The Language of God

There’s something interesting in the current Deseret Book catalog. As you probably know, almost all of the titles featured in the catalog are published by Deseret, but they seem to pick up a few non-DB, non-LDS books each time. So in addition to The Reagan Diaries, they are featuring The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Here is the text from the DB catalog:

This marvelous book combines a personal account of Collins’s faith and experience as a genetics researcher with discussions on more general topics of science and spirituality, especially centering around evolution. The book argues that belief in a transcendent, personal God can and should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution.

Huh. I haven’t read the book. I’d like to hear from those who have. And I also wonder why DB chose to stock this book (not to mention to feature it prominently in its catalog): Are they interested in advancing a pro-evolution viewpoint? Are they wanting to approach the issue of genetics (often used to Mormon bash) from a faith-promoting perspective?

100 comments for “The Language of God

  1. Double huh. I just realized that the final sentence of the blurb wasn’t written by DB but was lifted from the Publishers Weekly review (which you’ll see at Amazon if you click through the link). Is that legal? I have no idea. Anyway, that intriguing language wasn’t produced by DB.

  2. Julie, the entire quote above is from the Publishers Weekly review – and is attributed on the DB website. It sounds like an interesting book, and I like that DB is featuring it – or at least the topic it addresses.

  3. Ray, you’re right, it was the entire thing and not just the final sentence. (In the print catalog, it is not attributed to PW). I’m wondering if you are seeing something that I’m not, because on this page

    I don’t see where the review is attributed to PW.

    But this wasn’t the main point of my post, which was surprise/curiosity that DB selected and was featuring this book.

  4. Highly recommended. I listened to the CD version of the book (read by the author, as I recall) about six months ago. It’s the best “scientist as believer” book I’ve found (not that I’ve read that many). He recounts his own conversion to Christianity in the book. He also gives a nice discussion of Intelligent Design, which he rejects quite definitively. He argues for “theistic evolution,” which he obviously sees as significantly different from ID.

    The nice thing about this sort of book is that it refutes the idea (so often promoted by Dawkins and his disciples) that no scientist, or at least no biologist, could possibly believe in God. Since surveys show that something like a third to half of scientists believe in God (in one form or another), the Dawkins claim is either uninformed or simply dishonest. Not that survey results settle the underlying factual or theoretical disputes, but misrepresenting the terms of the debate does little to enhance their credibility. So Collins’ book is a nice corrective to the view the Dawkins holds forth and the media tends to parrot.

  5. I’ve read it, though it’s been about 6 months. It’s worth reading, though a lot of it is paraphrases of C. S. Lewis, who he cites as a major influence on his life. The author was the head of the Human Genome Project and has a lot to say on the compatibility of science, evolution, and faith, but he doesn’t have a big vendetta against creationism IIRC. Since the Church is neutral on the issue of evolution, this book fits in reasonably well with that.

    I can quite see DB featuring this book; it’s pretty much a direct answer to vocal writers like Richard Dawkins. Just the thing to hand out to your annoyed 16-yo nephew who has just heard about how “stupid and gullible” it is to believe in God.

  6. I will only says, there are a lot of good ‘One Star’ reviews on Amazon that should be considered before using this book for Science & Mormonism.

  7. “Are they interested in advancing a pro-evolution viewpoint? Are they wanting to approach the issue of genetics (often used to Mormon bash) from a faith-promoting perspective?”

    I highly doubt either. DB is a company, not an ideological institution. They probably had a handful of people calling in and asking if they carried it, so they decided to pick up and advertise the release of this new paperback edition because they thought others in their market might be interested in it.

  8. Anyone who believes either that “the Church is neutral on the issue of evolution” or that DB is “not an ideological institution” is blissfully naive. My BYU colleagues in Biology who teach subjects dealing with evolution and experience regular visits by ecclesiastical leaders monitoring and warning them about their course content tell me they live in absolute terror that each new semester might be their last. And the experiences of my family members who have been employed at DB, both on the corporate and retail level, leave no doubt that it is a highly ideological institution–even more so now that S. Dew has taken the reins and absorbed/destroyed the LDS book market competition than it was before. Whether the book was subjected to careful scrutiny before being approved or made it into the catalog on the basis of it’s positive soundbites without being read by anyone at the corporate level (or by anyone from BYU’s religion faculty, who are often employed to review such titles), I don’t know. I suspect the answer will come in how long it remains in the DB inventory.

  9. Francis Collins vs. Richard Dawkins, C. Daniel Dennett vs Stephen Jay Gould …. it\’s been interesting to follow the exchanges. Gould is famous for stating that religion and science constitute \”non-overlapping majesteria\” or NOMA for short. Dawkins and Dennett say religion is testable hypothesis just like anything else and that science profoundly undermines religion. Collins says mostly that belief in God is not rational and compatible with science.

  10. Never heard of the book and I’d probably never read it (sounds a bit boring), but I’m glad to see that the people at Deseret Book at least aren’t as close minded as most of the Mormons I’m around. Then again, I’m not sure if I would’ve figured it -that- prominently in the catalog….

  11. Well, T. Anderson, I never went to BYU, so I guess I’m hopelessly naive. All I know is what the Church statement says, which is that they have no official position. AFAIK that means I am to use my own mind to form an opinion on this issue, which is just fine with me. ;)

    Joseph, is the book prominently featured in the catalog? I can’t see it anywhere obvious on the website.

  12. All this time I thought my expensive, East Coast education actually meant something. Thanks, T. Anderson, for setting me straight. I guess my rural LDS upbringing and my extended family connections to BYU entrenched a naivete that no education can dislodge. All this time I thought that the lack of an official position allowed me to think for myself. What a waste.

  13. A good place to find information about Church statements on evolution is here:

    To the best of my recollection, the last time I went to renew my temple recommend, neither the bishop nor the stake president quizzed me about my views on evolution, and I think it’s a safe bet that the views of the General Authorities vary quite a bit on the subject, as they always have. If the Church had an “official position” then diverging from it would constitute apostasy, and I’m not aware of anyone losing Church membership over this issue. Is anyone else here aware of any such action?

    The BYU biology faculty has taught standard evolutionary theory for as long as I can remember, in spite of the on-and-off opposition of some religion faculty, who back in the 70’s even published their own competintg “packet” (I remember getting one in a Book of Mormon (!) class).

    The Dawkins-style assaults on religion look a lot like circular arguments to me:
    – No “real” biologist can believe in God.
    – But Dr. Smith believes in God.
    – Well, he’s not a real biologist.
    – How do you know he’s not a real biologist?
    – He believes in God, doesn’t he?

    Or, to put it another way, Dr. Smith believes in something that cannot be tested by empirical scientific methods. But can’t a scientist believe that there are propositions that science cannot adequately test, and accept such on extra-scientific evidence? Or does scientific orthodoxy require him to believe that empirical science is the only tool in the box? As a humble word-cruncher, I would appreciate a comment from any practicing scientists out there.

    As to DB, it’s a business, and offers what it thinks will sell to its predominantly LDS clientele, as long as it is not overtly objectionable to the Church. So, you can find Max Lucado there, but no “Kingdom of the Cults.” If there is a book there that reconciles evolution with faith in God, it would seem that such a view dos not violate any official or fundamental Church doctrine.

  14. I perosnally don’t understnad how you can believe that humans and primates share a common ancestor, and yet still believe in God. Under this reasoning, would God be a human or a primate, or a mixture of both? ;-)

  15. #6 is right–the theology is largely derivative from C. S. Lewis. The book has little that is new or surprising.

