Once More Evolution

I admit I have a bit of a fascination with evolution and theology. Not just in terms of trying to figure out how to reconcile them but also people’s stances towards the theology and science. I’ve long been dissatisfied with many polls on the subject since they tend to frame the questions in terms of Protestant (typically more “literalist” Evangelical) views. Those questions for various reasons never quite fit Mormon approaches. Usually I could even figure out clearly how I’d answer the poll beyond trying to guess what they were after. Today there’s a fascinating paper on the question that seems to get at the details in a much better way. More interestingly it’s a longitudinal study showing how views have changed.

The paper is “A Longitudinal Study of Attitudes Toward Evolution Among Undergraduates Who Are Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Now this is a study of college students and thus quite biased and not a reflection of Mormons in general. However non-college students often have confused notions of what evolution even is. This study just deals with students taking introductory biology who aren’t biological majors. Most of these students were freshmen and thus very young and reasonably ignorant. This is a fantastic little paper and also has references to most of the other studies. That includes Pew’s study that 52% of Mormons rejected evolution in 2014. Again due to odd nuances of Mormon beliefs on creation I don’t think those broad multi-state or multi-religion studies get at what we actually believe. On the other hand it is undeniable that many people have opposed evolution including prominent general authorities. I was at BYU in the early 90’s when this was a big battle there with most religion professors opposing evolution. This was eventually settled somewhat with the “Evolution Packet” that undergraduates receive.

To me what’s most interesting in this new paper is the graph listing views of evolution in 1987-1997 (roughly the time I was at BYU) and 2014-2016.

You’ll note how high acceptance is compared to when I was at BYU. Reading through the full list of questions I found a few particularly interesting bits.

The question asking about it’s scientific acceptance went from about 66.9% in the 80’s to 84.5%. That’s very good. If you include those who put it a little too strongly (“evolution is a law, an absolute principle whose mechanisms and consequences are completely defined”) that goes to around 90%. Regarding the age of the earth 74.1% said the earth is billions of years old. That was only 46.2% in the 80’s. Those who said the earth was only a few thousand years old due to scripture went from 25.1% to 9.9%. Those who thought the same but assumed science taught this went from 4.2% to 2.9%. Those might still seem bad, but having taught and TAed introductory physical science classes to freshmen it’s worth noting just how ignorant people are when they come to college.

Knowledge of the Church’s neutrality towards evolution went from 62.2% in the 80’s to 76.5% – which is quite high. In 1988 though that figure was only 35%. So people have become quite knowledgeable about the Church’s position.

A second set of questions regarding knowledge about well known writings on evolution surprised me. Only 9.5% had heard about the BYU Packet on Evolution. So this isn’t directly due to that packet but presumably just reflects broader trends in how evolution gets taught at Church, in seminary and at BYU.

It’s good to know that views are changing in all this. I know that for some people the assumption that the Church opposes evolution is a big barrier. My own son has struggled with this at times, despite my telling him this isn’t a Church position. (He’s only 14 though) I think reconciling teachings on this matter is a little tricker than some assume, mind you. But the Church simply doesn’t reject the science. It’s interesting though that in recent years the Church seems to be becoming much more careful about what is a clearly revealed doctrine and what is just prominent GAs giving their interpretation of scripture. That in turn is reshaping how the body of the Church thinks about many issues.

Read the paper. I’m still thinking on it and seeing things I missed. I just wish we had a similar study for people graduating from BYU rather than so biased towards teens just starting college.

55 comments for “Once More Evolution

  1. I was at BYU in the mid-late 60s when this was a big battle there with most religion professors opposing evolution. My student ward bishop and my Book of Mormon teacher were among those at war with the biology department.
    I guess the battle raged for some decades before the “Evolution Packet” appeared. In his June 1980 Devotional (“Seven Deadly Heresies”), BRM tried to end it one way, but was required, apparently by President Kimball, to revise that speed for publication. The battle continues to rage in various LDS seminary and Sunday School classes, and maybe more.

  2. I don’t know how it goes in seminary. And we’d have to make a distinction there between professional seminary in Utah’s release time and volunteer seminary early in the morning elsewhere. CES teachers often had a bad reputation relative to evolution and a few other things. I hope that’s not true anymore. Judging by those statistics that are so biased towards freshmen I’m guessing it’s not an issue at all.

    That’s not to say there aren’t issues to deal with still. I think how to reconcile the science with the theology can be tricky for some people regardless of whether they think the Church is pushing evolution. I don’t find it that difficult, but I recognize not everyone will agree with my own takes.

  3. Hello Clark, it has been awhile. Accepting evolution was somewhat of a game changer for me. It created numerous disconnects for me. I realize that people like you and Jim do not seem to have much trouble with how everything fits together if one subscribes to evolution, but for people like me,( uneducated,) it creates all kinds of conundrums.

