The Myth of Evolution and the Myth of the Fall

April 24, 2008 | 47 comments
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Noah Millman concedes that the science of evolution is not incompatible with the truth of Christianity. But, he argues, the myth of evolution is incompatible with the myth of Christianity.

I think science does have implications for the persuasiveness of specific religious doctrines, simply as a psychological matter. And I think evolution through natural selection is extremely uncongenial to the central Christian story about the nature of sin and evil in the world. Why? Because the Christian story has the entry of strife into the world come about as the result of human sin, whereas the core idea behind evolution by natural selection is that our existence – and the consciousness and ability to sin that comes with it – is a product of strife. Put bluntly: natural selection is not the mechanism that the Christian deity would use to create man in His image. Or, if it is, I’d like to see the explanation.

Let me start by defining some terms. When I refer to the myth of evolution and the myth of the fall, I’m not denying either one. I’m not using “myth” to mean “false.” I’m using myth to mean the resonance and emotional impact of the basic truth claims of christianity and of the theory of evolution. The myth of evolution is not the facts of evolution but the symbolism and cultural meaning and attraction and revulsion of evolution. They myth of evolution is evolution as a story. Same with christianity. The facts of Christianity are that a man with a certain relation to the divine lived a certain kind of life and died a certain kind of death that had certain kinds of unusual effects. The myth of Christianity is wanting to shout the redemption news from the rooftops when you think what Christ has done for you. Its because evolution can be a mythic story, not just a scientific theory, and its because Christianity *must* be a mythic story, not just a set of dogmas, that evolution can psychologically make Christianity less probable even if their bare bones are technically compatible.

Is Millman right that the myths are in conflict? When it comes to Christianity in general, I don’t know. If Christian theodicies are not just as kludge answers to logic problems but real truths about God and his purposes, well then, in that case I think the myth of Christianity isn’t nearly as detergent-ad pretty and therefore as incompatible as Millman makes out. But I do know that Millman isn’t right when it comes to Mormon Christianity.

In general Christianity the myth of the Fall is one where God set up everything to be nice and pleasant until Adam and Eve made a stupid, perverse decision and ruined it for all of us. But in Mormon Christianity the fall was *necessary* for mankind to progress and the myth of the fall is a tragedy of awful but inevitable choices and of having to suffer and be miserable to grow. In fact Mormonism makes these features of the myth of the Fall a universal story that each one of us lives. So I’d say the Mormon myth of the fall fits very well with Millman’s myth of evolution. So do other ideas that Mormons emphasize, like the need for opposition in all things.

I also ought to mention the Mormon idea of “being saviors on Mt. Zion.” Mormon Christianity has a strong theme of living in roles, especially in the role of Christ. This is just one aspect of the general Christian idea, which Mormonism embraces and elevates, that we are meant to take up the cross and be like Christ. So if evolution’s myth is that creation suffered and bled not for its own benefit but for ours, then evolution’s myth is only saying that creation is impressed with the image of Christ.

P.S. I’m struck about how much this post is really about theodicy. Maybe that’s because I read Nate O.’s theodicy post so recently. But I think its mostly because Millman’s post is about theodicy though little he knows it. Millman is really arguing that evolution is incompatible with a certain kind of Christian theodicy, one that absolves God of all evil by blaming it on the choice made by Adam and Eve. I am really arguing that better, truer Christian theodicies, and especially Mormon Christian theodicies, are not incompatible with evolution.

P.P.S. For more on Millman’s post, see Ross Douthat.

P.P.P.S. For an interesting C.S. Lewis essay on the myth of evolution, see here. His take on the myth of evolution is a little different from Millman’s. While I’ve argued here that the myth of Mormon Christianity is compatible with Millman’s myth of evolution, it may not be so compatible with other myths of evolution. I’ve noticed that popularizers often try to steal a base by saying the myth of evolution is existence is accidental and meaningless. That myth is not compatible with the myth of Mormon Christianity.

P.P.P.P.S. You might be interested in Jim Manzi’s National Review article about the compatibility of the theory of evolution with doctrines of Christianity. That’s not really what this post is about, so follow the link if you’re interested.

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47 Responses to The Myth of Evolution and the Myth of the Fall

  1. Josh Smith on April 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks a lot Adam. I should be thinking about work. Now you got me thinking about evolution and theodicy (which I had to look up in the dictionary two days ago). Couldn’t we just discuss something any ol’ person could comment on, like constitutional problems in TX?

