So just what do Mormons think about evolution?

The following is a guest post by Benjamin Knoll, a political science professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He teaches classes on public opinion, voting behavior, political statistics, and other topics in American politics. He currently serves as the Elders Quorum President in his ward.

A recent popular headline suggested that acceptance of biological evolution has dropped nearly 10% over the last four years among Republicans. This has prompted renewed interest in many circles on the topic of American opinions toward evolution and, particularly for the Bloggernacle audience, how American Mormons view the topic.

Analyzing Mormon opinions from a statistical perspective is a difficult endeavor simply because there are not enough Mormons in the American population to show up in sufficient numbers in most standard public opinion surveys to draw meaningful inferences. The 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, however, conducted telephone interviews with over 35,000 Americans and included nearly 600 Mormons in the sample. A sample size of 600 is not ideal, but it is more or less sufficient to reliably measure Mormon attitudes toward a variety of religious and political behaviors included in the survey. (With a sample size of about 600, the margin of error is about +/- 4% for Mormon responses.)

The Religious Landscape Survey included the following question:

“Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth. Do you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, or completely disagree?”

This is admittedly a questionable measure of public attitudes toward evolution. It forces a fairly binary response which leaves little room for ambiguity or nuance (see Nathaniel Givens’ comments about the question wording here). Despite these limitations, however, there is a clear advantage to presenting a limited option of answers to survey responses. Specifically, it forces the respondent to make a choice which very often reveals the individual’s “bottom-line” preferences, which can be very useful in analyzing public opinion attitudes.

So what does the survey reveal about Mormon attitudes toward evolution?

Ev1

Right off the bat, we see a great deal of skepticism toward evolution among American Mormons. Only 6.5% “completely agree” that evolution is the best explanation for human life on earth, with 16.6% reporting “mostly agree,” 22.4% “mostly disagree,” and a majority 54.5% saying “completely disagree.”

How does this compare to members of other religious traditions? Pew Research has previously published such a comparison that combines the “completely” and “mostly” agree options on the question. Their chart is reproduced below and can be found here (figures are slightly different than those displayed above due to sample weighting):

Ev2

From this chart it certainly seems that Mormons are among the least evolution-friendly religious groups in the United States. But as was recently pointed out, perhaps this is because the evolution question might simply be an “instrumental” indicator for general levels of religiosity. In other words, we already know that more religious people in general, regardless of their faith tradition, are less accepting of evolution. As Mormons tend to display higher levels of religious indicators (church attendance, prayer, scripture reading, personal level of religious importance, etc.) than members of most other religious traditions, it is possible that Mormons are less accepting of evolution simply because they display higher levels of religious beliefs and behaviors.

To test this possibility, I constructed a “religiosity scale” from the Pew Religion survey modeled after the scale described in Putnam and Campbell’s 2012 American Grace book (pgs. 18-21). This scale combines levels of church attendance, frequency of prayer, personal importance of religion, and certainty of belief in God into a single index measure. Using this religiosity scale, we can compare Mormons of varying degrees of religious commitment to their counterparts in other faith traditions.

First, here is the same chart as shown above, limited to those who are in the top 20th percentile of the religiosity index:

Ev3

Here we see that Mormons are still unusually low in their acceptance of evolution, even compared to other highly-religious members of other American faith traditions (with the exception of Evangelical Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Now here is the same chart, this time limited to those of the lowest 20th percentile on the religiosity scale:

Ev4

Once again, even amongst the least religious respondents, Mormons are still about 5-15% lower than their counterparts in other American Christian faith traditions to express agreement with evolution as the best explanation of human life on earth. (There were too few Jehovah’s Witnesses of low levels of religiosity to be included in this particular analysis.)

We can now perform one additional test: calculating the difference in evolution opinions between Mormons and non-Mormons, statistically controlling for levels of religiosity. (For statistics nerds, this is calculating the predicted probability difference of a binomial “Mormon” variable included in a logistic regression model along with the religiosity index factor score variable included as a control variable. The “Mormon” variable is statistically significant, p<0.0001.) This test reveals that, controlling for religiosity, the average American Mormon is about 19% less likely than the average non-Mormon to indicate agreement with evolution as the best explanation of human life on earth.

The “bottom line” of all this is that there seems to be clear empirical evidence for the following conclusions:

  1. Mormonism is one of the least “evolution-friendly” faith traditions in the United States when measured in terms of popular acceptance among its members of evolution as the “best explanation of human life on earth.”
  2. This finding is not simply due Mormons’ higher-than-average levels of religious belief and behavior. There is something uniquely Mormon about antipathy toward biological evolution that is more intense than in other Christian faith traditions.

Thus, despite the more agnostic approach that the LDS Church has taken on the subject of evolution in recent decades (see here, here, and here, e.g.), as well as the plethora of Mormon intellectuals and academics who frequently argue for the compatibility of Mormon doctrine and evolution (see here and here, e.g.), popular Mormon opinion in the United States is decidedly in the anti-evolution camp.

Comments

  1. I’ve been surprised, as of late, to have read about numerous faith crises being sparked by people learning about evolution in college. It seems so unnecessary to me. But that’s the fruits of what you describe.

  2. Given previous opinions presented by Church leadership in the not too distant past, I wouldn’t say these results are extremely surprising. From my anecdotal observations, it seems to take about three generations for shifts in such perspectives to even start to take place.

  3. Could it also have something to do with watching an hour-long movie about the creation of the Earth almost every time we go to the Temple?

    Would the answers be quite a bit different if simply worded differently? “Evolution is the best explanation we have right now for the origins of human life on earth.” I could easily disagree with the original and agree with the addendum.

  4. Sigh, It sometimes feels like I’m in the 6.5%-ile for everything.

  5. I’m confused, my 6 year old knows all about biological evolution in the natural history of the Earth…and we’re faithful church-going Latter-day Saints.

  6. I think various historical and cultural trends during the 20th century certainly factor in on this, but I’m gonna propose a kind of crazy idea and maybe it will or will not make sense to others.

    From what I’ve observed, whenever I talk to a Mormon about evolution, I often get a whole swathe of justifications that rely on Mormon folk metaphysics to explain why evolution is, at the very least, an incomplete picture (disclaimer: I am what I guess we’d call “evolution friendly”). Often times, I have talked to Mormons who are not against evolution per se; they just don’t think it’s a complete picture (like, say, the plan of salvation).

    This is, I think, a stark contrast to perhaps how other American Christian denominations deal with the “evolution problem.” They either attempt to utilize science to prove religious beliefs (hence, using Creationism as a legitimate “science”) or just go hardcore fundamentalist and science is just going to damn you. The latter stance is harder to hold on to for younger, educated generations, and the former, while popular amongst its proponents, cannot beat science at its own game (so to speak). Mormons, however, have a third way. We have a folk metaphysics/narrative that can not only “explain away” scientific evidence like fossil records, but our theology is really good at folding it into our religious narrative (after all, we do believe in a kind of spiritual evolution). Thus, we can maintain a hardline “I don’t buy into (post-)modern science” stance to maintain cultural/political difference from the world without feeling like we’re total idiots. After all, there’s no discrepancy between science and religion; we just don’t have all the pieces to connect them, amirite?

  7. Me too, Jerrmy. I even vote for Democrats.

  8. Sorry, Jeremy, not Jerrmy

  9. I think Eric’s comment in #2–“Given previous opinions presented by Church leadership in the not too distant past, I wouldn’t say these results are extremely surprising”–really hits the nail on the head. This post includes some interesting data, but I would like to see it compared alongside the range of responses which active members of the church give to statements about other matters (political, economic, social, as well as scientific) which General Authorities have spoken out on in living memory. We’re a very obedient people, within certain limits, and the perpetuation of popular anti-evolution thinking very likely reflects that.

  10. I believe firmly that evolution is the process God used to create our physical bodies – but the question is worded in such a way that I would have a very hard time answering with anything except one of the disagree options if I was reading it literally and not trying to answer knowing people were going to draw incorrect conclusions about my answer. (Knowing that is the case, I would answer “mostly agree”.) The wording leaves no room for the distinction in Mormonism between body and spirit, and I have to assume many members see the question as saying, in practical terms, “Humans are the product of evolution and only evolution.”

    In other words, I think we would tend to read the question as asking about what I call “Godless evolution”, with the implication that we are nothing more than the smartest animals on the planet. For that reason, I’m not surprised at all with the results.

  11. I also think that same reading (“Godless evolution”) is the foundation of nearly all statements from church leaders over the decades. We certainly have the natural theology and scriptural foundation to be completely fine with a creation period of billions of years.

  12. Other than feeling as if I’ve read an impressive stack of statistical analysis piled on a very thin layer of data, I’m surprised that anyone finds the responses to the Pew Survey surprising. If you grow up singing “I am a Child of God” and learn throughout adolescence and adulthood that you are literally one of God’s children, how could you agree that evolution is the “best” explanation for the origin of human life on earth? Do other faith traditions believe in that God-human relationship as we do–or are they more in the Nelson Rockefeller BOMFOG school of thought, where God’s fatherhood is something metaphorical–or less? (The Wikipedia entry even says “think content-free hot air.”)

