Theology in the Wake of Evolution

May 22, 2009 | 54 comments
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It’s not easy being a theologian in the 21st century. One of the main reasons is that science provides credible, non-theistic explanations for many of those “where did we come from?” questions that religion once had all to itself. Evolution seems to pose a particular challenge. John Haught, a professor of theology at Georgetown, tries to tackle the problem head-on in his book God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Westview, 2000).

Just so I’m clear, the problem we’re talking about here isn’t evolution — it is how to do theology and talk about God’s relationship to the world in the wake of evolution. Haught starts off by reviewing the three ways in which religion has responded to evolution: opposition, separation, and engagement. While separation (often discussed in connection with Stephen Jay Gould’s term “non-overlapping magisteria”), as a strategy, offers some advantages over opposition, it nevertheless seals off theology from what Haught sees as a needed encounter with evolution. God After Darwin is an attempt at such an engagement. He notes how rarely have theologians undertaken such an attempt: “It is not yet evident that theology has thought about God in a manner consistent with the data of evolution” (p. 81). I will summarize two of the topics in which his attempt at a “theology of evolution” seems to raise interesting avenues of discussion.

Creation

The traditional theological view sees Creation as basically a one-off event, whether one that happened six thousand years ago or one that happened 15 billion years ago. It’s worth noting that the Intelligent Design movement seems to adopt this view, with the dispute being between a purely natural Creation event (the scientific theory) or one in which God as Designer played an important and necessary part (the ID view).

Haught suggests this is too narrow and that there is no reason God’s creative activity needs to be limited to “in the beginning.” Instead, he suggests that Creation is an ongoing activity: the Universe is an unfinished and ongoing project, so to speak. He suggests that God is not just responsible for the order that is observed in the cosmos but also for the novelty that continues to unfold within it. (This presupposes that there is some degree of contingency in the world to support true novelty rather than simply realizing events that were fully predetermined.) And one way of looking at evolution is that it introduces novelty into the world. So this open creation view and evolution both posit novelty as a necessary aspect of the Universe.

I don’t know of any LDS position on continuous creation, but the concept does bring to mind this passage from LDS scripture, which hints in that direction:

The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. (Moses 1:37-38.)

Are Humans Different?

The materialist approach to life is reductionist, trying (with notable success) to explain living things by identifying and analyzing the components and fundamental units of which organisms are composed. Of course, all living things can be reduced to tissues and cells and proteins and molecules. So is there any essential difference between you and your cat? If all living things can be boiled down to the same set of ingredients, is there any essential difference between them?

Traditional wisdom and religion said yes, establishing what Haught calls a “sacred heirarchy,” with inanimate things at the bottom, plants and animals in the middle, humans near the top, and God at the pinnacle. He notes that one source of opposition to evolution is the apprehension that evolution collapses this hierarchy:

By collapsing the sacred hierarchy, modern evolutionary materialism gives every appearance of having pulverized the cultural, ethical, and religious formations around which human life on this planet has been organized for many thousands of years. It is impossible to exaggerate the enormity of this great drama of dissolution. Clearly, then, a central task of theology after Darwin is to face as honestly as it can the question of whether the hierarchical structuring that constitutes the very backbone of our religious traditions is in any substantive and coherent sense recoverable today. (p. 64.)

The LDS view certainly affirms that humans are qualitatively different from other life. Quoting from Moses again: “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). But does science give us anything to work with here? Haught notes that “hierarchical thinking” is now part of this scientific discussion, with some emergent properties recognized as being grounded in complex systems or whole organisms but not derivable from independent components or pieces of the whole. Haught has a nice discussion of “information” as a broad concept, which he links to those emergent properties.

Though it is not physically separate, information is logically distinguishable from mass and energy. Information is quietly resident in nature, and in spite of being nonergetic and nonmassive, it powerfully patterns subordinate natural elements and routines into hierarchically distinct domains. (p. 70.)

