Evolutionist / Creationist Smackdown!

Now that the election is over it’s time to turn to other things like EVOOOOOOLUTION MAINIA. So it’s time to go head to head in a blog spectacular heavyweight smack-down! In this corner, the post on evolution at mormonsandscience—Hardcore rabid anti-evolutionists. In the other corner, Dave Bailey’s post at the Mormon Organon, where the enlightened pro-evolution theists boldly proclaim the truth. In this first round I take on:

    Regarding the second point, it is NOT possible that God allowed random mutations in the genome to evolve to the point of creating mankind. There are way too many changes and possible combinations for Him to leave this to chance. His house is a house of order, not randomness.

(Only when the subject is evolution do you see the Creationists use the word ‘God’ and ‘NOT possible” together. The rest of the time He gets to be omnipotent.)

It’s time for a WWF SmackDown match over ‘Random’.

The face off wherein we shout and grunt about our prowress

Do I know Random? Do I know Random? Brother I was raised on Random. I have Random for lunch. I’ve walked in the dark alleys of Random. I’ve seen its underbelly! I’ve taken advanced probability, teeth-aching stochastic process theory, even the dreaded Measure Theory—such a deep foray into probability that I’ve been scarred and mutilated by randomness. (Although to be fair, I would not have made it through Measure Theory without my Uyghur study partner from China, otherwise I’d be selling T-Shirts out of a shopping cart in Baltimore right now). So don’t be talking about randomness without having passed three-headed Cerberus on your way to its mysteries. Yeah! I got Randomness. And it has squat to do with what God can do or not do. Heck the odds makers in Vagas use it to their advantage without cheating (well . . . maybe) so why can’t God?

Wherein I take a metal frame chair and break it over the head of my opponent.

So you think randomness doesn’t have any rules? Man, it ain’t nothing but rules. It’s all about following distributions. Even if you have the flatout boring Uniform Distribution you know what the mean and variance are. And there are lots of distributions. Flip a fair coin a million times and I’ll give you the proportion of heads. Tell me how accurate you want that estimate and I’ll tell you how many times you’ve got to flip it. And yeah, pick any accuracy you want. Any! Randomness sure doesn’t mean all outcomes are uncertain. Even real randomness, mind you, not Intelligent Design-messing-with-the-odds randomness. God doesn’t have to wink and mess with my coin flying through the air to get at my certain prediction on the proportion of heads.

Wherein I lift my opponent over my head and begin to spin him.

So if God creates a certain kind of universe. Say with lots of space and lots of time. And some earthlike planets that show up at sometime in galactic history, then he could get any outcome he wanted. Just by waiting. Even the hardcore Mormon Creation/IDers I know grant the Universe is billions of years old. Why? Maybe because God needed all this space and time? Maybe there was a purpose to such a big and long-lasting universe? Maybe God wasn’t, like, just being arbitrary? Maybe some things needed to unfold? Ya, think? If God is just straight-line cooking the universe in a pot, why so much, well, waste? Maybe he wanted to try his spirit children’s patience? Or maybe, just maybe, he’s waiting for the coin flipping of the universe to reach a certain proportion of heads? or body-type maybe? Say, one like His. Why not? Oh yeah, ‘Its NOT possible for God to use randomness.’
Says you.

Wherein I use a Pile Driver to force my opponent to the mat.

So here’s the deal look at this:
Nov_2008_ichthyosaurus_h_harder

What is it? Mammal? Fish? No reptile. It’s a dinosaur. Why does it look like a dolphin? Why do dolphins look like fish? I’ll tell you why. Because they are solving similar engineering problems. You got four limbs? You need to swim. Some shapes are better than others, i.e., those with a little more stream to their line, a tad more fin to their stability, bit more thrust to their tail, survive better than their neighbors without these littles, tads, and bits. We call that Darwinism. If you have stuff that can be passed to your kids and there is some variation in that stuff, voila, evolution through natural selection. If something needs to swim through an ocean on some distant planet it might just look like our friend the dolphin, it’s a slick repeatable design. It’s evolved in fish, reptiles, and mammals three different times!

More examples? How about these two Sabertooth tigers (if you believe in that sort of thing).

Nov_2008_smilodon_knight

Nov_2008_tylacosmilus_db

But wait one of these is a marsupial. One is a cat. These both evolved from a shrew like thing that ate insects. We call this convergent evolution. Why? Because similar environmental needs require similar solutions. Need to dispatch large mega pray? How about some nice dagger-like teeth? Let me say that again. Similar environmental needs produce similar body type. And look, from the same humble rat-like beginnings, two sabertooth tigers. Evolution explains it again.

