Astrid grills a phone-missionary about evolution

The following is a dialogue my friend Astrid sent me between herself and a Missionary (both names changed) manning the church’s live chat at

    Astrid: Do you believe in Evolution?

    Charles: hi, how are you

    Astrid: do you believe in Evolution?

    Astrid: is anyone there?

    Charles: I do believe in certain aspects of evolution, that species adapt to their surroundings

    Astrid: What about the evolution of human form?

    Charles: but I do not believe in the theory that we all evolved from nothing . . . that something simple became something more complex

    Astrid: So your church does not believe in Darwinism?

    Charles: no, we believe in the Creation as it is stated in the bible

    Astrid: I don’t think the two are incompatible, I believe in both God and Evolution. So you believe in the six-day creation, 6000 years ago? Is a Mormon scientist even possible if you do?

    Charles: yeah, we believe in the creation, how God did everything, and the exact amount of time it took for everything to be created and completed we don’t know. We don’t believe that it was literally 6 days, as God views time differently than we do

    Astrid: Couldn’t he/she have used evolution? What do you believe fossils were?

    Charles: We believe that God created man the way it says in the bible, however, it was the last part of his creations, animals were created much earlier. I am not sure everything about the fossils and where they came from though

    Astrid: What does your church believe about science? You do not seem open to its findings but I see at your Brigham University you have scientists and evolutionary biologists. Are they not Mormon?

    Charles: oh we are very open to science, science is very important, and at least the way I see it is as a way of understand how God created such a complex universe and world for us to live in

    Astrid: That is what I believe, except evolution seems to be the way he/she did it. There are lots of science on that. I believe God is even evolving.

    Charles: well we do believe that species evolve, or in other words they adapt to the world they live in, however we don’t believe in it in its most extreme sense, for example, that we evolved from primates

    Charles: but species are always changing in order to survive

    Astrid: Don’t those changes through long periods of time add up to significant changes?

    Charles: It is possible, but it goes against logic to believe that something simple can evolve into something so complex, for example languages have evolved, but they went from very complicated to much more simple

    Charles: there have been significant changes, but I just don’t believe in the concept that we came from basically nothing and we are now something so complex

    Charles: I believe that that was the doing of God and he created us how we are

    Astrid: But why is that incompatible with evolution? It’s just a method of getting from simple to complex. If not evolution how did he do it?

    Charles: He created us as human beings, I’m not saying we are the same now as when we were created, just that I don’t believe we cam from a different species to be what we are today. If we did evolve from primates, than why are there still primates all over the

    Charles: world

    Charles: would they not have evolved as well?

    Astrid: They came from common ancestors. Evolution explains that nicely. Diversity of form is what evolution creates. The numerous primates are in fact considered evidence for evolution. I believe that the spirit and body are separate and that the way the body formed is not important to the spirits eternal nature. The body could be form in any way, and in fact the evidence for evolution is as strong as any science we have. I can’t see why the two are incompatible?

    Charles: Like I said, we do believe in evolution to a certain degree. However, everything in science is just a theory, if that is how God did it, then one day we will know and we will be able to understand exactly how everything works

    Charles: it may not be while we are still living

    Astrid: Thanks Charles I must go to work. It was a very interesting chat. I like the Mormons I know. Thanks for sharing your views.

    Charles: Your welcome, have a great night!

    Charles: and thanks for sharing you views in a civil manner :)

I have a couple of thoughts about this. First, I think Charles did a decent job. As, likely, a green missionary at the MTC, he handles something he does not know much about. He does as well as might be expected. He doesn’t give into arguing, but tries to state his belief clearly and as best he can. He is a little defensive in places, but ends very nicely. Well done Charles. My friend Astrid is an unlikely convert (but you never know), she is typical of many Europeans over here—spiritual, but very antagonistic against organized religion.

Second, I was surprised that Charles did not just say, “The church has no official stance on evolution.” I spend a lot of time trying to argue that Mormons should embrace evolution fully and without apology (here, here, and here, for example) and that we don’t need to take things like Noah’s flood literally (here). And the Church does not have a stance on Evolution. At BYU, religion professors are supposed to refer students with questions about evolution to the BYU evolution packet. We teach evolution straight up and without apology in my department. We support neither Intelligent Design nor Creationism as defined by the Christian Fundamentalists. We do teach that Mormonism and Evolution are fully compatible with the idea of Creation. We don’t offer specifics. I (now switching to my personal take since I’ve not attended my colleagues classes) start my classes with prayer, encourage compatibility of science with scripture, and try and teach with the Spirit at all times. I teach now, or have taught recently, History and Philosophy of Science, Ecology, Environmental Science, and Gradate courses in Ecological Theory, and will be starting Bioethics and Religion and the Environment in the Winter Semester when I get off my sabbatical from Vienna. I feel that at BYU students are getting as good of a science education as they would get in any biology department in the country. And at BYU spirituality is maintained and promoted. For example, as part of the student class evaluations the students are asked:

    If their “testimony was strengthened” where I score a 7.5 out of 8


    If they were “spiritually inspired” where again I score a 7.5 out of 8.

These, I believe, are religion professor-level ratings for these questions.

This is a typical comment from my students.

    “It was not a religion class per se, yet I feel that my understanding of faith has grown through this course more than any other formal experience I have had at BYU. I can honestly say that this class changed my life and the way that I view my relationship with science, pursuit of knowledge, my church, and Heavenly Father.”


    “Not only did we dive into deep issues pertaining to science and the history and way of thinking, we went into deep spiritual discussion. This class strengthened my testimony greatly as well increased my love science indefinitely.”

No one has ever written a comment that suggested that they came away from myclasses not spiritually and intellectually fed. (However, to be fair in an Ecology class once, a student did comment he or she was going to ‘Turn me into the Religion Department.” Because I was advocating evolution. I’m not sure what that would mean, but it did sound scary. No one, anywhere, should have to face being turned into the Religion Department.)

I am still surprised by the animosity between those who really believe that the two are incompatible. A deep spirituality is possible with a fully embraced evolutionary biology. When are the promoters of the divide between religion and science going to realize that they do far more harm than those who try and reconcile and affirm both?

In our age of growing secularization I think the church needs to stand apart from the growing fundamentalism and anti-science crowd. An unapologetic, wholey embraced reconciliation and promotion of science and faith is not only desirable, it is being accomplished at BYU.

I hope over at the MTC the missionary phone trainers will explain to the Sisters and Elders:

    “If they ask about Evolution, tell them the church does not have a stance.”

Or better yet:

    “Although the LDS church does not have a stance on Evolution, most members embrace it fully and find it completely compatible with our most cherished doctrines.”


  1. I was in ninth grade when my Biology teacher, Mr. Whitaker, said that he was an active mormon and went on a mission and had full faith in the church AND believed in evolution. He didn’t see why God didn’t do what He did scientifically. The Bible doesn’t really say how God did it all. “Out of dust”… that isn’t very detailed. My life indeed changed and I’ve viewed science and evolution differently ever since. I wish I could tell Mr. Whitaker what a difference he made to me… Great teacher.

    **I went to school in Pleasant Grove, Utah which is obviously why it’s not a surprise that he told everyone he was mormon and that wasn’t the controversy.**

  2. Hey, my kids all go to Pleasant Grove too! But I’m currious, what did your seminary teacher say?

  3. Left Field says:

    Steven, I would be very much in favor of you becoming the Religion Department. I don’t think that’s scary at all.

  4. I agree completely. Brigham Young said that everything true is part of our religion. I’ve always believed, therefore, that evolutionary biology is also part of our religion. People who see a conflict between that and their creation stories (I believe) have insufficient faith that God can act in ongoing ways, or else they have insufficient imagination to see that scriptures aren’t meant as science textbooks, or else they just don’t know any better from not having examined the evidence or learned the concepts. Evolution is THE central idea that informs and makes sense of the life sciences. With it, everything just falls into place, it all makes sense, the entire fabric of observations. Without it, there are thousands and millions of curious facts that point to evolution but that must all be independently considered not as evidence but simply as curious whims of God.

    When it was discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa, some religious people of that time, including the religious establishment, were positive that such a situation was incompatible with God’s existence. Unless the Earth is center of the cosmos, they argued, then God cannot exist. As it turns out, they were wrong. Those in these times who feel the fact of evolution rules out God’s existence are wrong as well.

    Perhaps to help this missionary, there should be a page on telling what the church teaches about various political issues like capital punishment, abortion, evolution, women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality, polygamy, and so on. Or perhaps this would generate more controversy than it put to rest, I’m not sure. It definitely seems like missionaries ought to be trained to answer such questions correctly.

  5. Ah, seminary, can’t say I remember anything I was told in the three times I went…

  6. Tatiana “Evolution is THE central idea that informs and makes sense of the life sciences. With it, everything just falls into place, it all makes sense, the entire fabric of observations. Without it, there are thousands and millions of curious facts that point to evolution but that must all be independently considered not as evidence but simply as curious whims of God.”

    I don’t think people realize how absolutely true this is. They seem to think it’s a loose idea that scientists somehow just have faith in. It’s central in everything in Biology. Everything! And your last point on thousands of millions of curious facts is right on the money. (Although, it might be a slight underestimate).

  7. The people you can chat with are MTC missionaries? Is that really a good idea? Yowie.

    The feedback you get back from students is great, and reflects the need for truth in all its forms, told clearly and without apology.

    Whenever thinking about evolution and the Church, I like to quote McConkie:

    Our knowledge about the Creation is limited. We do not know the how and the why and when of all things.

    Preach it, Brother Bruce!

  8. I think we dodged a bullet by Charles being on the receiving end of this questioning. It could have been much much much worse. Charles sounds like a thoughtful guy–he did an admirable job.

  9. My guess — remember the long pause at the beginning of the chat? That was probably “Charles” running to get his teacher!

  10. So was Astrid a member of the church already? If so, why do members feel the need to “test” the missionaries? If not, why did he record his transcript and send it to you?

  11. “No one, anywhere, should have to face being turned into the Religion Department.”

    “She turned me into a Religion Department! … I got better.” Sorry, couldn’t resist. :-) Thanks for sharing the evaluations, those are always fun.

    And a really fascinating chat exchange. I saw last month that they had added this feature and was really shaking my head in amazement at what a bad idea it seems to me to be. How many transcripts like this, but less flattering, will end up on the internet? sigh. But the exchange you posted here is especially interesting for all the reasons you highlight.

    There are so many times I’m grateful to the point of weeping for all the things that make our church different from some of the protestant churches out there—the non-rejection of evolution, flexibility in what it means for the Bible to be “true,” the acceptance of limited end-of-life intervention, and on and on. Not that any one of these is particularly important to me individually, but that together they represent a principle of rationality flowing through everything in our faith–and I love it. It frustrates me to no end when occasionally individuals seem bent on purging these things.

    Wow. Another fascinating, excellent post from Steven P.

  12. #10 She’s a non-member associate here in Vienna.

    #7 my favoriate quote of Elder McConkie is this on the lifting of the Priesthood Ban:

    Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

    I think that applies to Evolution as well.

  13. Cynthia L. That is a good point! I tend to focus on those who trash evolution. We do enjoy freedom of thought and tolerance of opinion as pointed out in this conference. I need to keep that in mind.

  14. Is it wrong to surmise the both Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie were absolutely opposed to the idea of organic evolution? From their writings which I was exposed to extensively growing up, I thought it my sacred duty to argue against evolution whenever the topic came up.

    Now much later in life I have done as much reading on the subject as I felt necessary to understand and was really pleasantly surprised, relieved almost at how much peace I felt while doing so. I could almost say that I gained a testimony of it, much the same way people say that they gained a testimony of the church or the Book of Mormon.

    I do not think however that we can ignore the influence of JFS or BRM in inculcating the feeling that embracing the principals of Organic Evolution leads to apostasy. See websites like “no death before the fall” etc. for more evidence of this.

  15. I feel that at BYU students are getting as good of a science education as they would get in any biology department in the country.

    I agree with this. I came into my current graduate program with as strong and broad a foundation in biology as any other of my classmates. And from what I gather from friends in the medical program, BYU does a good job of preparing students for med school as well.

    I think the fact that BYU scientists are able to teach biology unfettered is pretty strong evidence that the Church does not oppose evolution. Some will say that BYU is not the Church and just because BYU teaches it doesn’t mean the Church is OK with it. But if the GA’s on the board of trustees were really concerned about BYU students believing in evolution they would make sure that the bio departments were not teaching evolution as truth.

  16. to clarify, which may not have been apparent, I gained a testimony that the principals of evolution were true (not that the diatribes of the McConkieites are true.)

  17. Gary (not NDBF Gary) says:

    Although I agree with you, I am very surprised that you are surprised that so many find the two views incompatible. Our church books, manuals and statements from many prophets teach exactly that. Sure, there are statements that the church takes no position on the matter, but I have read quite a few apostles and prophets attack evolution. The defenders are few, and tepid in their defense of evolution–much like Charles. If you are looking for a defense of evolution, you will never find it in a church class or seminary.

    I believe it is incorrect to state that most members embrace evolution fully. That may be true of most who have studied biology, but they are a definite minority. The large majority of members with whom I am acquainted reject it.

    The acceptance of evolution requires rethinking many beliefs in ways that are contrary to our conventional teachings. I think you underestimate how difficult that is for many.

  18. #14 No, you are correct. I think they were against Evolution completely. But they were child of their times, just we all are and I don’t begrudge the good they did do. But as the quote in #12 shows they could be mistaken. It’s those like ‘no death before the fall’ that cling to the old revolations (including all sorces of truth science and prophetic) that are missing the boat. They quote endlessly these old thoughts, missing that we are a church that changes in light of new truths. That’s our strength.

