The Origin of Species marks the beginning of the end

One hundred and fifty years ago today the world changed. One of the greatest blessings and gifts to the human world occurred when On Origin of Species was published. It laid out a framework that would unify and allow progress in biology in ways that could have hardly been imaginable to our forbearers. Look around you at our modern medicine and agriculture and decide if you would like to give them up. They are gifts from the Darwinian legacy.

But it’s a bit of a discouraging time to be a scientist. Gone are the days when someone could write a book (like Widtsoe did) called, Joseph Smith as Scientist, and that that title be taken as a compliment. Now popular public figures can say, “That’s only the opinion of scientists,” and they mean something that allows people to discount that opinion. There is a definite lack of trust that belies the progress that science continues to make. People like simplicity, and science takes on complex things that take real expertise, complex data, years of study, and careful examination to parse and integrate. However, people (in America anyway) see conspiracy and secret agendas. Those without any understanding of that complexity, shout out that they see anomalies and problems and it is sadly clear they barely understand the data, the models or the arguments. And they don’t really even care to try. So much easier to let blogs, radio and media do our thinking. As I said, it’s a sad time to be a scientist and watch science get picked apart like the libraries of the ancient world before the Mongol invaders.

An apt metaphor, actually. In the late Middle Ages, Islam held the lead in science of every stripe: Astronomy, algebra, medicine, ancient languages, maintaining the learning of the ancients (we’d have lost Aristotle without them, for example), you name it, Islam led the way as the Latin West descended into superstation and ignorance.

But for complex reasons, like the attack by Christians in the Crusades, Mongol Invaders sacking the library of Babylon, and economic troubles, certain segments of society decided that reason and faith were at odds. Fundamentalism, with its scriptural literalism began to dominate. Islam never recovered. The golden age of Islam in which both reason and faith were seen as vital to our understanding of the world became a factional war. As is true of most wars, everyone lost.

Karen Armstrong writes that fundamentalism always arises out of fear. We live in scary times. My fear is we are repeating history as America descends into the same kind of irrationality where faith and science are seen as enemies. Where the value of an argument is assessed by its loudness and its quality by its digestibility into a sound byte or a blog.

I fear we Mormons are following suit. Are we? Only 22% of us believe in evolution. (And from my perspective, if you don’t believe in evolution you pretty much don’t believe in nor understand science. Strong words but I stand by them.)

It seems we stand where Islam did in the 13th century. What are we going to do?

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  1. It is amazing how well Darwin’s theory has held up over the past 150 years. I’ll personally side with science over our perceptions of what we think our religion believes. If we truly and honestly believe that science and religion are not mutually exclusive then when we come to a complex problem (say understanding how homosexuality works), I’ll tend to side with science on the issue. One aspect of science that I like is that science has a better ability to admit it is wrong than religion does. I mean, I appreciate Elder McConkie essentially saying “we were wrong” on the priesthood ban, but there are very very very few examples of where religions actually make the clear statement that they had made a wrong choice.

  2. You might consider not using the words “believe in” — if you find human evolution to be as factually ascertainable as this post implies, then words conveying more certainty would be more persuasive. Or is human evolution a matter of belief?

    Also, are you sure that human evolution functions as an accurate barometer for someone’s position on science or the scientific process generally?

    To be sure, I think that Mormons should be very wary of following creedal Christian Fundamentalists on matters of scientific knowledge or even spiritual insight for that matter. In the past decades (it seems to me) we have seen a process whereby lay members of the Church are jumping on various creedal Christian bandwagons. This is just one such area. It is unnecessary and, as this post implies (although not sure if human evolution is the best example to make this point), it is harmful for Mormons to follow creedal Christian Fundamentalists on rejection of the validity of information resulting from the scientific process.

    As Mormons, our faith should be flexible: anything is fair game for amendment or clarification through continuing revelation. Our collective view of science should be similar: we should study and seek skills in using the scientific method and we should understand that any scientific theory, even those substantiated by various and sustained applications of the scientific method are also game for amendment or further clarification through further application of the scientific method. Knowledge, whether spiritual or scientific, is constantly in flux, with the potential of further light and knowledge always present in any field of knowledge. We should embrace a reasonable uniquely Mormon approach that embodies these concepts as relates to both faith and science — in so doing, Mormons can comfortably unite faith and science, neither particularly threatening to the other because all knowledge can be modified as understanding is expanded.

