Mormonism and Evolution

January 7, 2004 | 21 comments

Evolution has been a topic of much debate in many Christian churches, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). Members fall into various categories: those who reject evolution outright, those that accept some principles of evolution, and those that accept the theory of evolution in its entirety thus far. I fall into the middle camp since I accept some principles of evolution such as adaptation and natural selection, but I find some parts of the theory problematic. However, I believe that the theory of evolution is currently the best scientific theory that attempts to explain how life began on Earth. I also don?t think that the theory of evolution necessarily precludes belief in God.

As an LDS biologist, I?ve taken several courses on evolution and I?ve extensively read papers on both sides of the evolution/creation debate. In this essay, I will focus mainly on the pro and cons of evolution, and its place in LDS theology. The pros and cons of creationism will not be discussed here.

Natural Selection and Adaptation
First of all, I have no problem with the concepts of natural selection, adaptation, and speciation. Natural selection is basically the increase in a subset of individuals in a population of organisms based on their increased adaptability to their environment. Adaptation is the process whereby an organism?s physiological structure, function or habits change so as to allow it to survive in new surroundings. I?ve observed natural selection, adaptation, and speciation in the wild when I was working as a fish biologist in the US Forest Service. Several species of non-native trout were planted in Utah streams and lakes many years ago and over time, because of their increased adaptability to their environment, they pushed out the native trout species. I also observed the crossbreeding of farm-raised non-native rainbow trout with native cutthroat trout, resulting in a hybrid subspecies that has characteristics of both species. These are phenomenon that can be observed and documented.

Now where I start having problems is with the beginning of life on Earth and the emergence of today?s creatures from a primitive cell. This part of evolutionary biology relies many on the interpretation of the fossil record, the relatedness of genes, and experimental chemistry based on numerous assumptions about the conditions of prebiotic Earth. This type of science is more speculative because one draws conclusions about collected data without observing the actual processes that produced the data.

The RNA World Theory
The prevailing theory for the beginning of life is known as the RNA World theory. The genetic material within each of our cells is known as DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, and forms double-stranded sequences of 4 different chemical bases. A related chemical compound also found within our cells, known as RNA or ribonucleic acid, forms single-stranded chains, and is involved in transcription and translation of our genes into the building blocks of our bodies, proteins. RNA is also the genetic material in some viruses. Typically, proteins called enzymes catalyze the chemical reactions that keep our cells running, but some unique chains of RNA have been shown to catalyze simple chemical reactions. Now because RNA is chemically simpler and can act as an enzyme in some cases, many scientists theorize that the first beginnings of life consisted of simple sequences of RNA catalyzing reactions, such as polymerization and copying of other RNA sequences, i.e. an RNA world.

The major problems with this theory are basically questions of organic chemistry and the natural selection and heritability of these molecules over time without the advantages of a full-fledged living cell. I won?t go into details of the chemistry, but I?ll outlines the basic problems that need to be solved in order for the RNA world theory to be more plausible. First, the prebiotic soup was thought to be composed of a mixture of various simple organic compounds, some possibly arriving by hitchhiking on meteorites. Assuming that all the chemical reactions occurred that are needed to form sequences of self-replicating RNA, how are the products of these reactions enriched and selected for when there are many competing reactions occurring at the same time? Second, all the chemical reactions needed for formation of self-replicating RNA sequences from simple organic compounds are highly improbable events. The prebiotic chemical reactions that are thought to have formed the basic building blocks of RNA have not been reproduced the laboratory as of yet. No known natural ribozymes can catalyze template-directed polymerization of RNA, although some have been artificially synthesized and selected for in several labs.1

In fact, the products of these hypothetical chemical reactions are so difficult to obtain (read improbable), that some scientists believe that an even simpler self-replicating system must have arisen first. Some scientists have suggested that amino acid / nucleic acid hybrids called protein nucleic acids (PNAs) or inorganic clays with self-replicating crystals as the first ?living? organisms. Leslie Orgel, a prominent biochemist at the Salk institute, believes that PNAs or RNA are still too complicated.

“We want something really simple, like a polymer of aspartate and glutamate [two very similar amino acids]. Anything much more complicated than that is implausible. It’s so hard to make RNA. If nothing simpler can replicate, that would be a strong argument for the existence of God.”2

But the evidence for these theories is scanty and also left unexplained is how a PNA- or clay-crystal-based organism switched over to a DNA / RNA-based organism.