  4. It’s tempting to feel better about ourselves when we see that graph. Note that even with that huge spike in acceptance that it is still under 40%. Less than 40%!! I would be interested to see a similar chart relating to freshmen at Stanford or the university of Michigan. Or compared to small liberal arts colleges with a large Christian populace like furman in South carolina.

  5. Stephen, again to be fair that’s heavily biased by freshman. That’s why I’d want to see what the rate is for people graduating. I’d also say that the linguistic issues (what do we mean by evolution) get a bit tricky theologically for people. I think that most of those issues are terminological but some remain. Again going by my experience TAing introductory physics and physical science classes it’s staggering how much misinformation even people who did well in High School have. Just basic mechanics are frequently wrong. Ask, for instance, the path someone driving a car off a cliff should take and you get more folk physics than the correct answer of a parabola. Other basic questions of science frequently are wrong.

    Charlie, I can’t speak for others. I think there’s a few ways of reconciling things. But to me God allowing freedom not just of human choice but freedom in general answers most of it. I also think self-organization is just a feature of the laws of the universe ignoring the question of the history of evolutionary development on this planet. I don’t see the conflict but I understand why its and issue for some people.

  6. Evolution is ok for the most part. I’ve no problem teaching it and studying it. If you ask if I’m from a monkey, no, I’m a child of God spiritually born of a Heavenly Father and physically descendant from Adam, redeemed by Christ from the fall. That takes far more precedence than anything else.

    Adam lived on the earth, and he and Eve our the mother and father of all living and were the first people on earth, precipitated the fall and so on.

    If you can’t hold both of those truths at the same time then your not much good at science, or you don’t believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Albert Einstein had no problem say, “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.”

    Are you guys just not creative enough to think this up or do you enjoy bashing BRM over the head? Evolutionary theory will never explain the stars, the planets, life here, let alone the spiritual revelatory experiences I’ve had doing exactly what the scriptures and God’s prophets say would happen if I exercised some faith.

    Nothing you say about evolution or the big bang makes any sense, but find it fascinating as well and I’m happy we’re busy observing and calculating away discovering it. I find it amazing that we can look someone straight in the eye and tell them it’s a wave and a particle, or that, yes not only can 100 angels dance on a pinhead, but in fact the entire universe once fit there as well… but Adam and Eve as revealed by the Lord’s prophets? That’s the work of either charlatans or naive religious yokels.

    Einstein didn’t reject the facts he knew when he experienced them (not talking about religions subjects, but his contradictory observations).

    Neither should latter-day saints when it comes to the facts we experience about God.

  7. Fascinating Clark. And boy does it resonate. My 15 year old and I just had a very long conversation (which resulted in a very long email that I sent to his seminary teachers). I think this is a major issue for a lot of members, and the official neutrality message isn’t being heard. Like Henry Eyring, I think the result is that kids go to college and find out very quickly that a) scientists aren’t evil atheists; and b) evolution isn’t mere opinion, which then calls into question (unnecessarily but quite deeply) everything else they felt like they were taught in seminary/SS. Thanks for calling my attention to the this paper.

  8. In traditional Mormon theology, God is anthropomorphic in a very direct, literal sense. But from an evolutionary perspective, anthropomorphism is an accidental, emergent, and temporary phenotypic expression of an accidental, emergent, and temporary genotype. If the traditional view is correct–and if we don’t contaminate evolutionary theory with a self-servingly teleological bent–why would God be shaped like a particular timeslice in the development of one particular ape on one particular planet? How can that elevation of anthropomorphism–not only of God, but also of mankind–be reconciled with the knowledge that “we” once looked nothing like this and that, given enough time, “we” will either go extinct or evolve into one or more quite different species that look little or nothing like the old anthropomorphic God?

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I resonate with these young people and the predicament they find themselves in. The only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a paleontologist. And I’m not just talking about a fleeting fancy that many little boys go through. I was serious. The problem came when I started paying closer attention to my religion and it’s teachings. I grew up in the 90’s and so maybe the rhetoric wasn’t as strong by then but I heard enough to know that getting into that field would likely make an evil atheist scientist out of me. So I stepped away from my dream in order to be a good God-fearing boy. I’ve since come to the conclusion that scientists aren’t evil and that denying evolution in the face of all the evidence is a form of denial (assuming you’ve bothered looking at the evidence). This doesn’t remove God from the equation in my mind, though it does challenge every claim the church makes that requires a literal interpretation of scripture. It’s a hard pill to swallow. I still remember how utterly uncomfortable I felt in my college anthropology class with all the different not-quite-human skull casts that the professor had in her classroom. But to me, it still leaves me in awe at the power of creation/The Creator. I’m happy to see the direction this understanding is swaying.