  3. Karen Armstrong writes that fundamentalism always arises out of fear. We live in scary times. My fear is we are repeating history as America descends into the same kind of irrationality where faith and science are seen as enemies. Where the value of an argument is assessed by its loudness and its quality by its digestibility into a sound byte or a blog.

    Interesting paragraph. How is it that your fear isn’t leading you to a fundamentalism of sorts?

  4. It’s a bit much to assert that the theory of evolution has led to modern medecine and agriculture.

    Certainly, key observations of evolution theory have contributed.

    But the impact you’re going for, which is not there, is that knowing that man descended from ape is somehow related to penecilin, heart transplants, or the green revolution (not green in the Pruis sense)

  5. Steve, another question — are you saying that Mormons are rejecting the theory of evolution as a whole in following down the path of creedal Christian Fundamentalists, or is your observation that some Mormons are rejecting theories of human evolution while embracing or not objecting to theories of organic evolution as applied outside the human context?

  6. “we’d have lost Aristotle without them, for example”

    I really can’t conclude one way or another, but I’ve heard that a Christian priest by the name of Probus translated Aristotle in the 5th century from the original Greek.

    Somewhere along the line, the Muslims got it, probably through their conquering of various territories, just like how they acquired the “arabic” alphabet by conquering parts of India.

    I really don’t “know” any of this though. Any student of history can tell you it’s impossible to nail down precisely the history from a hundred years ago (we argue about the history of the Iraq war!). So whenever I see someone passing off a seeming definitive statement, as an attempt to prove some broader point I just discount it as a weak attempt to further their own agenda.

    Not necessarily digging at the writer, as I don’t think he had an agenda to promote Islam, but perhaps he doesn’t mind taking a few digs at Christianity and Science.

    Unfortunately I think it does a bit of a disservice to Christians and Science. I don’t think that’s your explicit intent to attack, but I think if you look at things closely you might discover you don’t know as much as you think you do and try to scale down the intensity of your personal crusade — an historical religious word, used intentionally with irony in this context.

    This is not to give many of the Creationists a free pass for being even looser with the facts as many of them are either so committed to their positions they refuse to evaluate things fairly.

  7. It’s perhaps unfair to lay all of this at the feet of fundamentalists. By conflating evolution and atheism I think there are plenty of the so-called ‘new atheists’ who have to take their fair share of the blame for the widening gap between science and religion.

  8. whooops… Arabic number system (with 0s) not alphabet.

  9. John Mansfield says:

    This routine of belittling religionists over and over doesn’t do much to help the supposed concern that religionists are wary of science, unless the aim is to solve the problem by driving them out of public relevance. If you don’t want religionists to fear that science is a club for beating them, try every now and then going after those who pick it up and do that with it, or occassionally not being one of the beaters. Prof. P.’s non-stop combativeness is always directed at religionists.

  10. “I appreciate Elder McConkie essentially saying “we were wrong” on the priesthood ban”

    Did Elder McConkie ever say we were wrong on the ban or did he just say we were wrong in our theories of why the ban exists in the first place?

    I’d point out that although it’s not scientific is certainly very rational and intellectual to ponder reasons “why” from a position of faith and attempt to justify them intellectually. The easy way out is to say, “We don’t know”, but these were men who lived the gospel every minute of their lives and were always searching for answers, I suspect they didn’t like to say We don’t know too often and earnestly tried to figure out the will and mind of God through the light the available to them along with the scriptures and previous words of the Prophets.

    Anyway, I’m not offended one way or another by what he said but I don’t know if he was saying the ban was wrong.

  11. Well put, Steve. I’ve been taking a graduate seminar on the “History of Science and Religion in the Christian Tradition” out here at the University of Edinburgh (an apt place to be studying Darwin this year), and I definitely see the repeated patterns you are presenting here.

    Sam: “I really can’t conclude one way or another, but I’ve heard that a Christian priest by the name of Probus translated Aristotle in the 5th century from the original Greek.”

    There were a few translations of him during Christian times, but then they were few in number and dismissed by the larger Christian culture. It wasn’t until Christianity’s contact with Islam in the high Middle Ages that we got a majority of the Aristotle and Platonic texts.

  12. John Mansfield,
    SteveP focuses on his audience. If his audience were a bunch of militant atheists, I’m sure he’d take a different approach.
    SteveP does attack militant atheists on occasion–see this link on his own website:

  13. Very interesting. Good work. You know, we’re all willing to accept that God created Adam out of the dust of the Earth, but everyone gets all indignant when somebody tries to explain how that’s possible.

