate.  Our understanding of DNA and genetics have increased significantly, just in the last two decades.  The Human Genome Project, which was a project to map the entire DNA sequence of humans, was completed in 2003 and took 13 years to complete at a cost of over $3 billion.  Today, less than ten years later in 2012, you can get your genome sequenced in one day at a cost of about $1000.  In a few years you’ll be able to sequence your genome in a few minutes, using devices as small as a USB thumb drive, and costing less than $100.

But what does evolution tell us about genetics?  All life on planet Earth shares portions of its DNA sequences.  DNA sequences, at a very basic level, are the code that makes up what we look like physically, inside and out.  Like the code of a computer program makes up what the software is and does, DNA makes up what we are and how our bodies function.  Since almost all life has cellular structures with similar components inside, those DNA sequences that control cellular functions match among all living things.  What is interesting is that there is a wide range of similarity among the rest of the DNA sequence.  Those organisms which look more alike share more of their DNA structure.  Those who don’t look alike share less.  We have more DNA sequences in common with animals than we do with plants.  Perhaps most interesting is we have almost our entire DNA sequence in common with the chimpanzee.  Our DNA sequences match the chimpanzee up to 98-99%.  There are only a very few DNA base pair sequences in chimpanzees which don’t match ours, hence the difference in our appearances.

The study of evolution explains why more or less DNA matches in different species.  Those species which match DNA more closely have a common ancestor in the biological pedigree that was not as long ago as those species in which the DNA differs more.  In this way we can tell those species which are more closely related to others by looking at their DNA.  Because our DNA is so similar to that of the animals with which we live, we can use that advantage for scientific testing, as Elder Nelson explained.  All kinds of drugs, environments, chemicals, treatments, and testing can be done on animals that are so closely related by DNA because their biological systems react very similarly to what we might expect in humans, because we are biologically related.  Making alterations to the DNA in animals causes changes and reactions that will be similar in humans.  Much of modern medicine has become possible because of this understanding of the evolution of DNA in living things.

Just last month a group of scientists launched a new website called OneZoom.org which catalogs all living things on a fractal-like evolutionary “tree of life,” showing how all living things are interrelated through their most recent common ancestors.  The data comes from the Open Tree of Life Project, a project to catalog the relationships of nearly 2 million species of life on Earth.  This is an intriguing way of visualizing the relationships that scientists believe all current living animals have with one another, and allows you to explore the tree in a similar way as Google Maps.  Here is a short video explaining OneZoom.

Perhaps one of the most easily understood applications of evolutionary theory in our daily life is the domestication of plants and animals.  Domesticated animals such as cows, sheep, pigs, turkeys, and dogs are all species of animals that mankind has made for its own purposes.  These species did not exist before man decided to breed wild species to create them.  Cows are descended from the aurochs.  Sheep are descended from the mouflon.  Pigs are descended from the wild boar.  Turkeys are descended from the South Mexican Wild Turkey.  Dogs are descended from the gray wolf.  Cats are descended from African wildcats.  Chickens are descended from the Red Junglefowl (a member of the Pheasant family).  And there are many others.  If it weren’t for man, these species of animals would simply not exist.  Man bred these animals to fill certain purposes, whether for food, raiment, companionship, or otherwise.  The domesticated forms of these animals do not appear in the wild anywhere, because they are not wild animals.  They were domesticated over many thousands of years by man, who selectively bred them to change them (in some cases quite significantly), selecting those traits that were most desirable from their wild ancestors.  Yes, the Yorkshire Terrier was domesticated from the same common ancestor, the gray wolf, as the Great Dane, as well as the Chihuahua and Pug dogs.  And this was done by man in the last several thousand years, using artificial selection (the counterpart to evolution’s natural selection) to breed the animals.

Plants such as corn, broccoli, flowers, tomato, and many other types of vegetables were also domesticated by humans over the last several thousand years.  They do not exist in the wild.  They were bred for their particular qualities, and to shape the fruit into a particular shape or taste.  Some vegetables such as the broccoli, domestic cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and cauliflower are all descended from the same wild cabbage species.  Corn is descended from the short bushy grass plant teosinte, which seed looks like a simple grain similar to wheat.  Tomatoes are descended from an original fruit that was much smaller, rounder, and yellow; potatoes and eggplants were likely domesticated from the same or closely related species (which were likely poisonous).  The modern banana is descended from a wild banana known as Musa acuminata, as well as Musa balbisiana (both considered to be mostly inedible because of the many seeds they contain which man has bred out of them in the modern counterpart). And the list goes on and on.

How ironic and naïve that we may sit around the dinner table, and while eating a smorgasbord of plants and animals which mankind has created through artificially selected evolution, and wearing clothing made from the same species of life, and yet we may deny evolution is a reality.  It pervades our daily life.

Such artificial selection has made its way into the laboratory, where it has meshed with genetic engineering.  For example, protein engineering uses repeated rounds of evolutionary mutation and selection to evolve proteins or RNA not found in nature through a method known as directed evolution, to create new proteins that may be useful to us in agriculture, medicine, or industry such as enzymes, pigments, antibiotics, flavors, biopolymers, bacterial strains to decompose hazardous materials.

Studying the evolution of different species reveals the causes of genetic disorders, and helps us pinpoint the genes that produce different parts and features of living things.

As was mentioned above, modern disease control and pathogen identification relies upon evolutionary theory.  The small microorganisms we know as viruses and bacteria are prime examples of evolution in action.  The medicines and antibiotics that we use against them at first kill many of their populations.  But over time, those that survive reproduce, and their offspring are likewise resistant to the drugs.  As these populations increase, our medicines and antibiotics become vastly weaker, until we have to invent new ways of combating them.

Evolutionary biology has extended its reaches into nearly every field of science.

Evolution and Man

This seems to be the sticking point for many.  We simply can’t get past the idea that humans may have evolved from lower lifeforms.  This doesn’t seem like such a hold up, however, if we consider what the scriptures say about the creation of man:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7; Moses 3:7; Abr. 5:7; cf Gen. 3:19; Moses 4:25; )

I’m not sure you can get much lower than the dust of the ground.  Dirt.  It is clear then, even in the revelations of God, that we were formed out of simpler, lower forms.  If we were originally formed of the dust of the ground, even perhaps from a “primordial soup,” then why not via simpler lifeforms at a later time?  Eve is said to have been formed from Adam’s rib (Gen. 2:21–22; Moses 3:21–22; Abr. 5:15–16).

We do not believe in creation ex nihilo, or creation out of nothing.  We do not believe that God spoke, and out of nothing stepped a man.  God organized man similarly to the way he organized the earth, in steps.  Even this is shown in the scriptural account if we look closely (first the dust, then the breath, then the living soul).  Of course, the steps noted in scripture are figurative.  Could not evolution be one of those steps in God’s creation of man?

Most seem to believe that if evolution is true that it somehow lowers mankind down to the level of the “beasts” (and they always use that term to seemingly condemn all animal life).  If God chose to use the means of evolution to create man, then how does a recognition of that have any effect on lowering mankind’s estate now?  Animals are what they are, and man is what he is.  Animals have clearly been given a different sphere in God’s creation than man.  Even so, we have been taught that animal life does have spirit, and will be resurrected.  The animals were given commandments in the beginning to be fruitful, and multiply and fill the Earth.  Man was given a different sphere in God’s creation.  Man also had a spirit put into him, that he became a living soul.  He was also given commandments, and many more.  As is shown in the revelations, God clearly places man into a higher order of creation than animals, most particularly because we are in His image, and have the potential to become like Him.

