Mitt Romney believes in Evolution

At least he didn’t raise his hand during tonight’s GOP presidential debate when the moderator asked those who don’t believe in evolution to “raise their hands.”

Does this profoundly affect my view of his presidential candidacy? Does anyone care? Did this question even make sense in the context of a presidential debate? No.

But at least now, when I have to explain to incredulous LDS Churchmembers that there really is such a thing as a “Mormon evolutionist,” I can point to one of our most famous members as Exhibit A. Woo-hoo!


  1. There was a funny Doonesberry about this a few weeks back that I’d posted to T&S.

    Interviewer: This is so disappointing Governor! You’re a Mormon – a person of devout conviction! How could all your core beliefs suddenly change at age 60?

    Romney: They haven’t changed, Mark, they’ve evolved!

    Interviewer: Evolved? Do Mormons even believe in evolution?

    Romney: Well, yes. Although I became a Creationist last week.

    Kind of revealing both about Romney and our perceptions… And why I ultimately don’t think Romney has a chance. I think his Kerry-like flip-flopping is a bigger problem than the public perception of Mormons.

  2. Eric Russell says:

    Except that both McCain and Giuliani have been doing some similar right shifts of late.

  3. Yes but the real competitor to Romney isn’t Giuliani or McCain it is Fred Thompson.

  4. Are “Mormon evolutionists” all that rare a breed? Maybe I just haven’t had the displeasure of ever hearing someone bring this up during Sunday School, but in the discussions that I’ve had with LDS people about evolution (which are admittedly pretty limited) I think more people have identified themselves as closer to the “evolutionist” side than the “creationist” one.

    But maybe this just says something about the people that I choose to talk to.

  5. I don’t know what the split is among LDS for evolutionist vs. creationist. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s a generational thing–I remember when I was about 16 going to a youth conference and having a 2 hour long discussion period where we were allowed to ask any question and we spent almost the entire 2 hours discussing whether or not you could believe in evolution and be LDS. The only other question that came up, in fact, was whether or not pets go to heaven. The split was pretty definitely between the leaders, who were all creationists (except my dad), and the youth, none of whom seemed to see evolution as inherently incompatible with the church. It’s a pretty amusing memory to me–I’m pretty sure the leaders expected us to ask questions about dating and marriage and sort of the typical teen-age questions they were probably concerned with when they were that age, and we came up with evolution. I think I probably sowed the seeds of the discussion by reading a book about drosophila evolution by Theodosius Dobzhansky quite prominently over the course of the conference. I’m still a bit proud of that, too.

    anyway, it would be interesting to see some statistics on who does and who does not believe in evolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people ascribe to a sort of intelligent design. I do know a lot of people who are okay with evolution for animals, but not for people. Most of those who believe in evolution for everything but humans are LDS, but I do know a number of people of other Christian faiths who share the belief.

  6. Meg-
    I think more Mormons are creationists than evolutionists. It probably came from a talk by Ezra Taft Benson that evolution was a false doctrine.
    I remember when I was in the singles ward in OK, we had the area seventy give a talk in sacrament meeting about how evolution is false. I remember rolling my eyes with my wife (who was then my fiancé). He’s now the temple president in OKC and has done an excellent job there. (The OKC temple had a reputation for awhile as being a scary place to go to. Workers would make people cry if they didn’t do things exactly right. He’s really changed the atmosphere there for the better.)
    A week later in the ward bulletin, a counselor in the bishopric wrote an essay calling evolution a lie as old as the devil himself. (I never quite understood that line. Evolution can’t be as old as the devil. Darwin came up with only 170 years ago.)

  7. I tend to think it a generational thing too Kristine. I suspect in an other 10 – 20 years folks will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

  8. It might be best if I qualify what I said earlier – the few LDS people that I have discussed this with are the kind of people that believe in intelligent design or something very close to evolution rather than just flat-out evolution as it would be taught in an average biology classroom.

    It’s not that I don’t think that most Mormons aren’t creationists, I just haven’t really run into such a strong opposition to evolution that would make the “Mormon evolutionist” seem radical.

    I think the generational thing makes sense – I’ve never heard a talk about evolution, and since I chronically ditched Sunday School during high school and until I moved into my ward where I attend college (which is decently progressive and has a fair number of grad studnets in the sciences), I guess I just haven’t heard the opinons of the average adult member of the church.

  9. Does this profoundly affect my view of his presidential candidacy? No.
    Does anyone care? The religious right will. I’m sure it will come up later if Romney advances.
    Did this question even make sense in the context of a presidential debate? No.

  10. My take is that most Mormons who have thought about it at all reject what the First Presidency many, many years ago called “Godless Evolution”. I know that many of the apostles 2 generations back and more disagreed strongly on the subject. (It’s quite interesting to see that disagreement play out in their writings, including the official statement I referenced above.)

    I don’t think many Mormons believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old – or that dinosaurs never lived but God placed dead dinosaurs in the ground as a fossil fuel source – or that carbon dating is a mistake caused by the intense heat of the creative process – or any number of things that the most ardent Christian anti-evolutionists with whom I have discussed this believe. I think most members probably would accept a form of evolution within the animal and plant kingdoms, but would reject the idea that humans are nothing more than smart apes.

    Finally, it probably is my generation that began the cultural shift toward an acceptance of some kind of evolutionary creationism. I know my college and high school aged children accept that type of combination without spending any emotional capital on it at all. (Is there a God? DUH! Did He use evolution in the creation of the earth? DUH!)

  11. What’s weird is that ID adopts the entire history of evolution so it’s hard to figure out why Mormons would embrace it. Perhaps their need to see the human form as special. But surely God could develop that without there being ID proper. My sense is that they want God involved but are unsure why. I find support by Mormons for ID theologically problematic.