Information: it’s not spirit or soul, but it does seem to be something that indisputably exists and does so independently of atoms and electrons. We are full of information, most dramatically in the DNA code we carry in each cell. How would you distinguish your sense of “you” as an eternal spirit or soul that gives identity and continuity to your existence from your sense of “you” as a unique and conscious bundle of information providing the same sense of identity?

The author didn’t make a strong claim for these or other ideas (and the last paragraph was my thinking, not his), he just tried to show that evolution doesn’t rule out consideration of possibilities that the strict materialist paradigm rejects out of hand. He concludes his lengthier and more detailed discussion with this careful assessment: “Science’s own growing awareness of the explanatory role of information in nature’s constitution allows us to embrace consistently both a religious vision — including a sense of cosmic meaning — and the carefully established results of evolutionary biology” (p. 80.)

Conclusion.

Re-reading this post, I’m not sure I have really done justice to the discussion in the book. Other topics covered by Haught include eschatology, hope, and the idea of living out of the future rather than the past. He sees evolution, an open process that offers a future full of surprises, as not inconsistent with the hopeful future of Christian eschatology. He boldly suggests that we

align our religious existence with the natural zest for life that links us biologically to our evolutionary past. The inherent adventurousness of religion may then receive a new birth. (p. 189.)

Natural zest for life. An adventurous religion. Sounds like Mormonism to me.

54 Responses to Theology in the Wake of Evolution

  1. Geoff B on May 22, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Dave, the thought that “belief in Darwin” and “belief in God” are two separate, distinct things is something that no intelligent Latter-day Saint should fall for. Your post also makes that clear. Evolution clearly exists in nature, and you could make a strong argument that evolution is a Godly principle (if our spirits have existed forever, then we have probably evolved from something else and will continue evolving forever). Personally, I think the question of “did man evolve from other life forms on earth” is impossible for us to know, just as it is impossible for us to know the exact future of this planet and many other Big Questions.

    There are literally thousands of believing scientists who both believe in Darwin (as it were) and believe in God. Another good book on this subject is: “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. Collins was head of the Human Genome Project and is a believing Christian.

  2. Eric Boysen on May 22, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Our religion does not demand an unquestioning acceptance or rejection of Darwinism. It does tell us important things about our nature that are in conflict with the conception that natural selection is an undirected process. The Gospel includes ALL truth, and must take the evidence of speciation and an understanding of the processes of genetic modificaton as a fact.

    A theology that allows for the exaultation of man and God ss an exaulted man, and that acts of creation are a good part of what gods do strongly imply a continuity of creation.

    As Mormons we believe in a God of miracles, a God who intrevenes in events on all scales, from sub-atomic to galactic. Assuredly this include the nature of us, his creatures, and our history.

  3. Kari on May 22, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Dave, an excellent review.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what Haught, and you, mean when you talk about “information” and what it is about this that makes humans unique? Does he argue that this “information” supports the traditional religious hierarchical structuring of organisms? Is this a central tenet of his book?

    It sounds like he has interesting views. Have you read his sequel, Deeper than Darwin, and would you recommend it?

    BTW, you probably knew this, but Professor Haught was a witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and testified that ID is a religious, and not scientific, proposition.

  4. John Mansfield on May 22, 2009 at 11:26 am

    I don’t expect the concept of the Divine as the instantiation of events governed by probability density functions will gain many converts. John Derbyshire had an interesting essay an gambling that included this bit:

    Possibly this national trait is related somehow to the fact, which I was told by a social-worker friend, and which the relevant websites seem to confirm, that while most twelve-step addiction cures call on a higher power for assistance, Gamblers Anonymous makes a point of welcoming atheists and agnostics. “Which is what most gambling addicts are,” explained my friend.

    There’s also a rueful song by Sting that carries that tone as well.

    He deals the cards as a meditation
    And those he plays never suspect
    He doesnt play for the money he wins
    He doesnt play for the respect
    He deals the cards to find the answer
    The sacred geometry of chance
    The hidden law
    of probable outcome
    The numbers lead a dance

    “Sacred” in those lyrics is meant in a way that atheists could countenance, void of anything divine.