Another big problem for evolutionary biology is how the random organization of bases of RNA and later DNA coded for proteins that actually did something to increase the ?organism?s? fitness. If you throw a jumble of amino acids together, most likely you?ll get proteins that do nothing except sit there in an aggregated mess. To put it bluntly, what we have for the beginnings of life is science?s best guess as to the chemical make-up of the prebiotic Earth and a long string of improbable events that somehow lead to an organism that was able to perform all the biochemical reactions to keep it ?alive? and to be able to pass these traits onto its offspring.

After the first living cells appear in the fossil record about 3.9 billion years ago, then I have fewer problems with the theory of evolution. I think it is possible, though not highly probable for modern multicellular organisms to have gradually evolved from single-celled organisms, a process called macroevolution. I have often wondered if 3.9 billion years is sufficient time for modern organisms to evolve from a single cell via natural selection. But calculating the amount of time necessary for evolution of modern humans is a herculean task that involves numerous assumptions as to the rate or rates of mutation, and the ratio of beneficial to harmful to neutral mutations, and the rate of transmittance of mutations to offspring. David A. Plaisted, a professor of computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, performed such a calculation3 and concludes that his study neither supports nor disproves evolution based on his many assumptions. Basically he shows that both evolutionary biologists and creationists can both come up with answers to support their theories based on their biased assumptions. This seems to be a major problem in both evolutionary biology and creationism.

Some evidences in support of macroevolution include the homology (relatedness) of certain genes between distantly related groups and the discovery of transitional fossils. Humans share a 47, 63, 15, and 20% homology (relatedness of genes) with the fruit fly, the mouse, baker?s yeast, and Arabidopsis (a model plant organism), respectively4. Transitional fossils are defined as fossils of species that have morphological features that appear to transition between an older and a younger specimen of a particular family lineage. Some persuasive evidence for evolution of whales from four-legged land mammals are the recently discovered fossilized remains of Ambulocetus natans (estimated at 50 million years old) and Rodhocetus (estimated at 46 million years old)5 Both species have strong tails for swimming, but the former has weight-bearing hind legs while the hind legs of the latter are much smaller and useless for walking on land.

Of course, creationists might argue that the homology of genes between distantly related groups and the presence of seemingly transitional fossils supports their thesis that God created life. Homology might be explained by God?s use of the same tools (DNA and proteins) to create different species of organisms. So-called transitional fossils might be the remains of unique organisms that were in no way ancestors of today?s creatures. However, since science has not been able to prove the existence of God, I would not expect that the scientific community would prefer the creationists? theories. Proponents of macroevolution predicted that transitional fossils would be found and molecular biology has shown that organisms classified as most closely related based on morphology are also most closely related genetically.

Evolution and Mormonism
While many Christians may have a hard time reconciling the theory of evolution and their belief in God, members of the LDS Church may have an easier time based on their unique theology. Although LDS members believe the Bible to be the word of God, they also believe that errors of translation may have occurred or that parts were lost. For example, the Hebrew term for day, yowm, used in the Torah creation account can be translated as a time or an age rather then the 24-hour day as translated in the King James version.6 Furthermore, they believe that the Bible is incomplete because revelation from God to man continues up to the present. More information as to how the world was created may be forthcoming revelation. In addition, some parts of the Bible including parts of Genesis should be read figuratively, not literally. For example, the word ?created? in the creation account is could be thought to denote organization of matter rather than creation ex nihilo. Brigham Young, leader of the LDS church in the late 1800?s commented on the figurative nature of Genesis :

As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and 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.7

In addition, the LDS church has a different view on the nature of God. Contrary to the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity with God being formless and one in three, LDS members view God, his son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate beings with the God and Christ having exalted bodies of flesh and bone. Joseph Smith also taught that God works in harmony with natural laws, rather than by supernatural means: ?True science is a discovery of the secret, immutable and eternal laws, by which the universe is governed.?8 So it is not inconsistent for an LDS member to believe that God created the earth and everything on it, but also believe that evolution may have played some role in the creation. The theory of evolution is man?s attempt to explain the miracle of the creation in terms that are understandable to him.

Leaders of the LDS church have not really taken a stand one way or the other on theory of evolution, except with regards to the creation of man. In November of 1909, the First Presidency of the Church (President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors) released an official statement on the subject of the origin of man.