    I appreciate the sentiments of this post. Convincing Latter-day Saints to take a couple steps away from the Evangelical Right would be best for everyone I think. In 50 years, I want the United States to STILL be a center of research, science, and industry, and convincing a generation of kids that their faith opposes science probably isn’t a good way of doing that.

    I’m in Kentucky, so I just know what Evangelicals in the Bible Belt do, not necessarily Latter-day Saints… but faith IS taught to be opposed to science here, and that’s just wacky.

  14. People don’t “believe in” science any more because people don’t accept authority anymore, whether it’s the authority of God, or political position, or social pressure, or knowledge. One man’s opinion is as good as anybody else’s opinion.

    That’s why we get so much patently false “as a mother, you know what’s best for your child” whether you really know anything at all about biology and immunization, or child psychology, or not. That’s why we get so much “our church doesn’t have the right to tell me anything politically,” because my swayed-by-popular-opinion individual political judgment is just as valid as the revelation that comes to a far-seeing prophet. That’s why we get a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good, crappy New Family Search program that can’t really be corrected but which has a pop-up that regularly tells you that “we preserve all opinions” (regardless of the fact that I have a dozen documents supporting my “opinion” whereas the first person to enter a funky datum mixed up two unrelated people of similar name).

    So why should I respect the scientific method with its centuries of observation, experimentation, duplication, and peer review, when I — in all my ignorance, pride, arrogance, and stiffneckedness — can come up with an opinion after reading the first paragraph of a tabloid newspaper article? My opinion is as good as anybody else’s.

  15. “dismissed by the larger Christian culture”
    It’s a bit of a stretch to conclude that unless you can point me to polling data from 1200 years ago, and then also demonstrate to me the polls weren’t statistically flawed.

    Since you can’t I don’t know how you can suggest the above statement, which was a key point of my post.

    We condemn people for judging with an imperfect light, right as we’re judging with an imperfect light (I do it all the time too, and if someone calls me on it, I’ll be happy to reconsider).

    The fact that someone can conclude that “Christianity” rejected Aristotle, because we only have a few surviving texts from 1500 years ago from a Christian priest seems a bit odd.

    It’s like someone is wearing a set of glasses and everything they see through those lenses has to get distorted to fit what their glasses tell them is true.

    We don’t know the whys, ifs, buts, maybes of it. We just know there is at least one Christian text of Aristotle from 1500 years ago, and more Muslim ones from 1000 years ago. And the people that made Aristotle popular again in Europe? I believe they were Christians…

    It’s just a bit unfair that people draw conclusions (which conveniently support their position) and try to make very rigid assumptions about different cultures and societies 2000 years ago. What’s the implication here? Don’t talk about history? I wouldn’t go that far, not by a long shot. But am I the only one who is rubbed the wrong way by people using history as an attempt to bolster their own arguments?

    “Christianity suppresses intellectual things, just like they suppressed Aristotle 1500 years ago.”

    And then when it is pointed out that Christians translated documents of Aristotles, which were possibly the same documents the Muslims got a hold of, retranslated and preserved, someone says, “Well but the Christians didn’t really like it at anyway…”

  16. Different Gary says:

    Let me offer a few reasons why relatively few Mormons accept that humans were created by a long evolutionary process:

    1. Many of the men whom we consider to be prophets have taught that this teaching is false and inconsistent with revealed truth. Scientists can explain that the church takes no official position, and that is true, but it is a relatively weak response and unpersuasive to many. The “unofficial” teachings against evolution are pervasive and seldom, if ever contradicted by church authorities.

    2. Members don’t know how to reconcile evolutionary biology with established doctrines such as a literal Adam and Eve, a garden of Eden in America (complete with remnants of Adam’s first altar being found there), and scriptures (not just the Genesis account) which certainly suggest that all of this happened only a few thousand years ago. Acceptance of evolution requires a fundamental rethinking of many ideas that have been taught as doctrine and it is a mistake to ridicule the scientific ignorance of those who reject it without explaining how evolution can be reconciled with the doctrines they have been so consistently taught at church.

    3. Mormons are consistently taught that when scientific knowledge and revealed truth collide, science must give way. It is all well and good to pull out quotes from revered scientists and leaders that we believe all truth, and we are not required to believe anything that is not true. That is just a tautology, and is meaningless. The fact is that we do teach that revealed knowledge is superior to man’s knowledge, and that our inspired leaders do in fact “know” things that are contradicted by the wisdom of man and we should therefore listen to them. When you start with that belief, it should be no surprise that most believing Mormons have great difficulty accepting evolution.