    Still, I enjoyed it and I think it does important work in asserting that a scientist can also be a believer. It’s an easy book in which a man trained to search for and follow evidence tells the story of his conversion to Christianity.

  16. Is it really that strange? I feel like most mormons see themselves on the same side of the God vs Science debate. This book is the latest articulation of the God side by a well-respected scientist. I give mormons enough credit the put aside doctrinal details to at read a spiritual peer’s thoughts. Our doctrine certainly isn’t 100% consisten with C. S. Lewis’ theology, but we quote him incessantly.

    That being said, if DB were advocating an pro-evolution theology, it would be blockbuster news to me.

  17. I don’t think it is anyone’s place to tell God that He can’t use evolution as His means of creating animal and human life. We know God created the universe, but we do not know the details of how He created it. It is folly for us to pretend we know how He did it, either one way or the other. And it is folly for us to accuse people of heresy for suggesting God may have used evolution as His creative process.

  18. I have it on good authority that at the next GC, the Prophet will endorse evolution, declare that Darwin was inspired, and hold a Church-wide book burning of McConkie\’s Mormon Doctrine. You heard it here first.

  19. Or, to put it another way, Dr. Smith believes in something [religion] that cannot be tested by empirical scientific methods.

    Funny thing, neither can (or has) evolution.

  20. Anonymous (20): I wonder if McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine was as correct on evolution as he was on blacks and the priesthood.

  21. Before we decry Dawkins or Collins too much in either direction, I would recommend reading their debate from time magazine (it was about a year ago right? It was Time magazine right?) Both were very mature and professional with each other.

  22. Brian (16): \”I perosnally don’t understnad how you can believe that humans and primates share a common ancestor, and yet still believe in God. Under this reasoning, would God be a human or a primate, or a mixture of both?\”

    Humans are primates, so this question doesn\’t actually make sense, but consider: if God used evolution as part of His creative process, then certainly God\’s creator could have done the same.

    Alison (21): \”Funny thing, neither can (or has) evolution.\”

    Evolution has tons and tons of empirical evidence, so I\’m not sure what you\’re suggesting. Consider: much of modern medicine relies on predictions that come from evolutionary theory.

  23. To dangermom (6 & 13) and Ray (14) re “the Church is neutral on the issue of evolution” and “the lack of an official position”; and akl (15) re “a good place to find information about Church statements on evolution”: is a good place to look for the Church’s doctrinal position on evolution. The Gospel Topics section, for example, is advertised as

    “a great resource for answers to questions about Mormon beliefs,… doctrine, policies, practices, and history.”

    The Gospel Topics “Creation” page presents the Church’s doctrinal position that evolution does not explain the origin of man’s body. This page teaches of a paradisiacal creation with no death for any form of life on earth until after the fall of Adam.

    It begins with three paragraphs from True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference. “Adam,” it says, “was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34).”

    Links to several Church magazine articles are provided. The most important of these is “Gospel Classics: The Origin of Man” (Ensign, Feb. 2002, pp. 26–30) which is summarized in these words:

    “In 1909, amid controversy and questions about the Creation and the theory of evolution, the First Presidency issued this article, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position.” (Emphasis added.)

    Regarding the notion that Adam descended “from lower orders of the animal creation,” this formal and official First Presidency pronouncement states:

    “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).”

    The meaning of Moses 1:34 becomes clear: Adam was not the offspring of “lower orders” of animal life. The Church’s doctrinal position is that evolution does not explain the origin of man’s body.

  24. The Church’s Gospel Topics “Creation” page links to Elder Russell M. Nelson’s April 2000 General Conference talk on “Creation” (Ensign, May 2000, pp. 84–86) which teaches “no death before the fall:”

    “The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God. Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam…. Eventually, ‘the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.’ At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again. It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new.”

    The “Creation” page also links to “Christ and the Creation” by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (Ensign, Jun. 1982, pp. 9-15.) which declares that mortality, procreation and death on this earth began with the Fall of Adam:

    “The Fall was made possible because an infinite Creator, in the primeval day, made the earth and man and all forms of life in such a state that they could fall…. This first temporal creation of all things, as we shall see, was paradisiacal in nature. In the primeval and Edenic day all forms of life lived in a higher and different state than now prevails. The coming fall would take them downward and forward and onward. Death and procreation had yet to enter the world….

    “When the earth was first created it was in a paradisiacal state, an Edenic state, a state in which there was no death….

    “The initial creation was paradisiacal; death and mortality had not yet entered the world. There was no mortal flesh upon the earth for any form of life. The Creation was past, but mortality as we know it lay ahead. All things had been created in a state of paradisiacal immortality….

    “Then comes the Fall; Adam falls; mortality and procreation and death commence. Fallen man is mortal; he has mortal flesh; he is “the first flesh upon the earth.” And the effects of his fall pass upon all created things. They fall in that they too become mortal. Death enters the world; mortality reigns; procreation commences; and the Lord’s great and eternal purposes roll onward….

    “There is no evolving from one species to another in any of this.”

  25. To R. Gary and Brian: I’m not going to get into a debate over evolution. There have been thousands and thousands of articulate articles written from multiple perspectives – not just the two easy extremes.

    The only “official” statement the Church has issued on evolution, as a statement by the Church (not an individual explanation by an apostle), is “The Origin of Man” – and if you read the entire statement, evolution as a source of the creation of the physical body is not rejected. In fact, the idea that Adam’s body MIGHT have begun as an embryo is explicitly stated – followed by, essentially, “We don’t know and refuse to speculate.” Just because BRM chose to speculate doesn’t mean we should.

    Suffice it to say that there is no official Church statement saying that evolution is heretical in and of itself as a general description of the physical world – as long as is not read to reject man being created in the image of God. There is a HUGE difference between defining Adam as the first man (meaning the first “human” soul – combination of physical body AND spiritual body) and the defining him as the first man (meaning no evolutionary process in the creation of his body). There also is a long tradition in the Church of reading the account of the Fall as symbolic, allegorical, pre-mortal and/or figurative, cemented in the temple endowment, so a literal reading is not the only option for faithful members.

    I am not going to go back and forth on this one. I understand your viewpoint; I do not deny its possibility; I merely ask that you look at the only official statement the Church has released on the topic and grant the possibility of my viewpoint. I’m not asking you to accept it.

  26. R.Gary, OK; one more response, then I really am done:

    First, McConkie himself admitted the speculative nature of statements made by individual apostles where official pronouncements are not available in his repudiation of his opinions on race and the Priesthood after the FP and the 12 spoke as a united body in support of Pres.Kimball’s revelation. Official pronouncement ALWAYS take precedent over individual statements.

    Second, Elder Nelson’s comment simply says the Fall brought death to the earth; it does NOT address the Garden account as literal or figurative – not at all.

    Third, I went to the Gospel Topics section you referenced. In all of the resources listed, the three you quoted are the only ones that come close to addressing evolution – and, as I said previously, the ONLY one that is an actual, official statement from the Church itself as an institution explicitly allows for evolution as the creative process for Adam’s physical body. Lacking an inclusion of God placing a spirit child into that body, evolution does not reflect the Church’s view of the Origin of Man (as a living soul), but the statement itself states that evolution MIGHT have been the process by which the physical body was created.

    The most relevant section is: “True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.” That statement leaves it as a possibility that Adam’s spirit was breathed into a “human germ or embryo”.

    Again, the official Church statement on evolution as the process of creation for the physical body is that we don’t know the details and shouldn’t get so married to one non-revealed answer that we reject all others. That is the Church’s official stance, and it is mine. I am NOT saying that God must have used evolution to create Adam’s physical body; I am saying that the Church’s official statement leaves it open as a possibility. Therefore, so do I.

