Supernatural Selection

March 7, 2014 | 77 comments
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ev1If I had to estimate what the median Mormon adult currently thinks about the origin of life, or the model that the church as an institution is most comfortable with, I would describe it as non-exclusive evolution through supernatural selection.That is, I suspect that three things inform the typical Mormon’s view of human origins:

  1. A non-negotiable commitment to the idea that God was involved in the formation of the universe, the earth, biological life, and human beings. Debates about Darwin in the church go back over a century, and the church’s position on this has not shifted. Our temple liturgy invests the origin of life and the universe with an acute and personal religious significance, even compared to other Christian denominations.
  2. Widespread acceptance of the terminology of genetic inheritance and evolutionary biology, often mediated by secondary education and popular science. There are things the church as an institution and Mormons as individuals will man the barricades for, but opposing evolution is not one of them. To the contrary, we slip into talk of genes and inheritance, Neanderthals and the Cretaceous Period, without any sense that these are religiously sensitive topics.
  3. Strong resistance to attempts to disturb the co-existence of the two aforementioned items or to force a choice between them. Suspicion towards exclusive demands is pervasive in many facets of Mormonism. Demanding that we choose between Creationism and Evolution seems as suspect as asking us to choose which of the four Gospels is the correct one.

When the church has issued formal statements touching on evolution, most doctrinal and rhetorical weight have gone towards insisting on the role of God, rather than into attacks specifically on evolution or on science. The language of biological inheritance—genes, chromosomes, genetics—is not infrequently used in General Conference addresses as unproblematic metaphors for things of spiritual significance. The article on DNA and the Book of Mormon that appeared recently on LDS.org didn’t need to blunt its discussion of population bottlenecks and other phenomena of human evolution.

ev3Another way to think about the question is: What is the minimum amount of hedging that a Sunday School teacher must do when stating a belief in evolution so that none of the other people in class raise objections? In two recent experiences, one in the Mormon heartland and the other far from it, all I needed was a strong affirmation of #1 and a passing reference to #3. (Specifically, what I said was that I had no interest in choosing between a car that had only a steering wheel and a car that had only a motor; I wanted a car with both.)

This model has implications for how Mormons approach evolution. It’s not difficult for Mormons to accept a vast cosmological time scale or intricate processes leading to biological life as long as they can be considered the unfolding of God’s will. There aren’t many obstacles to doing so; if God is tracking the flight of every sparrow, it’s not a great imaginative leap to see God directing the environments that drive evolutionary selection.

The model also predicts, however, that Mormons will be reluctant to accept the most strident forms of Creationism. Our instinct is to embrace scientific and technical progress unless religious taboos are implicated, and I don’t know many Mormons at the moment who are eager to reject modern genetics. Stridently anti-scientific Creationism violates our self-image of embracing modernity and our suspicion towards exclusivist demands. The failure to find acceptance within the church helps explain why youngish-earth creationists can feel just as marginalized and isolated as proponents of nontheistic biological evolution do, even in religiously conservative settings.

For the same reason, I suspect that attempts to establish a close articulation of evolution and Genesis will not fare well. Affirming the validity of both Genesis and an  evolutionary process that is in some way divinely guided is fine, but collapsing the two distinct discourses into one is regarded with wariness. Mormonism is, I think, committed to regarding life and the universe as intelligently designed, but the particular brand of scientistic Creationism that goes by the name of Intelligent Design doesn’t seem to be making institutional inroads. Quite apart from the scientific problems and any theological difficulties that might arise, I suspect Mormons will generally be reluctant to embrace changes in the current status quo of largely accepting multiple and largely distinct discourses concerning the origins of life.

ev11Having multiple ways to think about origins is very useful, as it allows us to maintain communication with a wide range of believers rather than excluding those on one side or the other. Making use of multiple discourses is also very normal. The late Middle Ages, for example, had at least four models of history that co-existed uneasily with one another, including chroniclers’ accounts of recent events, Christian salvation history, the non-Christian accounts of Greek and Roman historians, and the grand cosmic cycles of the Arabic astrologers. We maintain our dual discourses for the origins of life because we see the alternative as an impoverishment.

77 Responses to Supernatural Selection

  1. Trent on March 7, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I would agree with the 3 ideas at the beginning of this- the “mainstream” LDS view is that evolution is the most likely process for development of creation, and simultaneously that God was the creator. I’ve seen this across geographies and educational backgrounds. I think the thoughts about how this is good and useful for social reasons are also very good. I love calm, non-dramatic, contemplative articles like this one, let’s have more of them.

  2. jeffnyd on March 7, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I like these observations. In my circles of LDS friends and family members, I have observed that many are uncomfortable with evangelical (young-earth) Creationism, because a basic premise of that position is that God created the Earth out of nothing (as the Church has recently pointed out). Perhaps Mormons can adopt a modified view of young-earth Creationism by accepting that God organized (but did not create) the Earth in six days (or 6,000 years). I would suspect that this is the idea that most members gravitate toward.

    However, I think there is value in choosing not to fully align ourselves with either Creationism or evolution. I just recently wrote on this precise issue in my blog, suggesting that God tends to guide our perspective by withholding the answers, allowing us to think of Him in ways that we would not have otherwise. In other words, by being open to multiple possibilities, we are open to more instruction, without having to reject the Genesis account or advances in science. The problem is that we as Mormons, from the very beginning, have had a culture emphasizing the importance of always having the awnser, and we are not quite comfortable with mere possibilities.

  3. Josh Smith on March 7, 2014 at 11:59 am

    This is a great question for gauging how a 21st century Mormon thinks about evolution:

    What is the minimum amount of hedging that a Sunday School teacher must do when stating a belief in evolution so that none of the other people in class raise objections?

    It probably varies by region. I could take a guess about attitudes in my neck of the woods. Great question.

    Thank you for your post Jonathan. It has me thinking this morning. Here’s my modest contribution to the thread:

    Another important part about how Mormons view origin of life is mankind’s place as a “steward.” That is, it’s important for us to understand ourselves not as just another animal, but something God has endowed with “stewardship” over the other living things. I’m not sure if this is a point of doctrine or whether it has been passed down by our wilderness-taming ancestors. Either way, “stewardship” is intimately tied to our views of origins.

  4. Adam G. on March 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    The Mormon model of continuiing revelation, of ‘line upon line,’ and a number of other things all suggest that we are yet very far from being able to assimilate a genuine and comprehensive knowledge base. Having two different and unreconciled accounts may be a closer approximation of the truth than a synthesis might be.

  5. Cameron N on March 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    @jeffnyd – I think your semantic dichotomy illustrates the flawed thinking by many here. To create something IS to organize existing materials. Design is the process of creation. Forming, dividing, and beautifying the elements to be useful and please the senses.

  6. DavidH on March 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    The vast majority of Mormons I know either do not believe in evolution at all or believe in “evolution within a species” but not “evolution from one species into another.” The Pew study that shows the Mormons are the most unfriendly towards the proposition that evolution best explains the origin of humans is consistent with that. True, many Mormons who subscribe to your propositions–believing in evolution with some supernatural–would answer “no” to the quesion, but so would anyone in any other religious faith (i.e., the ambiguity in the question doesn’t just apply to Mormons).

  7. Cameron N on March 7, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    If “not sure” isn’t an option on these surveys, then they’re almost meaningless.

  8. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I think the key term is supernatural not evolution and selection in the discussion.

    There is a line of mormon thinking that God is subject to law. For some that is only moral law, but for others that would include natural law. Now, God’s ability to perform actions within natural law may look supernatural to us, but there is a big difference between thinking God created natural law and thinking that God has a very high ability to operate within it but is subject to it.