  5. rameumptom on May 22, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Seems to me that in one of his books, Nibley actually describes the Creation as an on-going process. I think it might be in Timely and the Timeless, but don’t have my books here, so I can’t look it up.

  6. Dan on May 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I like that science has crept up and in some instances surpassed religion as the gatekeeper of knowledge. For too long, religions had abused their position of power over the people and taught them some pretty strange things (take witches for instance). Science said, “hold on a sec there, your theory on witches just doesn’t fit the facts” which of course embarrassed religions and so it became an adversarial relationship.

    To me, I’ve never felt that science and religion could not reconcile. If we truly believe God created this world, then he created the rules that govern this world, too. And if we are unwilling to accept what science teaches us about the rules that govern this world, the problem is not with science, but with our religious views. Take evolution for instance. Darwin’s theory has withstood fairly well over the past 100+ years. It is a fairly sound theory. What if that is exactly how God created the rules that govern this world? A theory like evolution does not disprove God. What it disproves is corrupted religious institutions that have abused their positions of power and taught the masses falsehoods.

    Thank God science is where it is today!

  7. clark on May 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    It does tell us important things about our nature that are in conflict with the conception that natural selection is an undirected process.

    I’ve never understood this. To say natural selection is undirected can be a tad misleading. But I think I get what you are getting at. However one should note that no one would say that natural selection is all there is. For instance consider human evolution going on today. No one would say all that matters is natural selection. Rather our choices affect the conditions on which natural selection works.

  8. Dave on May 22, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Rameumptom (#5), I do have my copy handy. I think the remarks you are thinking of are from the prefatory paragraphs written by Nibley introducing his essay “The Expanding Gospel” in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless. Here is an excerpt:

    Nothing in the restored gospel is more stimulating to the inquiring mind than the infinitely expanding panorama of time and space it spreads before us. Our existence is viewed not as a one-act play, beginning with instantaneous creation of everything out of nothing and ending with its dissolution into the immaterial nothing from which it came (as St. Jerome puts it), but as a series of episodes of which for the present we are allowed to view only a few.

    He continues:

    In such a perspective of eternity the stock questions of controversy between science and religion become meaningless. When did it all begin — can you set a date? … How old is the earth? the universe? How long are they going to last? Nothing is settled yet … for us the story remains open-ended ….

  9. Bob on May 22, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    #6: I don’t think it is Mormonism that God created the Rules, but God must live by them (?)

    Personally, I don’t think Mormonism and Evolution, (as I understand them), can be reconciled at this time.

  10. Dan on May 22, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Bob,

    Who created the rules? Who must God answer to?

  11. The Right Trousers on May 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Why must God be the creator of all rules or zero rules?

    I program computers. I create rules all the time, which themselves must follow other sets of rules.

  12. Bob on May 22, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    #10: “Who created the rules?”. Good question. I have no answer. But is not the “The Plan of Salvation” to save us from that which God has no control over?
    #11: I believe the rules you must follow are “mathematics”. I don’t know who made those either.

  13. SVB on May 22, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    It is complex. Brigham Young opened the door for reincarnation when he said that he did not bless children who were going to die soon because they would just recycle.

    I do not believe that man and animals are fundamentally different. No one who has lived with animals can really feel that way. We all have the same genes, the same sorts of brains, the same needs and desires.

    We really need to stop thinking of ourselves as special cases. If we could only accept the reincarnation hypothesis, that would make us one with all the life on this planet because we might have been that life once. We really are animals, our bodies and minds have been crafted out of the stuff of this world and we really are related to every species walking, creeping or growing on this planet. Our spirit selves are only dimly perceived in the glowing brightness of this planetary life.

  14. Ross on May 22, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    It is interesting to consider what John Haught, a Roman Catholic theologian, thinks. It would be more interesting for me to consider what LDS professors of religion think.