    Agreeing that evolution is the “best” explanation for human life would require a Latter-day Saint to deny one of the central tenets of his faith.

  13. I think there’s tension in identifying acceptance of traditional Mormonism alongside modern evolutionary biology. One has to give on one of the couple tenants of “traditional Mormonism”:
    *No predestination
    *Humankind are in God’s image and God has/is a Human Body.

    These tend to be the way I see people fall in to three camps about the issue:

    Biblical Fundamentalist Mormons
    –Evolution is inaccurate and/or incomplete. (reject the evolution component).
    Calvinist bent
    –Everything is predestined, e.g. God started the big bang and everything has played out programmatically–no random chance, and no free agency. (Reject agency). (I would consider any ID related ideas to have to fall into this camp, as modern science really only would consider any influence of God’s design to have to have originated at the beginning).
    Non-literal Mormonism
    –Accept evolution, consider embodiment of God and children in God’s image as symbolic, not literal (reject literal Human-God physical relationship, not bound to God having the same body as come about by natural selection).

    Does anybody know of any other approaches of reconciling the three ideas?

  14. I might be willing to agree that evolution is part of the answer, but I cannot go so far as to say evolution is the best answer. For me, the best answer has to include God.

  15. I think a statement like,
    “Evolutionary science does not conflict with my religious beliefs.”
    or
    “I believe that evolutionary biology explains the development of humans, and other species, over millions of years.”
    would have had high numbers of Mormons agreeing. I think that, in this case, the unique perspective of LDS theology, and the unique wording of this particular question, are the biggest reason that many people might have not given an affirmative answer, but who believe that evolutionary biology is simply the way that God has chosen to work in the world.

    With that said, I have recently gotten to know a YW who was home schooled, by LDS parents, and who had been taught a lot of very strange things, including that the scientific method was a “secret combination.” She is making great strides, going to a local community college, and living with a family (LDS) who has been supportive of her desire to get a college education. Seeing the world through her eyes, and understanding just how different “conservative Mormon culture” in the area of Utah she grew up in, has been a pretty big shock for me. I have shared some of our correspondence, and her writing on my blog, and I am always amazed both by those who don’t think her experiences are unusual at all, and by those who are sure that her experiences either didn’t happen or are so unusual that they shouldn’t be shared or given room on the blog.

  16. I agree with Ray’s take. To me, looking at all the evidence, it becomes clear that evolution is a reality. But take God out of the picture, and then do I believe it is the best explanation for the origins of human life? No. I’ll take the explanation God created man (without discussing how He did it) over Godless evolution any day as a better explanation for the origins of human life–even though I fully accept evolution as a reality, and the means by which God creates mortal tabernacles.

    My guess is that results could be quite different with a different question, one that doesn’t seem to be pitting evolution against other theories (which usually include God).

  17. A lot of good comments by others as well.

    @jpv, I think there are a lot of other ways that people reconcile this. For me, I see the universe as deterministic, at least on the macro-scale, but do not see any good reason that this would be incompatible with agency, freedom, nor with God being able to intervene and influence the universe at any time as he sees fit (since He is part of the greater Universe). And that all things are based on natural law does not preclude the material spiritual realm from interacting and influencing the physical world as we know it. So while I accept evolution as a fact, I don’t think we are close to understanding all the laws that govern it. I think our knowledge on the subject is very new and probably pretty infantile. I see it like the way Newtonian physics used to be the best explanation for the physical universe as we know it, and much of it is true, yet over time we’ve advanced in understanding to higher and better explanations like general relativity and quantum mechanics, and eventually hopefully something else that can reconcile the two or supersede them.

  18. While changing the question to something like “evolution does not conflict with my religious beliefs” may change the numbers a little bit, I’m not convinced it would change them much.

    I’ve heard anti-evolution comments made by teachers in release-time seminary, BYU religion professors, BYU non-religion teachers, CES teachers teaching a CES class at a prestigious university, in testimony meeting, in Sunday School, in Priesthood…

    The only pro-evolution statements I’ve ever heard from any member in person have come from either people with a degree in biology or chemistry, or individuals who are Democrats or politically liberal. I’m convinced that politics and scientific background are the two biggest indicators of whether a Mormon in the US–or for that matter, anyone in the US–accepts evolution or not.

    I’ve had the good fortune to know lots of Mormons who accept evolution, but that’s because I took a whole lot of biology courses at BYU. In many wards, especially more conservative wards, those who openly accept evolution will struggle to even convince other ward members that one can accept evolution and be a good Mormon at the same time.

  19. The Other Clark says:

    Has Ziff resorted to a new name here?

  20. For my undergrad degree, I took 6 hours of evolutionary theory & genetics. So I am not ignorant of the issues and totally believe in evolution and natural selection. But I would still have strongly disagreed with that particular item because of the “best” wording as others have pointed out.

    It is important to keep in mind that the item was not designed for a survey of Mormons per se, but of all religious faiths.

    But thanks for the timely reminder to celebrate Chucky Wucky Abey Baby Day this year. It turns out that Charles Darwin and Abe Lincoln share a birthday, and a BYU biology professor would decorate his lab and invite everyone in for a piece of birthday cake. We’ve continued the tradition in our family some years, forgot on others.

  21. @Tim, for what it’s worth, my degree is in business and I’ve never self-identified as a democrat or liberal (voted for Mitt Romney). I fully accept evolution (including human evolution) as a reality of nature.

    I guess we just don’t know, but it seems like there are a lot here who also accept evolution, but seem to have problems with the word “best” like I did/do.

  22. Paul Brown says:

    Thank heavens we’ll be studying Joseph Fielding Smith this year. I’m sure that pure doctrine regarding evolution is included in the manual somewhere, as he certainly was certain about it. Doctrines of Salvation, for example, is a great read. I just haven’t been able to locate which lesson. ;-)

  23. Yet another topic on which I’m convinced I don’t really go to the same church as my fellow congregants…

  24. I’m in the mystified camp. I know there are some hard core folks at church, but it’s not much of a stretch to allow that the physical record/scientific data doesn’t constrain the hand of God as the creator.

  25. SteveF–
    I figured an outlier would pop up here.

    I do recall one other member of the church standing up for evolution–or at least not standing up for anti-evolutionists. It was a general authority who spoke at my mission conference, and who answered a question from the audience regarding the issue. His answer was very neutral on the issue, but it was enough to piss off the anti-evolution missionary who’d asked the question.

  26. Tim, I think you might be surprised at how many people here who accept evolution are not die-hard Democrats or Science majors. For me, the topic has nothing to do with politics or college major.

  27. Chris Kimball says:

    In my hearing, most Mormons . . . most religious people . . . who profess to believe or accept evolution are really talking about some version of theistic evolution or guided evolution, and additionally would answer the hominization (the process of becoming human) question by some form of special creation for the soul or spirit. Not incidentally, (according to Eugenie Scott as cited in the Wikipedia article on the subject): “In one form or another, Theistic Evolutionism is the view of creation taught at the majority of mainline Protestant seminaries, and it is the official position of the Catholic church.”

    The Religious Landscape Survey posited “Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth”. To me “evolution” (without an adjective) and “origins of human life” mean a randomized process sorted by natural selection including for the development of everything that makes us human. For the record, that’s what I believe.

    I don’t think that “theistic evolution with special creation for the spirit” is the same thing as, reconcilable with, or compatible with “[no adjective] evolution . . . for the origins of human life”. And therefore most Mormons I know would be on the “disagree” end of the replies. What puzzles me is why Christians generally are not at the same “disagree” end of the replies in the same numbers. I suspect it has more to do with the way people talk and not what they really believe. Perhaps mainline Protestants and Catholics have practice saying they believe in evolution (while really thinking theist evolution). Mormons and Evangelical Protestants (and Jehovah’s Witnesses, although I know next to nothing about that group) are perhaps more comfortable saying “no, not evolution”, or less practiced saying “yes (sub silentio “by that I mean . . .”).

  28. As a BYU biology professor this kind of survey saddens me. We spend a lot of time showing that students don’t have to choose between the wonderful science of evolution and their religion. Here’s a long conversation that co BCC Perma Blair and I did at FAIR. Here was a seven part reconciliation between evolution and LDS theology of the Fall I put up this summer. If you search the archives here at BCC you’ll find a lot of stuff on evolution I’ve put up. I see we still have a lot of work to do. Sigh.

  29. Ray–

    I’m sure a lot of moderates accept it, and I’m sure there are a few non-science Republicans who accept it too, especially around these parts. Unfortunately, BCC and the rest of the bloggernacle is not a microcosm of the church. You’re going to find a lot more NDBF types (if perhaps not so strident) in an average ward (the type where half the adults don’t have college degrees and 85% voted for Romney) than SteveP or even Ray types.

