Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mormonism and Evolution

I respect those Mormons who believe in evolution and the old age of the Earth. Their willingness to consider the massive amount of rock-solid scientific evidence on the subject is admirable, and ought to be encouraged. However, they face at least two major challenges:

1. The most straightforward interpretation of a few scriptures seems to contradict scientific fact.

2. LDS Church curriculum and common teachings of the Prophets and Apostles, including living ones, contradict science on several points.

The church has traditionally taught that physical death did not occur before the fall of Adam. Under "death" in the Bible dictionary, the first scripture cited for support is 2 Nephi 2:22:

if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. (2 Nephi 2:22)

In my personal opinion, the most obvious and straightforward definition of "state" would preclude evolution from occurring prior to the fall of Adam. Some LDS scholars suggest that the verse only applies to the Garden of Eden, and not the entire Earth. I personally disagree, but I suppose it's one possible resolution.

The second scripture cited for support is Moses 6:48, which states that by the Fall of Adam came death. It doesn't explicitly indicate physical death, and I suppose it could also be interpreted as indicating spiritual death.

Another problematic verse is D&C 77:6, which states that the "continuance ... or temporal existence" of the earth is 7000 years. As this scripture is interpreting a symbol, it seems unlikely to me to be a symbol itself, but some people have interpreted it that way.

One further scriptural problem is that many scriptures imply that "Adam is the primal parent of our race," as the First Presidency put it in a statement. Adam is depicted as farming, reading, and writing. DNA indicates that our most recent common ancestor could not have lived more recently than about 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, and that was way prior to the existence of domesticated plants, or reading or writing. I'm not sure how Mormon believers in evolution resolve that issue, but I'd like to hear their comments about it.

The second problem is that LDS curriculum and current Apostles continue to attack evolution. The recently-updated scriptures contain a "Bible chronology" section that places Adam at 4000 BC. Boyd K. Packer has made many anti-evolution comments, but I thought this one was pretty clear: "An understanding of the sealing authority with its binding of the generations into eternal families cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts." Russell M. Nelson and others have also disparaged scientific theories. Mormon believers of evolution can probably ignore these statements as not official doctrine, and can simply consider them the misinformed opinions of current church leaders.

I'm glad that many Mormons are willing to accept science in spite of these challenges, and I hope that many more will choose to do so in the future. I hope that someday an Apostle will defend well-supported scientific theories such as the big bang or human evolution.

If you are a Mormon who believes in evolution, I invite you to comment on how you've dealt with these challenges.