In fact, in one of the statements from the First Presidency on the origin of man, given in 1909 and revised in 1925, they noted the potential of man in terms of “evolution”:

Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.25

Ironically, the full statement was written in terms that seem dismissive of the idea of the evolution of man, and yet in the concluding statement they noted man’s potential in terms of evolution, that man is currently in an undeveloped state and can over extreme lengths of time evolve into a God.  This is exactly what the theory of evolution claims has happened to all life on earth over billions of years, developed from lower forms into more complex ones.  One might ask, if man today in his undeveloped state can evolve into a God, then why could not man today have evolved from even more undeveloped states into the form he is today?  Again, if this is what happened, then it is not unimaginable that God is behind it all, and that it is part of His creation.  President Gordon B. Hinckley noted the importance of our future evolution:

I remember when I was a college student there were great discussions on the question of organic evolution. I took classes in geology and biology and heard the whole story of Darwinism as it was then taught. I wondered about it. I thought much about it. But I did not let it throw me, for I read what the scriptures said about our origins and our relationship to God. Since then I have become acquainted with what to me is a far more important and wonderful kind of evolution. It is the evolution of men and women as the sons and daughters of God, and of our marvelous potential for growth as children of our Creator.26

I believe in the evolution of the mind, the heart, and the soul of humanity. I believe in improvement. I believe in growth.27

Again, some claim that if man evolved from lower lifeforms that it makes us somehow immune to moral law, or that moral law cannot have claim on us as merely “animals.”  This simply isn’t true, since the scriptures clearly teach us that man is accountable to a moral law.  God has given man a moral law today, even if the “dust” from which we were formed did not have such a law when it was in that lower form.  Isn’t each part of God’s creation given its own law? (D&C 88:38, 42)

The Church and Evolution

The Church and the theory of evolution have had a rocky history.  There have been Church leaders who have had strong opinions on both sides of the issue.  As I noted in previous posts, where the Brethren are not in agreement, where there is no consensus, there is no doctrine.  Among the many statements by individuals, official statements by the Church are few and far between.  Officially, the First Presidency released some statements early in the twentieth century, in 1909 and again in 1925.  The 1925 statement was mostly a restatement of the one from 1909, but was much shorter with revision.  In both of these statements, the First Presidency reaffirmed the doctrine of the Church that God made man in his own image, but neither describes how God did so.  They do not describe a means or method, but describe more importantly a why and purpose, as we’ve seen is usually the territory of religion.  (Again, it is interesting to note in these statements that the First Presidency says that these issues are “not vital from a doctrinal standpoint.”)

In 1910, the First Presidency wrote in the Deseret Evening News a commentary on the relationship between science and the Church, as we noted above, “Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy…”

Those are all the official statements that have been given by the Church.  Nothing official has been stated by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for 87 years (although there have been reprints of these statements).  As Elder Wickman noted in the interview for the Pew Forum in 2007, the Brethren have not thought upon this matter much.  There is no consensus.  Until they give more thought on the matter, and inquire of the Lord about it, it is not likely that we’ll receive more revelation on it.  In most cases that I can think of, revelation is almost always given in response to an inquiry, even intense and sincere inquiry, of God.

All other statements about evolution are by individuals, who were not speaking for the Church as a whole, but were giving their own well-considered opinions on the matter (many have given disclaimers on their words noting as much).  Those who thought evolutionary theory had value included Elder James E. Talmage, Elder John A. Widtsoe, and Henry Eyring (President Henry B. Eyring’s father).  Those who thought evolution was in conflict with the gospel have included Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, and President Boyd K. Packer.  Others seem to be holding out an opinion on the matter until God reveals more, as stated by President Joseph F. Smith, Elder Nelson and Elder Wickman, although they may have personal views one way or the other.  So there is quite a range of opinion.

There is no official doctrine in the Church on how God created life or man, the means or methods He used.  President Joseph F. Smith once wrote in 1911:

The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world. … God has revealed to us a simple and effectual way of serving Him.28

President Spencer W. Kimball said much the same many years later in 1976:

Man became a living soul—mankind, male and female. The Creators breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and man and woman became living souls. We don’t know exactly how their coming into this world happened, and when we’re able to understand it the Lord will tell us.29

What’s written in the scriptures?

What we need to first realize is that much of the creation as noted in the scriptures is written in a figurative, symbolic way.  It is not to be interpreted literally.  For example, it is not likely that God performed surgery on Adam to remove a rib from his side from which to form Eve.  This is a symbol, meant to show that Eve was to be an help meet for Adam, and was to stand by his side as companions.  So when we read the creation accounts, we need to read it through that lens.

One of the most interesting accounts with regards to this topic, I believe, is found in Joseph Smith’s revelation/translation of the Book of Abraham.  This account uses wording that is quite different than that of Genesis or even the Book of Moses (another of Joseph’s revelations), although there are some interesting things to note in those.  It might be key to note that the Book of Abraham is a later revelation than the Book of Moses, and may reflect more of Joseph’s learning on the matter of creation, indeed, even an evolution of his understanding of the subject, as much as it does Abraham’s.

Here is the first verse which notes life upon the Earth:

11 And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered.

12 And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass from its own seed, and the herb to bring forth herb from its own seed, yielding seed after his kind; and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed. (Abraham 4:11–12)

What is interesting to note here is that the Gods “prepared” the earth to bring forth grass.  In the other creation accounts, God simply commands “Let the earth bring forth grass,” and it brings forth grass.  But here, the Gods do not simply speak their commands, they “prepare” the earth to bring forth grass.  Later we are told that they “organized the earth to bring forth grass,” etc.  Then, and this is perhaps most fascinating, after they were done preparing and organizing the earth, the “Gods saw that they were obeyed.”  A few verses later we are told

“And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” (Abr. 4:18)

Both of these verses seem to indicate a waiting period, and a detachment from their preparations and the resulting creation of life.  The Gods made their preparations, and then they stepped back and waited, and watched the creation happen.  This seems, to me, to be more of a hands-off approach to the creation than the direct speak-obey pattern of the other accounts.  It seems that the Gods were setting up the conditions for the creation to occur, but did not directly make it happen.  They watched, until they were obeyed.

Again, the preparation pattern continues.

20 And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life; and the fowl, that they may fly above the earth in the open expanse of heaven.

21 And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth abundantly after their kind; and every winged fowl after their kind. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good. (Abr. 4:20–21)

The Gods prepared the waters to bring forth the moving creatures that had life.  This is an indirect creation, preparing an environment and setting the conditions in which the life could come forth.  Indeed, in these accounts, it is not the Gods that are directly “bringing forth” the life, it is the earth that brings forth the grass (after being prepared), and the waters that bring forth the whales (after being prepared), etc.  Again, after their preparation, the Gods stepped back and watched until they were obeyed.

22 And the Gods said: We will bless them, and cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas or great waters; and cause the fowl to multiply in the earth. (Abr. 4:22)

This is an interesting difference from the other accounts.  In Genesis and the Book of Moses the Gods directly bless them, “saying…”  Here, the Gods plan to bless them, “we will bless them,” as in a future tense, which will “cause them to be fruitful and multiply,” and “cause the fowl to multiply.”  Again, here it seems that the Gods are setting up the ideal conditions that will result in the proliferation of life, instead of directly commanding life to multiply.

24 And the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind; and it was so, as they had said.

25 And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind; and the Gods saw they would obey. (Abr. 4:24–25)

This again shows the preparation-organization-watching pattern of creation.  It is the earth that brings forth the living creatures, etc., after it is prepared and organized.  The Gods saw this happen after their work was done.

The Book of Abraham account now continues into the creation of man.  There is a change in wording here, different from the other accounts.

26 And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them. (Abr. 4:26–27)

In the other creation accounts God says “Let us make man in our own image.”  Here the Gods say, let us “form man in our image.”  Using the word form again connotes the idea of an organization rather than a creation ex nihilo.  Indeed, the next verse tells us that the Gods went down to organize man in their own image.  The other creation accounts also say that male and female he created them.  Here the Gods again form them.  I’m an artist, and have done some sculpting and modeling in my day.  Forming, to me, sounds like a sculpting, taking materials that exist and remaking them into an image I desire over a length of time, and not without significant effort.

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, behold, we will give them life, and also we will give to them every green herb for meat, and all these things shall be thus organized.

31 And the Gods said: We will do everything that we have said, and organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient. (Abr. 4:30–31)

Again, here the Book of Abraham is teaching us that the creation was a step-by-step process, and an organization, after which the life springs forth in obedience, even being “very obedient.”

At this point, we turn for a moment to the Book of Moses, which gives another interesting detail not found in the other creation accounts:

5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth…

9 And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul… (Moses 3:5, 9)

At this point in the accounts it begins to talk about the spiritual creation before the physical creation.  The spiritual creation was a type of plan, a counsel held by the Gods before the work of creation was actually acted out (Abr. 5:2–4).  And here, it seems, that we are taught that the spiritual plan was more of a direct creation than the actual creation was.  In verse 5, “For I, the Lord God, created all things… before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.”  Now, the term naturally could be understood as physically.  Or it could be viewed as a plan/organization before a hands-off natural creation, they “were naturally.”  Again later in verse 9 we are told that out of the ground the trees grew “naturally.”  Indeed, the trees of life and of good and evil were not created as trees, but we are told were “planted.”