    I know that many members seem to have found ways of reconciling the two that satisfy them. But all of the reconciliations I have heard seem tenuous or incomplete. I am a believer in evolution, but for me there remains a lot of tension between that belief and my other religious beliefs. Not everybody can live with that kind of tension.

  17. #4–there is much more to evolution than “knowing that man descended from ape”

  18. uhhh-
    I think you mean Sam, not Tim.

  19. Sorry, that was in regards to comment 14

  20. I should never sleep in when I send a post up. But of course it’s Origin day when all of us should dress in ape suits and give each other presents and gifts.

    John (9) “Prof. P.’s non-stop combativeness is always directed at religionists.” Fundamentalist creationists you mean. I am a religionist, if by that you mean mainstream Mormon religious believer.

    Ardis, (13) yes exactly, the democratization of ‘opinion’ is leading us down a very slippery slope.

    Different Gary (15). Yes there are challenges. The general authorities who believed in evolution like David O. MacKay were much less vocal and more humble in their beliefs. And you do nicely capture why belief in evolution is difficult for Mormons, but we who have an open cannon. We also (or we should), reject biblical literalism (we know lots of our sacred texts, broadly construed, are figurative), and we ought to be better able to cope with the changes in accommodating our belief when science opens new avenues of understanding. We like to think we are better than the Cardinals of Galileo’s day who instead the Earth was the center of the universe contrary to the growing body of evidence, and we ought to be better. We understand that God works through natural laws, like natural selection. We need to take that more seriously.

    John f. I’m facing my fear! When I use belief I’m using it in Williams James sense of a well supported stance where my beliefs are warranted by the evidence and good rational thought. There is a movement to discount the word ‘belief’ but if you as a human accept certain things as true, it means you believe them. It’s just that as Ardis was pointing out, belief as fallen to mean just things you hold as opinion. When I say I ‘believe’ in evolution, I mean that the facts (subjective and objective) and their interpretation are such that I hold them as true and cannot do otherwise and still claim to be a rational being.

  21. I really connect with the article The Law and the Light by Boyd K. Packer. Apparently this means that I oppose reason, don’t believe in or understand science.

    I agree with John Mansfield. There is plenty to critique in religion, we don’t need to exagerate or invent things. I don’t think we need to assume that what you see as a clear misunderstanding of a scientific theory, means that all scientific theory must be misunderstood.

  22. It is always difficult to lay blame in these things. But, in my mormon congregation, essentially no one has a problem iwth evolution. Many believe that it is essentially correct, or are happy to be persuaded if they don’t. That is, if the person arguing for evolution isn’t a jerk. But I am not out west, and this is one stake.

    My experience as an academic researcher with interests in evolutionary biology has been far different. In interviews for academic positions at Ivy League institutions, I have essentially always been criticized for my faith (my BYU degree labels me pretty clearly) and had to answer humiliating, illegal questions about it. This is like meeting with large numbers of the “general authorities” of evolutionary biology, so is less anecdotal than my experience with the church. I believe the science these people do is essentially right (as right as bleeding edge research ever is) but am increasingly understanding why ordinary religious people feel under attack from many of these people. We research scientists could do a lot for our public image if we were a little more understanding and kind on these issues. If we stopped trying to win an argument by pulling out all rhetorical stops (see “my god vs. “your god” in another post today) and instead started teaching, maybe we would have a different reception.

  23. It is worth remembering that, unlike religion, atheism is eminently falsifiable.

    How? Richard Dawkins lays out some plausible scenarios, but I like best the encoding of some divine message in our DNA. Poof, we are no longer masters of our universe.

    In contrast, what evidence could turn up that there is no God? A theophany saying, “I do not exist”? The messenger discredits the message.

    If you were God, what would you do? I would create mostly religious people, but throw in enough atheists to cover my tracks. Hmmm…

  24. Sigh. It’s not a sad day for science. It’s a sad day for those who think they can manipulate or use bad science to affect politics and expect everyone to blindly line up because it is “scientifically proven”.

  25. #22. You know, I’ve given this a whole lot of thought, too. Carl Sagan, in the book Contact, gives a scenario where if you follow pi to the bajillionth place, there’s some kind of code in there, proving a Creator and Designer.

    But then I wonder if that’s really what God wants. The moment that God’s existence is a proven reality, is the moment we are no longer free agents. It’s the moment, as you say, that we no longer are masters of the Universe. It’s the moment that God’s mercy can no longer extend to us ignorantly sinning, but willingly rebelling. It’s the moment that true Sons of Perdition truly begin to form. If the point of the exercise is to see what we do when we THINK we’re our own masters… then proof of God’s existence is proof that He doesn’t love us.