  10. Monkey,

    “and if we don’t contaminate evolutionary theory with a self-servingly teleological bent”. I suppose this is where you and many members of the Church differ. I also don’t see how imposing teleology on a scientific theory “contaminates” it. Science doesn’t answer the question of why things are the way they are or whether there is a cosmic destiny implied in the laws of physics or biology–it doesn’t even ask.

  11. I didn’t agree with the papers results in basically saying that acceptance of evolution is a sign that k-12 education is getting better. So completely biased! They might as well of just said that belief in a Creator makes you stupid because we said so. I don’t like the silly and ridiculous conclusions they make. The conclusions says nothing about the quality, of lack there of, of education. It’s just yet another shot at the Creator.

  12. You can see why our children have difficulty when the possibility of interacting with someone like gogmos above is pretty high. The best the science-minded members of the church can say is, “The Church has no position on evolution.” This is correct. I think it’s the best way for the Church to handle the topic. But those who oppose evolution can point to definitive statements by prophets and apostles that it is unequivocally false. The difference in tone is huge.

    In addition, the statements that the Church has no position are in pretty obscure places. You have to know where to look. On the other hand, the statements by leaders against evolution are pretty easy to find in general conference, including at least one by our current prophet. It’s rough when you are starting to deal with these topics.

    I would really love a definitive statement on the neutrality of the church regarding evolution and other science subjects to be made very clear. It does not have to be in general conference. A brief note at the beginning of a Sunday School lesson would be great.

  13. I think, better than comparing these BYU students to freshman at Stanford, Michigan, etc., it would be even more interesting to compare BYU freshman with LDS freshman outside of BYU. BYU isn’t just a unique set of college students, but might be a unique set of LDS college students.

  14. Regarding teleology and evolution, selective breeding works simply because of evolution however is inherently teleological in nature. Thus many well known crops have an inherent teleological component. There’s no reason that couldn’t happen with other creatures if directed by God but which wouldn’t be apparent historically.

  15. AM,

    Let’s say I’m someone who doesn’t already know the Church’s position on evolution. I go to lds.org and type in “evolution” into the search bar. The first thing that comes up is a 2004 New Era article that sidesteps the issue. The second result is a 2016 article that begins: “The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution.”

    In contrast, it takes some real digging to find Elder Nelson’s comments on evolution, which were part of a forum (not general conference) and were accompanied by Elder Wickman affirming that the Church has no official position on the question. An actual conference talk from then Elder Nelson stated “some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance,” which, I think is an accurate statement of the Church’s position, and the belief that the universe was created “by chance” is wholly incompatible with the Gospel, so I don’t think that’s much of a controversial statement.

  16. Clark: Yes, there’s a teleological thrust to evolution by *artificial* selection. But, if that’s what you’re suggesting, it seems like you’re denying that our species, at least, is a product of natural selection. That doesn’t make for a compelling story, scientifically or otherwise.

    If I’m misconstruing you, please set me straight. But, if I’m understanding your suggestion, it is that a human-shaped God organized human-shaped spirits, then spent 3.8 billion years subtly intervening in earthly events to artificially select for traits that would ultimately result in a living animal shaped just like Himself. Once He got to that point, the animals were sufficiently Him-shaped to warrant some form of merger with the human-shaped spirits that were waiting in the wings (which mergers hadn’t been happening before), so He picked a breeding pair from that generation of animals, called them Adam and Eve, and started sending the human-shaped spirits down to merge with those bodies. Because there’s something intrinsically valuable about the humanoid shape that God possesses and into which He artificially selected our particular primate species, God will continue His undetectable-to-us selective breeding program in a way that holds our evolutionary status quo for however long it pleases Him. (We’ll stop there, though cashing out Mormon eschatology along those lines would also reveal significant strain.)

    The problem with that story, beyond it’s patent absurdity, is that it’ll get you pilloried in both a biology classroom and a Sunday School classroom. It’s not the cutting of a Gordian knot, but a Solomonic baby bisection.

  17. Monkey,

    I think I’m making the claim that artificial *selection* is a subset of evolution and that historically there’s no way to know what intervention in our selection took place. That’s why I suggest the issues are more subtle than most polls get at. To say that this doesn’t make a compelling story needs unpacked I think.

    To your other point, I wouldn’t say that the selection should only be narrowed to this planet but to the complete range of planets within the relevant history of the universe that could product a creature like us.

    Of course this claim isn’t relevant in a biology classroom since it just deals with evolution given the presumed environment with pretty limited knowledge of what that environment was. That is biology simply deals with much more general questions. Whether that would get me pilloried in a Sunday School class I’d debate. Thus far I’ve come through unscathed.