    It’s certainly unfortunate, but in the five wards I’ve been in since I left BYU, it’s just the way it is.

  30. I feel like many of these comments are justifying an incredibly disturbing trend in the church. The more we as a church try to prove we are like evangelicals (that we are actually Christian in their eyes), the more our culture and beliefs are corrupted by this outside influence. It’s true for modesty as well as anti-science views.

    I am continually shocked to hear how many students at BYU my son encounters who oppose evolution with nearly zero understanding of it. Is this also a failure of the US education system? Are the schools failing to teach science?

  31. And queue R. Gary’s rebuttal to this post in 3… 2… 1…

  32. Just to add to the comment above by Tim about time release seminary teachers, I posted on this exact same thing: http://www.wheatandtares.org/4963/evolution-vs-creationism-in-seminary/

    My son’s teacher did not understand what evolution was (although she was decrying it as against church teachings). However, lds.org presented several horrifying examples of “righteousness,” stories in which courageous but ill-informed LDS students disagreed vociferously with evolution instead touting their creationist beliefs. I have to agree with Steve P who earlier said: “literalist creationism, where it exists in Mormonism, is a leak from sources other than the Restoration that misunderstands the scriptures’ purpose.” I was raised to believe that the church was not anti-science, but that position has clearly changed in the last few decades, and will be the cause of many falling away. We are planting ourselves firmly and confidently on the wrong side of science. The truth will eventually come out, and it won’t be the map showing where God deliberately hid all the dinosaur bones to fool us.

  33. A few year back we surveyed over 1000 Mormons and got very different results.

    http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2010/05/survey-results-part-4-why-we-argue-about-evolution/2147/

  34. I agree with comments along the lines that it would be interesting to see an “evolution is compatible with my religious belief” question and how Mormons fair on that versus other religious people. I would hope that we would flip and be much more likely to agree incompatibility than say evangelicals who have set up evolution as a specific orthodoxy/belief test.

    For the record, this is what I think is driving the Mormon response to this question. Being a largely orthodoxy, bright boundary (some would say Pharisaical) loving people these days I think the average respondent here viewed the question as a proxy test for “do you believe in God?”. This would seem consistent with comments such as Ray’s, Naismith etc. The fact that we seem to understand this as coded language and interpret the way evangelicals do, is I agree with Angela both indicative of our continued cultural coziness with evangelicals wrought in the crucible of conservative US politics and very unfortunate. We have a theology that doesn’t require us to pick that battle at all. Yet I feel that many Mormons now forge on in as cultural warriors and allies to the evangelical Right. The question begs this response, but I still find it sad to see so many Mormons playing along as far as to go “completely disagree”. I personally think when we look back on the period from the 1960s until the late-2000’s with any type of historical remove we will recognize how Mormonism’s being caught up in the realignment of conservative politics while going through our own “correlation” has been so influential in the shaping of our contemporary doctrine and policy. I hope we will cringe at the philosophy of men mingled with scripture and calling good evil and evil good (and all that). At very least we as a people have seriously underestimated how powerful polical ideology, incentives and operatives can be in infiltrating the church, the voices in the wilderness of the bloggernacle not withstanding.

    I think this question is just one such illustration of that.

  35. Matt W.

    Interesting survey. Of course your web based survey skews young (given what i saw of the way you broke down results I am sure you are aware of this selection bias yadda yadda). However, even giving Mormon’s the most generous readings from your survey (in terms of being evolution friendly) only 54% of Mormons agree there is no conflict between evolution and their religious beliefs. That puts us somewhere between muslims and catholics here being asked a much more stratifying question. So I would tend to say your results can best be interpreted as supportive of the results here. 46% of your largely young, internet savvy sample have pretty severe reservations with evolution being compatible with their religious beliefs. Yowzer!

  36. I wonder why so many posters here find it so important to be ashamed or astonished that some fellow Latter-day Saints might not enthusiastically embrace evolution. They had similar issues back in Paul’s New Testament days, where one saint thought one way about one matter and another saint thought differently, and on a different matter differing saints had divergent views, and so forth. Paul’s teaching in Romans ch. 14 is profound, and is appropriate study for anyone who is disturbed that a fellow saint might think differently about a particular matter. For me, if a saint wants to believe in evolution with a sincere heart, let him or her do so. If another saint with a sincere heart wants not to believe in evolution, let him or her not do so. I’m not astonished at or disturbed by the survey results — they are what they are, and as many have pointed out, a small difference in wording with sensitivity to the Latter-day Saints audience might have produced different results.

  37. Antonio Parr says:

    I think most Mormons would respond positively to a poll that asked about God-designed/directed evolution, which is a theory perfectly consistent with scriptural accounts of man being formed from the dust of the earth, albeit over millions of years. Take God out of the question, then it is not surprising that you get a less receptive response from practicing Latter-Day Saints.

  38. Whatever Mormons currently believe, it has been a shift.

    “In 1935 only 36 percent of the students at the Mormons’ Brigham Young University denied that humans had been ‘created in a process of evolution from lower life forms.’ By 1973 the figure had risen sharply to 81 percent. No doubt many factors pushed young Mormons towards fundamentalism and antievolutionism. But the most significant scientificially was the far-reaching influence of George McReady Price.” the Creationists339.
    Price was heavily influential on Joseph Fielding Smith’s views, which became prominent in the Church through his own writings and Elder McConkie’s, his son-in-law.

    I’m not thrilled with how the question is worded, but would have voted for the “mostly agree”, I think. I’m reluctant to ever buy in completely to any scientific OR religious idea, given the nature of both.

  39. I fully accept evolution science. But I’m not surprised by the Pew survey results. I applaud everything that good saints like SteveP do to encourage Mormons to accept evolution science and reconcile science with Mormon teachings. But we have to acknowledge that many leaders in high positions have made very clear statements against evolution science over the past few decades (often in official forums). These days, most GAs have stopped speaking against evolution in conference and church magazines (with the exception of Elder Nelson), but there haven’t been any retractions. The same old teachings are alive and well in the seminary and institute programs and in most of the gospel doctrine classes I’ve been in around the country. I feel like we’re finally at the same point with evolution that we got to with the priesthood ban a few years ago: the church doesn’t bring up the old teachings and justifications much anymore, and quietly says “we don’t know” to outsiders while letting insiders carry on however they see fit. I don’t blame my fellow members for pretty much ignoring the possibility of evolution, or for feeling shaken when learning about the evidence for evolution in college or elsewhere.

    Elder Christofferson (before he was called as an Apostle, when he was in the Presidency of the Seventy) gave an interview to Reuters (see http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/06/11/us-usa-mormons-qa-idUKFLE15338920070611). The context was Mitt Romney’s first run for president. The reporter asked Elder Christofferson if he believed in evolution, and he said “I don’t know. That’s a very intriguing question. I can’t think of a doctrinal statement by the church on evolution.” That’s the closest I’ve ever seen any GA come to acknowledging the possibility that evolution might be accepted. If a saint is looking to follow the prophets, then unofficial statements like that don’t give much to hang your hat on.

  40. The question (worded awfully, imo) produced exactly the results I would expect it to and it doesn’t dishearten me at all. It is asking religious people to take God out of the equation completely, and that just isn’t something that is going to jive. When you push their hand, of course they are going to disagree.

    I’m not a science major or a democrat (or a republican) but I believe that Evolution is pretty well close to scientific fact. I believe it, it makes sense, it has borne out. However, the origins of The Earth and man get a little more tricky. Like a few others I would like to see the question worded a little more loosely and then I think these numbers would change at least minimally.

  41. It is 3000 or 4000 years ago. Moses needs to know about the creation and man’s relationship to his creator(s) so that the 12 tribes of Israel can get plugged back in again. Moses is not in any position to understand chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy or even math. The concept of counting by multiples of 10 has yet to be developed. Now, you are assigned to write for revelation the information contained in the texts of the Book of Moses, Genesis, etc. Your challenge – Explain the creation to Moses. But KISS, keep it simple, stupid! Moses is intelligent but he has no rigorous scientific background. What do you produce? Isn’t is obvious!

    As time goes forward from now, know that when we look at the details, science vs. religion and they appear to disagree, either science has it wrong, religion has it wrong, or both have it wrong. And in the Lord’s own due time, he will reveal His secrets to His servants, the prophets or those skilled at figuring things out by careful observation and deduction. But don’t expect any to get it all correct the first time. The thing we seek, “light and truth” is an evolving thing.

  42. Matt W’s graphic linked above is more nuanced (although still only points out one aspect of evolution – the connection between species), and does give me hope.

    The 4 aspects of evolution from my post above are: genetic adaptation (BKP’s talk about the pattern of parentage in which he claims no adaptation crosses species lines puts him on the wrong side of science on this one, but I would guess most Mormons would not object to this theory), natural selection (my guess is that no Mormons would disagree with this one – survival of the fittest, species become extinct – in fact, it’s similar to our explanation for why people leave the church), common descent (this is the one most religious people object to and often oversimplify, claiming they are not descended from monkeys), and origin of species (although this theory doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a divine creator, it’s the one that gets most religionists in knots – of course a divine creator begs the question “who created the creator?”).

