Elder Nelson doesn’t believe in Evolution

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has posted a transcript of a recent interview it conducted with Elder Nelson and Elder Wickham. One of the questions discussed concerned evolution. Here is the relevant section:

Forum: The church has said it neither promotes nor opposes capital punishment. It says it “opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience.” It does not oppose removing a medical patient from “artificial means of life support.” Different denominations deal differently with questions about life’s origins and development. Conservative denominations tend to have more trouble with Darwinian evolution. Does the church have an official position on this topic?

Nelson: We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life. It’s interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are. We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being. We owe a lot to those lower species. But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.

Forum: Why is that?

Nelson: Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.

Wickman: The Scripture describing the Lord as the creator of all of these things says very little about how it was done. I don’t know of anybody in the ranks of the First Presidency and the Twelve [Apostles] who has ever spent much time worrying about this matter of evolution.

Nelson: We have this doctrine, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101: “When the Lord shall come again, he shall reveal all things, things which have passed, hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth by which it was made and the purpose and the end thereof, things most precious, things that are above, things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, upon the earth, and in heaven.” So as I close that quotation, I realize that there are just some things that we won’t know until that day.

So Elder Nelson doesn’t believe in evolution. At least not in man evolving from lower forms of life. Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether this surprises me or not. It does surprise me a bit that he’s set forth this viewpoint so forthrightly. For some reason, I imagined an Apostle would choose to evade a question like this. Not that LDS authorities haven’t spoken out on this issue in the past, at times quite disparagingly. But I thought (OK, hoped) that the LDS Church was moving in a conciliatory direction toward belief in the evolution of man (even if it was going to take eons to really get there).

Questions:

1. Whatever your views are on evolution generally, or on the evolution of man specifically, I’m interested in what you imagine the Brethren really think about this issue, individually or collectively. Do you imagine a group of serious evolution skeptics, choosing to avoid outright condemnation of evolution so as to not court controversy, and with an eye toward maintaining a “big LDS tent” of divergent LDS opinions on a “non-essential” issue? Do you imagine a diverse set of views among the hierarchy, resulting in an understanding in the highest quorums that the subject shouldn’t be publicly addressed since there’s no widespread agreement? Do you imagine a group of semi-closeted evolutionists who refuse to touch the issue with a 10-foot pole (until now), since they know that many (most?) LDS are unsympathetic to evolution, they know this lack of sympathy is due to historical condemnation of evolution by certain LDS leaders, and they don’t want to precipitate faith crises in folks like Gary?

Personally, I’ve held each of these views (and others) at various times over the years. I’m not sure what my current view is anymore (except I think I now understand where Elder Nelson stands). What do you think?

2. For those LDS who believe in, or are at least generally sympathetic to, the evolution of man, how does Elder Nelson’s statement affect your views on the subject, if at all? He presumably was not trying to set forth an official LDS position on the question, but he is a current, high-ranking Church leader. Would your views on evolution change if President Hinckley had made this comment in an interview, instead of Elder Nelson? What if the gist of Nelson’s comments appeared in a First Presidency letter? In other words, to what extent is your belief in evolution (particularly the evolution of man) a product of what current LDS leaders say about it?

(Some might argue that my hypothetical questions need not be posed hypothetically, because of the content of the 1909 First Presidency Statement on the Origin of Man, for example. But that document (a) was written almost 100 years ago, so is not “current”; and (b) has implications for the evolution of man that are less than clear, in light of the 1925 re-Statement that basically gutted its anti-evolutionary content, in addition to other reasons).

I ask this question because I don’t think the answer is necessarily obvious, and I suspect many of us who otherwise maintain similar views on the basic scientific questions may differ in our answers here. With all the debate about the LDS Church’s “position” (or lack thereof) on evolution and related questions, and with the endless parsing of various statements and commentaries made by LDS Church leaders over the years, an observer might be forgiven for thinking that debates about evolution among Mormons are waged by two sides equally wedded to the notion that the Brethren’s views are paramount, but disagreeing about the content of those views. But my own sense is that LDS proponents of evolution believe in it simply because they find the scientific evidence for it overwhelmingly compelling, rather than because they think the Church has “given them permission” to accept what the scientists say. Not that the pronouncements of the Brethren carry no weight, of course. But I sense LDS evolutionts have a “testimony” of evolution that is born entirely of scientific study, rather than of a favorite General Authority quote, and as long as the Church doesn’t condemn evolution in the most certain, definitive and authoritative of terms, they are happy to ignore the skeptical comments of this or that Church leader.

In posing these questions, I’m not inviting everyone to bag on Elder Nelson. Really. He has put forth a view about the evolution of mankind that most LDS Churchmembers probably hold (whatever their views on the evolution of other species may be), and so it’s not a shocker in any sense. But I am interested in understanding how LDS believers in evolution grapple with his statement, if at all. Does the statement give you pause, or prompt a serious reconsideration of your views? Or is it just a curiosity that has no real impact on your beliefs, given what you see as the strength of the science?

Comments

  1. I was surprised by Elder Nelson’s comment only because I expected a little more scientific orientation from an MD. This part of it:

    It’s just the way genetics works.

    seems to cry out for further explanation. I’m not holding my breath until we get one, however. The statement by Elder Wickman immediately after the statement I quote above speaks volumes about the GAs’ position on this:

    I don’t know of anybody in the ranks of the First Presidency and the Twelve [Apostles] who has ever spent much time worrying about this matter of evolution.

    I don’t see that statement as PR (no we’re not starting that thread again). I see it as admitting that they’re just not interested in engaging on the issue.

    It’s also telling that Wickman refers to “how it [the creation] was done” This seems to echo Mitt Romney’s statement about his beliefs on the subject:

    “I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

    I don’t see a lot of closet evolutionists hiding out in the ranks of the GAs, I see people who don’t really appear to have strong opinions on the subject currently, and are willing to admit that God hasn’t told us much. In light of that, I think we can accept the scientific explanations (or not) and await further information.

  2. I think Elder Wickman was trying to soften Elder Nelson’s statement by emphasizing that the LDS view doesn’t claim any particular knowledge about how God created things. I guess I’d have been happier if Elder Nelson had replied, “No, the Church doesn’t really have an official position on evolution — we leave science to the scientists. Evolution is taught as part of the biology curriculum at BYU, just like any other subject in the sciences.”

    The “dogs have always been dogs” claim is a little odd, given how much canine variety there is. “There are all kinds of dogs” is an alternative claim that reflect the large degree of intra-specific variation in dogs, which happens to be artificial variation. But natural variation is also present in all species, and that natural variation is what drives differential reproductive success of the various members of the population in the face of changed environmental conditions. That’s adaptation, which (over time) produces speciation. In a nutshell, that’s evolution.

  3. we leave science to the scientists

    Which is why Elder Nelson’s statement does not change my opinion on evolution.

  4. Thomas Parkin says:

    Meh. I love Elder Nelson, and trust in his ability to act rightly and well in his office – pretty much completely. But,- since we’re giving personal viewson this subject,- I much prefer Mitt Romney’s take. And sort of wish you’d juxtaposed the two quotes. Elder Nelson’s is the kind of quote that can be made to say much more than it actually says. I think that Elder Wickman’s interjection is probably telling.

    Do I think that man, the first man, Adam, had parents that belonged to another species? I don’t know enough to even have a tentative opinion on it. My second instinct is to say, quite possibly so. My first instinct is to wonder why it matters. It certainly wouldn’t faze me one bit if it were so. The problem with “belief in” evolution has never been, it seems to me, in whether or not species evolve, or even whether man evolved from previously existing species – but in finding in that fact convincing evidence that man is _only an animal_.

    Theologically, for Mormons, I think the important idea is that there was a _first_ living being, Adam, who had a spirit that qualified him as a son of God, a spirit of that particular order. In what came before, it seems, the real theological matter is in knowing that God orchestrated the process that lead to the moment of Adam becoming the first living, human “soul” (body AND spirit). We’re told some key moments in that orchestration, but even as those moments are more clearly defined from Genesis, through Moses to Abraham and then the Endowment – it’s still awfully sketchy. But we are told, for instance, that before Adam certain particular species had been “placed” on the earth. Maybe they came down and saw Allosaurus and said, “not ready yet;” then they came back saw lions, horses and bears and said “now’s the time.”

    I find Abr 4 full of words that might compliment an model not unlike the ones that evolutionary biologists present us with. Not least this “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed,” and this, “And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth,” and “And the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind …”

    Anyway – my way is probably a lot like Elder Nelson. I just say, someday we’ll know exactly how this is done. Until then … but I don’t think it has to be so. We are given the information we have on the subject in some very important places. I think if we feel so inclined we should look spiritually into the matter. After all, God doesn’t withhold information when we are ready for it. I think we should probably boldly go to the source, and in the process of working things out for ourselves listen to the Spirit which can teach us. And I _definitely_ think scientific findings should figure into our learning, and that scientific theories should be contemplated.

    I was always taught – a lot like Mitt Romney, it seems – that sceintific truth and gospel truth are part of one big ball of Truth. I think it’s fun to speculate, and long as one is keeping one’s eyes on the ball.

    ~

  5. Evolution is an interesting theory. I don’t know if I believe or disbelieve in it. Sometimes those who teach it can be very persuasive.

    During one semester, a teacher at BYU had me pretty well convinced that evolution was the way things happened – except that after the class was finished I felt like he’d been pushing a bit too hard.

    As far as I can tell, general authorities have held to various opinions on the matter – some in favor of evolution and others against the theory.

    I’m interested in the explanations that both science and religion have to offer.

    I’m grateful for what scientists do and I feel they have helped us understand many things. But I’m also aware that scientists can be wrong and not know it.

    My main conviction is that God was the Creator.

  6. Questions... says:

    This may offend the sensibilities of some who post here, but as far as I’m concerned, the “debate” about evolution is no different from the “debate” about whether or not the earth was the center of the universe, back in the time of Galileo.

    Elder Nelson’s remarks had definitely caught my attention, and frankly (as a physician myself), I was astonished at how he completely misunderstands the relationship between genetics and evolution.

    If this is what we can expect from one of the few leaders with any kind of scientific background, then it sounds like it will be a while before the Church starts entering the 20th century of understanding, let alone the 21st century.

    The fact that a church theoretically led by revelation is so far behind the curve here, rather than leading the way, is a huge disappointment to me.

    Again, my intent is not to offend, but this is the way I see it…

  7. Left Field says:

    I wasn’t surprised that Elder Nelson has this view. In the January 1988 Ensign, he wrote, “Others have deduced that, because of certain similarities between different forms of life, there has been a natural selection of the species, or organic evolution from one form to another. Many of these people have concluded that the universe began as a “big bang” that eventually resulted in the creation of our planet and life upon it. To me, such theories are unbelievable! Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary? It is unthinkable! Even if it could be argued to be within a remote realm of possibility, such a dictionary could certainly not heal its own torn pages or renew its own worn corners or reproduce its own subsequent editions!”

