Writings in the Stone

November 24, 2009 | 97 comments
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Some years ago I sat in a Gospel Doctrine class taught by a physician. I mention his profession because I think it matters, as he took the opportunity to deviate from the lesson and condemn in the strongest terms the theory of evolution. He labeled it a satanic concept, one that we must avoid, one that destroys faith.

I took a deep breath and then spoke up. I pointed out the numerous statements and scriptures supporting learning from the best books, and pointed to Brigham Young’s statement that Mormonism embraces all truth.

It wasn’t the most uplifting class. I might have handled it better. It created a tension between us that never really dissipated. And I made a mental note to seek medical care from someone that actually puts stock in the foundational theory of modern biology. (This wasn’t anything personal, it couldn’t have been. He is an OB/GYN, and I am decidedly male, so it really didn’t matter in this case.)

I’ll state this bluntly: I believe that a rigid, literalistic stance is dangerous. It is dangerous to our children as it forces them to face a false dilemma. If we teach that a literal reading of scripture is the only proper reading, what happens when our children reach high school and college and they see the vast weight of evidence – and the consistency of that evidence – as it points to an old earth and natural selection? Must we force them to choose between their faith and their intellect? This is a losing proposition. The loss is the very children we seek to teach and nurture and help to return to God. It’s a high price to pay, and one that is completely unnecessary.

Reconciling science and scripture needn’t diminish the teachings found in our canon. Scripture is sacred, but it was written largely by nomadic, bronze- and iron-age societies. We can be charitable in our readings, seeing their writings as the response of these ancient communities to their experience of God. It contains their stories of God, their perceptions of God’s character and will, their prayers to and praise of God, their perceptions of the human condition and the paths of deliverance, their religious and ethical practices, and their understanding of what it means to be faithful to God.

There are treasures within the scriptures. If we approach them with an open heart, they have the power to work within us and help us to connect with God. Mountains of CreationBut on this day, the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, we should remember that in addition to the writings in the scripture, we also have the writings in the stone. Both testify to the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, if we are open to viewing them as they really are.

I find hope and inspiration in the world around us, in the story it tells us, in the vast time-frame that it speaks to. If I might share an extended quote, I will close this post with the words of John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist and Anglican priest. He was interviewed by Krista Tippet for Speaking of Faith in 2005, and I return to this when I think of the world around me:

…God is not a god in a hurry. That’s clear. God is patient and subtle. God works through process and not through magic; not through snapping the divine fingers. And I think that’s what we learn from seeing the history of creation as science has revealed it, and I think that tells us something about how God acts generally. And, when you think about it, if God really is a God whose nature is best described as being the God of love, then that is how love will work. Not by overwhelming force, but by, if you like, persuasive process. So I think we learn something really quite valuable from that. Again, it’s an example of how religious insights about the nature of God and the scientific insights about the process of the world seem to me actually to be very consonant with each other. You can’t deduce one from the other, but you can see it and they fit together in a way that makes sense. They don’t seem to be at odds with each other, and I find that encouraging.

Image: NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory – California Institute of Technology,
Lori Allen – Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

97 Responses to Writings in the Stone

  1. thejerry on November 24, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Not all physicians are scientists.

  2. mills on November 24, 2009 at 4:16 am

    Assuming for a moment that evolution was the method by which God created the world, does anyone really think that God could have explained such a theory to the scientifically illiterate authors of our holy script? God revealed only what he needed to and he did so in as simple a way as possible. From a religious perspective the ‘how’ is irrelevant. Religion is concerned with the ‘who’ and the ‘why’. This is what our scripture addresses.

  3. Tim on November 24, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Thank you for this.
    My parents are pretty much your standard LDS Creationists. I grew up thinking evolution was incompatible with the gospel. Had I continued with that belief, I doubt that I would have remained an active member of the church.
    A wonderful high school science teacher (very cool guy, BYU grad, and a bishop at the time) and wonderful science professors at BYU helped me understand that the gospel and science need not be at odds.
    Given the dozens of biology classes I took, many of which delved deep into the evidence of evolution, I hate to think of what might have happened had I not had those teachers. My testimony had not yet formed (at least at first), and there’s a good chance I would have left the church had I felt that the doctrines of the church contradicted what I knew to be scientific fact.

  4. Tatiana on November 24, 2009 at 7:48 am

    I love the header graphics today. Is this the start of a google-like special header for every holiday?

    Great post, by the way. I agree completely. I’m glad I didn’t know that some general authorities teach that LDS theology is incompatible with Darwin before I joined. That would have been a big averter for me. I heard instead about being urged to learn everything we can about everything in the world, and that everything true is part of our religion. That refreshing openness to science and intellectual pursuits, so different from other branches of Christianity, powerfully attracted me to the church.

  5. Nitsav on November 24, 2009 at 8:21 am

    I don’t think we need to downplay Genesis or paternally pat it on its primitive head. That said, it is what it is, and was never intended to be a scientific historical documentary. To read it as such is to misread it.

  6. Tim on November 24, 2009 at 8:36 am

    I love Genesis and the parallels between Adam, the prodigal son, and myself.
    It took listening to Neal Morse’s album “One” for me to really see those parallels, and subsequent temple trips and other experiences have elevated my understanding.
    I think we downplay Genesis at our own peril–but that does not mean we need to take it literally.

  7. Catania on November 24, 2009 at 8:41 am

    There is a blog post that I love here. The author of this is a mormon scientist. He reconciles science and religion – especially the creation – quite nicely.

    And thanks for including the quote. It is really great, and makes a lot of sense. When I think of the blessings I’ve received from the hand of the Lord, it usually seems like they took some time in order to be perfect. And those were really easy blessings – in comparison to the creation of the world.

    As far as reading the scriptures, we aren’t told to read all of them literally. We aren’t told that they are all figurative. We are simply told to have the Spirit when we read.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  8. Trent on November 24, 2009 at 9:01 am

    It’s probably nieve to think we have the scientific knowledge even now to understand the process of creation. In fact, it’s likely that 50-100 years from now people will look back to our day and consider our scientific knowledge “primitive.”

  9. Left Field on November 24, 2009 at 9:11 am

    #1: There may be physicians who aren’t scientists, but if so, they’re not doing their job and should find another occupation. The same is true of auto mechanics. If I find that my mechanic or my physician isn’t following the scientific method in diagnosing and solving the problem, then I’ll take my business elsewhere.

  10. Julie M. Smith on November 24, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Excellent post.

    One point: it is possible to have a *literalistic* reading of the scriptures that still permits acceptance of evolution. I think you have unwittingly created your own false dilemma by setting them in opposition.

  11. Frank McIntyre on November 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

    “I believe that a rigid, literalistic stance is dangerous.”

    I think avoiding rigid stances probably applies as much or more to interpreting scientific claims in the light of the gospel as it does to interpreting the scriptures. Some people on either side of the question (and I am not talking about Rory) just need to relax.

    I do not much care about the mechanism by which God created the various species or how he came to put Adam and Eve here. God has not found it it important enough to the gospel to explain in detail and I wonder if maybe that should be good enough for people on both sides of the question.

    As for your physician friend (or non-friend?). While I don’t think all applications of evolutionary theory are evil or even problematic, he was probably right that _some_ people use the theory to advance an atheist agenda that seeks to eliminate God and disparage our place as His children. And I think most of us would agree that such an application of the theory is probably Satanic.

  12. Aaron on November 24, 2009 at 10:25 am

    I like your language — “writings in the stones” — which I think of as the testimony of the earth itself, a testimony which is constantly revealing new things for us to understand. I used to get upset when instructors used their position as teacher to advocate for or against something, but I have since calmed down. We all have our causes and prejudices. I once had a priesthood instructor who used to rail against the environmental movement. I was too shy to speak up, but one of my friends did. In a very gentle way, he said he had always thought of the environmental movement as an extension of the Word of Wisdom, that if we are not to put impure things into our bodies that should include air and water. We didn’t hear much about that particular hobby horse after that.

  13. Dave on November 24, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Rory, I like the term “false dilemmas.” As a church, we should certainly strive to avoid setting up false dilemmas for the membership, and when individual leaders unwittingly do so, it is nice when other leaders or those who speak to LDS audiences (profs, teachers, writers) help others work around those false dilemmas.

    The way some Mormons approach evolution may set some people up for a false dilemma. The way some Mormons think about race issues or the divine feminine or politics or a dozen other concepts also sets some people up for false dilemmas. I wonder if there are really any true dilemmas?

  14. dangermom on November 24, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Interesting–recently a good friend of ours, a physician, got up to speak (in a position of some authority) and condemned Freud and Darwin as the two worst deceptions of the 20th century. I was not there, but I know of 2 people who wrote to him privately pointing out that there is no doctrinal stand against being a faithful Mormon and accepting evolution. So we’re hoping he doesn’t do that again, but who knows.