    I’d love to see a more thorough evaluation of beliefs about the different aspects of evolution, but in asking the more complete question, we already educate and change the outcome. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

  43. I think the most important thing we can do here is let others know that it’s possible to accept evolution and still be a good member of the church. A lot of members don’t realize this. I wouldn’t have realized this without the direct and indirect influence of the BYU Biology Department–and honestly, the scientific evidence being as overwhelming as it is, I probably would have left the church if I thought the two were incompatible.

  44. I am not a Democrat or a liberal. I am not a scientist. But I believe in evolution. And I believe there is scriptural confirmation of evolution in Abraham 4:18: “And the Gods watched over those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” The scripture doesn’t give us the process, but we don’t need to know that, only that “the Gods” ordered certain things and during the millions of years of creation those things eventually “obeyed.” or, in other words, became man. I don’t know that God even had to have had a hand in it. He was fully aware of natural law and knew what would eventually happen once things got started. All He had to do was “watch.”

  45. Latter-day Guy says:

    …survival of the fittest, species become extinct – in fact, it’s similar to our explanation for why people leave the church…

    Religio-social Darwinism FTW! (That’s not a criticism. This is actually a v. interesting point.)

  46. Jared vdH says:

    In my BYU Old Testament class (took it around 2008 I believe) the professor (who was part of the department of religion) spent an entire class on how evolution is not incompatible with LDS teachings about the creation. He cited the scriptures and several First Presidency statements from Joseph F Smith’s time from what I remember, and his primary message was that the scriptures teaching about the creation are about the “why” of creation rather than the “how”.

    Honestly, since then I’ve been somewhat surprised by the number of members of the Church and CES instructors I’ve encountered that are Young Earth Creationists. Just based on my personal experiences, I thought they were in the minority. This apparently is not the case.

  47. When we are on the other side of our mortal life (aka dead) we will laugh for days about how much we thought we knew while we were alive on earth. Non-Evolution testimonies included.

  48. Fairchild says:

    I wonder if most members would be shocked to know that evolution was a required class for my zoology major at BYU 20 years ago. I happened to take it the same semester I was taking the first half of the Old Testament. Fun times.

    My professor, Duane Jeffery, used to write articles for the Deseret News trying to convince Provoans that science and religion were compatible. He spent one whole class period explaining how Mormon theology was incompatible with creationism. Fascinating stuff.

  49. Fairchild says:

    Sorry, I meant the Daily Herald, not the Deseret News. I’ve been out of Utah for over ten years and got them mixed up.

  50. Jared vdH and Fairchild,

    Nice to know that in the time stretching from my Old Testament Class at BYU in about 1969 and yours in 2008 Religion Teachers at BYU are sounding the same board and reaching the same conclusions. Evolution was a part of my microbiology course, too. And as I recall, professors at BYU have made contributions to the field of science substantiating evolution! How about that?

    But we all know that from time to time, certain of the Brethren have denounced evolution. I recall as a youth hearing Joseph Fielding Smith criticize Dinosaur National Monument as being the work of the devil. But when he became church president, that all stopped. I always wondered whether my great aunt Jesse had anything to do with that.

  51. I think the BYU Religion Department has gotten better over the past several years, but there are certainly a few stridently anti-evolution holdouts, or at least there were when I left Provo in 2007. Overall, though, my impression was that most of the religion professors are actual academics who have a healthy respect for science, and although they’re perhaps not pro-evolution, are smart enough to know that there are students in their classroom who are biology majors and know more about evolution than the professors do.

    I recall a few years back that a BYU evolution study made the cover of either Nature or Science (the two biggest science journals). Research on dragonfly evolution, if I recall correctly. We’d joke in our upper level biology courses that our parents sent us off to BYU so they wouldn’t have to worry about us being taught “evilution.” Parenting goal FAIL. Our evolution professor wanted to put his early hominid skeletal model (Lucy, I believe, though I could be wrong) on display. But the security costs to ensure its safety were prohibitive. We heard horror stories about recent BYU biology teaching grads getting chewed out by seminary teachers–merely for teaching the biology they learned at BYU. Fun, fun times.

  52. Ben S,

    Yep I think that quote nails it on the head. The anti-evolution leanings were driven by politically minded christian conservatives who had direct access to the our leaders. It gets dragged in on the heels of the great political shift, one that was spearheaded within our own religion by some of the most powerful men in the church and their families. That’s just our history. We need to deal with it.

    JI

    Sorry but while I think there is an argument for respecting deist interpretations of guided evolution I have a hard time mustering any intellectual and to be honest spiritual respect for young earth creationists. I mean I respect their decision to believe in young earth creationism like I respect my children’s decision to believe in Santa Claus, but no further. Sure I can respect fellow church members with these beliefs in other areas of their lives – like admire their skill in parenting or dedication to service or humility or what not but in no way can I respect strong belief in young earth creationism nor the intellectual and spiritual processes leading there. I would strongly resist any effort to teach my children or others young earth creationist based theology. Sure let them think what they want but outright lies have no place in creating a testimony. After all you can only have real faith in things you can’t see *that are true* and it simply is not true that the earth is 6,000 years old, all current decedents come from Noah and his survivors and carbon dating is an evil worldly lie.

    Angela,

    Nuanced and insightful as always. I do disagree with the interpretation of Matt W’s survey results but given how non-comparable the samples are it is all just spit balling and then a value judgement on what you consider optimistic or not. It still scares the crap out of me that so many of Mormon’s our age and younger seem to be in a place where the reality of evolution might be poised to pose a serious threat to a testimony.

    Sharee,

    I find it interesting that the qualifiers that need to be stated are “not being a democrat or a scientist”. In theory ones political affiliation and profession should have little to do with one’s acceptance of evolution as a basic concept. I think that speaks volumes to where people beliefs and attitudes about this topic seem to come from.

    CE,

    “That is interesting to think about” from Elder Christophersen is scary. I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was likely just playing interview chess and didn’t want to go down that road with the interviewer at the time and use this to deflect it. There are I think better examples of stronger statements out there for evolution from leaders than this. Still either it is him honestly not having a clear opinion on evolution or feeling that a stronger statement on his part would be detrimental to some members faith. Still not a healthy place for us to be in the 2000s.

  53. I imagine that Mormons are less accepting of evolution for a few reasons. As others have stated, the statements of previous Church leaders has had a large impact on ideas. In addition to this I would add the LDS doctrine is somewhat difficult to reconcile with evolution. Even if we skip over the literal manner in which the Church and most members approach scripture, there is still the idea that God has the appearance of a man. This doctrine would seem to suggest that mankind is the supremum of the evolutionary process, something that evolution, at least in theory, would not agree with. The Mormon perspective of a man as God, at least from my perspective, requires belief in divine direction for evolution to a much higher degree than is required in the belief systems of other religious denominations.

  54. rah, I mentioned not being a Democrat or a scientist because someone earlier had said that the only people he knew who believed in evolution were Democrats or scientists. I also don’t think one’s politics or profession have anything to do with it.

  55. Manuel Villalobos says:

    Members of the Church are tougth they should place their Leader’s teachings above anything Members of the Church are taught they should place their Leader’s teachings above anything else, since they are “inspired.” Furthermore, LDS Leaders have in more than one occasion pretty much declared intellectualism anathema.

    In a statistical context, intellectuals are less than a handful in the Church, compared to the numbers Mormons consider to be “members of the Church.” Combined with the fact that Mormons believe intellectuals should be questioned while leaders should not, intellectualism probably has a net zero impact on the actual Mormon population, since it is set for failure when it comes to ideas that contrast those historically held by the leaders.

    Add to that, the extremely poor and anti-academic (and lazy) practice LDS Leaders have of avoiding clarification of topics at all costs and moving away from ideas through comfortable omission of topics in their curricula, which has proven pretty much ineffective in helping and guiding members in understanding new approaches to older topics.

    While there are brilliant intellectual minds in Mormonism, the Church has a system to keep them at bay (passively or aggressively) from making real strides in Mormon thought and worldview.

  56. I tend to agree with Ray (2 days ago, at 4:23 PM) that the wording of the question has a lot to do with the answer. I would have said “mostly agree,” since the best explanation (IMHO) also involves God’s placing in those bodies their spirits. I am unconcerned with the exact mechanism, frankly, although the science is interesting. I’m just not too concerned with how, or whether, with my limited knowledge, I can “reconcile” it.

    I do know people in my ward (in Minnesota, well outside of Utah) who are literal, young-earth creationists. I think that belief is objectively impossible to support.

    That said (and this touches on a couple of comments that people have made), it seems that by late in his life, David O. McKay had come to accept the fact of evolution, even if he made no authoritative pronouncement on it (unfortunately). Prince and Wright, in David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, contrast his view to the more rigid, traditional creationist views of Joseph Fielding Smith. I suspect that after McKay’s death, JFS was free to roam.