    I’m just kidding. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  2. Lincoln Cannon on April 24, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Adam, I enjoyed the post, and whole heartedly agree that evolution mythology is compatible with Mormon mythology — even more, I’d argue that it is not just coincidence that the two emerged in during the same epoch in the history of human civilization.

  3. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Josh Smith, I was the one looking up theodicy a couple of years back. A guy can’t frequent T&S without starting to sound more pseudo-intellectual than he already does.

    Thanks, Mr. Cannon.

  4. Chris on April 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Here is my take on the Fall from a more “general Christian” perspective.

    [Ed.--thanks for the link]

  5. Freddy on April 24, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Some elements of the Mormon myth might jibe well with evolution. But others don\’t.

    Key in the Mormon myth, as well as most broader Christian myths, is the relationship between God and man. Evolution is inconsistent with the notion of man as the creation of God–not just ex nihilo, but in any intentional, directed fashion. Even assuming we evolved into something vaguely God-like (whether in terms of shape or rationality/cognitive ability), the outcome is that we are only accidentally, coincidentally like God. We are not his off-spring or creation. We have no essential connection with him. If monkeys on typewriters eventually churn out a nicely written sonnet that has stylistic echoes of Shakespeare, it isn\’t a Shakespearean sonnet. It wasn\’t written by Shakespeare. It wasn\’t inspired by him. It would just be a random fluke of fluttering, dumb monkey digits.

    That\’s the rub. Mormonism is thoroughly anthropocentric–far more than traditional Christianity. Evolution robs Mormons of their essential relatedness to God. That\’s kind of a big deal, since the relatedness of God and man is the core of the most pervasive narrative in Mormon scripture and practice (i.e., the Creation).

  6. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Chris,
    what I like about your post is your notion that part of the point of the pre-fall garden of eden is to show us that our fumbling, querulous state isn’t ‘natural’ to us.

    Freddy,
    atheist darwinists argue that accepting evolution means accepting a thorough-going naturalism, but I don’t see it. Likewise, if we can believe that God acts within the apparently random processes of history, I don’t see why we can’t believe the same about natural history. Still, I’m not going to dogmatically say that there can’t be any conflicts between Mormonism and evolution, or evolutionary myth. I am saying that the particular conflict Millman sees doesn’t really happen in Mormonism.

  7. CE on April 24, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Adam wrote: “In fact Mormonism makes these features of the myth of the Fall a universal story that each one of us lives.” This highlights one element of Mormon belief that makes it easier for me to reconcile Mormon Christianity with evolution:

    I like the idea of viewing the fall as a “universal story”: we all lived in a paradisaical place where there was no sin (spiritual death) or physical death. We all chose to come to a world where we would be subject to both kinds of death. This was for each of us a “fall,” and by definition there was no death–either physical or spiritual–before our fall. Thus, the story of Adam and Eve allegorically represents each of us and the decision we made to come to this world. And the matter of whether the Garden narrative was also a literal event becomes less important. One who is inclined to accept the scientific theory of evolution need only indulge in the minor heresy of dismissing the literalness of Genesis and other latter-day references.

  8. jnilsson on April 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Agreed, Adam.

    Freddy,

    When we import current speculation on physical constraints on organisms into the myth of evolution, there is a place for a finite Mormon God to have superintended evolutionary processes before and to be aware of the variant possibilities of biological development. Of course, this assumes there is a unitary Mormon myth of God, and I doubt that the one I just floated is held by a majority of Mormons.

  9. Brother Parkin on April 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    “A guy can’t frequent T&S without starting to sound more pseudo-intellectual than he already does.”

    *snort*

    ~

  10. Bob on April 24, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Adam, I have just stared to read your links and their comments. But, I will just add to the stew.
    Where I see a big conflict: Evolution Myth not only has no place in it for a God, it has no place in it for the individual. All individuals die and disappear, in order that the Species continues on, and yes even progresses. In other words, in the Evolution Myth, only the Species have an “eternal life”.

  11. Freddy on April 24, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Jnilsson, I think you miss my point. Even if we suppose (without any real basis in Mormon scripture or tradition) that God sat on his hands and waited for Homo sapiens to evolve, the upshot of that notion is that there is no essential relationship between man and God. Losing that is not only big in itself, but has ripple effects through other key beliefs and practices (e.g., the concept of exaltation).