    I rarely find people that have much concern with evolution as being problematic for creation or for thinking about God that have much interest in the natural world. The world is so astoundingly more complex than any treatment in scripture or doctrine or religious discussion that its just pointless to attempt a religious understanding of the natural world.

    Our religious semantics and terminology are so obviously inadequate that its just absurd and pointless to think that our words like “create”, “guide”, “design”, “stewardship”,etc. establish a meaningful connection to the world at a fundamental level. All of these words are features of the human brain’s use of language. We don’t understand God and we don’t understand the natural world, so how can we possibly understand where they conflict?

    As we understand ourselves better, we are bound to realize that we all have unique understandings of the world and of God and the only hope for commonality is to be extremely vague.

  9. John on March 7, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    In my Sunday School when discussing the creation I simply made the point that the beginnings remain a complete mystery and neither theology nor science can solve a system and structure by examining only a few of its parts. All cosmologocial models begin in mid-sentence, and whether you believe in the Big Bang or God and seven thousand years, the questions of origins remains beyond our ability to theorize about them.

    I proposed my own model of how the earth was created that went something like this: “A seven thousand year old dinosaur named T-Rex was flying his X-wing from planet Hogwarts when he flew into a hand floating in space that said, ‘Live long and prosper.’ The T-Rex then laid an egg under an elephant which was stepped on by a turtle and out of it rolled the Earth suspended from a cross while the angels sang ‘Hallelujah.’ while Doctor Who landed at Downtown Abbey.”

    I assured my fellow brothers and sisters that they could believe whatever they like but that they were all wrong.

    After the laughter died down, I bore witness that believing in either God or evolution still does not remove the mystery, and for those where the mystery is solved, they have become fundamentalists.

  10. Trenton Hansen on March 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    As a Gospel Doctrine teacher, I will state unequivocally that there is no room for Evolutionary theory in LDS theology. The First Presidency has already made several statements about this, and any idea to the contrary is false doctrine. True doctrine will never contradict a prior revelation. God did not use evolution as a mean to populate the earth. Our Temple liturgy states plainly that all vegetation was “placed” in the earth as seeds, and all animal life was “placed” either on the earth, in the air, or in the waters “in all their varieties.” The question is whether you believe what God has revealed, or if you prefer man’s theories.

  11. John on March 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I disagree. The Church affirms God’s central role in Creation, but does not speak specifically as how it was done because it does not know; like everyone else. The Church also affirms that we are literal sons and daughters spiritually begotten of God. Some people seem to work evolution into this model, but again the specifics and details of how any of this happened are lacking.

    I too have been a Gospel Doctrine teacher (for about half of my lifetime in the Church). I would not say that “True doctrine will never contradict a prior revelation” either. I suppose technically that may be true, but the interpretation of revelation is often evolving (pun). Joseph Smith changed his view of the Godhead within the first three years after the formation of the Church slowly, and that was after the First Vision. Meanwhile, it was taught all the way up till about 40 years ago that Polygamy was necessary for exaltation and that Blacks would never get the priesthood. All such references to the former have been utterly removed from all Church materials (most people in my Elder’s quorum do not know such a thing was ever taught!) and as for the latter, a new revelation contradicted the long standing doctrines of the Church.

  12. Dave K on March 7, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I was about to leave a comment in support of evolution, but then I remembered that when the gospel doctrine teacher speaks, the debate is over.

  13. James Olsen on March 7, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Very interesting. Your thoughts here align with my own experiences.

  14. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Trenton,

    You know, God is not a native English speaker so cut him some slack in how accurate he can be in our language.

  15. jeffnyd on March 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Cameron, actually I agree with you. I think Mormons by and large interpret creation to mean organization, as the Book of Abraham suggests. My point was that the evangelical world doesn’t see it that way. The recent Gospel Topics essay on “Becoming Like God” discusses this a bit as well.

  16. Josh Smith on March 7, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Trenton (#10): If you’re being genuine, I’m curious. Are there specific parts of evolutionary theory you find especially objectionable?

    John (#9): It looks like your model is to throw your arms up and give up on trying to figure out about human origins, “We’re never going to figure it out anyway, what’s the point?” If your children were being taught evolution in their public school biology class, would you have any objections? (If it’s none of my business, please don’t hesitate to say as much.)

  17. Cameron N on March 7, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    I might also add that the big bang is just another form of ex-nihilism.

  18. John on March 7, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Josh…It is none of your business!…but I’m glad you asked.

    Look, I don’t think anyone knows much about anything. I don’t mean to be trite. I have a PhD. As I like to tell people, “I am now an expert on everything non-essential.” And yes, there are very smart people out there; but, as G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “all the greatest truths are the ones we have to take for granted.”

    Think on that for a while.

    My model is not to give up on anything. My model is to passionately search every corner and climb every mountain learning as much as can be learned. My position is similar to that of Brigham Young—when someone asked him if he had to read the Book of Mormon all the time Young responded, “Yes if you please, and when you are done you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study everything upon the face of the earth in addition to reading [that] book.”

    As such, I certainly hope evolution is being taught in my child’s school. The line only gets crossed when faith-neutral science is changed to advocate a religious point of view. Yes, there are plenty of teachers who declare that evolution disproves God. This is not only an absurdity, but ironically, at this point the teachers cease to speak as scientists and speak only as theologians. In other words, they become sectarians following their secular but religious creeds.

    Mormons do the same thing, making their take on doctrines and history so rigid and literal that they become what Brigham Young warned against—a sectarian. There are grand and complex systems for which we have so little proper information and imagination that all of our conclusions must end with the parenthetical “so far as we know and what we know can change at any moment.” Cosmology and history are two such systems that we have to always be ready to change and adapt. Sadly, this runs counter to human nature. People want surety and are uncomfortable carrying around a grain of salt.

    Here is what I can say I certainly believe: 1. The Creation account in Genesis has absolutely nothing to do with a literal, scientific account of creation. 2. It has nothing to do with evolution. 3. It has nothing to do with the way most Mormons teach it either. Nothing to do with a literal seven days or seven thousand years. 4. It is a model crafted in a different cosmological system rooted in temple drama and cult, stripped from its original context, written down centuries later by priests who probably did not know the original context either (see Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice in the Dead Sea Scrolls to get a hint of what that original context may have been; or read Exodus 40). 5. I absolutely love reading this text, but it evokes more questions than it gives answers; we do not teach it that way (a little sad about that). 6. But we do teach that God is central to the creation, and in that I think we hit the nail on the head. After all, if you understand the beginning of something (God and the Creation) and the end of something (God and salvation) than the point is a person can endure almost any middle.

  19. Josh Smith on March 7, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful response John … even though it was none of my business. :-)

    I must have misunderstood your comment in #9. I think I understand you a bit better. When your offspring are sent off to school eager for knowledge, you would be disappointed if they come home and told you the teacher told them about a T-rex-egg-turtle-Hogwort theory of human origins. Whew.

  20. John on March 7, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    LOL! Yeah.

  21. wondering on March 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Don’t you need to distinguish more carefully between the origin of non-human animals, and the origins of humans? I think many members are at least willing to accept the possibility of evolution of non-humans, but still believe pretty literally in Adam and Eve.

    (I suppose there may be some way to reconcile the idea that Adam and Eve were literally the first humans AND that human life evolved from lower forms, but I think that raises as many questions as it answers. If there is someone who believes that, maybe they could explain it to us?)

  22. CSpencer on March 8, 2014 at 1:48 am

    James E Talmage (who was an evolution-believing apostle/geologist) stated, “The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a text-book of geology, archaeology, earth-science or man-science. … We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation.”
    If we want to understand the natural world we must look at the natural world and not the scriptures. The scriptures do not offer anything of lasting value beyond the realm of spirituality.