    The authors also do mention that one of the post-McKay prophets, JFS or Harold B Lee, had toned down or changed a position he had held adamantly as a member of the Twelve. A secretary remarked that, having observed it happen a few times, when a man becomes the President of the Church, sometimes he just sees things differently.

    If Prince and Wright fault McKay for anything, it’s for being a little too conciliatory and unwilling to court conflict by coming down on some of the stronger personalities amongst the 12.

  57. I spend a lot of time with doctors and scientists who discuss how evolutionary theory helps them in their work, specifically in dealing with rapidly evolving disease organisms. When I think of all we would lose if we turned the clock back to the early 1800s, I find it truly frightening.

  58. Tim: I can’t speak to all classes at BYU, but the biology department at least is not entertaining anti-evolution arguments. My son (just yesterday) said his bio 100 teacher pre-emptively stated that evolution has sufficient evidence and proof and is essentially impossible to rationally argue against. Students needed to understand it and accept the science, not waste time with ill informed arguments. Now, would they get this same speech in a Red Ed class? Maybe, maybe not.

  59. New Iconoclast,

    I certainly noticed the toning down you mention with regard to JFS. DOMcKay was a college professor and administrator – Weber State. And I imagine that coming from that background, he gave considerable deference to the sciences. When one looks at modern day physics and scientific hypotheses about creation, much of what was said about the creation by JSJr. from 1830 to 1844 seems amazing.

  60. Yeah, I’d be extremely surprised if a single bio professor at BYU were anti-evolution. I also heard defenses of evolution from geology and chemistry professors (for example, while studying the Second Law of Thermodynamics–“If you’re using the Second Law of Thermodynamics to try to disprove evolution, you don’t understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It doesn’t disprove evolution.”)

    Professors and other teachers outside of the science departments, however, were another matter. Mostly not discussions, but brief mentions in passing of how evolution was wrong. However, one of my friends came home from her BYU Religion Class with tons and tons of anti-evolution garbage. I’m pretty sure the son of a certain former member of the 12 knew the head of the Religion department didn’t want him spending a lot of time on anti-evolution, but I guess he just couldn’t help himself.

  61. We know VERY litte about how the world was created either way we frame it (scientifically or religiously). I have always had a hard time with how the fall fits in..and in my mind I don’t know what to do with all of the teensy things dying before they fall. I am sometimes distracted in the temple as I think of the things they are stepping on, and killing, before the fall. or the skin cells or the amoebas dying before the fall. time is such a crazy thing in itself…if time is different before the fall…or basic things about the world? see crazy making.

    I just separate religion and science. I fall with Galileo.. The Bible tells us How to Go to Heaven, Not How the Heavens Go… It is nice for our brains that like to start with something strong to say God created the earth and stop there. It’s harder for me to open it up for evolution…which I still have a zillion questions about…how did the first DNA strand happen? That first cell? There are a lot of questions on exactly how things work once you start it as a science and logic issue. When you can just put it in the realm of religion, you are done. Maybe that’s lazy.

    The wording of the question is IMO purposefully awkward.

  62. There’s a ridiculous amount of evidence for evolution. There is much less information about where the first cell came from. Lots of hypothesis, but they’re incredibly difficult to confirm. The first cell didn’t leave a fossil record, and we can’t go back in time and examine it. Heck, some credible scientists think the first cells on this planet may have originated on another nearby planet. We know some forms of single-cell life are incredibly tough and can survive some of the most hostile environments, including, quite possibly, space. Lots of speculation, not a lot of firm answers.

    On the bright side, though, evolution itself doesn’t concern itself with the origins of the first life. Evolution has to do with what happened AFTER that first life started reproducing. And for that, there’s a ton of evidence. Problem is, it takes a pretty good understanding of biology to really understand evolution, and most of the anti-evolution folk aren’t interested in putting in the time necessary to understand it. Those anti-evolutionists who do (including, at one point, myself) usually end up accepting evolution–and if they believe their faith is contrary to evolution, they’ll end up losing their faith in the process.

  63. Bottom line – when there is a conflict between science and religion, one, the other or both are wrong. Both have been and will continue being wrong much of the time. So get used to it. We all can be thankful that the system of Church sponsored universities does not attempt to discredit the sciences. Looking as far back as I can see, it never has. Perhaps the more searching question on this topic is “Why?”

    At one time BYU did not embrace the sciences much. Those interested in the sciences and engineering chose to go to “The U” or Logan. That’s what my father had to do. Every season we had a great time facing off on the UofU/BYU game, as my Army father and I did with one of my brothers over the Army/Navy game. Competition can be fun. And the competition for the truth between science and religion is also fun. Those who chose to be totally one sided are destined to loose. Those of us who do not so choose get to celebrate at each turn in the road.

  64. All of this discussion points out the great flaw in the science of surveys… How a question is composed greatly affects the responses you receive. Survey creators use this to their advantage, especially if they are seeking justification to support their own agenda(s). For this reason, I tend to discount all surveys, no matter who is taking them. I would rather spend my time reading poetry… like this one from Langdon Smith entitled Evolution.

    When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
    In the Paleozoic time,
    And side by side on the ebbing tide
    We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
    Or skittered with many a caudal flip
    Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
    My heart was rife with the joy of life,
    For I loved you even then.

    Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
    And mindless at last we died;
    And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
    We slumbered side by side.
    The world turned on in the lathe of time,
    The hot lands heaved amain,
    Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
    And crept into life again.

    We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
    And drab as a dead man’s hand;
    We coiled at ease ‘neath the dripping trees
    Or trailed through the mud and sand.
    Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
    Writing a language dumb,
    With never a spark in the empty dark
    To hint at a life to come.

    Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
    And happy we died once more;
    Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
    Of a Neocomian shore.
    The eons came and the eons fled
    And the sleep that wrapped us fast
    Was riven away in a newer day
    And the night of death was passed.

    (The entire poem can be found here: http://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/int/evolution.html)

  65. In quoting from Langdon Smith, SteveS takes us on a brief tour of our archaeological history, one those of us who have studied this extensive discipline will recognize. Should you be among those who are totally unfamiliar with it, and also be unfamiliar with the study of evolution in any of its related disciplines, you may not appreciate it. And lacking both familiarity and appreciation, chances are you will dispute its value, value to our understanding of the world around us, and understanding of our relationship to that world.

    We are told to seek knowledge out of the best books. That list ought to be extensive and all inclusive. If your library lacks an example of two from these topics, update it soon. You will be the better Latter-day Saint for it.

  66. My wife, and probably lots of other people, really hate me when I operate in this certainty mode, which I reserve for just a few topics, but the unmitigated truth is that the question about the validity of organic evolution as it relates to men was settled definitively 60 years ago. The fact that hardly anyone knows about it seems to be related to two things: 1) That the evolutionists who did these studies and found these results and published them in professional journals, really hate the results because it hurts their atheist/scientist religion and profession, so they keep quiet. And 2) there are lots of people in the general populace who want to leave open the option of atheistic evolution forever, regardless of what the scientific facts are. In other words, nobody gives a [blank] about the actual scientific truth, they just want to endlessly theorize and leave open the atheist (“all things are permitted”) option. Probably the best way to settle the matter is to read the book by John C, Sanford, Genetic Entropy, first published in about 2005. He cites about 74 published articles, starting in the 1950s, on population genetics, and summarizes the findings of about a dozen very serious researchers. If you are part of that 0.0001% of the population who actually wants to settle the question, you can go there. The book, and all the cited studies, make it clear that it is absolutely impossible that man could have ascended/descended from some lower form of creature, regardless of which one you choose to start with, or what you imagine God’s role might have been along the way in this necessarily Rube Goldberg process.

    A really short version of Genetic Entropy is that the human genome currently contains tens of thousands of deleterious mutations which have relentlessly accumulated over the perhaps 300 generations of man’s life on earth, and those mutations can be studied and analyzed. There’s no need to speculate about what may have happened 100 million years ago, when we have the only story that matters exhibited in our own genome material we carry around with us. Some of the basic concepts of organic evolution — mutation and selection — can be seen to operate for a single celled animal, but when you have an unbelievably complex creature such as man, where there are at least 100 trillion cells, all synchronized together, each having separate purposes, etc., etc., you can’t sacrifice 1 trillion trillion of these complete creatures every morning before breakfast for selection purposes, as you can with E. coli, and the process of selection that goes on for one celled animals has only the vaguest possible relevance to man.

    It should not take too much effort or study to notice and realize that the number of genetic diseases, which might also be called chronic diseases, relating to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, etc., has also been rising at an inexorable rate worldwide, with 0.71% a year being an accepted summary. Obviously, this cannot go on very long before everyone on the planet has at least one chronic/genetic disease. I believe in the United States we have reached the point where about 45% of the population has at least one genetic disease. If we reach the point where children are born with too many genetic diseases to survive birth, then our species is toast. It might be nice to spend a few billion dollars in biological and medical research to minimize this inevitable set of problems in the future, but that will never happen as long as everyone is convinced that we’re actually on the way to becoming Superman with triple sized brains, etc.