  27. It is an honor to be on exactly the same side of an issue as Ray. I agree with his statements above.

    What I find most interesting about this discussion is that there is so much room to debate about what the Church’s official position on an issue like evolution. And R. Gary does raise an interesting question which I think is worthy of a separate blog: “Is it speculation or apostolic doctrine that the Church publishes on its official web site?”

    The question of what is official LDS doctrine was recently addressed in, coincidentally, a statement that appears in the Newsroom on the website:

    “Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. . . . [A]s the Church continues to grow throughout the world and receive increasing media attention, a few simple principles that facilitate a better understanding may be helpful: Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.”

    Personally, I find this press release very interesting because it is an unofficial statement that purports to define the sources that contain official doctrine.

    Moreover, I find it interesting that a Church as structured as our leaves so much open ambiguity about what our position is on a very common doctrinal question like evolution. If we were Catholics, all we would have to do is pull the Catechism off our bookshelf to find out what the Church’s official position is on evolution. But the Church has historically refrained from producing a single-volume reference book that comprehensively sets forth the Church’s official doctrines. Bruce R. McConkie attempted to do so singlehandedly, but he had no authority to do so. Unfortunately, too many members erroneously take his “Mormon Doctrine” to be just that, when it isn’t.

    Oddly, the LDS Newsroom is now publishing statements that one would assume would reflect the official Church position on various issues, but ironically, you will find several sources quoted there that are non-authoritative and unofficial according to the Newsroom’s own definition of official sources of doctrine.

    Like the Church’s official position on evolution, the LDS Newsroom is an enigma to me.

  28. Ray, first I’m in total agreement with you about not getting into a debate over evolution. It’s what the Church teaches about the issue that interests me. The Gospel Topics section at is a Church produced online “resource … about Mormon beliefs [and] doctrine.” Regardless of your opinion about it, the Church currently uses McConkie’s no-dbf-or-evolution creation article.

    Second, I’m in total agreement with you that Elder Nelson’s creation talk says the earth was changed when mortality and death came to a previously paradisiacal planet through the Fall of Adam.

    Third, regarding the manner by which Adam’s body was created, a relevant section of Joseph F. Smith’s official 1909 pronouncement explains that Adam’s body was created the same way yours and mine was:

    “He [Adam] took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a ‘living soul’ [and] all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.”

    It goes without saying that a Prophet can interpret his own words. Therefore, of interest should be Joseph F. Smith’s First Presidency statement in 1912 that Adam’s physical body was “begotten by his Father in Heaven”:

    “Our father Adam—that is, our earthly father—the progenitor of the race of man, stands at the head, being ‘Michael the Archangel, the Ancient of Days’,… he was not fashioned from earth like an adobe, but begotten by his Father in Heaven.

    “Adam is called in the Bible ‘the son of God.’ (Luke 3:38.)”

    (As quoted by Joseph Fielding Smith in Man: His Origin and Destiny, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954, p. 345; see also James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols., 1965-75, 4:265-267.)

    All of which can help us understand another key section in the official 1909 pronouncement:

    “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.” (Italics in the original.)

    Or as Joseph F. Smith’s contemporary, the venerable James E. Talmage put it, man’s physical body “is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation.”

  29. I’ve read “The Language of God” and I highly recommend it. While the theology in it does borrow heavily from C.S. Lewis, the author explains how his scientific beliefs fit in. Lewis didn’t explain science and religion together the way Dr. Collins explains it. I liked his conclusions.

  30. I imagine DB still carries [I]Reflections of a Scientist[/I] by Eyring, no? The Collins book fills the same niche as the Eyring one, but may be more compelling to some when it comes to the evolution question since Collins is a geneticist and Eyring was *just* a chemist.

    Having listened to the much of the Collins-Dawkins debate it is clear to me that while Dawkins overstates his case, the theistic/Collins side is more about “can” than “should” in the statement, “belief in a transcendent, personal God can and should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution”. Despite Alma’s lecture on the subject, the very rocks don’t point to the existence of God (the ‘should’ part), but they don’t disallow the existence, either (the ‘can’ part).

    I think this debate really has more to do with the evolution of interpretation of scripture than on the evolution of man. The scientific body of evidence overwhelmingly points to the evolution of man as a species, the lack of a world-wide flood, a non-singular divergence of language, etc, and a scientist does need to acknowledge that – not just as a ‘possibility’ (#30), but as reality. That acceptance does immediately rule out certain historical interpretations of scripture, but there are other viable interpretations to fall back on to “allow” scripture to be in harmony with science. It just takes a continually less-literal approach to scripture with time as more biological, geological, and anthropological history comes to light which conflicts with previously accepted views on scriptural interpretation.

    Still, I am surprised a bit at the choice of pushing Collins’ book over Eyring’s. Collins thesis is that one can reconcile evangelical christianity with science. Why not instead promote the book that attempts to reconcile Mormonism with science?

    BTW #21, evolution is and has been empirically demonstrated. “The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time” by Jonathan Weiner is an easy and engaging read on the topic of empirically demonstrating the evolution of species that you may want to check out.

  31. I was intrigued by the Ensign- June 1993 article partly on evolution titled: “Seek Ye Diligently”, authored by Elder George R. Hill III. Take a look over at if you get a chance.

  32. I have always thought that the evolution issue has many similarities with the earth vs sun as center of the solar system (and universe) issue debated so many centuries ago. Here are a few important things:

    The church then had built up many beliefs which appeared to depend on the earth as the center of the university. This includes the place of God’s existence, the placement of Hell, the purpose of the moon (believed to be a polished mirror), etc, etc.

    Church leaders and apologists were not able to understand that this was an issue that would eventually be totally settled by ongoing science. In their smugness they did not, could not, imagine that science would be able to move to a point that a mystery would be definitvely solved.

    Let’s leave science to the scientists: Evolution may be proved or disproved by science over time. But let’s stay away from a network of beliefs that may eventual prove to be not only embarassing, but a stumbling block to faith. The Catholic Church still bears the embarassment and humiliation of trying to silence science.

  33. “But let’s stay away from a network of beliefs that may eventual prove to be not only embarassing, but a stumbling block to faith. ”

    I think this is an excellent point. IMO creationists give away a major point when they agree with certain atheists rather in this way (simplified, obviously):
    A: Evolution proves that God did not create the world, and if evolution is correct then the Bible is wrong and God does not exist.
    C: You’re right. Therefore, evolution is wrong and we must fight to prove that, for if it is right, we will lose our faith.

    I just don’t think that evolution would disprove the existence of God, and it’s a mistake to frame it that way and to focus on it as much as YECs do. Insisting on it will backfire on us one day.

  34. In my understanding, one of evolution’s main concepts is that humans and primates both came from a common ancestor. Am I mistaken in this?

  35. Brian, yes you are mistaken. This is not a “main concept” of modern evolutionary theory.

  36. Matt – I suspect you are well aware, but just to keep this clear, humans and primates coming from a common ancestor is a main conclusion of modern evolutionary theory (at least from an anthropogenic POV) – as opposed to an a priori concept.

    Brian isn’t quite as far off as your post sounds – even if you are correct.

  37. Matt: I am not an evolutionary biologist, but it is pretty clear to me that the driving force of modern evolutionary theory is comparitive phylogenetics. This also happens to be the driving force of medical research, (e.g. rats have nearly identical serotonin transporters as humans) Biology, etc.