    For that matter, what do LDS professors of biology think? My secondhand understanding (from Mitt Romney) is that evolution is taught at BYU. Is that understanding wrong?

  15. Aaron Brown on May 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Ross,

    Evolution is taught at BYU. The vast majority — possibly 100% — of the biology faculty believe in evolution, including, I believe, the evolution of man. Large quantities of LDS students “convinced” that evolution and Mormonism are incompatible used to pass through classes where evolution was taught and emerge “convinced” that they were compatible after all. I’d guess that’s still true.

    AB

  16. Tod Robbins on May 22, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Though humanity and the various animal kingdoms are related, perhaps even in the fullest sense, to the lineage of God is not completely out of the question. Joseph Smith denounced reincarnation; Brigham Young felt matter and intelligence was more malleable and reflexive. The possibility exists that Joseph Smith didn’t live long, the saints didn’t prepare themselves enough, for a similar teaching to come for Smith. But I tend to think we want to fit squares in circles before the rounding touches of revelation smooth the arcs to fit certain creation/organization models. That’s my opinion. We need more exploratory writings, distinctively Mormon, that engage evolution in its many facets. I agree with that sentiment.

  17. Kari on May 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    If your interested in what an LDS, BYU Biology professor thinks about evolution, check out Steven Peck’s blog, The Mormon Organon.

    For additional LDS perspectives on science and evolution, you can check out Dialogue 35:4 where there’s an an interview with Duan Jeffery, professor of Zoology at BYU, and articles “The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution” by Michael Ash, “Mormonism and the New Creationism” by David H. Bailey, and “The Human Genome Project, Modern Biology, and Mormonism: A Viable Marriage” by Devyn Smith. And don’t pass on reading, “Coming Out of the Evolution Closet” by Dynette Reynolds, a personal essay dealing with the isolation felt in being a Mormon who accepts evolution.

  18. Tod Robbins on May 22, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    “The possibility exists that Joseph Smith didn’t live long enough, the saints didn’t prepare themselves enough, for a similar teaching to come from Smith.”

    Grammar FAIL.

  19. Tim on May 22, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Any references to BY’s statement on recycling/reincarnation?
    I’ve always thought that some form of reincarnation made a lot more sense than much of Christianity’s belief that heaven is playing harps in clouds for eternity.
    I took evolution from Jeffery and ecology from SteveP about five years ago. Evolution is still very much taught, and some of the research BYU has done on evolution has made the cover of Nature (or was it Science? One of the two big science journals, in any case). BYU also celebrated Darwin Day (well, at least the Biology Department did).
    I highly recommend visiting Steve’s website and looking up some of his old posts on BCC; he’s a genuinely nice human being, and unlike some others on other blogosphere websites who write about evolution, he has a good understanding of the science behind it.

  20. Dan on May 22, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    The Right Trousers,

    #11,

    Why must God be the creator of all rules or zero rules?

    Because He is God. When you get to be a God yourself, you’ll understand. ;)

    Bob,

    #12,

    I have no answer. But is not the “The Plan of Salvation” to save us from that which God has no control over?

    I’m not sure I understand what you are asking here. God doesn’t control our decisions, the choices we make of our own free will. The consequences of our choices are our own and are not God’s to tamper with. With the Plan of Salvation, God set up a plan that DID NOT rob justice. With His Only Begotten suffering the punishments for our sins, nothing is frustrated (except of course, the Savior who had to go through that torment).

    God set up rules that govern life. Those rules also carry punishments for when they are broken. God cannot unravel those punishments, or he would cease to be God (as BoM prophets have explained several times). It’s not that he doesn’t have control over them. He had full control over them when he set them up! If we, of our own free will, choose to violate the rules, who is God to remove the punishment justice demands when that is the rule HE set up in the first place!

    #11: I believe the rules you must follow are “mathematics”. I don’t know who made those either.

    That would be God.