    Personally I think the whole evolution argument is a side issue and that creationists spend far too much energy on it that could be better used elsewhere. Also they’ve accepted the militant atheists’ proposition of argument, which was a mistake in the first place. (That is, “If evolution is true then God does not exist.”)

    I too like the ‘writing in the stones’ expression. The testimony of the earth, I believe, contains truth.

  15. bfwebster on November 24, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I teach the Gospel Essentials class (investigators and new members), and I periodically quote the advice that Pres. Eyring’s grandfather gave to his son (Pres. Eyring’s father, Henry Eyring) before Henry left for college: “Remember, in this church, you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.”

    My foundational testimony is of the existence of God, the atonement and divinity of Christ, and the reality of the Restoration. All else is subject to further light and knowledge. ..bruce..

  16. Ugly Mahana on November 24, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Ones conclusion as to whether evolution is satanic or not depends on the definition of evolution. Most of the commenters here have used the word “creation” in a way that includes darwinina concepts of how life evolves. In general parlance, I think “evolution” usually denotes these darwinian concepts as well as the belief that there was no divine providence in either the genesis or continued development and speciation of life. “Creation” is usually used as the opposite of the latter part of that definition. That is, “creation” is used to convey the idea that God was directly responsible for at least the genesis of all life.

    As pointed out in the post and in the comments, however, the idea that all forms of life evolve does not rule out God’s participation in both the genesis and the evolution of life. It is not only creationists that create false dilemmas. Those who claim that evolution proves that God does not exist have gone beyond science and, from the perspective of faith, are teaching pernicious lies.

    I am not well-versed in either geology or biology. Though unlearned, I tend to think that God’s handiwork is more subtle than we expect. I love reading the words of those who are familiar with these areas of study, and who see the hand of God in stone and in life.

  17. Ugly Mahana on November 24, 2009 at 11:34 am

    The point of my last paragraph is that I liked the post. Thanks.

  18. S.Faux on November 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I thank chococatania in comment #7 for referencing my Biblical Genesis Corresponds with Evolution essay.

    I also thank Rory for reminding us that the “writings in stone,” those wonderful fossils, are ALSO telling us something important about ourselves. I love the scriptures. They are a necessary ingredient in my life, but I also seek additional knowledge, such as provided by science, which has given us calendars, clocks, chemicals, and computers. It has also given us the concept of change — also known as evolution, mutability, and plasticity. As for me, I prefer to be a 21st century Mormon, as much as I love the 19th century pioneers.

  19. thejerry on November 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    @Left Field

    I think we rely on physicians for their experience, not necessarily for their scientific reasoning. It appears to me that this particular physician doesn’t have the ability to think scientifically especially outside of his area of expertise, but that doesn’t mean I would necessarily disregard his OB/GYN recommendation. I agree that it would be nice to have physicians who were good scientists but in my experience they are not always easy to find.

    In the post Rory writes “I mention his profession because I think it matters” and what I am saying is maybe in this context it doesn’t matter.

  20. Matt Evans on November 24, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Evolution is taught at BYU, so I don’t know what your friend thinks about that.

    I don’t consider most medical care professionals to be “scientists” in any meaningful sense, and think it’s silly to suggest that doctors who don’t subscribe to evolution are inferior doctors. It’s the equivalent of saying engineers who doubt the big bang make inferior computers or that meteoroligists who are skeptical of the prevailing views of climate change make worse weather forecasts.

    From all accounts, Elder Russell M. Nelson was an exceptional doctor, despite his apparent rejection of traditional evolution, as told in this Pew Forum interview:

    Different denominations deal differently with questions about life’s origins and development. Conservative denominations tend to have more trouble with Darwinian evolution. Does the church have an official position on this topic?

    Nelson: We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life. It’s interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are. We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being. We owe a lot to those lower species. But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.

    Why is that?

    Nelson: Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.

  21. Tim on November 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    “Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.”
    Wow. Nelson doesn’t understand genetics (mutation) or evolution.
    Granted, I don’t think either are necessary in order to be a good doctor, any more than an understanding of them is needed to be a General Authority or to make it to heaven.
    Notice that Elder Nelson does make clear what is doctrine (God is our creator) and what is his own opinion (is, to me, incomprehensible).

  22. Ardis Parshall on November 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Four years ago in the last go-round of the Old Testament, my Gospel Doctrine teacher taught that the earth was not a day older than 6,000 years, and that anybody who said otherwise was an infidel or an apostate. He hammered at that far longer than the point merited, and had some pansy quotation to that effect on his handout. I’ve hesitated to trust his teaching ever since, even in the spiritual realm where he’s probably as qualified as anyone, because if someone will bear testimony to something that is not true, something that is not doctrinal, how can I trust his testimony to be any more valid on other points? It may be — it probably is — but to me he is no longer a credible witness on his own, and his testimony needs to be corroborated by other sources.

    I make lots of mistakes of my own, all the time, in blogging and in teaching Gospel Doctrine. I do try, though, never to bear a testimony, or never to label it as such, of anything that I haven’t investigated myself. I can repeat stories from the manual or explanations from supplementary material even when I haven’t fully examined them, but I try to place responsibility for those things where it belongs, and only bear testimony where I can actually witness to something.

  23. Tim on November 24, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Some doctors (those who research disease, etc.) do need to have an understanding of mutations and evolution.
    But most doctors in practice don’t necessarily need that background in order to practice good medicine.

  24. Hans on November 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Not that I agree with it, but there are some interesting debates between LDS creationists and believers in evolution at No Death Before the Fall blog:

    http://ndbf.blogspot.com/

  25. Julie M. Smith on November 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Ardis, your teacher was, obviously, out to lunch, but also contradicting what was presented in his own teacher’s manual for that lesson:

    “The length of time required for the Creation is not known. The term day in the scriptural account of the Creation does not represent a 24-hour period. The Hebrew word yom can be translated as “day,” “time,” or “period.””

  26. Bob on November 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Let me play the heavy here again.
    I do not (IMO), believe you can at this time, reconcile Evolution or Darwinism with Mormonism.
    Evolution is Godless, planless, random, and without goals. The strong overpowers the weak.

    Mormonism has a God, a plan, is not random, and has goals. ( And,hopefully, a place for the weak).
    Evolution is not to be confused with an evolutionary process being uses by God to carry out a plan.

  27. The other Bro Jones on November 24, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    I am thankful that this is not is not doctrine relevant to my personal salvation.
    The gospel encompasses all truth. There is an answer. But this is not one of the test questions at the pearly gates.

  28. Dave on November 24, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks for the manual quote, Julie. That’s a good reminder that the “stick to the manual” mantra that so often gets directed at LDS teachers isn’t just to keep freelancers from reading paragraphs out of the latest issue of Dialogue to the class, it’s also to keep teachers from, uh, making up doctrine as they go (based on their personal view of politics, science, nutrition, parenting, history, whatever).

  29. DavidH on November 24, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    “I do not (IMO), believe you can at this time, reconcile Evolution or Darwinism with Mormonism.
    Evolution is Godless, planless, random, and without goals.”

    I agree. I would add that we cannot reconcile physics with Mormonism either. Physics is Godless, planless, random and without goals.

  30. Jim Donaldson on November 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I have always loved Spencer Kimball’s observation that Eve being created out of Adam’s rib was purely metaphorical and Joseph Smith’s teaching that the sacrament was purely symbolic. I think one of the purposes of continuing revelation is to tell us what is symbolic and metaphorical and what is to be taken literally (i.e., gathering of ten tribes?). Good to have those prophets, from time to time.

    Look at all the trouble that has saved us: the poor evangelicals with their biblical literalness and the poor Catholics with transubstantiation. We have our own troubles, for sure, but we dodged those.

  31. bfwebster on November 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Here’s my own take on evolution (as a devout, active Mormon). ..bruce..

  32. Rory Swensen on November 24, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments. I included the physician in my post because I was genuinely surprised at his stance, and while all physicians are not scientists, I do expect a professional to understand (and understand how to work with) foundational theories and concepts. I’m sorry, though, that this seems to be one of the sticking points in the discussion. If I were to write this again, I would leave that out.

    I’m also not trying to pull God into the force behind evolution. Such a tactic seems too easy to me, to co-opt scientific understanding and simply push our understanding of God to a more distant realm.

    Rather, I find that a concept of a God that must work within a framework, be subject to natural law, and that must be patient with processes really resonates with me.

  33. Ugly Mahana on November 24, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    “I find that a concept of a God that must work within a framework, be subject to natural law, and that must be patient with processes really resonates with me.”

    This idea resonates with me, too. I expect that when we see how God does things we will find that he not only worked within a framework, but also used the framework itself to achieve his ends. With this in mind, I find that believing-in-God approaches to evolution open awe-inspiring vistas.

  34. Crick on November 24, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    “Must we force them to choose between their faith and their intellect?”