    However, if your career or job depends on believing passionately in organic evolution, and you don’t mind destroying most of the Scriptural Gospel to justify that belief, including contorting and diminishing the Scriptural concept of God until his powers, promises, plans, duties, responsibilities, and attributes are unrecognizable, or largely implicitly rejected, then I guess you can “reconcile” the two. This takes some pretty serious sophistry, playing word games with so many of the scientific and scriptural concepts involved that most people will find it not worth the time to try to untangle the “Gordian knot” you present them with. In my youth, we would’ve called that a “snow job.” My computer science son tells me that one new appellation for the same process is a “one-way hash” argument.

    Someone might get to the bottom of this problem by just using a few simple aphorisms: “conventional wisdom is always wrong” would be a good place to start. In today’s propaganda-drenched world, where carefully constructed lies outnumber truth statements at least 10 to 1, it is seriously hard work to plow through the baloney to find out the “ground truth” about anything, and this is certainly one of most difficult of those things.

  67. I have read much of the material in the JFS manual that could contain his anti-evolution quotes and have seen none of them. I think that it is a big-time commentary from the institutional church if there are none from him. There is plenty of material to work with, but an entirely different focus in this manual. This should be explicitly mentioned to any strident young earth creationists in your ward.
    The humble, but misguided (in my opinion) ones can probably figure it out for themselves in the Lord’s own due time.

  68. I wonder what would happen if they had controlled for level of education. It would be interesting to see if disagreement with evolution is associated with lower levels of education and agreement associated with higher levels. Unlike other religions, high levels of education among LDS are associated with religiosity, so it might not make a difference, but it would be interesting to try it and see.

    I’m not too surprised by these results, though. Many LDS still believe that the Ensign and conference talks are scripture, Even though recent statements have indicated this is not the case, old myths die hard. These attitudes could also be due to the heavy emphasis placed on Adam and Eve in Mormonism. Members need to find a way to reconcile this with evolution, not easy to do if this account is taken literally.

  69. el oso,

    For me it was not a surprise to read quotes critiquing evolution from JFS. I was alive when he made a great number of them. What’s important to consider is that they stopped when he became Church President, responsible to a higher source for all of what he said. He was a very kind and gracious man, my great uncle by marriage to Jesse Evans Smith. And where evolution was being taught at BYU in most if not all science courses where the topic related, it would appear that a huge change occurred. So I repeat my challenge. If you are not a student of the sciences and have no “best books” on the subject from which you may increase your knowledge and wisdom on the subject, get some. The BYU Campus Bookstore should be a good place to start.

  70. I love to hear the faithful and believing talk about evolution and how their liberal beliefs can live in harmony with one of the most profound and provocative ideas ever known to man. This is an idea that cuts further into our most fundamental beliefs that even its friends have admitted to themselves. Where the belief is liberal is to JFSmith’s firm pedagogy that evolution is indeed disharmonious of the restored gospel. However most of this liberalism that comes to theory’s table is disharmonious of the theory itself, and would that the student be conservative, for even the Christian’s “liberal” interpretation, including the liberal view here, does not accord with Darwin’s dangerous idea.
    Most Mormons, indeed most religious, including the liberal bastions of Christianity would accept what the evidence has dragged them to, yet they still stop short, claiming that when it came to man, somehow, somewhere God intervened and his guiding finger gave bi-pedalism a slight push. Not a push to sight that has arisen multiple times independently, or flight, but bi-pedalism, which led to the bigger brain, which to us humans is the ultimate evolutionary expression, but not to evolution. To evolution the big brain is just another adaptation, that in the end may not remain efficient within its environment, and may eventually be shed through a extinction event. Why would we suppose our brains better than a bat’s or dolphin’s sonar, or a bumble bee’s navigation, or an insect’s society? In the end, if it is our brain’s over sized capacity that produces a situation that ends our species, was it a good adaptation in the long run? Evolution has a more profound and patient outlook for the long run, which in itself is a harder concept for us to understand than evolution. Most who reject evolution don’t really misunderstand the concept, it’s that most just can’t grasp deep time. Again, the big brain is just another adaptation in the evolutionary scheme of things, why would God only nudge that?
    I think is was Ray that mentioned up above that he can bite off on evolution just as long as God was involved when it came to human evolution. This is a common sentiment, and probably held by most here. This is not what evolution says. Evolution is all about indifferent and random genetic mutation riding a backdrop of deep quantum indeterminacy. If we were to rewind to the abiogenetic event of life and play the same tape all over again, the chances of homo-sapiens (In God’s image) rising again in the same form are as remote as a Kansas thunderstorm that had its origins from the flap of a butterfly’s wing in China, to flap but the next week, in the same spot, and produce the same storm. Christian’s must bring their most un-anthropomorphic God to this discussion, a God that mirrors the secularist’s “meaning of life” or some other squishy vice to stave off the despair that comes without the aid of a supreme power. Look at what “liberal” Mormons have to do to accept evolutionary underpinnings. Adam and Eve become fictitious characters thus undermining the theology of the fall, thus undermining the need for an atonement. This puts the mission of Christ (the same Christ as in “Church of Jesus Christ”) as defined by the restored gospel into pastures of irrelevancy. Alas the Mormon concept of evolution has to embrace somewhere, somehow the role of God in the process, yet as this role is debated, the huge chunks of bedrock theology (Read: Restored Gospel) crumble like a house of cards, and we’re left with some sort of squishy definition of who God really is, and how involved He is in our lives, a God totally foreign to me when I sit in Gospel Doctrines class.
    Can’t say I don’t enjoy watching the fervent struggle to mold Abrahamic belief around the steel drum that is the vastness of evolution’s body of evidence, supported through many magisteria of disciplines. Good luck, there is little difference in a nuanced and liberal squishy God of “who knows where He fits in” interpretation regarding evolution that is posited here by the many vs the God of Abraham supervising a seven day creative period six thousand years ago with the sudden appearance of man. The theory cuts deeper than both of those beliefs, and will continue to hold its ground as religion and more specifically, “belief” spins around it.

  71. Rude Dog,

    I repeat. The BYU bookstore would be a great place to start!

  72. Whenever asked, or when it came up in my years teaching Sunday school (both adults and youth) my response to evolution would be “I have no idea how God did it (the mechanics of creating life and the world as we now know it), but I do not believe it is any sort of sin to try and figure it out.” What I do not believe in is a magacian God who merely snapped his fingers (or the like) and created life and the earth in an instant.

    So whether evolution is 90% or 9% correct; it seems the best understanding so far until further study and investigation shows otherwise.

    And FWIW I am moderately conservative with non science degrees.

  73. “as remote as a Kansas thunderstorm that had its origins from the flap of a butterfly’s wing in China, to flap but the next week, in the same spot, and produce the same storm.”

    I think they caught that buterfly. It was the real cause of global warming. ;)

  74. TStevens,

    Thank you for adding you comment. We have adamant “Genesis/Book of Moses” creationists who appear to forget that in that day and age, no one knew enough science to have understood evolution. And we have adamant “evolutionists” who laugh at creationism as if it has no value whatsoever, having become outdated by modern scientific research, analysis and understanding. Clearly neither extreme has a full and complete understanding. And if we would increase our understanding, we can always search from further light and truth form those “best books” many of which can be purchased in house or on line from the BYU Book Store. That’s where I got my science text books in the late 60’s, and they explained evolution pretty well. When my great uncle by marriage, JFS, stopped characterizing Dinosaur National Monument as being the work of the Devil, I rejoiced.

  75. “I think is was Ray that mentioned up above that he can bite off on evolution just as long as God was involved when it came to human evolution.”

    Actually, Rude Dog, that’s not what I said – or, more precisely, the implications of that wording are not what I believe. It’s a fine distinction to me (one that you might or might not acknowledge as legitimate and with which you still might disagree), but it’s an important one to me.

    I have no problem accepting that evolution is what caused the creation of our human, physical bodies. I have no problem accepting that our bodies came to be in the exact same way that other animals’ bodies came to be. I have no problem accepting that our bodies are animalistic in nature. I have no problem accepting that Adam (meaning “man”) and Eve (meaning “mother” or “woman”) had biological parentage that occurred through evolution – that they were born as “non-human” in the way our theology defines “human” (possessing both a mortal body and an immortal spirit in a way that constitutes a “living soul”) I simply believe in the idea of an insertion of a spirit child of God into a physical, earthly body that makes us unique in an important way – more than just the smartest animal on the planet. I also read the most recent official statement from the Church (dating way back to 1909) as leaving that possibility open – not teaching it, but not rejecting it. There is one key sentence in that statement that leaves it open as a possibility.