    The Creationists also are problematic due to LDS theology in Moses. However it’s probably closer to what the BRM/JFS view was than ID. It seems to me that since ID has death before the fall and all species evolving, just with God doing the macro-evolution, BRM would consider that as heretical as full blown evolution. (As I’m sure the LDS blogs’ local anti-evolutionary commenter, Gary, would agree)

    The problem is that the evidence for the history of evolution is pretty well so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible for anyone to rationally oppose it. One might reject the mechanism of evolution, like IDers do, due to the nature of induction in science. I think it’s still not that rational, but at least one can be rational and do it.

    The only way to really maintain the BRM stance and the historical evidence is to adopt the position some Evangelical Creationists do and argue that God made it as if evolution had been going on for billions of years but really it was all created like that when Adam fell. But for Mormons that creates even more problems than it does to the regular Christian. i.e. beyond the whole issue of why would God lie the issue of reconciling this to LDS notions of pre-mortality and so forth.

    Of course there are lots of theological questions that arise if you do buy into evolution. And I suspect those who reject evolution do so because of those. (It requires at a minimum a rethinking of how one reads Genesis – BRM styled literalism just doesn’t work) Then there is the problem of whether the human form is special and if so, how it evolved. Finally there’s the issue of why on earth God would allow a planet to evolve if it is just for a test of our agency and growth.

    Anyway, sorry for going off on the evolution tangent. Just thought I’d throw it in for context.

    Right now I think folks are moving towards ID. But once you embrace ID it’s a very small step to mainstream evolution.

  12. Stirling says:

    when I have to explain to incredulous LDS Churchmembers that there really is such a thing as a “Mormon evolutionist,” I can point to one of our most famous members as Exhibit A.

    Or David O. McKay, or Hugh B. Brown, or Apostles Widstoe and Joseph Merrill, or Henry Eyring, or…

    And who among the current apostles?

  13. And who among the current apostles?

    My guesses:
    Elders Eyring, Nelson, Oaks, and Holland, probably Wirthlin.
    Definitely not Packer, I don’t have guesses about the others.

  14. Mark D. says:


    The distance between Intelligent Design and orthodox Neo-Darwinism (‘mainstream’ evolution) is not a small step, but rather something more akin to the step between theism and atheism.

    The key philosophical difference between ID and orthodox Neo-Darwinism is that ID posits the existence of free will, consciousness, and creativity in the world and orthodox Neo-Darwinism denies the very possibility that there are such things.

    According to orthodox Neo-Darwinism, God (if he exists at all) can be nothing more than a random coincidence, an ephemeral coincidence with no greater purpose than the propagation of its own genes (to the degree purpose retains any meaning at all).

    Orthodox neo-Darwinism denies the existence of the soul, of intelligence, of free will – and without those things there is not a metaphysical shred to build any sense of morality upon except a pretended sense of self-interest. But of course “self” is a meaningless term in the neo-Darwinistic world view as well, a world view that is the most impoverished explanation of everything the vast majority of humanity holds dear ever devised.

  15. Christopher Smith says:

    LDS seem to be committed to a belief in the literal existence of Adam, to a global flood, and to a literal confusion of languages at the tower of Babel. All these things show up in modern revelation. Given this context, I think it’s not surprising that most Saints are creationists.

  16. Clark,

    Yes. I agree and believe Elder McConkie would agree that ID is “as heretical as full blown evolution.”



    President McKay likened Darwin’s theory of evolution to the concept of man’s eventual resurrection from the dead.  It is a rhetorical comparison that President McKay used more than once during his ministry.  In reality, of course, Darwin’s theory is unrelated to the resurrection.  Unfortunately, such remarks are sometimes cited as evidence that President McKay believed in biological evolution.  Yet, President McKay never stated publicly that he believed in biological evolution.

    Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, in David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2005), state clearly that President McKay “never made a public statement affirming his acceptance of biological evolution…. The closest he came … was [using] evolution as an argument in favor of resurrection [and going] so far as to borrow from Charles Darwin to make his point.”  (p. 46).

    David O. McKay believed in evolution the same way Gordon B. Hinckley does.  President Hinckley’s statement on this (published two years after he became Church President) is:  “I believe in evolution, not organic evolution, as it is called, but in the evolution of the mind, the heart, and the soul of man.  I believe in improvement.  I believe in growth.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 298.)

    The year before he died, Elder John A. Widtsoe said:  “Clearly the theory of evolution has added nothing to our understanding of the beginning of things.  The ancient view that God is the creator of all things is still the best, because it is true.”  (Improvement Era, July 1951, p. 531.)



    The most recent six Church Presidents and thirty one Apostles have have demonstrated a remarkable unity in their public teachings regarding evolution and the origin of man.  President Boyd K. Packer and Elder Russell M. Nelson are simply more outspoken on the subject than the others.



    A First Presidency statement published in the Feb 2002 Ensign is summarized at in these words:

    “In 1909, amid controversy and questions about the Creation and the theory of evolution, the First Presidency issued this article, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position.”  (See “Creation,” click on the “Church Magazine Articles” section.)

    Regarding the notion that Adam descended “from lower orders of the animal creation,” this official First Presidency pronouncement states:

    “These, however, are the theories of men.  The word of the Lord declares that Adam was  ‘ the first man of all men ‘  (Moses 1:34).”

    Adam was not the offspring of “lower orders” of animal life.  The Church’s doctrinal position is that evolution does not explain the origin of man’s body.

  17. I think this was a slip-up by Romney. He revealed what he actually believed and not what he is pretending to believe in order to court conservative voters.

    He should have run as a moderate, and not shifted to the right and pretend he is someone he is not.