  23. Aaron on March 8, 2014 at 6:27 am

    I personally believe that when considering the origins of the earth and all that is, or has been, upon it we must listen to the testimony of the earth itself.

  24. Tim on March 8, 2014 at 7:59 am

    “I suppose there may be some way to reconcile the idea that Adam and Eve were literally the first humans AND that human life evolved from lower forms, but I think that raises as many questions as it answers. If there is someone who believes that, maybe they could explain it to us?”

    Whatever your belief here, there are going to be major questions. If you believe that Adam was literally the first human and humans were created through through a non-evolutionary process, how do you explain close Homo sapien relatives like Neanderthals? How do you explain that our closest living relatives genetically are also closer to us physically and behaviorally than any other animals? In any case, what defines “literally the first human”? From an evolutionary standpoint, there’s no point in time where we can point to an animal and say “that’s a dinosaur, and its child is a bird,” or “that’s a pre-human animal, and its child is a human being.” Evolution works at a much slower pace than that. Was it for some reason working differently with Adam and Eve?

    Those that believe Adam and Eve were the first humans really need to define “first humans,” because that’s not a concrete term. I believe Adam was the first prophet, and that humans evolved. I have my own ideas for how that may have worked, but like Adam G. says, “Having two different and unreconciled accounts may be a closer approximation of the truth than a synthesis might be.” I get that many people are uncomfortable with not knowing, but here that’s the only intellectually honest approach for educated Mormons.

  25. Dave on March 8, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Jonathan, nice discussion — I agree we seem to have multiple and rather distinct discourses on the topic of creation and evolution. A practical difficulty is that there are some within the Church, including, it would seem, some local leaders and even some senior leaders, who think we have only one discourse and the evolution has no part in it. (There are also those who think there is only one discourse and the God has no part in it, but that end of the spectrum is largely outside the Church.)

    These LDS single-discoursers view “having multiple ways to think about origins” not as useful but as threatening, even as heretical. LDS sources may tolerate a multiple discourse model in the sense that different discourses are employed at different times, but that approach is never expressly identified and endorsed as you have done in the opening post. It is not an exaggeration to state that we want to use multiple discourses but we don’t want to admit that we use multiple discourses.

  26. Jon Young on March 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Here’s an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a gospel doctrine teacher who implied evolution theory as “anti-Christ”:

    Many Latter-Day Saints, such as myself, have studied Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (I’ve read the “The Origin of Species” where Darwin first introduces the concept). Certainly, I do not use a good scientific theory to instruct me in spiritual matters as I do with the Book of Moses or temple worship. But evolution does offer me a sense of wonder and gratitude that is testimony strengthening. As a scientific theory, evolution provides a reasonable connection between those few fossilized glimpses of ancient creation and current biological reality. If my earthly body was created by an evolutionary process, so be it. There is no reason to suspect “anti-Christ” in evolution unless it is used, as it is by some thoughtless people, to actually damage faith in Christ.

    It is helpful to avoid the risk of alienating good Latter-Day Saints whose testimonies might be weakened from the false perception that irreconcilable conflict exists between an honest, working scientific theory and an uplifting spiritual account of our origin and destiny. Both versions of our origins generate good fruit for the separate needs they were made to fill.

  27. John on March 8, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Note that in antiquity and in ancient texts such as the Old Testament names are often titles. Adam is a name and Adam is a title. Adam is the name of the first man, but Adam as a title may represent anyone who takes upon himself the power, authority, station, or stewardship of the first man Adam. If you go to the Mormon temple, you will understand that everyone becomes either Adam or Eve.

    Technically, in an oral age, any king who takes the mantle of leadership is often named after the first king who is often divinized; i.e. a god-king. One could say that any person beginning a new dispensation or world age could be called Adam, for he fills the role of the patriarch of the species.

    In other words, the Adam that traditionally appears on the horizon around 4000 BC to start the world age need not be the literal first man Adam; rather, he is Adam by title and office.

    Nor does one need to believe that Adam is the first literal flesh on earth. These are anachronistic interpretations of literate-protestant culture placed onto the scriptural text. Adam is first flesh figuratively, as in the one who organizes the world, the cosmos, the beasts and animals, and the fields, as was the right and power of the god-kings of old.

    Much is lost in translation from language to language over thousands of years. When interpreting these texts just remember to have your grain of salt.

  28. Jettboy on March 8, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    wondering, you would first have to define “literally” to determine if my theory beliefs are in answer to your question. Basically, it comes down to humans were part of an Evolutionary process until a man and women were taken out and placed in a special place apart from the world similar to a Temple. They were then subject to different spiritual and physical laws. Once the required “Fall” happened, they were again placed in the physical world we know as mortality. They became the first humans who could die in the complete sense both physical and spiritual. Its more complicated, but that is the basics. That is my version of the story and I’m sticking with it . . . for now.

  29. Victor Tango on March 15, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Interesting article. I agree that the church’s position is not moving. So why do members still get sucked in by the Darwin theory?

    The big issue here is that for anyone who actually knows the doctrine of the church, they also know there is no way to subscribe to a view of evolution, big bang, or the myriad of other ‘scientific’ theories out there (watered down or not) -all of which require as much belief as any religion does.

    This is simple to understand by any high school student who does a search on the Church’s website for Darwin, Evolution, etc. The statements by church leaders are quite clear on the matter…no man can believe in two masters, creators, or whatever else that oppose each other.

    I’m not sure why people would like to espouse both beliefs, as it doesn’t make logical sense. It reminds me too much of my brother being in the LDS church and the church of scientology at the same time. It’s best to follow the admonition “if the Lord be Lord, follow Him.”

    A simple example is listed below for your consideration, coming from the Church’s old testament study manual that clearly shows the Church’s teaching on the matter:

    In the world another theory of how things began is popularly held and widely taught. This theory, that of organic evolution, was generally developed from the writings of Charles Darwin. It puts forth different ideas concerning how life began and where man came from. In relation to this theory, the following statements should help you understand what the Church teaches about the Creation and the origin of man.

    “It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.” (First Presidency [Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund], in Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:205.)

    “Any theory that leaves out God as a personal, purposeful Being, and accepts chance as a first cause, cannot be accepted by Latter-day Saints. … That man and the whole of creation came by chance is unthinkable. It is equally unthinkable that if man came into being by the will and power of God, the divine creative power is limited to one process dimly sensed by mortal man.” (Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:155.)

  30. Steve Smith on March 16, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Victor, there is lots of room for believing in evolution in the LDS church: http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_science/Evolution/Official_stance.

    Also, we can’t really equate belief in evolution with belief in a religious tradition. There is lots and lots of evidence from fossils, bones, and carbon dating of evolution. Evolution isn’t a faith-based sort of belief that many of the hardcore creationists want to paint it as.

  31. Victor Tango on March 16, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Hi Steve,
    I agree with you in practice, not in principle. Meaning that the church is going to stand with arms wide open for as many people as they can, as long as they can… just as the doors of the ark stood open.

    The Church manual on the old testament is pretty clear on this matter however…. and it is the manual. I highly recommend it to anyone… it is nearly as cut and dry as it gets.

    https://www.lds.org/manual/old-testament-student-manual-genesis-2-samuel/genesis-1-2-the-creation?lang=eng&query=Darwin

    I myself don’t believe one ounce of evolution. Why? Because there is no observable evidence for it, and the links require belief… a belief that is not supported by data.

    Ironically Science Daily states that in order for a scientific method to be scientific, the method must be based on ” The collection of data through observation and experimentation…”

    Please show me what species in evolution has been observed changing into another. Please show me how atoms amen into existence out of nothing. These two items are key to the evolutionary world view, and both require faith.

    In fact, there is a lot of ‘data’ in the scientific community that can be taken from either world-view. The history should scare you on how the data has been manipulated into a seeming argument for only one world-view.