    #15 I’m glad you had a good expereince at BYU. I think it has as strong a biology department as anywhere. Your graduate experience really is the rule. Most of our graduates praise what they received here both in terms of science and religion.

  19. The Right Trousers says:

    It was a big revelation to me to realize that a prophet *always* speaks with limited understanding. And of course the audience always hears with limited understanding, too… Best to just trust unless you have a great reason not to.

    Only one quibble: “Although the LDS church does not have a stance on Evolution, most members embrace it fully and find it completely compatible with our most cherished doctrines.”

    I don’t think the part about “embracing” is true. I’m not sure I want it to be true. Same goes for the Church-Turing Thesis, which is comparable in its centrality, but in Computer Science. Every bit of evidence points to its truth, and it defines the notion of “algorithm,” which is absolutely critical to all of the work we do – but it’s not something most members ever need to deal with directly.

  20. #17 and #19 You are correct most do reject it. My last statement was a wish of what I hope we one day say.

    I understand the difficulty. I remember on my mission arguing with an investigator of hours about evolution (I thought the church was against it). It was a slow process for me, but it occurred at BYU under the guidance of believing scientists. I think there are good resources now that lay out the case for Evolution.

  21. I think that is part of the problem. A lack of thinking and a lack of wanting to learn. I believe sometimes we get lazy in our thinking and learning and it’s EASIER to just agree on whatever authority says.

  22. Cynthia L. I too am a little worried about the chat online. It seems to me people are much more apt to be aggressive in an online chat than on a phone call.

    Steven P.- thanks for the clarifcation. I have to admit that the first time I saw the “chat” feature, my first instinct was to open it and ask the missionaries about second anointings. My wife however reminded me that that wouldn’t be nice.

    I think Charles did ok. I think “we don’t know, and are open for various possibilities” is the best approach. After all, what if Astrid had been a Southern Baptist Investigating?

  23. #22 Matt W. I like we are open to “various possibilities” or “We have no Stance” but sometimes, I wonder if we try and kowtow to the Fundamentalist Christians too much. Catholics and most Jews embrace evolution fairly fully. As do many of the more mainstream Protestant denominations.

  24. I have my suspicions about what top church leaders think about evolution, but I couldn’t begin to say what most church members believe regarding this subject. How could I know?

  25. Roseannah says:

    In the post heading, it says this was a phone call, but wasn’t this actually a live chat via Internet? There’s a big differnce, especially since in most places recording phone conversations is illegal.

  26. Personally I am an agnostic on evolution. I find myself between hardcore evolutionists (its like a religion with these people and they are as fervent as the fundies) and the creationists. One of my favorite moments as a smart aleck undergrad was quitly but audibly saying amen repeatedly as a biology professer testified er taught evolution in a 100 level biology class. The class was rolling on the floor after about 5 minutes.

    I found your last statement to be not true in my experience. Mormons have a wide range of opinions on evolution in my lifetime of living amongst them. The best way to respond to callers at the MTC is that the church has no official opinion and that there is a wide range of opinions amongst the membership

  27. I think it is important to put the statements by BRM and JFS in the context of their time and the heresy they believed they were fighting.

    A common theme that is explicit throughout many of the anti-evolution arguments was the belief that evolution must, of necessity and by definition, deny the existence of God and His participation in the creative process. Thus, the term “godless evolution” appears quite frequently in the statements of early Church leaders. Even when it is not explicit, I think the general perspective was widespread and served as the foundation for most of the rejection of evolution. Eventually, the word “godless” was lost (perhaps at first because it was assumed to be understood), and the arguments became focused on “evolution” without any qualifiers.

    If the earliest proponents of evolution had been largely vocal Christians, I think the statements from the Church leaders would have been much different. For that reason primarily, I tend to cut them a lot of slack on this issue.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree that, given the circumstances, Charles did well. At that age and circumstance I wouldn’t have done nearly so well. I remember late in my mission teaching a family, who asked flat out if the Church believed in evolution. I was the senior companion, and I said, again flat out, “no.”

    My junior companion corrected me and expressed that actually, the Church doesn’t have a position on the issue. I’m not sure what sources I would have had access to, but somehow I concluded that he was right, and I was grateful for the correction.

    I later came to believe in evolution, but it would take exposure, time, reading, and experience. It’s not something one can reasonably expect a 19-year old to have a good handle on.

  29. Oh, and I thought Charles did quite well considering his situation and age. That’s not a conversation I would like to have with a complete stranger on-line.

  30. When considering evolution, I’ve always liked this little nugget from Elder Maxwell:

    Secular education wisely does not pretend to give us answers to the great “why” questions–any more than you and I, brothers and sisters, would read a telephone directory in search of a plot!

    Don’t misinterpret, I’m not trying to diminish evolution – to me, science gets at the “how” questions, which religion also wisely leaves well enough alone.

  31. I agree that Charles handled this inquiry quite decently. this is a tough issue for a 19-year-old new missionary to deal with, assuming he/she has only the typical seminary and sunday school background. It takes a while to learn enough about the church and about science to start reconciling; it is much easier to simply write off evolution as a mystery or a heresy.

    Your last thought could be rephrased in a much less palatable, but more accurate, way: “Although LDS leaders rarely take a negative stance on evolution anymore, many members are still suspicious of this area of science, likely because they know little about it.”

  32. We don’t know how old Charles is. Do we even know where the chat feature is implemented? It could be senior missionaries in the COB.

    Whenever somebody uses the phrase “Just a theory…” to refer to evolution, they obviously don’t know squat about science. Gravity is just a theory, too.

    It is my understanding that Charles Darwin was indeed a faithful Christian.

    Steven, I agree with your first comment. He should have just said “the church doesn’t have an opinion on evolution. Or gravity. Or particle physics.” Which would tend to indicate that maybe he was just a 19 year old, because they seem to think they have to have an answer for everything.

  33. Or better yet:

    “Although the LDS church does not have a stance on Evolution, most members embrace it fully and find it completely compatible with our most cherished doctrines.”

    Is that really true, though? I’m not sure it is. Is there any data on what “most members” believe with regard to evolution? “Embrace” seems a little strong to me.

  34. “It is my understanding that Charles Darwin was indeed a faithful Christian.”

    but many of the vocal proponents weren’t

  35. I’m most interested in his claim about language–languages have evolved from very complicated to much more simple? Interesting thought, but that’s just not true. I wonder what evidence he’s basing that on.

  36. I LOVE this post! I was raised to take the scriptures literally, and it a shock to my system to read a quote from a prophet that the whole account of Adam’s rib was figurative. I’ve since made a serious study of evolution and the creation account and come to some conclusions. I’ve decided that the scriptures are an account of God’s dealings with man. They are not intended to be scientific or historical records. That’s too heavy a burden to place on early saints. I teach my kids this now so they don’t have the same crisis of science vs God I did.

  37. Since this blog is for people of faith, I would like to vaguely describe something miraculous that happened to me. I think it may be pertinent to this discussion.

    Leaving out all the details, I was placed in a situation that involved multiple people perceiving different things. That is, both time and the laws of physics were “flagrantly” violated.

    In retrospect, I’ve realized that these violations served a purpose for each of the people involved. Moreover, I’ve realized that dramatically different things can be true simultaneously.

    Just as a note, my best conjecture is that the internal response of the people involved was being molded and tested – their thoughts, emotions, values, judgments. After all, “love your neighbor” is a law that coexists with contradictory truths and beliefs. You define yourself before you even say a word. (Or, the truth is far far less important than who you are and the truth is meaningless relative to the importance of the person you are interacting with.)

  38. Earlgirl #36- Reading literally doesn’t necessarily mean reading historically. But I’d have to put up a whole post to explain what I mean. In the meantime, here’s something from the Ensign that sorta kinda makes the same point.

    Genesis does not give a detailed history of the Creation. Instead, it teaches basic principles….

    When discussing the Genesis creation story, what teacher has not been pressed with these questions: How was the earth created? How long did it take? Were there dinosaurs before Adam? How was Adam created? And numerous others. Is it possible that most of these questions completely miss the mark?

    As Elder James E. Talmage said, “The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a textbook of geology, archaeology, earth-science, or man-science.” (“The Earth and Man,” p. 3, address delivered 9 Aug. 1931 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Copy in the Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

    Instead of trying to squeeze out information that doesn’t seem to have been in the Genesis account in the first place and may not have been revealed yet (see D&C 101:32–34), let’s look at a few of the most important things that we can learn from Genesis:

    George A. Horton Jr., “A Prophet Looks at Genesis,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, 40

  39. Gary has a good point. I also believe in evolution as the mechanism for the creation of man, and it has been established that the church has no official stance on evolution. However, we repeatedly are given the strict Genesis version of creation in church venues, most notably in General Conference. On Saturday’s Priesthood session I believe it was Elder Scott that brought out the “Eve was the last and final crown of creation” statement in his talk about honoring women. I just take this metaphorically because it makes no sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Unless I suppose God brought Eve in to the Garden after He brought Adam there.

  40. Antonio Parr says:

    Isn’t the Biblical concept of humans being created out of the dust of the earth the precise position of the evolutionists? The only arguments would be the time that it took (although Mormons seem to get around this problem pretty easily with its 6 creative periods) and whether the dust turned instantaneously into man or whether it happened gradually, i.e., from dust to fish to whatever to mammal to human. Seems pretty easy, to me, to be a faithful Latter-Day Saint and an evolutionist.

  41. Antonio- Indeed. Next time a fundamentalist confronts you at a pageant, and claims you believe we came from monkeys, you can respond, “yes, well, you believe we came from dirt.”

    I personally straddle the two camps by believing we came from dirty monkeys.

  42. #27 It seems to me that the anti-evolution stance of the 19th Century churches really is a historical accident. Many pastors and religious thinkers first embraced Origin of Species, then a few vocal religious people began to see it as a threat, Atheistic people like Huxley attacked religion and suddenly good friends became bitter enemies. I think the opposition of early members is likewise a historical accident that got caught up in this climate.

    #36 Thanks Earlgirl. There are also other sacred places where it’s mentioned that it is all “figurative”

    #34 Charles Darwin was probably a typical Christian of the time–did not think to often or deeply about it and went to church faithfully on Sunday–But his turn from God (and there was one) was not brought on by Evolution but rather by the loss of his daughter, an action of which he could make no sense for kind, wise, good God to do. That when and how he lost his faith.

  43. #40 I like Monkeys better than dirt too! (It seems worse to say, “I’ll be a dustball’s Uncle”)
    #41 Dirty Monkey’s that’s a good one.

  44. Here’s a question: What does Correlation use to guide its review of LDS publications concerning discussions related to evolution? How would someone from Correlation evaluate or critique the responses by Elder Charles?

    That seems like a valid question for Church members to ask. Given the absence of guidance from other semi-official doctrinal sources, such as the True to the Faith booklet (which does not have an entry for “Evolution”), I’m afraid Correlation takes its cues on evolution from the CES, which, on this topic, amounts to taking guidance from early 20th-century Protestant fundamentalists.

  45. #44 Dave, I think that is a great question. I wonder that too. I think that most just assume they know what the church thinks and go with these Protestant ideals as you describe.

  46. I echo comment #35–I’m really curious where Charles got this idea that language evolve from complex into simpler forms.

    I wonder how other Mormons would handle the question of the evolution of language. I imagine that most Mormons believe that language (specifically, the “Adamic” language) was already part of the bundle when God created man.

  47. Steven P and MattG are both correct in asserting that among Mormon evolutionists the church has no official stance on evolution. Nevertheless, there does exist at and in Church published literature an official position on evolution that is nearly 100 years old. It was well summarized by Charles when he said we don’t believe man evolved from primates. Also, fortunately, Steven P and MattG are not required to change their views aboout the evolution of man simply because the Church teaches otherwise.

  48. Steve, great post. Where would be the best place for an evolution novice to begin study? Thanks.

  49. I can’t remember for sure what scientist/philosopher said it (Russell, Dawkins, Sagan?) but I once read a profound statement: If a highly advanced (compared to us) alien civilization made contact with humans and could only ask one question to assess our level of scientific progress it would be, “Have you discovered evolution yet?”

  50. Anon.
    Start here.

  51. The next question would be “have you discovered warp-drive technology?” ;-) Sorry, got to give props to my Star-Trek love.

  52. Josh Smith says:

    #41 “dirty monkeys” … Ha! I’ll be laughing about this for the rest of the day. Thanks.

    An introductory biology class at BYU helped me realize that the faith v. science battles were unnecessary fights for the LDS. Both the scientist and the Mormon may ask, “Where do we come from?” They use the same language, but they’re really asking two entirely separate questions.

    The scientist and the Mormon should be friends. Scientists dance with the Mormon’s daughters, Mormons dance with the … I’ll stop.

    “dirty monkeys” … very, very funny.

  53. re # 35 and 46, I believe it comes from Nibley, “There Were Jaredites”.

  54. It’s another reason that I think it’s likely this was probably a senior missionary or that the Elder went to get his MTC teacher or the instructor in charge of this activity. None of it sounds like a 19 year old, even a really smart one — the tone is just way off for that.

  55. The language claim made by Elder Charles here is one of the least defensible (as well as least relevant to the question of biological evolution) of the entire discussion.

  56. One of my most memorable fights with a companion on my mission in Europe was with a sister from Uruguay. All I was trying to say to her was that it was possible to both believe in evolution (I am mostly agnostic, but inclinced to believe the scientists) AND be a good Mormon. She just about had a heart attack that I would assert such a thing.

    As a side note, I also took a science class at BYU that included a biology unit taught by Dr. Evans. The part on evolution was especially interesting. After the class on human evolution I went up and asked him whether all the biologists at BYU were pro-evolution, and he said no: the biology department represented the whole spectrum of opinion. I found this oddly comforting.