Wherein I pin my opponent to the ground for seven seconds.

So could a human body be got from random processes? Sure why not. Maybe, under the right environmental conditions the human body is as inevitable as getting a dolphin/fish body if you want to swim. Or as inevitable as getting a saber tooth cat thing if you want to hunt big, thick-hided prey. So given randomness (Again, true in your face, unadulterated randomness not Intelligent Design-God-has-to-mess-around-with-it-randomness), an earthlike environment, a little time and space maybe, just maybe, getting a human body in this universe isn’t just guess work, its in the works. The very structure of the universe—pure physical explanation for this shape. Who knows where or when, Baby, but, maybe, just maybe, it’s probability one! Just like planets with rings (big rings like around Saturn and delicate ones like the rings around Uranus), humans maybe be built into the fabric of the universe.

Does this have implications? You betcha. The most important of which is that Star Trek was right!

Nov_2008_worftng
The universe may be filled with aliens who look just like us but just have different head ridges! Gene Rodenbury is vindicated once again!!

End round one

So wild cheers. I march around the arena showing my mental muscles and shouting insults to the boos and whip my hand in the air for the cheers. The smack down begins. For Death-match-two, look at this lineup of chimp-through humanoid fossils-through modern human skulls. Show me where the ‘missing link’ goes.

Note1: I’m not advocating that this is necessarily how God used creation. My purpose is to open a space where science and faith are fully compatable. This keeps being read as giving science priority over faith, and the oposite view of Creationism, reversing that order with Faith on top. This kind of ordering already assumes an incompatability. My assumption of full compatability means that both are ways of discovering truth. Fully. Both are fallible and need adjustments from time to time. Both require humility and courage to face the realities that each presents. The assumption that ‘God cannot do X’ or ‘My reading of the scripture is closed and will not allow adjustments in the face other sources’ is just bad theology. I hope I’ve opened that space for some. If you believe in evolution and feel marginalized by those around you because people tell you it’s not compatible with the gospel and you must chose one or the other—Use a head sissor lock and say, not in my Gospel, Baby.

Note 2: Dave the writer and keeper of mormonsience is a thoughtful and philosophically informed guy and a worthy evil archrival (kidding). I hope he knows I’m having fun and takes it in the tongue-in cheek spirit it was given. I expect he’ll give as much as I dish out. I think even Chancellor Gary R. over at No Death is getting used to my incorrigible manner of blogging (I like his passion and zeal too). (While I don’t think I’ll turn Gary R. to the light side of the force, I still have hope for Dave. I sense some good in him. The dark side of creationism may not have taken him over completely. Someday, I expect, when No-Death Gary has me held over a metaphorical gapping hole in some metaphorical deathstar filled with metaphorical lightening, Dave will look at him. Then look at me. Then look at him. And then suddenly he will leap forward and hurdle Gary (metaphorically of course) into the hole. Then gasping he will ask me to let him look upon the light of creation with evolutionary eyes. And I will remove his dark mask of creationism, he will breath in the unfiltered air of truth, and the good evolutionist within will stare back and smile. Then will the prophecy be fulfilled that Dave would be the one to bring balance to the Creation-Evolution debates.)

*All images were ripped from wikipedia.com

Comments

  1. Nice post. I’m currently reading Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish, and your post complements my reading nicely. But I shudder at the fight that is about to follow in these comments.

  2. Nicely done, Steven! Bravo! I can second your testimony that randomness is all about structure. If people were out there claiming that God had created life through pure uncertainty, that would be a very different proposition.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    Out-standing!

    If this is going to be an ongoing feature, may I make a few suggestions?

    1. You need some kind of catchy, evil-sounding name. I suggest Darwin’s Deviant.

    2. I’d like to see you run your opponent’s face into the turnbuckle a few times, and a tag team match would be good, too.

    3. As long as you are including pictures, how about including one of you in your rassling tights?

  4. Bro. Jones says:

    Not only an informative post (now I have a lame layman’s understanding of Measure Theory!), but an entertaining one, too. Thanks!

    To the topic: I never could determine why people felt science and faith were incompatible. My faith is strengthened by an understanding of science, because I can see that, as you said yourself, there’s a structure to all the chaos in the universe, and God understands it. I’m a lot more troubled by a God who throws His hands up and says, “Golly, I can’t figure out this DNA stuff! Lemme just make a couple of people out of clay and call it a day!”

  5. Wherin the Evolutionist once again misses the mark and continues to pretend its about the facts of science.

    Just about the only time Evolutionists will win the religious is not by reflecting on the science. Rational or not, people know how to make excuses. What anti-Evolutionists are looking for are theological reasons to believe in Evolution; something that at least seems to go with the Scriptures. Otherwise, unless you are already predisposed to an interest in science then you will most likely simply lose any sense of faith you have.

