Mormons and Evolution

March 10, 2008 | 55 comments
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Elder Packer’s article in this month’s Ensign closes with some thoughts on Evolution that have the potential to stir up a debate on the issue within the Church after several relatively quiet years. The money quote is:

We are taught in Genesis, in Moses, in Abraham, in the Book of Mormon, and in the endowment that man’s mortal body was made in the image of God in a separate creation. Had the Creation come in a different way, there could have been no Fall.

If men were merely animals, then logic favors freedom without accountability. How well I know that among learned men are those who look down at animals and stones to find the origin of man. They do not look inside themselves to find the spirit there. They train themselves to measure things by time, by thousands and by millions, and say these animals called men all came by chance. And this they are free to do, for agency is theirs.

The discussion on evolution within the Church has ebbed and flowed over the years, and has focused generally on two main issues, organic evolution and the origin of man. I’m curious as to how others see Elder Packer’s remarks fitting into that discussion. On the surface, they seem to echo Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s views on the implications of organic evolution on the creation. Elder McConkie viewed any theory which allowed for death on earth before the fall to be at odds with the very idea of the fall (see below for more detail on McConkie’s views).

I personally have tended to view evolution as a non-issue from a religious stand point. Henry Eyring pretty much sums up what has been my perspective over the years in Reflections of a Scientist:

Organic evolution is the honest result of capable people trying to explain the evidence to the best of their ability. From my limited study of the subject I would say that the physical evidence supporting the theory is considerable from a scientific viewpoint, [but] I’d be just as content to find out that God stirred up some dirt and water and out stepped Adam, ready to occupy the Garden of Eden. The only important thing is that God did it. I might say in that regard that in my mind the theory of evolution has to include a notion that the dice have been loaded from the beginning in favor of more complex life forms. In my mind, God is behind it all whether we evolved or not.

Elder Packer’s article, however, appears to frame evolution as diametrically opposed to the Fall of man, which calls into question the legitimacy of Eyring’s point of view and raises a series of questions in my mind. To begin with, I guess I’m still unclear on how views of the creation that incorporate evolution preclude the Fall of man. In my mind, the various accounts of the creation have always seemed vague enough to allow for some flexibility on this point. I also wonder whether this article signals some newfound unanimity among the Brethren on this issue, or whether it is simply an extension of the same discussion that has gone on for a century now. Henry Eyring believed divergent views on scientific issues like evolution were largely due to differences in background and training; is that still a sufficient explanation? President Gordon B. Hinckley didn’t seem very interested in perpetuating this debate, with his passing is this a sign that the debate is likely to be revived? Can Elder Packer’s comments on evolution here be distinguished from Elder McConkie’s? By that, I mean can they be seen as precluding the possibility of the evolution of man while remaining open to the evolution of plants and animals? If one believes Elder Packer’s comments can be distinguished, how exactly does evolution preclude the Fall if applied to man, but not preclude the Fall when applied to the plant and animal kingdoms (which are fallen as well)?

In considering Elder Packer’s remarks, I thought it might prove useful to review some of what has been said before about the issue. I tried to focus mostly on authoritative First Presidency sources (though I couldn’t help throwing in some goodies by the likes of Stephen L. Richards and Bruce R. McConkie for good measure). In retrospect, I went a little overboard, but when it came time to cut, I had a hard time pulling out the scissors (so feel free to read or just skip to the comments).

___________________________________________

In the early twentieth century, the First Presidency waded into the evolution debate as a result of both external events (the centennial of Darwin’s birth and, later, the Scopes trial) and internal events (contention at BYU and disagreements among the Brethren). In 1909, the First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith released an official statement on evolution which reiterated the divine origin of man, man’s creation in God’s likeness and image, and Adam as the primal parent of our race. In 1910, the Improvement Era (edited by the First Presidency), in response to questions about how exactly the physical creation of Adam and Eve took place, published an answer which, in relevant part, said:

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

In 1911, after these statements had failed to resolve bitter disputes at BYU, President Smith penned an article in the Juvenile Instructor asking that biology teachers steer clear of the contentious issue, saying in part:

In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussions in our Church schools we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false. The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world, and much of the talk therefore, about the philosophy of Mormonism is altogether misleading.

Fourteen years later, however, after the highly publicized Scopes Trial provoked more discussion within the Church, the First Presidency under Heber J. Grant published another statement within the Improvement Era, which said in part:

Adam, our great progenitor, “the first man,” was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and, like Christ, he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a “living soul.” The doctrine of pre-existence pours wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man’s origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality.

In 1931, the First Presidency arbitrated a fairly sharp disagreement over evolution between Elder B.H. Roberts and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith. The dispute arose after Elder Roberts had completed a Priesthood manual for Seventies that embraced organic evolution, death on earth before the fall, and pre-Adamites (human-like beings who lived before Adam). Elder Roberts made a presentation of his views and the manual to the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Smith, an adamant opponent of evolution and pre-Adamic theories, made a vigorous rebuttal. The Twelve wrote a memo detailing the dispute and handed it over to the First Presidency. In considering the matter, the First Presidency under Heber J. Grant took no position on the issue, saying neither Elder Smith nor Elder Roberts views constituted Church “doctrine”:

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.

We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding if carried further. Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: “Adam is the primal parent of our race.”

After these deliberations, the Presidency made the decision not to publish Elder Roberts’ manual (it was eventually was in 1994) and imposed a moratorium on the debate. In order to balance Elder Smith’s public-stated views on the matter, however, the First Presidency allowed Elder James E. Talmage to make a speech in the Tabernacle where he forcefully argued that there was death before the fall for millions of years and that pre-Adamites had existed. Over Elder Smith’s objections, Elder Talmage’s speech was published in the Church News and, later, in a separate pamphlet carrying the Church’s imprimatur. Elder Talmage’s speech embraced organic evolution, but rejected the evolution of man, seemingly based on his scientific consideration of the evidence. Regarding the origin of man, he said:

At best, the conception of the development of man’s body from the lower forms through evolutionary processes has been but a theory, an unproved hypothesis. Theories may be regarded as the scaffolding upon which the builder stands while placing the blocks of truth in position. It is a grave error to mistake the scaffolding for the wall, the flimsy and temporary structure for the stable and permanent. The scaffolding serves but a passing purpose, important though it be, and is removed as soon as the walls of that part of the edifice of knowledge have been constructed. Theories have their purpose and are indispensable, but they must never be mistaken for demonstrated facts. The Holy Scriptures should not be discredited by theories of men; they can not be discredited by fact and truth. Within the Gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known. The Gospel is not behind the times, on the contrary it is up-to-date and ever shall be.