??It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father?.?9

This statement seems unequivocal in its assertion that man was created by God, rather than evolving from lower organisms. Yet it does not deal directly with the question of how the other organisms arose. Many church leaders have since seemed to be content with letting scientists deal with that issue. The First Presidency under Heber J. Grant in 1931 stated, ?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.?10 So it seems that the debate between evolution and creationism is really a moot point in the LDS community. For as long as one acknowledges God?s hand in the creation, any theory is fair game.

1 Joyce, Gerald F. (2002) ?The Antiquity of RNA-based Evolution.? Nature 418:214-221.

2 Koerner, David W. and Simon LeVay. Here Be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extra- Terrestrial Life. (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000) pg.17.

3 Plaisted, David A. ?Rates of Evolution.? A Creative Perspective. (Jan. 4, 2004).

4 Lesney, Mark. (2001). ?Ecce homology: A primer on comparative genomics.? Modern Drug Discovery 4(11): 26-38, 40.

5 Hunt, Kathleen. (1997) ?Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ.? Talk.Origins Archive. (Jan. 4, 2004).

6 ?The Days of Genesis for Those Who Can?t Read Hebrew.? Genesis Research. (Jan. 6, 2004).

7 Journal of Discourses, (Liverpool Publishers, 1873) 15: 127.

8 Times and Seasons 4:46.

9 Clark, James R., ed. Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 4. Bookcraft, 1970.

10 Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism vol. 4. (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), pg. 478.

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21 Responses to Mormonism and Evolution

  1. Jim F. on January 7, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    A couple of quick notes: why assume that the English term “day” in the KJV means only a 24-hour time period? The four-page entry on “day” in the Oxford English Dictionary shows that the word in English has never been used only that narrowly. In other words, there’s no reason to assume that the KJV translation is either wrong or misleading. To read “day” to mean “a period of 24 hours” is to read things into the text.

    Second, Gordon posted a comment on evolution last month ( I made a comment on that post and am interested in what you think of the comment. I can’t figure out how to get the URL of the comment, but you can get to the comment fairly easily by going to Gordon’s post.

  2. Jim F. on January 7, 2004 at 2:02 pm

    Sorry. For some reason that URL won’t get you anywhere. But you can get to Gordon’s post by going to the archives for 24 December.

  3. clarkgoble on January 7, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    One thing I’ve long wondered about is the meaning of

    The word of the Lord declares that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father….

    As the First Presidency message points out, the meaning of this fairly ambiguous. (It’s interesting that they make a nod to the theology of Brigham Young which was still rather dominate at the time) Bruce R. McConkie wrote on the role of Adam and the meaning of “first man” in Abraham that I’ve long considered interesting. It suggested that Adam was a role and that the name meant first man. I don’t have his writings with me, but I seem to recall his suggesting that in this sense there are many Adams, just as there are many sons and many fathers as roles.

    I bring this up not because McConkie agree with a more open view towards evolution. (Clearly he didn’t) Merely to point out how these words are more open in meaning than we sometimes think.

  4. Nate Oman on January 7, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    FYI: The Scientist over at the Metaphysical Elders, who I suspect of being a biochemist, had a really interesting string of posts a while back on God and genetics. Start here

    and scroll up.

  5. Aaron Brown on January 7, 2004 at 4:20 pm


    I enjoyed your post, but I wanted to nit-pick a couple of things you said, and add a few random thoughts of my own…

    I was a Teacher’s Assistant for Prof. Richard Tolman’s “Bioethics” class at BYU back in the mid to late 1990s for several semesters. In my experience talking about this issue with many students, the most significant causes for LDS opposition to evolution were: (1) exposure to the writings of Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc. on the topic and unfamiliarity with any reason why these works should be treated skeptically (if not outright dogmatic allegiance to these works); and (2) a certain brand of scriptural literalism that can’t possibly square evolution with the Genesis text without falling apart. I didn’t find that deeper philosophical or theological reflection played much of a role in students’ views.

    With respect to (1), there is a particular narrative often given by those sympathetic to evolution (as I’m sure you’re aware) that, when delivered well and thoroughly, can effectively dispel LDS misconceptions about the LDS Church’s supposed “position” on evolution. I have given that narrative many times myself. I refer, of course, to a recounting of the history of LDS leaders’ grappling with evolution throughout the 20th Century as detailed in Duane Jeffries’ 1973 Dialogue article, and in many subsequent articles by others that have appeared over the years. (I believe Gordon provided a relevant excerpt from Bailey’s recent Dialogue article in a previous thread). In my experience, LDS students’ opposition to evolution is fairly widespread, but not particularly deep. That is, I met many students who claimed to “know” that evolution and Mormonism are “officially” incompatible, but who could be made to “know” otherwise after a 15-minute conversation, without much drama.