  18. Mark–I’m guessing from your description of orthodox neo-Darwinism that you’re really referring to Richard Dawkins. I’d argue he’s a little extreme, and that science can’t say much about the existence of non-existence of God. We may say the probability of there being a God or Gods is small, but it’s not something that’s truly testable. Faith is not a hypothesis that can be tested with any sort of objectivity, which is the main argument science-types make against ID in general–it could very well be correct, but we have no way of proving or disproving it so it’s not science.

    I’m not sure why you claim neo-Darwinism denies the possibility of free will, consciousness, and creativity. No free will because we have instincts, perhaps, or because personality is in part genetically determined? Yes, but I don’t think anyone who believes in the veracity of evolution would say specific choices are predetermined based on those instincts and inherent personality; rather, I think the idea that we live in a system that is chaotic requires choice be available. As for consciousness and creativity, there are plenty of hypotheses out there for how these things could arise evolutionarily. The one I found most compelling is outlined in “The Mating Mind,” by Geoffry Miller. It posits that having a creative mind and the ability to communicate that creativity has a high cost energetically, so only those individuals who are genetically superior will be creative and able to communicate that creativity effectively. It’s a fitness indicator because of its cost and those humans (male and female) who are more creative are more attractive, and thus able to acquire and keep more genetically superior mates.

    Getting back to Romney, I’d hesitate to interpret too strongly his not raising his hand. That could be as much an abstention from answering as a vote the other direction.

  19. Stirling says:

    R. Gary, I think I’ve read that McKay’s supposition was that organic evolution was the means through which creation occured.

    A quick surf search yields this ambiguous statement, in which he refers to the theory of organic evolution as “beautiful:”
    “…science dominated by the spirit of religion is the key to progress and the hope of the future. For example, evolution’s beautiful theory of the creation of the world offers many perplexing problems to the inquiring mind. Inevitably, a teacher who denies divine agency in creation, who insists there is no intelligent purpose in it, will infest the student with the thought that all may be chance. I say, that no youth should be so led without a counter-balancing thought. Even the skeptic teacher should be fair enough to see that even Charles Darwin, when he faced this great question of annihilation, that the creation is dominated only by chance wrote; “It is an intolerable thought that man and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long, continued slow progress.” And another good authority, Raymond West, said, “Why this vast spiniture of time and pain and blood?” Why should man come so far if he’s destined to go no farther? A creature that travels such distances and fought such battles and won such victories deserves what we are compelled to say, “To conquer death and rob the grave of its victory.” The public school teacher will probably, even if he says that much, will go no farther. In the Church school the teacher is unhampered. In the Brigham Young University and every other church school the teacher can say God is at the helm.
    McKay to BYU students, 1952

  20. Gary, you suggest in 16 that “David O. McKay believed in evolution the same way Gordon B. Hinckley does.”

    That’s an intriguing thought, though I can’t remember any writings by Hinckley that would support that.
    Here’s more from Greg Prince’s David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (pp 46-47, italics added):

    “In meeting with Sterling McMurrin at a time when McMurrin’s church membership was in peril, McKay brought up the subject of evolution. “I would like to know just what it is that a man must be required to believe to be a member of this Church. Or, what it is that he is not permitted to believe, and reman a member of this Church. I would like to know just what that is. Is it evolution? I hope not, becase I believe in evolution.”

    He kept his views private, however, for a simple reason that he raised in another private conversation: “The thing you need to remember about evolution is tha the Lord has never revealed anything about the matter. People have their opinions but the Lord has not revealed the details of how He created the earth.”

    As church president, McKay knew that anything he said publicly, even if nuanced as personal belief only, would be interpreted by many church members as church doctrine. In the absence of definitive revelatory knowledge on the subject, he therefore refrained from public comment. He clearly wished that other General Authorities would do the same and saw Joseph Fielding Smith’s failure to do so as problematic.” [the chapter continues with a discussion of the controversy surrounding JFS’s 1950s anti-evolution text Man, His Origin and Destiny]

  21. The distance between Intelligent Design and orthodox Neo-Darwinism (’mainstream’ evolution) is not a small step, but rather something more akin to the step between theism and atheism.

    The key philosophical difference between ID and orthodox Neo-Darwinism is that ID posits the existence of free will, consciousness, and creativity in the world and orthodox Neo-Darwinism denies the very possibility that there are such things.

    I don’t think that a fair characterization of Darwinism in the least.

    The only difference between ID and Darwinism is over whether macro-evolution (vaguely defined) happened by chance or not.

  22. Couple of quick ones.

    1. There is in my Exp little disc of Evolution in lessons and talks in Church
    2. Most of my family members me included have given little thought to the subject
    3. I find myself believing both in Evolution and in Creationism??? God used Evolution in the creation process. Not sure of the origins of Adam and Eve’s bodies? Is this my intelectual side coming out?

    4. The church seems less invested in the Creationist arguments then the Evangelicals. In my bible study at work I was the only person who was not completely sold on Creationism a couple of months ago.

    5. How much does it really matter? God created the Universe and man. The process seems irrelevant. Follow Jesus and keep your covenants….

  23. Kevinf says:

    I found in my files a reference to a talk by David O. McKay from October 30, 1956 at BYU, where he openly used the phrase “the millions of years that it took to prepare the physical world”. That doesn’t imply that I was there to take the notes personally, although my kids probably think so. I believe I read the reference somewhere else.

    I intend to try and listen to the MP3 download available at later today to confirm this. That would seem to indicate that McKay was not a strict creationist.

  24. I think the question makes sense as far as determining whether a presidential candidate takes science and science education seriously. It seems like every week there are news reports about some member of the Bush administration doing damage to science.

    I don’t want someone who actually disbelieves evolution–not just agnostic or uncertain–setting policy on health and environmental issues.