Shortly after this, in 1933, Elder Stephen L. Richards penned an “Open Letter To College Students” in the Improvement Era, in which he discussed, among other things, religion, science, and evolution. Regarding evolution and the origin of man, he said:

If the evolutionary hypothesis of the creation of life and matter in the universe is ultimately found to be correct, and I shall neither be disappointed nor displeased if it shall turn out so to be, in my humble opinion the Biblical account is sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole of the process…. If you will take the counsel of one who loves science and reveres religion, permit me to admonish you: Never close your mind or your heart; ever keep them open to the reception of both knowledge and spiritual impressions. Both true science and true religion are the exponents of truth.

In a speech at BYU in 1952, President David O. McKay discussed evolution and religion, saying:

[S]cience dominated by the spirit of religion is the key to progress and the hope of the future. For example, evolution’s beautiful theory of the creation of the world offers many perplexing problems to the inquiring mind. Inevitably, a teacher who denies divine agency in creation, who insists there is no intelligent purpose in it, will [infect] the student with the thought that all may be chance. In the Church school the teacher is unhampered. In Brigham Young University and every other Church school the teacher can say God is at the helm.” (“A Message for LDS College Youth,” BYU Speeches of the Year, pgs.5-6 (Oct. 8, 1952)).

In 1954, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith broke the moratorium on discussing evolution imposed by Heber J. Grant back in 1931 and published a book attacking the theory of evolution called Man, His Origin and Destiny. Shortly thereafter, in 1958, Elder Bruce R. McConkie published Mormon Doctrine, which likewise included portions critical of the theory of evolution. As a result, President McKay received inquiries about evolution from both Church educators and members. Several of these letters (or portions thereof) are available online (see here and here). In the letter to Professor William Lee Stokes linked to above, President McKay said:

On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position. The book Man, His Origin and Destiny was not published by the Church, and is not approved by the Church. The book contains expressions of the author’s views for which he alone is responsible.

President McKay also broached the subject in a speech at BYU in 1956, saying:

“Whatever the subject may be, the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ may be elaborated upon without fear of anyone’s objecting, and the teacher [at BYU] can be free to express his honest conviction regarding it, whether that subject be in geology, the history of the world, the millions of years that it took to prepare the physical world, whether it be in engineering, literature, art, any principles of the gospel may be briefly or extensively touched upon for the anchoring of the student who is seeking to know the truth.” (“Gospel Ideals: Life’s Surest Anchor,” BYU Speeches of the Year, pg. 6 (Oct. 30, 1956)).

Additionally, President McKay and the First Presidency decided that Elder Smith’s book had not been published with Church approval and should not be used as the basis for an institute or seminary course. (Gregory A. Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, pgs. 45-49 (U. of U. Press 2005)).

In private, President McKay expressed a belief in evolution on at least a few occasions and intervened on behalf of professors and instructors whose views clashed with Elder Smiths on several occasions, even authorizing a BYU scientist to write a pro-evolution article in a Church instructional magazine in 1965. In 1954, in a meeting with Professor Sterling McMurrin, President McKay said:

I would like to know just what it is that a man must be required to believe to be a member of this church. Or, what it is that he is not permitted to believe, and remain a member of this Church. I would like to know just what that is. Is it evolution? I hope not, because I believe in evolution. (Id.)

In that same conversation, President McKay offered to stand as a witness for McMurrin in the event that a Church court was held on him for holding these and other views. In another private conversation on evolution, President McKay said:

The thing you need to remember about evolution is that the Lord has never revealed anything about the matter. People have their opinions but the Lord has not revealed the details of how He created the earth. (Id.)

In 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball addressed the creation of man in Women’s Conference, saying:

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

Four years later, President Kimball met with Elder Bruce R. McConkie to discuss a proposed official statement on creation and evolution to coincide with the Church’s sesquicentennial, but it was decided that no statement should be issued. Regarding the proposed statement, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, who himself held strong anti-evolution views, reportedly “acknowledged that the Lord may not have revealed enough [on the issue] to create unanimity among the Brethren” and that “any statement would be ‘unwise’ and serve only to ‘widen differences.’” President Kimball said nothing, however, when Elder McConkie denounced belief in organic evolution as a heresy in a speech at BYU in June 1980. During the speech, he concluded his discussion in terms similar to those used by Elder Packer in this month’s Ensign:

My reasoning causes me to conclude that if death has always prevailed in the world, then there was no fall of Adam that brought death to all forms of life; that if Adam did not fall, there is no need for an atonement; that if there was no atonement, there is no salvation, no resurrection, and no eternal life; and that if there was no atonement, there is nothing in all of the glorious promises that the Lord has given us. I believe that the Fall affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself, and that the Atonement affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself.

In General Conference in October 1984, Elder McConkie again criticized evolutionary theory:

There is no salvation in a system of religion that assumes man is the end product of evolution and so was not subject to a fall. True believers know that this earth and man and all forms of life were created in an Edenic, or paradisiacal, state in which there was no mortality, no procreation, no death.

In 1991, at the request of BYU President Rex E. Lee and Provost Bruce C. Hafen, Professors Duane E. Jeffery and William E. Evenson compiled a packet of “authoritative” statements by the First Presidency on Evolution for circulation to students. The packet eventually included many of the preceding statements as well as Professor Evenson’s 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry (items in this post not included were the statements from Elder McConkie, Elder Richards, and Henry Eyring, as well as a couple of the President McKay excerpts). The packet was reviewed by the Dean of the Religion and the Dean of Biology at BYU as well as BYU’s Board of Trustees, including the First Presidency, seven members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and several other General Authorities. In June 1992, the Board of Trustees approved the packet for distribution and requested that it be distributed along with any other items a Professor chose whenever the relevant subjects were addressed in classes. The intent in creating and distributing the packet was to “avoid the implication that a greater sense of unanimity or resolution of this topic exists than is actually the case.” William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, pgs. 2-5 (Kofford Books 2005)).

Professor Evenson’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Evolution had input from the First Presidency, and, as such, holds some authority on the issue. Professor Evenson’s original submission was quite long and had incorporated explicit feedback from Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Ultimately, however, the First Presidency opted for using only a brief excerpt of Evenson’s article (and, notably, it rejected a significantly more anti-evolution submission written by another member of the Encyclopedia team). To be published alongside the entry, the Church also released the 1931 minutes from the Elder Roberts and Elder Smith debate cited to above. Professor Evenson said the reason for this was made clear to him:

[T]he Brethren did not want to imply either greater resolution on this issue than exists or serious active disagreement among the Brethren themselves on this subject. Their position is still that which was expressed by the 1931 First Presidency, namely that this issues is not central to their calling and mission. (Evenson, Mormonism and Evolution, pgs. 34-36).

Professor Evenson’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Evolution reconfirms the 1909 First Presidency Statement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity…. Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes….