    Ultimately I will teach my children to choose their faith over their intellects. But I hope they will use both gifts and let faith trump science when the two appear mutually exclusive. I don’t want them to discard science or view it as satanic; instead I hope they will view the word of God as final to the degree it is given and science as a mortal journey toward putting all truth into one whole. I do not want them to view the scriptures charitably as the writings of ignorant nomads, but hope they view the scriptures as profound insights for our day, written by prophets who saw the future and its technological advancements clearly, but who had a more important message. I think this can be done without jettisoning science and certainly without having a crisis of faith.

    The more we learn about the world, the more “agency” gets called into question. No, I am not just talking about SSM/SSA. Recently I have read a report of a study that road rage is the result of humans evolving in a way that punishes antisocial behavior (the guy cuts me off and so I will show him). A lengthy New York Times Magazine article recently quoted several heavy hitting scientists who don’t even believe that humans have choice at all—that choice is an illusion. Some seem to believe that after the big bang hurled everything into the cosmos, all that has resulted—from the holocaust to your looking at your monitor and sipping a Pepsi—are the result of complex factors that ultimately we have no control over. We already live in a very secular world, but in coming days it is going to take extraordinary faith to believe that human beings do have agency—that we can choose to live different than the animals or automatons some would make us out to be.

    That said, I think evolution is controversial for strange reasons—our faith doesn’t teach that evolution is a satanic concept so I don’t view it as such. I also don’t understand why there is no hue and cry about the teaching of gravity or the properties of water when clearly biblical stories that I view as literal appear to contradict those tenets of science. I don’t view Newton anymore “evil” than Darwin, and I believe most scientists are sincere seekers of truth, not pawns of Satan. However, the rational search for truth will never tell us what is right or wrong and will only continue to call into question the existence of God unless we balance science with a belief in that which is not seen (Hebrews 11:1). When my children are confronted with science that seems to contradict the word of God, I hope they will suspend judgment on (not reject) the science, but refuse to place negative judgment on the word of God. When *worldly attitudes* contradict the word of God, I hope they will indeed reject those attitudes, even if it means enduring difficulty, pain and scorn.

  35. Left Field on November 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I am baffled by the idea that physicians are not or need not be scientists. The physician observes the symptoms, uses his or her expertise to formulate a hypothesis, tests the hypothesis, and prescribes a treatment. If the result does not support the hypothesis, then another hypothesis must be tested. That’s the scientific method. How else would one possibly do medicine? Where are people finding doctors that do not follow the scientific method? What are they, Christian Science Practitioners?

  36. Bob on November 24, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    My only thought is: Evolution is a noun.
    Mormons can/should use in their discussions of Creation, verbs like evolve, or evolving instead.

  37. SteveP on November 24, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Rory your voice is an important contribution to the Mormonism and evolution discussion. And quoting Krista Tippit! That was brilliant.

  38. Dude on November 24, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    There are those who believe that the theory of organic evolution runs counter to the plain and explicit principles set forth in the holy scriptures as these have been interpreted and taught by Joseph Smith and his associates. There are others who think that evolution is the system used by the Lord to form plant and animal life and to place man on earth.

    May I say that all truth is in agreement, that true religion and true science bear the same witness, and that in the true and full sense, true science is part of true religion. But may I also raise some questions of a serious nature. Is there any way to harmonize the false religions of the Dark Ages with the truths of science as they have now been discovered? Is there any way to harmonize the revealed religion that has come to us with the theoretical postulates of Darwinism and the diverse speculations descending therefrom?

    Should we accept the famous document of the First Presidency issued in the days of President Joseph F. Smith and entitled “The Origin of Man” as meaning exactly what it says? Is it the doctrine of the gospel that Adam stood next to Christ in power and might and intelligence before the foundations of the world were laid; that Adam was placed on this earth as an immortal being; that there was no death in the world for him or for any form of life until after the Fall; that the fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world; that this temporal death passed upon all forms of life, upon man and animal and fish and fowl and plant life; that Christ came to ransom man and all forms of life from the effects of the temporal death brought into the world through the Fall, and in the case of man from a spiritual death also; and that this ransom includes a resurrection for man and for all forms of life? Can you harmonize these things with the evolutionary postulate that death has always existed and that the various forms of life have evolved from preceding forms over astronomically long periods of time?

    – Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Seven Deadly Heresies”

    http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6770

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 24, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    As several commenters have pointed out, terminology and definitions are important, especially when making broad statements.

    “Evolution” is a term that is often used with different meanings by the same person in the same discourse. Many scientists or science teachers defending “evolution” will start by using a very general definition–such as “change through time”–which it is hard to argue with, but then conflate it with Darwin’s theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection of survivors. These are NOT the same thing.

    Darwin posited a process in which there is no guiding hand creating varaiations in the descendants of a living creature, and differential survival of those descendants with certain characteristics. A close look at his correspondence with friends and fellow scientists makes clear that he intended this to be an atheistic process, in the sense of needing no participation by God, and thus eliminating one of the historical arguments for the existence of a creator, namely the variety of life forms.

    By contrast, many people who are religious believers who say they support “evolution” believe that God acts behind the branching diversity of life forms, either through occasional interventions in the DNA of descendants, or in a mysterious fashion at the outset of life, building in a bias that moves the random events of mutation and differential survival toward teleological goals, specifically the creation of mankind in God’s image. This very gentle kind of “creationism” is supported by Kenneth Miller, PHD in biology, who has written textbooks on evolution and was featured in the PBS series on evolution several years ago. Yet even Miller’s mild form of creationism was scathingly denounced by fellow biologist Richard Dawkins, who insists that one cannot accept evolution with rejecting God. Dawkins blew up in Miller’s face when they were on a panel together a few years ago.

    On the other hand, atheists like Dawkins like to conflate a wide range of viewpoints into the word “creationism”, including any belief that God had ANY role in creating ANYTHING. But it is obvious that people who insist on creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) are very much opposed to the view shared by Mormons that God used already existing matter (and presumably energy, which is the same thing) to create the earth. One can believe in God creating the earth in 5 billion years and the observable universe in 13 billion years, but still be a “creationist” even while rejecting the notion of creation in 6 24 hour days, or 6,000 years. Indeed, if some “young earth creationists” can accept that range of variation in the time span for creation, applying the same ratio a second time takes us up into the billions of years range. If once is OK, why not twice?

    The notion that Genesis 1 refers to the creation of the entire universe, rather than just the earth, is also a rather tenous notion, in my “literal” reading of the bible. You will note that the temple animation shows the latter, not the former. After all, the Book of Moses tells us that our earth is far from unique, that God has created unnumbered-to-mankind earths before and since.

    Those like Dawkins who like to conflate “young earth creationism” with “intelligent design” are intentionally misrepresenting the assertions of the latter. “Intelligent design” makes the simple claim that the most logical scientific explanation for the observed scientific facts is that there is discernbile evidence of an entity applying its intelligence to bring into being the known facts of biology and the cosmos. There are three main emphases of ID supporters.

    First, they point to the “anthroppmorphic nature” of the cosmos. The universe we know has a certain number of constants, ratios between quantities like the strength of electric charge and mass of electrons, etc., and it turns out that if any two or three of these apparently arbitrarily determined numbers were different by 10% or even less, life as we know it would be impossible in the universe. In other words, in most possible universes, we could not exist. The fact we are here indicates either that we are VERY LUCKY (a thing that should make us suspicious, since it violates the Copernican principle of assumed mediocrity), OR something arranged things so we could be here. Such unlikely coincidences cause curious people (which scientists are supposed to be) to conclude the most likely answer is that something intended the events to happen. For example, while a 757 jet hitting a tall building is an unlikely but possible accident, TWO 757 jets hitting identical tall buildings next to each other within a few minutes is clearly an intentional event. The facts of physics that support the existence of life are even MORE unlikely than that.

    A second area where Intelligent Design advocates argue we can reasonably conclude an intellgient actor exists is in the origin of the first living cell. The most important fact about Darwin’s theory of evolution that is never taught in most classes is that the theory ASSUMES living cells already exist. Darwin could not explain how inanimate matter transitions into a living cel, with DNA that can reproduce itself and control the creation of descendants. And the fact is, NOBODY KNOWS STILL. There is not one scientific hypothesis that has any real evidence such that it can eliminate any other hypothesis. They are still just guessing. And knowing the complexity of the cell and of DNA, the notion that it all fell together by chance, with no antecedent living cell, is another one of those highly unlikely chance occurrences.

    Finally, Intelligent Design advocates claim that Darwin’s theory can explain “micro-evolution” within species, but has failed to demonstrate the ability to create new species, or new major functions, and they point to biological mechanisms, such as the electric rotary motor that powers the bacterial flagellum, as something that the one-step-at-a-time, Darwinian random mechanism simply cannot explain.

    Those atheists who insist that we MUST believe in evolution and that evolution FORCES us to reject God love to claim that God was an idea created to fill the “gaps” in our knowledge of how the universe works. They argue that the gaps are disappearing as science advances, and soon there will be no room left for God.