And I, the Lord God, planted the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and also the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Moses 3:9)

Returning to the Book of Abraham:

And of the rib which the Gods had taken from man, formed they a woman, and brought her unto the man. (Abr. 4:16)

Again, the woman was “formed” not “made” as in the other accounts.  All of these details in the scriptures are interesting, and may indicate more going on in the creation than we typically realize.  Some might note how the creation accounts say repeatedly that the life was to multiply “after its kind.”  This might not seem congruous with the theory of evolution.  However, life does typically reproduce after its own kind, even in evolutionary theory.  Life does not change abruptly from one species to another, but minuscule mutations over great spans of time change them very gradually.

A Reconciliation

I believe, as many Church authorities have stated since the beginning of the Restoration, that the truths of science and the truths of religion can be in complete harmony, and not be contradictory.  All truth comes from the same source, which is God.  That being said, I think I see a lot of truth in the theory of evolution, which lends itself to a wide range of innovation and productivity today in the fields of science and technology, innovations which we would not have made without our knowledge of evolution.  I do not know if all of the particulars are right, but I’m willing to keep an open mind.  I believe God is behind it all, whether we evolved or not.  If evolution did happen, there can still be a Fall, an Atonement, a Gospel, and a Redeemer.  I do not see how the method or means of God’s creation of man has any bearing on these fundamental gospel concepts.  Whether God scooped up some dust and added water to form man, snapped his fingers and the elements combined, chiseled out a man from a gelatinous block of flesh, or evolved man from lower to more complex life, I do not see a reason to believe that any method that God may have used rules out the fundamentals of the gospel plan.

Many other religionists, creationists, or otherwise, have a problem with evolution because it is in essence materialism and naturalism, which are at odds with their theology.  Consider this:

Nancy Pearcey [a conservative American philosopher and advocate of intelligent design] argues (and many American creationists agree) that all the perceived evils of evolution come from two worldviews that are part of science: naturalism and materialism.  Naturalism is the view that the only way to understand our universe is through the scientific method.  Materialism is the idea that the only reality is the physical matter of the universe, and that everything else, including thoughts, will, and emotions, comes from physical laws acting on that matter.  The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism.30

If all the perceived evils of evolution are because of these two things, naturalism and materialism, then Mormons need not be worried that it conflicts with our theology.  Mormons are at home with both of these concepts.

As noted above, naturalism states that everything in the universe can be explained, that everything arises through natural processes and causes, and ultimately denies supernaturalism.  As Elder Talmage noted in his book Jesus the Christ, “Miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized.”  We do not believe in magic, in inexplicable events, in actions that do not take place wholly within the confines of our natural universe and the laws which govern it.  There is a reason and an explanation for everything that God does, and through much time and learning we will discover all of his ways, for God will teach them to us as He knows them all.  Yes, there may be things which may seem “supernatural” which we cannot understand today, but we will understand their workings at a later time.  Ultimately, that which seems supernatural is just nature not understood.

Likewise, we also believe in materialism.  “There is no such thing as immaterial matter,” proclaimed the Prophet Joseph Smith, “All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7–8).  There is no such thing as the metaphysical, or that which resides outside our reality.  Just last month, BYU professor and philosopher James Faulconer wrote:

…everything is material even if there is material that we presently cannot see or understand. There is only one ontological universe, the material one.

That materialism distinguishes Mormons from other religions significantly, for most religions make a distinction between this material world and a spiritual world that is metaphysically different than this world. For Mormons, however, there is no metaphysical gap between the world in which we live and the world inhabited by God.31

So while many other faiths might have trouble with evolution because of these things, Mormons should not.  We are comfortable with the idea that God made the earth via natural processes, in accordance with natural and understandable laws, out of materials that were already existent.  It was an organization at the heart of the creation via means that we do not fully understand yet, but are learning more about each day, and are discovering more of the laws by which God works.  Evolution may simply be one of them.

I find much to like in the views of theistic evolution or evolutionary creation, views which echo those of some of this dispensation’s prophets, seers, and revelators.  Theodosius Dobzhansky was a prominent geneticist and evolutionary biologist, and also Russian Orthodox Christian, who once wrote an essay entitled “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”:

I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s, method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way… Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts… the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.32

There are many parts of evolution that I still have questions about, and parts that I do not fully understand.  I believe that time will yield more discoveries, and my understanding will increase.  There is much still to learn.

  1. Repeated in a statement in 2007 from the Church’s Newsroom, “Approaching Mormon Doctrine.” []
  2. First Presidency, Memorandum to General Authorities, April 1931, 6–7. []
  3. Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983), 53-62. []
  4. In Focus: Mormonism in Modern America,” Pew Forum interview. []
  5. Breitbart M, Rohwer F. Here a virus, there a virus, everywhere the same virus?. Trends Microbiol. 2005;13(6):278–84. doi:10.1016/j.tim.2005.04.003.PMID 15936660. []
  6. Dimmock, N.J; Easton, Andrew J; Leppard, Keith (2007) Introduction to Modern Virology sixth edition, Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 1-4051-3645-6 []
  7. History of the Church, 5:215 []
  8. History of the Church, 5:499 []
  9. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., reported by G. D. Watt et al. (Liverpool: F.D and S. W. Richards, et al., 1851-1886; reprint, Salt Lake City: n.p., 1974),, 7:271. []
  10. Journal of Discourses, 15:127. []
  11. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 14:166, May 14, 1871. []
  12. Journal of Discourses, 7:157. []
  13. James E. Talmage, “The Earth and Man” []
  14. http://en.fairmormon.org/Primary_sources/Evolution/First_Presidency_1910 []
  15. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 148-49. []
  16. Science, Evolution, and Creationism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008. []
  17. Ibid. []
  18. Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983), 53-62. []
  19. Joseph Smith, Jr., 1844-04-07, reprinted as “The King Follett Sermon,”Ensign, May 1971, p. 13. []
  20. Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1999. []
  21. AAAS Evolution Resources []
  22. Meyer, Stephen C. (2005-12-01). “Not by chance”. National Post (CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc. as sold to Postmedia Network Inc.). Retrieved 2012-03-24.http://www.discovery.org/a/3059 []
  23. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution []
  24. Editorial (unsigned) [Joseph F. Smith as president of the Church and Edward H. Anderson were editors], “Priesthood Quorums’ Table,” Improvement Era 13 no. 4? (April 1910), 570. []
  25. First Presidency letter, “The Origin of Man” (November 1909) This was reprinted in 2002 (“The Origin of Man,” Ensign, Feb 2002, 26); First Presidency letter, “‘Mormon’ View of Evolution” (September 1925) []
  26. President Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign,Oct. 1984, 5. []
  27. Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something [2000], 62. []
  28. “Philosophy and the Church Schools,” Juvenile Instructor, Apr. 1911, p. 209. []
  29. “The Blessing and Responsibilities of Womanhood,”Ensign, Mar. 1976, 72 []
  30. Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution is True. []
  31. James Faulconer, “Bodies all the way down, and up.” Patheos.  http://www.patheos.com/Mormon/Bodies-All-the-Way-James-Faulconer-10-11-2012.html []
  32. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution []


  1. Matt W.
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Good Job. I appreciate your thoroughness…

  2. Posted November 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Bryce, I enjoyed your article. Wow! That was a lot of work. Are you familiar with the New God Argument and Richard Dawkins’ allowances for evolving “god-like extraterrestrials”?



  3. Jack
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Great post. We’ve learned over the last while that the cosmos is really big. So big that one might wonder why God might not have been a little more expeditious in his creative endeavors. But even so, I think we’ve pretty much come to (theological) terms with the “bigness” of Creation — spatially, that is. We still have a little ways to go with respect to time, though. Four billion years is a long, long time. Why would God need so much time to prepare the earth for his children? The scriptures speak of a God who has immediate power over the elements — the waters are parted hither and thither at his command, and so forth. And yet, if we allow evolution to inform our thinking on the subject then what we have is an infinitely patient supreme being whose standard MO is to allow ample time for his creations to obey. That ought to instill hope (though we must be careful not to let it instill a false sense of security) rather than flying to pieces like glass.