    I’m not saying God was involved specifically or only in human evolution, in the sense that he “directed” human evolution differently than any other species. What I’m saying is that I believe God started an evolutionary process (and I’m not dictating any particular way that genesis occurred), waited until that evolutionary process created an acceptable “animal”, then changed that some of those animals into humans by inserting a spirit children into those bodies. I’m saying I believe the difference between humans and every other animal is not how their differing bodies were created but simply that humans contain one extra element (a unique spirit).

    I know there is absolutely no biological evidence for that, but there isn’t any evidence against it, either. It’s all in the arena or religious faith – that for which I hope but am unable to see. Thus, the wording of the question simply doesn’t give me the option of saying evolution alone is the best explanation of our existence as “humans”.

  76. Sorry for the typos in that last comment. I tried to edit it but obviously missed a few mistakes.

  77. Does Genesis speak to the creation of a single human being whom we know as Adam, and then out of one of his ribs, a single human being, a female, whom we know as Eve, the mother of all living? Or is this creation the making of a species of somewhat larger numbers? Did Cain pare up with an unnamed sister? Same question for Seth.

    Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. [Does the plural pronoun stem from the creation of a single man and a single woman? Or does it refer to a much larger creation of human kind.]

    Gen 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. [We know that humans are mostly water, not dust and that humans have very little dust in the rest. Carbohydrates, protein, bone, but no dust. This is figurative characterization. When we return to the dust of the earth, we leave behind calcified bone. That's about it.]

    8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. [Eve comes along a bit later!]

    Gen 5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man [here a reference to mankind, not just one man], in the likeness of God made he him;

    2 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their [plural possessive pronoun] name Adam, in the day when they were created. [“Their name,” i.e. the male and female he created are called Adam. It would appear that the name Adam is more than just the name of the husband of Eve and father of Cain and Able, but is also used to refer to a larger grouping of God’s creation, i.e. human kind. “Male and female” imply multiple creatures. Otherwise we would expect to read “A man and a woman” created he, and blessed the couple.

    Keep up the good work, Ray.

  78. Dale,

    Yes, Genesis leaves plenty of room for accepting evolution (especially when you learn more about the history behind that book). But our founding prophets and apostles, and many prophets and apostles since then, have spoken very plainly about a single first man Adam, and single first woman Eve, a literal fall (before which there was no death), etc. So I can understand why a faithful latter-day saint might reject evoluation science on this basis, or have a crisis of faith when confronted with evidence of evolution (especially human evolution). I accept evolution science, but that necessitates a very different view of what insight our latter-day prophets and apostles have into the meaning of Genesis and other scriptures.

  79. CE,

    Take each statement from a general authority that comes to mind, examine the background, especially the science background, of each who spoke it, and perhaps you can begin to understand my point. And GAs have to keep in mind the background of all to whom they speak so as not to upset too many apple carts. Those with little or no scientific background can “understand” creation from only one narrow perspective. And when Genesis was written [or revealed to Moses], no one had anything near the background in the sciences that most everyone of us has today.

    Yet amazingly the actual language of Genesis is broader than the classical creationists realize. That was my point in quoting from Genesis above. Then re-read TStevens and Ray. I expect that neither Ray or TStevens have as much science in their portfolio as I have in my BYU portfolio. Yet they appreciate the idea I voiced way up front. When we perceive a dispute between science and religion, one, the other or both are wrong and/or misunderstood, i.e. incomplete, inaccurate, focused on too little data and too little authoritative information. The process of revelation has to take into account the level of sophistication possessed by the recipient. It has to make sense on the level the recipient can understand. As time goes by, our understanding of both increases and we get a bit closer to a full and complete understanding of the details of how life was created. The notion of “dust thou art” is poetic and effective but no where close to being scientifically accurate, nor for that matter theologically accurate. God has yet to reveal anywhere nearly all that He has to reveal. For those with a broader background, He can reveal more, if and when the time comes and if they are called to receive it on behalf of others.

    For now, we see DOMK not critiquing the teaching of the evolutionary science in our public and church sponsored school systems. We see evolution taught in our Church sponsored college systems. And we see my Great Uncle-in-law JFS saying Dinosaur National Monument was the work of the devil. And as a UoU geologist, my father was making excuses to me for JFS words based upon JFS’s lack of background in the sciences. No way the earth was created in 7 thousand years, ending 6 thousand years ago. And those dino bones near Vernal are real as are the animals who got stuck in the muck and died there millions of years ago! Add to that the otherwise inexplicably broad yet precise language of Genesis and we have plenty of reason not to dismiss evolution as a creative tool in His kit. No sense in telling God precisely how He created us based primarily upon what He told Moses 4,000 years ago. When we are ready and in His own due time, He will be telling us much much more pertaining to His Kingdom. That’s how things are run.

    So keep your mind open, wide open!

  80. I wonder how differently the answers would have been if the statement had been phrased “evolution is the best explanation for human life on earth — though the process may be divinely guided.”

    I can’t help but feel conflicted by this article. As far as I know my family believes in evolution. It seemed most of the kids and families I grew up with accepted evolution as well.

    I certainly believed it growing up as a Mormon and was never told by anyone that I shouldn’t.

  81. social media rabbit,

    I speculate that adding the phrase “– though the process may be divinely guided” would increase the number of LDS who would agree. Presently more than two thirds disagree. I imagine that JW’s and LDS lead the list of those disagreeing because they also studiously read their scriptures personally, therefore religion becomes an integral part of their daily lives. Who else beside these two groups go knocking on doors as a part of their duty to the Creator. And where the literal interpretation of scripture underlies and defines their faith, they cannot readily accept evolution as a part and parcel of creation.

    I find the more interesting question to be “What characterizes the 23% of LDS who do make a place for evolution in their faith in the Creator?” I speculate that it is both a combination of a rigorous science education and experience, one also intermingled with rigorous religious education, and exposure to others with similar background. Lacking this, Creationism without evolution reigns supreme. I would point out that as the fields of science were initially developing, the works of Galileo, Kepler and alike, were not accepted by the faithful. Yet today, we understand that the greater light ruling the day was created long before either the earth or its lesser light ruling the night were created. We even have a soap entitled “As the world turns.” But I note that the idea that all of God’s creations have a spirit [not an intelligence, but a spirit] is quite compatible with today’s understanding of a multidimensional universe. And when I read the phrase “Let there be light, and there was light,” the Big Bang comes to mind. So why 77% of us would totally reject evolution, yet seem to accept the physical creation of the universe seems odd in deed. Apparently the creation of life stands separate and apart in their minds from the rest of God’s creation.

    Let’s you and I, joined by TStevens, Ray and the other 23% keep our minds wide open!

  82. “If you’re saying this part [of the Bible] that said God made land animals and man on the same day is not true, then ultimately why should I believe this bit over here?”
    – Ken Ham, President/CEO and founder of the Creation Museum

    Perhaps this quotation points to the nature of the problem. When a religion leverages scriptural literalism (Garden of Eden, The Flood, Tower of Babel, Lamanites, etc) with exclusive modern revelation it makes it that much harder for its adherents to accept and integrate empirical evidence about the world into theology. And that problem is exasperated when the “prophets, seers and revelators” they look to for guidance – and are exhorted to follow – offer no guidance.

  83. First, in my previous comment I meant “exacerbated” – though these findings are “exasperating.”

    Second, I would be interested in how Mormons compare with other groups when you control for level of education. I often hear that Mormons have a high level of education as a group. Could this provide relative measure the ineffectiveness of secular education in altering dogmatic beliefs for Mormons compared to other religions? My prediction is that the gap between Mormons and evangelical Christians widens. For instance, among those with some college or college degrees, significantly fewer Mormons “agree” with evolution.

    P.S. Professor Knoll, I appreciate this post, including the links. Thanks

  84. Again, I realize that many are excited to claim that evolution and the Mormon faith are compatible. I read and hear the justifying that seem more like contortions, more like hurried machinations to make theology, dogma, and the latterday revealed word fit in the evidentiary and epistemological standards of what we accept as reality. We hear Mental gymnastics like ”I’m saying I believe the difference between humans and every other animal is not how their differing bodies were created but simply that humans contain one extra element (a unique spirit).” or “But I note that the idea that all of God’s creations have a spirit [not an intelligence, but a spirit]” is again the narcissistic need for man to be at the center of a God’s favor. I won’t even go into the problematic issues of “Pre-Adamites” (Adam and Eve’s parents were souless?) nor the squeezing of our religious beliefs into a convoluted watered down Protestantism unrecognizable to most, mot least of all Joseph Smith. When the religions of Abraham including Mormonism try to wear the dress of Evolution to attend grown up functions, the wearer will always come off looking bad because the dress is usually put on backwards or inside out. This dress is pretty awesome on its own, but looks awful being worn in such a fashion, a fashion of the so called enlightened religious that throw God towards evolutionary processes hoping He’ll stick somewhere are riding the same fantasy carriage to the ball as the young earthers, stinking up both the religion and the theory

    It took us 300 years to adapt to the idea that man was not the center of the Universe. In the interim can you imagine the discussion between neighbor regarding the dangerous idea that would be heliocentrism? Imagine the passionate defense of the church, of scripture, of “the way things should be, as God has intended”. In man’s narcissistic need to be favored, how much truth have the centuries withheld from human kind in the name of preserving belief? Like Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus, Darwin postulates that man is not the center of creation, but a branch, without favor, without expectation. Again, the gnashing of teeth from the clergy, from the theology, teachings, no, the decrees marshaling a siren’s song of un-reason, attempting the more sonorous and attractive, a song many bite on, unable to stare the abyss without consolation, attempting rest in the arms of security, an absolute certainty where you have to attend a meeting where “I know” is the only articulation that keeps the fear nearing panic at bay, where the multiple lessons of the second coming is counted on to keep the masses on point, and bulwark theology changed in a blink of an eye to keep up with modern epistemology as the approach towards the historicity of the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, Polygamy, Prophetic ability are subjects being reconsidered by many including the Salt Lake 15 who seem themselves ready to evolve lest the process of cultural natural selection selects the social and scientific bad attitudes of our Mormon church for extinction.