The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again (D&C 101:32-33). In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution, the First Presidency of the Church, then consisting of Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley, addressed all of the General Authorities of the Church on the matter, and concluded, “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church. . .”

Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: “Adam is the primal parent of our race.”

Professor Evenson’s companion Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on the Origin of Man reviews the divide on evolution within the Church:

Many sympathetic to science interpret certain statements in LDS scripture to mean that God used a version of evolution to prepare bodies and environmental surrounding suitable for the premortal spirits…. Certain statements of various General Authorities are also used by proponents of this idea to justify their opinions. Other Latter-day Saints accept a more literal reading of scriptural passages that suggest to them an abrupt creation. Proponents of this view also support their positions with statements from scripture and General Authorities.

While the current state of revealed truth on the LDS doctrine of man’s origin may permit some differences of opinion concerning the relationship of science and religion, it clearly affirms that God created man, that the fall of Adam was foreknown of God and was real and significant, ant that the atonement of Christ was foreordained and necessary to reverse the effects of the Fall. Perhaps because these claims embrace the main doctrinal issues relevant to the condition of man, the description of the actual creation process does not receive much attention from the general membership of the Church or from the authorities.

President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the issue on a few occasions as well. In a 1997 speech he said:

People ask me every now and again if I believe in evolution. I tell them I am not concerned with organic evolution. I do not worry about it. I passed through that argument long ago.” (Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Commemorative Edition, pg. 463 (Deseret Book)).

President Hinckley was also interviewed for a 2002 book by Larry Witham on evolution and religion. The book quotes Hinckley for the Mormon position on evolution and the origin of man:

What the Church requires is only belief ‘that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race,’ says Gordon Hinckley, the Church’s living prophet. Scientists can speculate on the rest, he says, recalling his own study of anthropology and geology: “Studied all about it. Didn’t worry me then. Doesn’t worry me now.” (Larry A. Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible: Creationists and Evolutionists in America, pg. 117 (Oxford 2002)).

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55 Responses to Mormons and Evolution

  1. bfwebster on March 10, 2008 at 4:08 am

    Thank you for that excellent summary of relevant quotes and statements.

    I don’t think I would read anything more into Pres. Packer’s statement other than him stating his sincere belief — and the language he uses indicates (in my opinion) that he is referring only to the actual creation of Adam and Eve’s bodies, not about the creation of the earth itself, the origin and evolution of life on earth in general and certainly not (as per McConkie) whether any death existed on the earth prior to the Fall. Frankly, that pretty much sums up my own opinions, viz., Adam and Eve were literal beings placed or here (into a pre-existing, evolved ecosystem) by God in a not-yet-mortal state, rather that just some particular or arbitrary couple in the evolving hominid descent line. Think of the ending of the original ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ radio series, but replace the shipload of telephone sanitizers and account executives with Adam and Eve. :-)

    As for ‘some newfound unanimity among the Brethren on this issue’, remember that Dr. Eyring’s son — who has a BS in Physics of his own — is in the First Presidency. ..bruce..

  2. Graham Wing on March 10, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Remember, the March issue of the Ensign is supposed to be all about Christ. They obviously weren’t intending for any controversy to come out of the article.
    I hope people take the issue for what it was intended, and end up with a better understanding of and relationship to their Savior.

  3. Marc Bohn on March 10, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Bruce – I’ll be the first to admit that unanimity on this issue is extremely unlikely, but, that said, an Ensign article is still pretty prominent placement. Especially when the Church has seemingly gone out of its way in recent years to suggest that (1) the Brethren don’t all agree on this issue and (2) it’s not important to our salvation.

    Graham – That’s one reason I found Elder Packer’s comments on evolution in this issue so interesting, and I certainly don’t think a discussion on this topic precludes one from coming closer to the Savior through the study of this month’s Ensign.

  4. Dave on March 10, 2008 at 8:24 am

    As quoted, Pres. Hinckley’s position was, “Didn’t worry me then. Doesn’t worry me now.” I suspect it does worry Elder Packer, which is why he speaks out on the subject from time to time. He certainly has the right and even the duty to speak out on issues he feels to be of spiritual concern, as do all senior LDS leaders.

    But unless they yank evolution from the biology curriculum at BYU, this is no new policy or departure from the working compromise on evolution that has served the Church well for two generations. This is Elder Packer making a statement on what is, to him, a spiritual issue (the impact evolution has on the faith of some people). This is not Elder Packer making a statement on a scientific issue. The LDS position is that science is best left to the scientists, per the 1909 FP Statement: “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. . .”

  5. Left Field on March 10, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Brother Packer isn’t really attacking evolution; he’s attacking a caricature of evolution. Much like Ed Decker, Lawrence O’Donnell and their ilk attack their favorite caricature of Mormonism.

  6. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Evolution is a loaded word. Mormons liberals understand it least of all.

    The world (in the biblical sense) says that God had no role in creation. Most of them call that evolution.

    The church says that God had a hand in the Creation and in fact is the Creator in contrast to the world’s belief that God had no part of it (i.e. evolution). If that is their position we are necessarily anti-evolution. How can one be a believer in God and deny that he is the Creator?

    Some Mormons get all confused and they think that God as Creator and evolution are not mutually exclusive. They need to talk to Daniel Dennet about that.

    On the other hand there is no denying some of the artifacts of creation that evolutionists see. But they make a huge leap when they look at these artifacts and drive them back to some spontaneous accident.

  7. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 10:44 am

    “man’s mortal body was made in the image of God in a separate creation”

    I read Packer as saying nothing more than that there were no pre-Adamites. That whatever method God used to create life and earth, Adam and Eve were created separately.

    Some Mormons get all confused and they think that God as Creator and evolution are not mutually exclusive.

    That’s not true. James Talmage, John A Widstoe, and I are Mormon, think God’s creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive, and are not confused. The definition of evolution doesn’t have to include abiogenesis, as you suggest. Mormons typically use evolution to mean natural selection. As did Stephen Jay Gould — he too believed that evolution was compatible with a Creator.

  8. Justin on March 10, 2008 at 10:54 am

    I recall the controversy in my ward when Elder Packer first shared these thoughts back in 1988. I haven’t heard similar discussion this month.

  9. Seth R. on March 10, 2008 at 11:09 am

    “I might say in that regard that in my mind the theory of evolution has to include a notion that the dice have been loaded from the beginning in favor of more complex life forms”
    Henry B. Eyring

    “God does not play dice.”
    Albert Einstein

    “Not only does God play dice, but he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.”
    Stephen Hawking

  10. Marc Bohn on March 10, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Justin – Wow… that’s basically word for word.

    Seth – Love it.

  11. jsg on March 10, 2008 at 11:26 am

    As an LDS biologist, I am fascinated with the topic of creation, but have come to accept that my line-upon-line learning in this life will likely provide only faint glimmers of understanding about how an earth is prepared to house the mortal tabernacles of sons and daughters of God.