    The basis of this model is that, not only is the great ape a common descendant with man of some ancestor, but that the shark, Fruit Fly, and even the watermelon and single-celled protozoan are all common descendants of ONE ancestor.

    In fact, the whole theory of modern evolution rests upon the assumption that virtually all living organisms decended from ONE common ancestor which placed a foothold in the muddy swamps billions of years ago. Otherwise we would have all kinds of different modes of passing on genetic information (or intelligence) from generation to generation (that is, other than DNA and RNA).

  38. and let me repeat that the Church’s only official statement – as an institution – doesn’t reject a common ancestor. It doesn’t endorse it, but it doesn’t reject it. It explicitly says that there is nothing that suggests there wasn’t one – solely from the physical body side.

    This is why I generally stay out of these discussions. I only interject this in order to re-emphasize that it is incorrect to argue against “a common ancestor” by claiming it is against what the Church teaches. Yes, the Church does NOT believe we are just smart apes; it rejects an interpretation of evolution that denies God’s hand in the creative process; it clearly distinguishes the insertion of a spirit child of God into a physical body as what constituted the creation of “the first man”; however, it just as clearly avoids taking a stance on exactly how the creation of the physical body occurred.

  39. Ray, the official mouthpiece of the church on the bloggernacle.

    All snarkiness aside wouldn’t it be better to link to where the official representatives say such, perhaps
    I believe what you have said is correct though, just nitpicking.

  40. mv, It’s already been linked in some of the comments above. I was being redundant. That’s the job of official mouthpieces. (*Grin*)

  41. of the physical body – God creating a body that resembled His, then placing a pre-mortal spirit into that body. Man being different by being a combination of physical, mortal body and immortal spirit isn’t tied necessarily to one manner of creating that body. What the “Origin of Man” statement says is that man as a complete being was not merely a result of evolution, but it leaves the possibility open that God created the physical part of us that matches our spirits in “the likeness of God” through an evolutionary process.

  42. See, the part where evolution goes “ape”, is when it gets to common descent, and so forth.

  43. I think the hesitation on the part of many Church members to fully commit to evolutionary theory is closely connected with what are probably equally common anti-intellectualism tendencies in Mormon culture. But not in the sense that people don’t like the theory because it is the product of intellectualism. It’s more a Smith/McKonkie-induced reaction against Talmage’s scientistic vision of miracles.
    I just think most LDS spurn the idea that God was able to create us because he is a sufficiently-trained, sufficiently-brilliant scientist. The Neo-Orthodox, dualistic notion of miracles seems to me to be intrinsically anti-scientistic. Miracles are miracles precisely because they operate outside of the realm of the scientifically discernible and empirically explainable.
    For Mormons this PoV is especially interesting given our belief that we will someday enjoy an existence qualitatively like God’s and, therefore, will participate in creative miracles. We want to believe that there’s something more to the process than just millennia of science classes.
    Personally, I can think of nothing more miraculous than the notion of an intelligent, powerful (but not all-powerful in the sense of being capable of abrogating the laws of nature) being receiving the assignment of organizing chaos into a stable, life-conducing system, and having to work strictly within the bounds of the laws of the universe–including the law of natural selection–and producing a final product of intelligent, self-aware beings that are physically in His and Her own image. Not a single one of us could fathom the difficulty of that task. No short-cuts, no magic tricks, no creation ex nihilo on any level.
    Talk about miracles. And the more you learn about the genetic, developmental, ecological, and socio-biological processes involved, the more you realize the vastness of the task. Far more impressive than simply willing or speaking the universe, the earth, the sun, the moon, the animals, and the earthlings into existence.
    Incomprehensibly more impressive, worlds without end.

  44. As for reconciliation of evolution with the doctrine that the fall brought death:
    Death in the “Great Plan,” “Three Grand Pillars” sense is defined not simply as the biological deterioration or decay of organisms but the separation of body and spirit. If Adam was the first biological organism into which God placed a Spirit, and if that process initially rendered him immortal in the sense that his spirit could not be separated from his body, then the fall could certainly have brought death upon mankind in the grander sense. I know that the NDBF crowd like to extrapolate from the Fall-caused-death doctrine the notion that there was no death for any organisms on any level (hair and fingernails must have been comprised of living cells and the fruit God allowed Adam and Eve to freely eat must have somehow “survived” their own consumption, digestion, and discharge), but that is far more speculative (not that Elder McKonkie was ever prone to speculation!) than the basic doctrine that Adam’s transgression subjected his body and spirit to separation beyond his control, the overcoming of which would require a Savior.

  45. I choose to laugh and “having to strictly work within the bounds of the universe”- God is all powerful. He can choose to do whatever He so chooses. And He created the universe, and created the laws. Why would God need “short cuts” or “magic tricks” when he has all the knowledge- he uses all of his brain after all while us humans barely use a pittance.

  46. God cannot choose to create a stone too massive for Him to move. He cannot allow mercy to rob justice, along with other things, His doing of which would, in the words of many prophets in the scriptures, make Him “cease to be God.” Like it or not, your uber-powerful, unbounded, super-omnipotent God who can do whatever He chooses simply because He chooses to choose it is a benevolent Tyrant of your own creation–certainly not the God Joseph Smith taught about.

  47. #52: Brad, you lost me in a lot of words: I think Mormon ‘hesitation’, comes from reading the Bible, Sunday School Classes, and listening to other ‘Christians’. I don’t think many have read McKonkie or Talmage on Science.
    Evolution is ‘Chaos’. It is not ‘stable’ That is why others work towards ‘Creationism’, or ‘Intelligent Design’. Science will tell you Evolution has buried a million mistakes, and is not a plan.

  48. .

    The following verses both say God created man’s physical body “after his [God’s] own image.”

    “God created man after his own image.” (Alma 22:12.)

    “And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them.” (D&C 20:18.)

    This next verse says the physical body of Adam’s son Seth was “after his [Adam’s] own image.”

    “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his own image, and called his name Seth.” (Moses 6:10.)

    A footnote in the LDS scriptures for the word image in Moses 6:10 explains:

    “Seth was in the likeness and image of Adam, as Adam was in the image of God.”

    That same footnote refers readers to these verses:

    “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.” (Gen. 5:3.)

    “Because he (Seth) was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father, insomuch that he seemed to be like unto his father in all things, and could be distinguished from him only by his age.” (D&C 107:43.)

    “Abel, the first martyr, was there, and his brother Seth, one of the mighty ones, who was in the express image of his father, Adam.” (D&C 138:40.)

    As I understand Ray (and please correct me if I’m wrong), a physical body was created for Adam in “the likeness of God through an evolutionary process.”

    It must have happened something like this: About five million years after the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, two not quite human parents (they didn’t have spirits) finally produced a specimen that was in the express image of God and worthy of Adam’s spirit. “The insertion of a spirit child of God into [that] physical body” constituted the creation of Adam.

    And during all that time, God was not really a hands-on Creator, but merely an evolution guidance counselor who only occasionally intervened in the process.

    Is that what today’s prophets and apostles teach?

    Yet, I would agree with Ray that the 1909 statement could (not should) be interpreted as he suggests. Whether it would have been so interpreted by the 1909 First Presidency, however, is extremely unlikely in light of a 1912 statement by Joseph F. Smith and his counselors (quoted above in #32).


    Brad Kramer: You mention Talmage. How do you interpret his statement that man’s physical body “is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation.”

  49. .

    Back on topic: “Belief in a transcendent, personal God can and should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution.”