  25. Kevin, even Mormon “Creationists” (scare quotes to distinguish them from Protestant Creationists) think the world took millions of years to prepare. The popular view was that life was going on and then was wiped out and a new creation was made when Adam fell. (i.e. quasi-akin to the belief in a global flood that literally killed all life)

  26. I never had issues with that. When people would cite Benson, I would refer them to Talmadge and Widtsoe.

    On a political note, Eric is right that candidates for president tend to reposition themselves. However, Mitt Romney has taken it to a new level.

    Romney was effectively running against himself, which was self-destructive and came off as insincere and foolish.

    Hopefully, the evolution event indicates that the Romney campaign has figured it out.

    In my opinion, Romney’s message should be something like: “Look at what I could do in Massachusetts. Imagine what I will be able to do with a more conservative legislature.”

    The good news is that it is still early and there is time to make up for mistakes.

  27. Mark B. says:

    Believing that the world was created by God does not make one a creationist.

    I am a lawyer, not a biologist, and I am firmly in the agnostic camp as to how the world and its creatures came to be. Whatever the evidence shows about the origin of the species, I can live with that, knowing that the evidence that is found tomorrow may well change what is “known” today. And, I don’t expect that any of that evidence will change my underlying faith that God created the world.

    I think it’s ludicrous to believe that the whole thing was done in seven days, but if God wanted to do it that way, who am I to argue?

    Finally, I think that all right-thinking Mormons agree with me, more or less.

  28. Why are we less invested in Creationism?

    Is it thinkers like McKay?

    Not an issue discussed much at Church?

    Not a question that a correct answer leads to salvation?

  29. Michael K. says:

    First, Mormon Evolutionist (as others have pointed out) is not a mutually exclusive title. My wife is a biology teacher, so she’d be pretty hypocritical for teaching evolution if she didn’t agree with it. That said, the Church has made it pretty clear that “Adam was not the offspring of “lower orders” of animal life” (Thanks, R. Gary!) Does this exclude the entirety of the evolutionary theory? No. That’s what I think Romney was “saying” when he did not raise his hand to the question.

    IOW, it’s perfectly consistent to be a Mormon that agrees with the First Presidency on the origin of man and to “believe in evolution.” The question was too poorly aimed to determine if Romney believes in evolution as the origin of man, so I don’t think we can draw any conclusions about him deliberately pandering to the evangelicals.

  30. DavidH (McPrude) says:

    I am not so sure the Church is culturally as anti-evolutionist as it used to be–even though our gospel doctrine teacher spent some time last year explaining its inconsistency with the scriptures and with his understanding of science.

    [Shameless bragging alert] Our daughter is a graduate student in evolutionary psychology (actually, human evolutionary behavioral sciences), and has worked as a teaching assistant with Geoffry Miller to whom Kristine refers in 18. She tells us that she gets many more raised eyebrows from fellow evolutionary psychologists when they learn she is religious than she does at Church (where she teaches relief society) when she tells people her graduate student focus. She did, though, get lots of raised eyebrows and criticism when she told her LDS friends she voted for Kerry.

  31. Clark wrote, in reference to a Doonesberry cartoon, “Kind of revealing both about Romney and our perceptions.”

    How is a cartoon revealing about anything or anyone other than the cartoonist?

    Furthermore, I don’t know about any of you, but I would have a very hard time–a really very hard time–lying day in and day out, particularly about a core belief. Yes, I’ve lied now and again, but I always, always repent of it. I can’t take the inner pressure of knowing that I’ve self-betrayed.

    Why is Romney (a former Stake President/Bishop) any different?

    Also, I’m 55 years old, and I’ve actually changed my views on a couple of important issues in the last few years. My views on abortion, for example, have evolved considerably over the last ten years.

    Again, why is it unthinkable that Romney (who’s about five years older than me) might change his mind on one or two?

    The flip flop label is unfair political spin.

  32. Michael K. says:

    The flip flop label is unfair political spin.

    Yes, but it’s all they have on him. He’s clean, good looking (so says my wife), and is a good leader. They have to pan him on something and together with his icky religion, flip-flopping is as good as anything else. It worked on Kerry, right?

  33. Re #12 and #13:

    I find it interesting that we know few modern church leaders who are for evolution, but we know many who are against it. The antis have been vocal over the years, but those who are more open to the idea haven’t spoken much about it.

    Perhaps this is a case where some leaders do not want to publicly contradict others, and therefore the most vocal opinion has become the uncontested “orthodox” view.

    Or perhaps this is because more open-minded people are . . . well, more open-minded, and don’t feel the need to champion personal views on topics where there is no clear revealed consensus.

  34. MikeInWeho says:

    re: 28

    Hi, bbell. Your Evangelical bible study buddies are committed to creationism because they are committed to biblical infallibility. It’s impossible to accept an old earth and any kind of evolution (even ID) without radically de-literalizing or rejecting much of Genesis (the genealogies, etc). For obvious reasons, this is much easier for you as a Latter-day Saint.

    I’d be curious to know what they really think of your faith, btw. Wouldn’t be surprised if they say one thing when you’re around and another when you’re not. You’re like their own, personal Mitt Romney!

  35. BTW, to echo Greg in #31, I also have changed my view on abortion over the years – moving more to the left when it comes to abortion as a legal issue.

    One other note: Mitt Romney was my Stake President for much of the time that I lived in the Boston area. He was a tremendous SP and a VERY warm, personable, brilliant and humble leader. I haven’t decided whether or not I will vote for him, since I’m not voting for a Stake President and I don’t want a certain Democrat to win, but the charges that he merely is pandering to the religious right in some of his responses doesn’t fit the man I knew. Of course, many of his answers are intended to evade the issue, but that’s what good politicians and teachers often do. (parables, anyone?) Based on my own experience with the man himself, I tend to believe most of what he says as what he really believes. (Why else would he say publicly that he likes a book by L. Ron Hubbard? He’s not stupid; he’s the smartest candidate in years; maybe it was the truth.)