    Ideas so good they have to be mandatory in the schools…. right?

    If it’s science, it shouldn’t need help. It should be able to stand on its own, but it can’t… it requires faith…. just like religion.

    What’s really scary, is that if I was a card carrying Nazi and a member in good standing, wouldn’t everyone question my standing in the church?

    Just because the church doesn’t kick out the Nazi’s, Communists, socialists, etc, doesn’t mean the church agrees….. like you said, there is plenty of room in the church.

    I agree in practice. The doctrine is another thing.

  32. Tim on March 16, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Henry Eyring Sr. didn’t have a problem publicly stating his acceptance of evolution. He was a prominent member of the church, brother-in-law to the prophet, and father of a current member of our First Presidency. He also gets lauded in General Conference for his faithfulness. I’d say he had a pretty good understanding of the doctrine of the church…

    There’s a vast amount of evidence for evolution. For anyone who doubts that, I’d highly recommend taking some biology courses at BYU–particularly the many prerequisites required for the Evolution courses, and the Evolution courses themselves. Anyone who seriously thinks that Evolution has anything to do with where the first atoms came from is in dire need of some basic science education.

  33. John on March 16, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Is there not a difference between the evolution of life and the origins of life? No one can say anything about origins. No one knows. Cosmologies begin one step after “In the Beginning,” The tension between these arguments seem to be etiological. One can believe that God created the spirit and evolution created the matrix for the body aka “Supernatural Selection.” Fundamentalists and Secular Humanists will both disagree because they both think that their side has the most reasonable explanations of origins, but all these statements are statements in light of theories.

  34. Victor Tango on March 16, 2014 at 11:53 am

    John & Tim,
    These arguments are superficial.
    1) BYU is an accredited university. That accreditation is based on requirements set forth by governing bodies. Secular governing bodies. The church operated in Nazi Germany and never endorsed nazi beliefs.
    2) any “evidence” for evolution can also be interpreted against it. When two scientists view a fossil record, that is observable science when they determine size, family, etc. it is not observable to say that it came from a single cell organism through a common relative. Nor has a jumping of species ever been observed in science.
    3) the church is very clear on this matter. The doctrines taught in the church’s manuals are the exact opposite of evolution.

  35. Steve Smith on March 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Victor, first thing, Godwin’s law. Second, manuals are not doctrinal. The church has changed and modified them over time.

    As for the lack of evidence of evolution, what you seem to be saying is that the mounds of evidence of evolution is not enough for you. Nothing can truly be proven beyond any doubt. How do you know that we weren’t all created just three minutes ago with a memory of an elaborate past?

    Lastly, you seem to subscribe to the belief that when the prophet has spoken the thinking is done. This sort of thinking was decried by George Albert Smith himself: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/when-the-prophet-speaks-is-the-thinking-done Adamant manifestations of and insistence on such blind faith are a poison to the LDS community and are not consistent with traditional LDS doctrine.

  36. Mark D. on March 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Sunday School manuals also have the benefit of being written by people who are basically scientifically illiterate. That way they don’t have to touch on any of the interesting questions, and can pretend that a handful of haphazard guesses are adequate to address the others.

  37. John on March 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Victor, the official statements of the Church deal with origins and not with processes. The Church declares that we are children of God and that Adam is the progenitor of the human race. That is the doctrine.

    No one can say how life began; not the scientists or the theologians. What the Church says is we do not know the how, but we do know the why! This is important, but many members are constantly confusing the two.

  38. wondering on March 17, 2014 at 1:56 am

    The manual quoted by Victor is the institute manual, not the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School manual. But he’s right, it not only speaks strongly against evolution, it even endorses the “no death of any kind before the fall” idea.

    An interesting question for all both sides of this debate, is why is there such a difference between the Sunday School manual and the Institute manual on this issue?

    (And no, Steve Smith, it makes no sense to say the manuals are not “doctrine.” Doctrine just means “teachings,” and the manuals are certainly one form of official church teachings. That they have changed over time is not surprising, since all types of doctrine/teachings have also changed over time.)

  39. Victor Tango on March 17, 2014 at 2:15 am

    All,
    There is no preponderance of evidence for evolution. Creationist scientists using the same facts, evidence, and data, can reach entirely different conclusions… and they do.

    Interpretation is the key. And one needs to ask why it would be interpreted in a “monkey-to- man” chronology. There is no direct evidence or observation of one species turning into another. Never has been.

    Period.

    Having said that, Godwin’s law has no meaning in this forum. Demonstrating that one need not suppose that the church endorses the governments in the countries which it operates is important.

    Likewise, BYU must operate within parameters and one need not suppose that all the teachings come from the church. They don’t, and accreditation depends on it.

    Invoking a thoughtless statement like Godwin’s law seeks to arbitrarily (and out of hand) reject statements regardless of nature.

    This same individual then goes on to discuss how we shouldn’t be mindless?

    Additionally, considering that the majority thought and indoctrination in the world is with evolution, I’d say that those who disagree with it and expect proof instead of the alternate belief structure which evolution is, are actually the critical thinkers.

    Again, if you have evidence … bring it. But there is no direct scientifically observable evidence.

    The Church manuals stand. Church ideology is currently consistent with scientific methods that require observation.

  40. Ben S. on March 17, 2014 at 9:04 am

    “Stridently anti-scientific Creationism violates our self-image of embracing modernity and our suspicion towards exclusivist demands. ”

    Indeed. BH Roberts commented on Joseph Fielding Smith’s views in this vein.

    I call in question the accuracy of Elder Smith’s position in reference to the whole doctrine of his discourse, as being contrary to a great volume of well developed and ascertained truth, established by the researches of scientists of highest character, of profoundest learning, and world wide research. I hold his doctrine contrary at least to the plain implications of scripture; as tending also to reduce the church of the New Dispensation to the character of a narrow, bigoted sect, foresaking the God-given world movement idea of it; and as injurious to the continued faith in the adherence to the teachings of the Church not by a “scattered few” but by a very great number of its membership.

    - BH Roberts, in Sherlock’s “Turbulent Spectrum,” 33.

  41. Jonathan Green on March 17, 2014 at 9:37 am

    So, uh, Victor. Thanks for enlivening the discussion on this moribund post.

    I think evolution is an observable fact of nature. If you put adaptive pressure on a population, human or animal, it will adapt. I think even speciation has been observed. I’m not a biologist, but I believe we have some eloquent Mormon biologists who might have written on the topic.

    You don’t have to believe it, and I’m not terribly concerned if you or any other particular Mormon does or doesn’t. The reliability with which people show up to clean the church building, or the quality of the cookies you bring to the ward potluck, is far more important. Past experience has shown, though, that this site as a whole isn’t sympathetic to simply dismissing evolution as a mere fiction. You might not find a sympathetic audience here.

    And, just a reminder, I guess I’m the one who decides what has meaning on this particular forum. My thread, my rules. Do not attempt to evade Godwin’s Law here. If you need an example to support your point, please think about it a bit longer than the 5 seconds it took to come up with the Nazis.

    I think you’re dismissing BYU far too quickly.I have a decent understanding of what university accreditation requires, and it doesn’t include teaching students things that undermine the institution’s mission. No one is forcing BYU to teach biology.

    We can’t be too quick to look at BYU, or the Institute OT manual, and decide that one represents real Mormonism and the other doesn’t. Both of them do.

    Now, personally, the last time I looked at the OT manual, it was kind of terrible, and I think it’s up for revision soon. It will be interesting to see how it gets revised. One of the observations that led to my post is that one has to reach pretty far back – several decades or a century – to find a vigorous authoritative statement that Mormonism and evolution are incompatible. Contemporary statements strike me as open to co-existence, even as they are adamant about God’s role in creation. We’ll see what happens.