  21. Mark D. on May 22, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Brigham Young opened the door for reincarnation when he said that he did not bless children who were going to die soon because they would just recycle

    But *not* as individuals. If one is split into a zillion pieces of quasi animate stuff that ends up as part of the (spirit) bodies of a multitude of others, in what sense does that have any more to do with classical reincarnation than, say, the overwhelming probability that each of us contains particles derived from the remains of persons who died thousands of years ago, if not a particle from almost every such person?

  22. Mark D. on May 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    20: The idea that God made the rules of mathematics is tantamount to the doctrine of ex nihilo creation, a principle which would reduce LDS theology to shreds. e.g., why didn’t God just imagine us all into the celestial kingdom, complete with memories of umpteen zillion years of history that never actually happened?

  23. Aaron on May 23, 2009 at 6:12 am

    As I read the above posts, I was reminded of just how good our theology is. We don’t have all the answers, but we are free to think, to explore, to experiment, to discuss, and yes, even to disagree. That is something for which I am very grateful.

  24. Dan on May 23, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Mark,

    #22,

    Why? Why is it so impossible to believe that God created the rules of mathematics? If he didn’t, then who did? Is there a more powerful being in this universe than God that God must answer to? Because that is clearly what you are saying, that mathematics trumps God, that mathematics is more powerful than God.

  25. Bob on May 23, 2009 at 9:10 am

    #24: “…that mathematics is more powerful than God.”
    I would more likely say God can use mathematics, mathematics can’t use God. Therefore God is more powerful.

    But is this not the question of the post: Does “Information” exist apart from God or Man? Do we call this “Information” (my words) Natural Laws for God and Culture for Man? Is the “Information” more powerful than the power to use it?

  26. David H Bailey on May 23, 2009 at 9:39 am

    One of the best of recently published books on the scientific evidence for evolution is written by LDS biologist Daniel J. Fairbanks, who is now Dean of Undergraduate Education at BYU:
    “Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA”. Although Fairbanks does not mention his LDS affiliation in the book (and it shouldn’t matter), Fairbanks goes into detail in showing how a scientifically realistic approach to evolution in no way poses a “threat” to religion.

  27. steveP on May 23, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Dave, Excellent post. I’ve been a fan of Haught for many years and his followup in Deeper than Darwin is well worth the read. The Catholics have been thinking pretty deeply about this, with Ken Miller, a biologist exploring how theology and evolutionary biology fit together on a practical level and more recently, theological heavyweight Hans Kung, has done some some really excellent thinking on this ( The Beginning of All Things). Processes theologists who emerge (pun intended) from Whitehead’s thought have been the most active in developing a theology that fully embraces evolution as a full partner in their theology. Also the journal of science and religion Zygon often looks at theology and evolution.

    I think Mormonism as not really tackled evolution as a theology yet. Of course even talking about Mormon Theology seems to be out of fashion with the philosophically trained Mormon religion thinkers. What’s interesting is that much of the current talk about embodiment by that crowd seems to lend itself well to developing a Darwin friendly-Restoration informed view of the creation. I’ve played with it, but I’m not a philosopher or theologian so my attempts at the Mormon Organon have been unremarkable and really just calls that more attention needs to be paid to Darwin and Theology.

    Unfortunately, many in the church get their creation beliefs right out of the worst of Christian Fundamentalism. Because early in the 20th Century this perspective was widely available in public discourse it seems to have bled over into Mormonism without any revelation or warrant for its popularity. It’s really too bad that this horrible creationist view became our default.

    But you are absolutely right Dave. It is time to start thinking about this!

  28. Dave on May 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    David, thanks for the reference to the Fairbanks book, which I wasn’t aware of. Steve, likewise for the reference Kung’s recent science and religion book, which also slipped under my radar.

    It seems like the whole “science and religion” category has really exploded in just the last few years, with an array of skeptics, scientists, and theologians all anxious to make their contribution to the debate.