    I’ll confess it’s not entirely clear to me from Elder Nelson’s comments which parts of evolution he takes exception to. I suspect it’s just the assumption that this body is purely the result of chance. I’m not sure I buy that either, but then I also don’t think acceptance of that is necessary to accept evolution.

  18. Monkey, there’s a point in that narrative which allows for some significant wiggle room. It’s the notion of God as “human-shaped”. Obviously humans have lots of different shapes. Which one is like God? Is God black? white? tall? short? Does God look like the cavemen into whom he put the spirits of Adam and Eve, and therefore any further evolution since that point (less body hair, bigger brains, more upright posture) has actually taken us further away from the image of God? Or maybe when God says that we were created in his image, it’s meant in a more general sense, perhaps that God is composed of both a body and a spirit, and we are too, but God’s body doesn’t necessarily resemble our body or even the body of any creature that has ever walked the earth (indeed, if he has a glorified body, whatever that is, then that’s something no mortal animal has had). Maybe God’s body can shapeshift, so that when he appeared to Joseph Smith he looked like a white guy with a beard, but when he appeared to some prehistoric dinosaur prophet he looked like a dinosaur.

    That paragraph I just wrote is probably full of heresy, but I don’t think any of it is outright contradicted by LDS scripture. I don’t think the scriptures ever put a limit on what “in God’s image” means and what it doesn’t mean. The point is that our doctrine is actually pretty vague, even though it is a lot more specific than what many other Christians believe on this matter. There’s plenty of room for different interpretations. So anybody who says that LDS doctrine does not allow for evolution (or that it requires evolution) is inserting their own personal views rather than going off of what the scriptures actually say.

  19. Clark,

    This is a great example of the dynamic I described. Those who reject the evidence for evolution can use President Nelson’s words to bolster their position. Those of us who accept the evidence are left to parse his words asking which part of evolution he rejects and which, if any, he accepts.

  20. Jim, it’s standard to assume that celestial, terrestrial and telestial bodies are significantly different. To the point of many especially in the 19th century believing celestial bodies don’t have blood but have something else. I don’t think any of this was terribly well thought out theologically. However assuming there’s a pretty wide variety of bodies that are still the image of God seems pretty mainstream. The question is then how much variance is allowed. That seems undefined. I think the reason people assume it’s at least reasonably close is on the basis of what Jesus and God the Father looked like to Joseph Smith. I think if God looked like a dinosaur that’d be problematic.

    It’s worth noting though that these questions quickly get into ill defined parts of our theology without much by way of revelation. For instance a lot of assumptions here are tied to remnants of Brigham Young’s Adam/God theory. (The idea that God created bodies by “falling” and then using normal sexual reproduction) However it seems to me that’s not really Church doctrine at all. While many GAs believed it, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century, it’s unclear how closely tied to Adam/God theory (which was repudiated) it actually is. Likewise there’s a pretty mainstream view that our spirits looked like our bodies – primarily on the basis of Ether 3. There are various issues with that. Some historians, like Jonathan Stapley, argue that the pre-Utah view of spirits was much more unformed. More like a gelatinous blob or at minimum unconsidered. There’s really nothing beyond Ether 3 that tells us much about spirits and the nature of spirits of course impacts a great deal the question of our bodies and thereby evolution and interventions.

    AM, this gets at the problem which has been a constant issue for me particularly with regards to polls. It’s not at all clear what people mean by evolution. My personal opinion is that theologically the only real issue is whether this body is purely the result of randomness. I think we’re forced to reject that. However that leaves open a whole slew of positions. Further in terms of dealing with the science and history of evolution I don’t think it means we reject anything in particular.

    A big part of the problem is that the very notion of selection is so badly misunderstood – even by college students who’ve taken classes that deal with evolution. There’s an assumption that everything is random but selection just isn’t random. So, for instance, it most likely was a random mutation that enabled the gene SLC24A5 for fair skin in Europeans. However the selection wasn’t random since this mutation meant that those with this gene had better fitness in the north than populations without it. Further it’s most likely that this mutation has independently been produced and selected for in separate bodies. It’s found in India, although that’s from a common ancestor usually seen as around 28,000 years ago unlike Europeans.

    Because people don’t understand that selection – whether natural or artificial – isn’t random they tend to misinterpret evolution and the purported problems of evolution.

  21. The Church’s states neutrality on evolution is political, not theological. Evolution and creationism are simply not compatible theologically. Attempts to reconcile the two require far too much intellectual creativity to either be supported by science or by scriptural exegesis.

  22. Richard “creationism” is a pretty broad term that can mean a lot of different things much as what non-scientists understand by evolution can be pretty broad and confused.