    Adam, it’s not a question of “accepting a thorough-going naturalism.” It’s a question of what evolution, as a theory, entails. It’s a naturalistic theory which–like many naturalistic theories–is accepted by atheist and believing scientists alike. As for the idea of God intervening in natural history (e.g., protecting a population of bony fishes that might otherwise face extinction with the foreknowledge that, if preserved, they will be ancestral to Homo sapiens), even if we accepted that (which, as I stated to jnilsson, we have no “Mormon” basis for doing), it doesn’t get around the problem I described. We would still be essentially unrelated to God. In fact, that idea would be more akin to most traditional Christian beliefs about the relationship of God and man — i.e., that there’s a fundamental ontological difference between God (uncreated and eternal) and man (created in time), more like a potter is to clay than a father is to a son.

  12. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Freddy, Mormons believe that the flesh, and mortality in general, was created in time. You have some pretty thoughtful points, and I’m not being dismissive of them. Its just that they aren’t the point of the post.

  13. Ray on April 24, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Freddy, as it isn’t the point of the post, I will only say one thing: It is the Mormon concept of the pre-existent spirit that connects us to God – and the idea that combining that spirit with a physical body is part of completing that connection. How that body came to be has little if anything to do with our connection to God.

    Adam, I agree that the “myth of Mormonism” interacts with Millman’s view of the “myth of evolution” very differently than the general “myth of Christianity”. One of the central ideas of Mormonism is that our individual progression is very much an evolutionary process – both of spirit and body. That is *radically* different than the view of mainstream Christianity.

  14. Jeff G on April 24, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Alright, this is one of my pet-peeves about that some evolution-criticisms. They “don’t like” evolution because it’s all about competition and death. Maybe it is, but these things exist whether survival of the fittest can act as a creative process or not. In other words, according to evolutionists, good stuff can come from this bad process. According to the anti-evolutionists, yes, the bad process exists, but no good stuff can come from it.

    Not the most persuasive argument against evolution IMO.

  15. Bob on April 24, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    #12: “One of the central ideas of Mormonism is that our individual progression is very much an evolutionary process.” I agree with this. But it has nothing to do with Scientific Evolution. Progression or adaption in Scientific Evolution is by the murder of the weak, and the taking of all the females by the strong. Thereby causing only the fittest to survive and reproduce the Specie.

  16. Ray on April 24, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Bob, “murder of the weak” is too strong; ‘death of the weak” fits just as well. In that context, how is our conception of the three degrees of glory not a delineation of the survival of the fittest, with only the very strongest surviving to reproduce the species?

  17. Blake on April 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    As I see it, the real conflict is not between evolution as a story of evolving forms of life from genetic variations; rather, the conflict arises from the explanation of the mechanism for evolutionary change — the genetic variations assumed to be merely random accidents. Theistic evolution, where God directs the genetic changes to bring about a certain outcome from the genetic variations, seems to me to be quite compatible with Mormonism. The difference is an important and existential difference. Life is purposeful and has meaning in the Mormon view. Life is totally the result of random variations that has no intrinsic meaning beyond the imperative of survival of the fittest if the explanation of the mechanism for evolution, natural selection, is true. These are diametrically opposed views of what our lives are about and what we can take the value of life to be.

  18. Chris on April 24, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    To clarify: when I say the Christ-myth subverts the evolution-myth, I don’t mean that the Christ-myth undermines the historicity of the evolution-myth. Quite to the contrary, it recognizes that the evolution myth is quite historical. But it suggests that competition needn’t be a normative way of life, and proposes a radical alternative of willing selflessness.

  19. Freddy on April 24, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    To get back more on track, then, I don’t share your confidence that Mormon beliefs about the Fall escape Millman’s observation. Two points:

    (1) Mormon beliefs about the Fall entail a turning point between a paradisaical state (no death, abundance of resources, no effort required) and one of conflict (death, work/sweat required, conflict with God, etc.). One would have to heavily allegorize the Fall to have it consistent with a world in which death and competition have been the condition of things all along (and, as Millman observes, the condition which eventually resulted in the speciation of man). After revamping the concept of the Fall, you may or may not have something intellectually respectable or spiritually compelling; but, it’s safe to say, few Mormons would recognize it as a Mormon view of the Fall. (And, again, there would be ripple effects: a deliteralized Adam, problematizing of the promise of overcoming the post-Fall state, questions about the relatedness of God and man, etc.)