    Stop paying attention to their bad science. They don’t care how bad it is; even if it turns off scientists. Listen to their message that G-d exists and has a plan. Once you finally argue how Evolution fits into that plan then you have gotten a true upper hand. The more it is said science and religion answer different questions, the more it becomes obvious that isn’t true. True progress on the religion/science debate about Evolution will come when “I don’t know” also contains, “but I have an idea/theory.”

  6. Jettboy,

    There are no theological reasons to believe in Evolution. Just as there are no theological reasons to believe the science of quantum mechanics or the chemistry of plastics or the properties of granite or predicting the weather. We believe evolution because its the best explanation for the data we have about biology.

  7. “We believe evolution because its the best explanation for the data we have about biology.”

    Then you will forever be preaching to the choir as much as the Creationists.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    “What anti-Evolutionists are looking for are theological reasons to believe in Evolution”

    I think you’re missing something there.

  9. The Right Trousers says:

    #5: You mean you can’t just say, “The scriptures are wrong on this” or “Your reading is too narrow” without giving a great explanation or another reading? That’s crazy talk.

    On the other hand, Steve was addressing the true nature of randomness and God’s ability wrt it in this post.

    But Klingons in the celestial kingdom, Steve? That’s just going too far. I ain’t sharin’ my inheritance with a bunch of freaky-foreheaded pahtks.

  10. #9 Would it be the Celestial Kingdom without Klingons? Isn’t Adamic Klingon?

  11. StevenP: I think you score a decisive win, but only because you wrote the rules of the game. Is faith compatible with science? Of course it is, but that question is too easy because it is too general. As I, and others, mentioned on the Dave Bailey thread, reconciling the Mormon doctrine of a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall with science is considerably more challenging. You can’t claim total victory until you can explain how the doctrine of a literal Adam and Eve who are the parents of the entire human race is compatible with what we know from science about the actual history of the human race. Many troubling questions remain unanswered, and the jury is still out until those issues are plausibly explained. (See the Dave Bailey thread for a more fulsome summary of some of those questions. Sorry, I don’t know how to link). So far, the only answer you have provided is “be patient, take it on faith and we will understand someday”. That may be true, but it is not an explanation, so I think your victory celebration is premature.

  12. Point of order here: We’ve got two Daves here and that could get confusing. Dave Collingridge blogs at mormonsandscience and does not like evolution in all its glory. Dave Bailey wrote the Mormon Organon post in question and does like evolution.

  13. “The universe may be filled with aliens who look just like us but just have different head ridges! Gene Rodenbury is vindicated once again!!”

    LOLZ!! Dangit, I guess I owe Gene an apology for all the times I bemoaned that seemingly stupid and implausible detail.

  14. “So could a human body be got from random processes? Sure why not.”

    This reminds me of ‘Water World’. The main character who had gills. I am sure he was happy with that, seeing as how the world was flooded. Thus, evolution is good and makes people happy.

    Great post, Steve!

  15. The most apparent LDS theological problem with conventional evolution is: Who had two eyes and ten fingers first, humans here on earth or spirits in the heavens above?

    Adherence to conventional evolution seems to require the belief that pre-mortal spirits either do not look like us, or (to some degree or another) are shape shifters who acquired human morphology after the fact. That goes for all the members of the Godhead, prior to any earthly experience as well.

  16. I think you guys are all dancing around the same idea. This issue is built around common sense, research, educated guesses and most of all faith. We probably all believe that HF used a step by step process of creation that spans space and time in ways we can’t comprehend fully, and we know He follows universal laws of which He is the master. I can believe that a dinosaur turned into a snake/ fish/ mammal, but my faith based upon what I know from the scriptures tells me man and woman were created and not evolved. What all of the other skulls are, what race or group do they represent? I don’t know. This was a thought provoking and entertaining post. -

  17. As I’ve mentioned to you before Mark D., I believe that is currently Church doctrine. I.e., we typically believe that post-mortal spirits “look” like their mortal incarnation. However, for premortal spirits to look like their mortal incarnation, every pregnancy and romantic union would have to be predetermined – not something that jibes well with Mormonism. So spirits are malleable; your question gets to the degree to which they are.

  18. Mark D. reread the post it explains this exactly. You can get to any shape with the right universe.

  19. The universe may be filled with aliens who look just like us but just have different head ridges!

    What if physical form just isn’t that important? What if it’s having a mind, not having a mind inside a body with one head, one torso, two arms, and two legs, that makes a being “in the image of God”? The universe, and the Celestial Kingdom, might be filled with aliens who look like, well, just about anything.