  36. Greg, you are making a fair point about changing one’s opinions. The problem with Romney is that he only reveals changes of opinion that benefit him politically.

    And while every candidate does it, Romney was especially egregious. In 1994, he publically defied the Brethren’s position on abortion when he was running for United States Senate in Massachusetts. That was sensational news and prompted President Faust to denounce “politicians” who had gone soft on abortion.

    Likewise, Romney promised more effective support for gay rights than Ed Kennedy could provide. As soon as Romney was thinking about national office, he changed his position on gay rights in a politically opportune manner.

    Therefore, the charge of flip flopping is fair. It’s up to Romney to demonstrate that he has principles. The way to do that is to take a hit for your values. Though that will have to be a lot more visible, yesterday, Romney made a good start.

  37. Mike,

    Yeah they are invested in creationism. Its pretty remarkable how much. I have taken as much heat over my agnostic creationism as I have over the BOM

    My evangelical Methodist business partner is constantly telling me he thinks I am a Christian. I keep telling him that its not that simple. Usually after a bible study were I can answer all the NT questions that our PT pastor cannot. Some of the others are a bit more hostile though.

    They ask me about Romney all the time. They really liked it that both my wife and I are related to Romney by marriage or blood from the old polygamy days.

  38. Aaron B says:

    I understand why many LDS folks want to believe in evolution, and yet draw the line at the evolution of man. I understand that the 1909 statement can be read to support drawing the line in this way.

    Nevertheless, I predict that as churchmembers become more and more open to (or educated about) evolutionary theory, believe in the actual evolution of MAN will continue to be seen as relatively uncontroversial.

    Aaron B

  39. Steve Evans says:

    Aaron, you do realize that your name appears in every comment automatically? You don’t have to type it…..

  40. Aaron, That’s why I mentioned a belief among Mormons that man is not just a smart ape – the rejection of “Godless evolution”.

    Understanding that “the origin of the species” can occur through an evolutionary process but not accepting “man as smart ape” are not mutually exclusive. There is plenty of room within Biblical and other canonical descriptions to see the creation of humanity (“breathing into him the breath of life”) as the direct creation of a brand new species – no matter the origin of the physical body into which that breath was breathed.

  41. ronito says:

    It troubles me how many people are stating their beliefs based on some statement of church leaders long ago and present. Instead of going out and studying both sides with an open and willing mind and coming to their own conclusion instead of accepting anothers.

    Really, I find by far that most people that are staunch creationists cannot stand up to the most simple logics and fact. When asked why the believe the way they do they say, “So and so said x that’s why.” But I find that Mormon evolutionists (which I find to be, by far, the minority) are much more well thought out in their reasoning.

    The whole of the LDS church was based on the belief that you should go out and find out for yourself what is real and not. Our whole missionary program would collapse without this one principle. Yet when it comes to this so many base their belief in what someone else.

  42. I just posted this on a nearly identical thread over at Mormon Mentality:

    It’d be embarrassing to support a candidate who claimed that he didn’t believe in evolution. Evolution is scientific fact. Sure, there are ways you can frame macro-evolution debates so that it makes intelligent religious people uncomfortable, but all living things evolve. There’s just simply no denying that, and because I’d like to at least leave open the option of supporting Mitt, I’m glad he didn’t say he doesn’t “believe” in evolution.

    On the other hand, I’m very annoyed by the fact that he apparently named Battleship Earth as his favorite novel. Both because it was politically foolish and because it reveals bad taste.

    (At least he didn’t say that “Battlefield Earth” was his favorite movie.)

  43. Mike Closson says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) You know, for about 99% of the population the debate boils down to faith. How many of us really understand the genetics behind evolutionary theory? Some do for sure, but I bet most (including myself) don’t. So rather then argue based on established scientific fact, we have faith in what others believe and we use hand-waving arguments to back up our belief.

    2) Abstraction is a big problem here. Evolution isn’t an all or nothing thing. Two concepts to illustrate my point are: a) humans and apes have a common evolutionary ancestor, b) natural selection. I think both concepts are features of evolutionary theory. I don’t believe a, but I admit that I don’t know for sure. I believe b. Several months ago I ran over a raccoon. So that raccoon’s cross-the-street-when-a-car-is-coming genes were just selected out of the gene pool, never to be passed on to future generations. That’s an example of natural selection. So, am I a Mormon Evolutionist?, a Mormon Creationist? I don’t like either label.

  44. Aaron B says:

    It’s an old habit Steve. I refuse to evolve…

    Aaron B

  45. Aaron B says:

    ronito (#41),

    I completely agree with your comments. It’s such an obvious point, but it’s worth repeating: LDS people who believe in evolution do so because they find the evidence for it overwhelmingly compelling, rather than because they think the Church has “given them permission” to do so.

    Many of us (me included) like to discuss and debate the relative weight and meaning of the statements of Church leaders on this topic, but I think we often do it because we know so many in our community — who either have no time or no inclination (or insufficient smarts) — aren’t going to look any deeper at the issue than to ask, “Is belief in evolution allowed?” … or … “Is belief in evolution somehow compatible with my religious convictions?”

    Aaron B

  46. MikeInWeho says:

    re: 37 Perhaps it’s not so remarkable, really. Most Evangelicals view biblical infallibility the way most LDS view BoM historicity. It’s foundational stuff. So if their whole faith rests on the Bible being infallible, they’re kind of stuck defending creationism. Although in all FAIRness, some do move beyond that either/or thinking which is why you now have ID and its LDS-equivalent, the limited geography theory.

    re: 42 Maybe Romney’s mention of Battleship Earth is a clandestine bid for the Scientology vote. Now that would be clever!