    Some interesting insights emerge from the scriptures themselves in support of a very special, “separate” creative event surrounding the introduction of Adam and Eve into the garden. As you scan through Moses 2, you hear God acting as an authoritative voice, and the earth somehow obeying his commands:

    And I, God, said: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered…Let there be dry land…Let the earth bring forth grass…Let the waters bring forth abundantly…Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind…

    It all seems so passive, as though the command came from a distance, and the execution was brought about by the earth and the waters themselves. But this language of a more passive creative process makes a dramatic change once the stage is set for mankind:

    And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so…And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him, male and female created I them.

    This stage was not left to the earth or the waters to accomplish, but was rather performed by God himself.

    A similar pattern is found in the Abraham account:

    And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth…and the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature…and the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind…

    You see, always a passive involvement, or general organization, from which the specific creative products might be dictated by the waters or the earth themselves. And again, notice the abrupt change in format where the creation of mankind is involved:

    And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness…

    Again, a stark departure from the pattern of the creation employed for all other forms of life.

    Based on every creation account we have, I’m with the scientific mainstream on the astounding ability of the earth to bring forth diverse and beautiful forms of life, seemingly on its own. On the other hand, I find Elder Packer’s comments specific to the creation of mankind full of scriptural support.

  12. Lincoln Cannon on March 10, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I’ve been writing a review of Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion”, which argues primarily that evolution is evidence against theism. In my review, I describe a theistic view that is wholly compatible with evolution, as understood by contemporary science. You can begin reading the review here:

    http://transfigurism.org/community/blogs/lincoln_cannon/archive/2007/10/30/3670.aspx

  13. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    If you believe that God created the heavens and the earth and all things in them then it doesn’t matter what you believe about how God did it. The Brethren don’t care. President Packer doesn’t care.

    Modern evolutionists strenuously deny God’s hand in anything. They are drawing the lines. If you admit God to the process you are an “intelligent design” proponent and they will excommunicate you from their philosophy. It is that simple. Widtsoe and Tanner could have used a terminology when the lines were not so rigidly drawn or they could have been confused. I don’t know. But any modern believing Mormon risks a lot of confusion by identifying his creation belief as Evolution given how this word is used today.

    So if you are having a discussion in SS or Priesthood meeting you have common ground with all the saints if you believe that God created the Heaven’s and the earth. If you direct the conversation away from that then you are in error and should be corrected. Its best to leave the word evolution out of the creation discussion.

    ps Did President Packer use the word “evolution” in his article? If not why would we introduce it?

  14. Left Field on March 10, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    “Modern evolutionists strenuously deny God’s hand in anything. They are drawing the lines. If you admit God to the process you are an “intelligent design” proponent and they will excommunicate you from their philosophy.”

    This is the caricature of evolution that I referred to earlier, and it is EMPHATICALLY not true. I know many respected and prominent evolutionary biologists who accept the hand of God.

    “Intellegent design” is an entirely different kettle of fish than simply accepting the hand of God in the process of evolution.

  15. Silus Grok on March 10, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Aloysiusmiller: you sully the discussion by insisting that “evolution” is a loaded term, and that evolution is a Godless transaction. And I resent that. The term is neutral, and while some may believe that God had nothing to do with it, people of a different mind use the term without ejecting God from the process — and they do so without changing the meaning one iota.

  16. Clark on March 10, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Not to belabor the discussion since I confess I’ve been in it too many times to find it interesting. But I’d just say that a special creation for Adam and Eve isn’t incompatible with the idea of pre-Adamites.

  17. WillF on March 10, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    This discussion reminds me of an excellent podcast I listened to over the weekend:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=13&prgDate=03-07-2008&view=storyview

    Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins

    1. Evolutionary biologist and Oxford professor Richard Dawkins sets out an argument for atheism in his book, The God Delusion.
    2. Scientist Francis Collins makes a case for the existence of God in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Collins, an evangelical Christian, headed the National Human Genome Research Project.

  18. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Boil down the semantics however you want but when the brethren talk about creation they talk about a God-creator vs. a cosmic atheistic accident. They don’t talk about mechanism and they more and more eschew the use of saturated words from science. If you agree with the doctrine of a God-Creator then that is the end of the discussion in church. Don’t make an argument for them that they are not making for themselves.

    However they phrased it, the argument has never been evolution vs. non-evolution. It has always been God vs. godless chance.These are two different debates (unless you, like I, choose to define evolution as godless chance.)

  19. Jeff G on March 10, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Intelligent design and theistic evolution are not the same thing. The latter is fairly kosher in the scientific community, while the former is pretty much retarded.

    Where I take issue is with Packer’s use of the word “accident” to describe man. If he means the species homo-sapien, 46 chromosomes and all, then yes, evolution sees “us” as a huge improbability. If, on the other hand, we mean sentient, language using bi-peds, then an argument can be made that “we” were an extremely likely outcome of evolution. I guess it depends on what one means by “in His image” , no?

  20. Left Field on March 10, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    aloysisumiller, you can personally choose to define ice cream as a power tool if you really want to, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else means the same thing when they refer to ice cream.

  21. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    20. That cuts both ways. President Packer didn’t even say evolution so don’t go off and make him arguing something that he is not arguing. He is arguing for a God-Creator. If you don’t believe in a God-Creator you’re hardly LDS. If you do then what can possibly be the nuance in what President Packer is saying that any LDS would take exception to?

    19. What do Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet think about that? The world seems to be according them the right to define this word.

  22. Allen on March 10, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    For those interested in reading a different view of the Fall of Adam — Evolution debate, I have an essay that gives one way that the FoA and Evolution can be reconciled.

    http://www.mormonsite.org/sciencereligion/evolutionadam.html

  23. Anon on March 10, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    FWIW, a few years back I took a freshman physical science class at BYU that Pres. Monson’s son taught. The class touched upon the topics of pre-history man and the origins of life. When these topics came up and before any questions could be asked, he gave an interesting disclaimer on a couple of his experiences talking with his father about the topics. I remember going away with the impression that the brethren are much more “pro-science” than they are given credit for.

  24. Jeff G on March 10, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Dawkins and Dennett say that IDers are not scientists, but theistic evolutionists are. That said, who cares what they say?

  25. Ann on March 10, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    I wondered when I read this post if Pres. Packer had actually made a different statement than the one he made in the 80′s. I don’t read the Ensign much, and I certainly don’t remember old talks from the 80′s, but I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some recycling going on. The talk Justin links to is 20 years old. Is it possible that somebody just pulled it out of an archive as suitable for this month’s Ensign? That he isn’t actually restating anything, but just in reruns?

  26. Clark on March 10, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Isn’t Pres. Packer’s point that anything which neglects the spirit misses the point? And isn’t that fairly self-evident?