    But right now I’m going to go read Nathaniel’s post on this topic, which looks to be quite interesting.

  42. Steve Smith on March 17, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Victor, I can’t prove the earth is round to a flat-earther and I can’t prove that 19 Arab hijackers are behind 9/11 to a 9/11 truther. You’ve been bitten by the bug of denialism. But ultimately trying to prove evolution to you is beyond the main point. The main issue is that LDS people can accept evolution and be members in good standing at the same time. You equation of them to Nazis is absolutely ridiculous. I’m beginning to doubt that your presence on here is sincere. You’re just trolling.

  43. Ben S. on March 17, 2014 at 10:10 am

    “There is no preponderance of evidence for evolution. Creationist scientists using the same facts, evidence, and data, can reach entirely different conclusions… and they do.”

    Poppycock. Find me a non-theist “creationist scientist” or several, and then I’ll accept the possibility that scientific data alone is driving the different conclusions, instead of a misreading of Genesis.

  44. Victor Tango on March 17, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Gentlemen,
    Let’s make this simple….. you find the observable “fact” of nature as John put it, and I’ll believe.

    Remember, observable fact.

    Heck, I’d love to see one species turn into another … but I’ll settle for ANY observable fact that I don’t have to receive by faith.

    Science is interesting because the standards are high…. observable and repeatable. Give me anything I can see, observe, test etc…. anything that I can use a scientific method on.

    We get cell phones and technology from science using observable, repeatable, experimentation…. how do we come up with evolution?

    Thanks,

    V

  45. Mtnmarty on March 17, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Victor tango,

    How do you explain drug resistant bacteria as something other than a process of selection?

    For many types of life the concept species is not even that applicable.

    Even if the speciation component of evolutionary theory is incorrect, evolutionary theory has been extremely valuable in the discovery of DNA and genomics.

    The people who don’t find evolutionary theory correct have much less to show for that lack of belief. The similarities in DNA were not predicted by the people opposed to Darwin.

    Mitochondrial DNA was not predicted.

    Do different fossils occurring in different strata of rock not count as facts?

  46. Victor Tango on March 18, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Hello All and MtnMarty,
    Let me first start out by saying that the church’s position on this is most clear: (if you have not read it yet, please do because it is a blatant rebuke of Darwin’s evolution)

    Link: https://www.lds.org/manual/old-testament-student-manual-genesis-2-samuel/genesis-1-2-the-creation?lang=eng&query=Charles+Darwin

    Second, there are many on this forum (who have put their trust in the scientists that are propagating these theories) without having examined the research with a critical eye themselves. For that reason, I also recommend examining the data and categorizing it for yourself as ‘fact’ and ‘belief’. I think you will see-as I have-that many of the ‘scientific facts’ of evolution require a lot of belief.

    MtnMarty asserted that people who don’t put their faith in current evolutionary belief structures “have much less to show” for their faith. With all due respect Marty, there is a rich treasure trove of information that the creationist scientists write about all the time that bolsters our faith in God, instead of detracting from it. One site in particular is linked below. And, as we are talking science here… please keep such claims factually grounded with supporting data.

    Here are a list of scientific papers here:
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/arj

    Here is a good list of creationist scientists here:
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/

    Gentlemen, Jonathan Greene made a good point earlier when asking us not to believe blindly. Have you examined the fossile record? Truly examined the data?… as put forward by both sides? Any argument is easy to win if only one side is listened to. If you haven’t researched both sides and weighed the matter with viewpoints from scientists in opposition to one another, you are missing out.

    I for one believe that death came into the world as a result of Adam’s transgression. How then do we have ‘millions of years’ of death and sin prior to Adam- as claimed in evolution? Can they both be right?

    Again, I defer to the church’s own manual that quite directly states that it is God and His church that is right. I will also state that science backs such claims.

    Finally, in response to MtnMarty on the whole bacteria thing… please read up on the subject at one of the links I posted above…. it’s not evolution.

    Best Regards,

    V

  47. Josh Smith on March 18, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Victor,

    I signed up to follow this discussion, so I keep getting your comments in my inbox. If you are a genuine person, are there other areas of scientific inquiry that interest you, or just natural selection?

  48. Victor Tango on March 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Josh,
    I don’t remember mentioning anything about natural selection specifically. However, there are a lot of areas of science that interest me. Most notably the study of geological change related to Mt. St. Helens.

    What interests me more is what I perceive as the ‘watering down’ of Mormon doctrine in society today. Lucky chance that the two met on this particular post.

    How about yourself?

    V

  49. Josh Smith on March 18, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve never been to Mt. St. Helens, though I’ve considered visiting. My family and I like to go on adventures in the summer. We live in Idaho, so Mt. St. Helens wouldn’t be *too* far for us to travel. It’s on my bucket list.

    What is it about Mt. St. Helens that “peaks” … er, piques your interest?

  50. Steve Smith on March 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Victor, I’m assuming that you also don’t believe anything that archaeology, history, or geology has to tell us, because, well, there is no observable evidence for the how the earth’s surface formed or how civilization evolved. Not all knowledge is based on empiricism. Reason and logical consistency are valid ways of acquiring knowledge.

    You’re an inquisitionist Danite Mormon who is on a crusade to proclaim Mormons who think rationally and accept modern reason and science as faithless heretics. Get lost.

  51. CSpencer on March 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    It should be noted to all engaging in this discussion that Victor Tango is incorrect in every point he has raised.
    1) Institute manuals are NOT canon. Furthermore, JFS Sr says nothing about evolution. His comments are strictly directed to the evolution of man. Even still these statements are not canon. Doctrine in the church is established by the canon. “True prophets and apostles will continue to receive new revelation, and from time to time the legal authorities of the Church will see fit to formally add to the collection of scripture” (BD). “There are many subjects,” we read in the First Presidency-authorized Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “about which the scriptures are not clear and about which the Church has made no official pronouncements. In such matters, one can find differences of opinion among Church members and leaders. Until the truth of these matters is made known by revelation, there is room for different levels of understanding and interpretation of unsettled issues.” Evolution is one of these subjects.
    2) The scientific consensus is in favor of speciation through the processes of evolution. This consensus is reached through peer-review of reproducible scientific experiments and observations. No where have any of the “scientists” associated with the Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis passed the peer-review process established the the world’s academic institutions. Furthermore the founder of Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham) is even criticized by other creationists as deliberately misleading his audiences. Furthermore, the term ‘creationist scientist’ is oxymoronic. The idea of creation is unverifiable, untestable, and therefore unscientific (the same goes for Intelligent Design). There will always be naysayers to this fact, but a loud minority does not elevate a position above the level of speculation. Also, the Journals of Science and Technology, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Journal of Creation, and Answers Research Journal are NOT scientifically respected peer-reviewed publications in any academic scientific circles except for their own inbred societies.
    3) When Victor asks the question(s): “Have you examined the fossile (sic) record? Truly examined the data?…as put forward by both sides?” I would ask him the same question. In fact to him I ask a very specific question: how is it that we can trace the genetic variability of every gene sequence ever analyzed from hundreds of thousands of organisms from protists to humans down to a single common ancestor? Until Victor can demonstrate to me that he has any reasonable understanding of genetic sequencing and gene mutation theory any response (by his own argument) is moot, null, and void.
    4) Death before the fall (assuming that it occurred 4004 BCE) is a verifiable fact. It is not even worth debating (see Talmage, “The Earth and Man”). Whether or not the fall of Adam was an historical event is unclear and widely debated (see Man Adam by Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert Millet). Also who said anything about sin prior to Adam? As an aside Hyrum Smith preached about the prophets who lived before Adam. How can Hyrum Smith and Victor both be correct?
    5) The example brought up by MtnMarty is exactly correct. The reason why bacteria become drug resistance over hundreds and thousands of generations is evolution in it’s purest form. It is pretty clear that someone has not done their homework. The hallmark papers by Ochman and Wilson (Journal of Molecular Evolution, 1987), Moran (PNAS, 1996), and Moxon et al. (Current Biology, 1994) outline this basic scientific principle very well. Furthermore, these basic principles have also been seem in inbreeding depression and speciation in plants (Lande and Schemske, Evolution 1985; Lande, PNAS 1981).
    6) Earlier in the discussion Victor says he wants to see one species turn into another. Well your wish is my command:
    Speciation in cichlids (Gross, PLOSBio, 2006)
    Speciation in fruit flies (Rice and Hostert, Evolution, 1993).
    Speciation in phytophagous insects (Berlocher and Feder, Annual Reviews, 2002).
    Review of speciation in general (Panhuis et al., Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 2001).
    Speciation in the fossil record is also not as sparse as some have suggested (i.e. there is no missing link). See Benton and Pearson (Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 2001) and Jablonski and Roy (Proc of the Royal Society, 2002).
    7) It amazes me that Victor thinks there is a difference in the science that creates medical and technological breakthroughs afforded by science and yet rejects the geological and biological breakthroughs that have come by through the same vehicle.
    Leave the science to the scientists. Leave pseudoscience in the trash where it belongs.