  23. The truth is, LDS doctrine is definitely in the category of Intelligent Design. That’s a fact. In real life, LDS evolutionists deny that fact. It’s a paradox.

  24. You’re right. The church is neutral on evolution. But they reject it in spirit. This anti-evolution attitude is implicit in church manuals and leaders’ talks.

  25. AM,
    You’re being quite dogmatic.

    I have personal revelation about Adam and Eve and the beginning of mankind. I don’t have personal revelation about monkeys, but science seems to support it, so I’m happy to study it. I don’t parade my revealed knowledge around telling others what they must believe, but I know what I know and why should I say otherwise if asked “what do you believe?”

    I don’t let the latter knowledge replace the former merely because there is a contradiction.

    I don’t reveal all things that are sacred to me, but unless I feel prompted otherwise, I’m happy to share both sides of the coin as it were.

    If your children have a problem with that, they haven’t been properly taught to understand science. Not surprising considering all the nonsense social media posts you see going around about supporting people who “believe in science”.

    Insisting that the church or its members only ever say we have no position, is essentially a call to shut up. “Science” is increasing being abused to foist all kinds of positions or conclusions on to people. That’s not only not the best role for our studies into science, it’s very easily to be subverted by the role of the mob.

    And if you don’t understand how mob rule can use even accurate science to it’s own selfish, sinister means then you also don’t understand the science of history and sociology.

  26. Hi gogmos,

    There seems to be a misunderstanding. I did not ask you to change anything. That would be pointless. I am asking the Church to clearly state its position in a publicly prominent location. So far, the best we have is the second result when searching for “evolution” on lds.org. Like I said above, that gives me hope. It’s better than I thought, but it isn’t easily accessible when the issue comes up in church meetings.

    Maybe with such a statement, we could discuss the issue on equal terms, but I am not the one who says things like, “If you can’t hold both of those truths at the same time then your not much good at science, or you don’t believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

  27. I just read through the comments. I am not an orthodox/doctrinaire Mormon by any means, but in the comments I find myself in agreement more with the orthodox types who say that what the predominant teachings are on evolution are simply not compatible with what is generally taught by LDS leaders. I understand that LDS leaders are tolerant to BYU professors who teach evolution and do seek to declare it an apostate heresy (after all, the profs are just teaching it as a theory and not an absolute truth). But we have every reason to believe that the average 18-year-old who grew up in the church and relied on CES materials and LDS magazines and publications to inform themselves about the origins of humans and the age of the earth would come away thinking that human history did not predate 6,000 years and that evolution is a myth. Your son grew up with someone like you, an intellectual who thinks that evolution and church teachings are compatible. That is a rarity. He has every reason to be concerned about the anti-evolution sentiment expressed in the LDS church and to think that the LDS church is against evolution.

  28. Robert, “Intelligent Design” is an other one of those terms that in my experience people use to mean many things. Lots of fundamentalists use it to mean creationism for instance. Originally it meant a view that accepted the entire history of evolutionary change that scientists accept but argued that adaptation was too improbable to have happened by chance. It was just bad mathematics as the calculations usually left off possible paths that evolution could have taken. It was not, however, a claim about selection.

    If that’s what you mean by intelligent design I confess I see no reason to embrace it nor see any reason why it’s necessary for Mormon theology. Selection forces seems more than enough for God to do what he does. It’s also that Mormons and Protestant near fundamentalists simply have far different aims and needs. Fundamentalists’ fundamental concern is God doing everything and eliminating chance. Mormon concerns are that humans need emerge. So the drives are quite different. Protestant fundamentalists typically reject even intelligent design since intelligent design (as originally used) accepted all the history proposed by biologists. Most fundamentalists want a recent earth and so reject that and thereby intelligent design. Mormon fundamentalists usually want a no death before the fall view and have the fall affecting not just Adam and Eve but the entire world. I think this runs into problems scripturally, however since Joseph Fielding Smith had largely adopted a theology of Creationism lifted from various Protestant authors combined with some unique Mormon scripture it remained popular among Mormon fundamentalists.

    I honestly have no idea if Nelson is influenced in his views by Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie or not. My guess is that his concern is more with randomness and the constituents of this state of affairs. It’s usually chance he seems concerned with but he’s never clarified why this is a concern of his that I can see. As I said this may just reflect a misunderstanding of the role of selection in evolution.

  29. John W, there’s no doubt that historically there was an anti-evolutionary streak with some of that persisting in manuals. From what I can see as the manuals are revised those elements tend to get removed. Heaven knows we have plenty of bad manuals that include bad history and a lot else. I’m not sure I’d draw too many inferences from that beyond the manuals just being dated and poorly done. I think works like the recent Saints suggests that the Church is trying to improve.