    While it seems undeniable that in at least the recent past Pres. Packer disbelieved a lot of evolutionary history it seems odd to me that his comments here are being taken as controversial.

  27. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    24. Chapter and verse? A link please or some other reference. Lot’s of people care what they say. If they create enough momentum for an atheistic definition of evolution then believing in evolution will be accepted as a sign of one’s atheism. Anyway Mormons don’t even need to be in the debate. We all believe God is Creator. We may have a diversity of opinion on how he did it and “when” he did it but that is all personal and happily not doctrinal.

    23. The brethren are always pro-truth. They even have opinions about what is true.

  28. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    aloysiusmiller, please take time to read our comment policy. A link may be found on our side blog, just above Notes from All Over. Your adhering to the same will be greatly appreciated.

  29. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    It may help Ms. Parshall if you pointed out my violation. Have I been ad hominem? I doubt it. Am I insufficiently attuned to nuance and political correctness.? That would be for sure yes since for the life of me and can’t see why you are calling my attention to a policy that I can’t imagine I am violating.

    Is it that I said “we all believe God is Creator”? I thought that was a basic for believing Mormons. Did I forget to qualify Mormon with the word believing?

    Is anyone offended by what I have said? Please speak up.

  30. Ann on March 10, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    29, it’s not that you’re being offensive; it’s that you’re so aggressively, self-righteously wrong.

  31. Ardis Parshall on March 10, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    aloysiusmiller, you skirt very close to violation by condemning others in this and other threads for unrighteousness in not adhering to your pet views. A word to the wise — are you wise? — is sufficient.

    And “Ms.” isn’t necessary. You may call me Ardis or Sister Parshall.

  32. aloysiusmiller on March 10, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Please cite me chapter and verse Sister Parshall? This blog is very well cross indexed and referenceable.

    Does Ann (30) here get a bye? can you find anything I have said that has been as direct an attack as that? She called me self righteous. I have called her nothing nor anyone else.

  33. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    “a special creation for Adam and Eve isn’t incompatible with the idea of pre-Adamites.”

    That depends whether we mean by pre-Adamites “human-like beings before Adam” or “human-like ancestors of Adam.” I read Packer’s “special creation” to refute the latter.

  34. mormonmagmeister on March 10, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    I agree with bfwebster and others that President Packer wasn’t trying to stir up any controversy, particularly in this special issue of the Ensign on the Savior. The way he states it, the creation of Adam’s and Eve’s bodies was “separate,” which is, in fact, how it is presented in the scriptures and in the endowment. President Packer does not delve into what that means. He merely tries to point our minds to the elevated thought that God is the Father of our spirits. The Fall was possible because Adam and Eve were spirit children of God and were placed here after the creation of the Garden of Eden, in an amortal state. I do not believe that the Church has ever had an official doctrine on the exact manner in which the bodies of Adam and Eve were created, beyond what President Packer said. (Personally, I could accept just about any explanation and find that the Church has no need to enter into the debate over evolution.)

  35. mormonmagmeister on March 10, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Here’s the actual link to the special issue.

  36. Jared* on March 10, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Some time ago I collected President Packer’s past statements on this topic here. His most recent statements are recycled from past talks. My sum-up was as follows:

    “Excerpts from Elder Packer’s talks are easily used as blunt instruments which may polarize rather than persuade. When given additional context and taken as a whole, I think they allow for more latitude than is initially apparent. If they are approached with an acceptance and belief in God, the Atonement, moral law, and accountability, the tension with science largely (though not entirely) dissolves. Instead of attacks on evolution the statements become testimonies of spiritual and moral truths, and a caution against adopting a certain philosophy based on, but not actually a part of, science.”

  37. WillF on March 10, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Did I bring up that geneticist Francis Collins who headed the National Human Genome Project is christian? Great interview here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87981110

    He is quoted as saying “Evolution is God’s way of giving upgrades.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins_%28geneticist%29

  38. Ann on March 11, 2008 at 12:02 am

    I get a bye because I’m funny :)

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 11, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    The idea that the death that Adam and Eve chose to experience through the Fall specifically affected not only them but also all other life is an interpretation that I don’t think is actually compelled by the text of the scriptures. Joseph Smith said his key to understanding scripture was to ask what the question was that elicited the answer. The narrative of Adam’s Fall answers concerns about how we, as children of God, came to be in a condition where we suffer and die. I have a hard time imagining that Abraham or Moses was concerned about why animals die, since they must do so to be used as food.

    If we free ourselves from the interpretations that try to extend what the scriptures actually say into broader images that are in our heads but not in the actual narrative, a lot of the conflict between scriptures and science disappears. We are fortunate in having the Book of Moses that makes clear that the creation narrative concerns specifically this earth and its immediate environs, and specifically does not encompass the rest of the universe. The only passage in Genesis 1 that might possible be understood as referring to anything besides the earth, sun and moon is “Let there be light.” That is a slim reed to hang creation of all other stars and galaxies on.

    When we narrow our perspective to imagine ourselves on the surface of the earth watching these transformations, Genesis 1 becomes an outline for the successive stages of earth becoming as it is today. The remarkable thing that I have never seen anyone write about is the fact that the creation myths of all other ancient cultures personify the earth, the sky, the ocean, and then have them interacting in a very human way (through love, anger, etc.) to cause the observed world to come into being.

    Genesis 1 and its Pearl of Great Price parallels, by contrast, presents an orderly succession of development supervised by a master Creator. There is no soap opera involved. Indeed, I think the orderliness invites men to comprehend the creation and to have confidence that there is an underlying order that was put there by the Creator, rather than chaos. It is the foundation for the rise of science as an intellectual structure that mirrors the created world. Down through time, the orderliness of creation has always served as an argument for a mind that placed it in order. The discovery in the 20th Century that the arbitrary physical constants are remarkably fine tuned to create life renews that argument, as Catholic and physicist Stephen Barr has done in his book.

    Despite the arm waving of the National Academy of Science web page, there is still no strong scientific theory explaining the origin of the first living cell. A cell is an automated factory that has not only all the machinery for maintaining and reproducing itself, but also all the instructions for doing so. Both the machinery and the instructions have to be there for life, but how such an entity comes into existence by random chance has been compared to a tornado assembling a Boeing 747 from spare parts.

    Again, if we narrow our perspective, rather than attribute to Genesis a broad view that the story does not necessarily claim for itself, the existence of Adam and Eve could well be due to a special act of Creation, the main argument for this being, as Elder Packer points out, that those two individuals were not subject to death and could not reproduce in the condition in which they were before their Fall. That does not preclude the development of all sorts of other creatures and species, with divine guidance in any individual case ranging from zero to 100%.