  52. Josh Smith on March 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Easy CSpencer. This isn’t a thread involving reasoned argument. Numbered arguments are absolutely beyond the scope of this exercise. (Seriously though, thanks for the studies listed in No. 6. I’m going to look a few up.)

    Tango is playing a game. The game is over when …

    1. We figure out Tango’s identity (likely someone who’s already commented on this thread);
    2. Tango applies reason to some aspect of his understanding of the world; or
    3. Someone brings up the Nazis.

    That’s how the game goes. It’s Tango’s move. :-)

  53. Jonathan Green on March 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Actually, no, let’s not do that. I’d rather just close the comments.

    Victor, please don’t address the rest of the readers of this thread as “gentlemen.” If all the readers really are male, then I’ve failed somewhere. Also, do try to keep from simply repeating what you’ve already said. I think we understand your position and your evidence for it.

    Steve Smith, please refrain from calling people names. It doesn’t add to the conversation.

    CSpencer, thanks for the bibliography. Your first item, however, isn’t quite definitive. VT can certainly point to the OT manual as an example of what one can say with an authoritative imprimatur in contemporary Mormonism. I disagree with his claim that it’s the only thing one can say, but the manual isn’t entirely irrelevant.

  54. Victor Tango on March 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Jonathan,
    Thank you for your temperance on the matter.

    Also, I think a good debate is healthy, not sure you should close comments as long as people can remain civil. For my part I am genuinely curious as to the internal reconciliation of belief structures that occurs in individuals who espouse potentially opposing viewpoints.

    By the way Jonathan, I had a room mate with your exact name who spent a little time at Harvard back before finishing at BYU.

    I don’t want to hijack your blog in an uncontrollable direction either… (as a blogger myself)but I think this debate is healthy.

    Thanks V.

  55. Steve Smith on March 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I don’t think that the debate has been healthy at all. I think that what was a fairly moderate and enlightening discussion was hijacked by a troll, whom CSpencer’s comment should hopefully silence.. You’re being too charitable Jonathan.

  56. CSpencer on March 18, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    If anyone is unable to gain access to these scholarly articles please let me know at spenchristoph@gmail.com and I will provide more detailed information about a particular study while remaining within the bounds of copyright.

  57. Josh Smith on March 18, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Christopher,

    Thank you. I’m interested. I’ll send you an email.

    Jonathan, I don’t think Tango is genuine, but that’s just my guess. Admittedly, I’m often mistaken.

  58. Victor Tango on March 19, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Without arguing too much about arguing, what we know so far is that I came into this forum with a controversial viewpoint and made some claims.

    Rather than address those claims we have an entire discussion about whether or not I’m genuine, a troll, etc… Whilst no one addresses the topic.

    Both Smiths find the discussion non-value added, while at the same time continuing to debate my intentions instead of the topic.

    Is it ok if we look at the message for a minute instead of the messenger?

    My viewpoint is simple, church doctrine (as stated in the previous manual link) and the Darwinian evolutionary models are in opposition to each other.

    I have therefore begun researching the matter to see if any scientific explanations and plausible theories exist that can reconcile the positions. They do. (At least what I have seen so far).

    What I have found while going through this process is that there are many with ‘blind faith’ on both sides of the argument.

    For that reason, I have recommended creationist research papers (see links in previous comments) for your own examination and comment. I am seeking honest discussion here which cannot take place if individuals continue to reject opposing evidence out of hand.

    If you read the research papers and want to shoot holes in them (which I do), then fine… It contributes to healthy dialogue.

    If you don’t read the research and instead entrench yourself in a position, then please don’t make comments about genuine debates.

    I for one, think that science can reconcile the great flood, fossile records, adaptation, etc, yet I think ANY position requires a degree of faith.

    Thank you Jonathan for providing a forum.

  59. John on March 19, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I do not believe name calling is helpful.

    From my own viewpoint, I will give these meandering points to Victor:

    For me evolutionary theory works as long as you admit it begins in mid-sentence. It’s principles explain adaptation and mutation. Speciation is more problematic, and discussing the origins of life within this model is a pure stab in the dark. There are several points which biological evolutionary theory cannot answer without making theoretical moves well beyond the strict mechanistic model it has created for itself. That is why it is still called a “theory.”

    There are further complications which I think are absolutely key in understanding the evolution of life, and these complications have always been the prickly thorn in the side of Darwinism. How do we get things like consciousness, imagination, and intentionality, not to mention language, through pure material, physical processes? Darwin’s own attempt to explain these things is a little comical (just read his explanation between the mental capacity between man and woman in the human species and you will be rolling on the floor laughing), and surprisingly not much has been added to these arguments from modern biologists that I am aware of. And modern consciousness studies, which is just beginning, is really just circular ruminations in the pre-established rhetoric of the evolutionary echo chamber.

    If either natural selection or “Supernatural Selection” were to occur, how does the homo sapien as we know ourselves end up standing on the horizon? For the latter to work, one must then acquiesce the teaching that we have immortal souls. Intelligences are eternal, uncreated, and co-equal with God, declared Joseph Smith. A rather remarkable statement. So how does an intelligence get into a body? Do we wait around until evolution does its thing and then just step right in? How does that happen?

    Are the soul and body sympathetic? Do they require a form of specification that requires what could only be called “humanness?” If not, then could not a soul inhabit any biological organism? Is not reincarnation into cows, cats, and dogs just as sensible as human being? If the soul and body are sympathetic, then does the soul or consciousness help shape the body in its admittedly co-equal relationship? If so, then there are processes for which we have no explanation at all.

    While believers reconcile these questions with a sort of vague faithfulness, secular types reject them altogether as too metaphysical. For them, evolution only takes place if there is no eternal soul and it is all just a biological process. They themselves describe the problems with consciousness and origins with also a sort of vague faithfulness.

    I am okay with holding this kind of tension between views because I admit to myself that I do not know the how.

    What I personally cannot stand is all the paradigms to which biological evolution has been haphazardly applied. The idea of cultural and intellectual evolution–everywhere dominant in history books–is a silly and sloppy hypothesis. Social evolutionary theories have given us such things as eugenics; much of the Nazi Zeitgeist was rooted in the idea of perfecting the human race biologically through purifying the gene pool.Psychological studies was and remains clogged with evolutionary paradigms that are specious (e.g. Sigmund Freud and his eternal penis). And several social constructs are highly influenced by evolutionary theory with unexamined relationships and consequences.