    I just finished teaching a college-level course in organic evolution, and Elder Nelson’s comments would probably have earned him a D on an essay question–not for his views, but for his understanding of the topic.

    Dogs have always been dogs? No, they used to be wolves, and were bred by artificial selection. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I think even most creationists recognize artificial selection. The reality of artificial breeding is undeniable. He doesn’t understand speciation, population genetics, or Hardy-Weinberg. He doesn’t understand that natural selection is a nonrandom process, and his use of the phrase “natural selection of the species” suggests that he is invoking the scientifically discredited concept of group selection, and indicates that he understands neither natural selection or speciation.

    I suspect few GAs have strong opinions on the matter, and that those who do include a variety of viewpoints. I’ve had the impression that the brethren have been told in recent years to avoid the subject.

    Obviously, there’s nothing here that is sufficient to change my views, but I have been heartened by what appears to be an increasing willingness by the general authorities to address issues in public interviews. I am hopeful that other general authorities with differing views will be interviewed.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    My thoughts:

    1. My guess is that there are fewer strongly held opinions on this subject today than there were in the heady days of the evolution debates among GAs from the 1930s.

    2. My guess is that most GAs personally don’t believe in evolution, and accept views like Elder Nelson’s.

    3. My guess is that there are at least some that are agnostic on the question, some that accept some form of ID, and maybe even a few that accept evolution.

    4. For me personally, GA statements are virtually irrelevant on thie particular subject. This is partly a function of the scientific evidence and partly a function of the history of GA debate. It would take a fire from heaven “thus saith the Lord” revelation b efore any GA statement on this subject gave me serious pause.

    I disagree with Elder Nelson and, not being familiar with his previously expressed views, I was indeed surprised that someone with worldclass medical training would take so naive a view of the subject. But part of me was glad to see him stating his views forthrightly. (I agree that Elder Wickman, as lawyers do, was softening Elder Nelson’s response.) We’ve invested every sneeze of a GA with so much meaning that they are afraid to speak forthrightly about much of anything anymore. So even though I disagree with him, I’m at least glad to see him expressing a view.

  9. Matt W. says:

    I’ve had a dear friend apostasize over this very issue, so I can’t pretend to wish the church would have some opinions of a friendlier variety toward evolution put forth by other GAs.

  10. Someone apostasized because of the church’s vagueness about evolution? Really?

    I don’t see anything new here. My opinion was that the church opionion was to be agnostic on everything but human evolution and to be specific against human evolution (at least since Adam). I don’t see anything new in Elder Nelson’s statement. Besides, Elder Nelson might be a young-earth creationist, in which case evolution is particularly ridiculous and dogs really have always been dogs :)

  11. Aaron Brown says:

    Matt — I take it that your friend apostasized because the Church wasn’t ANTI-evolution enough? That seems to be the implication of your comment, if I’m reading it correctly. Strange, since people who apostasize over the issue usually do so because the Church isn’t friendly enough toward evolution. At least that’s my sense.

    Aaron B

  12. Mr. Nelson’s opinions on evolution are as relevant as Barbra Streisand’s views on politics.

    Left Field, you’re a generous grader.

  13. “Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works. ”

    If you think abou it, this isn’t exactly anti-evolution, even if it isn’t succinct. The way I read it is this was a double attack on Evolution and Spontanious Creation. First, he is saying that you don’t get frogs from alligators. Then, by saying “It’s just the way genetics works,” this reprsents to me that he admits a natural process.

    For those who have been critical of his comments, he isn’t acting as a scientist, but as a spiritual leader. This is only my opinion, but if you were to talk to him personally I bet he would talk to you about Evolution as a scientist.

    As for other anti-evolution stances in General Conference, including the one quoted here? Although I believe there are some who are and have been strictly Creationists, others are making a different point. That is a refutation not so much of evolution, but creation without God’s guidance. Again, they are talking as spiritual leaders and not scientists. What they want to emphasis in General Conference is different than a Scientific Conference. It would be interesting to read anything Elder Nelson has said when he was acting as a doctor, for instance. By the way, it isn’t unheard of (although I don’t know how rare it might be) for religious people to learn and use something in secular society they reject personally.

  14. Ardis Parshall says:

    I’m surprised that anyone is surprised that a GA has a personal opinion, and that said personal opinion differs from ones own personal opinion. Any issue is controversial only because there is substantial evidence and support for at least two different views.

  15. Another thought that comes to mind is that Elder Nelson received much of his medical training at an earlier age, according to wikipedia, before DNA had been fully flushed out by Watson and Crick.

    It’s not unsurprising, then, that he would have formed opinions during a time when less scientific evidence was available about the reality of the building blocks of different genetic processes, and then hold to those opinions despite more evidence mounting to support traditional evolutionary biology. Particularly since his area of specialty has little to do with genetics, but with cardiology instead…

    On a much more personal note, my mother-in-law is a nurse who at some point got to be in an operating theater with Elder Nelson (perhaps more than once?). She speaks incredibly highly of him as a person, and it always warms my heart to see her face light up whenever anybody talks about him.

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    But Ardis,

    There really isn’t “substantial evidence and support” scientifically for what Nelson appears to be arguing, which is the point folks are making. If evolution were “respectably controversial” or disputable in the way you are suggesting, this issue wouldn’t be interesting in the way that it is.

    Aaron B

  17. “Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works. ”

    Maybe this is more of a metaphysical claim based on genetic definition.If you want to say that an animal is a dog if it has a specific gene configuration, then it would be false to say that dogs have been anything but dogs… or to say that a a dog was once a wolf, because a wolf would have a different gene configuration.

    But I doubt this is what Elder Nelson meant.

  18. As Nonny said, when one studied biology counts a lot here.

    As others said, I wasn’t surprised since Elder Nelson has made comments like these before. (I do remember being a bit disappointed when I first read them though) The ones that would be more interesting to hear from are Elder Oaks and Elder Holland.

  19. I was also surprised that a physician could have so little grasp on the scientific theories that underlie genetics and the rest of biology. It simply is not possible to understand modern genetics, microbiology, or any other subject of biology without pre-supposing evolution. It is the foundation upon which all the other biological sciences rest.

  20. Ardis Parshall says:

    Aaron, the controversy isn’t between scientific evidence on one side and scientific evidence on the other side — I think we agree there. The scientific evidence, however, doesn’t account for what people know, or think they know, from religious or philosophical evidence. There are two apparently contradictory sets of evidence that haven’t been fully resolved yet.

    It looks like Elder Nelson is disputing science (evolution) with science (genetics), but I seriously doubt that those couple of dozen words fully express his views on such a complex issue. Could he, perhaps, have a view of genetics that is based on the bit of revelation that says in so many words that each life form reproduces after its own kind, and believe that despite breeding which drastically changes appearance and temperament a dog is still a dog, not a monkey, in some eternal, essential sense?

    I won’t argue for one position or another; I don’t pretend to know enough. I’m only saying that when somebody has such strong opinions on a controversial subject that he is surprised someone else has a contrary view, he may not be fully aware of the reasoning that shapes that other’s view. It’s the same one-sided incompleteness that leads people to insist that there is no scientific proof of revelation so Mormons are all crazy.

  21. I don’t get it. One one hand he admits that species are very closely related and provides evidence. Something that’s a sign that things evolved from a like ancestor. But then he goes against it.

    Either way it was well spoken. He does state that we just don’t know. He might not personally agree with it, but is willing to say he doesn’t know for sure.

  22. I know some old Geologists who don’t believe in plate tectonics, either. Some people are far more open to changing their beliefs based on new evidence than others.

    I’m probably going to express this terribly, but I think what you believe about evolution, ID, and Adam are very revealing of who you think is the ultimate source of truth. Is it the Prophet who speaks for God, or is it science and human reasoning? We all create a world-view based on our experiences and on what others tell us of their experiences, and on records passed down for perhaps thousands of years, to as little as a few days. Much of it is contradictory, and we have to choose which bits fit together to create a belief set that is most consistent with our experiences and our most deeply held beliefs.

    I’d suggest that for Bro. Nelson, and probably most people I know at church the idea that Humans descended from anyone other than Adam and Eve is so inconsistent with beliefs they hold more dear that they toss out any ideas inconsistent with the creation account given in Genesis. Most scientist I know, on the other hand, count Darwinian evolution as a deeply held belief, and so are more likely to dismiss religious accounts of the creation as myths–perhaps instructive, and certainly culturally significant, but not in a strictly literal sense “true.” It’s understandably difficult for people with one belief system to recognize the validity of the other.

    I’m a scientist and I buy into Darwinian evolution much more than the Genesis account of the creation. Most of the time I can convince myself that the belief systems are compatible, but at other moments I also recognize that my belief in evolution betrays a deeper trust of the scientific method than of the Bible or the words of the Prophets. If statements I hear in church or read in the scriptures don’t pass the “does this make sense to me?” test, I am apt to disregard them. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with ignoring statements from General Authorities that simply don’t jive with ones’ own experience, but I wonder how many statements I can discard before I find I’ve become an atheist who just goes to church every Sunday and hangs out at LDS blogs occasionally.

  23. I believe that part of the divinely inspired wisdom in the organization of the church is that decisions about doctrines like this are made in common by 15 people instead of one. My guess is that, among the highly educated apostles and first presidency, there must be quite a few who understand that evolution is true.

    Another important point of divine wisdom is that our church emphasizes learning as much as we possibly can about everything. All other Christian churches that I’ve been exposed to are highly suspicious of learning, because of fear that it damages people’s faith. Our church is more like Islam or Judaism in emphasizing knowledge. This breaks with millennia of Christian tradition, as I understand it, since it was the Islamic world that kept classical knowledge alive, and added much more to it, during the Middle Ages when Christianity squashed scientific inquiry in Europe. (All right, I’ll stop now since I know the Jesuits are an exception, and also that you guys know way more about history than I, since what I know is a scientist’s shorthand history of science.) =)

    In any case, I’m surprised that Elder Nelson feels as he does, being a doctor, but doctors don’t really study zoology that much, usually, so again they can just be ignorant of the true situation. I think, though, that on matters upon which the Apostles feel very differently, the church probably issues statements that they all can get behind. The policy on evolution is probably one that they all agree on, namely that God created us, and the method He used is unspecified.

    If the church issued an official document stating that evolution doesn’t happen, it would only lessen the status of the institutional church in my mind, and not that of the theory of evolution. That evolution occurred, that we are close kin with the other species, is as well-supported and definitive a fact as any that exists. Gravity is not more certain. The idea has comprehensive explanatory power on all levels from the smallest details up to large scale features of life. Though refinements will continue to accrue, and our understanding will certainly deepen in time, as it has with gravity (and will continue to do — gravity must eventually be reconciled with quantum mechanics), the idea of evolution is not ever going to go away. People who fear it, who feel that God is threatened by it in some way, are simply worrying where no worry is needed. God is not going to be contradicted by anything we could possibly learn about His universe.

  24. kristine N (22) When asked why the Big Bang theory of cosmology eventually won out over the Steady State theory, the true answer is that all the Steady Staters died. =) There were several prominant staunch Steady Staters who never recanted unto the grave.