    I think the same kind of narrowing also helps us understand the story of Noah. Assuming the truth of LDS belief that the Garden of Eden was a literal place, located around modern Western Missouri, then the actors in the Genesis narrative, and the parallel Book of Moses, are located in North America. But Abraham is clearly in the “Old World” (a title we now see as a misnomer). How do his ancestors get there? They have gone on a long voyage, in the ark of Noah, who sails for a year after the rains stop. The people around him were destroyed, as were many inhabitants of Judea by the Babylonians, and many of the Jaredites, and many of the Nephites. A non-stop 40 day rainfall will indeed “cover the earth” and cause flooding that can lift a large vessel and carry it down a river to the ocean. In 40 days of rain, food crops will die and houses made from adobe can be washed away. Noah’s voyage is mirrored by the reverse voyage of the Jaredites, who sail in the same kind of ships, with the same lighting system.

    A final word on “intelligent design.” For some reason a coupole of commenters have made disparaging remarks about this term, even while viewing favorably the concept of a guided evolution, that produces new species NOT by random mutation and “natural selection” but rather by some kind of guidance that God places into the system at least at the beginning (genetic researcher Francis Collins, and evolutionary biology textbook author Keith Miller) or perhaps at later points in the process of divergence into species. Guided evolution is precisely what “intelligent design” means.

    “Intelligent design” should not be confused by all you intelligent folks with the “young earth creationism” that was advocated by Joseph Fielding Smith and Mike Huckabee. YEC starts from the premises that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the entire universe, not just the earth, and that the “days” of creation mean (a) 24 hour periods or (b) 1000 year periods (based on Peter’s statement about God’s day = 1000 years). These are interpretive choices that are not the only legitimate ones. St. Augustine chose the first notion (and made it even stronger with his “creatio ex nihilo” idea) but rejected the second. After all, if we want to be absolutely literal in reading Genesis 1, there are a LOT of plants and animals that are not mentiuoned by name. Are they part of this creation, or might they have come about in some other process? YEC conflicts not only with Darwinian random mutation and natural selection, but also with geology, nuclear physics (radioactive dating), cosmology and astronomy (with objects seen whose light originated billions of years ago). The scientists who advocate “Intelligent Design” specifically do NOT embrace YEC. they do NOT argue that a scripture text forces us to draw conclusions about scientific theories. A lot of clumsy and ignorant politicans around the country have seized on some of the arguments made by ID supporters as a basis for YEC, without any comprehension of the difference. And the militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Eugenie Scott of the National Science Education Association have done they best to prevent people form understanding the distinction.

    Intelligent Design is a critique of naturalism/materialism/positivism. It points out that random mutation has not demonstrated that it has the inventive talent necessary to create many of the more complex systems in living things. By definition, it cannot look forward to an end state and make gradual modifications in DNA to reach it. Natural selection has to operate at every small intermediate step of the transformation. In other words, every small DNA change between a creature without a feature and one with the feature has to be a life or death difference for the creatures with and without that DNA modification. Biologist Michael Behe has pointed to a number of such systems and challenged evolutionary biologists to map out at least a hypothetical pathway that could be followed by successive small steps of Darwin’s random mutation and natural selection to get to these complex systems, such as the rotating electric motor which is the bacterial flagellum. The response from materialist biologists has been angry or dismissive, because none of them has offered a simple straightforward way that Darwin’s mechanism could do the task. Behe does NOT argue that evolution could not make simple changes. In his latest book, Darwin’s Edge, he argues that the threshold of Darwinian innovation seems to be at the level of less than ten nucleotides, as observed in the development of sickle cell anemia in response toi malaria. Most “evolution” observed ios the breaking of existing mechanisms rather than the creation of new ones. The Darwinian notion of the creativity of radiation and random mutations is the source of much of the last century of monster movies, like Godzilla, but in the real world of radiation exposure what happens is that living things are injured and sometimes die. They do not gain enhanced functions. And we should expect that. Even if Darwinian evolution created current living things, there is great survival value in each hard won function, so mutation is destroying something of value with no guarantee that the replaced DNA will be any better. Mathematical analyses about the serious possibility of random mutations being positive tells us to expect almost no modification of species over millions and billions of years. Rather than graudal changes that Darwin expected, fossils show persistence of form and function and sudden appearance of new forms. It was precisely this fact that led Stephen Jay Gould to offer his theory of “punctuated equilibrium” to explain the quantum nature of the fossil record, including the Cambrian Explosion recorded in the Burgess Shale.

    Since God’s miracles have operated at the gross level of visible objects, as well as at the microscopic level of neuronal function, intervention at the level of DNA to make successive modifications as a mechanism for God to oversee creation appeals to me as the most elegant way to do things. After all, we are at the verge of having that capability ourselves. On what basis can we deny it to God? And it appeals to me more as an explanation for why marsupial dingos are so much like dogs than the term “convergent evolution,” which is simply a descriptive term rather than an explanation.

  40. Josh Smith on March 11, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks for the original post and many of the comments. I’ve learned a lot reading them.

    “The narrative of Adam’s Fall answers concerns about how we, as children of God, came to be in a condition where we suffer and die.” — Raymond

    That is about where I’m at. To me, the Fall is a story about how suffering and death came to a world created by an omnipotent, loving God. For me, Genesis 1 establishes God at the origin. I believe Genesis 1 to the extent that I thank God for the beauty of His creation and the capacity to appreciate that beauty. The extent and wonder of creation amazes me every time I learn something new about it. I really have feelings of worship for God because of the natural world. Genesis 1 makes that possible for me.

    That being said, Genesis 1 does almost nothing for me as a history-of-the-universe text. In my mind, the scientific method is much more powerful at explaining the universe around us. And, it is here that I part with “Intelligent Design” because Intelligent Design is not science.

    Raymond, perhaps you can help me with this. Science seeks to explain natural causes to natural phenomena. “Intelligent Design” places a “Black Box” around certain causes–it says that some things are too complex to evolve, therefore some supernatural event caused them. It removes the object of inquiry out of the realm of science altogether by crediting a supernatural event as the cause. This isn’t science.

  41. Josh Smith on March 11, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    As I read over my last post, it was not my intent to sound challenging or argumentative. The intent of my post was that some day I will be at a school board meeting, or PTA, etc. and the topic of teaching evolution in H.S. (or M.S.) will come up. Right now, I would stand up and argue against teaching creationism in our public schools. I’m a mostly-faithful LDS person and I believe creationism has no place in public schools. Right now, I think Intelligent Design is another name for creationism. I can be persuaded otherwise.

    It is appropriate to read talks like the Elder Packer’s at home and at church and we thank God for creation, and then at school we discuss the scientific method and remarkable fruits it has yielded. Good grief, I think I’m getting argumentative again. I’ll stop.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 11, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Josh: It is ironic that you use the term “Black Box” to refer to Intelligent Design. One of the pioneering works in the field was biochemist Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box.” Darwin had no idea what the mechanism of inheritance for living things was. He had no idea how complex it is. Mendelevian genetics was added to Darwin’s theory to create the Modern Darwinian Synthesis, which is the theory of evolution as now constituted.