  29. Dan on May 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Bob,

    Saying God can use mathematics still does not answer who created mathematics. God could still have created mathematics and still have to abide by the rules he created within the world of mathematics.

    so did someone else create mathematics?

  30. Bob on May 23, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    #29: This is a fair question. But you are asking someone who can’t put his Ikea stuff together. I would guess mathematics co-exist with Gods. (Too Greek?). Maybe somebody has an answer for us?

  31. Kari on May 23, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    SteveP,

    I think Mormonism as not really tackled evolution as a theology yet. Of course even talking about Mormon Theology seems to be out of fashion with the philosophically trained Mormon religion thinkers.

    Excellent point! If Mormonism is unwilling to develop or embrace theology at a basic level, how can we expect it to even begin to approach evolution theology.

    In my opinion, many of the comments to this post emphasize this complete lack of any theology of something as fundamental as the nature of God and what it means to be omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent, particularly if the God of Mormonism (Elohim) is just of of many (thousands?) who exist, i.e. is God really omnipotent if he must follow the laws of mathematics, even if he created those laws?

  32. Dan on May 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Kari,

    God is bound by the rules he set up. He said so in D&C. “I am bound when ye do what I say. When ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

    How do we perceive omnipotence, omniscience, and so on? Is it dictatorial, “my way or the highway?” God has also stated he is a God of order and not of chaos.

  33. Bob on May 23, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    #31:Kari: We know the basics, and that’s were the problems are.
    In animal evolution, the individual dies so the group gets better. Human evolution no longer works this way. The group gets better by learning more information or “Culture”. Individual Man may even be weaker now, as he is not evolving his mind or body like the animals.
    Mormonism teaches the evolving of man as an individuals, but science no longer see this in Nature.

  34. David H Bailey on May 23, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Here are a few more books on evolution and religion that are worth reading if one wants to explore this topic:

    1. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul
    by Kenneth R. Miller. This is perhaps the best single volume on the topic in recent years.

    2. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth R. Miller. This is a few years old now, but still very good.

    3. Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA, by Daniel J. Fairbanks. Fairbanks, an LDS biology, reviews the recent explosion of research on DNA and evolution, and explains why there need not be any “war”.

    4. Darwin’s Gift: To Science and Religion, by Francisco Ayala. Ayala points out that Darwinism, far from being the “enemy” of religion, actually provides a very satisfying explanation for why evil exists. Thus we need not “blame God”.

    Here are three others, which do not address religion per se, but are great expositions of recent research in the field:

    5. Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry Coyne.

    6. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero.

    7. The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, by Sean B. Carroll.

  35. Mark D. on May 24, 2009 at 1:26 am

    Dan (#32), for a variety of reasons unrestricted omnipotence turns every theology either into chaos or Calvinism. One of the defining characteristics of the latter is the frank admission that no matter what God decided to do, it would be right simply because he decided to do it.

    With regard to mathematics, the answer is that non-sentient abstractions can exercise no power whatsoever.

  36. Dan on May 24, 2009 at 4:52 am

    Mark D.,

    Can you expand on the difference between a chaotic view and a Calvanistic view? and also, what do you mean by “non-sentient abstractions can exercise no power whatsoever.”

  37. Bob on May 24, 2009 at 9:19 am

    #35: Mark, “non-sentient abstractions can exercise no power whatsoever. Do you mean the “Laws of probability ” are without power, or they are outside of mathematics?

  38. Mark D. on May 24, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Dan, what I mean by chaos in a theology is irresolvable contradictions to the nth degree.

    Classical theism is based on the idea that God is the “ground of all being” – the ultimate substrate to all reality. The only way for that to be the case is if God creates the universe and everything therein out of nothing. It is a matter of some consequence that truth not vary from day to day. It makes rationality and objective judgment impossible.

    As a consequence classical theism always insists that God is an “unchangeable being”. In other words, that the basis of truth and goodness (i.e. God) is not subject to change from day to day – i.e. he is timeless, immutable, without body, parts, and passions – a mighty fortress or iron pillar. That is one step away from saying that God *is* goodness, and by nature goodness never changes.