    (2) Whether the Fall is seen as tragedy or necessity, Mormonism imposes *meaning* on an event which–leaving aside the problems with construing the Fall as an actual historical moment–simply does not exist in an evolutionary framework. It supposes a teleology or at least a valuation of the post-Fall state that, from an evolutionary perspective, is untenable.

  20. Freddy on April 24, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    But, as you surely know, Blake, “theistic evolution” is not what is commonly recognized as “evolution” (i.e., the modern evolutionary synthesis). It is Creationism Lite. Whether one or another variation on Creationism is compatible with Mormon beliefs (or, more specifically, those pertaining to the Fall) is a separate question from what I believe is being posed here — i.e., whether evolution (as commonly understood) is at odds with or in harmony with certain Mormon beliefs.

  21. Ray on April 24, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    “One would have to heavily allegorize the Fall to have it consistent with a world in which death and competition have been the condition of things all along.”

    I have no idea how old you are, Freddy, but the temple did that explicitly until only recently, and there are many Mormons who view “the Fall narrative” as a description of the transition from the pre-existence to mortality – when humanity fell from the presence of God. That isn’t “doctrine” by any means, or what the majority believe, but it certainly isn’t anathema to Mormonism. (and, btw, it is easy to posit the Fall narrative as figurative and still accept a literal Adam as the first human parent.)

    I don’t want to turn this into a debate about evolution, since that’s not the point of this post. I will leave it that Mormons don’t agree unanimously on the nature and specifics of the Fall or evolutionary validity.

  22. Ray on April 24, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Sorry, Freddy, your last comment posted while I was typing mine. It appears that we agree to discontinue this.

  23. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Theistic evolution, where God directs the genetic changes to bring about a certain outcome from the genetic variations, seems to me to be quite compatible with Mormonism.

    If you accept this, this is where I think you have to see nature as being impressed with the image of Christ. Because we are essentially arguing that the death, murder, or starvation of the less “fit” was a mechanism God used to create.

  24. Chris on April 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    So if evolution’s myth is that creation suffered and bled not for its own benefit but for ours, then evolution’s myth is only saying that creation is impressed with the image of Christ.

    This is an interesting idea, but I’m not sure I buy it. For one thing, I don’t think that’s an adequate description of evolution’s myth. Evolution’s myth is that history is one long bloody, selfish arms race, and we happen to be the most deadly weapons nature has yet invented. I think the power of the Christ-myth is that it radically subverts the evolution-myth, turning it completely on its head and suggesting that the best way for us all to survive would be to stop competing.

  25. Bob on April 24, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    #16: Your right Ray, I put murder in for a little punch. But there are few non-violent deaths in Nature. It is “you will die, so I will live.”
    But I do agree Man is different. Man brought things into this world, that billions of years of Nature had not. How, why, or when, this happened, is why we all have a ‘religion’.

  26. Brad Kramer on April 24, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    A fine post, Mr. Greenwood.

  27. Tatiana on April 24, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    It’s interesting to me that most naturalists see life on this planet as a huge competition. I think the fact that so many naturalists are male may cause this view of evolution to be over-emphasized.

    Cooperation and altruism are every bit as important to the history of life on earth as competition, in fact, much more so. No humans, and very few mammals, would ever survive infancy without some pretty selfless parents feeding and caring for them. Prokaryotes became eukaryotes when they formed relationships with other organisms based on symbiosis rather than predation. Societies of humans working together and specializing can generate huge surpluses in ecological situations where individuals would perish alone. I would not even be able to digest food and absorb it without my contingent of enteral bacteria. Across all kingdoms, organisms help each other at least as often as they harm.

    Males tend to see the world in terms of competition, it seems to me. That introduces a bias in naturalists’ view of life. Females are generally more aware of the net of mutual support and aid. Evolution is driven far more through cooperation and altruism than by competition.

    That said, I agree with Adam that Mormon myth is not in conflict with evolutionary myth. In fact, it supports it. It particularly supports this more congenial reading of evolutionary myth that better reflects biologic reality.