  4. rob
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    There is a reason why so few lds believe in evolution as the means whereby humans came about.Contrary to what some may believe or think, our doctrine states quite thoroughly that Adam was the first man of all men. It doesnt matter that our doctrine isnt in line with what certain scientists believe because we do not put our faith in the hand of man. The evidence is rather obvious if you ask me- There is no documentation of life evolving from one species to another. That whole theory requires a blind leap of faith. Why are we as humans so drastically more intelligent as a species than all other life forms combined?why are there no transitional species of life that exhibit strong intelligence like us?

    As for intelligent design, as lds that is the group we are in. LDS do not believe life can exist without an intelligent designer. People mock the ID movement not realizing what it actually supports and believes in. ID is not there to prove evolution false but rather to show that complex life (intelligent design) did not merely rise by Darwinian theory of chance in nature. Evidence actually supports the theory of intelligent design as the most logical explanation of complexity in nature. It can be tested time and time again that new intelligent information can only come from a pre-existing intelligent source. No test has ever shown to produce new intelligent information coming about without an intelligent source.

  5. Posted November 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    @Lincoln, thanks. I’ve heard of the New God Argument you’ve postulated, and I think it is compelling. I heard you talk about it in a podcast a few months ago, and I’ve skimmed the website. I think it is quite plausible. I haven’t done any deep dives, but it sounds right to me.

    I have also heard Richard Dawkins talk about the evolving gods, and wondered if he knew about this aspect of Mormonism. It seems the only difference is that Dawkins doesn’t seem to allow for these evolving gods to be God, although I’m not sure quite why. Has Dawkins ever spoken with a Mormon transhumanist?

  6. Posted November 4, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    @Jack, you ask “why would God need so much time?” I’d say, why not. Time does not seem to be a concern with God, as it is with us. God does not seem to be susceptible to time like we are, for whatever reason either physiologically or psychological, so four billion years may not be a concern of his. One reason may be because we are mortal, and he is not. If we were immortal, would time matter to us? What need is there for speed when you have all the time in the universe? If it takes four billion years to do what he wants to do because of the particular laws in action, then that may be what is required. God may have been around much much longer than that, and four billion years might seem expeditious to him for all we know.

  7. Posted November 4, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    @Rob, you’re right, our doctrine does state that Adam was the first man of all men. But we often fail to ask ourselves what constitutes a “man.” If other creatures preceded Adam, it does not seem that they were “men,” at least not in the way the scriptures relate. Perhaps the first “man” was him who God put into a human spirit, that he became a “soul.”

    There has been quite a few documented fossils of hominids discovered, many in just the last thirty years, which date back a couple million years, with features that progress over time to become more man-like. Here is a link showing an extensive list of them, though not exhaustive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_evolution_fossils. Hugh Nibley commented on these creatures which preceded Adam, noting that they were given their own times and functions, but it is Adam which we consider our first parent, the first “man.”

    Why are we more intelligent than other life forms? Our brains may have evolved to grow larger such that we could comprehend more things. But is interesting to note that it seems that man was not able to comprehend many things before partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why not? Was his brain not capable? Why was man not “intelligent” before that point? Being able to read and write also seems to have contributed significantly to our intelligence, something which Adam and Eve seem to have been able to do right after they walked out of Eden. That simple literate act allows us to transfer our knowledge to the next generation. Put a newborn baby into a room without any interaction with the outside world, and allow them to grow up, and he or she would seem very unintelligent by most standards. Intelligence may not be inherent in our physiology, but formed by our civilization. There are still hunter-gatherer humans deep in the jungles of the Amazon.

    There are quite a few “transitional” species that have now been discovered. This was not the case just twenty years ago. It’s not so odd that we haven’t found them before, since the discovered fossils to date account for such a minuscule portion of the totality of life that has lived on earth (far less than 1%). It’s quite difficult for the earth to preserve a fossil to the present day. Most of life rots away without a trace.

    As for other intelligence, there are some species that do exhibit quite a bit of it, such as chimpanzees and dolphins. As for other species of hominids that were transitional, as seen at the link above, they seem to have all become extinct, so we cannot deduce their intelligence easily besides measuring their cranial cavities.

    I too believe that God is the ultimate intelligent designer. He planned this world from the start, in the councils of heaven, before the world was. That, to me, is remarkable. What I don’t like is that the “intelligent design” movement, which sprung from the creationist movement, is trying to make it into a science to be taught in the public classroom. Yes, at some level, God is in charge of it, and behind it all, but I don’t think that it is proper that such a thing should be taught as science in the classroom, for the reasons I noted in the OP. I’m interested to learn more about the mechanisms of evolution, and if there are certain laws or bounds by which it works, which may have been those which God used to develop his plan. Most scientists will note that the complexity of life does not need to be explained by an intelligent designer, and I’m just fine with that, since God may have been using the very laws of nature to do his work, laws which we may not understand right now.

  8. Posted November 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Bryce, I’ve tried to communicate with Dawkins about Mormon Transhumanism, but he has not responded. I don’t know if he’s ignored my efforts, or if my efforts are being lost in the enormous amount of communication he most likely receives. I’ve been hoping to invite him to speak at an MTA conference.

    Regarding your last comment, it’s interesting to consider the ramifications of the fact that evolution is not random. It appears that to the extent one controls the environment, one controls evolution. http://phys.org/news/2012-10-random-evolution-genetic-pattern.html

  9. Eric
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Bryce, I, like you, am unopposed to the idea that evolution might well have been the tool by which the Lord created the diversity of life on earth. I do take exception, however, to some of your approaches to the argument.

    Comparing denial of evolution to sinning against the Holy Ghost is, in my opinion, way, way over the top. First of all, no person has seen the kind of evolution that most anti-evolution religionists are opposed to, which are: interspecies evolution and primate-to-man evolution. No one, not even the most ardent evolutionist, has “seen the sun shining in its strength” in the sense of having seen this kind of evolution. And in the next paragraph, after saying above that this is not a doctrinal issue at all, that the important thing is that we remember and believe that God is the Creator, you give your opinion that those denying evolution are in very dangerous territory. Dangerous, why? It’s not a question of salvation, after all.

    I also object to your employing Helaman 8:24 and JS-H 1:25 to support your argument. The First Vision, or Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, is in no way parallel to the scientific method that has convinced most scientists that evolution is a valid theory. It sounds like you are calling those who deny evolution liars and vision-deniers, when most of the human population hasn’t even seen the evidence that scientists rely upon to support evolution.

    Both of these thrusts in developing your argument are more likely to strengthen the resolve of our fellows in faith in their opposition to the idea of evolution than they are to convince. And what if they are not convinced? Until the Brethren come out with an open stance on this question (unlikely in the extreme), it is not a matter of faith or salvation for us.

    A final point – it seems to me that you’re putting words in the mouths of the First Presidency and President Hinckley when you use their use of the word “evolve” to support your argument of scientific evolution. In neither case were the brethren discussing evolution by reproduction and natural selection; it’s clear they’re speaking of personal progress to the level of the divine.

    Again, I have great respect for your work, and appreciate your labors to invite discussion on these matters, but my concerns for your approach were great enough I felt I had to speak up.



  10. Posted November 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Lincoln, that is interesting. The scriptures from Abraham seem to indicate God preparing the environment (the inert elements of earth and water) to bring forth life.

  11. rob
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    The first man was just that- the first man. LDS doctrine is at complete odds with evolution on several major fronts. For starters, ou cannot wiggle out of the doctrine of this earth only having a 7 thousand year temporal existence. Temporal relates specifically with time and death. Perhaps Joseph Smith was wrong? Perhaps “temporal” means something besides time and death?

    I can guarantee that no current theory of evolution allows any space or room for God. Evolutionary theory must be traced back to the moment in the tree where life first emerged. And, it must explain how life arose by itself without any intelligent source guiding it. No matter how far back you go in evolutionary theory, no principle or cause can ever be attributed to deity. Evolutionary theory must remain completely naturalistic, completely void of any mention of God.

    Intelligent Design is not a religious movement as some mistakenly assume. ID doesnt make any claim on who, what, or how the intelligence works only that it exists and cannot be lightly excused.

  12. Posted November 4, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Eric, thank you for your comments. I appreciate your thoughts.