  57. #47 – Good to see you, dude. We’ve gone the rounds on this one before; I won’t put everyone through that again.

  58. #48 Brad’s suggestion #50 is a very important look at the relationship to the Church and evolution.

    For the some the basic facts and evidences for evolution start with Prothero on fossils and Dan Fairbanks on DNA

    for faith and evolution I recommend Catholic Biologist Miller.

  59. Or for a more scholarly take try Catholic philosopher JohnHaught.

  60. #51 I think the only reason an advanced alien civilization would want to contact us would be to congratulate us on Star Trek. Of which they would no doubt be fans. (and Buffy)

  61. I think the language thing must be Tower of Babel related. If I remember from my missionary days (when I taught all kinds of good things like this) Adamic was a pure and complex language that could express anything, which then degenerated into our imperfect systems of today. Of course, as you might expect, like the Flood, I don’t take Babel as a description of how language actually unfolded.

  62. My father taught over 25 years’ worth of biology and microbiology students at a big midwestern state university that there wasn’t any incompatibility between evolution and faith. He knew the professors at BYU, talked with them occasionally, and thought that they did a good job with their approach. (My sister even got a job as a TA with one of them, partly because of my father.)

    My father’s approach was, at the beginning of the lectures on evolution, to essentially bear his testimony, without the Mormonisms, and then delve into the science. He never hid his membership in the Church and his faith in modern-day prophets, but he also was candid about how sometimes leaders make the mistake of talking about things they shouldn’t. He was forthright about the fact that religion and science are not at odds. He caught more flak from his HP group than he ever did from the academics or students (over 25 years’ worth of students).

    Maybe it’s because of my father that when I went to BYU and first heard about the “controversy” over evolution, I couldn’t figure out what was controversial.

  63. (I have to ask though – what was Astrid’s point with all this? Test a missionary on his knowledge? I don’t get the impression she was really seeking after truth…)

  64. #62 I think I would appreciate your Father. It’s amazing he was not given a hard time for his testimony by is university for talking about his faith. I’ve often taken flack from both sides, scientists for faith, my Brothers and Sisters in the Church for evolution. While I was in graduate school a missionary decided I needed reporting and turned me in to our Bishop, no wait I mean reported me to our Bishop, language is so hard with our degenerate non Adamic forms. My Bishop just laughed when he told him and told the missionary not to worry I was fine. Good Bishop.

  65. #63 No I don’t think she was seeking the truth in that sense, she just finds it really strange that so many Americans don’t believe in evolution. It really seems bizarre to most in Europe. Palin, I think has left Europeans shaking their heads in wonder at us, with her fundamentalist leanings. I gave ‘Astrid’ the church website. Who would guess anybody would actually go? Missionary work yields unexpected rewards.

  66. Josh Smith says:


    Palin leaves most US citizens shaking their heads–including McCain.

  67. It’s amazing he was not given a hard time for his testimony by is university for talking about his faith.

    How many other professors willingly teach a 7am freshman biology class every quarter for 25 years? Or agree to teach anatomy and physiology as one giant 8-credit hour class? It’s not what they like or dislike about you — it’s how much they can’t get along without you…

    Dad wasn’t the type to force his beliefs on you, but he’d let you know where he stood, and I think his students appreciated his honesty. He had more run-ins with coaches over his grading that he had with students and faculty over his teaching.

    (He was the faculty adviser to the campus Pro-Life group for a year, because they couldn’t find anyone else. His demands were simple: Don’t embarrass me, and don’t bother inviting me to anything, because I’m too busy.)

  68. He basically made it clear that he believed in God, he believe that God created the earth, but that no one knew how He did it, so until a prophet outlined the science behind it, he was going to teach evolution as a scientific principle. As I said, more High Priests were upset by this than academic people.

  69. “7am freshman biology” No you would really take care of someone like that!

    I’ve often wondered if I would stand up like that at another university. While a graduate student at NC State I taught a graduate Population Ecology class at Duke (let that speak to who’s got whose best program). Everyone knew I was a Mormon (I can’t remember how they found out, maybe I just said I did my undergraduate at BYU and they figured it out) but, I don’t think I told them about my faith. Your Dad sounds like an amazing person.

  70. Steve Evans says:

    I give this post 7.5 out of 8. Did Astrid tell you beforehand that she was going to do this?

  71. StillConfused says:

    I like how he referred to what he believed personally. It shows that there is some room for personal interpretation. I have always felt that evolution and creation can be compatible. Who are we to tell God how to create things. He may prefer the scientific manner to the magic approach.

  72. “No one, anywhere, should have to face being turned into the Religion Department.”

    Let me just wave my magic wand here and…


    Presto! Now you’re the Religion Department.

  73. You know, I hate to cut in on the Palin bashing, but Sarah Palin believes in evolution.

    It’s true. Her father taught her about evolution.

    Palin just happens to believe that Creationists shouldn’t be treated like like wild crazy extremists, nor should they be considered stupid. Hence her comment that students in a biology class should feel free to discuss creationism and intelligent design.

    If anything I think Palin probably represents the majority of Americans who don’t get why believing or not believing evolution is such a big deal. I mean really, evolution is the one question Aliens would ask about to ascertain our scientific level?

    Evolution may be pretty important to biology, but I don’t think it has much if any impact on meta-physics.

  74. Aaron Brown says:

    I haven’t read any of the comments.

    Steve, I was a Bioethics T.A. for the BYU Zoology Dept. for almost 2 years back in the late ’90s. It would be interesting to see how things have changed since then. In particular, I’d be curious to compare the openness of students to evolution then vs. now.

    My 2 cents on all this has always been this:

    1. Opposition to evolution among LDS students is quite broad, but not particularly deep. Im my experience, many students who “know” that evolution and Mormonism are incompatible can be made to “know” otherwise fairly quickly, if given a quick tutorial on the diversity of views in the LDS Hierarchy.

    2. The real controversy isn’t between science and Mormon spirituality, but rather, between science and traditional Mormon commitments to a particular kind of scriptural literalism. The former cannot be fully embraced without radically overhauling the latter. Maybe there will always be tensions at the margins (or even not just at the margins), but once we jettison many of our silly scriptural assumptions, the road will be considerably easier from then on out.


  75. Aaron Brown says:

    Oops (#56),

    When were you at BYU? I asked the head of the Zoology Dept. this same question (how many of the biologists at BYU believe in evolution) back in the late 1990s, and he responded that ALL of them did. More precisely, I think he was talking about more than just biologists (perhaps all the natural science faculty — I’m not sure), and he claimed there was only one skeptic, whose area of specialty was about as far removed from evolution as one could be.


  76. I haven’t read any of the comments.

    Talk about reveling in one’s ignorance!

    By the way, why is it okay to call this fellow “Charles” in an online chat, but total frickin’ blasphemy to call him anything other than “Elder Jones” in other settings?

    Also, can these people troubleshoot my iPod?

  77. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    Re: 73
    I’ve never read or heard anything where she indicates her belief in evolution – only that she and her father talked about it often when she was younger.

    There are a few people near her who have publicly indicated that they’ve heard her espouse Young Earth beliefs – which is technically hearsay, I know, but until I read or hear her personally state her beliefs one way or the other that’s all the info I have to use.

  78. Aaron Brown, there is no published diversity of views on the origin of man among today’s apostles and prophets. The only Church published view you’ll find is that each of us is a child of God; we are not monkeys and neither were our ancestors.

  79. Regarding LDS belief in evolution. In the Pew Study, 90% of Jehovah’s Witness disagree with the proposition that evolution best explains the origins of human life, 76% of Mormons disagree. The next highest evolution disbelieving group was evangelical protestants–70%.

    Among weekly attenders, the percentage of Mormons who do not believe that evolution best explains the origins of human life is 82%, versus 80% for weekly attending evangelical protestants. pages 95-97.

    A lot of Mormons I know state they believe in evolution in every respect except for human beings. Unfortunately, the Pew study did not provide a category for that answer, which might have reduced the 82% disbelief percentage.

  80. #77, I can’t find the link, but it was in a big biography piece and the key bit was when they were interviewing Palin’s sister, who mentioned that evolution came up once at a family gathering and they discovered that some of them agreed with her father and believed in evolution, while other’s went with the church her mother went to and believed in creationism.

    Palin’s sister says she wasn’t really surprised that Palin came down on the evolution side, since she was always a “daddy’s girl”.

  81. Steve Evans says:

    R. Gary! Speak his name and he shall appear!

  82. Alexander says:

    #79 – A lot of members believe in evolution in every respect except for human beings. This to me is totally bizarre.

  83. Token Average Member says:

    If I didn’t believe in continuing revelation, I would be totally flummoxed by the whole evolution vs creationism thing. But I do believe that we will receive further light and truth when the time is right, so I just have to believe in both for now. Hopefully by the time I am qualified to create my own worlds, if I ever am, I will understand how it is done.

  84. #48 Anon.: “Where would be the best place for an evolution novice to begin study?”

    May I recommend Stephen Jay Gould’s essay collection “Ever Since Darwin”? This is the first of many collections of essays on evolution and natural history by a brilliant, well-spoken, highly readable polymath who is a superb scientist as well as a gifted writer. That combination doesn’t occur so very often, so I can’t recommend him highly enough. I learned much of what I know about evolutionary biology from this man. I love reading his books. They’re aimed at the level of the intelligent layperson, but the science is never compromised for simplicity’s sake. Indeed, he makes it plain what real science is, and one learns as much about the nature of scientific inquiry as about the specific topics at hand.

    He illustrates the concept of neoteny using the evolution of Mickey Mouse’s appearance over time. I’ll never forget his study of phyletic size decrease in Hershey Bars, and the way he explained early diversity and later convergence in lineages using baseball’s modern lack of .400 hitters. It’s highly entertaining as well as deeply informative. He was a brilliant man and I cried when I heard he had died. I can’t stop myself from gushing about Stephen Jay Gould.

  85. CJ Douglass says:

    Sweet post Steven.

    Is anyone else irked when guys like Bill Maher make blanket statements like “Mormons never were that big on science”?

    Sure, the Church has “no official position” on evolution but we are no where near the anti-science positions of many forms of Christianity and Islam. We need to advertise this better. And not to look smart – but to spread the all important message that science and faith can and should coexist.

  86. Astrid is an awesome name (I have to say that because I gave it to my daughter :) ). Steve, thank you for writing this, and for your blog–I enjoy your writing. It’s reassuring to hear evolution is accepted at BYU. Although I realized my impression of BYU was inaccurate after talking to some biology majors from there, before I went to college I was of the impression BYU wouldn’t be a good choice for a serious scientist because of the interference of religion.

    I’m not sure why so many Mormons have problems with the evolution of man, though I’d guess a lot of it derives from JFS’s Origin of man. BKP has relatively recently made anti-evolution statements as well. I guess that’s pretty much why, come to think of it.

  87. CJ Douglass says:

    A lot of members believe in evolution in every respect except for human beings. This to me is totally bizarre.

    I love the response of a fellow classmate in my freshman early morning seminary class:

    “they found bones!”

    Its hard to explain away bones.

  88. Aaron Brown says:

    “…we are not monkeys and neither were our ancestors.”

    Gary, if you want to retain the slightest shred of credibility when you engage in conversations about evolutionary theory, you really ought not utter the phrase that more strongly signals a basic ignorance of the theory than any other imaginable.

    “there is no published diversity of views on the origin of man among today’s apostles and prophets.”


    Gary, you know what I meant, I know you know what I meant, and you know I know you know what I meant, so let’s not go down this road. As I think I once said to you in a similar thread over a year ago, I think you’re fighting a losing battle on this issue generally, and that’s not just wishful thinking on my part (though I admit I do wish for it).


  89. Aaron Brown says:

    Tatiana — Matt Evans (from T&S) and I took a class from Stephen Jay Gould back in 2000. I haven’t (yet) read much of his stuff, but he really was amazing to hear lecture. Matt once commented to me that he thought Gould was probably the smartest professor he ever had. We were both fairly blown away.


  90. Maybe there’s some statistic above I missed, but is the percentage of Mormons who have a serious problem with evolution significantly higher than the rest of American Christianity?

    I don’t think that there’s a particular Mormon element in play here. I’m more willing to blame lazy parents who steer their children away from science because it’s “too” hard.

  91. Aaron Brown says:

    But for many Mormons, there surely is a “particular Mormon element”, queuno. The writings of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie are virulently anti-evolution, and they have been extremely prominent and influential with a large swath of the LDS membership. Surely familiarity with these brethren’s works (either directly or indirectly) is a signficant causal factor behind Mormon hostility to evolution.

    As I said in a prior comment, traditional LDS belief in a literal reading of Genesis is surely a big part of the story as well. Admittedly, such beliefs are not “particular” to Mormons though.


  92. After reading this post and being pleasantly surprised about the teaching of evolutionary biology at BYU (to tell you the truth, I’d never thought much about whether or not BYU would teach it), it made me wonder about the anthropology department. After all, human evolution seems to be the biggest sticking point for most Mormons. So I looked and it turns out the department avoids the issue entirely by not even having any biological anthropology. I suppose it’s a valid way to navigate (or rather, not even get into) murky waters, but it leaves BYU anthro majors at a significant disadvantage, since it’s one of the primary fields of anthropology and anywhere else you’d be required to take a few classes in it to get any sort of anthropology degree. But the evolutionary biology gives me hope that some day that’ll change (they could at least teach it as a theory…).

    Oh, and I really enjoyed the post. Thanks.

  93. “is the percentage of Mormons who have a serious problem with evolution significantly higher than the rest of American Christianity?”

