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.


gavinomics said...

The objections you bring up have been addressed in many books by LDS authors. Here is one that I own and can recommend:


Bennion said...

I've actually read it, though it's been a while. Here I'm shooting to give a brief overview of the main challenges (and hopefully some possible resolutions) to anyone who doesn't want to read an entire book on it.

Emily said...

This might not be helpful, since I haven't completely resolved it. I believe in evolution and I believe the gospel is true. This is one of those things that I don't know how to reconcile; and that's okay with me. I will probably try to get a hold of the book mentioned by your friend above. There are things that concern me more (patriarchy in the church, for example). So for me, there are some things that I'm okay with not knowing and not understanding, because I have faith that someday, somehow, I will understand it.

Bennion said...

That's probably the attitude taken by a lot of people. I won't criticize it; we all have different issues that interest or concern us to varying degrees. I'm glad that you believe in evolution. It's interesting which subjects concern which people. I told my parents during the wear-pants-to-church thing that the church's patriarchal structure is hard for some Mormon women to accept, and they were actually a bit incredulous ;)

Matt Rager said...

Bennion, I have long held the belief that both theories fit. Let me explain.

Let us look more closely at the word “state” and its possible meanings. Before Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, the Earth was in a “state” of existence. During the scenes from the Garden of Eden, the Earth was in a “state” of existence. After Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden, the earth entered our current “state” of existence. After the resurrection and final judgment, the earth will enter another “state” of existence. Our current state of existence is independent of the other states of existence, including scientific laws. Our natural tendencies are to use the current conditions in which we now live to explain conditions of a different time and place. I believe this is a fallacy on our part, because the laws governing those other states of existence do not necessarily apply to us in our current state. I cannot comprehend a life without death, because I have never experienced anything like it. Likewise I cannot comprehend a life with no time. And yet, scripture tells us that we should expect to apply those examples to other states of existence.
Now, I do believe there are things we cannot currently explain with science. Most people call these things miracles. One day those miracles will have an explanation.

I want to make an effort to apply the laws of our current “state” to that of other states of existence, primarily that of the creation, and that of the Garden of Eden, for that will help me understand both those states of existence better as well as my own state of existence. I have no way to prove that these conditions are true because I was not there and did not experience them, but I can use the feelings in my heart (a.k.a. the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ) and logic from my current base of understanding to discern whether or not they are reasonable thoughts.

Based on the scientific evidence at hand and feelings in my heart, I am led to believe that the creation took place over many hundreds of millions, if not billions of years. During the creation, each "day" in the bible was associated to an event successive to the previous one, and they had to occur in specific order. I believe the order is more important than the time-frame. I interpret the term "day" to be a placeholder for a period of unspecified time. This includes organizing unorganized matter after the big bang, and the creation of plants and animals, which could have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Is it possible that this state of existence was governed by different laws of physics and thus truly was created in a timeframe that we would perceive to be 1 day? Sure. Again, I emphasize the importance of the order of events over the time-frame of events.

For some reason applying that same evolutionary, time governed existence to the Garden of Eden is difficult, because we are given no sense of time at all for everything we know about it. Part of me wants to believe it is an account of real events. Part of me wants to believe it is all a metaphor to teach specific things. The longer I have studied it and the more I learn about it, the more I am convinced it is a combination of the two. Once again I think it is more important to focus on the sequence of events rather than the time-frame. To that end, I believe Adam was not a byproduct of evolutionary advancement from Neanderthals, but rather placed on earth in the midst of this evolutionary process as an anomaly (eve also). The reason I believe this is due to the fact that while most organisms are evolving, mankind is devolving, with shorter life spans and a higher rate of disease than our ancestors (accounting for the significant drop in life expectancy over the dark ages due to malnutrition). This explanation also accounts for the problems you mentioned in your blog post; covering both the evolution and time-continuum of the world and the immortal state of Adam and Eve. (Right now we are all in a "state" of decay because we grow old and die.)

Matt Rager said...