    Of course, now we know that the expansion is accelerating, and there will never be a Big Crunch, as some Big Bangers had long believed. I wonder if that idea, too, will have to die out by attrition, or if it’s somehow less dear. My own father would have to lose a bet with me if he ever admitted it, in fact. =) So I feel sure had he survived to see this new evidence, he would have denied it for that reason alone. =) He was philosophically opposed to a universe that was limited in time, so he opted for limitation in space. Philosophical preferences tend to be a much poorer means than data for distinguishing between competing theories, though I suppose we all do it to some extent without realizing. =) It’s what we mean by “elegance” when we talk about Occam’s Razor, I think. Elegance really means philosophically appealing and clear.

    Anyway, I’m not in any danger of becoming an atheist, since I get constant support, strength, wisdom, and lots of good information from prayer, scripture study, and revelation, and I know that all this comes from a source external to my own self. I was an atheist for the first 15 or so years of my adulthood, so that database of experience, in contrast with the last 10 or so years as a theist, is sufficient for me to know beyond all doubt that God exists. It’s true that my faith is scientifically based, which I suppose is different from most people’s faith. What I mean is that I include in my data set experiences that I’ve had personally that aren’t available to other scientists for confirmation. It’s an extension of science, I suppose. Science that’s for the convincing of one single human soul at a time, based on their own experiences and noone else’s. Because I actually spent so long as an atheist, I know that atheism is a mistake. One that I’m not in danger of making again.

    However, if the leadership of the church demonstrates that they’re far enough astray, it’s conceiveable that I could decide to follow another path than Mormonism. As it is, I think there’s a great deal of evidence that God does actually direct our church, and that the priesthood authority is real. I’m not requiring perfection, though, so even in the face of some of the racist and sexist things that have been promulgated in the past, and the present position on homosexuality, I feel good about sticking with the church. I think the ship is being steered from the right source, so eventually it will true up and head the right direction.

  25. While hoping not to “bag” on Elder Nelson–if you actually listen to/read his talks, you’ll notice a distinctly inferior quality of thought relative to his academic attainments. In short, I’ve rarely heard him say anything particularly insightful. The idea that “man has always been man” is particularly disingenous, as even a literal reading of Genesis has man as dirt before becoming man. The biological ideas behind evolution cover, as it were, the period between dirt and functioning human organism. Like I said, disingenous, and obviously not a well thought-out comment. He should stick to how his wife makes him donuts.

  26. I think we should be glad that our church, unlike many other similarly conservative denominations, does not make an anti-evolution stance a matter of dogma. We may have to put up with some wild statements in Sunday School, but we don’t have the prophet fuming about the evils of science.

    God is not going to be contradicted by anything we could possibly learn about His universe.

    Tatiana,
    I positively agree. Our job should be the search for God’s truth, not a dogmatic loyalty to an Iron Age tribal text (inspiring though it often is). Joseph’s constant revelatory tinkering with Genesis suggests to me that the biblical account was suited to a continually evolving “truth.”

  27. It is pretty simplistic to assume because a physician does not agree with the entire theory of evolution that it is because he studied biology and genetics too long ago to know enough. Do you really think a pioneering heart surgeon just quits the study of such things the minute he graduates from medical school? Yes, he’s not a evolutionary biologist or anthropologist– is there anyone on this board who is? It would not be surprising if out of pure interest a retired surgeon, like Elder Nelson kept up to some degree on the latest research.

  28. Kevin: My guess is that there are at least some that are agnostic on the question, some that accept some form of ID, and maybe even a few that accept evolution.

    Hmmm… Maybe I just don’t really know what ID is. I assumed Intelligent Design essentially was a form of evolution where God intervened in small ways along the way to affect otherwise completely random natural selection. Is that not right?

  29. Left Field says:

    Yes, he’s not a evolutionary biologist…– is there anyone on this board who is?

    [raises hand]

  30. Kristine N:

    I wonder how many statements I can discard before I find I’ve become an atheist who just goes to church every Sunday and hangs out at LDS blogs occasionally.

    It seems to me that what defines you as an atheist (or not) is not what you discard, but what you keep. There must be something that keeps you coming back to church.

    Tatiana, comments like yours are what keep me coming back here.

    Geoff J:

    Intelligent design is the claim that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”

    From Wikipedia

  31. Walt Eddy says:

    Elder Nelson’s response seems most disingenuous. He didn’t bother to admit to LDS theology regarding uncreated intelligences as a feature of humans but simply said God is our creator. Hence, he failed to distinguish the Church’s theology from what is generally accepted as God being a creator ex nihilo or otherwise. Further, he called the notion that man evolved from one species to another incomprehensible to him. I doubt it. Calling the concept incomprehensible to him is incomprehensible to me for someone of his education, experience, and background. It is one thing to reject it outright but another thing altogether to call it impossible to comprehend. And it is potentially highly offensive to those believers who find it otherwise.

  32. mmiles:

    It would not be surprising if out of pure interest a retired surgeon, like Elder Nelson kept up to some degree on the latest research.

    It would not be surprising to me either, but that is the clear implication of his words. How do you read them to admit the possibility he is “keeping up on the latest research?”

  33. Julie M. Smith says:

    “I also recognize that my belief in evolution betrays a deeper trust of the scientific method than of the Bible or the words of the Prophets.”

    I don’t think this is necessarily true–it is possible to read Genesis seriously and still believe in evolution. The two are not incompatible. They are surprisingly compatible if one is not a literalist.

  34. A few brief thoughts. First, I have to admit that I’m a tad uncomfortable at some of the comments directed towards Elder Nelson. Regardless of his views on some particular scientific theory many decades since he was last in college, I don’t think that has much bearing on what he normally talks about which is his primary mission. I’ve always been impressed with his talks.

    Just a pet peeve, but “literalism” is unfortunately vague. It is quite possible to read Genesis and the revealed variants in the PoGP in a fashion completely compatible with history. What tends to happen is “literalism” ends up being little about literal readings than a particular popular way of reading (which often discounts literalist kinds of reading that disagree with it)

    Geoff, what you describe is technically ID but the term has become much wider and ends upon encompassing a lot that we’d call Creationism. Jared discussed this at his blog. I typically just use ID for the more narrow sense of rejection of macro-evolution by chance. And perhaps that’s all that Elder Nelson is rejecting. (As opposed to say Elder McConkie would would have rejected considerably more) However lots of folks using the term ID tend to reject most of the history of evolution as we use the term. (i.e. end up being variants on things closer to young earth creationism)

  35. I’m a tad uncomfortable at some of the comments directed towards Elder Nelson.

    i’m more than a tad bit.

    besides, he leaves plenty of room for a lot that we don’t know (anyone who thinks they just know exactly how things were created might consider the scripture he quoted).

    i also think discussions like this can get convoluted pretty fast because there are different definitions of what evolution actually is.

  36. When I was a believer, I was not troubled by Ezra Benson’s mimicking of William Bryant Jennings’ rejection of evolution because I simply invoked more reasonable voices such as Talmadge.

    My first response to Russell Nelson’s statement was just laughter. But really it is quite sad on a number of levels. Nelson does not seem to realize how much he is undermining his office, which affects not only him but also his peers and his successors.

    A while back, we had a spirited discussion about his view of intermarriage. This statement about evolution is one more demonstration that Russell Nelson does not understand the biological concepts of species and race.

    In light of his education, the most parsimonious explanation may be that he chooses to remain ignorant. After all, Watson and Crick discovered the double-helix in 1953. And Darwin’s Origin of Species was first published in 1859. Nelson’s opinion is probably a conscious embrace of his faith.

    However noble his motives may be, they cannot undo the consequences of his statement. Aaron is, of course, correct. LDS biologists will not be swayed. They will regret the limits of Nelson’s “comprehension.” However, there will be some children and adolescents that will approach the life sciences and their paradigm with suspicion and antagonism.

    That is sad. It could be avoided if we understood the creation as the Creator’s most immediate revelation.

  37. Thank you Tatiana–I’m having a bit of a bad day and wondering if my particular take on faith is truly compatible with the gospel as others see it, and consequently how it hear it preached every Sunday. Sorry for the threadjack here, by the way. Most days I’m comfortable dividing my world into “Things of God” and “Things of Science,” but I’m realizing there really aren’t too many things listed in the “Things of God” category. I don’t think they’re insubstantial–I believe in God, and in the atonement; I believe in the importance of and truth of the Temple ordinances, and everything that feeds into that (priesthood, prophetic mission of JS, etc.); I believe my faith makes my life better, even if it is more difficult. I guess I just needed to think about it today.

    However, there will be some children and adolescents that will approach the life sciences and their paradigm with suspicion and antagonism.

    Hellmut, I don’t know that this will necessarily happen. Like I said before, there were plenty of well-respected geologists who didn’t accept plate tectonics, and in fact still haven’t accepted plate tectonics. I don’t know anyone of my generation who even questions it, though. There’s simply too much evidence supporting the theory. The same thing is true for evolution, and anyone who honestly studies the biological sciences will accept the theory. People who are suspicious of and antagonistic toward evolution are likely to be suspicious of an antagonistic toward science in general. I honestly think my generation is far more accepting of evolution than earlier generations, although I do know many who aren’t comfortable with the idea that man evolved. I suspect later generations will have even fewer qualms with evolution.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Clark, word up. This is a pro-Mormon website, everyone. Comments needlessly disparaging someone we consider to be an Apostle will be edited or deleted.

  39. Walt Eddy says:

    Steve,
    Could you give me examples of what comments you refer to? Or others, to what comments specifically caused you discomfort?

    Thanks

  40. Left Field and MCQ–

    I suppose I am reading Elder Nelson’s comments differently than you. I do not find his words incompatible with accepting natural selection as fact.

  41. Kristine, I share your expectations about generational change. I am sad for those individuals who will feel uncomfortable about the life sciences because of authoritative religious statements.

    Undoubtedly, there will be some children who will cease to explore biology in response to Elder Nelson’s language.

    Claiming to speak with divine authority is an awesome responsibility.

  42. Eric Russell says:

    Undoubtedly, there will be some children who will cease to explore biology in response to Elder Nelson’s language.

    One can only hope so. Maybe now there will be fewer kids at BYU freaking out about trying to get into med school.

  43. I also am having a hard time reading the quotes that started this discussion and jumping to the conclusions many of have reached.

    Just to be clear, I am not a biologist. Having said that, it seems to me that there really is only one comment by Elder Nelson that anyone can quibble with: “Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys.” Frankly, I understand completely how someone can believe the first part of that – that “man has always been man” – even if you accept a form of evolution.

    Looking at the accounts we have, reading that God took a body (with no clue as to how it was created or came to be) and breathed into it the spirit (the breath of life) and thus created the first man, and concluding that such a description could describe a conscious event in an otherwise evolutionary process is completely “logical” and “rational” to me. Reading it in a different way also could be logical and rational. As both Elder Nelson and Elder Wickman said, there are just some things that we don’t know at this time.