    Disbelief in evolution by Christian faith

    Jehovah’s Witnesses 90%
    LDS 76%
    Evangelical protestant 70%
    Historically black protestant 51%
    Mainline protestant 42%
    Orthodox 36%
    Roman Catholic 35%

    Other faiths
    Muslim 51%
    Religious but unaffiliated 37%
    Jewish 17%
    Secular unaffiliated 16%
    Buddhist 14%
    Hindu 14%
    Agnostic 11%
    Atheist 9%

    Total population 45% disbelieve 48% believe in evolution

    I do believe that preaching against evolution by high LDS officials, though not backed by the full power and unity of the Brethren, has influenced attitudes of LDS members.

    Another interesting statistic–a higher percentage of LDS disbelieve in evolution (76%) than believe that homosexuality in society should be discouraged (68%).

  94. Steven P,

    Do you know if there are any evolutionary psychologists at any of the BYUs?

  95. You guys have good discussions while I’m asleep over here. Let’s see if I can catch up:

    #70 What would it take to move this to 7.7? She didn’t.

    #74 and #75 Many students do come around to believing in Evolution but a post exit review the department started reveled that many students were retaining their animosity to evolution. I know of no one in my department that does not believe fully in evolution. There are two faculty members in the College of Life Sciences that are rumored to not believe in it fully. I don’t know them well and have never asked them personally. I don’t know of any non-believers in the geology department either.

    #76 I was surprised by the first name usage too. It seemed very strange and informal. Does this portend the end of white shirts somewhere down the line? Can you see a missionary in jeans and a Bob Marley tee-shirt walking down the street saying, “Hi my name is Earl, I have a message for you.”

    #79 The Pew study was the best information we have on rates of belief.

    #82 I’m not sure how people believe in evolution and exclude humans either.

    #85 On the level of discourse I see Mormons saying we are friendly to science, but if I look around Utah valley (where I live) generally I hear a lot of anti-science. Science seems to be accepted as long as it’s not Biology or Climatology. Then science is just one more weird thing people believe in.

    #89 I heard Stephen J. Gould give a lecture one time. He is a shining light. One of Elder Holland’s Angels I dare say.

    #91 Yeah, Evolution is a “Doctrine of the Devil” is a hard to read in a pro-evolutionary way.

    #92 BYU Science really is top notch. As good as the best in secular universities. No worries about a student not getting the best science education possible there in the science departments. CES class can still be iffy as to evolution. Right after giving a lecture on the formation of the earth (standard science story) in ecology I walked by a class room and heard they were discussing the creation of the earth. It was a freshman level Religion class and they were being told about a creation near Kolob that was moved to our sun. I wanted to scream “No, we have much better information on that!” But I just continued on. There are still some of the old views being promoted, but not in Science classes that I know of.

    #94 I don’t know what’s going on over there. I hope so.

  96. People keep talking about old pronouncements by some GAs that were anti-evolution, but there are much more recent statements by current GAs to contend with. This one for instance.

    Based on such statements there appears to be ample reason for rank and file members to reject evolution, and we should not be surprised by it.

    If we fail to discuss it (or are actively hostile to it) in church manuals, take no “official position” on it, but allow historical or present statements against it to go unchallenged, we will get exactly what we act like we want.

    BTW, I have always (as long as I can remember) accepted evolution and even taught that to investigators (those who asked about it) as a missionary. My companion was livid, but I felt it was important to be honest.

  97. MCQ that is a good point. We really need to distinguish between when they are speaking their own opinion or for the church. I think back on some of Ezra Taft Benson’s politicial statements, for example. As far as I know there have been no recent official statements. If there were, I’m sure we would hear about it at BYU. A nice compilation of the official statements was written by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements.

  98. Re: Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements. Contrary to its title, the book fails to comprehensively provide “the” authoritative LDS statements on evolution. Certain statements are left out while others that don’t meet the book’s criteria for authoritative status are included. The result is that individuals who want the LDS Church to be neutral on evolution will be enthusiastic about this book. Those, however, who just want to know where the LDS Church stands on evolution should be wary of this book.

  99. Aaron Brown, where and when has the Church ever published an apostolic statement endorsing the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man?

  100. R.Gary,

    James Talmadge and BH Roberts routinely did so. The only reason the church ended up with a perception of an “anti” position is that Joseph Fielding Smith and his protege, BRM, outlived them and put an end to the debate.

  101. The important thing to keep in mind is that we’re only talking about the origin of Man’s bodies, not the origin of Man. I think we are all in agreement that we are all spiritually begotten of God, we get too hung up on where our bodies came from. I think needlessly so.

  102. Elder B.H. Roberts: “The theory of evolution as advocated by many modern scientists lies stranded upon the shore of idle speculation…. If the hypothesis of evolution be true, if man is only a product evolved from the lower forms of life,… then it is evident that there has been no ‘fall,’ such as the revelations of God speak of; and if there was no fall, there was no occasion for a Redeemer to make atonement for man, in order to reconcile him to God; then the mission of Jesus Christ was a myth, the coinage of idle brains, and Jesus himself was either mistaken, or one of the many impostors that have arisen to mock mankind with the hope of eternal life. Such is the inevitable result of accepting the philosophy of evolution, after which all the world is now running—it is destructive of the grand, central truth of all revelation.” (The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 7th edition, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1928, pp.265-267.)

    Elder James E. Talmage: “Man is the child of God…. He is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation.” (“The Earth and Man,” 1931 pamphlet, p.14.)

  103. Aaron Brown says:


    Sorry for coming on so harsh before; I read one of my previous comments, and I should have said “historical” diversity of views among the LDS hierarchy. By leaving out that word, I suppose one could have read me to be saying that the present batch of LDS leaders have diverse views. It’s true that one can’t point to published evidence for this (that I’m aware of).

    But I actually do suspect there is a current diversity as well. Absence of direct evidence is not evidence of absence. :)

    Gary, I concede that none of the historical statements from church leaders that are relatively “friendly” to evolution are specific endorsements of the evolution of man, specifically. But I think many of them can be read consistent with it.


  104. #102 – Just to parse the actual statements in your comment, each one focused on refuting the idea that we are nothing more than smart apes. That is critical to any discussion of earlier statements, imo.

    From the quotes in #102:

    Roberts – “if man is ONLY a product evolved from the lower forms of life”

    Talmage – ““Man is the child of God…. He is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation.”

    Roberts believed in evolution; he just rejected the concept that we aren’t children of God. Talmage also accepted evolution; he also rejected the concept that we are nothing more than the posterity of animals.

    Many statements describe what the speaker believes; many others describe what the speaker does not believe. Too often, that distinction is absent from analysis of those statements. I think if the atheistic argument had been absent or weak 40-100 years ago, the statements from our leaders would be quite different – based on how regularly rejections of that specific argument appear in their statements.

  105. For an in-context and more nuanced take on Robert’s Talmage’s support for evolution see Brad’s suggestion in #50 or look at Duane Jeffrey’s classic paper Seers, Savants and Evolution. It is easy to piece together single quotes to get people to sound like they believe anything you want them too. You could even turn me into a creationist if you just quoted things out of context from my writings. The most fun is Brigham Young, though, you can really milk single out of context quotes to say whatever you want.

  106. On March 28, 1976, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke to the students at BYU about Duane Jeffrey’s Seers, Savants and Evolution: “More recently one of our Church educators published what he purports to be a history of the Church’s stand on the question of organic evolution. His thesis challenges the integrity of a prophet of God.” (This Nation Shall Endure [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977], p.22.)

  107. and around and around we go

    I’m getting off the merry-go-round.

  108. I missed R. Gary.

  109. Me too. Dudes got mad ctrl+c-ctrl+v skillz.

  110. indeed. cutty-patsy magicks.

  111. Ray (#107) said “I’m getting off the merry-go-round.”

    From now on, we should refer to this perennial Bloggernacle routine as the “Gary-go-round.”

  112. But in all seriousness —

    R. Gary’s ubiquitous comments on evolution provide a good reminder for everyone. If we accept the current science on evolution (especially evolution of humans), we should recognize that this is inconsistent with certain statements on the topic by past and present church leaders, including statements made in authoritative fora. It is also inconsistent with a strictly literal reading of parts of Genesis and its PoGP analogues.

    Some of us are comfortable with the idea that scripture and church leaders’ statements have both divine and human components, and do not necessarily represent the inerrant word of God in every case.

    But some cannot take this far enough to allow room for evolution.

    Gary is defending the faith as he sees it. I think he is fighting for a hill that does not need to be taken. But his arguments are understandable.

    I accept the science on evolution. But I like do this with my eyes open, recognizing the implicit assumptions that this requires.

  113. Good point. I think that it is important we have prophets not popes, and hence not infallible.

  114. R. Gary,

    I am sorry, but only arguments I have ever seen from you are quotes from General authorities regarding their opinions. And as Steve P. has pointed out on his own blog, when it comes to your apostles vs. my apostles regarding evolution, yours, Gary, will win. I would like you to give some actual facts regarding why evolution is not compatible with our, (or any) religion. In fact, you can quote someone. The fact remains that church leaders are authorities in theology, not science. Their opinions should not be taken as doctrine. And quite frankly I feel that the church has been poisoned from a young age to disregard evolution without question.

  115. Cap: The fact remains that church leaders are authorities in theology, not science.

    Let’s not get carried away. Church leaders are authorities of the church, not of theology. Most of them don’t have any training whatsoever in theology. Church leaders, in general, are called to lead the institution of the church forward, and they do an admirable job.

    Steven P, excellent post.

  116. nasamomdele says:

    I am thoroughly confused here.

    What exactly is the LDS evolutionist’s explanation/definition of evolution?

    To what degree are scriptural accounts to be taken figuratively and who said so?

    Why would someone take BH Robert’s word for creation over the prophet’s? (Just sayin’)

    Personally, and coming from a non-biologist perspective, evolution is a paperweight. It’s a theory that is useful to biology in its various forms.

    Gravity is a law, no?

    Pardon my ignorance, I’m just a social scientist.

    SteveP, what “better information” do you have of the creation of the world than Earth moving from Kolob to our Sun? I’m mostly curious. I mean, I think that Zues passing gas an out came an Earth is better information than that.

    Basically, I would love to see an essay by one of you all explaining the position. The blogger-attacker-complainer stance is getting old and stupifying.

  117. Jacob J,

    I am sorry, I must have gotten carried away on that one, but what I meant by it is this: When it comes to things regarding our religion, our beliefs or our church, I will turn to the Church authorities. There are some things that I feel are more of an opinion on their part, not doctrine etc. (Which doesn’t mean that their opinions should be ignored or disregarded without though). Now with issues that go against what some leaders have said, I will honestly think about it, (Or ponder if you will), and pray. I will study it out. Evolution goes perfectly with Heavenly Fathers plan, and so I believe in it.

    And so I am sorry for the confusion in what I wrote. Not theology, but matters that are apart of our church, and beliefs.

    Also, Gordon B. Hinckley said he had gotten past those issues a long time ago, and they were not important to him. Whether it is true of not did not effect his beliefs in God. I have grown more spiritually in studying these things out. But if I did not know what I believed on this topic, I know I would still be a faithful member of this church.

  118. Cap, I was/am with you. I was just using the opportunity afforded by your word choice to make your point again even more broadly.

  119. nasamomdele says:


    How does evolution go perfectly with Heavenly Father’s plan?

  120. Some 20 years ago, I was the institute president at our local university. The institute director asked me to approach a recent BYU grad who was taking a few university classes before she was to go on to graduate school, and ask her to speak at our “Friday Forum” on the subject of evolution. Interestingly, her thinking was very much like Aaron while mine was very much like Gary’s. The forum was packed, as one would expect with such a hot topic. To make it short, she did a very good job of explaining that embracing some form of organic evolution as a means of creation is not equivalent to heresy. Specifically, I remember her eloquently stating that in her mind, the geologic record of the earth is in itself a form of scripture that the Lord has left us. It answers more “how’s” than “why’s” concerning human origins, whereas the standard works do the opposite. That left a huge impression on me, and led me to open my mind a bit more on the subject of evolution, to the point that now 20 years later, I fully accept that some form of organic evolution is the most likely way in which the Lord created this world and its inhabitants.

    By the way, I fell in love with that forum speaker and married her.

  121. Re: infallibility and quoting apostles and prophets.

    You guys are probably right. Why in the world should anyone look to Church leaders instead of bloggers to find out what the Church teaches about evolution?

  122. It’s a theory …Gravity is a law, no?

    Evolutionary theory, gravitational theory, theory of relativity, quantum theory — all theories with the same epistemological standing in the hard sciences. There is far, far more and wide ranging empirical evidence for human evolution through natural selection than there is, say, for the claim that the earth is not the center of the universe. The statement “I do not believe in evolution”, from the perspective of science, has the exact same consequences in relation to empirically established scientific models as the statement “I do not believe in gravity.”

  123. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, the proof for the Earth not being at the center of the universe is quite simple:

    Consider the Bloggernacle:
    Let AB = Aaron Brown
    Let E = Earth
    Let U = Universe (known), where AB = U

    AB is known to live in Seattle, atop the crust of E. AB is therefore not located at the center of E. The center of AB is by definition the center of U. Thus the center of E is not the center of U. QED

  124. Since statements from General Authorities about evolution has come up, I would like to relate one more experience. My wife, while at BYU, heard a certain science professor relate his ‘job interview’ with a General Authority (I believe it was an Apostle). The professor was asked how he would handle the subject of evolution in class, and his reply was something to the effect that it is nothing to fear from it and that divinely guided evolution is a very likely explanation of how our bodies were created. The authority came from behind his desk, sat down next to the professor, and told him that he felt exactly the same way.

    What I get out of that experience is this: I suspect that there are many General Authorities that support organic evolution, but it is their opinion, and they are not willing to publicly contradict public statements from other General Authorities that were less restrained in speculating on the subject.

  125. nasamomdele said:
    It’s a theory …Gravity is a law, no?