    According to LDS teachings, that is not necessarily true for Latter-day Saints (see #25, 26, 32, & 57).

  50. #58: What is true..this debate is not going away, and is more ‘core’ to Mormonism than most members are aware.

  51. Gary,
    I won’t take the time to drudge up the quotations right now, but Talmage said plenty that suggested a personal openness to evolution. My reference here was not to his views on evolution per se but to his scientific conception of miracles.

  52. This truly is my last comment, after making one last plea for people to read comments slowly and carefully. I’m tired of hearing that I made a claim I never made. Just so nobody has to go back and re-read what I actually wrote and the difference in what has been represented as what I wrote, I will say it one last time:

    I will stick with the Church’s official statement, using the words that actually were chosen to make up that statement. I will not speculate as to what I think they must have meant to say or what they actually believed – by assuming that they didn’t actually mean what the words themselves say. Since before “The Origin of Man” was published, there has NOT been consensus among the FP and 12 as to the exact manner in which God created Adam’s physical body – so the official statement reflects that lack of consensus.

    I was NOT trying to prove that God used evolution to create man’s physical body. I was arguing that we can’t rule that out as a possibility, given what the Church – as an organization – has said about it in its official statement. In very clear terms, the statement says, “We don’t know. Adam might have started as an embryo.” That’s good enough for me, at least until there is another official statement clarifying it. If the leadership of the Church won’t make a definitive claim one way or the other, neither will I.

    If people want to continue this and critique among themselves what I just said, fine; have at it. Just stop twisting it into something it isn’t and never was.

  53. .

    Ray: Why do you put words in quotes that aren’t even found in the 1909 statement?


    Brad Kramer: Talmage did not argue, as does Collins, that faith “should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution.”

    I’m not sure which quotations you don’t have time to “drudge up,” but here are some thoughts about Talmage authored by Richard Sherlock, a USU Philosophy Professor, who studied Talmage carefully:

    “Though he was sympathetic to science, his religious convictions prevented him from becoming an unqualified supporter of evolution. Ultimately he retreated into the world view of Bishop Ussher and the coming of Adam at 4004 B.C.E….

    “He dismissed the idea that life originated in some primordial protoplasm as the result of chance occurrence….

    “On this point the theistic conclusion was obvious: ‘Without spontaneous generation “miracle” in the words of Strauss was and is still necessary to explain the advent even of the hypothetical primordial germ.’ Then he proceeded to argue against the central thesis of Darwinian synthesis, the organic mutability of species. The fixity of species was a hallmark of Talmage’s thinking….

    “Men were not the offspring of other animals, they were the offspring of God….

    “In a letter written a few months before his death, Talmage articulated his fundamental scheme of reference which had varied little in forty years: ‘…I do not believe that Adam derived his mortal body by evolutionary processes from the lower animals.’ ”

    (Richard Sherlock, “A Turbulent Spectrum: Mormon Responses to the Darwinist Legacy,” Journal of Mormon History 4, 45-69; as reprinted in The Search for Harmony, Salt Lake: Signature Books, 1993, 67-91.)

  54. I hit submit before I realized I had not added a paragraph I intended. It’s too late, and I’m too tired.

    The two main problems I have with discussing evolution have been evident in spades in this thread. First, many of the people who argue the most vehemently for either position are not “experts” in genetics, microbiology, anthropology, cosmology, physics, or myriad other fields that bear on the topic. Second, people tend to stake out a position and then use terms and phrases that could mean multiple things to prove that only one conclusion possibly could be correct. There are “experts” in each of the fields relevant to this topic that disagree in their conclusions. Even those who we regard as the “spiritual experts” of our dispensation disagree in their conclusions. They also have said that, as long as God was in charge and mankind really is a unique collection of God’s spirit children, it really doesn’t matter what other conclusions we reach. That’s good enough for me, so I refuse to argue about the details until they are revealed to us.

  55. Wow, forced to add one more – cringing the entire time.

    Quotation marks can be used in two ways: 1) to actually isolate a quote that someone else has recorded, and 2) to highlight a specific thought that is intended to be viewed as a quote – like as a summary that is intended to stand out from the rest of the text as a restatement of a previous quote. I use them in both ways because I was taught to use them in both ways.

    Good night.

  56. Just a few things I thought people might be interested in. The first is a correspondence between Pres. McKay and Dr. Kent Christensen, an acquantaince of mine at the Univ. of Michigan. It can be found at
    In addition to the official statements from the church, I would refer people to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on Evolution. As a brief background, Bro. Evenson reports submitting several lengthy articles, including two that were rather negative towards evolution to a review commitee that included several members of the twelve. These were rejected by the committee and Pres. Hinckley suppled the minutes from a first presidency meeting from 1931 (quoted below) with instructions to leave the article short. I have always found this to be an interesting discussion. To contrast what was said above, as a recent graduate of BYU I was openly taught modern evolutionary principles and had multiple faculty members express their opinions that it was the most likely modus operandi for the creation. The scientific evidence for the theory that is being generated is immense, although I would never expect anyone to accept it as fact while their conscience, moral convictions, or interpretation of the data dictated otherwise. I would likewise expect the same respect for those who find the arguments/evidence compelling. That being said, it is my opinion, echoed in the 1931 minutes below, that our personal convictions on the details on the MO of the creation do not matter as the have little bearing on the core principles of the gospel.

    \”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. . .
    Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: \”Adam is the primal parent of our race\” [First Presidency Minutes, Apr. 7, 1931]. WILLIAM E. EVENSON

  57. .

    Ray thinks the 1909 First Presidency said this:

    “We don’t know. Adam might have started as an embryo.”

    What the 1909 First Presidency actually said was this:

    “True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.

    “Man, by searching, cannot find out God. Never, unaided, will he discover the truth about the beginning of human life. The Lord must reveal Himself or remain unrevealed; and the same is true of the facts relating to the origin of Adam’s race—God alone can reveal them. Some of these facts, however, are already known, and what has been made known it is our duty to receive and retain.”

    I suspect a person could get Ray’s reading out of the above two paragraphs. However, that isn’t what the passage says to me.

    I think a fair summary of the first paragraph might be that Adam’s body, as with all men, began life as a human embryo, or fertilized human egg; Adam’s parents were not non-human or near-human primates.

    And a fair summary of the second paragraph might be that we only know what God chooses to reveal about human origins; science (without revelation) cannot discover that knowledge.


    bgh: First, the short 258 word Encyclopedia of Mormonism article about Evolution makes a huge misrepresentation of fact. It contains a statement that is completely, absolutely, and entirely false.

    “In 1931 … there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution [among] the General Authorities of the Church.”

    (William Evenson, “Evolution,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992, vol. 2, p. 478.)

    In his 1994 essay, Evenson himself acknowledged that the 1931 opinions of B. H. Roberts were “not those of an evolutionist” and that the 1931 discussions “were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms.” (William E. Evenson, “Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution,” in The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p. 645.)

    In an apparent attempt to shift blame for the article’s obvious flaw, William Evenson has claimed the article was reviewed and edited by Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency at the time. And that may in fact be true.

    But I would argue that Macmillan Publishing is a reputable company and does not wrongly identify its authors. I would point out that many articles in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism carry the names of multiple authors. Therefore it is clear that Gordon B. Hinckley is not the author or even a co-author of the article. The article cannot be attributed to President Hinckley.

    Second, the Encyclopedia article was not published as the Church’s new position on evolution. The Church does not rely on physics professors and New York publishers to announce its position on anything. Neither the 1931 memo nor any excerpt from it has ever been published by the Church in any magazine or curriculum manual.