    Do I agree 100% with Elder Nelson? No. Do I agree with the overall assertion that God was involved somehow in the creation of man that makes it more than just a random, chance process – undirected or uninfluenced by the desires of a creator? Yes, completely. Do I expect each apostle, especially given the atheistic conclusions they are battling, to see things exactly as I do – and does it lessen my view of them as apostles and prophets if they don’t see it my way? Of course not. Do I believe that there are very different perspectives on this issue among the Twelve and the First Presidency? Of course.

    My mother was a secretary in Pres. McKay’s office many years ago. She knew Pres. McKay, Elder Widstoe, Elder Clark (Rueben J.) and other apostles quite well. The three things she shared with her children from her time in that position were: 1) they truly cared deeply about the membership on a very personal level; 2) working with them day in and day out strengthened her testimony of their prophetic and apostolic callings; and 3) they had intense and heated discussions about many things, since each of them was intelligent and strong-willed, but they never aired those differences publicly and always united behind the Prophet whenever it became necessary to speak as a united body.

    I refuse to disparage any of that, particularly in a case like this when someone expresses an honest opinion but immediately adds, in genuine humility, that they might be wrong and simply don’t know for sure.

  44. Sorry; it is J. Rueben Clark, not Rueben J. Yikes!

  45. Left Field says:

    mmiles,

    Elder Nelson’s comments might be compatible with accepting natural selection as fact. However, as I said, his comments are incompatible with his having any understanding of how natural selection works. I base this on his use of the nonsensical phrase “natural selection of the species” and on his explosion analogy. It is statements like that which would (generously) earn a D on an essay exam.

    An equivalently wrong statement about history would be if he claimed that the United States of Kentucky was responsible for starting World War I.

  46. The content of the statement does not surprise me given his past statements, nor does it affect my views. I like to think that we each know some things that the other does not.

  47. Rosalynde says:

    There seem to be plenty of evolution experts around these parts, but not too many doctors. Physicians aren’t scientists, folks: they’re not trained in science, they don’t practice scientifically, they don’t read science journals. And surgeons are the least scientific of the bunch, except maybe obstetricians. (Exceptions noted for physician scientists like my own husband, who are trained in science and do benchtop labwork.) What this has to do with Elder Nelson’s statement, I’m not exactly sure.

    Since Elder Nelson basically just makes an argument from ignorance, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s not voicing revelation here. At least I can’t remember any other examples of revelation that take this form.

  48. Please remember to avoid letting the pride of your secular beliefs get in the way when deciding these things. Evolution is interesting to study and the thought process involved is helpful, but to my knowledge, looking at some bones and guessing they they used to be arranged in such a pattern and that they are forbearers of a human is for the most part just an interesting story we tell ourselves. It may be true, it may not, truthfully I don’t care and it seems many people who do care try to use it as a “gotcha” in an attempt to ridicule me and my beliefs. Man kind has been telling stories since the beginning, and the best stories are those with a bit of evidence and a also bit of mystery that leave you wondering.

    I worry of pride, especially when I see someone disect a church authorities statements for a hobby or because they think they’re being intelligent, witty and smart by analyzing it and attempting to prove it wrong.

    In the end you have to be willing to admit you are wrong on the issue and he might be is right, if you are being honest with yourself. Likewise, I am pretty sure, unless he has received some revelation on the matter, that he would be open to your view of things. But maybe he just discounts that posibility. Ultimatley, you just dont KNOW the truth. You have evidence and stories propagated by science and society. But need we point to the thousands of bits of evidence that “science” has pushed forward over the millenia and were not enitrely correct? Out of context it’s terribly easy to look back and say those thoughts were ridiculous, but its very difficult to remove yourself from the culture you’re in when looking at scientific discussions. Which is I think the point of the guy talking about plate techtonics. These things make for facinating discussions, but any time someone attempts to take a statement like Nelson’s, someone in a position of authority in the church and uses that statement, generally to their own selfish and prideful ends sometimes to discount some other teaching of theirs they are on very dangerous ground. Not for the church but for themselves and their family. Following the gospel will bring happiness to yourself and your family. Following the theory of evolution will bring you neither.

    Science attempts to answer the things came to be, but rarely why and almost never how we should respond as result. Taken to a ridiculous extreme, the survival of the fittest theory could be applied to human relations and we’d be justified in taking over whatever country we desire simply because we are fitter and would make better use of those resources, etc. My opinion is it’s only our morality developed from the light of Christ within us that restrains us (generally) from doing so. But you can’t point to plenty of times in history when man has acted contrary to that light.

  49. walt (#39) — yours, actually.

  50. Steve, I wonder if you’ve been spending too much time hanging out with the inquisitors overs at T&S (Adam G., Matt E.). Walt’s comment seems like a responsible criticism. “Disingenuous,” without a modifier, was probably too harsh, but it wasn’t worth your threat. Instead of wading in with your administrator club (which you seem to do too often), why not suggest a different tone, or voice your opinion as to how you would suggest such a criticism be more aptly worded.
    Otherwise, why have bcc at all, there are plenty other places we can visit if we’re looking for vanilla.

  51. Actually, I am glad Elder Nelson worded things the way he did, rather than the way a few earlier Church leaders did–who wrote as if they spoke for the Church as a whole and who stated they disbelieved in evolution because it was contrary to scripture.

    Elder Nelson made clear he was stating his own opinion, not speaking on behalf of the Church, and his disbelief in evolution was based on his own understanding of genetics, not based necessarily on his scriptural interpretation.

    I think his statements leave us free to believe or comprehend what we choose with respect to evolution, without feeling like we are somehow disloyal by disagreeing with his understanding of genetics.

  52. Walt Eddy says:

    Thanks, Steve.

    At least you took time to respond.

    I have posted at BCC exactly this one time (well, now tonight three times) and one other time months ago so I don’t think I could have a reputation to live down or up to. I often enjoy reading the comments, and am impressed by the wealth of experience and knowledge of those who comment regularly.

    As an attorney, you appreciate the nuance of language I’m certain. Note that I said “seems most disingenuous” because indeed I don’t know it for a fact. My chief reason for it seeming so mostly has to do with him having said, “to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.” Maybe, though, I have given him too much credit for an imagination. Oh, excuse me, there I go again, needlessly disparaging someone considered an Apostle by thinking maybe he didn’t have much imagination.

    However, note the word “maybe.”

  53. Interesting post by Aaron B. I agree with those who think Elder Nelson’s was a somewhat unscripted expression of his personal speculation, and I agree with Kevin B. that Elder Wickman did a good job of softening that expression. There seems to be plenty of scriptural room for Elder Nelson’s view and for those of us (myself included) who believe that God the Director allowed the evolutionary process to play out. Neither view is essential for exaltation, but interesting and worth considering nonetheless.

  54. Mark D. says:

    MCQ,

    You quote:

    “Intelligent design is the claim that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”

    Such as the collected works of Shakespeare? Or the King James Bible? Or the Doctrine and Covenants? The reason why Intelligent Design (as properly defined) is interesting is that is because if it is not true to one degree or another, all morality is more or less accidental, and all religion is a fraud.

    I might further add the suggestion that the evidence for evolution (an ambiguous term if there ever was one) is as solidly established as the evidence for gravity is laughable on its face – as in off by dozens of orders of magnitude. The general case for evolution requires abiogenesis for which there is hardly even a plausible theory, let alone experimental duplication.

  55. Mark D:

    Such as the collected works of Shakespeare? Or the King James Bible? Or the Doctrine and Covenants?

    No. I’m quoting the definition in Wikipedia. It isn’t referring to literary works or scripture. It refers to natural phenomena.

    The reason why Intelligent Design (as properly defined) is interesting is that is because if it is not true to one degree or another, all morality is more or less accidental, and all religion is a fraud.

    What is the proper definition of ID according to you. If you are disputing the wiki definition, give us another one. BTW, your conclusions simply don’t follow from your premise.

  56. I might further add the suggestion that the evidence for evolution (an ambiguous term if there ever was one) is as solidly established as the evidence for gravity is laughable on its face – as in off by dozens of orders of magnitude. The general case for evolution requires abiogenesis for which there is hardly even a plausible theory, let alone experimental duplication.

    I hate to be picky, but you may want to back up statements like that with a cite to some authority or other. Not that we don’t trust you.

  57. C&R:

    Instead of wading in with your administrator club (which you seem to do too often), why not suggest a different tone, or voice your opinion as to how you would suggest such a criticism be more aptly worded.

    Dude, there’s no club. It’s a man-purse. Haven’t you been paying attention?

  58. re # 47, great comment, Rosalynde. I am glad that Elder Nelson has been such a skilled surgeon in his career before becoming an Apostle. Whether his career as a surgeon, however, qualifies him to teach Evolutionary Biology remains to be seen.

    Left Field’s point is that Elder Nelson is misusing terms of art. That is the sense of Left Field’s counterexample of the United States of Kentucky. I can sympathize with Left Field’s incredulity given Left Field’s insight into the use of terms of art because I have heard people misusing terms of art in my own field. It sounds silly when that happens.

    My guess is that if Elder Nelson could explain his position in more detail, we would learn that any objection to evolution that he has is limited to the idea that man evolved from lower forms. I could be wrong about that though.

  59. Peter LLC says:

    #30:

    comments like yours are what keep me coming back here.

    Given your comments in 54-56, I’m betting that this statement represents a serious omission in the confession of your motives.

    #47:

    And surgeons are the least scientific of the bunch, except maybe obstetricians. (Exceptions noted for physician scientists like my own husband, who are trained in science and do benchtop labwork.)

    Some peoples’ kids.

    Left Field’s point is that Elder Nelson is misusing terms of art….. I have heard people misusing terms of art in my own field.

    So, are talking about color wheels and vanishing points, or what? I thought you sued people for a living.

    Anyway, while a client’s misuse of a term of art might be simply humorous to those in the know, when GAs go about it, they may well influence the belief of well-meaning but perhaps less sophisticated (the BCC crowd sets the bar pretty high) members with their predilection for authoritative statements.

  60. Even when I was a commercial litigator I wouldn’t really say I sued people for a living. Now, I’m not a litigator at all.

  61. Peter LLC says:

    I know; I was just kidding.

  62. C&R, the “administrator club” is one I do love to wield, but if you think I’m being heavy-handed for letting people know that language calling an apostle “disingenuous” isn’t welcome, you are in for a big surprise. Welcome to Teh Intraweb!

    Even better was the idea that I am spending too much time with Matt Evans and Adam Greenwood. Yes, I am most clearly in their camp — you got me pegged!

  63. I might further add the suggestion that the evidence for evolution (an ambiguous term if there ever was one) is as solidly established as the evidence for gravity is laughable on its face – as in off by dozens of orders of magnitude. The general case for evolution requires abiogenesis for which there is hardly even a plausible theory, let alone experimental duplication.

    So how’s your quantum theory of gravity coming? The gaps in our understanding of gravity are far bigger than our gaps in understanding evolution.

  64. kristine N,

    “but I wonder how many statements I can discard before I find I’ve become an atheist who just goes to church every Sunday and hangs out at LDS blogs occasionally.”

    that’s a great way of putting the conundrum.