    Apart from the fact that arguments are made for an Intelligent Designer from the existence of positive facts, not from ignorance, the whole notion of knowledge gaps disappearing is simply bogus. Within the last 20 years scientists have discovered that they have NO idea what 95% of the universe is made of! Only 5% is the conventional particles we used to think made everything. But Dark Matter masses everal times that, and makes our galaxies so tightly bound with gravity that they spin, NOT like collections of planets, but more like a solid disc. And beyond that, over 80% of the mass-energy of the universe is bound up in Dark Energy, that is accelerating the expansion of the universe, driving the galaxies faster and faster apart until eventually al other galaxies will accelerate past the speed of light from our perspective. That is one heck of a GAP for God to be found in. Any scientist who believes in such impossible things is a hypocrite to criticize those of us who believe in angelic beings.

    If we are really concerned about the meaning of the scriptures, and the meaning of science, we owe it to ourselves to learn a lot more than the sound bites that call us to reject one or the other. If you know enough about both, the alleged “conflict” disappears.

  40. Tim on November 24, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Yeah, he was wrong about the Catholic church and about blacks and the priesthood too.

  41. Bob on November 24, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    #39: Raymond, other attorneys must love getting a set of Interrogs from you.
    I liked your post. I too still have many questions about Evolution (the noun) to put all my money on it. I am however, comfortable in saying things do evolve (the verb).

  42. m&m on November 25, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Ones conclusion as to whether evolution is satanic or not depends on the definition of evolution.

    That was the first thought I had.

    I also agree about the problem with false dilemmas. Sometimes concepts are so charged that the emotional reaction to them makes understanding harder to reach — either between people, or about what is truth.

  43. msg on November 25, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Anatomy, Physiology,
    Astronomy, Mathematics, etc.–all testify to me that Heavenly Father is a master scientist. That’s who creates a world. God is certainly not against science as He uses it constantly. We just don’t always understand how He uses it.

  44. Alison Moore Smith on November 25, 2009 at 4:50 am

    I was raised by scientists and married one, too. And I’ve never really understood the big problem. I don’t often see huge contradictions between hard science and the gospel. And when I do, I figure we humans will get smart enough to reconcile it one day. To me, it generally comes down, not to the idea that the scripture writers were a bunch of uneducated hicks, but to the idea that in a hundred years, today’s “scientists” will be seen that way. Science…now that certainly is evolving.

    And I had to love the big bang in global warming this week.

    Anywho, Raymond, bless your little heart. You posted was everything I was thinking and more. Spot on. Dawkins is one of the most intellectually dishonest folks I’ve ever read. But I have to say that his breakdown into admitting that there might be a God in Expelled was simply priceless.

  45. Rory Swensen on November 25, 2009 at 11:40 am

    To me, it generally comes down, not to the idea that the scripture writers were a bunch of uneducated hicks, but to the idea that in a hundred years, today’s “scientists” will be seen that way.

    I don’t know that we view scientists from 100 years ago, or more, as uneducated hicks. Aristotle? Newton? Galileo? Curie? Pasteur? Darwin?

    Several comments seem to reference and take exception to my description of the writers of scripture to be largely “nomadic, bronze- and iron-age societies.” I’m not trying to denigrate them, nor am I labeling them hicks. It’s simply an observation of the fact that they are subject to their times – and that fact applies to scientists from earlier times as well. It does not render their writings quaint or unimportant, but it requires us to read them in context. Seeing this as a battle between scripture and science, or more broadly religion and science, is the false dilemma I am talking about.

  46. Blake on November 25, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Good post Rory. You are quite correct that we need not create a false dichotomy regarding evolution and the truth of the gospel. However, I think that Ray Swenson has stated the challenges for certain types of evolutionary theory that can be dangerous in terms of faithfulness to the bedrock commitments of belief in a God who orders the universe and brings forth life through divine intervention. I accept evolution as the means by which God ordered biological life. However, it seems to me that the views of Darwin and Dawkins et alia that life in all of its forms is merely the result of mindless, blind chance is not compatible with the gospel.

    I have always thought that there was something to intelligent design — not as a proof or even as a scientific enterprise, but as a worldview that is quite natural given the eyes of faith. There is intelligent design manifest in life and the universe in its order for those who have eyes of faith to see. The purely naturalistic stance doesn’t seem viable to me, but that is because my faith assumptions are so different from one who merely assumes that divine order is not possible. I’m not pushing such an approach as a scientific methodology that ought to be taught in school, but certainly it ought to be taught in Sunday School.

    There a many LDS who promote such a blind order in evolution. There is no room for God and they are essentially deists when it comes to the natural order — or atheists who have no room for divine order in the natural order at all because it is all a matter of the random chance of random mutations. That is what is inimical to the gospel as I see it. The problem is not evolution per se, but a certain take on evolution that is not a matter of evidence but of theory and how the evidence is best explained. In other words, I believe that theistic evolution is the best aductive theory.

  47. Bob on November 25, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    #46: Blake, I believe there is a true dichotomy between Evolution and a belief in a God. What is false (IMO), is the idea this dichotomy can be fixed by saying God used evolving as part of His Creation plan.
    One must also understand ‘order’ is not the same as a ‘plan’. Algebra has order, but not a plan.
    Mormonism is all about a thinking God with a plan.
    Evoution is all about order without any thinking or plan, (it’s random and Godless)

  48. annoyed on November 25, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    The views of Darwin and Dawkins do not belong in the same sentence, let alone as a compound subject.

    And Intelligent Design (capital I, capital D) is very different from some benign-sounding notion of intelligent design. You should specify what you mean.

  49. Jack on November 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    “The views of Darwin and Dawkins do not belong in the same sentence, let alone as a compound subject.”

    Tell that to Dawkins.

  50. grego on November 25, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Rory,

    I really like the big quote you put in there, I haven’t seen it before. Very perceptive man.

    “I’ll state this bluntly: I believe that a rigid, literalistic stance is dangerous.”
    I believe it can be/ often is. And yes, it is a problem for some LDS (not that many of them would ever admit it, much less know it). It’s often, “If *that* is not literal, what *else* is not literal?” It works for many now, and one day they’ll learn…

    And yet…
    “It is dangerous to our children as it forces them to face a false dilemma. If we teach that a literal reading of scripture is the only proper reading, what happens when our children reach high school and college and they see the vast weight of evidence – and the consistency of that evidence – as it points to an old earth and natural selection? Must we force them to choose between their faith and their intellect? This is a losing proposition. The loss is the very children we seek to teach and nurture and help to return to God. It’s a high price to pay, and one that is completely unnecessary.”

    Interesting. But it seems to me that one false dilemma is replaced by another.

    This brings up the question: do we as humans (because I believe God does this already, though I wouldn’t call it by the same term for matters of methods, not just the negative implications) have to “water” truth/ find a way to diminish truth so that it conforms to “‘acceptable’ human standards” in order to keep/ gain believers?
    Is there necessarily a forcing going on by the gospel/ church/ believers?
    How “of the day” were the teachings of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi mothers to their sons?

    “Both testify to the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, if we are open to viewing them as they really are.”
    So you believe you view the writings in stone as evolution, and that your/ mainstream science’s current understanding is how it really is? Is this the same close-minded view as the pure creationists? Nope, similar, just maybe one step ahead; but has it reached truth? I doubt it ;) .

    Interesting that many “learned” LDS assume the scriptures must conform in all ways to current understanding of evolution, and not vice-versa in any way. Is that really what must be? Is religion really playing catch-up to science? Or is this the new false dilemma?

    “Vast weight of evidence”–where is it? (At least you didn’t say “proof”, kudos!) (That was somewhat rhetorical questions–I’ve read books (by Sagan himself), articles, seen videos from both sides, etc.) I don’t see the vast weight of evidence, nor the consistency, that most seem to see; nor do I believe that “our children” need to see it that way–though they might. Hey, where’s the “vast weight of evidence” that green tea is bad for you, or that having safe sex is bad for you, or that…? What do our children do when they run into other tests of faith? If they expect the church to always be catching up with science, what happens to them in all the other dilemmas they will face? (Believe it or not, the vast evidence against green tea is there–but you sure don’t hear it nor wouldn’t know it from mainstream science and medicine!)

    (satire) Yes, the ancients, the past prophets included, were idiots, of course, not intelligent creatures like us–even though we still can’t construct a pyramid, nor pass myriads of other tests they did.
    So of course, especially without the aid of heavenly visions of the earth and its creation and its history and man’s history, and without special/ seer stones such as the Urim and Thummim, they really were plain incompetent and too dumb to understand evolution, so that’s either why they didn’t write it or God didn’t reveal it to them… ?!?
    The Liahona still trumps the crap out of a compass, or even a GPS system. No need to be so patronizing of what we don’t even understand. Perhaps we should really learn about the scriptures and the prophets who received and gave them before commenting like most learned LDS always do on this topic (mormonapologetics.org has discussed this and many of its aspects many times, for example).