  20. I’m so glad you explained the Star Trek thing. That has always bugged me.

  21. StillConfused says:

    I agree with Kuri. That is how I have always felt. God is intelligence. We are created in his image in that we are intelligence. The physical form doesn’t really matter.

  22. I returned to graduate school after thirty years on the homefront. I am daily confronted with ideas that Barney and my visiting teaching messages did not prepare me for. Posts like this one help me more than you will ever know. Please keep them coming.

  23. Why can’t we be marsupials and have our babies really small. Plus to have a build in pouch would be awsome!

  24. #20) But God also has a body, as we are also told, and I believe it’s in that image we are made.

    I think that probability definitely played a role in our development as a species. I think the biggest problem we have in synthesizing evolution and creationism is what makes mankind mankind. If it’s emotion–animals do that. If it’s our physiology, monkeys, pigs, and occasionally mice are close enough to us to test medical procedures and receive diseases from. If it’s our logic, many primates also express fairly well-developed logic. Assume classic evolution is the truth, rather than the most valid hypothesis given the data. What then separates man from beast? Why are we chosen then to be stewards, or lords over the whole earth?

    I believe the core issue comes down to this: in one hand, we have revealed truth supporting creation. On the other hand, we have observed truth supporting evolution. Assuming they are distinct, unmixable processes is to be blind to either your physical senses and logic, or to your spiritual senses and testimony. Such a conflict is unfortunate — God follows natural laws, which is evidenced time and time again, ergo evolution wins the argument. Yet He does not lie, so creation, in that He created Adam and Eve, the world, etc. also happened (assuming you believe in God, the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc.).

    Could it be put simply as thus: He caused man to come into being, and when man did, He came to man? Or suppose He prepared a world on which man could live, then came down, gave Adam and Eve physically created bodies, put into them their spirit (negating the need for a belly button, right?) and then moved on? Or could Adam and Eve be physical children of heavenly beings, and could only die because they could fall? So many questions best discussed in high priest’s group :-D

  25. Julie M. Smith says:

    Excellent post, thank you.

  26. Aaron Brown says:

    I haven’t yet read the comments, or even the post, but the title alone tells me that I love it.

    The church must be purged of my ideological foes on this issue, as on all others!!!!!

    AB

  27. gll #11, the idea of a “literal Fall” isn’t problematic, since the Fall is a hugely amorphous concept in itself and could have happened 100 times in the last 30 seconds. Regarding a “literal Adam and Eve,” DNA researchers tell us that there is a mitochondrial Eve. So, okay. That might not be the Genesis Eve, but whatever; our account of Genesis is so mythologized and passed through so many human hands that it’s hard to know exactly what about it we are required to believe…

  28. Is there any way that creationism and evolution can coexist? What if we were on the Star Trek holodeck? Could they be made to coexist there? Do we think God has enough power to create a holodeck in order to teach lessons?

  29. John Mansfield says:

    Last month under another of SteveP’s posts, I asserted that “sometimes a mechanism is just a mechanism that could just as well be replaced by another, and the macroscopic system that emerges is what matters. That’s the case with a lot of continuum phenomena (including life perhaps?).”

    At the time SteveP considered my argument of this idea to be “ignorant” and “silly,” but let’s hear it for mammals, fish, and reptiles that assume similar forms, not because of their particular inheritances, but due to common physical requirements.

  30. TomRod (23):

    Yet He does not lie, so creation, in that He created Adam and Eve, the world, etc. also happened (assuming you believe in God, the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc. that all scripture is to be taken literally).

    Fixed it for ya!

  31. But that’s the trick, isn’t: if we begin taking certain scripture as not being literal, where do we stop? Doesn’t that lead to eventually questioning whether any scripture is literal?

    Is it safe to assume that if something is critical for our salvation it will be literal, and that other things, although interesting, really aren’t that crucial to us right now?

  32. #28 John,

    Actully, John what I said was silly and ignorant of the facts on the matter was your claim that because the nobel prize winners did not mention evolution that it was irrelevent to their work. I then quoted the person you had claimed did not use it, showing that he did. Here it is in context.

    You are arguing from a position of ignorance and you seem unwilling to change your state. Your arguments have grown silly. “Nobel prize didn’t require evolution because they don’t mention it” was not only a bad argument it was uniformed which could have been corrected with a little research.

    It was a silly argument based on ignorance of his research. Read it in context.