    I just fundamentally disagree there’s some theologically incompatible here – although it clearly is incompatible with certain GAs conceptions of theology. But even a little reading of history will show that there’s far from theological unanimity here and usually these are tied to particular ways of reading scripture rather than an explicit revelation. The Church’s formal neutrality is telling.

    Gogomos, I can’t speak to your experiences so I’ll not go there. I’d just say that what it means for Adam and Eve to be the parents of humanity is somewhat open. That is you can accept that and still be left with many competing views of how to interpret it. My experience is that most people are fairly ignorant of science though.

    I do think these new studies, while mainly applying to BYU freshmen who aren’t representative of the Church (it’s getting hard to get into BYU these days), do suggest that the anti-evolutionary stance that was common as John W mentioned is falling away.

  30. There may be some way that you can make Mormonism and evolution compatible. My argument is that this compatibility is probably not immediately apparent to the average believer. Plus it would require disregarding what a lot of past and present leaders have said. For the time being, it appears that anti-evolutionary views are favored in the chapels. And if some pf the leaders favor evolution, they don’t appear to be in any rush to correct anti-evolutionary views and actually appear to be more prone to reinforce them.

  31. Church scripture makes it clear that humans had their start with Adam in Missouri (D&C 107:53,117:8-9). However, the archaeological and genetic evidence supporting the theory of evolution indicates that humans had their start in Africa 300,000+ years ago, were painting on cave walls 40,000 years ago, and migrated to the Americas 15,000+ years ago. The contradiction between church scripture and the theory of evolution seems clear. I’ve never read an explanation that comes close to harmonizing church scripture with evolution. Sure, one can read Genesis, Moses, and Abraham as figurative but I don’t think that D&C can be legitimately side stepped. If someone thinks they can, I’m all ears.

    I’m honestly surprised that members are so accepting of evolutionary theory. I think it shows that we are very good at compartmentalizing beliefs. While I don’t agree with past and current Church leaders who refute the theory of evolution, I can understand where they are coming from. They are simply reasoning that if humans originated from Adam in Missouri then they didn’t originate from evolution in Africa.

  32. Some of my favorites from mormonsandscience.com on its 3/23/2011 post —

    Joseph F. Smith: Adam was “also born of woman, the same as Jesus and you and I.”

    Brigham Young: “mankind are here because they are the offspring of parents who were first brought here from another planet.” … Adam “was made as you and I are made, and no person was ever made upon any other principle.”

    J. Stapley 3/24/2011 04:39:49 am “Adamgodilicous!”

    Scott Sessions 10/25/2013 05:15:26 pm “… One day we will all know the truth about everything. Let’s hope there are no internet discussions in heaven.”

  33. QM, neither D&C 107 nor 117 deal with whether there were pre-Adamites or when those events took place (the two popular theories outside of the “no death before the fall” view of JFS). So I don’t see the conflict.

    JR, yeah that site is the best place to find either JFS more Protestant inspired Biblical fundamentalism (largely inspired from a few Seventh Day Adventist books) or Brigham’s catastrophe theory of creation. I don’t think most people encounter those quotes though. The main texts are out of print even if widely available at second hand bookstores or as etexts. I suspect the Church is intentionally keeping them out of print. And if we can deal with Brigham’s Adam/God or racism, both of which are rejected, I think we can deal with no death before the fall or catastrophe theory as both theories based upon reading scripture rather than independent revelation.

    John W, I think the Church may need to take a more active engagement, much as they have recently with things like racism, the priesthood ban theories, polygamy and so forth. But you’re right that for the most part they’re not too focused on the issue nor seem concerned with it. On the other hand this study may strongly suggest it’s not that big of a problem compared to the past.

  34. QM: “They are simply reasoning that if humans originated from Adam in Missouri then they didn’t originate from evolution in Africa.”

    Evolution from early hominids in Africa I’m fine with, ex nihilo in Missouri, of all places, no thank you.

  35. Robert that’s more or less how I was using it. I’d just note that how I’m using intervention is different than what they outline since they are saying natural selection isn’t enough whereas I’m saying it’s the question of the environment which determines how natural selection works. Their approaches typically don’t even raise that question. While their work in theory could be science, typically the methods used in practice are extremely bad science at best.

    P, proponents of pre-Adamite theory would just have Adam being put in Missouri after his being cast out of Eden with there being already established populations of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Some people put Adam roughly in the same time frame as the no death before the fall folks – so roughly 7000 years ago. Others put him back further – some as far back as 100,000 years ago or more.