I look at truth and compare it to a giant picture. Regardless of the source (religion, textbooks, conversations, etc.) I see each new truth as a puzzle piece for that grand picture. Each time we add a new piece, we get a better understanding of that total truth, the grand picture. Sometimes we have the wrong piece of the puzzle in place and it needs to be removed and put somewhere else. Sometimes we have a chunk of the puzzle completed, but we don’t know where it fits in relation to the rest of the pieces. I think the trick is to keep plugging away, one piece at a time. I love to conjecture about the empty spots that I have not filled in pieces for, but what I really need to focus on, what we all should focus on, is adding one piece at a time to the pieces we currently have figured out rather than starting afresh with a new chunk of the puzzle that has no relation yet to the rest of the puzzle.

Bennion, I admire you for your journey, and being so open about it. I still consider us friends. I know the foundation you tried to believe (Mormonism) has crumbled and you are continually seeking to build a stronger foundation. We all go though similar rebuilding periods from time to time and of varying degrees regarding various truths. I wanted to ask you some personal questions, and it is for my own growth and knowledge and not meant to hurt you in any way. Did you ever feel the Light of Christ, or the Holy Ghost? If yes, do you still feel that influence? If you changed your mind about spiritual promptings, how do you explain those experiences without attributing them to deity? Regardless if you have or have not felt that influence, are you willing to try tapping into that ethereal experience to help build your current foundation of truth?

Bennion said...

Matt, I appreciate your comments. I think your ideas are interesting and I respect the effort you've exerted towards finding the truth. About spiritual promptings, I've been asked about that many times and often link to this blog post:


Yes, I have often had very powerful spiritual experiences and occasionally still do. I think those feelings I used to describe as spiritual promptings are very useful for making decisions, understanding ourselves and interacting with other humans, but I do not think they are evidence of anything supernatural, and I'm not open to interpreting them in that way. I definitely still consider you a close friend as well.

Seth said...

I don't know how God did it. It doesn't mean He can't. And it doesn't mean he didn't. It means i don't understand it, and i can't prove it.
Could you please use science to PROVE anything? Science can't prove anything. It can only disprove things through the scientific method. Science doesn't stand on any proof, but instead on failing to disprove a NULL hypothesis.
For this reason, science is limited in its ability to know things. It can only know things that follow the rules of proof. And it is BY DEFINITION unable to know ANYTHING else. That is a huge problem for science. Religion doesn't have that problem.
That is why i am religious. Not because i can prove it, or even defend it to the satisfaction of any. But because it is a more powerful, and more hopeful than any alternative.
I believe in good. And that the absence of good is evil. And that good will overcome evil. Even if science could prove that i am wrong i would still believe it. I don't believe that because it is right. I believe it because it is the only thing worth believing in. Also, i believe it is true.
As for science? I find it useful and quite practical. But because of its very nature, it isn't powerful enough to PROVE anything, let alone find truth. Science is impotent.

Bennion said...

Seth, I won't engage you in a debate about whether absolute certainty is possible, but I think if you were to explore science a little more you might be surprised and amazed by what it reveals.

Sarah Kate said...

Like Emily, I don't worry about the disconnects that I don't understand. Evolution isn't a question in my mind, it's a fact. The evidence is pretty solid. I also believe in the gospel, but I interpret it more loosely than some might think proper. Fortunately, what others deem proper is unimportant to me in this instance. I don't feel like the gospel eliminates the possibility of evolution, though I know some people do think that way. My college biology teacher was LDS and he had no hesitations about the two peacefully coexisting. So, whatever. Also, in regard to the above comment from whoever Seth is, I don't understand why science apparently can't prove anything and is impotent, but religion which Seth admittedly cannot prove or even defend is the only thing worth believing in. That sounds like total nonsense. If the argument is that nothing can ever REALLY be proven, then I'm not even going to go there because what a waste of time. Yeah, maybe we do live in the matrix, because me and science can't prove that we don't - but so what? Ever heard of Tim Minchin? Science adjusts it's beliefs based on what's observed - but it sounds like Seth's faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved. In any case, I believe science has a lot to offer and religion does as well. The end.

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