    C&R

    As a side note, if you think Matt and Adam are themselves in the same camp on censorship and administrative clubbing I would guess you know the two of them very well.

    But perhaps your reference was not to the actual Matt and Adam, but rather to their stereotyped boogeymen personae…

  65. a random John says:

    I’m not sure what Elder Nelson means. His statement is a tautology. I could add that ligers have always been ligers, but that doesn’t mean that the parents of any particular liger are ligers.

    I’m sure Elder Nelson is aware of the Bean Museum at BYU which, in addition to many rare and wonderful animals killed by its namesake, houses Shasta the liger right near the entrance.

    Yes I know that ligers are not an example of evolution. But they prove a point about the tautology in question.

  66. Clark (and others),

    1) The discussion of evolution and gravity illustrates something that most people, even the highly educated and specialized, often miss. This is going to be stated rather simplistically, but a gap in our understanding of gravity is a gap in our understanding of evolution, since gravity is a basic scientific “key” that makes evolution a possibility in the first place.

    2) In “God-less” evolution, there is no why. Again, very simplistically, things happen simply because they happen. Free will and agency – especially the ability to change our natures (repent, in its purest form) – is non-existent. Is it any wonder that Elder Nelson rejects this type of evolution?

    Ironically, however, it is the Mormon belief in our ability to alter our earthy natures to become like God that constitutes the best application of “directed” evolution to theology of which I am aware. (Reincarnation is more of a purely scientific, “hands-off”, undirected version.) Our theological embrace of evolutionary stages in our progression (intelligences to spirits to mortals to immortal souls to gods) is the one aspect of our religion that gets us labeled a heretical cult more than any other thing we teach. In other words, we are called non-Christian specifically because our theology embraces “eternal evolution”. Put that in a pipe; smoke it a bit; react.

  67. 63: edit “know the two of them” to “don’t know the two of them”. I think Steve edited out my “don’t” because he hates me.

  68. a random John says:

    Ray,

    The biological counterpart to what you describe as “eternal evolution” is not evolution by metamorphosis. Unless you intend to claim that we as God’s offspring are a new species and better adapted to fill some cosmic niche.

  69. John,

    I should have been much more specific. I was talking about how mainstream Christian theology views and interprets ours. That’s why I put the term “eternal evolution” in parentheses. I go back to the pregnant woman’s comment to her husband: “I know what I meant; why don’t you!”

    If you compare the theology of mainstream Christianity to the theology of Mormonism, there is a much more evolutionary construct to the Mormon version. (Not as much as reincarnation, because the Mormon version includes a creator and interceder, but the basic construct is there in form.) Yes, it still is God doing the planning, organizing and implementing, but the idea that something can start out as an intelligence – whatever that is (or even as a human without a pre-existence) and end up as a god is as foreign to most as that a dog and a monkey could share a common ancestor is to Elder Nelson. That was the irony I was trying to illuminate.

  70. Where’s Gary? I thought for sure that he would be in here defending the NDBF cause by now. Does someone have a Batman-style floodlight to shine in the sky that will call him in?

  71. Ray, you’re taking an extremely holistic view of scientific knowledge that isn’t warranted. (IMO) I know Quine moved in that direction but I’m not sure even he would agree with the claim you are making. (i.e. that a gap in our knowledge about gravity entails a gap in our knowledge about evolution)

    The problem is that scientific knowledge is ultimately inductive not deductive. Further it is always vague knowledge. That is we don’t start with small pieces and work upwards. If that was true then a missing piece would be very problematic. However science tends to work the other direction via induction. In that case missing pieces indicates nothing about the truth of what is known.

    Your claim that in evolution there is no agency isn’t really true. It’s true that most scientific discussions of evolution don’t discuss such matters. But then neither do scientific discussions of fluid dynamics. However there certainly is a lot of work in both philosophy and science to understand the way consciousness works and how it developed. To make the claim you do is not just unsupported by the evidence but many, many would strongly disagree with it. While certainly there are those who deny free will of the sort many want, there are many who don’t. Both views are compatible with evolution.

    Our development to become Gods isn’t evolution in the sense of the term in science. (Although it is a reasonable use of the word, much as my personal evolution since high school is a valid use) We have to be careful not to equivocate over meanings. Evolution is about how offspring differ from parents and those who survive (i.e. are adapted to the environment) pass on their genes. That just has no application in terms of the LDS understanding of our personal development.

  72. To add, I should say that I think a significant number of LDS who do have trouble with evolution do so for the reasons you outline. i.e. they think it makes it impossible for God to have directed our body to be made and that it makes free will impossible. Both of these are false conclusions though. Yet they are false ideas that lead many to reject evolution.

    For the former the fact that there are evolutionary process says nothing about God’s intervention than the laws of mechanics says anything about the impossibility for me to walk across the room. At best they define the laws within which one must intervene. God could be intervening with the historic process that includes evolution and mechanics. I’m not sure how on earth one could detect such interventions. Say he wanted to privilege mammals over amphibians, lizards and related groups. So he arranges for an asteroid to hit the earth. How could we tell it was directed? We couldn’t as a practical matter.

    As for free will, the notion of complexity and emergent phenomena takes care of most of that. It may not line up exactly with our linguistic intuitions, but it comes close enough to count (IMO). Of course this is still a matter debated and one has to be careful about the technical details. But I just don’t see the issue of choice being affected by evolution in the least.

  73. Thanks for the input, Clark. As I’ve said previously, I think our discussion illustrates the difficulty in having these types of discussions in this type of forum – when we are trying to address multiple perspectives and points of reference and end up making generalizations for one argument that don’t apply across the board.

    It might not sound like it from my previous comments, but I agree with most (if not all) of what you have written. I usually try to avoid gross simplification, but when I decide to employ it I try to state up front that I am doing so. That’s what I did with my latest comment – acknowledged that it was simplistic in both points and stated that it applied to a specific version of evolution. I probably should have added something like “and represents a particularly EXTREME version I want to address”. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you are multi-tasking to the point where your brain sees quotation marks and your fingers type the word “parentheses”. Sheesh.

    Finally, as to the relation between evolution and gravity, I stand by my assertion that we can’t understand evolution fully until we understand other aspects of our existence – like gravity – more fully. That’s a broad statement, but it’s all I really meant. Yes, I take a holistic view of the big picture, but I support fully the study of the particulars as an inductive process. Perhaps that’s how I should have phrased it initially.

  74. “In “God-less” evolution, there is no why.”

    There are two points which simply must be made in response to this claim.

    First, there is no “why” is science at all, since science is itself god-less. If you’re going to use this as a reason to reject evolution, then you should also use it to reject any and all scientific theories. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, no?

    Second, evolution by natural selection comes closer to addressing “why” questions than any other natural science does, by far. Adaptation and fitness are essentially “why” questions which cannot be used without incurring some form of tautology (which would not necessarily be bad either).

  75. Also, as someone who is just arrogant enough to think he understands what he reads, I have read just enough to truly be dangerous. That is true especially of a big picture mentality and a detail-oriented discussion.

  76. Jeff, I believe in evolution. I certainly don’t reject it. I hope my “why” comment doesn’t cloud that issue.

  77. I am one of those whose beliefs are guided by statements such as this one from Elder Nelson. I would love to go with the scientific flow on this, especially since this is not my field of expertise; I cannot authoritatively argue against it. My wife is a molecular biologist who considers evolution a ground-base fact upon which biological understanding is built; she is also a devoted, believing Latter-day Saint. Yet numerous statements from apostles like this one make evolution suspect for me. I think there is space consistent with my religious beliefs that would allow me to accept evolution if a choose to, but there are also warning signs from some with special responsiblities to lead the church and teach doctrine that evolution is incompatible with our relationship with God, and I don’t want to brush that off lightly.

    It does seem that evolution-minded saints usually adopt a half-hearted, “smoked but didn’t inhale” partial version of evolution, since it really is a system without any place for a directing user. This is more the case with evolution than most science, because with few exceptions we consider scientific concepts within systems with possible inputs external to the systems.

  78. a random John says:

    John Mansfield,

    Read the section of the interview in question carefully. Ignore Aaron B’s commentary, as he is leaping to conclusions. What is it that Elder Nelson says here that guides you?

  79. Mark D. says:

    MCQ,

    I have no problem with the definition you quoted. In the Neo-Darwinist word view, there is no logical distinction between natural and artificial phenomena. The works of Shakespeare are just as good a “natural” phenomena as any other.

    I was trying to make the point that any position that rejects Intelligent Design (as defined) entails the proposition that all works of literature, including the scriptures, can be explained without reference to intent, agency, will, creativity, purpose, or design.

    All five of those terms are essentially oxymorons in the Neo-Darwinist world view. And that is why orthodox Neo-Darwinism is fundamentally incompatible with religion, or any robust sense of moral reponsibility for that matter.

  80. Jeff, if my use of the term “God-less” evolution was a blanket condemnation and led you to believe I meant that God could not have created humanity through evolution, that is not the case. It certainly is not what I said in multiple other comments. I simply mean an interpretation of evolution that rejects the possibility of God’s hand in creation – or, at the extreme, that denies His existence. I need to be more careful in how I use and explain terms like that, since the only aspect of how evolution is viewed and taught by many that I reject completely is the interpretation that rejects our status as God’s created children and our ability to become like Him.

  81. random John,

    Nelson: “But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.”
    Forum: “Why is that?”
    Nelson: “Man has always been man.”

  82. John Mansfield,
    If we say, “homo sapiens” has always been “homo sapiens” are we similarly flummoxed?

  83. Mark D. (#78) I was trying to make the point that any position that rejects Intelligent Design (as defined) entails the proposition that all works of literature, including the scriptures, can be explained without reference to intent, agency, will, creativity, purpose, or design.

    That is, however, a false claim. One can easily reject ID and also claim that literature arises out of creativity and purpose. This is a false charge ID proponents keep making but are unable to support.

    Ray: (#72) That’s what I did with my latest comment – acknowledged that it was simplistic in both points and stated that it applied to a specific version of evolution. I probably should have added something like “and represents a particularly EXTREME version I want to address”.

    It’s probably wise to be clear that this is more the Dawkins view of evolution as well as the view of Creationists. Certainly there are extremists on both sides who push this interpretation. I cringe really bad when this position is called evolution. It’s really a view about the implications of evolution and quite separate from evolution proper.

  84. Very well stated, Clark. Mea culpa.

  85. Mark D. says:

    Clark,

    A theory does not need to be perfect for it to have enormous predictive value. The Newtonian theory of gravity and mechanics is more than adequate to precisely guide space probes across the solar system. At macroscopic scales quantum gravitational affects wouldn’t even be measurable.

    Current gravimeters give results to within a few microgals – that is, they are approaching nine significant digits in measurements of the earth’s gravitational field. Name anything fundamental to macro-evolution that can be experimentally measured to even one decimal place.

    In actual fact, macro-evolution has never been observed at all. It is all just a reasonable supposition. If you can’t replicate something in the laboratory, its claim on the term “scientific” is pretty tenuous, in my opinion.