  47. Mark D. says:

    Kristine N.,

    Orthodox Neo-Darwinism is built upon scientific materialism of the sort that reduces everything in existence to the incidental vibrations of inanimate particles. In short, it holds that life itself is a cosmic accident, and that morality, language, culture, and religion are nothing more than artifacts of the instinct for self-preservation.

    Perhaps the most serious weakness of this world view is that it can give no account of the concept of moral responsibility, because moral responsibility relies on the capacity to purposively act and to refrain from acting, and they explicitly deny any living thing has that capacity – holding rather that everything in existence is the result of a chain of accidents.

    So ultimately the dividing line between orthodox Neo-Darwinism and other less materialistic theories is whether it is rational to hold anyone responsible for anything. If it is, orthodox Neo-Darwinism is false.

  48. ronito says:

    Mark D.

    Just using big words doesn’t make it so. Let us not confuse evolution (the “theory” that organizms can and do evolve), ambiogensis (the study of how life forms began), and the big bang. It would seem that you were trying to paint science as a big godless boogie man that will rob you blind and cause kittens to be lost.

    Relgion doesn’t have a monopoly on morality. Some of the most moral people I met are atheists. Slapping swathes of big words and saying that those that believe in evoloution don’t believe in moral responsibility is not only not true but intellectually dishonest. If what you said is true then Richard Dawkins would be a mass murderer. He’s not. Ever wonder why?

  49. Some of the above comments express confidence that the Church officially opposes human evolution. I guess I don’t read the official statements as making that absolutely clear.

    The 1909 statement quoted above indicates that, though we do not know how God prepared a body for Adam, we know that he is the first man from whom the rest of humankind is descended. Is that necessarily incompatible with evolution of some sort?

    Here are some other virtually official statements. BYU’s Board of Trustees stated in 1992, “there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing the general matter of organic evolution as a process for development of biological species” (from the cover letter to the 1992 BYU Evolution Packet). Of humans, this letter states, “The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how.”

    For details about official LDS positions on evolution, including material approved to be presented at BYU, plus some additional and very interesting items, see the following links (which I also posted today on “Mormon Mentality”):

    I think Latter-day Saints would do well to say “I don’t know” more often. I once heard Elder Samuelson–alluding to some unfortunate past statements on Blacks–quote Alma 37:11 (“these mysteries are not yet fully made known unto me; therefore I shall forbear”) and then add, “I think we would have been a lot better off if more people had followed Alma’s example.”

  50. Wouldn’t be as much fun, but would be more responsible.

    I’ve certainly expressed my opinion in FAR too many words often, when it might have been better to say simply, “I don’t know.” Maybe pride isn’t a terrible thing to waste. Thanks for the reminder, Bruce.

  51. Michael K. says:


    Good general advice. However, your quote doesn’t explicitly exclude or include evolution as a device for the creation of man.

    Along those lines, Boyd K. Packer stated in October 1984 conference, “The theory of evolution, and it is a theory, will have an entirely different dimension when the workings of God in creation are fully revealed.”

    To me, this means that evolution is real, but it has a place in the creation that we don’t understand yet. That said, your comments are even more apropos because evolution has not been dismissed by the brethren.

    Furthermore, President Benson, in April 1975 conference said, “Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, etc.”

    Once again, there is no denouncement of evolution in general, but claims that there are falsehoods in it.

    One day, we will have a greater knowledge of the creation, perhaps even in this life, and everything true about evolution will be clear.

  52. Mark D. says:


    I think you completely missed the point. My argument has nothing to do with the relative morality of adherents of one theory versus another, but rather with the merits of the theories themselves.

    The fact that the theory in question can give no account of the observed moral behavior of its strongest adherents is not evidence in its favor.

  53. For me it is very simple. Random chance is the basis of evolution. If God was in charge, than it wasn’t evolution. If God wasn’t in charge, than He discovered us, and is trying to take over something that wasn’t His to begin with.

    And I don’t buy that. God was in charge, regardless of the details. We are not here as a result of random chance. We are here as a result of a well thought out plan, to which we agreed to.

    So call it what you want, but evolution, as commonly defined, meaning the evolving of higher life forms from lower forms, based on random chance through successful mutations and natural selection, with out the guidance and planning of the most intelligent Person is not how man came to be.

  54. Kevinf and Stirling,

    Try this quick surf search, then try this one.  These articles offer valuable insight into what David O. McKay might have been thinking on other occasions such as the ones you refer to.  Unless you are afraid to find out what President McKay really thought about evolution, you should follow the links and read the articles.



    Not an issue discussed much at Church?

    A 2005 Ensign article about “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” includes this denunciation of evolution by President Boyd K. Packer:

    “No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals, compelled to yield to every carnal urge.”  (Ensign, Jan. 2005, p. 48; emphasis in the original.)

    If that’s true, maybe the topic shouldn’t be avoided at Church.



    Or perhaps this is because there simply aren’t any modern apostles who accept evolution as an explanation for the origin of man.


    Aaron B.,

    Not among the apostles and not in the foreseeable future will the actual evolution of man be seen as uncontroversial (see, for example, the above quotation from President Packer).  And have you ever wondered whether there might be religious convictions that are incompatible with the theory of evolution?  I think Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson have “sufficient smarts” and their convictions are not merely based on “what’s allowed.”

  55. Ronito,

    Some of the most moral people I met are atheists

    In the world view of those atheists you refer to, what does the word “moral” mean?

  56. ronito says:

    How trite. I’ve met MANY Atheists that are much more “moral” even in the mormon sense of the word. I’ve met plenty of atheists that stayed virgins until marriage. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, never done drugs, are selfless and serve others.

    Seems someone’s believed the “OH NOES TEH ATHEIST BOOGIEMAN!!” myth.

  57. ronito,

    In what way is my question trite? You seem to be interpreting my question as a statement, which it was not. If you cannot answer the question in #55, you will never understand the point Mark D was making, which you obviously have not yet grasped.