  28. Freddy on April 25, 2008 at 12:19 am

    I’m not sure what naturalists you have in mind, Tatiana. All evolutionists acknowledge cooperative behavior, symbiosis, parasitism, and similar phenomena.

  29. Angie on April 25, 2008 at 2:49 am

    Well, I’m sure this is a very intellectual discussion – it’s too late at night for me to digest it all. But it does remind me of a very strange moment I had one Sunday in Gospel Essentials class:

    I’m sitting quietly amongst the new members and investigators, hearing the doctrine of the Garden of Eden and the Fall. And the strangest feeling and thought came over me. “I am completely willing to accept that this story is merely an elaborate metaphor! If it turns out that this did not literally happen, then I think I will be okay with that.” And my next thought was, “I think I won’t say any of this out loud.”

  30. Dallin on April 25, 2008 at 2:58 am

    I am more a peruser of blog sites than an actual poster. I have enjoyed the many tangents this topic has enjoyed thus far. I wonder if I can actualize my thoughts here instead of stumble over some words…
    The main point I\’d like to get across is thinking outside the box. We seem to put limitations on things that don\’t have to be there. Why does weeding out the weak seem inconsistent with the nature of God? Why does an ancient earth that has experienced billions of years of evolution with a seemingly random direction seem inconsistent with the nature of God? Yes, in a process theology such as ours, we have put God in a better reality, taking away omnipotence, omniscience, and so forth. But can\’t we here do the opposite and ask if it couldn\’t be within God\’s power to have this process be in perfect harmony with his plan? And this is getting way off tangent, but maybe if we threw in reincarnation as a possibility, having us all play a bigger part in this process, it would seem like a better fit….
    But now I am just introducing a topic that has its own place (somewhere else), I am sure.
    Thanks for reading my humble opinion.

    [Ed. - no, thank you]

  31. Jonathan Green on April 25, 2008 at 5:24 am

    Nice post, Adam. Clearly Mormonism will prevail because it is more adaptable to the environment of modernity than its competitors.

  32. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 25, 2008 at 6:16 am

    My comment disappeared, so I am trying to put it in in two parts. Part one of two:

    Part of the difficulty in discussing a “myth of evolution” is the ambiguity in the word “evolution” itself. The broadest definition is simply “change in the population of various species over time”, which is clearly observed in the fossil record. A narrower definition adds the assertion that certain species were ancestral to certain other species, a more difficult proposition to prove, since we lack DNA evidence connecting fossils, and there are no family history records that can be used to determine ancestral connections. So the claim that one species is ancestral to another is an assertion that can never be proved with certainty. Every time a new primate species is found in the fossil record, a controversy erupts over whether the species was an ancestor of homo sapiens or one of the dead ends with no modern descendants, like Neanderthal man.

    A further assertion is part of an even narrower definition of evolution, that the asserted (though always tentative) ancestral connections took place through random variations in the genomes of the ancestral species that produced differential survival and reproduction that passed along the previously rare variation so that it became dominant in the descendants, and that an accumulation of such variations resulted in the clearly distinct descendant species. This is the modern synthesis of Darwinian natural selection with the genetic mechanism that was first suggested by Mendel.

    One of the points that is almost universally glossed over in textbook introductions to this last version of “evolution” is that this mechanism of evolution cannot, by definition, operate to make inanimate matter turn into living matter. There is absolutely no proven theory to explain how the transition took place from inanimate “primordial soup” (even with amino acids) into a living cell that can reproduce itself, and thus has a mechanism capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.

    Thus, the “myth of evolution” in any of its forms actually does not reach the crucial issue of the creation of life per se. It only is capable of addressing variations in life after it has somehow come into existence.

    A living cell is a factory that can create new factories like itself, with the ability to acquire materials and energy, and all the instructions for making and operating the components of the factory, plus a mechanism for those instructions and all of the machinery to duplicate itself in a coordinated way. The membrance of a cell, that keeps its machinery together so that necessary chemical reactions can take place and the DNA can create the needed proteins, is not a simple balloon. It is itself a highly complex barrier that keeps the contents of the cell inside, while allowing only certain materials pass into its interior, with very chemical-specific locks. The DNA in the simplest cell could not come into existence through a totally random process, since the chance of getting a DNA string of even 100 nucleotides that works is on the order of one chance in 4 to the 100th power–about the number of atoms in the known universe. Without a living cell as a vessel for the experiment, there is not a lot of time for whatever random process is generating and trying out the variations to get one that works. And it is a chicken and egg problem from the very start, compounded by the fact that there is no known random mechanism that makes either chickens (the cell) or eggs (the DNA) independently.