  36. Why get wrapped around the axle with this stuff? The Genesis story is an ancient creation myth, not a history book or scientific treatise. When Brigham Young saw an aspect of that narrative that he found dubious (i.e., Adam being created from dust), he called it out for what it was: a “baby story” that needn’t command the belief of a mature mind. The Genesis account is not consistent in any respect with what we now know about the history of the universe, earth, and the development of life on it. Pinning one’s faith on that is foolhardy.

  37. I once wrestled with how evolution could be compatible with God creating life and mankind, and prayed about it regularly. One night I had a dream where I was standing on top of a low mountain and looked into a valley. I saw many different animals going about their business, but I also saw spirits herding, directing and otherwise influencing the behavior of these animals. An angel appeared next to me and we had a conversation about what I was viewing. The gist was that many of us as premortal spirits helped with the preparation of the world for man. Part of this effort was to gently nudge the evolutionary path of life over millions of years to prepare bodies that could be vessels for our spirits. This effort took a lot of work and planning with Jehovah as the lead.

    My favorite part of the endowment is the creation. In the temple, Michael/Adam represents each of us. I was personally involved in the work of preparing the world. One reason the world is called glorious and beautiful is because it is the result of a long and difficult process accomplished by a massive level of teamwork.

    In my eyes, evolution and having a Creator are fully compatible. Furthermore, as a creator myself, it is my responsibility to protect that which I once helped create.

    My body evolved from a
    n ancient ape, but my spirit eternal. Mankind is special, but we are also merely dust.

  38. Clark mentions the Adam-God doctrine. While that didn’t prove to be a durable innovation, it’s worth remembering what took Brigham Young’s mind in that direction. He didn’t buy the Genesis account as a true or adequate explanation of the origin of our species. “What is the reason I do not? Because I have come to understanding, and banished from my mind all the baby stories my mother taught me when I was a child.”

    Most of us don’t believe that the earth is floating on a vast sea, separated from more waters above by a firmament. Most of us don’t believe that the sun, moon, stars, earth and all life in it were created in six days. Most of us, like Brigham Young, don’t believe that Adam was literally made from dirt and Eve from one of his ribs. In general, we already follow where the light of truth leads, recognizing that science has been a more reliable guide on geological, biological, and astronomical issues than ancient creation myths have proven to be.

    As Brigham said, “‘Mormonism’ includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.” Understanding of evolution is one of the many promised outpourings of knowledge in these latter days. Mormons shouldn’t reject it. We shouldn’t be neutral on it. We should embrace it, even if it means relinquishing or adapting inconsistent belief traditions.

  39. A few years ago I compiled a paper entitled “Evolution or Creation?” After months of studying Darwin’s theory, I came to the conclusion that the scientific world are following a faith tradition believing his teachings just as much as we have Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father and believing the gospel He taught..

    In fact I am of the opinion that it takes infinitely more faith to accept that the myriad constituent parts of the one celled speck of life came about by chance in a primordial swamp and which eventually led to all living things, than to accept the Intelligent design of a creator.

    I am also of the opinion that the adversary wants mankind to believe that God did not have anything to do with life on earth. It is typical that he is encouraging us to believe in the philosophies of men mingled with atheistic teachings, rather than accepting the true evolution taught by our Saviour, which is called the Plan of Salvation and Eternal Progression.

  40. Clark Goble

    “And if we can deal with Brigham’s Adam/God or racism, both of which are rejected, ”

    Rejected by who? Scripture chapter and verse please.

  41. Clark Goble.

    “And if we can deal with Brigham’s Adam/God or racism, both of which are rejected, I think we can deal with no death before the fall or catastrophe theory as both theories based upon reading scripture rather than independent revelation.”