    #8, Trent,
    At the rate we’re going, it might come much earlier than 50-100 years…

    #15, bfwebster,
    “I teach the Gospel Essentials class (investigators and new members), and I periodically quote the advice that Pres. Eyring’s grandfather gave to his son (Pres. Eyring’s father, Henry Eyring) before Henry left for college: “Remember, in this church, you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.””
    Funny, because I remember him distinctly bearing his testimony of a physics principle…

    #20, Matt,
    “Nelson: Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.”
    And whether it’s true or not, his words have yet to be proven wrong.

    #22, Ardis,
    I love your closing paragraph. I think that’s a very fine but extremely distinguishing feature between a good teacher and an excellent teacher.

    #29, DavidH,
    Physics is hardly random! Neither is mathematics–which is, in fact, why many scientists can accept the world we live in without a C/creator.

    #30, Jim (and many others):
    Thanks!

    #34, Crick,
    Great. ‘Nuff said.

    #39, Raymond,
    Very insightful post, thanks. Here: “There is not one scientific hypothesis that has any real evidence such that it can eliminate any other hypothesis.” How about: “In 1936, Reich wrote that “[s]ince everything is antithetically arranged, there must be two different types of single-celled organisms: (a) life-destroying organisms or organisms that form through organic decay, (b) life-promoting organisms that form from inorganic material that comes to life.”?

    I pretty much agree with #44 Alison, we’ll catch up in all areas, one day, no need to worry so much.

    Or is there?

  51. SteveP on November 25, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Blake,

    “ife in all of its forms is merely the result of mindless, blind chance” this is a pretty crude characterization of evolution by natural selection. It makes it sound like evolution is just a throw of the dice. Evolution by natural selection works on these random mutations in specific directions to move the organism toward places where it survives better than its neighbors, that means toward design. No biologist disputes that organisms are designed. By seeming to argue for “Intelligent Design” you are not just arguing for intervention, you are arguing for intervention in a specific, very directly creationist way. While Mormons believe God is intelligent and the universe is designed, the language of “Intelligent Design” refers to a disastrous creationist “Harry Potter” God who has to stir the potion in a way very similar to the way humans do things. As if God were the grand workman. To me the Mormon fascination with this Discovery Institute invention is perplexing and damaging. It is bad theology and bad science.

  52. Jack on November 26, 2009 at 12:04 am

    SteveP,

    It seems that you prefer to view God as more of a husbandman than a craftsman. But who’s to say that He can’t be both?

  53. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Steve: Your rejection of intervention by God seems to me to be little more than retreat to deism at best — and a form of atheism at worst. Just what role does God play in this sea of random mutations on your view? Other than treating intelligent design as some kind of shibboleth for an epithet, it seems to me quite essential to Mormonism that the universe reflects the intelligence of it creator who orders it to be what it is. You may regard intelligent design as bad science and bad theology, but I fail to see how I claimed anything regarding science — and as for theology, I see none of it in your approach. There isn’t any “theos” at all in your view of the non-design of life and organisms as I understand your view.

    Further, natural selection is in fact just a random throw of the dice. Which mutations occur is merely random — which are “chosen” for selection is a matter of chance relative to the conditions that just happen to obtain that favor that random mutation. My view of theistic evolution is very different from your view. God guides it and orders it. I fail to see how that is bad theology.

    Steve P. “No biologist disputes that organisms are designed.”

    Uh, yes they do. There is no teleological design but merely the order that result of blind, mindless and chance events. That is indeed the essence of Dawkins’ attack on theism.

    “you are arguing for intervention in a specific, very directly creationist way.”

    You’ll have to define “creationist” for this mere ad hominem to have any bite. Could you explain what role you believe that God has in evolution once it gets rolling?

  54. DavidH on November 26, 2009 at 1:27 am

    SteveP can speak for himself, but it seems to me it would be very poor science to explain the development of a hurricane to posit that God Himself zapped some molecules one way or another to cause it. Or for an engineer to explain the failure of a suspension bridge as an “act of God” by God’s figuratively jumping up and down on it or zapping some molecules to cause the collapse.

    Frankly, I am not sure how a physicist can be a believing Theist, if Theist means that one has to assume, in developing the descriptive ordering principles of the observable universe that, for example, sometimes to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sometimes not, and God only knows when that is true and when it is not.

  55. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 1:52 am

    DavidH: I’m not sure that any theist could accept that God couldn’t stop a hurricane from happening or the failure of a suspension bridge. God is in and through all things, in the very light that quickens us and gives us life. His light is the law by which all things are governed. (check out D&C 88) That seems to me to entail that God is a concurring cause in every event that occurs (concurrence is difference than either efficient or teleological causation). Frankly, I don’t know how anyone who believes that God doesn’t intervene could be LDS in any more than a nominal sense.

  56. Mark D. on November 26, 2009 at 2:37 am

    There is no fundamental theological problem with any theory of evolution that does not explicitly rule out teleology, intentionality, or meaningful free will. As it happens, it is pretty much impossible for any theory of evolution to rule out teleology in the sense of creatio ex nihilo. All believers in that tenet of classical theism get an automatic pass.

    The problem here is that many evolutionists want to use evolution to establish that God didn’t intervene anywhere in biological history. That is not a scientifically establishable proposition. The best one might be able to do (hypothetically) is establish that a teleology free evolutionary process could lead to a society with the apparent richness of human civilization. That is indeed the program, so far as it will go (which probably isn’t far).

    But how in the world can you establish that there wasn’t any interference, guidance, or intervention along the way to make it so that some aspects of human biology, consciousness, culture, and civilization came out the way they did? You can’t. To say nothing of the proposition that consciousness can evolve from that which is intrinsically unconscious.

  57. Mark D. on November 26, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Frankly, I am not sure how a physicist can be a believing Theist, if Theist means that one has to assume, in developing the descriptive ordering principles of the observable universe that, for example, sometimes to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sometimes not, and God only knows when that is true and when it is not.

    And yet, there is no shortage of physicists who adopt precisely that position. If one believes in creatio ex nihilo, there is hardly any reason to deny God the power to suspend the laws of physics on occasion. The people who believe in creatio ex nihilo and deny that God does in actual fact suspend the laws of physics on any sort of regular basis believe that maintaining those ordering principles is evidence of divine rationality, and the opposite would be pure confusion. Thomas Aquinas, q.v.

    The idea that the supernatural isn’t strictly supernatural is a peculiarly Mormon conception. James E. Talmage, most famously. A position I happen to agree with, but one that is certainly held by not more than a minority of a minority of believing scientists, if that.

  58. SteveP on November 26, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Black,
    Dawkins doesn’t argue there is no design. Even the dimmest biologists can look at a bird’s wing and say it’s designed for flight. Dawkins isn’t careful with his language and leaves that impression, but he is not a great biologist either.

    So you think God must intervene in the way we would? Haught’s ideas that God intervenes in the deep structure of the universe at a level invisible to science and human observation appeals to me much more. Your view that God must role up his sleeves and move matter around like a human with a bulldozer seems unnecessary and unwarranted. I don’t know how God intervenes. My suspicions are we aren’t positioned to discover that and that it might run in ways we can’t see by studying the universe with science. That doesn’t mean it’s not there we just can’t study it. I don’t make any claims how it works, but I can study lots of natural laws that show is how the universe works. Gods in there but may not be visible from here. I’m glad you know how it works. You know more than the rest of us.

    Your claim that God had to do it like you claim or it’s deism or atheism strikes me as noting but a lack of imagination. Random mutations look for all the world like something operating under natural law, natural selection is certainly a natural law, we know God works by natural law. Maybe the universe is so big because the natural law needs so space to work. Maybe there are lots of universes. Your insistence on knowing that God does it your way seems a little premature.

  59. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 11:41 am

    SteveP: Congratulations on your son’s call to Finland!

    Note carefully: Dawkins doesn’t believe in teleological design. Just how one could call “design” that which occurs by random mutations chosen by blind luck of the particular ecological niche that occurred by chance is beyond me. Note that it is “teleological design” and not some poor failed metaphor for design that we are talking about — the kind of design that results from an intelligent mind directing a process toward a desired result. That is why your comments miss the point — your metaphor with “design” is not accurate. Dawkins argues precisely against this kind of design and it is the kind of design that is of interest to theists and at issue when we speak about whether there is theistic design in evolution.

    I don’t disagree with Haught’s approach to “deep structure” that is not detectable to us — since you may note that I am a process philosopher and the design is built into the process of evolution by an “ideal” impetus offered to each actual occasion by God coupled with the inherent creativity of each momentary occurrence that God cannot (not merely does not) control. I agree that we are not in a position to discover through science how or when God intervenes — except on my view he is always intervening and always active in each moment of each event as partial cause. Concurring causes would be blind to us since they appear just as natural occurrences.

    You speak of “natural laws” as if you knew what a natural law is. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a very contentious philosophical issue and as a conceptualist I don’t believe that laws are some Platonic reality that are just “out there” governing every particular as you seem to assume.