    Laws describe WHAT happens, Theory explains WHY. The law of gravity describes how fast objects fall in different circumstances (which is easiest to describe in mathematical terms that I am not qualified to speak on). The theory of gravity explains why objects that have different masses exert more gravitational force (again, the math and physics is beyond me). The theory of evolution is an explanation of all of the laws that we see empirically (mutations, species changing, adaptation, the fossil record, etc.). No theory can ever be proven true, but theories can be proven false. In fact, if you can’t think of any outcome or finding that could falsify a ‘theory’, it’s simply not a scientific theory at all. The great thing about the theory of evolution is that it does make a lot of predictions. Every piece of evidence we’ve discovered, however, fits with those predictions and therefore strengthens our confidence that the theory (explanation) is correct.

  126. nasamomdele says:

    #122 Brad,

    That far more and wide-ranging empirical evidence is what I’m interested in.

    There is evidence in every culture of a creation story.

    #124 Sonny,

    divinely guided evolution is a very likely explanation of how our bodies were created.

    Interesting story, more details, please. Who was it- was it a Prophet? What constitutes “divinely guided evolution”?

  127. nasamomdele says:


    The theory of evolution is an explanation of all of the laws that we see empirically (mutations, species changing, adaptation, the fossil record, etc.).

    I had no idea these were all laws.

    As you all can see, I’m an evolution sceptic, but a curious one. I respect evolutionists more than creationists, but I haven’t gathered enough understanding of modern evolution theory and how evolutionary record reconciles with mythical record.

  128. They’re all laws in the sense that they are descriptions of what we empirically observe. Obviously, you could describe each of them in a more specific and ‘scientific’ way. But, saying DNA tends to mutate is as specific as I can be about laws of mutation. A biologist may be able to tell you about mutation rates and exactly what conditions influence the rates of mutations that we actually see. Then, after we information is collected about the laws (or what’s happening), it’s time to work on a theory or explanation of why those things happen the way they do. Sorry that I’m short on very specific examples, but, if you wanted to talk about social psychology, I could give you more details about the laws and theories (I can’t imagine that anyone wants that right now).

  129. nasamomdele,

    >>Who was it- was it a Prophet?

    The name of the GA was not mentioned, as it should be in my opinion, no matter how much we listeners would LOVE to know.

    What constitutes “divinely guided evolution”?

    Well, as I understand it, organic evolution that does NOT allow for any divine intervention stipulates that we are what we are now purely by chance. It is kind of hard to square the statement that we are made in the image of God with a process that is completely random. So divinely guided evolution would mean that all of the changes were not so random after all, in order for humans to have become in the image of God.

    At least that is how I understand it.

  130. We need to remember and never forget that evolution only concerns our physical bodies. It has nothing to do with our spirits. Our spirits came from God as his offspring. Thus, statements like “I don’t believe we came from primates” are nonsensical.

    Our bodies came from physical elements via natural laws that were controlled by God. Our spirits, which have personality and intelligence, came from God. Our bodies are like an overcoat, and when I buy a coat I don’t care where and how it was made, just that it covers me (of course, I’m not considering the fact that many coats are made by workers who are exploited, but that is a topic for another discussion).

    I believe in evolution, but I think it is not an important issue for the religious world to consider. The important thing in the religious world is not how our bodies were made but what we do with them now that we have them.

  131. >>No one, anywhere, should have to face being turned into the Religion Department.

    lol! :-)

  132. #117 CAP thanks for bringing up the President Hinckley quote. That is important.

    #120 Well said, and nice demonstration of evolution in action—selection for superior genes in the mating pool.

    #130 Very important point. It is our spirits that are the offspring of God. Our bodies came from dust—star dust—then simple organisms—then—fish—then mammals—then—primates—then us (there are a few steps missing there). There is no reason to put science and religion against each other they are compatible completely.

    #121 Gary lets change this a little:

    You guys are probably right. Why in the world should anyone look to Church leaders instead of bloggers to find out what the Church teaches about evolution?

    You guys are probably right. Why in the world should anyone look to Church leaders instead of physicists to find out what the Church teaches about quantum mechanics?

    If the church does not teach anything about QM then physicists is the right answer. You are confusing The Church with some leaders of the church. There is a difference.

    On Law and Theory. Most Philosophers of biology consider Natural Selection a law. It always works. You can do it on a computer. With candy in a jar. Whatever. If you have these conditions:

    1. Variation of some character.
    2. Inheritance of selected character from parental types
    3. Differential selection for next generation among varying characteristics

    you get evolutionary change. If you want to dismiss evolution you can’t attack Natural Selection, you have to argue that our genetic/developmental/environment system is not the sort of system where natural selection can occur. It’s been quite well established that it is. Evolution is on as strong a ground as any science I know. Diss Evolution and you are dissing Science itself.

    #121 Sonny I have a paper that shows how creation and the kind of randomness you are talking about are compatible published in the Zygon the Journal of Science and Religion (here)

  133. John Mansfield says:

    “Evolution is on as strong a ground as any science I know. Diss Evolution [sic] and you are dissing Science [sic] itself.”

    SteveP, stamp collectors’ wives don’t get escorted by the king of Sweden.

  134. That depends on Who the stamp colloctor’s wife is.

  135. John Mansfield says:

    Only if she’s a physicist married to a biologist.

  136. We’ve gotten over physics-envy in biology.

  137. SteveP,

    Official Church pronouncements and unofficial Church published statements of the apostles and prophets are in complete agreement on human evolution. You can’t confuse the Church with its leaders on human evolution because the Church officially and the apostles and prophets unofficially all teach the same thing.

    So it’s not about dissing evolution. It’s about what the Church teaches about human evolution. And the Church rejects human evolution.

  138. Why am I teaching it at BYU then? With the full sanction of the Board of Trustees, mind you. Do you think they arn’t aware of what we are doing? Do you think that if this was a settled question they would allow it? Can you think of anything that that the church rejects that entire departments are set up around? I’m not saying that they believe in Evolution. To some it’s an open question, to others they don’t beleive it at all, to some it is embraced. But they are not as strident as you are. They are more open to the possiblity that this is something important enough to allow. You may aruge that they are just giving into popular academic opinion or have bowed to the world, but I think more highly of the GA’s than that. You must think that either they are unaware of what’s going on or you think that they think a little evil is OK if the ends justify the means. Either way you have a strange view of our Leaders if you think either of those is the case. I think more of them than that. You need to give them a little more credit. To quote you against yourself as a blogger,

    Why in the world should anyone look to Church leaders instead of bloggers to find out what the Church teaches about evolution?

  139. BYU evolution courses do not establish compatibility between Church doctrine and evolution, and do not connote Church approval of the theory.

  140. why?

  141. Do you think someone in the sociology department at BYU could teach gay marriage was acceptable?

  142. Well, we are going in circles so I’ll back away now. All I can say, Gary, is keep your eye on the Brethren, including the Board of Trustees at BYU, they will not lead you astray.

  143. R. Gary,

    What is the point of a blog other then to voice your opinion, and have a discussion about it? If you are so set on Church authorities knowing the exact ends and outs of all creation, or might as well say, all things, why even bother reading blogs? I feel that there are some valuable opinions out there.

    And also, SteveP had a good point: ‘Why am I teaching it at BYU then?…’ That I feel is very true, and a good point. The day that we will know that the Church’s official stand is against evolution is when BYU does not teach it.

  144. nasamomdele says:


    Thanks for the info. In all fairness, R. Gary has a point. Your rebuttal doesn’t really connect well:

    You guys are probably right. Why in the world should anyone look to Church leaders instead of physicists to find out what the Church teaches about quantum mechanics?

    The reason is that Church leaders expound scripture, which speaks explicitly of creation. So they have at least some authority on creation, even if none in Biology. But it raises the issue of Abraham and relativity…I digress.

    I know natural selection well and heredity well- those are 9th grade concepts. I also recognize physiological similarities between species. I simply can’t wrap my head around the idea that homo sapiens have evolved from the same thing that mice have.

    This is partly because such a thought invites wild speculation as to the creation of man and timeframe and/or circumstances of the introduction of his spirit. As a rule, I don’t like speculation. Sure it can be fun, but I can’t give a heck of a lot of credence to wholly theoretical answers.

    So for evolution to be “likely” for me, I guess I still question:
    1) Links between species
    2) Logic for “diversity” being evidence of evolution, but not creation
    3) Adaptation and Heredity contributing to the larger time frame of evolution from single-celled to rational complex organisms.

    If evolution is only heredity and punnett square, I’m on board. Adaptation is evident daily. But if it is monkey-man, I’m skeptical. I need to gather more information.

  145. Peter LLC says:

    need to gather more information.

    And whence the information?

  146. John Mansfield says:

    Tatiana (#4): “Evolution is THE central idea that informs and makes sense of the life sciences. With it, everything just falls into place, it all makes sense, the entire fabric of observations. Without it, there are thousands and millions of curious facts that point to evolution but that must all be independently considered not as evidence but simply as curious whims of God.”

    SteveP (#6): “I don’t think people realize how absolutely true this is. They seem to think it’s a loose idea that scientists somehow just have faith in. It’s central in everything in Biology. Everything! And your last point on thousands of millions of curious facts is right on the money. (Although, it might be a slight underestimate).”

    This is one kind of science, and an important one, but it is a bit silly to think that the rest of biological science is pointless without this piece. Relations governing metabolism and anatomical structure have nothing to do with how the species came to be, and they are more than “millions of curious facts.” Once I learned that a vulcanologist friend had received some money for some work with Mars, and I stupidly asked him “What do volcanoes have to do with Mars?” Volcanoes on Earth and on Mars, of course, have I lot to do with one another despite a complete lack of interaction between the two.

    Physical law works at many levels. Concepts of energy and entropy exist and work on their own without recourse to statistical thermal physics. This is good for biology since biological models are not derived from the ground up out of chemistry.

  147. nasamomdele,

    I love your questions because they show an open and questioning mind. Sometimes hard core strident statements turn my statements strident and hard. I was thinking about this on my ride home on the Uban and I have to keep an open mind too. I could be wrong you know.

    I don’t think I am, but no one ever does. So to your question. The answer is long and needs development. Too much so for a blog. My job is to point the way. You must make the journey. If you really, really are interested read the two books offered in #58. The second one on DNA, although written for the general public, is written by an active Mormon and gives a very clear explanation of why we are related very directly and obviously to a mouse. I think you will be blown away by the evidence and come away a true believer in evolution. If not there is nothing that will convince you. But give it a try and see what happens. It’s a fun journey. It will do nothing to your faith or your sense that you are a child of God. You’ll just know where your spirit’s body came from.

  148. Cap,

    It’s not about what they know about evolution. It’s about what they, the apostles and prophets, teach about human evolution. They might be wrong (in your view), but that is still what the Church teaches.

    So voice your opinion. Discuss it. I agree there are some valuable opinions out there. But the Church’s official stand on human evolution is clear and BYU teachers can’t change that.

  149. #147 If you reduce biology to chemistry I agree. Anything above the cell I stand by my statement.

  150. Sorry, at the cell level too. Molecular biology is all about evolution. If you are taking about interacting protons and electrons and stuff like maybe you can get away without evolution. But I’d still say you’d go far in including it. As a student once said to me, A bumper on a car doesn’t make sense until you know their are other cars.

  151. John Mansfield says:

    My casual observation is that mice are used to model the human immune system, rats are used for the human neurological system, and dogs are used for the human vascular system. Perhaps someone can correct me about this. However, our brains, and hearts, and antibodies, were all inherited together. Evolutionary explanations for these points of biological similarity seem irrelevant.

  152. #152 You really need to look at chimp biology a little closer.

  153. John Mansfield says:

    Your bumper on a car idea is what I’m getting at. Do you need to look at the last century of car production to know what bumpers are for, or do you look at the cars on the road right now?

  154. Wow. Come to the post late and it’s already 151 comments!

    Nice post Steven. I think some guideline on evolution questions ought be given to missionaries. However just thinking back to my own mission I’m not sure I’d have done much different.

    However I have to agree that I’m not sure having green missionaries do the chatting is wisest. Having a more experienced companion to guide one is very, very important.

  155. R. Gary, this is not addressed to you. We have gone the rounds on this specific point, and you have said we are in agreement on it, so I am simply throwing it out there for everyone else. It is why I say that the Church’s official position is, “We don’t know.”

    The last official statement on evolution signed by the FP is the 1909 “Origin of Man”. It leaves the possibility open that our physical bodies are the product of biological evolution – that the first “human” (Adam) was the combination of a spirit child of God inserted into a mortal body that began as a “germ embryo”. In context, it should be clear that this “germ embryo” is meant to be the same type of embryo as any other embryo.

    That statement does not teach or embrace evolution. It doesn’t deny it. It simply says that we don’t know how Adam’s physical body was created – and that it might have been through a evolutionary “parentage”.

    The exact quote, included in the “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith” manual, is:

    True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.

    (Emphasis added)

    This quote makes it apparent that, in their view, the embryo becomes fully “human” when the spirit enters the pre-birth “infant” – and that the first “human”, therefore, could have been created in this same manner. It is not taught, but it certainly is left open as a possibility.

    No consensus statement has been released in this manner since, so I believe the Church’s “official position” hasn’t changed since 1909 – particularly in that “godless evolution” still is the focus of almost every statement on record. I also think that is the proper stance.

  156. John I think the relationship between biology and evolution is much like the relationship between physics and quantum mechanics. Most physics involves no quantum mechanics. Yet, clearly understanding QM is necessary to understanding why everything works the way it does. The fact that someone doing acoustics or hydrology could get away with never having had a calls in QM or even believing it entirely false doesn’t invalidate the point that physics without QM doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  157. Among weekly attenders, the percentage of Mormons who do not believe that evolution best explains the origins of human life is 82%, versus 80% for weekly attending evangelical protestants.