    Rejected by who Clark

  42. I took BYU Freshman Biology class as a Sophomore circa 2003 (if memory serves me correctly). I thought that they covered evolution quite well. I’m surprised that the numbers aren’t higher in accepting it from back then. I think the problem is that because evangelical Christianity has a problem with evolution, that then some prominent church leaders have had a problem with evolution (we want to be good Christians after all), and find it to be something to be proud to be ignorant about. They think of it as a litmus test of ones faith. The only way to ignore the scientific evidence is due to the strength of your testimony. Which is sad.
    It also seems to me that most church leaders are perfectly happy to toe the line on the churches official position of “We have no position”. But only those who feel that evolution is heresy feel the need to make statements against it. Again, as a litmus test of their faith; they’re willing to go against official church position because their faith is so strong. The converse never happens.
    @Monkey, the scenario you describe is pretty much what I believe. I don’t care where I’m laughed out of. Not only do I not find it absurd, but if I had seen it play out in a vision, and then summarized it in a Semitic language, I’d probably be left with the words “And God created Man out of the dust.” I don’t have the quotes handy, but I do believe that Joseph Smith has made statements to the effect that our body influences the shape of our spirit, as well as our spirit influencing the shape of our body. And since we believe that all living things were created first spiritually it does stand to reason that all of the evolutionary changes were planned ahead of time for the spirits which would be inhabiting those bodies.
    Since it seems like the text we have for Adam and Eve didn’t come from Adam or Eve, but from revelations – which were then written down – one should think of how that affects what would have been understood. Just because God calls Adam the first Man, doesn’t mean that Adam was the first Homo-sapien. Adam would have been the first Homo-sapien with a spirit which was more than just a creation of Gods’, but an actual child of Gods’. I find thinking of it like that significantly helpful, because then in Genesis the division of Sons and Daughters of God vs. Sons and Daughters of Man makes more sense. The Sons and Daughters of God are Adam’s decedents and the Sons and Daughters of Man are the other homo-sapien’s who were around at the time.
    As for any statements about their being no death before the fall, that applies to spiritual death. There are enough statements in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants which are along the lines of “And by death I mean spiritual death”, that any mention of there being death or not from a revelation, has a reasonable probability of meaning spiritual death.

  43. jader3rd:

    “Adam would have been the first Homo-sapien with a spirit which was more than just a creation of Gods’, but an actual child of Gods’. I find thinking of it like that significantly helpful, because then in Genesis the division of Sons and Daughters of God vs. Sons and Daughters of Man makes more sense. The Sons and Daughters of God are Adam’s decedents and the Sons and Daughters of Man are the other homo-sapien’s who were around at the time.”

    Do you think that it is possible that the Sentinelese or North Sentinel Island are 100% descendants of the “Sons and Daughters of Man” as you use the term? (I’ve read that they have been isolated from the outside world for tens of thousands of years) If so, does that, in your view, preclude their bodies from being inhabited by spirit children of God? I’m actually interested in a community response to this question and suggestions for further reading material.

  44. Gonna go with a hard “no” on that one, AT. We’ve been down that path and it doesn’t end well.

  45. What is your rationale? I realize that it is easy to say no if one rejects the assessment established by jader3rd’s posts. So please answer without deviating from the applicable assumptions.

  46. Since the scriptures stopped making the distinction in Genesis, I don’t see any reason to make the distinction at anytime past that point either.
    I think that at some point all human children started having spirits which were children of God, at which point those writing scripture stopped making the distinction.

  47. Are there any happy endings to trying to decide which human beings are children of God and which aren’t? No, there are not.

    Would you think less of people who were only 3/5 children of God, or 0%? Yes, you would. Would you easily be able to justify dispossessing, displacing, enslaving, or murdering human bodies that were sadly not inhabited by heavenly spirits? Yes, you would. Because what is death anyway, but the separation of the spirit from the body? So those bodies are already dead anyway.

    We’ve been down this path before. It doesn’t end well. Don’t go down it again.

  48. For those who think the biology professors at BYU just teach evolution as a “theory” (thus implying that they don’t actually believe it), should probably look into how the word “theory” is used in science and also listen to Steven Peck talk about his experience of getting hired at BYU. The fact that evolution is taught at BYU by professors who believe it, and that it’s done with the approval of the board of trustees should cause any member of the church to pause and think about what that means. According to Professor Peck, the BYU biology department is well-respected, something not easily achieved if the professors are “winking” while teaching evolution.

  49. Clark, thanks for sharing this article. It’s a great snapshot regarding the generational resistance to and acceptance of evolution. The data mirror my own personal wrestle with evolution as well. As a BYU freshman at the turn of the century, I was open to evolution, but my roommate’s religion professor sent home a package with a GA quote labeling it as heresy so I rejected it for the next 15 years. At the time, I also believed Adam and Eve to be historical persons that inaugurated death. Now, after surveying the evidence, I accept evolution as the mechanism for human origins. I haven’t been able to square human evolution by artificial selection with the agency of man, however. Artificial selection means that someone (God? pre-mortal spirits?) is deciding for a specific man and woman to sexually reproduce and deciding for others to die prematurely without having children. That smacks a little too much of predestination for the M?o?r?m?o?n? Latter-day Saint in me. Natural selection, on the other hand, is perfectly compatible with humankind being free agents. YMMV.

    Mike, I can’t tell from your comment if you think it’s a good thing that BYU biology professors fully accept human evolution or not. Care to clarify?

  50. “Mike, I can’t tell from your comment if you think it’s a good thing that BYU biology professors fully accept human evolution or not. Care to clarify?”

    From my perspective it’s neutral. My comment is directed toward those who think the Church is not really neutral. If the board of trustees really believed that evolution is heresy I would think they would not approve of it being taught at BYU. But . . .

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