    With respect to (2), however, I think those who would like to encourage a more evolution-friendly Mormonism are facing bigger problems. Even if evolution is seen as not “officially” incompatible with Mormonism, it is hard for many students to imagine that much of the Genesis text can be read in anything but a narrow, literalistic, non-metaphorical way. Maybe if Blake Ostler taught all our seminary classes, things would be different, but he doesn’t.

    This problem is greatly exacerbated, in my view, when we incessantly focus on issues of “mistranslation” every time we talk about scriptural texts. You say: “Although LDS members believe the Bible to be the word of God, they also believe that errors of translation may have occurred or that parts were lost.” So what? The implication here, intentional or not, is that if only those parts hadn’t been lost or mistranslated, we’d have the scientifically-up-to-date version of Genesis that God originally intended us to have. This is, I think, sheer nonsense. It would be better, in my view, to tackle issues of scriptural literalism more directly whenever the issue of evolution arises.

    Finally, one further thought: I think you are right to read the 1909 Statement as a fairly definitive rejection of the idea that man might have evolved from lower organisms (though perhaps not as definitive as it could have been). One version of the “narrative” I previously referenced likes to read the Statement as essentially neutral on this question, only to be fleshed-out by later developments. It seems clear to me that the statement “These, however, are the theories of men” is unmistakably pejorative, and should be read as such.

    However, I don’t agree that the 1909 Statement’s position has stood the test of time. Only 9 months after the Statement’s release, JFSmith was clarifying his position on the origin of man, saying that whether the first man was the product of special creation, interstellar transplantation, or evolution, was an unanswered question. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact quote handy). The fact that the 1925 re-Statement under President Grant reads as a verbatim version of the 1909, only MINUS the anti-evolution of man rhetoric, is also very telling.

    In short, though it might strike some as an unnecessarily provocative reading, I don’t think the Church’s various statements read as completely consistent with each other. It feels to me like there has been a bit of back-pedaling going on.

    Sorry for the length….

    Aaron B

  6. Ady Hahn a.k.a. fly_killa on January 7, 2004 at 4:44 pm


    I did read your comment from the other thread. I do disagree with it in some respects.

    You said, “I think that the creation/evolution “problem” is primarily a logical one, a kind of confusion of categories. Those on each side of the debate assume falsely that science and religion are parallel or analogous. In other words, they assume that science and religion operate within the same realm, each telling the same kind of truth about the universe, and either one is false and the other is true, or eventually they will converge. I think that understanding is not only false, but dangerous—to both science and religion.”

    I think the creation/evolution problem is, rather, a “method” problem. One is faith-based and one is sensory-based. Both methods involve data collection, but the data is collected differently. Religion collects data using prayer, testimony, the priesthood and other things we would classify as extrasensory. Science uses the 5 senses and numerous gadgets that enhance those senses to collect data. But we have been told by Alma that eventually, our faith will be replaced by knowledge. I have faith that there is a God, but someday I will know because I will see him face to face.

    Scientific knowledge is not as solid as spiritual knowledge because it is always being updated and replaced. It is not based on universal truths, but on data that is collected and interpreted according to our various biases.

    My husband and I were talking about this the other day. God has abilities and attributes that we mere mortals don’t have. God says to Moses in Moses 1, “No man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.” Some kind of change is undergone when Moses is transformed and he is shown a vision of the earth. “Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the spirit of God. And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore.” Moses was not perceiving things with his 5 senses, he had a sort of 6th sense open up to him through the Spirit so he could perceive the billions of particles of the earth and its billions of inhabitants.

    You said, “Science and religion are incompatible for several reasons, but perhaps the most important is that they are not talking about the same things. They don’t deal with the same things; they don’t answer the same questions.”

    I disagree. They are both trying to answer the question of where we came from and where we are going (although it’s true that different assumptions are used).

    In D&C 131 Joseph Smith said, “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.” I believe that like atoms , we cannot see spirit matter, but unlike atoms we don’t yet know how to detect it. We lacks the proper tools. Some day we will have that ability. Then science and religion will definitely collide. Evolutionists like to think that religion and science don’t mix, but I believe it will become more apparent that they do mix as science advances.