    The Church’s position on evolution was announced in the November 1909 Improvement Era and reprinted in the February 2002 Ensign. This formal, Church-published First Presidency statement continues to be the Church’s current position on evolution.

    Third, the meaning (then and now) of 1931 excerpt is a little different than you seem to think. Background can be found by clicking “Previous Posts” on the right sidebar of my blog (linked via my name at the end of this comment) and reading articles 18, 41, and 46.

    Finally, regarding the 1959 letter from President McKay to Kent Christensen: A legitimate point of view is that letters to individuals are not the channel for announcing the policy of the Church. The claim that “the Church has issued no official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution” is in conflict with the official 1909 declaration, signed by all members of the First Presidency and discussed at some length in previous comments on this thread.


  58. R. Gary,
    “I suspect a person could get Ray’s reading out of the above two paragraphs. However, that isn’t what the passage says to me.”

    Fair enough. That’s not what it says to you. I would argue that Ray’s is a better reading, but that’s the thing about texts: they’re not self-interpreting. The argument many of us put forward is that there is nothing in scripture or modern revelation that requires us to believe in an ex nihilo creation, or anything like that. In fact, there is nothing that precludes a faithful LDS from believing in evolution, including human evolution.

    If your argument is weaker, e.g., that nothing religiously compels us to believe in evolution, you’re right. Neither the Church nor the apostles or prophets has ever declared to the body of the Church that evolution occurred; they have also not told us that it didn’t (your bounteous quotations to the contrary). I have no problem believing that many GAs, and other members, believe that evolution didn’t happen. That’s fine; they are as welcome to their opinions as I am. There is nothing salvific, and in fact, nothing spiritually important, however, in being a YEC, or whatever, and I believe that a dogmatic push against evolution (as opposed to saying, I believe that evolution didn’t happen, but the Church has no official position) is spiritual harmful.

  59. #67:” there is nothing that precludes a faithful LDS from believing in evolution, including human evolution.”. If your position is the Church has no position or a ‘modern revelation’ on evolution, then does not Genesis (Scripture) stand as the common man has always read it? I read no Evolution in Genesis.
    What do you mean by ‘human evolution’? In humans, was not evolution replaced by culture?

  60. Bob,
    I’m not entirely clear what you’re asking; I don’t see where people have always read Genesis in a certain way. Even among creationists, there is debate as to whether the seven days are literal, 24-hour days, or whether they represent some broader period of time. Genesis is not self-interpreting, and reading it metaphorically (which I would argue is how it should be read) doesn’t conflict with evolution (or, for that matter, creationism). You read no evolution in Genesis, which makes emminent sense, given that it was written in a premodern, pre-Darwin time. But you also don’t read in Genesis any condemnation of evolution, because, again, evolution wasn’t on the table when Genesis was written.

    Like I said, you certainly can interpret various statements and scriptures as advocating a literal 144 hour creation (since God rested on the 7th day), but there’s no affirmative requirement to believe that way.

    As to, “was not evolution replaced by culture?”, I frankly have no idea what’s being asked, so I apologize for not responding. By “human evolution,” though, I mean that humans decend from an ancestor we share with other primates and, eventually, with all other life on Earth. Again, to predict a question, no, Genesis doesn’t say that. But it doesn’t prevent me from believing that way, either. I’m not sure how the metaphysics work, but I don’t know how it would have worked if God had literally come down and fashioned Adam from dirt, either, so it doesn’t bother me too much.

  61. Isn’t the LDS doctrine of ‘eternal progression’ a kind of principle of evolution, if men evolve into Gods?

  62. Gary,

    Thanks for your response. I’ve actually been a long time lurker and am somewhat familiar with what you have written in the past, including on your NDBF site. I agree with you that neither the personal correspondance to Dr. Christensen or the EofM article should be construed as an official position of the church. As has been discussed above, there are official statements out there, although the interpretation of what they say will always be mixed. Despite how interesting these things are, I’m not sure the debate is terribly productive….from what I’ve read of your well reasoned position (based no doubt on serious study and experiences), I doubt your opinion on the matter will change and vice versa, we simply see and interpret too many things differently.

    However, as unproductive as this discussion may turn out to be, it does relate in some degree to my primary interest, can you be an ardent believer in evolution as the MO of creation and a faithful member of the church hoping for a celestial reward. What are your and others thoughts on the matter? I think this is the more productive conversation that should be going on and why I posted what I did.

    I am currently comfortable with my thoughts on this issue, however, growing up in the church I was taught by numerous well intentioned teachers that evolution was incompatable with a belief in the gospel. Consequently, as a youth this lead to a crisis of faith that I’m sure others in the church who study science also experience….do you need to reject clear, objective reasoning of evidence in order to be a believing latter-day saint? From my experience and others (including several of the posters here and the above mentioned Dr. Collins and Henry Eyring), it appears that the two can be reconciled. In my adult life, my thoughts on the matter have never been an issue with my standing or participation in the church. It has never been a hinderence with my bishop or stake president in giving me a temple recommend. So while some will argue that the church has an offficial position and others that it doesn’t, the reality of the situation appears to be that the church, and the Lord, do not care or discriminate based on our individual thoughts on the matter, and this is the critical issue for me.

    The message I hope we can agree on is that (1) the Lord has not clearly defined how man was created, (2) there is great latitude of opinion that exists within the church on the issue, and (3) you can faithfully hold a wide variety of opinions on the creation. Going back to the original posters questions. Perhaps the reason to include Collin’s book was simple to affirm #3 above, I think it is one of the reason’s they carry and promote Dr. Henry Eyring’s book as well.

  63. I recently purchased two books that some of you may be familiar with that is germane to this thread. “Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding” by Trent Stevens, Jeff Meldrum, and Forrest Peterson, and “Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritive LDS Statements” by William Evenson and Duane Jefferey. The later is quite thin, and it only includes statements the authors consider authoritive, or ‘official’.

    I bought both from Amazon.

  64. #70: I am going to read into your question the position that Man ( in terms of scientific evolution), is the highest form of Life. We will not know that for thousands of years. If Man is gone (Like the T-Tex), and the Honey Bee is still here, Then, the Bee was the higher form. In Religion today, Evolution is a ‘Plan”. In Science, Evolution is not ‘goal aware’. Some would say, the more complex the organism, the lower it’s form. (see Apache H. needing to be shirked wrapped to be taken out of Iraq).

  65. “Consequently, as a youth this lead to a crisis of faith that I’m sure others in the church who study science also experience….do you need to reject clear, objective reasoning of evidence in order to be a believing latter-day saint? ”

    Personally, I do not think so. If there is evidence available (which there is), we should be trying to understand it. Some hard-core YCAs will say that the evidence is a trick meant to test our faith, but I disagree. I do not think that God is a liar, so if there is evidence, it must have a coherent explanation. God gave us minds to use and a world to understand; we cannot hope to understand everything, but we can give it a good try and wait on him for further light and knowledge.

  66. As I have been reading this thread, I reflected on an experience my wife had while attending BYU in the mid 80’s as a Zoology major. One of her professors in the Biology Dept., whom she admired greatly, reflected on the time when he was interviewed by a GA prior to being offered the job at BYU. The GA asked this professor his views on evolution and what he would teach his students. The professor responded that he felt that the earth itself (referring to the geologic and fossil record) is also a sacred record for us to explore how our loving Heavenly Father created this world and those that inhabit it. I am surely paraphrasing but I believe I am conveying the idea correctly.