  58. This is odd. When I taught seminary two years ago, the course of study provided by CES certainly did say that we believe in evolution. Species do evolve. That is evolution. There is no doubt about that scientific fact. Stop fighting a straw man. What we in the church do NOT believe is that one species evolves into another species such as ape to man or dog to pony or reptile to bird, etc. We are not evolved apes, but within each species there are specialized traits.

  59. Bruce,

    I’ve responded to your comment on my own blog (click here).

  60. ronito says:

    To me being moral means doing the right thing, because you believe it is the right thing to do and you want to do the right thing. Not because of fear or reprisal for doing the wrong thing, not because that’s what you’ve always been told, or anything other than the desire to do the right thing. That to me is being moral. So then. What your definition?

  61. Ok, the problem I see ronito is that an atheist’s “moral” behavior doesn’t typically equate to LDS “moral” behavior. The word morality has a latin root that means “manner, character, proper behavior.” Again an atheist sees and defines proper behavior and right and wrong in a totally different light then many (certainly not all) members of the LDS church. I now work with and associate with literally dozens of atheists. They are not moral men and women. Don’t misunderstand structure and a sense of order that many atheists seem to have about them as morality. Many are well educated and are meticulous about a great many things. It doesn’t equate to a moral man/woman. The ones I know because they truly don’t follow a particular moral code go about doing whatever they want/pleases them because there is, as you say no reprisal, no consequence, no reason not to do as they wish. The reality is that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. Because they don’t accept that they will never know true joy and lasting eternal happiness because they reject what is truly right and truly wrong. I’ve yet to meet a self proclaimed atheist who underneath it all was not completely alone inside.

    Oh and to keep with the string about Romney and evolution. I dual majored in Biology and Chemistry with minors in Italian language and culture and Physics. To all of you hard core big bang folks. . . If the second law of thermodynamics is accurate, and I believe that it is. How is it that matter can become increasingly unorganized and at the same time become increasingly organized as declared in the big bang theory? None of my professors would even touch that one in undergrad or grad school.

  62. So you’re saying that you can only be moral if you’re fearing some reprisal (like hell) or reward (like salvation)? I’m sorry but that definition seems pretty immoral to me.

  63. From a staunch Mormon believer, I think “morality” is similar in this context to “integrity” and “hypocrisy”. My favorite definition of integrity is “the extent to which your actions when you’re alone match your actions when others can see you,” with hypocrisy being “the extent to which your actions when you’re alone do not reflect what you do and say when others can see and hear you.” In this context, I would define morality as “”the extent to which your actions (public and private) match your beliefs.” In that sense, some of us might have perfect integrity and lack hypocrisy, but all of us who strive for repentant change are immoral – unable to live to the standard of our ideals.

    It only is when you add “absolute morality” (morality that stands outside of and independent from culture and individual interpretation) that one can be accused of being immoral even if his/her actions are in harmony with his/her beliefs. (e.g., “Social morality” is defined as the extent to which your actions match the communal beliefs of the society within which you live. That’s why a practicing, peaceful Muslim can be seen as devoutly moral in his own culture but repugnantly immoral in the American Deep South.) “Absoulute morality” requires a divorcement from practical reality and replacement exclusively into the realms of theology and theory, which renders it useless as anything but the broadest of stereotypes and pejoratives when discussing atheists, non-Christians, pagans, and, yes, Mormons. In fact, it is the very foundation of the justification for denying salvation to those who do not confess the name of Christ in this life (as well as me and my fellow Mormons) – they are seen as having died in sin as immoral beings and, thus, cannot enter into the kingdom of God. This application is not theoretical; I have heard it in Divinity School classes, from the pulpit and in private conversations.

    I agree with Ronito on this one. I have known many atheists who are every bit as moral as I am (much more moral, in fact) IF you remove the explicitly religious demands of the term. I believe that accepting the Gospel of Christ in the next life can be accomplished by those who are atheists in this life, specifically because they can be moral people despite their perspectives on religion. “The same spirit that possesses them” in this life rises with them and allows them to accept there what they could not accept here.

  64. I’ve responded to R. Gary (see #59) and confessed my ignorance of many things, here.

  65. For reasons I don’t understand, my “here” (in #64) doesn’t work. I’ll try again, here. If that doesn’t work, stay tuned.

  66. Hi Bruce. Enjoying the blogs? Good answer, btw.

  67. 54: Unless you are afraid to find out what McKay really thought about evolution, you should follow the links and read the articles…

    Gary, if you just say please, I’ll be happy to read your articles.

    BTW, what do you think of this argument?

    Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce McConkie were our two most strident critics of the theory of organic evolution. Yet, it turns out that through their belief in “degenerationsim,” in some aspects they turned out to evolutionists after all– Lamarckian evolutionists.
    For example, this is from the “Races of Man” entry in the 1958 and 1966 Mormon Doctrine (the 1979 edition is slightly different):

    Racial degeneration, resulting in differences in appearance and spiritual aptitude, has arisen since the fall. We know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were cursed with what we call negroid racial characteristics. …If we had a full and true history of all races and nations, we would know the origins of all their distinctive characteristics. In the absence of such detailed information, however, we know only the general principle that all these changes from the physical and spiritual perfections of our common parents have been brought about by departure from the gospel truths.

    Doesn’t this sound like an instance of a belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics?

  68. Jason Work says:

    In reading the many comments this post has elicited, I am surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that there is a great book called “Mormonism and Evolution” which delves into this whole topic with pretty fascinating results. Has anyone read the book I’m talking about? Pretty fascinating stuff. It was authored by some LDS biologists who set out to see if the theory of evolution is compatible with the teachings of the Gospel and was published back in 2001. I thought it had some great insights and it is still my favorite book to take to church with me (in the hope that the sight of it sitting next to my scriptures will provoke some good discussion.)