  33. JNS,

    A literal Adam and Eve would have to not only be the common ancestor to everybody, but exclusively so. There is absolutely no room whatsoever for such characters, given what we know from the biological sciences.

  34. Great post!!!

    I have to say that my objections to a completely random evolution are more theological along the lines of post #5 and #23. Some of my objections are the following.

    1. How just is it to deny exaltation to Adam and Eve’s parents who were just one coin flip away from being “human” or “created in the image of God”? That is much easier for me to accept if God influenced the transition from primate to man than if it occurred by random chance.

    2. Does macroevolution continue to occur? Are we superior in some miniscule physical or mental way than Adam and Eve? Are we created more or less in the image of God than they were? We are certainly a whole lot taller.

    3. If we were left to random chance and macroevolution continues to occur, would we evolve into something better evolutionary speaking? Is there a better image than the image of God?

    These are just a few of my theological questions that make it hard for me to accept macroevolution in the absence of divine intervention. I kind of classify myself as a theistic evolutionist-progressive evolutionist combination. Since believing in macroevolution + divine intervention along the way is completely compatible with all scientific evidence, I don’t see the problem with that belief. There is of course no evidence for or against divine intervention in the evolutionary process, however, it helps me resolve some of my theological issues with the theory of evolution.

  35. “if we begin taking certain scripture as not being literal, where do we stop?” It’s a fair, but hard question. An easier question, though, not always straight forward either is identifying those places where we can definitely not read it literally: worldwide flood, flat earth, 6000 year ago creation. But it will take some wrestling.

  36. #33 remember that ‘man’ (in the inclusive sense) is defined as when a spirit child of God was placed in this kind of body. I don’t think we know anything about the spirit state of fossil humans.

    Good questions. But the answers are going to have to come from the revelatory side. Science just can’t get at them.

  37. SteveP

    I agree that science cannot answer these questions, but they certainly can and do influence my interpretation of the science. In the church we do believe a lot of things that science has nothing to do with (i.e. the resurrection of the Savior).

  38. John Mansfield says:

    Well, if we’re back on arguing terms, this is what your quote actually had the prize winner saying about his work (with bolding added by me):

    Eventually what we would like to do is be able to extend it to studying other mammalian organisms so we aren’t simply restricted with respect to finding out how does a mouse work, and its analogy to humans, but also be able to utilize it to study more processes in evolution and how different traits have come up during evolution. So those are the kind of questions we’re looking forward to in the future.

  39. #36 Mateo, I don’t disagree at all. Priesthood, Atonement and other such concepts can’t be touched by science. It’s when people claim that the science can’t be right because it doesn’t fit with their reading of the scripture. It would be like saying that quantum mechanics can’t be right because “God knows all things.” and QM says you can’t know position and velocity of a particle. I agree with your point that there are things science can’t touch.

  40. I thought that the humanoids in Star Trek were all related–that they had a common ancestor, and so convergent evolution is not a factor there. If I remember the episode correctly, at least…
    If so, Star Trek is at odds with evolution, at least as far as human evolution goes.
    Oh well. It’s not the first time a science writer has been gloriously wrong about science (and I include OSC and the writer of Jurassic Park, RIP).

  41. Nate W.:

    Yet He does not lie, so creation, in that He created Adam and Eve, the world, etc. also happened (assuming you believe in God, the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc. that all scripture is to be taken literally that the scriptures are true, even with mistakes of men occurring).

    Fixed it for ya too!

  42. Yet He does not lie, so creation, in that He created Adam and Eve, the world, etc. also happened (assuming you believe in God, the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc. that all scripture is to be taken literally that the scriptures are true, even with mistakes of men occurring).

    Fixed it for both of you dolts.

  43. SteveP, that’s the coolest question I’ve ever heard. Can God know the position and velocity of a particle? It’s mind-bending!

  44. Is it the case that:

    (a) evolution implies that there is no Adam and Eve who are the exclusive first ancestors of all mankind? and

    (b) evolution implies that there was no actual garden of Eden in Missouri or anywhere else?

    If so, am I mistaken in my belief that these two beliefs are doctrines which are consistently taught by our scriptures and other church leaders?

    If I am not mistaken, on what basis am I justified in now rejecting those doctrines?

    If Adam and Eve are ancestors of all humankind, but are not the exclusive first ancestors, do I assume that their literal descendants intermarried with other pre-Adamites? Is that notion consistent with LDS doctrine?

  45. Your link to morns and science doesn’t work, fyi. Dave desrves for his link to work, if you are gonna go this crazy…

  46. SteveP

    I think that I have not been clear in articulating my position. As was mentioned in the post and in some of the subsequent comments, many are striving for a perfect harmony between science and faith. In my personal efforts, both science and faith have had to come closer together. Because of my unanswered theological questions about evolution, I am unable to accept macroevolution in the absence of some divine intervention.