    DavidH, no one else commented on this but I think the problem is that for Mormons human life isn’t just our body. Put an other way I, a rather thoroughgoing believing in evolutionary theory are presently understood in biology, would have a hard time figuring out how to answer that question. It is, unfortunately, a very bad question. On par with those theological questioneers that try to figure out if Mormons are Arians or what not. The questions presuppose a way of looking at the world that simply doesn’t line up with the categories of thought Mormons use.

  158. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, I agree with your analogy, but I think you go to for in saying that “physics without QM doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Saying that biology doesn’t make sense without evolution is a bit like saying that evolution doesn’t make sense unless you have the remains of every precursor species sitting in a warehouse. Evolution has broad principles that don’t depend on the existence of each species that has come and gone. Biology has broad principles that don’t depend on how currently living things came to be.

  159. #152 – Fruit flies and nematodes are also very good models of human developmental biology and immunology. The genes involved in how flies fight infection are very conserved with the same genes we have. Why are evolutionary explanations for these points of of biological similarity irrelevant?

  160. #149 R. Gary,

    But the Church’s official stand on human evolution is clear and BYU teachers can’t change that.

    This is just a big circle. First off, I am not sure if you realize the influence that the church has on BYU. It is to the point of ridiculous. If BYU teaches Evolution then the Churches official stand on evolution is that they don’t have a stand.

    Gordon B. Hinckley, (As I earlier quoted) does not have a stand on it. He doesn’t lean one way or the other. I think that is a huge indication that the Church does not have an official stand.

    (And if you really want an exact quote from Pres. Hinckley, I will get it for you.

  161. John Mansfield says:

    “Why are evolutionary explanations for these points of biological similarity irrelevant?”

    Because models that work best will be used whether or not an underpinning explanation has been worked out showing why analogous systems are analogous, and because many analogies are due as much to the constraints of physical law as they are to heredity. The reason there is no Superman isn’t just that nobody’s parents were from Krypton.

  162. Different Gary says:

    StevenP: Although I accept evolution, and I accept that the creation story in Genesis is figurative, I am still having troubling reconciling these beliefs with other doctrines.

    I think are theologically committed to a literal Adam and Eve and to a literal fall. All human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve who were real, literal, historical individuals. (If you disagree, please explain.) How do I make sense of a literal Adam and Eve given what we know about the evolution of human beings. Did Adam and Eve come into a world already populated by millions of other homo sapiens who were biologically identical to them? If so, what happened to all of those other non-human homo sapiens? (Does this explain my odd next door neighbour–is he a remnant of that branch of the family?) If not, then what? Where do you place Adam and Even chronologically? Joseph Smith and every prophet seemed pretty committed to a literal garden of Eden in Missouri. Do you reject that notion also, or can you reconcile it somehow?

  163. Different Gary,

    This is how I see the Adam and Eve story, in regards to evolution.

    I believe that Adam and Eve were real. And yes there could have been other Homo Sapiens, however I feel that Adam and Eve were the first to have a spirit of one of our Heavenly Fathers spirit children in their physical bodies. And after them or from them, more spirits were brought down to inherit physical bodies.

    As for the garden. I am not sure if I believe in an actual garden. The story of the garden seems to outline the premortal life. (But again, I am not sure what I believe in regards to the Garden). It could have simply been the place where they dwelt. Once they had a spirit, they could have spoken with God. For direction, etc.

  164. Clark thanks for joining! I think I would go so far as to say that Biology without Evolution is like Astrophysics without a theory of gravity (including relativity). Evolution structures and makes sense of everything from genetics, anatomy, physiology, embryology, ecology, and all the other ‘ologys.’ The only resistance seems to be from a few people (count them on your hand few) who really are doing physics and chemistry like studying ion-gate channels and things like that, like ID theorist Behe does, but wait, ID crowd believes in evolution and claim it is necessary (except over complex hops that only they see the need for and so abandon science itself), so I can’t think of any legitimate biology that does not use and structure itself by evolutionary theory. The popular perception that evolution is just an unnecessary fancy of biologists really says we have failed to communicate how deeply it is embedded in everything biological. It informs every scale and touches every aspect of biology–just like galaxies and their motions don’t make sense without a broad theory of gravity, as Dobzhansky says, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” Including Human Biology.

  165. Different Gary, #164. These are good questions. I’ve thought long and hard on them myself. I don’t have any answer for them and don’t pretend to. Our knowledge of Adam and Eve came through revelation, and so how they fit into earth’s biological history will have to come the same way. I think, however, there is nothing to prevent me from fully embracing evolution and the historical record, and that how this all fits together will come later. It is clear evolution happened and is how our physical biology was structured. There are lots of things we don’t understand, how the body and spirit come together, when life begins, etc. and science can’t touch these. I strongly believe there are things science will not explain and faith is required. But I’m comfortable with that.

  166. From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, on the chapter on Evolution by William E. Evenson:

    “In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution, the First Presidency of the Church, then consisting of Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley, addressed all of the General Authorities of the Church on the matter, and concluded,

    Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church … .

    Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: “Adam is the primal parent of our race” [First Presidency Minutes, Apr. 7, 1931]. ”

    This is the clearest “official” position statement that I have read by the church, and I think it’s what the official policy currently is, regardless of individual opinions that General Authorities may have.

  167. Which, I might add, makes no definitive statement either for or against organic evolution.

  168. The problem with evolution, is when it is used as an explanation to take all teleology away from our existance. Evolution can be used as a natural explanation that takes the miracle of our being away. That is the threat that I think underlies opposition to the idea.

  169. I for one, believe in evolution. I believe Adam and Eve are a figurative representation of when man came into being. That is, when evolution got to the point of a community of human beings that were aware of themselves, had free will, and had knowledge of good and evil. The Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the covenant with God are all figurative stories to help us understand our state of being and purpose.


    I don’t think everyone in the church should have to deal with these questions. The belief in a literal Adam and Eve and garden of Eden, etc. gives much more concrete meaning and direction in life. Therefore, I think it wise that the church stay ambiguous on it and even that some of the leaders are literalists. It creates great meaning and purpose for some people. And if not believing in evolution for the moment, helps them to have faith, fine.

  170. John a better analogy might be statistical mechanics and thermodynamics. There’s no doubt you can do thermodynamics without statistical mechanics. You have equations that work. The equations suddenly make sense though when you move beyond phenomenology (in the physics sense) to the principles that make thermodynamics work.

    Evolution and DNA is what explains why biology is the way it is. Yes there’s a ton of biology you can do without evolution. But it doesn’t make sense why things are the way they are without evolution. And conceptually once you start thinking about biology with DNA and evolution things are far easier to understand. (Just like trying to understand thermodynamics without some grounding in statistical mechanics is pedagogically extremely difficult – interestingly that was how my Dad was taught thermo)

    I don’t think anyone is saying, as you appear to be taking it, that evolution is sufficient for explaining everything. Clearly there are structural issues as well. If that is your point then I agree. I think, to use more technical language, evolution is a necessary but not sufficient principle to understand biology.

  171. Trevor there are those of us who are “literalists” in some sense (i.e. think there is some basic historicity to Adam and Eve without necessarily thinking Genesis 2 is completely historically accurate) who see no trouble reconciling evolution with Adam and Eve. Indeed among believers in evolution I suspect that’s the majority view.

    The issue of teleology is trickier and ends up getting into foundational ontology. While some (including myself) think teleology in some sense is an irreducible part of the universe the fact is that evolution says nothing about this. Likewise one could easily reject robust teleology as an ontological part of our nature yet believe in a literal Adam and Eve and so forth.

  172. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, sometimes a mechanism is just a mechanism that could just as well be replaced by another, and the macroscopic system that emerges is what matters. That’s the case with a lot of continuum phenomena (including life perhaps?). The molecular-level mechanisms by which lieuids and gases transfer momentum and heat are different, but the resulting fluid dynamics are the same, and are described by the same continuum equations.

  173. I agree, but often understanding why something works the way it does rather than merely having a description is important. Not just because science has its goal as deeper understanding but as a means of understanding and using the descriptive equations one has.

    Put an other way I fully agree with what you are saying but don’t think it addresses the significance of evolution in biology. Seeing the underlying structures leads to a better understanding of higher level structures.

    That’s why I think the thermodyanics/statistical mechanics analogy is perhaps the best fit. Talk to old timers about thermodynamics prior to statistical mechanics becoming the standard pedagogical tool for teaching it.

  174. Clark and John (#172 & 172), it is this kind of ontology that I propose in my Zygon article mentioned in #132. The thing that lets me escape from deism in this is my sense that consciousness brings freedom (and God’s action?) into the world. But I wander far from this discussion. Maybe we can pick it up at MM sometime?

  175. John Mansfield says:

    Regardibg SteveP’s #165:

    So, you would say that a wildlife biologist studying interrelationships between organisms, on a time scale shorter than that which produces changes within species, is not doing legitimate biology?

    Also, I suppose you are aware that the structure of galaxies does not make sense with our theories of gravity and so we have invocations of dark matter to explain the shapes of galaxies and dark energy to explain the spacing of them.

  176. I think that dark matter questions do still have gravity embedded in them. The dark matter is acting gravitationally. It’s the gravitationally theory that allowed us to discover the anomalies in the first place. That’s the role of theory.

    No. I agree there are proximal questions that do not need evolutionary science for an immediate exploration (like how many trout go in this lake to keep fisherwomen happy) but if you want to understand why cutthroat trout are out-competed by rainbows and what structures that competition you are going to have start thinking evolutionarily.

  177. Clark,

    I agree with you up until your last sentence.

    Rejecting a robust teleology as an ontological part of our nature seems to blow away any idea of revelation, Adam and Eve, etc. Unless by nature, you mean to exclude the spirit and say that there is a teleology of the spirit and not of the body.

    But for the most part, I agree with you. What I was trying to get at is that when you try to mix evolution with Genesis, it’s not so easy, and we ought not be upset when people reject evolution so that they in their minds can make sense of the revelation they’ve received.

  178. P.S. by “rainbows” I mean “Rainbow trout” and I’m not sure “out-competed” is a word. But it’s late here in Vienna.

  179. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, as an engineering student, I did learn thermodynamics prior to statistical mechanics. So did most physics students, too, I think, but it was breezed by so quickly in their second semester that they didn’t understand it. Later, when sufficient time was spent on statistical mechanics to make it understandable, they thought the earlier approach was misguided rather than just too brief.

    I think starting with the big picture is the better conceptual framework. (“Energy is a state of a system that changes by applying work to the system or extracting work from it.”)

  180. Trevor, I think some people are just psychologically committed to teleology. That’s fine. I like the idea myself. But let’s be careful. There is nothing incompatible between the idea of physicalism and the claims within the gospel. The strongest place one can make the claim is in the free will debate. But clearly not everyone agrees and the strongest arguments (IMO) are linguistic which get one into a circular argument if one isn’t careful. (i.e. why demand our language accurately represent the world at a fundamental level)

    Once again I’m not saying people can’t be attracted to the idea. But I think when people say it’s necessary in such a strong sense that they are merely thinking in terms of their philosophical biases.

  181. John, I don’t think the thermodynamics in freshmen physics is really “thermodynamics” as I think of it. It’s true that in lower division classes there is a sense of “just calculate it don’t try to understand it.” Once you start getting into what for lack of a better term I’ll call “real” thermodynamics that pedagogy loses its effectiveness quickly.

    But of course I agree that one can go into biology with an engineer’s mindset and not worry about why anything works the way it does. I think I conceded that from the beginning. However I think that only gets one so far.

  182. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, I think you sell classical thermodynamics short as just a cookbook approach. If you are building concepts like energy or entropy from the ground up from molecular and atomic processes, then everytime you consider another process, then you have to invent energy and entropy anew. No one really does that though. We start with general macroscopic concepts and fit whatever physics we’re dealing with into those concepts.

  183. Clark,

    I don’t want to get too off topic, but this sentence intrigues me:

    There is nothing incompatible between the idea of physicalism and the claims within the gospel.

    That seems like a difficult case to make. Any authors or articles that you can point me to that elaborates on this?

  184. I don’t know of any articles on that. Unfortunately there isn’t as much published on LDS philosophy as one would hope and what is published often isn’t about fundamental ontology and what ontology is written tends to not be written from an analytic philosophy point of view.

    I don’t think it’s a difficult case to make. Just accept Mormon materialism and then say the best ontology for materialism is the one found in scientific naturalism. Where are the problems in that? We talk about having aims, beliefs, intents and so forth while the main position in philosophy is that those aren’t problematic to talk about if one rejects teleology.

    Put an other way the burden of proof is on those arguing there is a problem. Now some do make that argument. (Blake Ostler being one example although he’s more talking about libertarian free will rather than what naturalism usually talks about) However Blake’s argument ends up resting on saying that our words (language) represent reality accurately and thus we can use the meaning of our language as brought out by various thought experiments to gauge whether we have some property. I’m not persuaded by that methadology in the least, even though I reject reductive physicalism.

    But that’s all probably getting too far afield.

  185. John, I’d put forth that it’s impossible to talk about things like entropy and give them a “macroscopic concept.” Once you start talking about disorder you’re talking statistical mechanics rather than classic phenomenological thermodynamics. One could list numerous other variables in classic thermodynamics that only an a “sense” once statistical mechanics came on the scene.

  186. >>But the Church’s official stand on human evolution is clear and BYU teachers can’t change that.

    Gary, do you really think the Church’s position is clear? If that were so, why has this same discussion about evolution kept going nearly a century?