    I suppose that I see the evidence for evolution as much stronger than you see it. For a biologist, evolution undergirds everything they do. As Dobzhansky said, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Nothing. There actually are many examples of interspecies evolution, particularly at the microscopic level (such as viruses and bacteria, because they reproduce so rapidly). And the evidence of evolution of primate-to-man is mounting heavily (see here). In other words, biologists simply could not do what they do if they denied evolution. The same is true of geneticists. It is the foundation upon which those fields of science rest (among others), and hence their careers and livelihoods, and in consequence many of the innovations we see all around us today. Those who have seen such evidences and work in them daily, if they were to deny them, I think, would be doing themselves a supreme disservice in going against what they know to be true. The comparison was between having an overabundance of evidence and denying it, which I think in most situations is dangerous territory for anyone to be in regardless of the topic. This is not a question of salvation, you’re right, it is a question of conscience. Can someone deny something that they see the very workings of every day? I perceive that it would be very dangerous for one to do so.

    I didn’t employ Helaman or JS-H to show a parallel to the scientific method. I used it as an example of being true to one’s conscience, knowing the truth clearly because of the abundance of evidence. Asking someone to deny something which they know to be true would be similar to other such contemplation of denial, such as that experienced by Joseph or taught by Nephi. Doing so would essentially be forcing one to lie.

    The problem is this. It has become a matter of faith to some, who see a severe contradiction between what some in the Church have taught regarding evolution, and what science has revealed. Some have completely lost their faith, and perhaps their salvation, because of it. It shouldn’t be a matter of faith or salvation, but it is increasingly becoming so. Many cannot look at the sky and say it is not blue. It strikes at the core of who they are.

    I believe the quotes from President Hinckley and the First Presidency were validly using the term evolution. If we, in our undeveloped primeval state can “evolve into a God,” it is not unlike the evolution discovered by science in nature, of undeveloped primeval lifeforms evolving into more complex ones. Personal progress of a human into a God is evolution. Yes, they were not using the term in a scientific discussion about natural selection, but the meaning is strikingly similar in many respects.

  13. Posted November 4, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Rob, see my previous posts on the age of the Earth, and death before the Fall:

    There actually are many scientists, people, and entire religious denominations that believe that evolution does allow space for God, and can coexist with Him. It is called theistic evolution, or evolutionary creation. See a list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution

    I disagree about intelligent design. It is inherently a matter of faith to believe in an intelligent designer, since such a designer cannot be proven to exist.

  14. rob
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Intelligent design in nature can positively be shown to exist. Both you and I are “designers” in nature that produce intelligent results in nature. Ask yourself this- why does intelligence, or purpose exist in nature? Why is this phenomenon found when we know that this phenomenon is not readily explained by laws in nature? We are not the result of natural laws void of design. Theistic evolution is crap. Theistic evolution is “intelligent design”. What bothers me about these so called evolutionists is that when it actually comes down to where God fits in, they have no answer. Its like they still want to say they believe in the Creator just as long as he isnt part of the creation.

  15. Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Rob, looking backward for God is a poor strategy, hanging our faith on the incredibly shrinking God of the gaps, and establishing a subjective bias against progress in scientific understanding of our origins. Look forward, instead, at potential for human flourishing, its logical and probabilistic implications, and the practical and moral ramifications. If we become God, we almost certainly will not be the first or only to do so; and we’re more likely to become God if we trust in and work toward the possibility; thus, we should trust that God already exists. See the New God Argument.

    This forward-looking faith in God is particularly compatible with Mormon theology, which leaves the question open as to whether there was a first God. If there was a first, perhaps that God evolved in a world exactly as atheists imagine us to be inhabiting at present. Perhaps God emerged from chaos, progressed in knowledge and power, and began creating more worlds that would facilitate or expedite a procreative process, so that others may enjoy the same. Of course, I don’t know all the answers to the many questions that arise from such speculation, but I have found increasing inspiration and faith as I’ve explored this direction.

  16. rob
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    I am firmly against the idea that there was a first God who came about as a result of nature. Who or what produced a first cause, if such even exists, is beyond our current capacity to comprehend. What we can confirm from observance alone is that there is purpose and design in nature and that nature itself is not the author.

  17. Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Rob, if comprehension of a first cause (or a lack thereof) is beyond our current capacity to comprehend (which I agree with), why are you firmly against the idea that there was a first God who came about as a result of nature? That sounds inconsistent to me. Help me understand.

  18. rob
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I do not believe nature is capable of producing intelligence on its own. There is absolutely no evidence of this happening. Intelligence only comes from intelligence. Scientists will search in vain looking for intelligence springing up randomly in nature/the cosmos.

  19. Posted November 5, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Rob, as I look at the world, I see a spectrum of intelligence from humans downward toward the simplest life forms. Perhaps, in accordance with your view, intelligence doesn’t spring up randomly. Perhaps the basic building blocks of intelligence are pervasive and always available to be organized into greater empowerment? That seems to reflect Joseph Smith’s perspective on the matter: intelligence was not created or made, but God created all things both spiritual and temporal. As I understand Joseph, he was saying we’ve always existed in one sense and we were created in another sense. I don’t know how else to interpret this than to think God organized both our minds and our bodies from materials he found. How did he organize them? Joseph said God instituted laws, whereby others might progress to become like God. He also said God placed us within a sphere and made us free to act within that sphere. These ideas sound to me a lot like establishing an environment that facilitates and expedites self-organization of minds and bodies, compatible with our scientific understanding of biological evolution. The ideas don’t sound like the more hands-on and direct creation expressed by advocates of intelligent design.

  20. Eric
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink


    Thank you for your response. I don’t disagree with you, but I’d like to respond to two of your points.

    It may well be that there is enough evidence to a well-established biologist to declare that evolution is “truth”. But questioning (or even doubting) established theory is far, far from anything close to denying the Holy Ghost. Aren’t scientists supposed to be skeptics?

    A second point. Your audience for this discussion seems to me to be believing Latter-day Saints, most of which are not scientists. To assert that denying evolution is comparable to some great sin (the greatest, actually) to this audience condemns many faithful Latter-day Saints for knowing something that they have no responsibility for. Most Latter-day Saints haven’t studied the issue of evolution deeply – they feel no need to because of their correct belief that these answers will come at a later date. But your condemnation of their denial appears to cover everyone. Does the average human being know how broadly the theory of evolution is used to great result? Almost certainly not. Does the average human being know how much sciences of all kinds depend upon this theory? No again. Your condemnation (and I’m sorry to use that word – it feels too strong) might be appropriate to a scientific community, though I feel that even in that case, it is much too strong.

    A brief remark on the comments by the First Presidency and President Hinckley. I repeat that the process they are describing as evolution is not analogous to process described by evolutionists. Scientific evolution is the process of mutation during reproduction, and the survival of the most beneficial genes in the next (thousands of) generations. But the “evolution” of man to God is the evolution of an individual organism to a higher state. It like the change from caterpillar to butterfly, not from caterpillar to walking stick. The brethren have defined the difference between God and man to be of degree, not of kind. See Elder Tad Callister’s fantastic Education Week Devotional talk for one discussion of this process.


    Again, I intend no hard feelings or offense.



  21. Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Eric, I’m curious. Why do you interpret the evolution toward Godhood as an individual rather than a communal evolution?

  22. Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    … and, Eric, thanks for sharing that link to Elder Tad Callister’s talk. I’m enjoying it!

  23. Alece
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    As usual, Bryce, you have given us much to think about. I definitely believe that evolution is a tool used by God (or the Gods) to create. I also believe that it is probably only one of such tools — some of which we don’t understand at the present time — or even know of in some instances. I think the “six days” of creation — along with Eve being formed from Adam’s rib — are totally symbolic, so I don’t get hung up on the amount of time it took for our earth, solar system or universe to come into being. I also think that God could have created man totally separately from other life forms, but that it is also possible that man evolved from other species.

    I found your shining light on the various varients on creation scriptures to be very interesting. I’m not sure I agree with all of your conclusions concerning these varients and their meanings, but seeing them juxtaposed against eachother is very interesting; and I will continue to ponder my own thoughts on these matters.

    I have no problem with evolution as a theory (regardless of how one defines “theory”) since I do believe that God has used it in the past to create or organize things that are both inanimate and animate. I also seem to remember God saying that the rocks are more obedient than man, so even inanimate things can obey God.