    On the other hand, if God is in the position of saying that loving ones neighbor is virtuous one day and hating him is virtuous the next, an objective judgment that he is acting in an arbitrary or capricious manner is impossible, because as the sole definer of truth and righteousness, the very ground by which such a judgement can be made has shifted under our feet.

    In other words, God can be the timeless ground of all righteousness and truth (including mathematics) or he can act in a context where certain fundamentals are outside his control, but he cannot be a temporal being and also be the ground of righteousness and truth without reducing theology to an exercise in the Stockholm syndrome.

    i.e. how do we tell that God is good, and the devil is bad? Is it simply because the former is more powerful than the latter?

  39. Mark D. on May 24, 2009 at 10:33 am

    37: Bob, I mean that things that do not and cannot change do not and cannot exercise any power – power being the capacity to change things to be different from what they are.

    God is under no more threat from mathematics than he is from the law of noncontradiction, i.e. the rule of logic that states that a meaningful proposition cannot be both true and false. 1 + 1 cannot be both equal to two and not equal to two without rendering some subset of the concepts “1”, “2”, “plus”, and “equal” meaninglessness.

  40. Bob on May 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    #39: I am not sure B. Russel agrees with you on the “Law of noncontration”, (his thinking on the “theory of definite descriptions”) but clearly you are better schooled on this than I am.

  41. Mark D. on May 24, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    #40: James E. Talmage is well known for having advocated the position that God does everything he does in accordance with the laws of nature, rather than in contravention of the same, and that any perception to the contrary is due to incomplete understanding of what the laws of nature really are.

    That takes things a significant step further than simply maintaining that reality is definite and that truth does not contradict itself, in my opinion for the better.

  42. msg on May 24, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    It has always been my understanding that God is not the author of Mathematics or the Laws of Nature and Physics. They have always existed which is a concept our feeble mortal minds can barely grasp as we think in terms of beginnings and endings. And that whenever a “miracle” happens, it is simply that God understands and knows what we don’t about that particular law. He didn’t “make” it happen on His own anymore than he “made” intelligences–which have always existed.
    Certain things have always existed–good, evil, truth, laws of nature, mathematics that govern those laws, etc. and when someone becomes exalted they still have to work within those
    same laws–a newly exalted being can’t make mathematics and physics non-existent and organize a world.

  43. msg on May 25, 2009 at 12:16 am

    I do have a question. If there was no death until after the Fall of Adam and Eve–then how do we explain primitive man and dinosaurs? (Sorry if I’m going off in another direction here–I’ve just always had that question.)

  44. Bob on May 25, 2009 at 1:07 am

    #43: They use to hang dinosaur bones in cathedrals in the Middle Ages to prove the Bible… “and there were giants in the land..”.

  45. Mike on May 26, 2009 at 5:42 am

    As for me, I believe in no evolution. I realize that it is “OK” for a Mormon to believe in evolution and in the Lord, I just don’t believe so much has been made of so little for so long by so many. Darwin is dead but his imagination has a life of its own.

  46. djames on May 28, 2009 at 8:37 am

    To me, the more important quote from JS and BY refer to the gospel as seeking/holding all truth. My take away from your summary of the book is that our religion can play an important part in seeking knowledge from all sources. But that includes saying ‘I don’t know’ to some questions.

    Today, the biggest problem science faces is the extrapolation of some truth into massive assumptions that fall under their own weight. I see it as similar to the overreach of religions for many years (dinosaur bones in cathedrals). Evolution can be seen in nature but the theory of man’s evolution is a huge extrapolation that has significant issues (carbon dating has problems, the beginnings of life has significant unanswered questions and obvious issues, etc). But science has become many people’s religion-it is not a surprise that it is taking a course similar to the religions of the dark ages.