  85. Rude Dog, no need to fear what will happen to the Church. The truth will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent until all evil will collapse and the church will give birth to the full Kingdom of God (spiritually, politically, etc.) that will subdue all enemies under its feet. The political or other whims of man are but a gentle breeze to the foundation upon which the Church is built.

    I am person who does not believe my religion needs to be contorted to fit the wisdom of man. I am ever-ready to glean what partial truths they have to offer and make them my own, for all truth belongs to my religion as I see it; but ultimately I view the wisdom of man to be foolishness. In the face of a lot of evidence I still did not believe that evolution (in the sense of common descent) was a historical reality, not until I sought to understand it from a spiritual perspective and I received my own witness of its truth.

    From there, there were seeming conflicts with other principles that I knew to be true. But that did not bother me, because I knew that the conflicts did not mean there wasn’t a true reconciliation, it simply meant that I did not have the further light and knowledge that showed me how the reconciliation was possible. This lack of understanding never caused me stress, doubt, etc. I simply trusted that in time more light could be shed on the subjects. This led me to study it out in my mind which at first led to all sorts of mental contortions and gymnastics trying to reconcile the seeming discrepancies–not because I felt some sort of need to conform my religion to the wisdom of man, but rather because I understood that 2 things were indeed true and therefore a reconciliation exists out there somewhere, thus I tried to theorize how it could be. So when you see other theories that look like a stretch or look contorted, there is no need to assume it arises from a need to bow or conform to the wisdom of man, it may simply be evidence of a recognition of two known truths that at this time appear to be not completely compatible based on the most traditional understandings, and an honest attempt at studying it out in the mind to bring the two known truths together.

    In my experience, studying it out in the mind in this way, and coming up with ridiculous theories here and there in attempt to find that reconciliation, is what eventually led me to sound personal revelation and the further light and knowledge on the subjects I was looking for; revelation I now treasure. So when I see seeming contortions or strange or what seem like bad theories, I see this as a positive step on the road to further light and knowledge through revelation.

  86. Often, one person’s mental gymnastics are another person’s common sense. So be it.

    Often, one person’s mis-characterizations are another person’s reason to laugh.

    Finally, one’s person’s pseudonym often is accurate.

  87. daniel lima says:

    thank you for this lesson. I has saved my sanity. I had to it through the most excruciating sunday school lesson ever today. I think that having listened to the podcast, made it harder for me to sit throught it. So much theological material just wasted. But Im glad I got to study with you guys.

  88. “I am a person who does not believe my religion needs to be contorted to fit the wisdom of man.”

    When one reads official declarations one and two, there is a different feel to these additions to the canon. There is a sober and somber temperance to both of these declarations. Wilford Woodruff lays out a course for the Saints not in “spirit of the Lord” confidence, but in a humble pragmatism, a solemn obedience to the laws of the United States, a seeming acknowledgment that the Lord did indeed give a commandment unto the children of men without preparing a way to accomplish the thing which He had commanded them. Woodruff asks: “Which is the wisest course for the Latter-Day Saints to pursue?” The second manifesto coming on the heels of sport boycotts leveled towards BYU, a conundrum with the Brazilian Saints and their new Temple (“Not one drop of negroid blood”) and general realization of the immorality of its stance, again the Mormon church in great pragmatism, bending to the “wisdom” of man. Sure you can say it was the Lord’s time to extend the priesthood, just wondering why the Prophets weren’t more prophetic in its anticipation as even Prophet, seer and revelators McConkie/Benson seemed to be blind sided by the development.

    The wisdom of man postulates that Ameri-Indians are Asiatic, the church has bent to this wisdom. The wisdom of man called the Joseph Smith papyri a “Book of Breathings”, the church has bent to this wisdom. Today we talk about the creative process discussed in Genesis and the theory of evolution to which our better sensibilities has adopted to a non-literal interpretation, and towards even the dangerous waters of an evolutionary process. This was not our thinking in the early church as D&C 77 seems to indicates.

    I put forward that indeed we contort to the wisdom of man. I think there is ample evidence to show that we do. It’s indeed interesting to consider that many things unique to Mormonism, Polygamy, Adam-God, Blood Atonement, race separations, American continent historical emmigrations have all changed or been abandoned. What’s kept are mostly things that are not unique to our church, concepts that have withstood the test of “not” having to bend to the wisdom of men.

  89. Rude Dog, if you long for the days of “race separations” (which the LDS never has practiced, the ban notwithstanding), you have that right. I don’t have to take you seriously.

  90. Rude Dog, to me, in none of those instances has the Church sought to bend to the wisdom of man, but rather has sought further light and knowledge and to gather truth wherever it may be found. If circumstances, experiences, or knowledge from the outside of the church leads to re-evaluating assumptions, or leads to questions that lead to new revelation on the subject(s), I see no problem with that. I believe this has been the pattern from the beginning of the Restoration to today. And I think it is only to be expected when we believe there are yet many great things to be revealed partaining to the Kingdom of God. It is part of a process of progression and part of the gathering process which will ultimately lead to redemption of Zion.

    I think the Church has always sought to please the Lord in these decisions, not man.

  91. Rude Dog, thank you for an honest comment.

    Ray, about race separations in the Church, and your comment “which the LDS never has practiced, the ban notwithstanding.” Hum… really? except beyond the gates of a temple? And perhaps you should read a story or two about Darius Gray’s experience at BYU.

    SteveF, I think the example of Woodruff’s manifesto is very compelling, and you offer no response to Rude Dog regarding it, simply an umbrella statement of what you think doesn’t happen after the evidence has been presented to you. -???-

  92. Manuel, I said, “The ban, notwithstanding” – and I know all about Brother Gray’s experiences (and that of a young man I call a son). This isn’t academic to me; it’s personal.

    I’m not saying, have never said and will never say that there haven’t been serious race issues in the LDS Church – or that there still aren’t serious race issues in the LDS Church. However, the LDS Church itself has never practiced “race separation” as a blanket statement. I’ve lived in the Deep South. I’ve seen race separation, and it still occurs, regularly and wide-spread, today – in society, generally, and in lots churches, specifically.

    I stand by my comment that anyone who longs for the good old days, and uses “races separation” as an example of something that belongs in such a Camelot ideal, doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

  93. Manuel V. Compelling for what? Maybe I didn’t understand the point being made, I’m open to clarification. My understanding is that the manifesto did not change the doctrine of polygamy (D&C 132), simply the practice of it in mortality for the time being. I also see no reason to believe that Pres. Woodruff did not consult the Lord in this final decision. In the absense of evidence, I think it comes down to personal opinion or revelation whether Pres. Wooddruff ultimately sought and received inspiration in his decision, or whether he merely wanted to conform to the ways of the world. From my perspective, and what I have read of and from him, I don’t believe the latter was the source nor the motivation for his final decision, and so I gave my opinion. And there were so many items brought up, I felt a single overarching response made much more sense.

  94. I used the term race separation as opposed to priesthood ban because the ban was not only justified towards black men concerning the priesthood, but banned black women (and men) from attending the temple and receiving the endowment, and black families seeking temple blessings and sealings. So yes, the races were separated…..separated by one of the most profound and sacred worship we do as a body of religious, separated by our temple worship.

  95. I believe in evolution in more ways than just biological development – and it is an integral part of our theology, as a general principle.

  96. Let me just say Ray that I completely agree with you. Wanting to end on a positive, I think Mormon theology doesn’t realize the powerful position it has in the King Follett discourse that basically articulates an evolutionary progression of sentient beings into God like creatures. I’ve been accused of being a materialist, but I think we Mormons are the biggest materialists that have ever existed, and I mean that in a good way. No miracles, no supernatural assumptions, just eternal progression of beings who if given time, would naturally evolve into something that at the present time is unimaginable. Mormon theology of the evolution of Gods could philosophically be one of the only religious positions that could bridge a gulf between Prophets and Physicists. Not that I buy it, but I have thought about it.

    Thanks for the discussion.

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