    It is my belief that evolution is really a cosmology and therefore an epistemology—and the high tension between evolutionists and creationists really is a clash of cosmologies. Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton conceived of the new age by reexamining the macrocosm; but Darwin birthed it by redefining the microcosm.

  60. Josh Smith on March 19, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Victor Tango,

    Please accept my apology. It’s horribly difficult to figure out who is real on these forums. There are far too many anonymous persons for my taste. For what it’s worth, my name really is Josh Smith.

    In my line of work, I argue from authority every day. I wake up in the morning to an empty word processor page. The empty page has a destiny–it will be filled with words in order to reach a conclusion that favors my client. I include many arguments about what others with authority have said about the topic. I’m in the advocacy business; I start with a conclusion, and then I use all the tools at my disposal to reach that conclusion (within the ethical parameters of my profession).

    Scientists, on their best days, are not advocates. Scientists, in theory, must always start with the data and see where it leads. The scientific inquiry as I understand it is about first discovering what is there, and only later drawing a conclusion. Findings are published, and then the findings are beaten down, rejected, and reformed. At least in theory, scientists are not advocates.

    Creationists are advocates. They, like me, start with a conclusion and then use every tool at their disposal to reach that conclusion. There was a recent debate between a prominent creationist and Bill Nye. At the end of the debate, they were asked what could persuade them to change their minds.

    Nye: data.

    Creationist: Nothing.

    My problem with creationism is entirely about the method employed.

  61. Steve Smith on March 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

    “My viewpoint is simple, church doctrine (as stated in the previous manual link) and the Darwinian evolutionary models are in opposition to each other.”

    Inasmuch as we define Darwinian evolutionary models to be models that propose that species developed through natural selection of slight, hereditary variations which enable an organism to adapt to different environments for purposes of survival and competition, then yes it is most certainly compatible with church doctrine, and here’s how: God created life through evolution. The church manual simply quotes leaders’ positions on doctrine, but those positions aren’t doctrinal in and of themselves. The idea of God as creator is doctrinal, but the idea that God created each individual species in a non-evolving form is not.

  62. Mtnmarty on March 19, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Victor certainly represents a very common way of thinking regardless of who or what he is.

    I think he makes a good point that there is more of a conflict between evolution and a scientific worldview and religion including LDS religion than is being recognized.

    I would like to answer victor’s question that he says is being avoided. The way I reconcile the two is that all of our experience of god and language is fallible and corrupt. What victor cites as doctrine, what anyone cites as doctrine, is a human creation in language. Since we have no access to god’s dictionary we have no way of knowing whether our language conveys any truth. I have a strong faith that none of us knows what we are talking about in relation to god. Our talk of god is devoid of content as it relates to god it is just our attempt to describe our own experience.

    It is obvious that people, all people, differ signicantly in what they mean by God. I believe I could design a test that asks people ” when you say god do you mean “x”? With enough different examples of x that no two humans would have the same answers for all the questions this showing that none of us agree about what god is.

    This is one of the best things science has taught us. Not that god doesn’t exist but that absent agreed upon measures words are so ambiguous as to be meaningless. There really is nothing for science to conflict with but words with unagreed upon definitons. I’m not saying that means it doesn’t exist just that our talk of its existence is meaningless.

  63. Ben S. on March 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    The problem with “creationist research papers” is that they are semi- or pseudo-scientific papers (depending on your perspective) entirely driven by a theological acontextual misreading of scripture.

    Answers in Genesis is both wrong on Genesis and wrong on science. I don’t have time to elaborate, but I’ve certainly written plenty about Genesis here and elsewhere.
    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/author/ben-s/

  64. John on March 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    While conceding my own concerns and reflections on evolutionary theory, I agree that creationists tend to be ill informed, dogmatic, and take Biblical teachings literally, but only from a modern-literate-protestant point of view. For me, learning the gospel with literal, authoritarian, and dogmatic approaches is like learning the gospel from a pious cannibal who lops off the head of a passing traveler while singing and dancing to his gods. Both approaches are full of righteous zeal, and both result in shrunken heads.

    Creationists take Genesis literally. Never mind that the Genesis text has absolutely nothing to do with a literal scientific account of creation, nor does it try to explain creation scientifically in a figurative manner. It is not written from a modern, or even transcendent point of view. It is written within the storehouse of ancient thought and oral cosmology.

    Mormon Sunday School does not even approach the material historically, but only devotionally. So why is it that I have heard people insist that Adam lived in 4000 BCE, or that he was the first flesh and the dinosaurs were imported from other planets as pre-stratified fossils? Amongst other brick-a-brack and clap trap that is pushed forward with the zeal of perfect doctrine? Not only is this comical to me, but also a little creepy.

    Sometimes I sit in my Sunday School class fantasizing that the first thing we will see when we die is the great eternal plan stretched before us in all its magnificence realizing that we are eternal beings of the same species as God! And the second thing we see as we walk through the gates is a monkey typing the complete works of Shakespeare!

    The best arguments so far that have wrestled with evolution, in my opinion, are the ones who circumvent scriptural interpretation altogether and simply argue the science. The Intelligent Design crowd has made interesting arguments on this front. All of them countered, of course, by mainstream secular science. But this is how science works. Arguments and counter arguments.

    The fundamentalists do not work that way. Victors approach is interesting. He restates an assertion from Church leaders or print materials; he calls these “doctrine,” and says everything else is a footnote. There is no more room for discussion. Argument over.

    Now that is theology. I like theology. But it is something different than science.

  65. Ben S. on March 19, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    “Creationists take Genesis literally.” No, they don’t. If they took it literally, they would believe in a flat earth with a solid dome overhead.

    Creationists take it in modern historical/scientific ways, a worldview that is fundamentally foreign and anachronistic to the Genesis.

  66. Victor Tango on March 20, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    There are a lot of comments here that deserve a good response, but due to current workloads, some of them I hope to bring up later.

    However, something that sticks out to me is a comment made earlier that basically claimed that creationist scientists are doing science with a skewed world view, whilst the rest of the scientific community is happily neutral… and just calling it like they see it when something new is discovered.

    I disagree with that. In my observation of current scientists, the majority of them ALL (creationist, evolutionists, etc.) are gathering data to support their world-view in a very similar fashion as people do in these blogs.

    Yes, I believe they start with a world-view in mind. In fact, all future generations churned out of our so-called ‘learning institutions’ are pre-indoctrinated with evolution, so how can they not begin with that theory in mind?

    Having said that, one supporting instance (albeit anecdotal at this point) I can think of is a discovery bird fossils (complete with apparent feathers) that pre-dates the dinosaurs. This posed a problem for scientists believe that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, so the feathers were conveniently referred to as some other wing structure.

    (If I come across the article again I will post it here).

    The point being, someone says ‘those can’t be feathers because the fossil is too old’… instead of ‘Hey, those look like feathers, I wonder if we have a unique case here…. let’s examine it further.’

    I do agree with the point made earlier though that it is tough to do ‘real science’ with an end in mind. On the flip side of that coin we are only being taught one world-view in our learning facilities, making any opposition to the present predominate paradigms a much needed breath of fresh air so that scientists can think outside the proverbial box.

    V

  67. Ben S. on March 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    “I disagree with that. In my observation of current scientists, the majority of them ALL (creationist, evolutionists, etc.) are gathering data to support their world-view in a very similar fashion as people do in these blogs.”

    This implies that these world views are equivalent. They’re not. One is based on a continually updating knowledge base. The other is based on a misreading of the Bible which is then defended at all costs.