    I don’t have a problem with Intelligent design — nor do I have a problem with it at least being discussed in schools, as I think our schools are far too secular today. I have not investigated evolunistic theocracy — but I probably should.

    It is interesting that Dawkins is now considering the possibility of evolving gods — if this is accurate. Maybe there is hope for this great mind after all!

    I guess in closing, I agree with much of what you have discussed in this article. I still believe that when the scriptures say that God created Man in his own image, however, that he meant just that; and I’ll wait to be convinced otherwise by more “proof” than I’ve seen so far!

    Thanks again for all you do. I greatly appreciate the gift of your time and your knowledge and your spirit to this blog!

  24. Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Rob, you’ve pointed out that the scriptures teach that Adam was the first man. The scriptures don’t, however, say *how* he was first. I believe he was the first man to make covenants with God but was not the first man (physically) to ever exist on the earth. This belief is in agreement with the scriptural statement that Adam was the first man.

  25. Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Allen, that’s a good point. We also should account for the scriptural statement that Adam “is many”. If Adam is many and Adam is the first man. Perhaps we should interpret Adam, prior to leaving the Garden, to be evolving prehumanity; and perhaps we should interpret Adam, after leaving the Garden, to be evolving humanity. After all, we also take on the identity of Adam in the temple. Adam is humanity, evolving from prehumanity through humanity toward posthumanity in Godhood. That’s how I think of the matter.

  26. Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Hi Eric, thanks again for your thoughts.

    The scenario of having all of these witnesses, evidences, and so forth, and being asked to deny them simply reminded me of the case of the son of perdition. For some people, the evidences which they see daily of evolution are too great to deny, else they should deny something which they know is true, which is not a good thing to do for many reasons. Yes, the comparison should not be taken too literally, or too far. Denying evolution does not equate with denying the Holy Ghost, and I wasn’t suggesting that. But a general comparison can be made with knowing truth and going against it. Most people as you note, Latter-day Saints or otherwise, are not scientists, and have not seen the evidence. Therefore, any denial of evolution on their part holds little weight. They simply do not have knowledge otherwise. Likewise, you cannot become a son of perdition without seeing the evidence of God, and lacking an undeniable knowledge and witness of Him. But those who have knowledge, and go against it, that is fundamentally an error. “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). I think this applies not only to matters of faith, but to all other matters of intelligence, light, and truth. Who are we to deny the earth is round if we have witnessed it? Who are we to deny the earth revolves around the sun if we can see it is so? If we have not seen the evidence, then there is no problem in denying something which we do not know, although doing so seems to me to be poor judgement. It makes little logical sense for me to deny that protons are made up of three valence quarks simply because I don’t know sufficiently about them to know otherwise. But moreover, there is no condemnation here. Where there is no law given [an understanding of eternal truth], there is no condemnation (2 Nephi 9:25; Moroni 8:22). It is perfectly fine for Latter-day Saints to not believe in evolution if they know little about it. But we should also keep in mind that man cannot be saved in ignorance either (D&C 131:6). Joseph taught, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” I perceive that we should do everything we can to learn truth, whatever it’s source, and once learned not deny it. I think this is an eternal truth in and of itself, one that was fundamental to Joseph and other prophets of old.

    I disagree that the remarks by the First Presidency and President Hinckley are wholly different than the evolution taught by science. It seems that humanity has the potential of evolving into a God in the future, a being who is different from us in many fundamental ways, yet we cannot seem to imagine ourselves evolving in any similar sense in the past (even though our doctrine teaches as much, that we were organized from simple intelligences, and that the more intelligence one gets, the more it progresses and evolves). I think that’s a problem that we haven’t sorted all out yet. As Lincoln noted, even a belief in “individual” evolution into a God is likely mistaken. Elder Russell M. Nelson noted in his 2008 General Conference address, “In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” We simply cannot reach exaltation alone; it requires others, many generations which have gone before (perhaps thousands). Our evolution to exaltation is dependent on others, as their exaltation is dependent on us. This recalls Paul’s statement that “that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). Joseph expounded on this, “For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect” (D&C 128:15, 18). Our evolution to Godhood is communal, similar to evolution in nature. It is not a 1:1 comparison, but it is similar, simpler life evolving communally into more complex and more intelligent life. The similarity between the two I cannot ignore.

    Yes, the difference between God and man is of degree, but it is such a great degree, degree upon degree upon degree, that it makes God fundamentally different than mortal man in many ways. He has progressed so far beyond what we typically think of as human, which is why it is so hard for many Christians to wrap their minds around the thought of God as a man. Using the term “man,” for them, is simply incompatible with who they believe God is. His qualities, his being, his glory, his intelligence, his influence, his power, his truth, his light, his mercy, his justice, his compassion, his love, his charity, his spirit, his knowledge, and his eternity are so far above that of mortal man as to make it difficult to continue to describe him as man. That is why we call him “God.” He has evolved from a man into a God. These fundamental differences between man and God caused Moses to exclaim, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10). Other prophets have likewise proclaimed, “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth” (Helaman 12:7; cf. Mosiah 4:2).

  27. Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Lincoln, I’ve always interpreted the phrase that Adam “is many” to refer to the many worlds created by God, but it is good for us to understand other interpretations. The scriptures are ambiguous enough that we need to realize that our interpretations aren’t necessarily the only correct ones.

  28. Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Allen, I agree, both with the other reasonable interpretation you suggest and with your allowance for multiple correct interpretations.

    Bryce, I full heartedly agree with your applications of Paul’s and Joseph’s admonishments to remember that we are inter-dependent in these matters. Exaltation is about family, which begins in the home, but doesn’t stop there. It extends to all of humanity and ultimately beyond. The “Day of Transfiguration” spoken of in the D&C is a reference not just to individual transfiguration, but to the transfiguration of the Earth, in preparation for making it our heaven and celestial glory.

  29. rob
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I can see where it is easy to look at supposed simple organisms and think it would be rather simple or explanatory to believe just adding one simple step at a time until you get to our complex human forms. This is how most evolutionary models are built. The problems arise however at the microbiological level, especially down ant the DNA level where the actual intelligence or design of complexity comes into play. As far as we know, all life forms are made from DNA, even the simplest of life forms are made from this highly complex DNA. A leaf that falls un-noticed from the tree in my front yard contains more complex intelligent information than the entire database from NASA. Evolutionists like to propose this or that theory to try to re-engineer how intelligence like that of DNA can come about in a natural environment with no intelligent cause to help it along or guide it. In over 50 years of experimintation, science has been wholly and completely baffled on even creating one piece of intelligent information through naturalistic means. They keep bragging up how they have simulated building certain building blocks of life in their labs through naturalistic processes. So what, who cares? DNA is intelligent information which is different- wholly different than mere ingredients for life. Intelligence is not a part of naturalistic laws nor a result of it.

    Of all the phenomenon that exist in our known universe, “intelligence” and why or how it exists trumps all other known phenomenon. There is no bioloigic code for intelligence that we know of, there is also no known mathematical equation for intelligence either.

    All the known evidence suggests that we are part of a design by a pre-existant intelligent force, entity, thing, etc. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor showing that there is intelligent “purpose” in nature that is not caused by nature itself. Nature itself provides no answer whatsoever on why or how intelligence exists only that nature supports this intelligence through what we define as natural laws. After all the valid contributions that science has made, we are still left with the most important question- how and why does intelligence exist? Its clearly a quest that modern godless science has no answer for whatsoever.

    At some point we have to recognize where the facts are pointing us. And where is that? In the direction that intelligence is not the mere product or sum of naturalistic laws, even if you throw a hundred trillion years at it.

    I have always been interested in computer programs that deal with artificial intelligence because it is kind of neat to see the advances we can make in mimicking true intelligence. Even though we can create very complex mathematical programs to account for a myriad of different scenerios and create the illusion of intelligence, no part of the program takes upon itself the ability to be truly intelligent and come up with new and useful intelligent information on its own. It can only do what it is programmed to always do. Chemicals and matter also operate on strictly mathematical terms and values similar to a computer program. We can create quite the interesting set of things that have use and function in the lab, even biological function. But all of that is the mere design of an intelligent force or cause. We know that chemicals and matter do not just randomly assemble by themselves and create and entire sustainable ecosystem on its own. Natural laws are inadequate for writing out the instructions for intelligence and purpose. Just as the computer program is unable, on its own, to rewrite an new and useful program, so is mother nature.