    So the first problem in trying to compare the “myth of evolution” with the “myth of Christianity” is defining what the “myth of evolution” actually is.

  33. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 25, 2008 at 6:17 am

    Here is part two of two:

    The idea that evolution is guided to some degree by God is quite widespread among scientists who are also religious. One of the most well known evolutionary biologists and textbook authors is Kenneth Miller, a devout Catholic, who in his book Finding Darwin’s God offers his perspective that
    God’s ex nihilo creation infused matter with the capacity to produce life and an efflorescence of species culminating in humanity (or something like it) that could, in its intelligence, be considered to be a being “in the image of God”. The particular meaning of Catholic views on evolution are discussed in an article by Stehen Barr, PhD, in the October 2005 First Things at http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=238 . It is also something along this line that is believed by Francis Collins, MD, PhD, leader of the Human Genome Project and author of the book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

    A variation in this belief held by some scientists who are also religious is that God directed specific mutations that were so complex they could not have arisen from random genetic variation, and they argue that random genetic variation is incapable of creating significant complex changes that must exist before natural selection by differential survival can actually operate. Some in this group have tried to articulate their reasoning in what they call Intelligent Design theory, in which they offer purely scientific arguments that do not rely on the authority of scripture or other religious doctrine, to support the hypothesis that the most rational explanation for certain features of “life, the universe, and everything”, which are highly improbable as products of random genetic variation, is that an intelligent entity, at least as intelligent as humans, had input into their creation through modification of previous species. In the new movie “Expelled”, militant atheist and Darwinian Richard Dawkins admits that what we know scientifically allows for the existence of a highly intelligent alien species playing a role in manipulating the DNA of earth’s living things. Whether that intelligent intervenor is consistent with anyone’s definition of God or not is an exercise which Intelligent Design leaves for the reader. They do NOT argue that we can deduce from the likelihood of intelligent intervention in evolution (in the broad sense) all the characteristics of the intelligence, in sufficient detail to conclude it is the God of the Trinity or any other deity.

    So unless we are absolutely clear on which “evolution” we are talkling about, and thus which “myth”, we can get all sorts of different takes on how it is consistent or inconsistent with various versions of the Christian “myths” of Creation, the Fall and Redemption.

    There is no question that James Talmage and John Widtsoe thought that “evolution” in the broadest sense was a particular manifestation of a broader principle of “eternal progression”, in which everything in and on the Earth is moving teleologically toward producing a world with inhabitants that will eventually in its entirety become a celestial kingdom with celestial inhabitants and a transformed geology and chemistry, such that the earth has the characteristics of a giant information appliance (a urim and thummim).

    One aspect of the Creation and Fall myths in Christianity in general and Mormonism in particular is the idea that the Fall caused the entire Earth and its plant and animal inhabitants to be transformed from an at least Terrestrial state to a Telestial one. As I discussed in my post on Noah’s Flood, I think we need to be cautious about importing more universality into the statements of Genesis than is actually there in the text. Some Jewish believers suggest that Adam and Eve were distinct from previous hominids in having souls that originated with God. I think it is almost as difficult to pin down what the Christian and even Mormon “myth” of Creation and the Fall really consists of .

    Thus, comparing a myth of evolution with a myth of Christianity is a complex task since there are variations and gradations in both the entities being compared. We all walk into the discussion with our own personal views of what each myth is, but we may be talking past each other because the variation in the meaning of each myth is tremendous, and there is no necessary correlation between which myth of evolution we prefer and which myth of Christianity we like. They are two sets which, at least for some people, have an intersection that is real and not a null set.

    So my view is that the two myths are so indefinite in specific meaning that making a comparison between them as some kind of general statement cannot be logically done. You can only compare specific versions of the myth of evolution with specific versions of the myth of Christianity, and both sets of variations lie in a contiguous n-dimensional space with an essentially infinite number of points.

  34. Adam Greenwood on April 25, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Clearly Mormonism will prevail because it is more adaptable to the environment of modernity than its competitors.

    Clearly. [Beats chest]. On the other hand Catholicism has had a lot more offspring than we have . . .