    It is all well and good to assert that the Darwinian Synthesis explains the creation of new species. However, there is no basis in science for claiming that this theory has a privileged position, in that it cannot be criticized. Immunity from criticism enforced by ostracism is the kind of defense that was given to Ptolemy’s theory of a geo-centric universe by the Catholic Church in Galileo’s time. The attitude of people like Eugenie Scott and others who want to protect Darwinian evolution from being criticized in schools is evidence that they lack real faith in the strength of the theory. They do not believe it has evolved a backbone so it can stand on its own two feet and withstand competition from other ideas. Strong theories with plenty of evidence to support them do not need protection from challenge or criticism.

    Intelligent Design does NOT assert that every characteristic of every living thing is caused by un unknown intervention. Intelligent design is every bit as much science as is archeology, forensic science, the breaking of codes, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The key question in those branches of science is, Did the facts we observe come about because of INTENT, or are they merely random, accidental outcomes?

    Archeology is interested in determining which artifacts are man made, and which are really natural items that came into being through natural processes. Forensic science tries to determine whether a person dies of natural causes, or from causes that could only have been intended by an intelligent agent, an issue in which people bet their lives. The breaking of codes, screening out what is random what what is meaningful and intentional, is another example where the fate of nations can hang on discerning intelligent purpose behind a state of data. And finally, SETI is a process of sifting through data to determine what might be natural and what might be intentional and thus from an intelligent source. When the Martian meteorite was found late in the Clinton Administration, the controversy centered on whether the small particles on the meteorite were created by a chemical phenomenon, or by biological processes. That is a legitimate question, as are all the others. Seeking the hallmarks of intelligent action and purpose is just as scientific a pursuit as seeking out natural “laws” as causes of observed phenomena.

    Thus, the notion that trying to determine whether something is a product of natural, random processes, or an artifact created by an intelligent entity, is somehow “not science”, is just plain BS. There is nothing in any of the writings of the great scientists that says that intelligent causes must be excluded a priori. Galileo was himself a man of faith, as was Isaac Newton. Henry Eyring was happy to play with ideas for potential natural causes for facts of biology, but since he had faith that the ultimate cause or biological facts is God, I doubt sincerely that he would reject out of hand and effort to propose that a specific natural phenomenon is, more likely than not, caused by an intentional act.

    If we were decoding a string of DNA for an oyster, and found that the string of nucleotides contained a passage that could be decoded by a simple substitution code into the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” would we be forced to say, “This cannot be a real artifact. I must ignore the plain evidence perceived by my eyes and brain because the answer is not natural, and only natural causes can be considered by science”? What if you found out that one of your colleagues had doen a clever bit of genetic engineering and gene splicing and had entered the string into your sample, or even more cleverly, had used a virus to introduce it into the DNA of an entire organism. Would you then say, “No, you could not have done it, because that would be a non-natural explanation, and I can only, as a scientist, consider natural explanations.”

    The whole notion that scientists can consider only “natural” causes for the phenomena they observe is one that was pushed by atheists, who wanted to avoid thinking about intentional causes. The readiness to assume that a natural cause is behind every artifact has made scientists all too susceptible to being deceived by fraud, as in the case of Piltdown Man, and other scientists who have thought they were testing the claims of psychics. Refusing to consider intentional causes cuts off the ability to detect the actions of men with evil intent as well as of God with benign intent.

    The Intelligent Design advocates do NOT assert that we can determine the height, weight, shoe size, or other characteristics of the intelligent actor whose handiwork is evident in certain complex living processes. There might be more than one actor. They could be alien intelligences (such as the ones in 2001). The scientific analysis cannnot tell us any of their characteristics, other than their intelligence.

    Additionally, it is odd that Latter-day Saints should be claiming that ID looks to “supernatural” beings as a cause for what they observe. We believe that, unlike the classical world, and currently many traditional Christians, there is no such thing as “immaterial matter”. Spirit is a more “refined” kind of matter. Having the menagerie of subatomic particles before us, and phenomena like Dark Matter and Dark Energy, whose nature we do not understand, even though it has none of the solidity or electromagnetic visibility of ordinary matter, we are not in a position to insist that there can not be such a thing as material spirits, and a God who is, we insist, embodied in solid matter, so that he has every bit as much philosophical right to interact with matter as any scientist.

    The critique of ID includes the observations I already mentioned, about the unexplainable anthropic coincidences that make the universe hospitable to life, yet seem to have NO natural explanation for being fine tuned in that manner; about the unexplainable transition from inanimate matter to living cells, with their programming far in excess of any computer mankind has devised; and about numerous examples of finely designed and complex mechanisms that, backed up in time one evolutionary step, would not perform any function at all, let alone one that would make a difference in survival.

    If the supporters of the materialist explanation of life are confident of the Darwinian Synthesis, all they have to do is come up with an answer to the very specific question raised in each instances, namely, how could an unguided random process produce this result? And they keep failing. so they resort to name calling and firing professors and censoring waht can be said in public schools in hopes of punishing their intellectual opponents. The materialists love to paint themselves as Galileo being persecuted, but they are in fact Cardinal Bellarmine, the persecutor and censor of new ideas that challenge the power structure.

  43. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 11, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Let me add one last thought that is important for Latter-day Saints to consider. The claim that only “natural” explanations are acceptable has been used to attack Joseph Smith and his testimony of divine messengers and real world objects with divine power. Smith’s First Vision and the entire story of the origin of the Book of Mormon are rejected because they invoke “supernatural” actors. As Hugh Nibley says, the scholars of the world are willing to argue all day about the reasons why it would be unnatural for a farm boy to come across a diamond in upstate New York, but they are unwilling to actually examine the diamond itself and verify that ti is what it claims to be. The information in the Book of Mormon about the Arabian Peninsula, about ancient Hebraic literature, is totally lacking in any “natural” explanation. Yet the world is unwilling to accept any other kind of explanation, the one that is the most reasonable and logical, because of its prejudice against that kind of explanation. So they have no idea how he did it. Some are willing to acknowledge him as a religious genius (Harold Bloom), but none arte willing to admit that their picture of the world is too narrow and insular, and that the Book of Mormon is logical proof that “supernatural” things have intruded into the modern world of “railroads” as Charles Dickesn called his time.

    The prejudice against the real explanation for the Book of Mormon, and the accomplishments of Joseph Smith, is precisely the same naturalist, materialist prejudice that is held against those arguing that the clear evidence of science weighs in favor of concluding that an intelligent agent had a role in creating at least some aspects of living things. The Intelligent Design argument is not an argument from ignorance. It is an argument based on the inadequacy of Darwinism to explain observed facts.