    SteveP: “Your claim that God had to do it like you claim or it’s deism or atheism strikes me as noting but a lack of imagination.”

    Funny, I was just thinking the same thing of your claim of non-intervention. Just how do you claim that I claim God does it? Since I haven’t made any claim about how God does intervene until I explained it in this post, I’m baffled as to what you claim I am asserting about “how God must intervene.”

    SteveP” “Random mutations look for all the world like something operating under natural law, natural selection is certainly a natural law, we know God works by natural law.”

    I agree that “random mutations look for all the world like something operating under . . . natural selection,” but that doesn’t entail that it is merely natural in the sense that no teleological guidance by a divine mind is involved. You assert that we “know that God works by natural law.” Do we? I don’t even know what a natural law is — and natural selection is not a natural law since it didn’t occur until there were conditions that gave rise to life — and science hasn’t come close to explaining either life or consciousness; much less subsuming it under some set of “natural laws.”

    BTW the name is Blake, not Black.

  60. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 11:44 am

    StevenP: “So you think God must intervene in the way we would?”

    I saved this for a separate post because I want to know where you ever got this misbegotten notion of what I believe about God’s intervention. I deserve a more careful and thoughtful response from you.

    Are you asserting that God does intervene from time to time; we just can’t detect it by scientific means? How is that any less interventionist than those you criticize as creationists?

  61. Mark D. on November 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Random mutations look for all the world like something operating under natural law

    There is nothing less natural than the idea of intrinsically random causation. Not that there isn’t statistical randomness out there, but if anything randomness provides ammunition for the claim that there are no natural laws, rather than the reverse. I say that as a full fledged member of the natural law club.

  62. Bob on November 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    #59 “natural laws”… , is a very contentious philosophical issue…”. ‘

  63. Bob on November 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    #62: (hit wrong key.}Blake, thank you for making my muddle less lonely. I have a hard time with a line (if any) between God and Nature, Law and Will.

  64. DavidH on November 26, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    “God is in and through all things, in the very light that quickens us and gives us life. His light is the law by which all things are governed. (check out D&C 88) That seems to me to entail that God is a concurring cause in every event that occurs (concurrence is difference than either efficient or teleological causation). Frankly, I don’t know how anyone who believes that God doesn’t intervene could be LDS in any more than a nominal sense.”

    First, am aside. I have stated elsewhere that it bothers me when people tell me what one can and cannot believe (outside of the temple recommend questions) to be LDS is “more than a nominal sense.” It also bothers me when people make allegations whether one can support universal healthcare and be Mormon in “more than a nominal sense,” or whether one can believe God is progressing in knowledge and be Mormon in “more than a nominal sense.” If one honestly has difficulty understanding how a person with a different view of God’s intervention in life can be Mormon in more than a nominal sense, that is fine. But I do not think it advances a conversation.

    Second, except for the last quoted sentence, I actually agree with you. I do believe that God is in and through all things, and that He is a “concurrent cause.” Further, that He did have the power to bring down a suspension bridge by moving some molecules around (in the manner a human being might do so if the human could), rather than allowing natural aerodynamic principles to bring down the bridge. I just do not believe that is the way He operates.

    Third, I actually believe in a personal God who is intimately involved in my life and in all of God’s creations.

    But I also believe in a God whose “intervention” is a “concurrent causation” allows there to be (or appear to be) descriptive operating principles of the observable universe that do not require a “God of the gaps” to understand them. And that this design of the universe allows someone who does not believe in an interventionist God (or in no God at all) to make sense of the universe, design atomic bombs, understand biology, treat cancer, just as capably as a theist. Along those lines, I think the creation took place similarly, so that a nontheist can understand it as well as a theist.

    How can God be so intimately involved and appear not be be involved (to a nontheist)? Or not be involved and yet appear to be involved (to a theist)? I do not know. But at this point in my life, that is how I see God and life. I may be wrong. And if others see it differently, I respect that, but I do ask respect for all views on the subject.

  65. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    DavidH: Forgive me. I wasn’t asserting that you were or are merely a nominal Mormon and, to the extent an intelligent person like you could read my post #55 to imply that, I apologize for my sloppiness. As I understand you, you in fact assert that God intervenes, we just don’t know how he interacts with the “natural order” of things. I can accept that. I believe, however, that God (read that as the united Godhead of divine persons) is the foundation and basis for natural regularities. After reading your last post, I think that you might agree.

  66. SteveP on November 26, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Blake, I’m making claims about how you think intervention occurs because you invoked ID which has specific claims. I would be thrilled and happy to know you do not own these claims.

    My take on interventions draw heavily that God’s interventions come through the action of consciousness. I make no specific claims about the nature of natural laws (in some ways I see these as epistemic devices for nomological actions about which we have no access). I do think science is the best way to bring these nomological features of the universe to light and thus far adding an intervention based perspective is not necessary to explain anything we find in nature. Nothing. Not even teleology (see my five part recent serious on teleology over at Mormon Organon). Interventions are present and apparent in our lives through revelation and communication from God in various sorts of ways. Hence while explanations for the natural world do not need an added interventionist element to explain anything we find, in our subjective lives, in scriptural history, and in our relationship with God, interventions are available and abundant for those that seek them. It is not deist to believe in a natural world that works completely by nomological principles, while God influences the world through agents who can act in that world.

  67. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    SteveP: I didn’t invoke IP, I invoked the notion that God orders the universe as an intelligent cause of order. I have read your 5 part series and I don’t find it persuasive. Much is left unexplained without divine intervention in the concurrent sense I have explained. Where do the laws come from? How does the evolution arise at all? That isn’t explained — and you are far from explaining human consciousness and freedom.

    It is deist to believe that God does nothing — nothing at all — in the natural order and leaves agents free to do as they will. That just is deism by definition. It certainly isn’t the God who calmed the storm, allowed Jesus to walk on water or resurrect. It seems to me that your view is just theologically unacceptable.

    Here is my greatest puzzle. You say: “It is not deist to believe in a natural world that works completely by nomological principles, while God influences the world through agents who can act in that world.”

    I’m puzzled by this assertion because it essentially assumes that humans are not a part of the natural order but quite distinct from it. However, the hallmark of evolutionary theory is that we are not intruders in the natural order or apart from it but fully explained by it. Do you claim that we our acts can be explained “completely by nomological principles”? I fail to see any room for free will or morality in such a nomologically determined world. However, if you don’t explain human conduct “completely by nomological principles,” then you have made the assumption that humans are intruders in the natural order who stand distinct from and over-against it. That seems incoherent to me given your capitulation to naturalism.

  68. SteveP on November 26, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Blake, I buy into the whole spirit-body thing. That’s where consciousness and free-will comes from at least in most senses that matter. It is clear that our physical aspects are evolved, we have abundant evidence of that. When and where spirits come into the equation has not fossilized well and about which science makes no claims. There is room for theistic evolution that accepts that God in in and through all things and yet does not need to invoke interventions in a sense that are detectible by science (as Creationist ID claims).

    Your statement, “I have always thought that there was something to intelligent design” I read as endorsing ID, as I think most Mormons infatuated with ID would read it. If you just meant the creator is “Intelligent” and the universe has laws that favor complexity and design, we are not in disagreement.

    “Where do the laws come from?” Beats me. Our theology doesn’t seem to address that at all since even by your lights God was not always God (or I misunderstood your book completely (quite possibly )) and has come into these laws by inheritance of position as it were. It seems to me we are on very thin ice when we start talking about where the laws of the universe come from in a Mormon sense.

    Yes I agree Jesus was a special case. He is God after all.

  69. Blake on November 26, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    SteveP: Actually, I have argued at length that God has always been God. Moreover, I believe that our scriptures directly address the source of laws that govern the order of the universe:

    “11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
    12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—
    13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.”

    So God’s light which proceeds from his presence is the law by which all things are governed as I read this scripture. While I assert that God is active as a concurring cause in every event, I don’t believe that such causal contribution is detectable by scientific means. However, the order and intelligence manifest in the universe are reflections of this ordering intelligence for those who already have eyes of faith to see it.

  70. Mark D. on November 27, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Blake: It is deist to believe that God does nothing — nothing at all — in the natural order and leaves agents free to do as they will. That just is deism by definition. It certainly isn’t the God who calmed the storm, allowed Jesus to walk on water or resurrect. It seems to me that your view is just theologically unacceptable.

    This doesn’t follow at all. God is (among other things) an agent, an agent who is free to do as he wills. Since when does calming storms entail the violation of natural laws as they really are?

