Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mormons and Evolution

From time to time, a Ward member inquires about the Church’s official stance on evolution. I’m usually surprised that for the most part, the member had a very strict anti-evolution world view that they’d like confirmed, but had somehow been challenged on those views.

What most anti-evolution supporters don’t realize is that to nearly anyone educated in biological sciences, an anti-evolution world view today is almost equal to holding a position that the Earth is flat, and the sun revolves around the Earth. Yet, from lack of education or interest, many people in general (certainly not limited to LDS members) lack a basic scientific understanding of evolution and just make the assumption (supported by many in our LDS culture) that the LDS church is 100% anti-evolution. And this is simply false.

The most ‘official’ information on evolution as a whole comes from the famous ‘BYU packet’ on evolution. For those attending BYU as a Biology major, they would have received this approved packet as part of their standard curriculum. The packet was approved by the BYU Board of Trustees, which includes senior general authorities and members of the First Presidency. The packet includes the following four articles covering past Church statements on evolution and the origin of man, all of which are available online with a quick search:

  • “The Origin of Man” by the First Presidency, Improvement Era 13:75-81, November 1909.

  • “Words in Season From the First Presidency,” Deseret Evening News, December 17, 1910, part1, p.3.

  • “Mormon” View of Evolution, Improvement Era, Vol. XXVIII September, 1925 No. 11.

  • “Evolution,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, by William E. Evenson.

  • Excerpt from this article:

    The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again (D&C 101:32-33). In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution, the First Presidency of the Church, then consisting of Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley, addressed all of the General Authorities of the Church on the matter, and concluded,

    “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church ... .”

    My guess is that the LDS Church most likely learned their lesson from the Catholic Church in that making definitive statements on scientific topics is a very bad idea that comes back to bite you. If the Earth being flat, the sun revolving around the Earth, or that evolution never happened becomes religious dogma, there’s a good chance that down the line you’ll have to do a lot of backpedalling. So, the semi-official LDS stance is to leave science to scientists, while we try to understand the salvation of man and not the specific process of how he came to be on the Earth.

    My recommendation for Ward members troubled by science: educate yourselves. Our Church places a very high value on education, and this should not exclude scientific education. Read the books about evolution, starting with Charles Darwin’s, “On the Origin of Species,” and other books on the topic, so that the Ward member might have a solid base for understanding the principles of evolution by natural selection. Through education, the member will then be far more prepared to form an educated opinion of what to believe on a topic that the Church officially leaves very open – regardless of individual comments made by some leaders in the past.

    Let’s face it, if we’re going to be expected to build our own worlds some day, we may as well learn something about this business while here on this Earth.


    1. Bishop,

      I want to address one statement you made. "Our church places a very high value on education, and this should not exclude scientific education". On a personal level, I agree with the statement. However, I must insist that emphasis be added to the last point that it SHOULD NOT exclude scientific education'. Yet, it does.

      Here is a passage from Elder Boyd K. Packer’s talk May 18, 1993 to all Church Coordinating Council:

      “There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church.”

      “It is so easy to be turned about without realizing that it has happened to us.
      The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.”

      Scholars, scientists and intellectuals have scientifically challenged the church and its doctrines at many levels. They have left deep scars in doing so. So much so that Elder Packer labels them as one of three "dangers" to the church. Furthermore, I happen to know of many scientists and scholars that have been excommunicated just for publishing their findings of years, even decades, of study and research.

      Surely you cannot assert that a church that calls intellectuals a “danger” is one that embraces science. Science is like pornography, it can be addicting and interfere with ones salvation. I for one, choose to remain blissfully ignorant while enjoying the benefits of membership in the ONE true church. See you Sunday!



    2. Wow, Bishop. As a relative late-comer to your blog (maybe 2 months ago?), this post surprises me. Most of 'em seem humorous, and poking fun at Mormon Culture in a lighthearted way.

      This one seems all SERIOUS and everything!

      You make good points, and I cannot disagree with anything you say (on a serious level). I bet you explained it pretty much like my bishop would explain it, if I asked him for an explanation.

      As for the apparent incompatibility with religion and science:
      1) Any scientist worthy of the title will readily acknowledge the distinction between SCIENTIFIC FACT and THEORY. If he presents evolution - in the "primordial-ooze-to-homosapien" sense as scientific fact, it might be best to move on.
      2) Scientific understanding is constantly expanding. Hopefully religious understanding is doing the same. TRUTH is TRUTH, whether it's scientific truth or religious truth. So far in my admittedly limited exposure, I've not seen one thing that shook my religious belief, because of that. Truth will never be incompatible with truth.

      Have a great day.

    3. Bikeboy,

      It was probably unintentional on your part but your post represents a very fine testimony. Thank you for sharing that with us. I have been a member of the 401st ward for quite some time and so I wanted to welcome you to our fine ward. I must say that I am impressed to hear that you have have not seen one peice of sceintific evidence that shook your religious beleif. It is good to have strong, unwavering, supporters like yourself in these latter days. Having said that, you did weaken your position a bit by admitting you have had "limited exposure" to science and history. Let me ask you this, you say that you haven't seen one piece of scientific evidence that shook your religious beleif but have you seen one bit of scientific evidence that supports your religious beleifs? I mean, after all, TRUTH is TRUTH. I have taken a few history classes and read a couple of books and I have to admit that I've had some trouble drawing any parallels at all with what we know about ancient American civilization and the BOM. Nonetheless, I go on blind faith and a firm trust in the written word of God (the BOM) over my history book. I'm just curious, what is your take?

    4. ... have you seen one bit of scientific evidence that supports your religious beleifs?

      This may equate to "blind faith," but I accept the Book of Mormon to be truth... period. This belief isn't based on any scientific evidence or proving a hypothesis or failing to disprove it. (And any such belief would be a feeble foundation, indeed.)

      Frankly I haven't paid much attention to the "native American DNA" posturing, etc. I guess I don't try too hard to draw the parallels. I don't believe I'm afraid of what I might discover, but rather I feel no personal need to find the scientific evidence.

      IMO, all of creation supports the notion of an "Intelligent Designer." Those who believe we evolved randomly from primordial ooze have far more faith (in evolution) than I'd be able to muster in anything!

      In December, I had a fairly serious surgical procedure, and I loved what my doctor said afterwards. (Doc is a Lutheran, by the way.) "We medical people traumatize the body. It's God's healing miracle that brings the recovery about."

      Truth is truth, indeed.

      Your thoughtful and inspiring comments are appreciated, monomo.