  35. Bob on April 25, 2008 at 10:26 am

    #33,#34: Raymond, I agree that 1) ‘First Cause’ or how ‘Life’ began, is weak in the Evolution Myth. 2) How Life progressed so many times successfully only by random or mutation happenstance, needs more work.
    But, Religious Myth has it’s own set of problems.
    But I think you can compare the two “myths” without knowing fully how each works. (And I think you did!) Yes, the comparisons will be incomplete. But I can still compare an SUV with a Saturn, without knowing much about how each was made.

  36. Chris on April 25, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    >>Clearly. [Beats chest]. On the other hand Catholicism has had a lot more offspring than we have . . .

    And the Muslims have higher birth rates. And the Pentecostals have more converts (and better music). And, last I checked, they were saying modernity was over and something called “postmodernity” had dawned…

  37. Adam Greenwood on April 25, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Muslims isn’t a religion. Neither is Pentecostals. If you don’t get the joke, Chris, don’t get mad, just ask.

  38. Chris on April 25, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Ah. Catholicism has more offspring: Protestants. Got it.

    In any case, I was trying to play along. Obviously I did a really crappy job of it, if you thought I was mad. lol.

    [Ed.--or there was a crappy job reading. Your call.]

  39. Agellius on April 25, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Adam:

    By any chance did you grow up in La Puente? I knew someone by that name in elementary school.

  40. Adam Greenwood on April 25, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    As a bona fide troll, I grew up under La Puente.

  41. Jack on April 26, 2008 at 9:14 am

    If we look at the “myth” of the cosmos in general we see Mormonism as totally compatible with what seems to be an incredible surplus of time, space, and mass. Why such excess to bring about God’s work and Glory? Well, I think the same is true of evolution. It’s slow laborious process seems to fit well within the cosmological myth that we already accept.

  42. Bob on April 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

    #41: I like this Jack, I do. I am adding it to my file of arguments. But does it have a name?

  43. Agellius on April 29, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Adam: Wow, what a coincidence! Not that we were ever close or anything. I’m Mark Johnson, and my sister is Lynda, who I think was in your brother Mark’s class.

    Are you LDS? Were you always? I think you lived near an LDS church, didn’t you?

    I’m an adult convert to Catholicism myself.

  44. Ray on April 29, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    You’re welcome, Agellius, for (re?)introducing you to Adam.

  45. ZSorenson on May 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    I think one problem with the debate are false premises. The fall was the introduction of man into a world of strife, rather than strife into the world. Or, at least, we don’t know for sure.

    There is no such thing as doctrine, only truth. Doctrine is formulated to help understand truth with limited knowledge and/or understanding. Doctrine can be false, in that it doesn’t completely represent truth. It can still be doctrine, though, because it represents the truth in the appropriate way. That is, it teaches correct principle along accurate lines, even if it gives the wrong impression concerning unrelated truths. Myth is based on doctrine.

    The myth of the fall, and the myth of evolution are based on doctrines. One, on an understanding of an event/principle known as the fall, the other on that of natural selection. Both principles describe truth, but neither offers the full and complete understanding thereof. This is why dogmatism is bad. Mormonism doesn’t require dogmatism, it requires faith. Faith is an individuals best attempt to be true to truth. There will be misunderstandings, and mistakes, but salvation comes through faith and faith doesn’t require absolute perfection.

  46. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 8:50 am

    I don’t share your confidence that Mormon beliefs about the Fall escape Millman’s observation. Two points:

    (1) Mormon beliefs about the Fall entail a turning point between a paradisaical state (no death, abundance of resources, no effort required) and one of conflict (death, work/sweat required, conflict with God, etc.).

    Here you’re talking about a conflict between the facts of evolution and the facts of Mormon doctrines of the Fall as most Mormons accept them. I quite agree its a conflict that’s knotty, but this post is talking about a conflict between the myths, not the facts.

  47. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 8:53 am

    (2) Mormonism imposes *meaning* on an event which–leaving aside the problems with construing the Fall as an actual historical moment–simply does not exist in an evolutionary framework. It supposes a teleology or at least a valuation of the post-Fall state that, from an evolutionary perspective, is untenable.

    I agree that the particular myth of evolution that says that life is meaningless is incompatible with Mormon myths. I said as much in the original post.

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