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  1. Jack

    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.

  2. rob

    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.

  3. @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?

  4. @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.

  5. @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.

  6. 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

  7. Eric

    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.



  8. 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.

  9. rob

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. rob

    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.

  13. 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.

  14. rob

    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.

  15. 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.

  16. rob

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. Eric


    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.



  19. Alece

    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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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).

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. rob

    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.

  26. 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/

  27. rob

    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.

  28. Rob,
    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).

  29. 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).

  30. Eric

    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.

  31. Eric


    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.



  32. rob

    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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. Andrew Lacayo

    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?

  41. Andrew Lacayo

    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?

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