  68. CSpencer on March 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Victor’s most recent comment (#66) is a classic example of how creationists miscite and misconstrue scientific evidence they think is in there favor. The bird that Victor is speaking of is likely Protopteryx fengningensis which did not predate the dinosaurs but rather predates the dinosaur extinction. The fact that he views this as evidence for creationism further illustrates his ignorance in these issues. The origin of birds and their connection to dinosaurs is one of the most intriguing questions of science. The current dispute is not over whether there are evolutionary relationships between birds and dinosaurs. On that point, all paleontologists agree. Birds and dinosaurs are clearly closely related. The question is, how are they related? In one scenario, birds are dinosaurs. The birds represent a branch of the dinosaur lineage that survived the Cretaceous crisis and radiated into the forms we know today. In another scenario, birds and dinosaurs had a common ancestor that gave rise to both groups. Birds were never dinosaurs, but they are the closest living group to those extinct reptiles. Perhaps part of the issue is Victor (along with most laypeople) learned about the hypothesis that birds evolved from dinosaurs from the movie Jurassic Park and just assumed that opinion of the scientific community were aligned with Steven Spielberg.
    Facts must be cited. Without citation musings are nothing but opinionated drivel. Effectively Victor is saying, “I think I read something a few months ago that said something about science I don’t understand which disproves science in which I don’t want to believe.”
    Lastly, Victor is incorrect to assume any objectivity in creationism. Creationists by definition believe they already know the answer and are searching (desperately) for evidence to support their preconceived world-view. Science on the other hand seeks to disprove previously proposed theories and thus distill our knowledge of the natural world.

  69. CSpencer on March 20, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Face it Victor, I will not have a battle of the wits with an unarmed man, and you are clearly unarmed in all things scientific.

  70. Josh Smith on March 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    About two months ago I read an interesting book about the evolution of feathers, aptly named “Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle” by Thor Hanson. It’s definitely worth picking up for those interested in how something so intricate could develop over many millions of years. A couple of thoughts I had as I read the book: (1) the actual physical process that goes into the production of a feather is, for lack of a better word, miraculous. At a couple points I literally marked my spot in the book, put it down, and said “Wow!” (2) There are definitely more questions than answers when it comes to something so ubiquitous in today’s world as feathers. And the author never shied away from the questions.

    Victor, I simply can’t see how a creationist would approach the question of “Why feathers?” in a way that would give meaningful answers. If I really want to understand something like the natural processes behind feathers, what does a creationist have to add to the discussion? The answer “God created the feather” isn’t science. Even if it’s true, and even if God hand crafted the feather, it’s just not science.

    … here’s how I reconcile my insatiable curiosity about evolution of species and Genesis:

    About a month ago I had something of a revelation that God indeed created the feather. (Bear with me for just a moment.) My family and I were cross-country skiing along the Henry’s Fork River in South East Idaho. There were swans swimming out on the river. The swans would stretch their wings and flap them dry. I had the thought, “Surely such a creature is the creation of God.” There is an omnipotent being in the Universe and this is his creation.

    Could it be that a God with billions of years on his hands is able to create a swan from a dinosaur? You bet he could. And it sparks a curiosity within me to use my own mind to figure out how to reconcile the existence of the swan with a billion year-old earth with countless extinct creatures buried within it.

  71. CSpencer on March 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Josh (70),
    In response to this comment, I will quote James E Talmage:
    “Let us not try to wrest the scriptures in an attempt to explain away what we can not explain. The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a text-book of geology, archaeology, earth-science or man-science. Holy Scripture will endure, while the conceptions of men change with new discoveries. We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation.”
    I hope we can all show greater reverence for the scriptures and stop the endless speculation to how science and religion might mesh. The fact is, they don’t. Science and religion are strictly and by definition incompatible. Science relies wholly on empirical evidence. Religion relies wholly on subjective faith. They are the antithesis to one another. This does not mean we should ignore one or the other, but simply we must place each of them in their rightful place.
    If you want to learn about rocks, study geology.
    If you want to learn about birds, study ornithology.
    If you want to learn about God, study the scriptures.

  72. Josh Smith on March 20, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Chris,

    Surely there have been moments as you’ve studied the natural world when you perceived the hand of God. It’s certainly not something you’d publish as part of your profession, but leaves a mark on the soul, no?

    I like to think that studying the earth and all that is upon it is a way we can learn about God. Then again, I’m a guy who tries to persuade his wife that fly fishing is a suitable Sabbath activity. All of my comments should come with a disclaimer. :-)

  73. CSpencer on March 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Josh,
    You are partially correct. There have been times a natural phenomena has left a mark on my soul, but rather than thanking God for said phenomena (i.e. assuming it was the product of his handiwork), I am grateful to have witnessed it. To say that God created the feather is lazy. I find the mental exercise of understanding the biological processes involved a much more (dare I say) righteous use of our intellectual faculties.

  74. Josh Smith on March 20, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I like you Chris. If you’re ever in Idaho I’ll buy you lunch. You know what? I’d even take you backpacking in Yellowstone. Have a great day.

  75. Steve Smith on March 20, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Victor, in order to defend your creationist position, instead of providing evidence to back it up, you simply claim that evolutionists cannot provide sufficient evidence to back up their claims. You try to push the issue of the origin of species into the realm of the objectively unverifiable; a realm of which nobody can really know what happened or how. Therefore, you believe, creationists are perfectly validated in making their faith-based claims about how life came into being because evolutionists are also making assertions based on faith, but a faith that they stubbornly will not acknowledge as faith.

    In essence you’ve adopted a sort of postmodernistic outlook on science and have subscribed to a coherence theory of truth. Accordingly you believe that what evolutionists see as truth about the origins, development, diversification, and nature of life is true not because it can be proven to correspond with reality, but only because it coheres to propositions put forth by Darwin and other evolutionist ‘dogmatists.’ You do this to validate creationist dogma and claim that creationism can still be true because what it claims to be true is true because it coheres to the propositions made by proponents of a given religious tradition. You’re trying to turn the evolutionists into closed-minded zealots and creationists into open-minded people of faith, who acknowledge things they don’t know, and are validated in holding out hope for the literal truthfulness of the Biblical account.

    The problem is that there is a reality about how life came into existence and developed, and while our knowledge may not or ever be perfect about how, we can get a good idea through observation, compiling evidence, and using reasoning and logic to support different assertions about how. Not all propositions about the origins and development of life are equal. Some are closer to the actual truth than others. All propositions about life aren’t merely dogma, one and the same. While there certainly is dogmatism and tribalism in the scientific community, whatever the extent of its existence pales in comparison to dogmatism and tribalism in religious communities. The scientific community is much more open to critical thinking, reason, challenges to assertions, and changing positions than religious communities, who appear to be committed to holding onto tradition at all costs. Creationist “scientists” in practically all cases make the assertions they do because of the Genesis account and religious tradition, which they try their darnedest to defend. Darwin, by contrast, is not considered an unquestionable authority in the scientific community. Lots of evolutionists have questioned his reasoning. However, the fact of the matter is that we can’t just ignore all of the evidence that we have compiled about species and genetics and dismiss it as something from which we can derive no conclusions.

    Suppose I were of a religious tradition that held that all life and matter was created just five years ago. You couldn’t prove to me that existence had lasted longer than that because I could just say, well, it was created that way. If you tried to tell me that you have memories from more than five years ago, I could just say that you were created with a vivid memory of the past. Now you could never prove me wrong. But the idea that we were created just five years ago is highly unlikely. And so are all anti-evolutionist beliefs about life and matter.

  76. Steve Smith on March 20, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Yeah, Victor, I would like to see you take some of CSpencer’s points. You have some pretty strong views about evolution and how it is inconclusive, so how about you take this to the next level. So far your comments have been rather repetitious, and your main points have been fairly well engaged and challenged, if not debunked. Let’s see what you’re made of.

  77. Jonathan Green on March 20, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Die, thread, die.