  47. Rob on May 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Djames (#46) and Mike (#45), human evolution is very well documented. Just take a Physical Anthropology class (even at BYU) and you can see for yourself how all the fossil and biochemical evidence line up. There are a lot of specific details we still don’t know, but the overall trajectory of human evolution is very clear. It isn’t just imagined or an over extrapolation. It is as clear and substantiated as the orbiting of the earth around the sun.

  48. Mike on May 30, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Nothing in biology or anthropology requires evolution as an explanation. The only evidence of evolution is in the testimony of the believers.

  49. Tim on May 31, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Mike,
    Sorry, but biologists, including the biologists at the church-run universities, disagree with you.

  50. Mike on May 31, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Tim,
    Don’t you let anyone tell you any differently, either.

  51. Mike on May 31, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    To clarify my previous comment: I have yet to see a biologist or any scientist of any stripe, provide PROOF of their belief/faith in common ancestry, speciation, or the power of natural selection to produce anything other than cosmetic change intra-species. I have discussed this at great length with Darwinists for over two years, and the arguments all end up the same: ultimately, it’s their belief system against mine. And they point to their authority figures with all the faith of starry eyed children, and they think their scientists are infallible and they think evolution has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and they think the evidence is overwhelming. I’ve heard this countless times, I doubt anyone here will bring any new evidence in. Bottom line is: all recorded observations do not show any species capable of becoming any other species than their own. Bacteria remain bacteria. Dogs, despite the variations of breeding techniques, remain dogs.

    I have seen enough shoddy evidence introduced as “overwhelming proof” and to discuss it any further is pointless because I will see the same recycled arguments reproduced ad nauseum. I no longer accept the leaps of faith of pro-Darwinian biologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, LDS or non-LDS, nor any other imaginative person who makes more out of the evidence than is there.

    And I really don’t care who proves what in court. It’s all the machinations of men who care more about power, status, and ideology, than in objectivity. It’s the blind leading the blind pretending they can see.

  52. Mike on May 31, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I am quite convinced that the evolutionary belief system is kept in place by massive amounts of peer pressure, a shared secular ideology which must be protected and defended at all costs, government funding, and some very convincing tirades by the ‘learned’ and ‘educated’ scientific elitists.

    The abuse and ridicule heaped upon ID has to be motivated by something. If you want to believe that that motivation is on the up and up, that it is motivated by pure scientific objectivity , be my welcome guest. I shan’t be joining you.

    And as for the book which began this discussion, I would refer the author to the works of Ken Wilber, who wrote “A Theory of Everything” and several other books along those lines. He talks about the Perennial Philosophy of Aldous Huxley, which philosophy exists in some form or other across nearly all cultures and all religious traditions, and disappears quite noticeably with the development of Western scientific materialism. This philosophy concerns the hierarchy of everything in the cosmos, spelled here, Kosmos, to denote everything, meaning, every conceivable thing. And this hierarchy is what is acknowledged by all the world’s wisdom traditions, all except for modern scientism, which has a worldview typified by dualism, a split between the observer and the observed.

    Now the gifts of modern scientism are many, there is no doubt of that. But as with all things, there is an up side and a down side. The knowledge produced by modern scientific materialism has been abundant and beneficial. That’s the upside. The downside is that it has of necessity come at a cost – and that cost involves the denial of the human soul and a rejection of the notion that there is any conceivable ‘higher, better, deeper’ worldview than scientific materialism.

    I don’t have the time to elaborate further other than to say that Ken makes the case that both science and religion can be integrated, and that the hierarchy in the universe still exists even though it may be denied by modernists and post-modernists.

    Thanks for listening, and I don’t want to turn this discussion into a pro/anti evolution debate. I’ve had sufficient of that thing over the last couple years I don’t want to engage it at that level anymore.

  53. Rob on May 31, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Mike, if you don’t believe in evolution, what do you believe in? What other framework do you have to explain or understand the fossil record?

  54. Mike on June 1, 2009 at 6:23 am

    God is great and mysterious. And He doesn’t wait around millions of years for things to happen on their own, because they won’t happen.