    You may not be forced to credit God as the source of the anomalous, unnatural information in the Book of Mormon, but an honest inquirer has to admit that the source is something more than natural phenomena, because the information had to either come from the distant past, or be recovered from Smith’s future and sent back in time. It did not exist in his time and place. Just so, the Intelligent Design advocates ask scientists to be honest with themselves, and admit that there IS no natural, unintelligent explanation for certain phenomena. The key fact of our intelligence is that we can recognize the intent and intelligence of others. We can do so in footsteps and artifacts left by other humans. To claim that we cannot use this core part of our own intelligence to analyze biology is arbitrary and capricious, and without reasonable basis in fact or law. It is irrational. It is unscientific.

  44. Josh Smith on March 11, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    My use of “Black Box” was intentional. I read Behe’s book, but it has been awhile.

    “If the supporters of the materialist explanation of life are confident of the Darwinian Synthesis, all they have to do is come up with an answer to the very specific question raised in each instances, namely, how could an unguided random process produce this result?”

    That is what science does. I think it is perfectly legitimate to poke holes in Darwinian evolution. I’m not a biologist, but from what I’ve read, ID has poked some holes, and to that extent it has been in the business of science. My understanding is that ID goes beyond poking holes: ID makes the claim “evolution fails to explain x,y, and z, therefore x,y, and z have a supernatural cause.” As soon as we quit looking for “unguided random processes” we’re not doing science. When we ascribe a cause other than natural, what’s left for science to do? What is the inquiry? Once you determine there is an intelligent cause, what’s the title of your next publication? I don’t think it is a question science is capable of answering. It seems to require different tools.

    And so I go home and I read Elder Packer’s talk in the Ensign and I believe it. I go on a Sunday afternoon walk and I have sincere gratitude for the creator. But when I’m standing up at the PTA meeting, I want the public schools to focus on science. Right now that means Darwinian evolution (it should also include the problems with evolution and its shortcomings). As of today, when ID takes the next step (therefore, supernatural cause), we don’t seem to be doing science. Of course, I try and keep an open mind on this topic.

  45. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 11, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Again, ID does NOT argue for a “supernatural cause”, but simply that random mutation and natural selection are inadequate as an explanation for some of the observed facts of biology, and that a more rational conclusion is that some intelligent agent was the cause of specific features of living things. Whether that intelligence is a prior race of beings on the earth, an extraterrestrial agent (such as the panspermia theory of some scientists that life was seeded by comets traveling between planets and solar systems), or some kind of backward in time travel (which Relativity specifically allows–see ex-Mormon physicist Kip Thorne). After all, to the extent we understand how things are made at the cellular level, we are close to the level of intelligence necessary to fabricate those things ourselves. On what basis can we assert that it is impossible for anyone other than modern man to be as smart as modern man? The fact that ID allows for the existence of an intelligence other than mankind, even without specifically invoking God, is what sets off atheists, who don’t like to think about there being someone in the universe smarter than they are.

    I also favor the teaching of Darwin’s theory, although I don’t want to see any teacher being censured for expressing his own opinion that there are flaws in the theory. And it is useless to REQUIRE a teacher to talk about such flaws if he does not see them himself. Let us have an open discussion, insisting that students master the material, but also keep an open mind, and NOT be taught the lie that there is a FINAL SCIENTIFIC AUTHORITY that adjudicates truth or falsity in science. After all, EVERY major innovation in science was, by definition, at first an unorthodox opinion held only by one man or a minority. Eyring’s own Absolute Rate Theory was criticized from many sides for years, winning acceptance as the older generation of chemists literally died off.

  46. Jeff G on March 11, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Intelligent Design is completely beside the point. Even if everything Behe and Dembski say is true (and it certainly doesn’t appear to be) we are still left with billions of years of death on the earth, a common ancestry with apes and no Adam and Eve which are the unique ancestors of all living people. In other words, even if ID is true, all of Elder Packer’s worries still remain unresolved, so why even care about ID given that it isn’t motivated scientifically or religiously?

  47. Jack on March 11, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Well, whether one embraces ID or not–or even whether or not it’s a viable science–the good thing is: it thumps scientific orthodoxy on the head. The scientific community as no patience with religious orthodoxy–at least, to the degree that it interferes with science. Neither should it have any patience with an unyielding scientific orthodoxy–an orthodoxy that is more concerned with establishing science than fact.

    While, history would suggest that science has been successful at bursting the bubbles of religious superstition–a good thing–it should also remind us that such a track of success hasn’t been won without relentless course correction–serious course correction in some instances. Thankfully we’re not performing lobotomies anymore on the clinically depressed. Yes, science has come a long way, but it has a hell of a long way to go.

  48. Bob on March 11, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    #45 You make your case well. But I think unless you make ID=God, it’s a non-start. Science is not going to turn away from “random mutation and natural selection” to time travel or extraterrestrials. Science already knows evolution is “inadequate as an explanation for some of the observed facts of biology”. But for now, evolution is their “peek-stone”, and they are they are far from ready to trade it in.

  49. Bob on March 11, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    #47: In my view, ID has no chance of replacing God or Evolution. There will be no “3rd Party”. The other two have a lock on it. As to Science, you speak of it like it’s a man or a thing. They are many kinds and levels of Science. At it highest(?) (as in NBA or NFL), it’s a mean game, not “an orthodoxy”. You make a name for yourself by tearing down some other guy’s orthodoxy, not by confirming it.

  50. Jack on March 11, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    “…(as in NBA or NFL), it’s a mean game, not “an orthodoxy”. You make a name for yourself by tearing down some other guy’s orthodoxy, not by confirming it.”

    Yes, but only if you’re in the big league–and no one’s going to tear that down. Nor will you get there without “confirming it.”

  51. Bob on March 11, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    #50: Agree: other than the top, it ‘sameo-sameo. But whoever knocks out Darwin…become the next ‘Darwin’. And that’s a big prize!

  52. Bob on March 11, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Who keeps taking my ‘s it it’s?

  53. Mike Parker on March 13, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Wow, 52 posts and not a sign of Gary “No Death Before the Fall” Shapiro!

    Are you out there, Gary?

  54. R. Gary on March 14, 2008 at 3:36 am
  55. NatC on March 16, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    General authorities have said many things about many subjects over the years. How we interpret what they say often says more about us than it does about them. I suspect this is the case with Br. Packer\’s statement re: evolution. I seriously doubt the church is going to require us to disbelieve evolution or BYU to change its science curriculum. One of the great blessings of our theology is that it starts with the premise that God is eternal, thus beyond our sense of time and space etc., and is not limited by our lack of imagination. Most of the great church leaders who were scientists understood that.