  7. clark goble on January 7, 2004 at 4:48 pm

    “Even if evolution is seen as not “officially” incompatible with Mormonism, it is hard for many students to imagine that much of the Genesis text can be read in anything but a narrow, literalistic, non-metaphorical way.”

    Might I also suggest that the text has been read fairly literalistically without necessarily adopting the kind of literalism that Evangelical Protestantism adopts. I don’t recall the details of the 1973 Dialog article, but I think both Brigham Young and Orson Pratt offer interesting approaches. (Although both also adopted some elements as figurative, as Brigham’s lecture at the veil shows) That’s why I find the nods towards Young in the early statements towards evolution in 1909 and around the 20′s so interesting. Especially considering that Widstoe, Talmage and Roberts were dramatically opposed to a lot of Young’s theology.

  8. Ady Hahn a.k.a. fly_killa on January 7, 2004 at 4:58 pm


    Great comments. Of course some may take the problem of mistranslation and imply that a completely correct translation would solve every problem, but that was not my intention in bringing it up. A more correct translation would probably only add more “wiggle room” for assertions that Genesis shouldn’t be read literally. But you must admit that more complete version of Moses’ vision as found in the Pearl of Great Price adds a lot to the creation account.

  9. Jim F. on January 7, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    Notice that you use a broad version of the scientific model of understanding as the model for understanding religion: data collection. On that model, there is a sense in which science and religion are the same, namely they both collect and analyze data to come to conclusions. Why should we believe that description of religion is accurate? Put another way: why should we believe that science, broadly understood as data collection, is the model for understanding what religion does?

    There are lots of other ways of thinking about knowledge besides data collection. Aristotle names five: ethico-political knowledge, practical knowledge (e.g., how to make a pot), knowledge of first principles (what we would call “axioms”), deductive knowledge, and “wisdom,” which combines the latter two. Ther are other ways of seeing the varieties of kinds of knowledgde. But you assume–as people very often do–that all knowledge is a matter of data collection, so religious knowledge is a matter of data collection. You say that religion and science don’t collect or process their data in the same ways, but they are both matters of collecting and processing data. Why should that be the way in which we think about religion? If it isn’t the way that we think about religion, then a lot of the questions we ask about the relation of science to religion as well as a lot of the problems that we find in their relation disappear.

    In short, your response does exactly what I suggested is a mistake: it assumes that science and religion are parallel or analogous, that they deal with truths that are somehow comparable but will eventually converge. Since your response assumes the very thing I argued against, it begs the question.

  10. Jim F. on January 7, 2004 at 5:05 pm

    RE the translation of Genesis: It isn’t clear what the relation between Moses and Genesis is. We often assume that Moses is a translation of the same text as Genesis, with parts restored that were removed from the original text. But it may be the translation of a different but related work, such as a translation of material on the brass plates.

    We have at least four scriptural accounts of the creation: Genesis, Moses, Abraham, and the temple. It is impossible to make those texts harmonize, which suggests that they aren’t all different versions of the same original text.

  11. clark goble on January 7, 2004 at 5:31 pm

    Ady, I’m clearly sympathetic to your view. However even if the scriptures deal with the how or what of creation, it has a very different focus to those questions than say biology. I think that the main emphasis is rather unrelated to a temporal history but emphasizes God’s dominance and our relationship with him. That isn’t to say there aren’t overtones that do relate to science. (And that’s where I suspect I differ from Jim)

    As Jim says the relationship between Moses and Genesis is more complex than some suggest. I’d also point out the issue that Joseph appears to tie the Genesis 1 account to a “spiritual creation” which undermines most of the issues. What that means isn’t clear. I’ve often seen it as the planning meeting prior to creation. But I recognize that is a minority view.

  12. Adam Greenwood on January 7, 2004 at 6:06 pm

    here is a link collecting and reviewing most of the books on Intelligent Design. I haven’t read them and can’t comment.

  13. A Scientist on January 7, 2004 at 7:23 pm

    Ady, I’m worried about your “God of the Gaps” approach to the origin of life question. Yes, it seems unfathomable that chemists will be able to describe early earth conditions that led to life, but the Szostak lab has made amazing advances in the last 10 years to our understanding. RNA-dependent RNA polymerase that are ribozymes, clays that catalyze vesicle formation and division, and so forth could not have been predicted in 1980. Pinning the hopes of religion on some gap that science cannot explain has a disastrous history.