  47. A literal Adam and Eve would have to not only be the common ancestor to everybody, but exclusively so. There is absolutely no room whatsoever for such characters, given what we know from the biological sciences.

    Except that Mormon concepts of lineage, ancestry, and inter-generational kin ties are framed in terms that have little if anything to do with actual biology. Priesthood and the sealing power, the ability to forge links in a grand cosmic chain and exalt God’s children as a grand human family, all bound under the head of Adam and Eve, Jesus, and God the Father — all this completely transcends biological genealogy.

  48. Thanks Matt W. fixed it.

  49. Great post, SteveP (and a lot of interesting comments so far). Although not a WWF fan, I’m definitely in your corner on the “randomness” issue. It makes sense to me that God needed only patience and evolution to create mankind on earth. Even if the likelihood of undirected evolution resulting in sentient humanoids was miniscule, the fact that our 13 billion year old universe includes at least 100 billion galaxies with something like 100 billion stars per galaxy, would ensure (by the Law of Large Numbers) that sentient humanoids would eventually arise on at least one world in this universe.

    However, Mormon theology posits the existence of countless worlds habited by God’s embodied spirit children (see e.g. D&C 76:24; Moses 1:33-34). Presumably these scripturally identified extra-terrestrials would resemble us, all being in the likeness of God so to speak. (Although it’s worth considering Kuri’s point in #18, that physical form may not even be the real “image of God” issue.) Perhaps, as SteveP suggests, convergent evolution could explain the existence of common humanoid characteristics for sentient life elsewhere. On the other hand, as I recall (too lazy to look up), in one of his many entertaining essays on evolution, Stephen Jay Gould opined that hypothetical sentient creatures on other planets likely would not look like us because the unique historical contingencies (e.g. timing of major asteroid strikes) that affected the evolutionary process on earth would not be duplicated elsewhere. Scientists, Star Trek notwithstanding, would need access to a random sample of actual extra-terrestrials from earth-like planets to test these different hypotheses.

    As pointed out in several comments, those of us who accept the science of evolution have the challenge of re-visioning some commonly held literal views of Adam & Eve, the Fall, etc. The book “Evolution and Mormonism” by Stephens and Meldrum takes a valiant stab at some of those issues, and there’s certainly room for a lot more discussion, speculation and hopefully confirming revelation someday.

  50. Put differently, why should being sons and daughters of Adam be treated as qualitatively different than being sons and daughters of Abraham, Israel, Jesus, or God? Adam is far, far more than just our ancestor. He is each of us and all of us, mankind and everyman. Our shared relationship to Adam is far profoundly different than the relationship that two distant cousins share with a common great great grandfather.

  51. Further, our current literalist tradition of reading the creation accounts owes far more to the influence of conservative Christian, non-LDS scholars on men like Joseph Fielding Smith. Brigham Young thought the biblical creation accounts were “baby stories”, tailored to the smallness of the feeble minds of unbelieving men and kept them from the true mysteries of the universe. His proposed alternative was a far cry from what Steve has suggested here, but is equally distant from JFS or BRM.

  52. Rameumptom says:

    Jeff G #32,

    A literal Adam and Eve could have been the First man and woman who held the gospel, just as they had children before, but it was only after the fullness of the gospel was preached to them by an angel that Eve said of her newborn child, Cain, “I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words” (Moses 5:16). The scriptures are full of the concept of adoption. Paul and Joseph Smith talked about adoption into Israel and as the children of Abraham.
    Why can’t Adam and Eve be the cultural parents of the human race, and the beginning of the Priesthood among mankind? I can see Adam receiving the same promise as Abraham, that in him (that is, the Priesthood) all the people of the earth shall be blessed….

  53. #48

    On the other hand, as I recall (too lazy to look up), in one of his many entertaining essays on evolution, Stephen Jay Gould opined that hypothetical sentient creatures on other planets likely would not look like us because the unique historical contingencies (e.g. timing of major asteroid strikes) that affected the evolutionary process on earth would not be duplicated elsewhere.

    Yes it’s SJG’s Wonderful Life. He is one of my heros and he speculated if you rewound the clock you would see completely different kinds of life. That’s because the vertebrate look was fixed very early in Earth’s history and without that we could have a world of sandworms. I’ve been playing around with Spore a computer game which sort of explores evolution (very poorly) that plays on this idea. The idea that convergent evolution could bring similar structures to the same planet is explored in more detail in a controversial book called Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe by Simon Conway Morris. But you are right, until we see how life has played out on other planets. As science, it’s an open question.