  86. Mark D. says:

    Clark,

    Intelligent Design is “the theory that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”.

    Works of literature are certainly a feature of the universe. So if you believe that any metaphysically robust sense of creativity is involved in the creation of works of literature, you are agreeing with the Intelligent Design program to that extent, and in a way that is anathema to the general anti-ID crowd, who reject teleology as a matter of principle.

  87. I love this medium; I hate this medium; I love this medium; I hate this medium. (internet conversations, not the blog itself)

    #83 was in response to Clark’s message to me. Frankly, I barely glanced at the response to Mark.

    So, to echo #83, very well stated Mark.

    This has been a schizophrenia-inducing day all around. I’m leaving to take my blood pressure medication.

  88. In actual fact, macro-evolution has never been observed at all. It is all just a reasonable supposition.

    Macroevolution happens over long time scale making it impossible to “directly” observe. We do, however, have a very nice record of macroevolution in the geologic record, and we have evidence that every living cell on the earth is descended from a common ancestor because everything uses DNA.

    In “God-less” evolution, there is no why. Again, very simplistically, things happen simply because they happen. Free will and agency – especially the ability to change our natures (repent, in its purest form) – is non-existent.

    Actually, science is the study of why. I think free will is, if anything, more a feature of “God-less” evolution because there is no wizard behind the curtain, and there is no plan we’re supposed to follow. Things happen as a consequence of choices and events, which is a little different than the randomness you’re describing, I think.

  89. Ugly Mahana says:

    Kristine,
    I think you’ve hit on something profound. The problem is not so much with evolution, per se, as with the way it is used. Some who study evolution believe that they are studying the very acts of God, and seeking to understand His will in a very real sense. This idea is upheld scripturally by D&C 88:45-47. Those who oppose evolution often feel that its protagonists are telling them that evolution is done without God. I do not see how they make that conclusion, nor do I see, since it is so obvously wrong, why evolution must be thrown out with that idea. Granted, some evolutionists do claim that be understanding a piece of how God works they no longer live by faith, and have revealed that there is no God. I don’t think this follows from their primary claim of change over time.

  90. CE (#69),

    What’s that Batman-style floodlight up in the sky?

    I’m 350 miles from home.  On vacation with wife.  Drove to Panguitch UT last Thursday.  Visited 11 Bryce Canyon overlooks on Friday.  Hiked Angels Landing in Zion Canyon on Saturday.  Sacrament Meeting and Grand Staircase Escalante scenic drive yesterday.  Relocate from Panguitch to Kanab today.  Visit Grand Canyon north rim tomorrow.  Back to Zion Canyon for at least one more day.  You get the picture.  We aren’t planning to be home until Tuesday the 30th.  Stand by.

  91. John Mansfield says:

    Ronan (#81), if I thought Elder Nelson were playing a word game worthy of Macbeth’s witches, then I wouldn’t care what he’s saying. “Easily misdirected fools, by a straight-forward reading of my words, they think I believe that species do not evolve, but they don’t realize the nuance my use of the word ‘man’ entails.” I am far more comfortable with the idea that he is expressing his opinion and that opinion is mistaken or overreaching.

  92. Mark D. says:

    Kristine N.,

    There is a subtle distinction that should be drawn between the concepts of common descent and macro-evolution. There are many Intelligent Design proponents and others who accept or are inclined to accept the idea that all living organisms are biologically related to each other who do not accept that there were no telelogical factors involved in the process.

    The evidence for common descent is pretty good, but hardly conclusive. The fact that all organisms use DNA is not evidence exclusive of even ordinary creationism. And what about all these missing intermediate forms? And the fact that advent of new species is extremely rapid in some eras and glacial in others? Why did the Cambrian Explosion ever stop?

    And even if common descent is the actual truth, do we suppose that spirits had neither arms nor legs more than five hundred million years ago? If we do, how can one explain a morphological correlation betweeen spirit bodies and physical bodies without some sort of external intervention? And isn’t the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to say nothing of the prospect of a universal resurrection, doctrinal evidence that common descent is not the way things had to be?

  93. Mark, (#91) why do you have a feeling that by “conclusive” you mean a deductive argument rather than an inductive argument? Do you feel we have conclusive evidence for relativity?

    When you raise “missing intermediate forms” it either suggests you need deduction (i.e. all intermediate forms) which is just silly, or else you’re simply ignorant of how many intermediate forms have been found over the years – just as predicted.

    Regarding morphological relations, I’d once again point out that no one is arguing against intervention. Just that intervention isn’t necessary for evolution to function. So you’re attacking a straw man. (Again)

    Regarding your comment in (#85) the problem is that it too broad. Nearly everybody thinks some features of the universe are designed. That some ID proponents claim evolution denies this is a problem with ID and not evolution. To claim that anti-ID folks reject all teleology is simply wrong. It’s worse than a falsehood it’s an outright deception. Now in terms of a more limited discussion of biology they do. But you are intentionally switching between the two contexts.

    Regarding your comment in (#84) to confuse measurements of the constant G with the theory of Gravity is either simply incredible naive of intentionally arguing beside the point. G is but a constant in a rather complex theory of gravitation. G could be this constant whether the theories of Gravity were true or false.

  94. a random John says:

    Ronan (#81),

    My point exactly. I have to say that I think Elder Nelson’s wording is very odd. He certainly could have been more straightforward. The question isn’t whether man has always been man. That is a silly question as I tried to point out earlier and as you made very clear. The question is whether man’s ancestors are all men or even if a dog’s ancestors are all dogs.

  95. jothegrill says:

    This thread just gave me a good laugh about taking things out of context. I looked at the sidebar where it posts recent comments and it says “Elder Nelson doesn’t believe.”

  96. Mark D. says:

    Clark,

    No deductive argument can derive a truth not contained within its own premises, so no. And yes, some aspects of relativity can be repeatedly measured and duplicated to high precision under controlled conditions, which is adequate in my opinion to establish that the the theory successfully delineates some aspects of reality very well, however indefinite it may be with respect to others.

    No one here may be arguing against intervention, but the unrecognized subtext is that if intervention occured Intelligent Design is true. In fact the only practical way for Intelligent Design to be false is for abiogenesis to be true. And what kind of theist believes that the existence of all life, including presumably God’s life, is a random accident?

    So why the knee jerk avoidance of association with the Intelligent Design program in any shape or form, when its fundamentals are more or less a theological necessity?

  97. Mark D. says:

    By the way, Clark, I was referring to the measurement of surface gravitation (lower case g) which varies from place to place depending on local geography, etc., not the gravitational constant (upper case G).

  98. random John, immediately before Elder Nelson said “man has always been man,” he said that it is incomprehensible to him that man evolved from one species to another. This rejection of evolution was plain enough to his interviewer that the interviewer went on to ask why he had this view. What he said is confusing only if you are hoping against hope that Elder Nelson doesn’t reject evolution. You seem to be clinging to some wish that what Elder Nelson really meant is that homo sapiens is descended from other species that came before, but those species aren’t what he would call “man,” so what he calls “man” has never been anything other than what it is now.

  99. Mark D–Clark isn’t arguing against the theological necessity of ID. To paraphrase him, the fact that some pro-ID people claim those who believe in evolution necessarily believe that there is no God is wrong. You don’t have to reject the existence of God if you accept the validity of evolution.

    ID is great as a theology, but it’s crappy science. As I understand it one of the underlying assumptions of ID is that we can’t explain everything we see in the world around us. The problem is, every time we come across some phenomenon that “can’t possibly be explained by anything other than intervention by God,” some smart person comes up with an experiment or a set of observations that does expain what’s going on based on natural principles. There are certainly questions that science can’t address (the existence of God, and afterlife, or a pre-existence being some notable examples), and most scientists pretty much leave those questions to religion.

    So, about your earlier comment (84)–to use the example of DNA again, we can measure pretty accurately (certainly to better than a couple of decimal places) when species diverged from one another based on the number of substitutions in the genetic code.

  100. Mark (#95)No deductive argument can derive a truth not contained within its own premises, so no.

    Typically pure measurement claims are considered deductive as opposed to having an overarching theory from which one makes predictions that are then tested. Certainly nothing is purely inductive or deductive but ID proponents typically demand of evolution a more deductive style of proof.

    Mark (#95)No one here may be arguing against intervention, but the unrecognized subtext is that if intervention occured Intelligent Design is true.

    Not in the least. No more than my ability to walk across the room implies a “design” behind mechanics. Mechanics is separate from how it is used and if God intervened he used evolution and natural selection independent of what ID folks claim.

    Mark (#95)So why the knee jerk avoidance of association with the Intelligent Design program in any shape or form, when its fundamentals are more or less a theological necessity?

    I don’t think that for Mormons ID is theologically necessary in the least. Indeed I’ve yet to see any remotely compelling argument for ID proper within a Mormon context. Intervention is necessary, but not ID. (I know you wish to equate the two, but that appears because you appear to equate anything short of a Dawkins view of evolution as ID)

  101. a random John says:

    John Mansfield,

    You are correct that he starts with:

    But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.

    Again, this sentence strikes me as very odd. Nobody that I know of is claiming that homo sapiens have given rise to another species. The fact that he responds to the further inquiry with a tautology makes it all the more strange. I think it is likely that he meant exactly what you think he meant. I also think that he expressed this in a very backwards way and then provided what amounts to “a blue sky is blue” to back it up.

    Is the following what you take him to mean?

    Man did not descend from another species. That is incomprehensible to me.

    Man was created and placed on the earth as a fully formed species. There were no intermediate steps. Dogs likewise were placed on the earth as they now appear and are not the descendants of wolves or any other species.

    Do you think he’d be willing to extend that reasoning to bacteria? Are you?

  102. I’ve got a summary I would like to propose:

    Everyone has their own strongly held belief when it comes to evolution, but nobody understands exactly how a “living soul” came to be called man – if it strictly was through an evolutionary process without divine intervention – or if there was a moment when God stepped in and turned something into “man” – or if He placed man fully formed into a Garden – or what. Basically, that’s what Elders Nelson and Wickman ended up saying. (and when you look again at Elder Nelson’s comments leading up to that summary, he used qualifiers constantly to say, “This is my perspective as a person, not as an Apostle.”)

    One final note: I have heard and read complaints whenever an Apostle gives an opinion – and I have heard just as many complaints when an Apostle does NOT give an opinion. Why do we insist on one or the other – or complain about both? Why can’t we let them make their statements or keep their silence and not worry about it unless it rises to the level of official declaration? Why do we care? Why can’t we just let them be men in cases like this – especially when they take such pains to emphasize they are speaking only for themselves and not for the Church? I think that would be a fascinating thread.

  103. There are certainly a lot of strongly held beliefs about something we really know very little about. The history of science tells us that people have pretty much always thought they had the latest, greatest, longest-lasting, never-to-be-overturned discovery or theory or fact and that in almost every instance those discoveries, theories, and facts are replaced or superceded.