  30. Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Rob, thanks for replying. I won’t make time now to respond as thoroughly as I’d like. I’ll just say that I disagree, and the disagreement stems from underlying assumptions that you and I are making differently. This doesn’t make either of us evil or stupid, of course. To illustrate the contrast, I fully expect that our present software engineering efforts, not merely mimicking intelligence, will prove to have been the beginning of the creation of our spirit children. I know you disagree. On April 5 of next year, one of the world’s foremost authorities on artificial intelligence, Ben Goertzel, will be a keynote speaker in SLC at the Mormon Transhumanist Association conference, along with Richard Bushman, the well-known Mormon expert on Joseph Smith history. I invite you to come, share in the experience, and engage in the debate! http://transfigurism-2013.eventbrite.com/

  31. rob
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    So what about someone like me- The more I study evolution and intelligent design, creationism, etc. the more I am swayd in the direction of where the evidence lies- that of there must be an intelligent designer and my whole reason for being here is because of the actions that intelligent designer took. I also look to the scriptures that teach a literal Adam and Eve, a global catastrophic flood, and also resurrection and eternal life. Where am i to believe? I do see eveidence for a global catastrophic flood which leads me also to believe that resurrection and eternal life are also possible. I place my “faith” in the written record of man down through the ages which is supposed to be written by men inspired of God. I could ditch all that and believe in evolution…

    My point here is that we all have the ability to see with our own eyes and be led in that direction of evidence we see. We obviously do not interpret the evidence all the same. You think it incomprehensible for someone like me to believe the way i do and yet i see you as the same way. This only tells me that there is more than one way to look at the evidence and make conclusions. Now as for the correct conclusion, at this point we cannot be sure. Just as there is no factual evidence we evolved from a lower order of species, so is there no factual evidence that resurrection is and has happened. But where do we believe and why? That is paramount to it all and trumps all else.

  32. Posted November 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    You noted that “intelligence is not a part of naturalistic laws nor a result of it.” But yet we see that God has established many laws, and by our obedience to them we grow and progress and gain more knowledge and intelligence. How do we explain this?

    19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:19–21)

    It seems to me that nature is “obeying” God’s laws (as we are explicitly told in the creation accounts), and by so doing is becoming more complex and intelligent over time. That is how we become more intelligent too.

    I think a good example of intelligence arising from laws is IBM’s Watson supercomputer. Through the algorithms created by programmers, they set up some laws by which the computer operates. It is through obedience to these laws that the computer was able to be victorious against Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. The computer was able to intelligently understand a question which had never been posed to it before, through natural language analysis, and by searching through its “memory,” recognizing patterns, and establishing relationships, was able to formulate a correct answer. This seems like intelligence to me. Posed complex questions, the computer was able to come up with new and useful intelligent answers, on its own, by using the algorithmic laws programmed into it. In this case, man set the laws in place, and then nature ran its course. The computer beat man at Jeopardy, which for most would be considered an intelligence test.

    I don’t think we disagree in the presence of God who is in charge of it all, but his level and type of involvement. Did he directly create the intelligence which exists, or did he set up laws by which it could grow and flourish, and bless those that obey the laws with more intelligence? Either way, God is the creator. Whether God feeds knowledge directly into our brains, or gives us laws and commandments by which we can gain knowledge through obedience, we can both still see God as the ultimate source. If I read a good book, I gain knowledge and intelligence, because reading is a law by which intelligence is gained (D&C 88:118; D&C 109:7, 14; D&C 90:15).

    I think we look at evidence differently. I see scientific evidence in the earth as near certainty that evolution happened. I also have evidence through faith and spiritual witnesses that God is our creator. The conclusion that I make is that the two types of evidence must be harmonious somehow. I don’t see any evidence (scientific or spiritual) for a literal interpretation of the creation accounts, although it also depends on what you mean by “literal.” I don’t believe the earth was made in 7 24-hour periods, I don’t believe the earth is 6000 years old, I don’t believe Eve was literally made from Adam’s rib, I don’t believe that Lucifer came into the Eden as a snake, etc. There is no evidence we can point to that these things are literally true, neither scientific or spiritual. They are symbols, like nearly everything that we are taught in the temple is symbolic. Taking them as evidence of how things literally are I perceive is problematic, and can lead us to incorrect conclusions. The written record of man, especially when it dates to the very beginning of mankind, is most likely symbolic of much greater realities that we are only beginning to comprehend (President McKay once noted towards the end of his life how he was only beginning to understand the meaning of the endowment). Placing our faith in the scriptures does not always mean understanding it literally, but rather trying to understand the greater realities for which it represents. Evolution may be one of those greater realities which helps to explain the world around us.

    Yes, we only have spiritual evidence of the resurrection and eternal life right now. These are also much greater realities that we are only beginning to comprehend. Someday we will have scientific evidence for it as well. Can we explain what resurrection is, and how it happens at a molecular level? No. Instead of a magical thing, Brigham Young once noted that we will someday be taught the ordinances and keys whereby we can resurrect the dead. We will then understand how to organize matter, and how resurrection works at the most elementary levels.

    I think we need to take all evidence into account, both scientific and spiritual, in order to come to a knowledge of the truth. “To be learned is good if [we] hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29).

  33. Posted November 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    … we’ll learn how resurrection works. Yes! We’ve got to learn how to be Gods, the same as all other Gods have done before.

  34. Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Nice synopsis of some of the information out there. I think you present a lot of points with a good amount of evidence and solid logic.

    The answer I find most palatable on this topic is one of “I don’t know.” Elder McConkie once taught that we should be wise enough to say we don’t know if we don’t know (although, ironically, that was said in the context of criticizing views in favor of scientific evolution). I find the topic one of the more perplexing issues where current doctrine doesn’t seem to easily mesh with the growing body of solid literature. I try to keep tabs on the latest evolution findings and will re-evaluate every once in a while to see if I have made any progress one way or another.

    My best understanding of the relationship between evolution and the atonement has me leaning against the implications of scientific evolution as we currently understand it. But I can neither make sense of the contradictions logically or yet claim revelation about the matter.

    In the end, however, I am of the perspective that science and religion are ultimately synonyms, save neither currently aligns with the other.

    For anyone who is interested, I picked up a book several years back that I found to be a mostly complete summary of “authoritative” church statements on evolution:

    Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (William E. Evenson & Duane E. Jeffrey, 2005).

  35. Eric
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Lincoln, good question – I’m glad you asked it.

    I didn’t mean my comments to imply that exaltation is achieved outside of a community. We know (and I eagerly look forward to the day) that Christ will bring all things in one in Him. And I also agree with Elder Nelson’s statement (quoted by Bryce above) that while salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter.

    What I meant by my remark was merely that if I achieve exaltation – the kind of life that God lives – I will be the same person that I am now, at least in essence. The same spirit comprising (if we understand this matter correctly, which we probably don’t) the same intelligence, and inhabiting the same body (though glorified and perfected). I meant to compare that to scientific evolution, by which progress is made only as generations are born and die. The amoeba from which the blue whale evolved (if I can speak somewhat simplistically) no longer exists, whereas the exalted me (for which I hope with all my heart) will still be me.

  36. Eric
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink


    Thanks again for your reply and for your thoughtful treatment of the subject. I feel like I understand better what you meant by what you said. As I said before, I’m so glad you’re creating a space for discussions for these to be held. There is so much we don’t know, and it’s fun to push the limits of our knowledge.



  37. Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Kurt, thank you. I have also heard that the book Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, by Trent D. Stephens, Jeff Meldrum, and Forrest B. Peterson is also good. I’m interested to read this one.

  38. Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate your contributions to the conversation Eric. Thank you.

  39. rob
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to touch again on artificial intelligence. You mentioned the super computer Watson. With computer programs, machinery,etc, there is no such thing as “obedience”. Programs only run a program built by an intelligent designer that will only and always do “if this then that” operation. Every decision isnt really an intelligent decision but rather just the sum result of a running program that is and must be mathematically correct. Is Watson capable of true intelligence? Absolutely not. But, is the computer itself the sum result of a process of intelligence? You bet, the computer is a design with a purpose that carries out specified information and intelligent operations. But all of that is entirely and solely because of the intelligent designers who made it for that purpose. As we relate this analogy to life, we see that complex biologic bodies operate the same way- there are obvious functioning bodies that carry out intelligent operations with both specified complexity and purpose. The program life uses is DNA. But there is another element at play and this is where the rubber meets the road. That element is “intelligence”.