    If it were so clear and yet there is so much misunderstanding, enough to cause countless letters going to the First Presidency year after year, it seems to me that all that would have to happen is the First Presidency make an official pronouncement that say something like, “We do not believe that evolution played a role in the origin of mankind.” The letters would stop flowing and all doubt about the Church’s position would be erased. But that has not happened. Don’t you think that if so many church members are being mislead into believing evolution that the First Presidency would want to clarify the Church’s position and remove all doubt?

  187. Ray’s wild guess on the meaning of the 1909 “Origin of Man” statement (see #156) is contrary to the published views of President Joseph F. Smith who signed the document and who had firsthand knowledge of its meaning.

    An answer to Sonny’s question about why evolution continues to be hotly discussed by Church members was suggested 35 years ago by a Church President:

    “This is a contention which has gone on and will continue to the end of time I suppose, and until the scientists get nearer and nearer to the doctrines of the Church, there will still be contention, but remember this, that truth can never be composed with the errors of men. Just know that the gospel is true and that these are the theories of men which you as a student must learn if you want to pass the courses you are taking.”

    Again, it’s not about the quote. It’s about what the apostles and prophets are teaching.

  188. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, I would say just the opposite: If a person can’t think about entropy, in a process like a Rankine cycle say, without resorting to kinetic gas theory (which applies to only portions of the Rankine cycle), then he doesn’t really understand thermodynamics. I don’t think there is a single thermodynamic concept (heat, work, free energy, availability, temperature, etc.) that is well-defined for continuum systems independent of statistical concepts.

  189. R Gary: you side-stepped Sonny’s question entirely. The question was not “why is evolution hotly discussed,” it was “why don’t members seem to understand what the Church’s position is”.

    Thus, the quote you provided misses the mark; how will we ever know when “scientists [are] nearer to the doctrines of the Church” if we don’t even know what the doctrines of the Church are?!

  190. John Mansfield says:

    Correction: I don’t think there is a single thermodynamic concept (heat, work, free energy, availability, temperature, etc.) that is not well-defined for continuum systems independent of statistical concepts.

  191. BrianJ,

    “how will we ever know when “scientists [are] nearer to the doctrines of the Church” if we don’t even know what the doctrines of the Church are?!”

    I liked that point.

    And I’d like to point out that ‘Mormon Doctrine’ is not a good indicator of what the Doctrine’s of the Church are. Also, I know that there are scientists in BYU, and I know that to teach there you need a Temple Recommend. I think those scientists know the doctrines of the Church well, and they teach evolution their also.

    So now we enter once again the circle debate.

  192. Gary,

    Again, what you are reading is the statements by various Church authorities that are quite outspoken in their opinion about evolution. What you do not read, I suspect because they do not want to appear to publicly contradict fellow authorities, are the beliefs of authorities that lean toward accepting evolution as a means of creation.

    You answered why the subject is hotly discussed. But you still did not answer the question of if the church doctrine is so clear on the subject but yet there are countless discussions about what the 1909 statement really meant, why doesn’t the First Presidency just come out and clarify it once and for all? It would be so easy to do. My point is not to question the First Presidency, but to indicate to you that I firmly believe that regardless of what statements you show (and I have read them ALL), there is no official church position saying that evolution is wrong and humans did not evolve, speaking of our physical bodies. And that is precisely why the First Presidency does not make such a statement now, in my opinion.

    Church leaders, like all of us, are allowed to speculate on any subject they want, don’t you agree? Do you think that there have been at least some instances of General Authorities offering their opinions on a subject, even over the pulpit, even without the disclaimer that their words are only their opinion? I can think of some. I do not fault them at all for this either, because we operate on an imperfect understanding of various subjects.

  193. @152: The topic may have passed, but…

    Rats are more tractable than mice and are therefore preferred for behavioral studies (it’s not so much that they’re smarter than mice, rather that rats aren’t as feisty!). Dogs are used for some cardiovascular work based on history and the size of their vessels (it’s pretty tough to canulate a rodent!). Nevertheless, mice are increasingly being used as a model for just about every system for several reasons, including: 1) they’re cheap (rats cost ~3x more per day; dogs >20x more); 2) they can be genetically manipulated (i.e., knockout, trangenics, etc.).

  194. Sonny,

    Referring to my earlier comment in #157, this is the one case (in 1931) that I know of where the First Presidency did offer a statement on the subject of evolution, and that was in response to the hotly contested debate that was going on even back then regarding the topic. But again, the statement is that there was no opinion, they leave it to the scientists.

  195. Matt,

    Good point. I had read that statement before but forgot about it.

  196. #188 – Sigh.

  197. Ray: Ever heard the definition of insanity?

  198. Gwenevere says:

    Does anyone who gets involved in the posts on blogs such as this ever walk away from a blog topic feeling, peaceful, fulfilled and content? Because every time I visit I leave with quite the opposite feelings. Is this banter really helping anyone? It perhaps, helps us understand others, which is important, but that is not the general impression I get from the posts, it seems everyone wants to prove they are right or at very least someone else is wrong.

    Oh and someone refresh my memory as to why we are theorizing about something no man can prove? If you want to know the mysteries of His Kingdom…then ask Him. It’s a much simpler way to get what you are looking for.

  199. Yeah, MCQ. I know.

    #199: Yes. Quite often.

  200. Science guys are so hot…

  201. “Don’t you think that if so many church members are being mislead into believing evolution that the First Presidency would want to clarify the Church’s position and remove all doubt?”

    Given that around 80% of attending LDS do not believe in an evolution origin of humanity (higher than the percentage that believe that homosexuality should be discouraged by society), perhaps there is no need of a more definitive statement. Maybe the Brethren have reasoned that the Church can tolerate 20% believing in an evolutionary origin of humanity, so long as that teaching does not infiltrate the correlated materials of the Church. That way, those of us misguided enough to believe in evolution can continue to participate fully in the Church and, at the last day, our final step of “perfection” will be the jettisoning of our belief in that incorrect theory. :)

  202. So voice your opinion. Discuss it. I agree there are some valuable opinions out there. But the Church’s official stand on human evolution is clear and BYU teachers can’t change that.

    Just so that we’re clear at the bottom of the thread — the official stance is that *WE DON’T KNOW.*

  203. DavidH: interesting.

    Gwenevere: It depends on how you get involved. I leave happy.

    Ann: you keep making comments that win my vote!

  204. David, as I said, that 80% figure is more than a little misleading. I believe completely in evolutionary theory but also don’t think evolution accounts for the origin of human life. As for why the brethren don’t say something explicit I think it is primarily due to internal politics. That is I don’t think the brethren themselves are agreed upon the topic.

    That said, despite it’s errors in how it treats the early “definitive statements” for some years the Brethren did send copies of Evanson’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism article and the Encyclopedia was, prior to conference, prominently displayed an searchable on Whether that counts as making it into correlated materials I can’t say.

    John, it’s funny that we’re agreed upon the facts and yet draw such different conclusions from it. Yet, part of me is now wondering exactly what you mean. I certainly agree that one can do thermo without understanding statistical mechanics (which is not the same thing as talking about gases). Yet I think that if we are talking about understanding physics, you need those as lynchpins of undestanding just as you need evolution as a lynchpin of understanding.

    It appears you disagree with that. Yet, beyond our ability to simply calculate answers, I’m not sure what you mean by that. It almost sounds like you are adopting a Feynmanesque kind of Instrumentalism where understanding really isn’t that important in physics. Am I correct? I don’t want to put words in your mouth. But honestly I’m not quite sure what your position is anymore.

  205. John Mansfield says:

    Clark, when I mentioned gases, I had in mind kinetic gas theory where molecules have a statistical distribution of velocities and from that, properties like temperature, pressure, specific heats, etc. can be defined and classical thermodynamics of gases derived. This is just one portion of statistical thermodynamics. I think you may have quantum statistical mechanics specifically in mind as the key to understanding physics. My view is that for some matters that granular view of the world matters, and for many parts of physics it doesn’t. Dynamical system work like that of Poincare and Ed Lorenz, where underlying mechanisms are just technical details and the science lies in ensemble behaviours, is real physics just as much as particle physics is. Study of ensemble phenomena is where most science is. Science would be very barren if all we could say is that the universe is a quantum wave function. There is a bit of a point to Rutherford wisecrack that all science is either physics or stamp collecting, but taking it too seriously misses a lot of science (not bookkeeping or engineering, but science).

    Here’s an analogy of what I mean: Computational science doesn’t depend on how logic gates are constructed; mechanical difference engines, vacuum tubes, bipolar transistors, or CMOS integrated circuits. The abstract logic remains regardless of how it’s implemented.

    Going back to the beginning of why I brought this up, I think it’s an overly narrow conception to think that if it ain’t evolution, it ain’t real biology.

  206. John,

    I don’t completely disagree with you on this. It depends of whether your questions are more ultimate or proximate and how deep of an explanation you are looking for. For example, in the fruit flies I work with pheromones play a large role in mate finding. If you are interested, for example, in the ‘hows’ of pheromone delivery or reception there are lots of biological questions that bare on proximal causes and explanations. But if you want to understand why there are pheromone delivery systems you have to start talking about sexual selection and the reasons behind it. But even if you are only interested in say a very proximal question like, say how the chemo receptors on the antennae are arrayed, an evolutionary perspective can help you start thinking about why they would be arranged like that, what sorts of optimization might have led to particular arrangements, what advantages are gained from an efficiency perspective of arrays of chemo receptors guided under natural selection, etc., so all good biologists, even ones interested only in very proximal questions need to keep their eye on questions of evolution. As I’ve said, evolution informs every aspect and sometimes the proximal question suddenly make sense in ways that would not make sense if one where to ignore evolution although it may not bear directly on your question. It may suddenly give you insights impossible otherwise. That is why it is so deeply a part of biology. In fact it’s hard to find biologists of any stripe that do not look at why questions informed by evolution even in the most proximal studies in anatomy and physiology, say. Suddenly, evolution allows you to make sense of your proximal data in a way that nothing else does.

  207. What a fantastic discussion. I haven’t read it all (only about 50 comments) but I plan on reading it completely. However, I need to ask for a definition before I go on:

    What is the definition of evolution? Are we all talking about the same thing? Are some of us using nuanced definitions? In particular, are we talking about evolution that involves the great, final leap from monkey to man?

    When you say evolution do you include the monkey-man link?

  208. #207 is a great description of how evolutionary thought infuses all of biology. As a molecular biologist/geneticist, I agree completely. You will find it hard to do much modern biology without the framework of evolution. For instance, I study aging and the genetic pathways that influence longevity, and all sorts of interesting evolution-related questions come up, despite the fact that my formal training is in the molecular rather than the organismal/evolutionary side of biology.

    #208, I don’t think there is a really a distinction. Evolution posits that man and monkey descended from a common primate ancestor, and there’s no reason to believe that somehow evolution does not apply to humans as well.

  209. John Mansfield says:

    This afternoon I asked my wife for a two-minute summary of her master’s thesis work. Nuclei of cancer cells are enlarged. Sodium butyrate also enlarges cell nuclei, and is known to acetylate histones. Histones are part of the structure of chromosomes. She ran tests studying the histones to perhaps illuminate if histones have a role in cancer.

    When she had finished I asked about the role of evolution in her work. “There isn’t one. You could say that histones are there because of evolution, but that isn’t very useful. No, evolution doesn’t have anything to do with it any more than just observing that cells are what they are because they evolved to get there. It would be like saying this table has something to do with forestry because it’s made of wood.”

  210. Whew! I finally finished the thread and my questions in #208 have mostly been answered. I would like to have seen more of a discussion on where Adam and Eve fit and pre-Adamic “man”. However, I have faith that the discussion is already (or soon to be) available on the interwebs.

    Thanks for the fun read, all.

  211. You will still run into questions of evolution and natural selection no matter what you study. Why are genes regulated by histone acetylation/deacetylation? Or the evolutionary interplay between cell replication and cancer prevention? Even if you don’t need evolution to do particular experiments, it will still inform your interpretation of results, and the planning of which experiments to do in the first place, which is probably more important. The framework underpins all of modern biology.

  212. John Mansfield says:

    Here’s an exercise: Identify the role of evolution in the work that produced the last five Nobel prizes in medicine and physiology. Not just a hand-wavy “all nature indicates there is a God” kind of explanation, but how the work was actually planned and executed using principles of evolution.

    2008:”for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus”

    2007:”for their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells”

    2006:”for their discovery of RNA interference – gene silencing by double-stranded RNA”

  213. John Mansfield says:

    2005:”for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease”

    2004:”for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system”

  214. Amen woodboy!

    And John even thought you might not need forestry to run a table factory, a good carpenter will understand that where the tree comes from in the forest plays an important role in wood quality. Forestry is completely relevant so I’ll take your example as a case for the importance of evolution.

    I dare your wife to bounce her statement off of her advisor. If a student of mine said that he or she would be back for more course work and doing an extra chapters in their thesis to make those connection explicit. In fact there have been a number of recent arguments on the role of evolution in cancer for example a quote from here:

    “Looking at different cancers, people have found the re-expression of certain genes, and the repression of genes that are typically histone modified. People have even started to find defects in some of the histone-modifying enzymes in cancer,” Aune said.

    Because of their proposed role in cancer, identifying how these modifications occur — and how they can be manipulated — might advance our understanding of cancer and improve chemotherapy.

    The answers to those questions may also reveal clues about the evolution of life on Earth.”

    “These enzymes, and therefore these histone modifications, appeared with the development of multicellular organisms. They are not seen in single-celled organisms,” Aune noted. “So people think that this was key to our ability to differentiate into multicellular organisms and spurred evolution onward and upward.”