  54. Brad-#49
    I think in all our talk about Adam, we lose sight of the most important things–that his separation from God, and his journey to return to the presence of God, is symbolic of our journey. I also find great parallels with the prodigal son here.
    As far as Gould–
    I think if sentient beings lived on planets like ours, they would look much like us–limbs for both motion and tool-making, a large brain-to-body ratio, etc. I’m thinking they may resemble us like a dolphin resembles a shark–I’m sure a shark thinks it looks nothing like a dolphin, but to an outside observer, they do look quite similar. I think convergent evolution would apply, even on other planets. That’s all speculation though…

  55. The good ole unanswered questions of “how.” Yes to pre-Adamites, or no to pre-Adamites?

    And in the end, do we really need to know for our current state? Most say no. I say absolutely–whatsoever intelligence we gain in this life rises with us in the next.

    Ah, the doctrine of the kingdom. Or is it kingdoms?

    One question I thought was interesting I heard on my mission: “We have the gospel here on earth. Beyond great joy, what is the next life for?” The best answer I heard was “Bootcamp.” But that begs the question of what we will actually be doing in the next life.

    Awesome times. Good to see the bloggernacle so alive.

  56. nasamomdele says:

    Great post. Reminds me of school days in CA.

  57. Why is BCC linking to the mormonandscience page? A page like that doesn’t even have the muscles to get in the fightin’ ring.

  58. #38, #42
    There is a factual mistake about QM here that bears correction. From the standard perspective on QM, God can’t know the position of a particle with a precise velocity, not because of some ignorance, but simply because that particle has no position to know! As an analogy, it is like asking where sound “is.” SteveP’s hypothetical person writing off QM would be exactly analogous to the person who writes off evolution because “they are not descended from monkeys.” Both are critics of theories they have deeply misunderstood. I wonder if much discussion of evolution and the fall will look just as ill conceived in the light of further revelation and/or scientific progress.

    More on topic: I am deeply skeptical of what I perceive to be SteveP’s admittedly qualified argument that something like humans are an inevitable consequence of evolution. One of the few really general things we know about such complex dynamical processes like evolution, is that they are profoundly sensitive to small shifts (think randomness) and that the number of options for large organisms evolving are enormous with every moment of evolution expanding the set of characteristics life can evolve. Such general considerations, which almost certainly apply to evolution, do not bode well for inevitable human evolution. Very, very general properties may be generic, such as the evolution of intelligence may be generic. But something resembling humans seems to be pretty unlikely to be generic.

  59. Brad and Rameumptom,

    The concept you discuss may have merit, but they are not “literal” Adam and Eve. The literal story of Adam and Eve is them being the exclusive common ancestors of everybody. All family trees, biological family trees, go back to them alone.

    This concept is totally incompatible with what we know from the biological sciences.

  60. I like what Henry Eyring said. “Adam was the one whom God recognized as presiding over the first dispensation and as such, with Eve his wife, became our first parents.”

  61. gll (#11) – The idea that the stories of the Garden and the Fall are literal is not Mormon doctrine. A “figurative” reading is completely compatible with Mormon theology. Anyone in my generation or before who attended the temple heard that clearly for years. If it’s good enough for the temple, it’s good enough for me to accept at least as a possibility.

    If the primary argument of anti-evolutionists rests on interpreting ancient scriptures literally, they are in serious trouble right from the start. Forget biological science; strictly from a standpoint of social studies, that is about the shakiest foundation imaginable.

    To the post: “Randomness” is probably the most misunderstood aspect of evolutionary theory. Thanks for focusing on it here.

  62. #57 hbar,

    Your point is well taken about not knowing how life plays out on other worlds. It could go ether way. We see lots of convergence in structures wings for example in birds, bats, and pterosaurs, but different beginnings led to different solutions: bat use their ‘fingers’ to fly, birds their ‘arms’, and pterosaurs a single ‘finger.’ Insects look very different and have completely different evolution. But since they all must fly, they all have strong thoracic muscles and long stretched out things (a technical term) to fly with so there are yet some convergences. But until we see some more planets it’s an open question and I don’t find skepticism inappropriate. However, I really, really, really hope there are Klingons.

  63. Steve P: So given randomness…, an earthlike environment, a little time and space maybe, just maybe, getting a human body in this universe isn’t just guess work, its in the works. The very structure of the universe—pure physical explanation for this shape. Who knows where or when, Baby, but, maybe, just maybe, it’s probability one! …humans maybe be built into the fabric of the universe.