    Just as we can say that the super computer is in many ways the same or similar to the function and purpose of DNA, it serves no purpose without the intelligent designer to operate it, comprehend it, and control it. DNA serves no purpose if intelligence does not first exist. This tells us something very important about our origins. It tells us that there must be a designer behind it. Just as we know that Watson didn’t develop on its own, we can also know that DNA didn’t develop on its own either. DNA requires intelligence to understand, comprehend, and control it. It is the very signature of intelligence itself. Natural laws do not build super computers. Neither do natural laws build languages such as DNA that can only be comprehended by intelligence.

  40. Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I believe (at least, I hope) we all can agree on one thing: truth is truth and can’t contradict itself. The time will come (likely during the Millennium) when truth in science will agree with truth in religion. Until then, we all have our own interpretations of things. I’ve written a paper giving one way that evolution could be reconciled with the fall of Adam. For those interested, here and here are the links to the paper.

  41. Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I know I’m a little slow on commenting but I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your postings on death before the falll and evolution. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  42. Posted March 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    The Joseph Smith Foundation website has an excellent collection of quotes and articles that refute your conclusions. Have you had a chance to look through this information? In particular, I find it interesting that you quote Brigham Young in a way that helps your case, but on the JSF website, there is an interesting Hugh Nibley quote (from his “More Brigham Young on Education” lecture):

    “Brother Hugh Nibley once commented that the purpose of Brigham Young University as envisioned by Brigham Young was to confront the false doctrines promoted in Darwinian evolution.

    “The purpose of the BYU, then, is to challenge the reigning philosophies of Darwinism and what today is commonly called Social-Darwinism —not to forbid their teaching but to present the gospel alternatives to it. Instead of which we still embrace both with uncritically open arms . . .” ”

    Source: http://www.josephsmithforum.org/research/faqs/14-byus-purpose-was-brigham-young-university-established-to-refute-the-theories-of-darwinism/

    The Joseph Smith Foundation (which I am not associated with in any way) addresses a great many of the issues that you have raised in relation to this discussion (death/other creatures before Adam, etc), and the conclusions all seem to point away from evolution. You will find the topics listed on their website here, with links to the relevant information:


    I should close in saying that I love this website, and greatly appreciate all the work you do in promoting a deeper understanding of the temple, I just find the JSF materials more persuasive on this issue.

  43. Posted March 13, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your comments D. Rolling. There is certainly a wide range of opinion on the topic.

    We must make sure we are comparing apples to apples, however. When people refer to the philosophies of Darwinism, or Social-Darwinism, they aren’t referring to the scientific theory of evolution. Social Darwinism, for instance, is defined as seeking to “apply biological concepts of Darwinism or of evolutionary theory to sociology and politics.” Such an application of a scientific concept to social policies some believe has led to the ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism, fascism, and Nazism. Note that “biologists and historians maintain that [this] is rather a perversion of Charles Darwin’s ideas,” and that “social Darwinism is not a necessary consequence of the principles of biological evolution and that using biological evolution as a justification for policies of inequality amounts to committing the naturalistic fallacy. Charles Darwin did not subscribe to this ideology.”

    Nibley had some interesting things to say about pre-Adamic life in “Before Adam“:

    Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation—for our scriptures allow them such. Nor am I overly concerned as to just when they might have lived, for their world is not our world. They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared. God assigned them their proper times and functions, as he has given me mine—a full-time job that admonishes me to remember his words to the overly eager Moses: “For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.” (Moses 1:31.) It is Adam as my own parent who concerns me. When he walks onto the stage, then and only then the play begins.

    Just a few weeks ago my wife and I took our family to visit the new Natural History Museum of Utah, up at the University of Utah. There they have a whole wall dedicated to the evolution of humans, similar to this one, with casts of the skulls of various hominids extending back millions of years.

  44. Posted March 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Brigham’s comment was addressing both Darwinism and Social-Darwinism, two separate issues he apparently intended to teach “gospel alternatives” to.

  45. Posted March 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    There is one point that we all seem to have missed. If we take a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden story, mortality didn’t come into existence until after Adam and Eve had partaken of the fruit. This means that the creation as depicted in the first part of Genesis wasn’t the creation of our mortal world.

    Science and evolution are concerned with the mortal world and have nothing to say about the creation prior to A and E partaking of the fruit. No details are given about the creation of the mortal world after A and E partook of the fruit. In addition, evolution only pertains to our mortal bodies. It does not pertain to our being spirit children of our Father in Heaven. So, the religious paradigm tells us that the world became mortal, and we have to look elsewhere to know how our physical world was created. I look to science for the creation of our physical world, and so far, at least, evolution is the best explanation that science has of that creation.

    I don’t understand, at all, the conflict between science and religion about the creation. Science is concerned with the creation of our mortal world. Religion says nothing about that creation but tells us about a spiritual creation that happened prior to the creation of our mortal world. The two paradigms do not intersect, and they don’t conflict with each other.

    People who disagree with this interpretation will have to disagree with the religious part of Genesis that clearly says that A and E would die if they partook of the fruit, that is, the world would become mortal.

  46. Posted March 21, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    RE: The comment from Nibley about the pre-Adamic people.
    The trouble with some of Nibley’s writings/lectures is that he had a very dry humor that was sometimes difficult to detect, especially in print. In several of his Book of Mormon lectures, he made some offhand comments about Joesph Smith’s having written the Book of Mormon, which may have been taken out of context by those who were unfamiliar with his beliefs.

    On the other hand, there are places where he made lengthier comments in opposition to what you are deriving from the quote about pre-Adamic man. Here is one of them; it is from lecture 109 of his Honors Book of Mormon class:

    “It shows that the beginnings of civilization everywhere do not slowly emerge from a primitive background, as my Professor Wilson used to say at Chicago in Egyptology—infinitely, gradually, and painfully they worked themselves up. For all these species to adapt themselves to their peculiar ways of life, it must have taken millions of generations because it had to be just hit or miss. It had to be natural selection, so it went on so slowly [they claimed]. But the fact is the thing has been interrupted—bang—again and again. Remember we started out mentioning extermination. There have been great extermination periods, and periods very near extermination again and again. Well, this was a thing first pointed out in the sixties by Schindewulff, which he called neocatastrophism. He showed how again and again nearly all of the predominant life forms suddenly disappeared, and in their place different ones suddenly emerged.”

    I am not sure how Prof. Nibley can be referring to civilizations suddenly popping up and subsequently being exterminated all throughout history if he believed in evolution.

  47. Posted March 21, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Nibley changed his mind sometimes. He noted, at least once, that he shouldn’t be held to what he said or wrote 2-3 years prior, because knowledge was constantly changing, in flux, and scholarship, including his own, was always improving and adjusting to new information.

    As for this particular quote, there have been mass extinctions throughout history (i.e. dinosaurs), which seem to have precipitated some of the most significant evolutions of life. The extinction of dinosaurs cleared the way for mammalian life to take hold.

  48. Heather Colby
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    My grandfather, A. Lester Allen, taught science at BYU for many years. He wrote extensively about the s0-called conflict between religion and science. His work was intelligent and faithful, and simple in it’s theory. “Science and Theology: A search for the uncommon denominator” is perhaps his most well-known piece. https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/BYUStudies/article/view/5804

  49. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    the fact that God commanded us to reproduce after our kind troubles me because I do accept evolution as part of the process that God used to create the universe. Although commanding us to reproduce after our kind leaves a window open for evolution, at the same time it doesn’t because to evolve into a different species you would no long be the same kind of creation, you would be of a different kind. Can anyone reconcile this discrepancy?

  50. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Bryce, in regards to my first post, you did address that issue in your article, however, it shouldn’t matter how gradually a species changes, you can’t fulfill God’s command to produce after your kind if your offspring eventually change into a different species, so how do you reconcile that?

  51. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    in the end may be I’m just using too narrow of a definition of “after their kind” and may be God intended more flexibility in that phrase than I’m allowing it to have.

  52. Posted April 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Andrew, in my science and Mormonism blog, I have a post giving my reasons for believing that creation after their kind and evolution are both important in creation. I won’t go into the details here, since my essay is online for all to read, but I will say that evolution without “after their kind” would lead to instability in creation.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


Olark Livehelp