  71. inforodeo on November 27, 2009 at 1:26 am

    wow.

    while I agree with embracing ALL truth, and might even suspect a little that portions of ‘evolution’ may be some of the method by which things are created, I really can’t agree with much of what you said with a clear conscience.

    call me narrow-minded or whatever, but as much as many times a ‘rigid stance’ on topics tends to have bad results, some things must be somewhat rigid. We know that God, for example, does not look upon sin with the “least bit of allowance”- and I suppose if it is ok for Him to be “rigid”, it’s ok for us to be also… especially on topics that have received very specific commentary from modern day prophets (like evolution).

    i also hesitate to agree with your assessment that the scriptures were written by bronze-age nomadic people who simply left us their impressions and interpretations of how they thought they were communicating with God. that is a view more in line with mainstream science than with what we know of the gospel. we know- by modern revelation (including our own if we seek confirmation from the holy ghost) that these “bronze-age nomads” had all the intelligence, potential, and spiritual authority that modern man has. we know there were not “cavemen” or any of these “missing links” involved in writing the scriptures. Their technologies were different than ours… and we seem to now be living in a time of a wealth of technological helps … but that doesn’t mean their writings were any less significant or knowledgeable than our modern prophets.
    with less of today’s distractions and materialism, i’d even suppose the average person back then knew God better than the average church member now.

    i believe that science is man’s attempt to understand the workings of God. Those things which are labeled “miracles” or scorned as “supernatural” simply have not have their mechanisms uncovered yet by man… but all God’s work involves natural laws- whether or not we recognize them.
    as in any other field, man sometimes gets it right and sometimes does not.
    the problem i have with science isn’t the “quest for truth” part… it’s the “faith in man and in man only” part. When man “leans unto his own understanding”, he begins to criticize, avoid or ignore those things which cannot be understood or satisfactorily interpreted by man’s measure. Since much of the world and most of the Gospel operate on natural laws that are currently outside the scope and abilities of man’s understanding, putting more faith in science than in God is counter-productive and slows or stops man from getting to the truth.

  72. Mark D. on November 27, 2009 at 2:13 am

    The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed

    Blake, I maintain that this passage may legitimately be understood to be referring to God’s universal spiritual influence in a manner that does not require him to be a concurring cause of all events, but which indeed allows him to spiritually influence remote events in a manner and to a degree that appears to violate natural law.

    I agree, however, (as I said before) that yours is a more straightforward interpretation of the phrase “law that governs all things”. I have to read that as implying “interventionary” governance, rather than “universally concurring” governance, and refer to the use of the word “subdue” in Philip 3:21 and “without compulsory means” in D&C 121:46 in support of that interpretation.

  73. Rory Swensen on November 27, 2009 at 8:38 am

    #71

    I won’t call you ‘narrow-minded’ or ‘whatever’, but I will point out that you either lack ‘reading comprehension’ or are simply setting up a ‘straw-man’. The very specific comments from modern prophets have taken a no-position position. I think my post here is directly in line with the 1931 statement from the First Presidency.

    Read my post again. Check the time frame. Bronze-age and iron-age are the time-frames in which the bulk of the scriptures are recorded. Why is that a controversial point? And how do you make the leap that I am somehow saying that these are cavemen or a missing link? The Geico spokesmen must be furious.

    I’ll try this once more. As a scientific text, the scriptures are sorely lacking and primitive. But they are not scientific texts. They relate these peoples’ experience with God. They do so through recording experiences, history, poetry, tradition, and didactic fiction. None of that diminishes their power to work in us, nor their power to open us to our own experience with God.

    Let those who have eyes to see… ( <— that closing seems to be the developing norm in this thread, I didn’t want to be left out.)

  74. Paradox on November 28, 2009 at 6:42 am

    I once saw a documentary on the creation of the earth that was intended to be entirely scientific. And you know what amazed me then, and amazes me still?

    It’s completely illogical to believe that the earth was created in 7 literal days, considering the sun and the moon weren’t created until the 4th day. But according to what I was seeing, the process was almost exactly the same, in the proper order and everything. How exactly do a bunch of sheep herders get that right?

    The writer of this post claims that the scriptures can be perceived “as the response of these ancient communities to their experience of God. It contains their stories of God, their perceptions of God’s character and will, their prayers to and praise of God, their perceptions of the human condition and the paths of deliverance, their religious and ethical practices, and their understanding of what it means to be faithful to God.”

    I beg your pardon, but nowhere do you say that within the scriptures is the word and mind of God–only people’s perception of Him. God’s view of man, society, law, creation, and the cosmos are just as present in our Standard Works, if not more. Seeing as the purpose of the scriptures isn’t to know people, but the mind and will of God, it’s important to know that we CAN, in fact, trust what they say about creation. What I don’t understand is why that surprises people. Just because He doesn’t tell us everything doesn’t mean He isn’t telling us the truth.

    We would be wise not to speak for the prophets as to what they did and didn’t know based on what they wrote. Considering Abraham and Moses were blessed with visions we cannot possibly imagine, I feel safer saying they know more about the order of the heavens and the creation of the earth than we do. I’ll stand by them over Darwin any day because Darwin isn’t going to be on my judgment bar. Darwin wasn’t qualified to make the claims he was making even in a temporal sense, let alone a spiritual one. And despite what Darwin claimed he was giving to people, he gave them a theory of a process. A sloppy one at that. And since when does a process explain an origin anyway?

    My biggest argument against evolution was expressed by Bruce R. McConkie in The Law and the Light, in which he gives 6 reasons why he doesn’t believe in organic evolution. He has since asserted that his words were not endorsed by the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve, but the only thing that really tells us is that what he expressed won’t be binding on us as a people. It doesn’t mean he didn’t tell us the truth.

    Even the briefest look into eugenics was enough to show me that Darwin’s theories have been applied to catastrophic ends. And since by his fruits shall I know him, I will keep my distance from Darwin.

    And you know the beautiful part of that approach? I haven’t lost a night of sleep over it yet.

  75. Tim on November 28, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Nuclear physics is also clearly false, because of the horrendous uses to which it has been put.
    Microbiology is false because of the whole Anthrax thing.
    And the Wright brothers were clearly responsible for 9/11.

  76. Bob on November 28, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    #74:Paradox, You might go a little easy on Darwin. He did not call his book ” The Creation of Life” as he was not trying to answer that question.

  77. DavidH on November 28, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    “their stories of God, their perceptions of God’s character and will, their prayers to and praise of God, their perceptions of the human condition and the paths of deliverance, their religious and ethical practices, and their understanding of what it means to be faithful to God.”

    I am not sure why this offends some. The wording of the early draft of the Doctrine and Covenants (then known as the Book of Commandments and Revelations) is quite different in many respects from the subsequent versions, and revisions were made in those revelations not just by Joseph Smith but by his associates as well.

    Grant Underwood discusses much of this process in a recent devotional address at BYU-Hawaii, http://devotional.byuh.edu/node/327 , reaching a conclusion about the Doctrine & Covenants that is similar to Rory’s description of the process of the oral transmission and later writing, redaction, and compilation of what has become the Bible:

    “So what does all this suggest about the revelatory process that eventually produced the final edited version of the revelation texts? Perhaps most significantly, it seems to encourage a view of those texts as the “word of God” (AoF 8) rather than the very words of God, or, as expressed in the title of a book dealing with the Bible, the Word of God in Words of Men. Some Latter-day Saints may assume that the Prophet was not involved in any way whatsoever with the wording of the revelation texts, that he simply repeated word-for-word to his scribe what he heard God say to him, but our investigation has suggested otherwise. Examination of the BCR and the history of the D&C revelation texts from dictation to final form lead us to a richer, more nuanced view, one that see Joseph as more than a mere human fax machine through whom God communicated finished revelation texts composed in heaven. Joseph had a role to play in the revelatory process. His associate Oliver Cowdery, after all, had earlier been chided for assuming the process required no effort, for supposing that God would simply “give” him the words without any thought on his part (D&C 9:7–8).

    “I believe it enhances our appreciation of the Prophet Joseph Smith to see him as the extraordinarily gifted servant of the Lord that he was, who, as Orson Pratt remarked, received messages from God and then had to “clothe those ideas with such words as came to his mind.” . . . .

    “Hopefully by now we are realizing that to acknowledge that divine revelation is spiritually perceived, communicated in language that reflects a prophet’s historical and cultural setting, and is open to revision and expansion in no way detracts from its divinity. As renowned Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown has observed regarding the scriptural word of God, “The fact that the ‘word’ of the Bible is human and time-conditioned makes it no less ‘of God’.” Otherwise, notes Evangelical scholar Don Hagner, “the genuinely human factor of the biblical documents is in effect denied in favor of a Bible that floated down from heaven by parachute, untouched by human hands or the historical process.” Seeing scriptural texts as both fully divine and fully human allows ample room for regarding as inspired both the earliest wording of, and the subsequent revisions to, the revelation texts.”

  78. Bob on November 28, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Darwin was just a man…and a very good lab rat. What he wrote was already in the air. His fear was someone would get it in print before he did. One could say the same about Bills Gates and the personal computer.

  79. Bob on November 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    From Google:
    A self-professed agnostic, Darwin wrote the following on the topic of creationism:

    “I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can”.

  80. Cameron Nielsen on November 28, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    @79 – that’s a good quote Bob. It’s interesting how much revisionist history can distort people and events.