    I agree that is certainly a logical possibility. That is essentially a pretty strong form of Platonism though. My objection is that there does not appear to be enough information content in the laws of physics to account for such features as exactly ten fingers. Why not eight or twelve?

    Anything that happens with probability one must be accounted for in natural invariants. That implies far more fundmental laws that are now known – laws with information content rich enough to account for a rather specific end result.

    The great irony here is that the dominant intellectual tradition in the West for nearly two millennia has had a hard time distinguishing the idea of information rich natural invariants from a timeless Creator himself. After all, if God acted atemporally how would anyone be able to tell the difference?

  64. I think if sentient beings lived on planets like ours, they would look much like us–limbs for both motion and tool-making, a large brain-to-body ratio, etc. I’m thinking they may resemble us like a dolphin resembles a shark–I’m sure a shark thinks it looks nothing like a dolphin, but to an outside observer, they do look quite similar. I think convergent evolution would apply, even on other planets.

    Maybe, but I don’t think there would be any reason for those bodies to have a head-torso-four limbs arrangement, though. It may just have been an accident that that’s the arrangement a common ancestor of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals had. Other arrangements might have been just as viable but failed because of random factors.

    Sentient life on other planets might have seven limbs in a head-thorax-abdomen arrangement, or travel on their stomachs with limbs growing out of their heads, or who knows what.

  65. I apologize in advance for the threadjack but have a question about God and evolution and wondered if anyone here might be able to adequately represent an atheist’s point of view.

    Given that the majority of the world’s human population has and appears to always have had a belief in a supreme, unseen power, from an atheistic point of view what fitness advantage does/did that belief confer? And do the conditions that made it advantageous to believe in ‘God’ no longer exist, such that evangelical atheists (Dawkins et al) can argue that a world with no belief whatsoever would be a better place?

  66. gomez, Dawkins has that luxury, even if the irony escapes him.

  67. gomez,

    Dawkins would say that religious beliefs are “memes” — that is, they are self-perpetuating ideas that spread (like warts or non-lethal parasites) independently of whether they are advantageous to their hosts.

  68. David White says:

    Nice going Steve, you and your readers might also enjoy the following recent post in which I agree and add yet another angle. In a nutshell:

    Intelligent design/creationism is not only cherry-picked science, it is faulty theology as well. Startling as it may seem, by continually protesting that “blind” chance could only lead to “accidental evolution”, all denialist forms of creationism contradict the Bible’s clear teachings that chance occurrence in the universe (randomness), is always under God’s direct control!…Oops! It’s here:

    http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=34289

    It’s called: “Intelligent Design Rules Out God’s Sovereignty Over Chance”

  69. #57 hbar:

    God can’t know the position of a particle with a precise velocity, not because of some ignorance, but simply because that particle has no position to know!

    If God says he knows the position of a particle that doesn’t exist, then he does. If he says he doesn’t know, then he doesn’t. If he tells me he does and you he doesn’t, then that is true.

    Where are all the readers with real experience of miracles to back me up?

  70. Gomez,

    Since I am an atheist of sorts, I’ll take up your question.

    First of all, who says that it must confer and evolutionary advantage at all?

    That said, a number of people have attempted to tackle your question. Two excellent books on the subject are Scott Atran’s “In Gods We Trust” and Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained.”

    Clark, over at Mormon Metaphysics did a few reviews of Atran’s book if you wanna peruse some of the relevant ideas.

  71. David W. (#67),

    That is an interesting argument to use against Calvinists, who formally maintain that everything that happens – good, bad, and ugly – happens in accord with God’s sovereign will. And certainly there is a healthy smattering of proto-Calvinism in both the Old and New Testaments.

    However, LDS theology is thoroughly Arminian and free will oriented. There is no pretense that God dictates the outcome of every event. So that objection doesn’t apply.

  72. #62 SteveP
    I really, really, hope there are Klingons too. It would be interesting to see a study about convergent evolution between lineages with increasingly ancient divergences, and see if something general could be gleaned about the scaling. Perhaps some such approach could lend some insight into what level of similarity we would see on other planets.

    #69 TonyD
    Wow. I don’t want to veer badly off topic, but where does God claim to have answers to logically ill posed questions? That’s to my mind a pretty strained interpretation of of statements such as “God knows all things” since my point is that position simply isn’t a property of a particle with well defined velocity.

  73. Very late to the conversation, but just wanted to disagree with Steven’s response to Jettboy about the lack of theological reasons to believe in evolution.

    Honestly, I think evolution is the best “origin theory” when it comes to complementing or supporting Mormon theology. Does it not hint at a physical counterpart or physical half to the spiritual idea of eternal progression?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,516 other followers