    After hearing this, the GA got up from behind his desk, came over to the professor, put his arm on the professor’s shoulder and said “I am glad to hear you say that, and I want you too know that I feel the same way.”

    What does this prove? Nothing really. However, in my mind it does at least indicate that 1) GA’s have opinions on non-settled topics just like everyone else can and 2) there is not a uniformity of opinion amongst Church leadership on a specific mode of creation.

  67. #69: See Essentialism in Greece for early Evolutiont. In most of history, if you didn’t read the Bible as literal, you would not be around too long.
    Most Scientist would say Human Evolution stopped when Culture began to determine who would survive in Nature. What Clan you belonged to was more important than how tall you were.

  68. Bob,
    Again, I’m having trouble following you, and am, by no means, an expert on the history of Biblical exegesis. But it seems to me that a dogmatic literalist reading would be a relatively recent development in Christianity (there weren’t a whole lot of idiomatic translations in the first millenium, millenium and a half of Christianity). Catholicism is a pretty symbol-heavy religion, and I’d be surprised to see a lot of literalism there. I’m also pretty sure that there are Jewish strains of thought (perhaps the dominant Jewish strains of thought, but I don’t know) that recognize much Scripture as metaphorical and symbolic. (I could, of course, be wrong. Although, FWIW, through most of history there was no Bible to read, literally or not.)

    As for scientists claiming human evolution stopped when culture began to determine who would survive, I haven’t see that assertion. Who says it? As I understand it (again, from a lay perspective), homo sapiens haven’t really been around long enough to have noticeably evolved (Wikipedia pegs us at having been here for roughly 200,000 years). I think that the culture has changed the criteria on which we evenutally evolve (maybe today having poor eyesight, if it corresponds to intelligence, is a desirable trait), but, on the other hand, it has thus been for a very, very short period of time.

    But again, I’m a layperson in these things. Interested, but with no substantive scientific background.

  69. Sam, I don’t mean to speak for Bob, but the way I read his argument is:
    1) The creation story has traditionally been interpreted as literal (the temple presents it that way as well).
    2) With no modern revelation to contradict a literal reading (i.e., no position), we shouldn’t revamp that interpretation and stick with the one we have been presented with for a long time.

    It sounds to me like you are questioning #1 when you would be better off questioning #2. A literal reading of the creation story certainly is the traditional interpretation. The debate over whether a day = 24 hr, 1000 yrs, or some other specified time interval has been driven by the fact that a literal meaning does not jive with science which points to an earth that is much older than 6-10 thousand years. Until science started pointing that way, there was little reason to dispute that a day was a day and Bob gives a clear example of the thought enforcement that came about on the subject after science began to point to a very different view of the earth’s beginnings. Fortunately the thought police are much more liberal these days.

    I still take issue with Collins saying “belief in a transcendent, personal God can and should coexist”. The ‘and should’ should not be there. Scientific evidence for evolution and the age of the earth do not converge with the most straightforward way of reading the standard works (including the temporal age of 7000 year in the D&C). That said, Collins’ and Eyring’s books demonstrate where the ‘can coexist’ is very viable. It simply arises by applying progressively less literal interpretations of scripture as we learn more from science about the world we live in. The challenge is how much flexibility we can individually allow in such interpretations before the elasticity gives out. Eyring and Collins allow for quite a bit.

  70. #77: Sam, first, thanks for the good tone. I hope mine has been the same. But I do stand by #59. I too, consider myself a layman, though I do have a degree in Anthropology. It is too big a topic for here, but I am talking about the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. I believe Catholicism was pretty Literal. I believe also,19th Century Mormonism was Literal. ( We believe the Bible is the Word of God..). I don’t think the Adam/God fight was over a metaphor..
    “Who said it?”, Darwin. He writes in his follow-up book, ” The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex”, that Culture changed or ended Evolution for Man. Now, the strongest Man may die, and not reproduce ! (see Movie ‘ Gladiator”). Evolution comes down to the strong surviving long enough to reproduce. Culture says in many other different ways, who get to have a child.
    Personally, I am not satisfied by anything offered, I am not ready to buy any of them. Evolution or “Bible’, only leave me with ..Maybe. So I will continue to read, pray, and ponder.

  71. I won’t argue evolution, but I can’t accept that the temple presents the creation story as literal. I will not quote from the temple, but I have always understood the endowment to be presented as figurative – especially with regard to the creation of Adam and Eve. (I am old enough to remember when that was even more obvious and explicit than it is now. It used to be so obvious that it really couldn’t be argued at all. No; I will not elaborate further on that.)

    I also have a hard time accepting a literal “day = 1000 years” view when the actual quote is a simile. (“one day is with the Lord AS a thousand years, and a thousand years AS one day.”) All that says to me is that the concept of time for the Lord is WAY different than it is for us.

  72. In regards to #73, won’t Armageddon destroy everything, and thus the world will cease to exist?
    (No men, honey bees, anything).

  73. #80: Ray, you come across as an open guy, I hope I do too. Myself, I have a hard time with Evolution. I just want Mormons to know that when they say ” We believe that too!’, they know what they are signing onto. People a lot smarter than me, have no problem..that’s OK, and they may be right, Others have no clue.

  74. Thanks, Bob.

    My biggest problem with most discussions of evolution is that they quickly turn into exclusionary debates over extremes – accepting or denying a view of evolution that rejects God completely and accepting or rejecting a view of the creation that rejects scientific inquiry completely. I fall somewhere in the middle, so I get frustrated when it inevitably gravitates to arguing against the extremes.

    I also thought #82 was brilliant.

  75. #84 & #85: I have great new speakers on my computer. I will now listen to my i-tune of Imagine..but you will just have to..well..imagine.

  76. #73 I am going to read into your question the position that Man ( in terms of scientific evolution), is the highest form of Life. We will not know that for thousands of years. If Man is gone (Like the T-Tex), and the Honey Bee is still here, Then, the Bee was the higher form. In Religion today, Evolution is a ‘Plan”. In Science, Evolution is not ‘goal aware’. Some would say, the more complex the organism, the lower it’s form. (see Apache H. needing to be shirked wrapped to be taken out of Iraq).

    #73 Hi Bob. It would be incorrect to ever credit me with a ‘position’. I very much enjoy being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”. Not because of the “sleight of man”, however, but because I think all of nature is inherently open-ended. (I’m a Georg Cantorist, if you like, and a closet-Jungian to boot).

    So my position is not that man is the highest form of life, even in the terms of scientific evolution. Both science and religion continue to suffer the aftereffects of the Great Chain of Being idea that so dominated the middle ages. Neither Man nor the Honey-Bee are, in my view, ‘higher’, and winning the survival game wouldn’t change this. ‘Higher’ and ‘Lower’ are categories dependent on a limited view of time and space (and of the experience of Being). And as you say, it’s possible to argue that complexity does not necessarily equal a higher state of being.

    Here’s another way to look at evolution. Joseph Smith theorised that “pure principles of element” and “intelligence” are not created by God but have both been around as long as He has i.e. eternally. “They may be organized and re-organized but not destroyed”. (TPJS, p. 351) Thus spirit itself is eternal and spirit is “refined matter”. I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of Smith’s thought and one that makes complete sense to me. And I’m wondering how this “refining” process takes place. Science may not use similar language, but seems to me to be investigating precisely such a question in its own way. If this earth is, let’s say, an alchemical ‘refining fire’ for the spirit that is one thing. But how is matter itself refined into spirit? The implication is that matter at some point becomes – or perhaps always is in some way – ‘intelligent’. Perhaps matter itself is ‘working out its salvation’ with ‘fear and trembling’ (and sub-atomic reactions). (What’s the difference, say, between ‘refining’, or even ‘self-refining’, and ‘evolving’?)