    It’s a great primer if someone wants to understand some of the actual science involved in the evolutionary biology field AND it is a great collection of official statements by the church concerning the topic. My favorite comment is from the 1910 supplement to the 1909 First Presidency statement, which concludes with the following declaration:

    “Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.”

    To me, this leaves the question open, regardless of what some other apostles have said about the matter.

  69. Stirling:

    It just sounds like racism to me, and something McConkie later backtracked from.

    I remember a speech by McConkie where he said something like “anyone who believes in evolution has the intellect of an ant and the understanding of a clod of clay in a primordial swamp.” Now, I’m no expert, but that seems pretty anti-evolution. Anyone else remember that speech?

  70. Stirling (#67),

    First, there is no entry in any edition of McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine titled “Races of Man.”

    Second, Elder McConkie said (three times in the excerpt you quote) that various “racial characteristics” originated with God.  It would be a stretch to say he meant Cain’s seed became black because they “adapted.”  (“The theory of adaptation was first put forth by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.  His theories are also referred to as the inheritance of acquired traits.”  See

    Third, why not quote the whole paragraph?  There is a section in the middle of the paragraph that you left out.  Here it is:

    “(Moses 5:16-41; 7:8, 12, 22; Abra. 1:20-27.)  The Book of Mormon explains why the Lamanites received dark skins and a degenerate status.  (2 Ne. 5:21-23.)”

    Fourth, I personally find it offensive that you choose to quote Elder McConkie’s earlier editions, knowing full well that they are a reflection of the culture in which they were published and thus have a certain shock value in today’s world.  In the 1979 edition, Elder McConkie changed the entry to read:  “the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were born with the characteristics of the black race.”

    By the way, you may read the McKay articles if you “please.”

  71. Stirling (#67),

    If you had a bone to pick with President Heber J. Grant, perhaps you would also enjoy quoting this story he told in General Conference.  It too reflects a culture foreign to our day:

    “I went to a negro minstrel show once, and there were about ten or fifteen on the stage. One of them rushed in with his hat off and said,  ‘ which of these here niggers am lost two dollars? ‘  holding up a two dollar bill. There hadn’t any of them lost two dollars.  ‘ Well,’  he said,  ‘ if none of you have lost it, I found these two dollars right by the door here and it is my money.’  They said all right, and he put it in his pocket. No sooner had he got it in his pocket than up jumped a nigger and said:  ‘ Look here, George Washington Jones, you owe me two dollars; pay your honest debts! ‘  He handed the two dollars to him. Another nigger jumps up and says:  ‘ Look here, Julius Caeser Brown, you owes me two dollars; pay your debt.’  He got it, and in this way it went clear round. When the last man got it, up jumps George Washington Jones, and says:  ‘ Here, give me back the two dollars; you owes me two dollar.’  No sooner had he got it in his pocket than a fellow rushes in and said  ‘ which of you niggers has found two dollars? ‘  George Washington Jones took it out of his pocket and said:  ‘ Here, take your money and go home; we’ve all paid our debts.’ ”  (Conference Report, October 1890, p. 36.)

    After telling this story, President Grant said, “I desire that the Latter-day Saints should all pay their debts.”  (Ibid.)

  72. On a lighter note, President Heber J. Grant also recited this poem in General Conference in an effort to motivate the Latter-day Saints to avoid debt:

    “The story of Simon called Simple
    Is one everybody has read; It is sweet, it is sad,
        and it tells of a lad
    Who wasn’t quite right in the head.
    When he sought to buy pie of the pieman,
    Poor Simon was hopeful but rash,
    For he childishly thought that a pie could be bought
    Without any transfer of cash.

    “But we mustn’t speak harshly of Simon,
    Who was simply ahead of his time—
    Today he could buy a whole carload of pie
    By merely investing a dime.
    The up-to-date salesman would land him—
    Or, rather more likely, his wife—
    By letting him pay a few cents right away
    And installments the rest of his life.

    “It’s the way they sell pins and pianos,
    And paintings, potatoes and pants—
    For a few dollars down you can buy the whole town—
    As a prospect you haven’t a chance.
    The fact that you’re broke doesn’t matter,
    Your only escape is to die—
    And as long as they take all the money you make,
    You might as well spend it for pie!”

    (Conference Report, April 1926, p. 160.)

    Personally, I like the poem better than the minstrel story.

  73. Stirling says:

    From #70: First, there is no entry in any edition of McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine titled “Races of Man.”

    Gary, you are right. It is called “Races of Men” (perhaps a paen to Richard Knox’s 1850 Races of Men?). Thanks for catching the typo.

    Second, Elder McConkie said (three times in the excerpt you quote) that various “racial characteristics” originated with God. It would be a stretch to say he meant Cain’s seed became black because they “adapted.”

    Here, the text I am looking at is(in McConkie’s language, though JFS, 30 years earlier, and W.W. Phelps, in 1835, just a few years after Lamarck died, had similar sentiments, and I suspect McConkie was familiar with both of those sources on this issue):

    “Racial degeneration, resulting in differences in appearance and spiritual aptitude, has arisen since the fall…all these changes from the physical and spiritual perfections of our common parents have been brought about by departure from the gospel truths.”

    The Lamarckian element is his idea that a person became somehow “degenerate” in various physical manifestations because of a “departure from the gospel truths,” and that the degenerate characteristics became inherited. Or, in other words, the “acquired traits” were inherited.

    Fourth, I personally find it offensive that you choose to quote Elder McConkie’s earlier editions

    Gary, much better to be personally offended that the book, with its racial statements, is still available in your local Deseret Book in 2007. Maybe you and I could co-write Deseret Book about our shared offense.

    Aaron, sorry for the digression from your topic.

  74. Aaron Brown says:
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