The following is a dialogue my friend Astrid sent me between herself and a Missionary (both names changed) manning the church’s live chat at Mormon.org:
Astrid: Do you believe in Evolution?
Charles: hi, how are you
Astrid: do you believe in Evolution?
Astrid: is anyone there?
Charles: I do believe in certain aspects of evolution, that species adapt to their surroundings
Astrid: What about the evolution of human form?
Charles: but I do not believe in the theory that we all evolved from nothing . . . that something simple became something more complex
Astrid: So your church does not believe in Darwinism?
Charles: no, we believe in the Creation as it is stated in the bible
Astrid: I don’t think the two are incompatible, I believe in both God and Evolution. So you believe in the six-day creation, 6000 years ago? Is a Mormon scientist even possible if you do?
Charles: yeah, we believe in the creation, how God did everything, and the exact amount of time it took for everything to be created and completed we don’t know. We don’t believe that it was literally 6 days, as God views time differently than we do
Astrid: Couldn’t he/she have used evolution? What do you believe fossils were?
Charles: We believe that God created man the way it says in the bible, however, it was the last part of his creations, animals were created much earlier. I am not sure everything about the fossils and where they came from though
Astrid: What does your church believe about science? You do not seem open to its findings but I see at your Brigham University you have scientists and evolutionary biologists. Are they not Mormon?
Charles: oh we are very open to science, science is very important, and at least the way I see it is as a way of understand how God created such a complex universe and world for us to live in
Astrid: That is what I believe, except evolution seems to be the way he/she did it. There are lots of science on that. I believe God is even evolving.
Charles: well we do believe that species evolve, or in other words they adapt to the world they live in, however we don’t believe in it in its most extreme sense, for example, that we evolved from primates
Charles: but species are always changing in order to survive
Astrid: Don’t those changes through long periods of time add up to significant changes?
Charles: It is possible, but it goes against logic to believe that something simple can evolve into something so complex, for example languages have evolved, but they went from very complicated to much more simple
Charles: there have been significant changes, but I just don’t believe in the concept that we came from basically nothing and we are now something so complex
Charles: I believe that that was the doing of God and he created us how we are
Astrid: But why is that incompatible with evolution? It’s just a method of getting from simple to complex. If not evolution how did he do it?
Charles: He created us as human beings, I’m not saying we are the same now as when we were created, just that I don’t believe we cam from a different species to be what we are today. If we did evolve from primates, than why are there still primates all over the
Charles: would they not have evolved as well?
Astrid: They came from common ancestors. Evolution explains that nicely. Diversity of form is what evolution creates. The numerous primates are in fact considered evidence for evolution. I believe that the spirit and body are separate and that the way the body formed is not important to the spirits eternal nature. The body could be form in any way, and in fact the evidence for evolution is as strong as any science we have. I can’t see why the two are incompatible?
Charles: Like I said, we do believe in evolution to a certain degree. However, everything in science is just a theory, if that is how God did it, then one day we will know and we will be able to understand exactly how everything works
Charles: it may not be while we are still living
Astrid: Thanks Charles I must go to work. It was a very interesting chat. I like the Mormons I know. Thanks for sharing your views.
Charles: Your welcome, have a great night!
Charles: and thanks for sharing you views in a civil manner :)
I have a couple of thoughts about this. First, I think Charles did a decent job. As, likely, a green missionary at the MTC, he handles something he does not know much about. He does as well as might be expected. He doesn’t give into arguing, but tries to state his belief clearly and as best he can. He is a little defensive in places, but ends very nicely. Well done Charles. My friend Astrid is an unlikely convert (but you never know), she is typical of many Europeans over here—spiritual, but very antagonistic against organized religion.
Second, I was surprised that Charles did not just say, “The church has no official stance on evolution.” I spend a lot of time trying to argue that Mormons should embrace evolution fully and without apology (here, here, and here, for example) and that we don’t need to take things like Noah’s flood literally (here). And the Church does not have a stance on Evolution. At BYU, religion professors are supposed to refer students with questions about evolution to the BYU evolution packet. We teach evolution straight up and without apology in my department. We support neither Intelligent Design nor Creationism as defined by the Christian Fundamentalists. We do teach that Mormonism and Evolution are fully compatible with the idea of Creation. We don’t offer specifics. I (now switching to my personal take since I’ve not attended my colleagues classes) start my classes with prayer, encourage compatibility of science with scripture, and try and teach with the Spirit at all times. I teach now, or have taught recently, History and Philosophy of Science, Ecology, Environmental Science, and Gradate courses in Ecological Theory, and will be starting Bioethics and Religion and the Environment in the Winter Semester when I get off my sabbatical from Vienna. I feel that at BYU students are getting as good of a science education as they would get in any biology department in the country. And at BYU spirituality is maintained and promoted. For example, as part of the student class evaluations the students are asked:
If their “testimony was strengthened” where I score a 7.5 out of 8
If they were “spiritually inspired” where again I score a 7.5 out of 8.
These, I believe, are religion professor-level ratings for these questions.
This is a typical comment from my students.
“It was not a religion class per se, yet I feel that my understanding of faith has grown through this course more than any other formal experience I have had at BYU. I can honestly say that this class changed my life and the way that I view my relationship with science, pursuit of knowledge, my church, and Heavenly Father.”
“Not only did we dive into deep issues pertaining to science and the history and way of thinking, we went into deep spiritual discussion. This class strengthened my testimony greatly as well increased my love science indefinitely.”
No one has ever written a comment that suggested that they came away from myclasses not spiritually and intellectually fed. (However, to be fair in an Ecology class once, a student did comment he or she was going to ‘Turn me into the Religion Department.” Because I was advocating evolution. I’m not sure what that would mean, but it did sound scary. No one, anywhere, should have to face being turned into the Religion Department.)
I am still surprised by the animosity between those who really believe that the two are incompatible. A deep spirituality is possible with a fully embraced evolutionary biology. When are the promoters of the divide between religion and science going to realize that they do far more harm than those who try and reconcile and affirm both?
In our age of growing secularization I think the church needs to stand apart from the growing fundamentalism and anti-science crowd. An unapologetic, wholey embraced reconciliation and promotion of science and faith is not only desirable, it is being accomplished at BYU.
I hope over at the MTC the missionary phone trainers will explain to the Sisters and Elders:
“If they ask about Evolution, tell them the church does not have a stance.”
Or better yet:
“Although the LDS church does not have a stance on Evolution, most members embrace it fully and find it completely compatible with our most cherished doctrines.”