    The philosophy of science tells us that scientific knowledge is always provisional and that it is expected to be so. Even someone like Daniel Dennett in a book written to show the power of Darwin’s idea finally has to say that Darwinism is a powerful story about the way things could have happened.

    An individual might observe a particular phenomenon. But observation is embedded in and followed by interpretation. That interpretive result is rarely as stable as is implied in some of these comments.

  104. Greg Smith says:

    A few late points:

    1) medical doctors may or may not be scientists, and may or may not know much about the method or basic evolutionary biology. These things HAVE changed substantially since Elder Nelson trained. (The rise of “evidence-based medicine” has made medical education considerably more rigorous in how the scientific method is taught and used, for example, but that still has little if anything to do with evolution, aside from things like viral and bacterial resistance to drugs.)

    2) Evo bio is not taught in medical school even now; if you didn’t go through a zoology/botany type of education, your exposure to evo-bio (except in very narrow contexts like drugs selecting for tumors, bugs, etc. that are immune to them) can be virtually nil. (I graduated medicine in 2000; I expect this was true by greater orders of magnitude in Elder Nelson’s day.)

    3) While the DNA helix was discovered in 1956 by Watson and Crick, I think it naive to think that impacted medical education much at all. In my experience, anyone who went to high school prior to the mid 1980s knows very little about genetics unless they studied it at the university level, which most MDs prior to now won’t have. Even now, genetics is a sub-discipline of medicine, and apart from basic Mendelian theory, there isn’t much in a basic medical education or practice. If you can figure out things like ABO blood types and Rh factors, that’s pretty much it.

    4) I am always surprised that, whatever their views of evolution, LDS people do not understand that something _like_ evolution must appear to occur.

    Why? Well, we hold very strongly to the idea of free/moral agency, and God giving us a choice about believing or not believing in Him, Christ, or a host of other things.

    “Scientific creationism” and ID seem to me to be attempts to put people over an intellectual barrel–they want people to accept that God MUST exist because it is impossible or implausible for the natural world to exist without Him.

    But, LDS theology rejects this sort of idea, doesn’t it? God gives us reasons to believe and reasons to disbelieve, but neither are so overwhelmingly compelling that one MUST believe. (cf the Book of Mormon–evidence of ancient origins, evidence that can be interpreted as it being a 19th century product, etc.)

    Thus, it seems to me that LDS theology would virtually require that there is no way to “peer behind the scenery,” so to speak, and conclude that God must have been there.

    So, the evidence available to us must appear as if there is the potential for a non-divine cause for creation. Atheists must have the ability to look at the world and find a way to explain it. There may be things that they explain less well, from a believer’s standpoint, but things

    I’m always surprised that LDS people of whatever stripe don’t take the attitude of, “Well, of course it looks like this. Whether it happened entirely that way, or we just can’t detect the unequivocal hand of God, we of course will never be able to say.”

    This gets rid of the whole “evo-bio is from Satan,” or “evo-bio people are deluded/deluding” nonsense, which I think is the sort of thing that’s going to drive people from the gospel, if they think they have to deny evidence that seems very compelling.

    Those who work in the field honestly do their best to read the evidence, and that’s what it shows. There is no plot.

    Whether that is absolute reality, or only part of the story–well, science ain’t made to answer such questions.

    Opposition to evolution often strikes me as an effort to intellectually “prove God”–something that LDS people don’t believe can or should be done, and one which makes the matter worse when it fails.

    Greg

  105. JoeR

    I’d like to know of one single theory which has ever been refuted as thoroughly as has young earth special (separate) creationism and then been revived.

    I’m not accusing you of defending young earth creationism. (Gary, however, can present a compelling case that young earth creationism IS the church’s quasi-official position.) I’m just saying that the “scientists always think they know when they really don’t” line isn’t terribly compelling.

    Scientists rarely think that they have the complete truth. But they do have good reason to think that some theories are completely wrong. Furthermore, they have strong reasons to know what the basic outline or structure of any completely true theory will take.

  106. As some of you know I am an agnostic on Evolution Vs Creationism. To be honest I do not care that much. I reject both hardline creationism and hardline evolution.

    I was raised by a PHD research scientist father who pretty much feels the same way I do.

    One thing I have been struck with is the following…

    1. Fervor of ardent creationists in denouncing scientists as tools of satan. Common amongst my Evangelical friends. Usually its a pretty broad brush.
    2. The almost religious fervor that many scientists have for the Theory itself. It seems religious in nature to me. I had some professors in college at the biology department at a Big Ten University that seriously sounded like they were missionaries out teaching the Evolution gospel. Like a substitute belief system???

    Just some thoughts….

  107. BBell, I like your take on the whole thing.

  108. Clark: Intervention is necessary, but not ID.

    What title do you think is proper for a notion of evolution with some divine intervention along the way. Mark and others think that is properly described as a version of ID. You apparently don’t. So what should we call it then? (Be careful because if you simply call it “evolution” you will set the hair of many atheist evolutionists afire…)

  109. Like bbell, I don’t care very much either way. But I’m interested in the rhetoric surrounding the discussion and the implications of the ideology suggested by the rhetoric.

    Couple thoughts, though:

    It seems rare to find people in (1)—ardent creationists denouncing scientists as tools of Satan. (I know it happens but it’s rare except on the fringe.) But people in (2) are not so rare in the discussion RE evolution (or in the discussion RE the causes of climate change). The disjunction between that religious fervor and articulated principles of scientific methodology is curious.

    Greg, about LDS theology and a person getting into a position in which he or she MUST believe, what’s your take on 3 Nephi 7:18?

  110. Joe,

    My number 1 is more common then you might think. I live in the bible belt and work with several successful high net worth individuals who believe that scientists are indeed the tools of Satan regarding evolution. Remember that the polls consistently show that more Americans favor Creationism over Evolution. (ignoring the obvious grey area were I find myself)

    It depends on what circles you move in on whether you will encounter more #1 or more #2. In the end both groups are outliers with to much time to think about this issue on their hands

  111. An editorial take on JoeR’s #102:

    There are certainly a lot of strongly held beliefs about something we really know very little about. The history of [science/religion] tells us that people have pretty much always thought they had the latest, greatest, longest-lasting, never-to-be-overturned [discovery or theory or fact/doctrine or belief] and that in almost every instance those [discoveries, theories, and facts/doctrines or beliefs] are replaced or superceded.

    The [philosophy of science/history of religious thought] tells us that [scientific/religious] knowledge is always provisional and that it [is/should be] expected to be so.

    An individual might observe a particular phenomenon. But observation is embedded in and followed by interpretation. That interpretive result is rarely as stable as is implied in some of these comments.

  112. To echo bbell, I lived in the very liberal world of Boston academia for 6 years and the very conservative world of rural Alabama for 3 years. I know MANY people who fit her classifications perfectly. I have evangelical friends who view science as satanic counter-religion, and I have atheist friends who are convinced so strongly that evolution proves God does not exist that they sound like a Baptist minister preaching hellfire and damnation when they discuss it. It’s a pretty even split, with perhaps more of the science-haters .

  113. Adam Greenwood says:

    Steve, I wonder if you’ve been spending too much time with the inquisitors over at T&S? (Adam G., Matt E.)

    Do not mock my apprentice, cur. This very night is your life forfeit.

  114. Adam Greenwood says:

    Like Kristine N., I accept evolution and am a little uncomfortable with the ease with which I do so.

    I think creationism needs to remain a respectable option for Mormons, not just something that’s tolerated among the masses who are too stupid to understand it otherwise. Frankly you have to do lots of dancing around to make evolution fit with scripture. I do that dancing around myself but I think the church would be poorer if it didn’t have people who took religious knowledge very seriously indeed and who didn’t give a fig for secular learning.

  115. Dammit, I am spending too much time around Adam. Even I thought that was funny (referring to 113, not 112). The thought of Adam dancing with evolutionists is inherently humorous. A paso doble, perhaps?

    As for 112, I heart any commenter who refers to another as “cur.”

  116. RE: #111

    Ray, you refer to bbell as a “her.” I believe (s)he is actually a “he,” as suggested by this post, among others.

    That makes me realize that my own handle is a little ambiguous too. I’m a he.

  117. greenfrog, one wrinkle on your editorializing (#110):

    Religionists (typically) propose that doctrine is stable. The basic tenet doesn’t change, although the understanding of it may change or the application of it may change.

    Scientists (in theory) propose that scientific knowledge is always provisional. It’s falsifiable and could change at any time as we gain more knowledge.

    The irony: With some few exceptions, religionists seem flexible enough to allow for some form of evolution. Scientists, with some exceptions, can get dogmatic pretty quickly.

  118. Wow, CE. I can’t believe I typed “her”. Sorry, bbell; I don’t know how that one came out that way. (Maybe I was thinking of Steve’s purse.)

  119. Adam–a point of clarification: it’s not so much my acceptance of evolution that makes me uneasy (and honestly, Sunday I was having a bit of a fit) but the implications of accepting evolution. For instance, I see the entirety of Genesis, including Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden, as allegorical. Completely allegorical. Most of the time this is okay with me and I simply accept that this is not the common interpretation at church and it has no real bearing on my testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. Other times I wonder if this is a severe enough divergence that calling myself Mormon is inaccurate at best.

  120. Kristine, I am going to address your concern from the perspective of the temple, with the caveat to everyone that I do not want to get dragged into discussing specific details.

    The idea that the creation of Adam and Eve is “figurative” is not as obvious in the Church as it was a few years ago, but it certainly is not a “severe divergence” from Church teachings. I think the fact that it is not taught as openly any more is just a reflection of the Church not wanting to get in the middle of discussions like this – those areas where official canon is silent.

  121. The Church believes in evolution. In answer to the then-current interest about evolution, Pres. Jos. F. Smith and his counselors published this statement in 11/1909 about the Church’s position.

    I love belonging to a Church whose leaders would use the E word as they did — and to what they did — in the last sentence.

    ;->

  122. kristine:
    “For instance, I see the entirety of Genesis, including Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden, as allegorical. …I wonder if this is a severe enough divergence that calling myself Mormon is inaccurate at best.”

    Sister! If I were Steve I’d say “Word on! I share and heart your allegorical reading!”
    If that is divergent from the mainstream of Mormonism, we certainly float in the same river (we, and in my ward, probably 5% of the participating adult members).

  123. Steve Evans says:

    Hal, alas you are not me. For lo, I would not have said that. Too many pop anachronisms, even for my fanboy tastes. But you are on the path to true wisdom.

  124. I am so glad to hear I’m not weird! I heart you all!!!

  125. Geoff: (#107) What title do you think is proper for a notion of evolution with some divine intervention along the way. Mark and others think that is properly described as a version of ID. You apparently don’t.

    Why does it need a title?

    JoeR: (#116) Scientists, with some exceptions, can get dogmatic pretty quickly.

    It’s not being dogmatic to simply discuss the evidence and facts. I don’t understand this notion. If it’s sunny outside and I say it is sunny and someone tells me it is dark and I say they are wrong I’m not being dogmatic.

    It’s not like science is just a bunch of folks who got together to reach a consensus of opinions. There’s more than opinion to science.