  81. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 30, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    In defense of Bronze Age Intelligence:

    As the recent analysis of the Antikythera Device (see a recent issue of Scientific American) demonstrates, (some) people in the Bronze Age and Iron Age were a lot smarter than we generally give them credit for. It demonstrates a lot of knowledge about astronomy, about mechanical devices (with intricate gearing), and metal fabrication, all dating to around 200 BC.

    Which also happens to be the era when Aristarchus in good old Alexandria proposed a sun-centered model of the observable universe, over a thousand years before Copernicus. One thing about that concept is that it includes the idea that the earth rotates daily, creating the illusion of the sun moving across the sky. If we accept the Book of Mormon as an ancient document, the earth’s rotation on its axis was ancient knowledge among some inhabitants of the ancient Americas, which makes it likely that the concept of the sun-centered cosmos was also held by the same people, contemporaneous with Aristarchus.

    I am not aware of any evidence that scientifically educated people from the era of classical Greece to the Renaissance thought the world was “flat” rather than a sphere, as it plainly was shown to be during lunar eclipses (when the shadow of the earth showed on the moon), and was obvious to anyone who sailed away from a port with a mountain behind it.

    I am happy to agree that the Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, Old Testament and Book of Mormon were not written by people with the full complement of scientific knowledge that is taught widely today. On the other hand, as has been pointed out, being shown a vision of uncountable numbers of other planets, and of the creation of this world, by someone who was there, beats the heck out of trying to figure things out by patient deduction from the remaining evidence. Seeing an actual video record of the collision that created the moon would beat hollow our painstaking effort to calculate and illustrate it using supercomputers.

    The very summary description of the major stages of the 4.2 billion years of earth’s existence in Genesis 1 and the corresponding chapters in Moses and Abraham cannot help but leave out a lot of details, just as the summary in the Book of Revelation of the first four thousand years of historical time (misapprehended by many readers as a prophecy of the end of the earth and called the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”), with one sentence each, leaves out a lot of details. But comparing the very plain, materialistic description in scripture of the creation of our planet (not the universe as a whole) with the myths of many cultures, displays the fact that Genesis is almost clinical in its details, compared to the sturm and drang of so many cultural accounts that portray creation in terms of anthropomorphic motivations, including envy among rival deities.

    The verses in Genesis 1 could serve as section headings in a book of natural history. Whatever a Bronze Age scientific culture was, it seems to have included, at least for a few people, about as much detail, and accuracy, as most 21st Century Americans could include if they were told to write a description of the earth’s development in the space of 100 words or so.

    At least a few people within the bronze age culture of Meso-America possessed devices fabricated from minerals (silicon and various other ingredients) that transmitted information and that glowed in the dark. Skeptics who make fun of the Urim and Thummim in text messages they send on their handheld communication devices, which can access a limitless store of information from anywhere on the globe, are oblivious to the irony of their skepticism. We are promised in scripture that we will each have such an information appliance in the eternities. I am loathe to specify the limits to the knowledge that an ancient owner of such a device could have learned through it. We regularly recite ancient prophets’ visions of their (and our) future; shouldn’t we respect their visions of their own past?

    I of course accept that the transmission of the original writings is one of the signal accomplishments of mankind, and is of course fraught with the inaccuracies and “evolutionary” changes in meaning that can occur over centuries. The worst changes are those imposed over the actual words by longstanding traditions, such as the idea that Genesis 1 is about the entire universe, and ex nihilo. We should be cautious about ascribing to ourselves a knowledge of the limits of what Moses and Abraham knew.

  82. Bob on November 30, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    #80: Who of us would like to debate the one of the classical Greece thinkers?

  83. John C. on November 30, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Raymond,
    Who are you arguing with? Are people seriously saying that folks in the Bronze Age were too stupid to describe their own ideas of the creation of the world? What is the point you are proving?

  84. Jim on November 30, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    I like to say a word in defense of the Gospel Doctrine physician.
    First, if you believe that God used evolution to create man or life in general, then you don’t believe in Organic Evolution. You, my friend, are a creationist. God is the creator and evolution was his tool. We can endlessly debate the meaning of Genesis and how it fits nicely into this scientific theory or that, but in the end, if God is in the driver’s seat it is all creationism, regardless of what tool He used.

    This of course is anathema to true Evolutionists. As it is taught in the Universities and defended by the “great” evolutionary scientists, man is the accidental product of the blind, mindless forces of nature. God is nowhere to be found because He does not exist and had no role in bringing about life. In a true evolutionary world no one has been “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” (Declaration of Independence), because there is no Creator. In such a world the only beings that have “rights” are the strong, the fit, the swift. The weak are only there to be eaten. They have no rights to life, liberty or happiness. In a Darwinian world the principals embodied in the Declaration of Independence would be a joke. Its might makes right and survival of the fittest. Hitler and Stalin understood this. Both were true believers in evolution and were only acting in harmony with those beliefs. After all, as Dostoevsky said, “if there is no God then all things are allowed.”

    So I agree with the physician, evolution as it is taught and defended at the highest levels, is a “satanic concept, one that we must avoid, one that destroys faith.”

  85. Jim on November 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    “[In defense of evolution] I…pointed to Brigham Young’s statement that Mormonism embraces all truth.” Rory Swensen.
    I am wondering if you also quoted Brigham Young’s statement that both Adam and Eve were the literal (=biological) offspring of Heavenly Father and one of His wives. I am guessing not.

  86. Reconciliation on November 30, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    The grand key to reconciling the scriptural accounts with the unproven theory of evolution (as yet) is a question:

    How long after a creative period did God wait before starting the next creative period?

    Discussion:
    There was a distinct end point to a creative period, after which, a report of that finalized creative period occurred. There was planning and commands for a new creative period that occurred prior to the start of that new creative period. The Earth did not magically disappear and reappear during the lapses between creative periods. Not to mention we don’t know where yonder is nor what its measurment of time is. If the Earth was created in a location further from Kolob than its current location, then its measurement of time would have been different as well. (Facsimile No.2, P of GP) I also note that most evidence of evolution is stepped or episodic in nature, which correlates well with the scriptural accounts of individual crative periods interspersed with undefined periods of idleness in the creative process.

  87. Tim on December 1, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Jim,
    You’re confusing creationism with atheism. They are not the same thing. Henry Eyring said, in Reflections of a Scientist, (while explaining that he had no problems with evolution) that both the words creationist and evolutionist carried with them far too much baggage for him to call himself either one. Unfortunately, with people like you and Richard Dawkins around, I can understand why that is.

  88. Bob on December 1, 2009 at 10:20 am

    #86: The only “baggage” I see Richard Dawkins has is his physical condition(?) Otherwise, he is what he is.

  89. Tim on December 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I’m not saying Dawkins has baggage. I’m saying the terms “creationist” and “evolutionist” carry baggage with them. “Creationist” can mean “belief in God” or it can mean “idiot about science.” “Evolutionist” can be interpreted to mean “atheist” or merely “understands or agrees with accepted science.”
    People that confuse atheism with evolution and faith with creationism (such as Dawkins and Jim) create the problem Eyring was intent on avoiding.

  90. Bob on December 1, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    #88: Tim, Evolution does not have a God in it,(but does not say there is not one). Creationism has a Creator that most call God.
    I don’t know how anyone can say this is not a problem? Mormonism has no place in it for Godless Evolution.

  91. John C. on December 1, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Bob,
    Does it have a place for godless weather? Godless volcanos? Does it have a place for Godless disease?

    I just want a clear set of parameters delineating those things we can and can’t blame on God.

  92. Bob on December 1, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    #90: “We pray for moisture” What could be more Mormon than that?!
    I am not blaming God for anything. I think Mormonism has parameters as does Evolution.
    Do you feel God has control over weather, vocanos, or disease?
    Evolution says no, that it’s all random.

  93. Left Field on December 1, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Actually, evolution says that it’s all nonrandom. Saying it’s random gets you an F in my Organic Evolution course.

  94. Bob on December 2, 2009 at 1:34 am

    #92: Evolution (IMHO}, is a stochastic process.

  95. queuno on December 3, 2009 at 11:58 am

    my Gospel Doctrine teacher taught that the earth was not a day older than 6,000 years, and that anybody who said otherwise was an infidel or an apostate. He hammered at that far longer than the point merited,

    Too bad I wasn’t in that ward. I might have hammered back, just to have a little fun. I probably would have made him label me an infidel or apostate in front of the class.

  96. queuno on December 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    My father is a retired university professor (microbiology) and I don’t think I ever knew a day that God using evolution as a creation method was heresy, until the day I arrived at BYU…

  97. queuno on December 3, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Actually, evolution says that it’s all nonrandom. Saying it’s random gets you an F in my Organic Evolution course.

    Sure, if we were taking an actual organic evolution course, we’d put on the exam what we needed to put to get the A. Doesn’t mean that anyone accepts it as valid. ;)