    It’s true as you say that strict Darwinism does not credit evolution with being ‘goal aware’, but this is simply because there’s no evidence for it being so. Science is not a doctrine but a method. Matter may very well be ‘goal aware’. Indeed, assuming that it is would be a fascinating way to approach not only evolution but problems with the Standard Model.

    I take the Genesis story in a strictly metaphorical way. But I’d add that science is always ‘refining’ its language and from the point of view of the ancient Hebrews, the language of Genesis may well have simply been the most advanced form of description they had for what was actually what we would call scientific thought.

  77. Bob,
    Thanks. I try to moderate tone, because that seems to allow for the most interesting, flexible conversation. And thanks for giving me references; Darwin’s in my queue of stuff to read, but it’s there with a whole lot of other stuff, too. That said, while he was pretty much the first word in evolution, Darwin isn’t the last.

    I actually disagree with points 1 and 2. I’ll grant that the accepted Christian interpretation has been, for a while, a relatively literalistic reading of Scripture. But I think there’s evidence out there that the writers, and original recipients, weren’t so literalistic. (Of course, if you ask me to cite sources, I’m afraid I have none: it’s more an impression from stuff I think I read a long time ago.) If push comes to shove, I can get onboard with Kyle R’s gloss that Genesis represented the height of scientific reasoning at the time it was written. I don’t actually believe that; I believe it was a symbolic description of creation placing God in the center, but I have no problem with recognizing that, while state-of-the-art science 2,000 (or 4,000 or 6,000, or whatever) years ago, it’s since been surpassed. Scientifically, if not metaphorically.

    Basically, I don’t feel any compulsion to accept things that are incorrect just because people have believed them for a long time. That doesn’t mean they have no value to me, just that they don’t have value as a scientifically-rigorous description.

  78. #87: Kyle you waste yours Metaphysics on me. I am American, I only know my Corn Dog gets hard if I leave it out in the sun. Mormonism (I speak only for myself), says Man with his Body and Spirit (Intelligence?), is “Refined” and can be a Godlike Being. Anthropology (I speak only for myself), says Man, without his Culture, is only another Beast. This is a bit overstated, but hey, why hold back. Anthropology says (ISOFM), Man is now a weaker Beast, as he has his Culture to carry him. Soooo..I hope this help you to: ” very much enjoy being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”
    In the end, science believes in ‘entropy’ (ISOFM), not ‘Refinement’, everything is going to run out of gas. I continue to ponder all of this.

  79. #88 Ahh, so you’ve been carrying out experiments in Corndogology. It’s an exciting new field, and as you imply, makes a mockery of metaphysics. I wouldn’t go to any great lengths to defend Anthopology, but it is indeed overstatement to credit Anthropology with saying Man is only another beast. In any case, what have you got against beasts? Some of my best friends are beasts, and very refined ones as well.

    Science does not so much ‘believe’ in entropy as merely observe that it is true for the thermodynamics of closed systems. Ever since the mathematics of Georg Cantor the spectre of a completely open-ended cosmic system has haunted us. I think Mormon cosmology should be quite at home with current physics. I too continue to ponder all this. I may even have to buy a corn dog.

  80. I have read the book and quite enjoyed it. I thought it was well written and thougtful. Well worth the read. I find the commnet in post 10 to be nothing short of absurd. Duane Jefferies has taught evolution at BYU for 30 or so years and from what I understand has never been denied a temple recommend or received any type of discipline. I think there is a paranoia often expressed about the church and BYU by liberals that is not based in reality, especially in the last 20 years. We haven\’t had a Wilkinson iron fist at BYU for nearly 40 years. The institution has moved on. In fact it is my view that it is one of the few universitites where the facultiy on balance is more liberal than the studentbody. I know scores of faculty at BYU and I consider them academically independent. I have also been in a variety of church leadership positions for the past 20 years. I have often heard mild criticism of DB from leadership for the fluff that DB continues to produce. Face it DB is a commercial enterprise. They have to make money by sales. If you want serious works don\’t expect it from DB.

  81. In fact it is my view that it is one of the few universitites where the facultiy on balance is more liberal than the studentbody.

    There are only umpteen billion universities in the country that fit that description.

  82. #90: You are right: I withdraw ‘believe’ when talking science. American Anthropology is different from British stuff. (An argument for another day). American Anthropology can be defined as how Man is like an Animal, and how Man is not like a Animal. Paris Hilton would not last long on the African Plain without her Culture. (Or with it!) So, besides his long legs, apposing thumb, and ability to form a Culture (use tools, language. abstract thought), what does Man bring to the table? If he is raised by a wolf, what Godlike ‘Refinements’ would show up? At some point, this is where Religion comes to help us with answers. (Or the movie 2001).

  83. #93 Paris Hilton would no doubt be obliged to find humility and Jesus on the African Plain, or perhaps start her own culture. Berries and bark can be quickly turned into make-up. As for man, language is a pretty good thing to bring the the table where the beasts and the non-beasts gather. And symbolic thought.

    Religion is symbolic thought and language, so, er, the religion that comes to help us with the answers is a function of the human mind that asks the questions. It’s a bit of a loop.

    Religions always tend toward systemization in the long run – except for the ever persistant strand of peasant superstitious practice. Strangely, just as Mormonism begins to sprout all kinds of intellectual traditions, Quantum Mechanics begins to sound more and more like religious mysticism.

  84. I finished reading Collins’ book a few days ago, and I’d recommend it if you don’t mind facing some challenging ideas. The basic premise of the book is that life on Earth came about through a evolutionary process, but such a belief doesn’t contradict belief in a personal, salvific God. Unlike many believers in theistic evolution, Collins doesn’t see any signs that God was particularly involved in how evolution developed, only in setting up the system. For example, it is a matter of chance that we are bipedal creatures, for example, rather than being reptilian.

    That and some other aspects of the book (such as a belief in ex nihilo creation) aren’t particularly consistent with LDS theology. But Collins has been crititized by evangelicals as well, partly because he sees huge flaws in the Intelligent Design argument.

    I found the book fascinating and quite informative. I’m not sure yet how many of Collins’ conclusions I agree with.

  85. #94: We are oh so close. Small point: Other Beasts use language and abstract thought.

    My point (poorly made), If we are asking what gives Man his edge on the African Plain, (i.e. table, dinner anyone?) ) is it his language/symbolic thought, or his invented Culture? Does your Culture made you Godlike, or your individual, inborn, gifts from God? It is a loop.

  86. But do other beasts use symbolic thought? (Actually, does Paris Hilton even use it?)

    I would say that yes, language and symbolic thought give us the edge, in tandem with bipedalism and those marvelous thumbs of ours.

    I don’t know what ‘Godlike’ means anymore than I know what God is, unless God is uber-conscious nature itself.

  87. #97: We agree, symbolic thought seems to be a major upgrade, and maybe what makes Man ‘Godlike’ (?) A clue, but maybe not the answer. I am looking for God in our discussions, not trying to disregard him.
    I am going to tweak a bit: The USE of “language and symbolic thought give us the edge, in tandem with bipedalism and those marvelous thumbs of ours”. My understanding is Man can walk to death any other animal, even a horse (?). That is how he hunts on the Plains, a group walks behind a large animal until it drops.

  88. I’ve been informed that the Spirit goes home after 100 comments, so I’m closing this down. I imagine we’ll have a chance to argue about evolution again soon . . .

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