    In my mind it is really a question of the metaphysical assumption of naturalism. I am a thorough-going naturalist, and believe God acts in this world through natural causes. So a purely naturalistic account of the origin of life should be possible in theory though in practice it may not be. I am very skeptical of people pointing out examples that cannot be explained and therefore require some kind of supernatural action. (David Ray Griffin’s “Religion and Scientific Naturalism” is an interesting treatment of these ideas).

    Which leads me to intelligent design. In my mind it is the worst sort of pseudo-scientific nonsense–more pernicious than the regular creation junk science because it uses recent information theory and is too complicated for laymen to understand. The practioners such as Dembski have many PhDs in related fields and so exude a kind of authority, whilst their methods and conclusions are suspect and even incoherent. For those interested, please see the AAAS site for a scientific conversation on ID.

  14. clark goble on January 7, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    To clarify somewhat, what I agreed with in Aby’s post was her comments on science and religion not being opposed. Her other comments I’m a tad more hesitant on. The Scientist mentioned the “god of the gaps” problem. I dislike the god of the gaps because it is essentially an argument from silence. More importantly the gaps get smaller every year. I also agree with the Scientist that Mormon embraces something like naturalism because of our materialism, while largely avoiding scientism.

    One other comment. Aby said, “Scientific knowledge is not as solid as spiritual knowledge because it is always being updated and replaced.”

    I’m not sure this is true. I think spiritual knowledge is updated and refined the way scientific knowledge is. We have mistakes and new revelation increases our understanding. Consider the evolution in doctrine from the time Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon up through the end of the Nauvoo era.

    Truth is truth, of course. But the truths we have are always incomplete. Thus getting a *final* saying of them is impossible. Relativity didn’t throw our Newton’s laws. Rather Einstein explicitly looked at the concepts and sought out assumptions regarding where it applied that might not be accurate. In that way he was able to develop General Relativity and a lot of Quantum Mechanics.

    In the same way while spiritual truths are solid, they are incomplete. Often we confuse the solidity of a part with the solidity of a “whole.” This is unfortunate as it closes off both further revelation as well as God teaching us through other means. Look at how people took the revelation on polygamy back in the 1890′s or the revelation on blacks and the priesthood in the 1970′s. They thought that a notion was complete and solid when it wasn’t.

  15. Ady Hahn a.k.a. fly killa on January 7, 2004 at 11:45 pm


    I’m not advocating the God of Gaps point of view. I’m merely pointing out my problems with evolutionary theory as a scientist. Yes, great progress have been made with ribozymes and clays, but in all of these experiments, there was an artificial selection process going on. I doubt that a similar process occurred in the chaos of the prebiotic birth, but I really don’t care because as a Mormon, it’s really not that important in the grand scheme of things. I’m definitely curious about how science attempts to explain life, but I don’t have a lot “faith” in it at this point. Scientists are biased towards their own belief system whether they want to admit it or not. I am. And science also suffers from the problem of inductive reasoning.

    I agree with much of what you are saying, but I think there are some spiritual truths that are set in stone like God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate beings and have bodies of flesh and bone. That revelation was a huge breakthrough. Of course, over time we may get more details as to what are the implications of that doctrine.

    With scientific laws, it’s not clear that any of them are set in stone. Take gravity, we’re pretty sure about how it works on earth, but we cannot conclude that the way it works on earth is the way it works everywhere in the universe. An exception could pop up at any time and totally change how we think about gravity.

  16. clark goble on January 8, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    Even the meaning of how the Father and Son are separate beings is still very ambiguous Ady. There clearly is some sense in which they are one in a stronger sense than simply having similar interests. Exactly what that unity is tends to not be clear. If you take for instance Orson Pratt’s theology (which I don’t advocate, I hasten to add) then there actually is a shared body in both.

    Likewise while they have bodies of flesh and bone, it seems that the meaning of “flesh and bone” is quite open. At a minimum the flesh and bone bear only a similarity to our own. (Especially from a biological point of view)

    So I think these things are open in a way quite similar to how science views gravity.