    Kristine: (#118) For instance, I see the entirety of Genesis, including Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden, as allegorical. Completely allegorical.

    Isn’t it pretty well impossible to take Adam and Eve allegorical given their appearances and various historic roles? One might argue that Genesis is allegorical, but then how to deal with other texts about the events? I think the “pure allegory” perspective is hard to accept.

  126. Clark — it has a title. People call it Intelligent Design. (Or at least a version of ID). You are the one who doesn’t want to call it that though so I just wondered what alternative you had in mind.

  127. Kristine N. on Sunday:

    I wonder how many statements I can discard before I find I’ve become an atheist who just goes to church every Sunday and hangs out at LDS blogs occasionally.

    Kristine N. on Tuesday:

    Other times I wonder if this is a severe enough divergence that calling myself Mormon is inaccurate at best.

    Hmmm. You don’t appear to be making much progress, Kristine. If you are looking for permission to leave the Church you may have to keep looking, but as for me, I think the church is a big enough tent to accommodate your views. The real question to me is not how you feel about evolution or the Genesis story (there are plenty of faithful members that feel the same as you on both) but whether you feel the spirit at church, or when you read the scriptures, or when you pray. Those feelings mean much more, I believe, than where you come down on evolution, the Garden of Eden and whether or not Adam had a belly-button.

  128. I think the “pure allegory” perspective is hard to accept.

    I think this is correct. The “history mixed with allegory” version seems to be easier to square with other source than a “pure allegory” version. (Maybe call it the “embellished, allegorized, and stylized history” model?)

  129. Word on?

  130. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ, I know!!

  131. Please, get out the man-purse!

  132. Steve Evans says:

    word up G.

  133. “With some few exceptions, religionists seem flexible enough to allow for some form of evolution. Scientists, with some exceptions, can get dogmatic pretty quickly.”

    You’ve got to be kidding me. The whole reason why religionists allow for so many colorful version of evolution is precisely because they are completely unwilling to give up some ideas. If this is not dogmatism, I’m not sure what is. Scientists are simply trying to protect a very well-established theory from just such colorful perversions which are inspired by dogmatism.

  134. Geoff, ID makes a claim about whether evolution would work without God intervening. Note that’s not what I’m describing. Of course to be fair one huge problem with ID is that the term is so loose.

  135. NateDredge says:

    I believe that evolution is the most logical explanation, given current science, for the biological origin of man. However this is a difficult point of view to take, given the (at minim) implied teachings and policy of the church on this issue. I think the big concern for church leaders on this issue, is how it complicates our religious narrative, how its logical extension raises many questions that might be difficult to answer. If belief in evolution is more wide spread in the church then might be apparent at first glance (so to speak), and especially if this belief extends to those in high leadership, then additional questions are raised. For example, why the applied hush on the matter, out of more then a hundred General Authorities, why is not one of them (to my knowledge) advocating a non old-school creationist view on this matter. I mean I’ve read a General Authority praising certain R-rated movie’s, and taking a different stance then the implied (but not mandatory norm) on that issue. So on evolution, something in which most of the worlds educated seems to believe, why can’t there be an advocate or two to esidge the guilt or sense of betrayal, some of us might feel for simply following the science. Perhaps its time for another thread on the history of Mormon anti-scienceism.

  136. Greg Smith says:

    Quoth JoeR:

    Greg, about LDS theology and a person getting into a position in which he or she MUST believe, what’s your take on 3 Nephi 7:18?

    A good point. I quote it and the following two verses:

    18 And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily.
    19 And in the name of Jesus did he cast out devils and unclean spirits; and even his brother did he raise from the dead, after he had been stoned and suffered death by the people.
    20 And the people saw it, and did witness of it, and were angry with him because of his power; and he did also do many more miracles, in the sight of the people, in the name of Jesus.

    I suspect that Mormon is here editorializing a bit; he cannot see how they would not believe his words. Clearly, his POWER cannot be disputed–but, one can always dispute the source of power, and they did.

    I see it as analogous to Jesus’ ministry (and, I suspect, why such an impressive display was put on in the new world–a powerful echo of Jesus’ miracles, if you will).

    As with Jesus, it is always possible to disbelieve the SOURCE of the power, or the explanation given. “He has a devil,”; “Give God the glory, but of this man we know not whence he is….”

    So, I think Mormon slants the account simply by his own perspective, personally. He thinks no reasonable person would not believe or repent with that kind of witness–but, clearly people DID not believe and repent, but were simply angered by the power he displayed.

    Remember, a previous Nephi had already shown other miracles, and the reaction to them was mixed:
    * he’s a prophet, I’m gonna be baptized (correct)
    * he’s a god (despite denying it, one presumes) [Helaman 9, 10]

    And, there were the miracles with Christ’s birth:
    * some repented
    * some argued that it was a lucky guess
    * some argued that the Nephite priestly group was working power by “the evil one” to deceive them.

    (Or, alternately, you could say that these people are apostates who have known the truth and rebelled again it, which seems pretty likely given the previous chapters–thus they cannot deny because of knowledge they have had from other sources, but choose to do so out of rebelliousness.)

    Greg

  137. Steve Evans says:

    Greg Smith — did you serve a mission in Paris France? You seem like the guy.

  138. Again, I ask in total seriousness and growing consternation:

    Why do we want the Church – or at least its leaders – to make pronouncements on non-revelatory topics like evolution, then complain when they make statements on non-revelatory topics like evolution? The Church published an official statement regarding this topic nearly 100 years ago that did not toe the traditional or “young earth” creationist lines – even going so far as to state that Adam being created from an embryo is not out of the question. That was an amazing statement back then – truly revolutionary in the Christian world, and it concluded, essentially, the same way Elders Nelson and Wickman did – by saying, “We don’t know the scientific specifics, but we know that man is uniquely created in the image of God.”

    Given that answer then AND now, why do we insist on them making statements of opinion about topics that aren’t their focus? They’re damned if they do (Elder Nelson) and damned if they don’t (everyone begging for someone else to state their support of evolution). Why can’t we take full responsibility for our own conclusions with topics like these and leave them out of it? Remember, Elder Nelson’s final answer wasn’t, “I don’t believe in evolution,” but rather, “I can’t comprehend man being descended from other species, BUT I DON’T KNOW.”

    Maybe they’ve learned from our past to quit speculating on things that have not been revealed. That can’t be a bad thing.

  139. For the record Ray, I rather think it a good thing that the Church leaves issues ambiguous. Further I certainly don’t mind when Elder Nelson, Pres. Packer or others talk on these issues.

  140. JoeR (#113):

    I suppose it depends on your temporal frame of reference. Lots of names and attributes of God seem to change over the period of recorded time.

    When I read the Old Testament, even keeping in mind the LDS conceptual transformation of Old Testament to New Testament, I read about a God that seems decidedly foreign and absent from our belief and practice structure today. When was the last time we received a revelation of the “I AM THAT I AM” sort?

    We attribute the lineage of our practices to antiquity, but the attribution seems to me to be more one of aspiration and desire than fact.

  141. Aaron Brown says:

    1. Accepting both the reality of evolution and the reality of God is easy.

    2. Accepting both the reality of evolution and the veracity of certain popular readings of scripture (particularly a literal, early OT) is very difficult (I would say impossible).

    3. Accepting the reality of evolution while retaining belief in LDS prophets as necessarily having special insight into how “literally” to read the scriptures is very difficult.

    I think we should be open and honest about #3.

    Aaron B

  142. Aaron is v. smart.(I know he doesn’t think this about himself, he needs the affirmation) Even if we just admit it’s complicated and hard seems like a better place to be than saying we believe that prophets have special insight about things and then ignoring it because it seems impossible to agree.

  143. Julie M. Smith says:

    “Accepting the reality of evolution while retaining belief in LDS prophets as necessarily having special insight into how “literally” to read the scriptures is very difficult.”

    I’m not sure that a belief in prophets as having special insight into how literally to read the scriptures is entirely appropriate in the first place. They don’t write comprehensive academic commentaries on the scriptures–they use isolated passages in oral discourse in order to make an immediate application to the lives of their hearers. Not that there is anything wrong with this–there is everything right with this until/unless we expect it to do something it wasn’t designed to do.

  144. Walt Eddy says:

    137: “But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible,” is what Apostle Nelson said. Incomprehensible means impossible to know or fathom doesn’t it. So is it that it won’t be known or fathomed until it is revealed? Is that the idea? So do scientists who listen to Apostles figure it is futile to mess with this?

  145. Adam Greenwood says:

    whether or not Adam had a belly button

    What, you want pictures?

  146. Julie: (#142) I’m not sure that a belief in prophets as having special insight into how literally to read the scriptures is entirely appropriate in the first place.

    I actually think they do have a special insight. I just don’t think this entails that all claims are with respect to that insight. However I strongly feel that if nothing else their spiritual experience which is far, far greater than mine will lead them to see insights I don’t. It’s simply a better context in that respect from which to interpret.

  147. a random John says:

    Walt Eddy,

    Good point. You’ve furthered my belief that people (including me I suppose) are putting words in Elder Nelson’s mouth when they flatly state that he doesn’t believe in evolution. A better summary might be: Elder Nelson claims that he doesn’t comprehend evolution (or maybe how it could have happened.)

  148. Greg Smith says:

    Steve Evans helped derail the thread further, by asking:

    Greg Smith — did you serve a mission in Paris France? You seem like the guy.

    “Hmmm. There aren’t enough people to go on splits with the fresh-off-the-plane Elders and Sisters at St. Germain-en-Laye…..Evans, Smith: you guys are from Canada, right? Bonne chance, freres.”

    Greg, still recovering from the scars.
    ====

    P.S. Any claims that the two young barely-competent-in French Elders almost ended up in a cafe with two French women on that dark, frigid Paris night are vicious slanders and lies, likely spread by the TJs.

    P.P.S. I only responded to this personal note because it looks like Steve E. has some measure of officialdom here. I assume he can delete this as needed.

  149. I’m grateful for Elder Nelson’s comments. I rather suspect he has more grasp of science than some of his expert debunkers. I believe the Twelve’s attitude toward evolution is as they have said: they are not in complete agreement on those issues, they haven’t received revelation that settles the matter, and they humbly await further knowledge whether that comes as revelation through prayer or revelation through scientific inquiry.

    I suspect the truth is stranger and more wonderful than anyone realizes, especially those whose imagination is shaped mostly by the faith of the Darwinists, though I do take evolution as the most satisfying scientific explanation yet available. It does seem quite incomplete though. Some things are missing.

  150. I was just browsing on another subject and came across this by Hugh Nibley on the subject:

    “Right down to the present day we have been the spectators of a foolish contest between equally vain and bigoted rivals, in which it is a moot question which side heaps the most contempt on God’s creatures. . . .

    “. . . This futile quarrel should be no concern of ours.”

  151. Which, ironically, is basically what Elder Wickman said: “I don’t know of anybody in the ranks of the First Presidency and the Twelve [Apostles] who has ever spent much time worrying about this matter of evolution.”

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