  215. John Mansfield says:

    I just went through the seven Nobel lectures given by the medicine and physiology prize recipients in 2007, 2006, and 2005. I did a text search for the string “evol” is in “evolve” or “evolution.” None of the two biologists used those words in 2005. In 2007, two did not, and the third had one brief mention in fifteen pages of text:

    Mario R. Capecchi, December 7, 2007

    However, I found that the efficient transfer of functional HSV-tk genes into the host cell genome required that the injected HSV-tk genes be linked to an additional short viral DNA sequence. It seemed plausible to me that highly evolved viral genomes which, as part of their life cycle, resided in the host cell genome, might contain bits of DNA sequence that enhanced their ability to establish themselves within the host cell genome. I searched the genomes of the lytic simian virus, SV40, and the ASV retroviral provirus for the presence of such sequences and found them.

    In 2006, Andrew Fire only mentioned evolution once, but it was a fairly significant mention:

    Andrew Z. Fire, December 8, 2006

    Our cells don’t normally use double stranded RNA to express our genes, they use single stranded RNA. Of course there may be cases where double stranded RNA is part of modulating gene expression, but for the most part, cells can avoid it if they need to. The interesting part of this avoidance is that it is evolutionary in nature. We presume that once the RNAi mechanism is in place, cells would evolve very diligently to avoid producing dsRNA in amounts that would shut off important endogenous genes. Any deviation from this could decrease the fitness of the organism, so over evolutionary time we expect a very effective avoidance of self-detrimental RNAi.

    The title of Craig Mello’s 2006 lecture was “Return to the RNAi World: Rethinking Gene Expression and Evolution.” Evolution is laced throughout that lecture.

    It appears that evolution was a key part of the 2006 work, and not significant to the 2005 and 2007 work.

  216. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Did the physics Nobel Prize mention they used math?

  217. John Mansfield says:

    Little pithy slogans aren’t evidence of much either. Tell us, Steven P, how the 2005 and 2007 work wouldn’t have been possible without thinking about evolution.

  218. Well as Capecchii said in an interview about his Prize:

    So I think, my own feeling is that even though, to me it was always a gamble, you know, how complicated is a mouse and is it actually penetrable by this kind of technology and then at the same time can we make the technology sophisticated enough to be able to handle essentially very complex questions. Eventually what we would like to do is be able to extend it to studying other mammalian organisms so we aren’t simply restricted with respect to finding out how does a mouse work, and its analogy to humans, but also be able to utilize it to study more processes in evolution and how different traits have come up during evolution. So those are the kind of questions we’re looking forward to in the future.

    But John, I’m done arguing with you. You are arguing from a position of ignorance and you seem unwilling to change your state.Your arguments have grown silly. “Nobel prize didn’t require evolution because they don’t mention it” was not only a bad argument it was uniformed which could have been corrected with a little research. You seem to think evolution has to mention fossils or DNA or something. It infuses everything as Capecchii points out. Until you are up on biology don’t try and speak to our research program like you are in a place to judge it. I would never presume to do that for physics yet we get it all the time from arrogant people who don’t know a thing about biology, but think they can speak to it with authority. If you want to learn some evolution I can provide resources but you really don’t want to know do you? You just feel threatened by what you don’t understand. Do some research before you undertake to challenge an entire discipline on its underlying principles.

  219. Regarding the beginning of human life and the origin of Adam’s physical body, Ray (#156) asserted “the Church’s official position is, We don’t know”, and queuno (#203) echoed, “the official stance is that we don’t know.”

    In a certain sense, Ray and queuno are right.

    As is evident from the Church’s formal First Presidency statement on the subject, in this context the word “we” doesn’t refer to the Church or its leaders. In this context “we” means all of us—mankind in general—particularly those who search for human origins without the aid of revelation from God:

    “Man, by searching, cannot find out God. Never, unaided, will he discover the truth about the beginning of human life. The Lord must reveal Himself or remain unrevealed; and the same is true of the facts relating to the origin of Adam’s race—God alone can reveal them.” (“The Origin of Man,” Ensign, Feb 2002, p.30.)

    Science cannot discover the true facts relating to human origins because God alone can reveal them and “science, by definition, deals only with natural phenomena” (The Washington Post, 12/21/2005).

  220. Gary,
    Wouldn’t God be the one to determine what science can and cannot do?

  221. John Mansfield says:

    Steven P., that I’m disagreeing with you is not an indication that I’m frightened by something; perhaps evolutionary psychology would indicate I really am, though, not just don’t know it. I’m not challenging the whole discipline of biology, just your particular philosophy approaching it. There is more I could write disagreeing with you, but you’ve bowed out, so I won’t. It speaks well of you that you only have limited time to waste with lay interlocutors on a blog.

  222. Fess up, BCC. R. Gary is a creation of Steve Evans, and you just push the “replay” button at regular intervals. Right?

  223. Ardis: That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you knew how many bloggernacle personalities were really just a different, more twisted part of the mind of Steve Evans, you would run screaming into the night.

  224. Steve Evans says:

    There are many reasons to run screaming into the night; I am but one.

  225. I have not read the comments, so I am sorry if I have missed any discussions of the issue. My thought about those who believe in full-fledged evolutionary theory and LDS doctrine simultaneously: theological schizophrenia.

  226. Steve Evans says:

    Jeff T., let me`see if I can paraphrase:

    “I have not read any of the two hundred and twenty-five comments, so excuse me if one of you might have said something like this, but evolution is not compatible with the gospel. Bye!”

  227. Jeff T.,

    I prefer to look at it the way F. Scott Fitzgerald’s might:

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up” (1936)

    For what it is worth, and based on what little I now about biology or physics, the disciplines of two of our debaters above, I suspect both biology and physics, at times, require the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and function. I know mathematics does (my undergraduate major) as well as the law (my vocation).

    Come to think of it, so do the scriptures (“the first shall be last and the last first” etc…)

  228. Steven (219) I actually agree with most that John says. He’s point is of course correct. Most biologists don’t actively do much with evolution. I think the place he’s wrong is he’s avoiding the holism that tends to be in science. That is in terms of understanding we never just look at things in isolation. But I think his point is well made if (I believe) perhaps less significant than he takes it.

    Jeff (226), one might say the same about quantum mechanics and general relativity. But the fact both have problems being reconciled it’s clear both are also true. We have faith that where we can’t yet figure out the reconciliation we will eventually.

  229. Clark,

    It’s clear that life is the solely the result of the autonomous, mechanistic processes of random variation and natural selection? I thought God had something to do with it.

  230. Jeff, are you saying that evolution being a factor entails evolution is all there is in the universe? (Hint: you’re adding something evolution never claims for itself) You’re also setting up a false dichotomy. Couldn’t there be random variation (mechanistic is simply in error given the nature of modern chemistry), natural selection and intelligent agents? Wouldn’t intelligent agents be part of the natural environment and thus part of how natural selection works? Sort of akin to how all those varieties of dogs we have happen despite the underlying process being evolutionary?

  231. Ok. If you argue random variation and artificial selection, then the tensions ease up a bit.

  232. I think R. Gary is right – when the Church teaches anything about the subject in a doctrinal context, it inevitably teaches something implicitly hostile to human evolution. The scriptures make sure of that. The Church is not in the business of saying which scriptures aren’t to be taken seriously. That is why BRM and JFS2 have nearly unassailable positions (doctrinally speaking) on the subject – the scriptures are canonical, other considerations are not. Everyone else enters the arena with one hand tied behind his (or her) back.

    But the Church doesn’t exactly have a lot to gain by stirring up controversy about matters sufficiently removed from first principles, which is why it effectively has a “no position” position whether formally promulgated or not.

  233. #223 Actually Ardis, I too am a creation of Steve Evans. I think it is a stroke of his genius that he got his fictional character a position at BYU.

  234. Jeff. How is that artificial?

  235. I just had a couple of actual real-to-life Mormon missionaries show up on my doorstep. I invited them in and asked them how they felt about evolution. Both were young-earth the world started 6,000 years ago with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden literalists. All those dinosaur bones? Carbon dating is hoax. And so forth. So, bloggernacle, you are not with the what? 80% of the Mormon mainstream who believe in the most literal possible interpretation of Genesis. Or at least, that is my takeaway lesson from my (possibly not representative, but probably totally mainstream) encounter.

  236. Victims of Seminary Science I fear.

  237. Thanks for the reading recommendations.

  238. Renato Marini says:

    If with the term Evolution we mean that life was born from non-life, that a frog was born from a fish and things like that, science has no factual evidences of anything like that.
    If for Evolution we mean that animals lived on the earth long before the 6000 year covered by the Bible, science has a lot of evidences, even though not 100% reliable.
    The existence of men slightly different from us (white, tall with oval skull) can hardly be seen as an evolution of the human race. The existance of so many different dogs is not an evidence that the large ones evolved from the small ones.
    We should not analyze Evolution with the Scripture but with the science method of Galileo (based on factual evidences) and not with the method of Aristotele (the strenght of logic is evidence for a truth).

  239. Steve Evans says:

    Wow Renato, that is just about the worst explication of things I have ever heard. Despite all that, your last sentence is intriguing if ambiguous.

  240. nasamomdele says:


    80% of Mormons are literalists?

    I’ve met 3 literalists. Most Mormons acknowledge ignorance and stick with the doctrines that are essential to their testimonies.

    I always enjoy your generalizations, though.

    It’s like you show up on these hot-button posts and can’t resist laying down, “Mormons are idiots about this…”.

  241. Mark Brown says:

    Easy there, nasamomdele. djinn isn’t just making that up.

    The 80% figure comes from the recent Pew study on religion in America.

  242. nasamomdele says:

    The pew Study that asked the question, “Is evolution the best explanation for the origins of human life?”

    To which 76% of Mormons polled responded “no”.

    I fail to find any idication or inferrence of literalists in that study.

    In its current form, evolution has many gaps. It is more than reasonable to think that it is not the best explanation for the origins of human life.

    I stand by the statement that most Mormons acknowledge ignorance and stick to Doctrines that are essential to their testimonies.

    For example, Pres. Hinckley was one of those.

  243. “It’s like you show up on these hot-button posts and can’t resist laying down….”

    nasamomdele, you just described your own behavior, albeit with a slightly different ending to the sentence. When it comes to accusing others of using inflammatory language, let he who is without sin cast the first stone (and no, that person is not me, either).

  244. “In its current form, evolution has many gaps. It is more than reasonable to think that it is not the best explanation for the origins of human life.”

    Interestingly, nasamomdele #243 some of the finest evidence for evolution comes from human evolution.

  245. If people read the question about evolution as saying that the “best explanation” for human life does not include God and His spirit children (that human life is strictly a result of only biological evolution), I can understand completely how 80% would say, “No.” That doesn’t make those 80% anti-evolution; it just means some or many of them don’t agree with what they see as the implications of the question as worded.

    I support evolution as the process by which our physical bodies were formed, but I would have to answer that question in the negative as quoted above.

  246. nasamomdele says:


    I didn’t realize I showed up and made broad, negative generalizations about anybody. I thought I made more specific critics. And I thought that I was fairly good at backing them up.

  247. Sorry man.

  248. The existance of so many different dogs is not an evidence that the large ones evolved from the small ones.

    The existence of so many dogs is in fact evidence that when female dogs are in heat the males go absolutely nuts. (I was going to insert a familiar gerund form of a verb as an additional modifier between absolutely and nuts, but even with an appropriately placed [bleep] I decided that it would not be appropriate for this audience.)

  249. OK, Nasamomdele, lay it down. When did I ever accuse Mormons of being idiots? I thought I was supporting information that had already appeared on this post,

  250. Fairchild says:

    I had the strange experience of taking the first half of Old Testament and Evolutionary Science the same semester at BYU 15 years ago as a zoology major. Let me tell you those two departments need to get together and work some kind of compromise out. That packet in the library is no help. My science prof was Dr. Duane Jeffery who used to write a column in the Deseret News (don’t know if he still does as I’m out of state now). He loved to bash creationists. Good times! I think all you have to do is go to the Creation Room of the Salt Lake or Manti Temple and turn in a circle to see evolution.

  251. My father is a new-earth creationist. My mother was a new-earth creationist. My sis-in-law is a new-earth creationist–and very serious about it. These people all live in Utah valley and are the heart and soul of the Mormon church. I was taught, explicitly, to be a new earth creationist in Seminary. I was taught evolutionary theory, at BYU, by a very nervous biologist who kept his tape recorder on the whole couple of lectures and ended the lectures with possible ways to reconcile new earth creationism and the evolutionary record. I was also told of a special class/seminar that biology students could attend if evolutionary theory was causing problems with their testimony. Balancing this, I had a friend who actually studied cutting edge evolutionary theory at the graduate level at BYU; make of it what you will.

  252. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I certainly do not believe that any of these people remotely could be called idiots. This is evidence, not disparagement.

  253. Interesting Story, djinn, of course evolutionary biologists at BYU are now bold and sassy. I never record my lectures because if I ever heard what I sound like I would become so self conscious I could never teach again.

    I can’t imagine trying to reconcile new earth creationism and evolution. I try and reconcile our Faith and evolution by showing that new earth creationism holds no water empirically (or theoretically), and evolution does not threaten real Faith, only man’s caricature of it as is found in literalist interpretations of Genesis.

  254. I took a lot of classes at BYU in the last couple years. Not a single one my science classes was even remotely anti-evolution. It was taught as directly as was gravity in my physics class. I took an evolutionary biology class where the prof spent a couple days explicitly debunking common arguments against evolution, pointing out that it’s not contradictory, going over the “packet on evolution” with us, etc.
    The only teacher I ever had that was somewhat nervous about the issue wasn’t a member (hence his nervousness about offending some LDS kid).
    I’m now off to med school, and have to say that I had a fabulous education in the sciences at BYU, compared to my peers here. They did a great job of presenting it as science that is compatible with religion.

    *I will say, in my conversations with others who weren’t in the life sciences, I found that most LDS kids at BYU are very uncomfortable/leaning towards rejecting evolution.

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