  17. Ben on January 8, 2004 at 7:50 pm

    Given that my wife’s degree is in Molecular Biology, and I was a pseudo-biblical studies major (e.g. Near Eastern Studies) at BYU, you can understand why this is the only thing we had a major verbal argument about before we got married. Both our viewpoints have become much more centrist (and agnostic in the greek sense) since then. Her thoughts on creation, as with other scientists I’ve seen, tended to be a response to very fundamentalist worldview, e.g. KJV “a day” must be = 24 hours. It’s unfortunate that many many more memebrs have been exposed to GA opinions who held views of that kind (e.g. McConkie, J. Fielding Smith) than others, like James Talmage, John Widtsoe, etc. Given that exposure, many assume that it’s the official church position. My mother-in-law remarked recently that all of her children, though (falsely) taught the opposite from the pulpit, have gone to BYU and come home saying “Did you know the Church has no official position on evolution?” Here’s a link to the official BYU packet on evolution.

    MArc Schindler’s site has a lot of those other statements by GA’s on the pro-evolution side of the spectrum.

  18. M. Whoolery on November 22, 2004 at 10:06 am

    Is the difference between science and religion JUST about assumptions? Well, I grant that it is about assumptions, but it is not a “just” kind of question. Religion and science are asking and answering different questions with different assumptions and different methodologies. And these matter a great deal.

    We are not talking about two equal worldviews that can “converge” at some future date. We are talking about the revealed will and word of God compared with the conjectures and assertions of men.

    The difficulty in finding a church “position” is that there does not need to be one! Science is ultimately inferior to religion (as you admit earlier) and does not need to justify itself by taking positions on scientific theories. The prophet of God has no need to clarify God’s standing on man’s theories. Ultimately there is no convergence needed. God does not need chemists, physicists, or psychologists to carry on his eternal work.

    We can take all of our academic work as what it is: men and women thinking about, making theories about, and attempting to understand the physical (and psychological for me as a psychologist) world around us. But it is neither more nor less than that. We can do good work by being faithful and honest scientists but ultimately the only thing that will matter is whether we are followers of Christ. I heartily enjoy my work as a psychologist and a professor here in Egypt. But ultimately my commitment as a follower of Christ fully eclipses any scientific endeavor I can achieve. Hugh Nibley was a professor of mine years ago and his belief that influenced me (and has helped me keep a good perspective on the role of my intellectual life) is that nothing we can really learn or accomplish in this life matters that much, or is all that important, except learning to repent and forgive. The rest, he often told me, is “silliness.”

  19. Aaron Screaton on November 23, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Ben that was an ace response, the reason I have came to this site is because my freind asked me where out church stood when it comes to Evoloution. It stands like this, God is the eternal law giver with the mind of and eternal being, humans cannot comprehend the eternal prespective! We simply dont need to prove that Evoloution exists, science simply proves that Jesus did not walk on water and couldnt have! But we as Christians beleive he was above and beyond that hence what ben said, Jesus the Chirst the God of this earth is the very being who is above the skills and theology of men to the extent as he is BEYOND scientific explanation!

    I know this was nothing new said i just wanted to state how i felt Thanks.

    Aaron, England Leeds Mission Leeds Stake

  20. Aaron Screaton on November 23, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    Ben that was an ace response, the reason I have came to this site is because my freind asked me where out church stood when it comes to Evoloution. It stands like this, God is the eternal law giver with the mind of and eternal being, humans cannot comprehend the eternal prespective! We simply dont need to prove that Evoloution exists, science simply proves that Jesus did not walk on water and couldnt have! But we as Christians beleive he was above and beyond that hence what ben said, Jesus the Chirst the God of this earth is the very being who is above the skills and theology of men to the extent as he is BEYOND scientific explanation!

    I know this was nothing new said i just wanted to state how i felt Thanks.

    Aaron, England Leeds Mission Leeds Stake

  21. Aaron Screaton on November 23, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    Ben that was an ace response, the reason I have came to this site is because my freind asked me where out church stood when it comes to Evoloution. It stands like this, God is the eternal law giver with the mind of and eternal being, humans cannot comprehend the eternal prespective! We simply dont need to prove that Evoloution exists, science simply proves that Jesus did not walk on water and couldnt have! But we as Christians beleive he was above and beyond that hence what ben said, Jesus the Chirst the God of this earth is the very being who is above the skills and theology of men to the extent as he is BEYOND scientific explanation!

    I know this was nothing new said i just wanted to state how i felt Thanks.

    Aaron, England Leeds Mission Leeds Stake


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.