    Not to mention it means that all the lessons our ancestors learned about living a life in faith become lost. I’m not sure I want God’s existence to be proven.

  26. 22% of us believe in evolution

    Of any science presented here, this is the bit I don’t believe. I think it is much higher. Didn’t Crapo do a survey on this that was more like 50%?

  27. Matt W. it’s here:

    Nice point Arthur (24). I’ve never thought of that before, but there is a sense that God is not supposed to be proved here in mortality. To walk by Faith was important.

  28. Jonathan Green says:

    Steve P., your brush may not be quite wide enough. You might have easier going with a roller or one of those cool paint sprayers.

    In my experience, Mormons are not nearly as invested in anti-Darwinism as you make us out to be. You get paid a regular paycheck to teach evolution and other useful arts to other Mormons at a Mormon-owned university, yes? And that university has decided to keep you on for the long term, correct? As Hbar points out above, others of us who work in academia have a stake in not being regarded as ignoramuses by virtue of our BA institution, and I wish you would stop affirming that perception.

    Also, your thumbnail history of the Middle Ages is more than a little questionable, and your comparison of medieval Islam to the present day isn’t working for me. So the Mongols are attacking by…giving you tenure?

    You call for a reconciliation of religious faith and acceptance of biological evolution. And I support that! (But are you contributing to that reconciliation, or merely railing against those who haven’t managed it yet?) But to the extent that such a reconciliation takes place, the value of the statistic that you like to trot out about only 22% of Mormons believing in evolution becomes dubious. In the context of a survey that foregrounds religious belief, a question about the best explanation of human life is not going to differentiate between sophisticated reasoning about faith and biology, and young Earth rejection of science.

    Listen, if the Sunday School teacher decides to expound about the evil of Darwin, I’ll be the first to make a scene. But perhaps you could paint a more nuanced picture of Mormon belief than treating the rest of us as incipient barbarians?

  29. Carl Youngblood says:

    I think your post is helpful but betrays a lack of awareness of international demographics. There are plenty of fundamentalists throughout the world, including in Europe and other parts of the western world.

  30. As Hbar points out above, others of us who work in academia have a stake in not being regarded as ignoramuses by virtue of our BA institution, and I wish you would stop affirming that perception.

    Thanks Jonathan. This has been one of the hardest things for me in reading stuff by SteveP. I did my masters at a different school but aside from that, BYU’s all I got. I like to think it is an okay school.

  31. #26:

    Here is Crapo’s study. I was incorrect. He shows only 28% being fully open to human evolution, and 60% denying evolution completely. I think I was taking this to mean 40% believed in evolution, but there is a more nuanced approach. (I know lots of people who are good with evolution, but hold to speical creation.)

  32. This discussion reminds me of:

    “I have a sore throat.”
    2000 BC : “Eat this root.”
    1200 AD : “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”
    1500 AD : “That prayer is superstition, drink this elixir.”
    1800 AD : “That elixir is snake oil, Take this pill.”
    1900 AD : “That pill is ineffective, Take this antibiotic.”
    2000 AD : “That antibiotic is artificial, Here why don’t you eat this root.”

    I think that medicine and science are both taking a beating right now, primarily due to the trendiness of all things “natural”. But it will swing. And although my experience tends to be more in line with the OP (most LDS folks I’ve talked to about the topic flat out reject evolution – even natural selection, with the exception of those that study a science discipline; and “Where the value of an argument is assessed by its loudness and its quality by its digestibility into a sound byte or a blog. ” really rings true to me…) I don’t think that all is lost. In fact, I was really impressed when Collins was appointed to the NIH, I was a lot more cynical before that…

    In fact, although I don’t think science and faith are at odds, I do think that there is a lot more dialogue due to the debate, and I think that’s a good thing…

  33. I don’t think you can give non-science faculty at BYU a free pass. Many of them no doubt had no problem with evolution, but a couple of my instructors had issues with it, as did most of my classmates in non-science classes.
    A friend of mine who (within the past five years) took a religion class from McConkie was given a large anti-evolution packet in class.
    And if you leave the wonderful bloggernacle and venture into the rest of Mormonism (particularly in areas where members tend to be politically more conservative) you will find that the majority of members reject evolution on anything other than a micro-level. I certainly experienced this growing up in Utah, attending college in Utah, and attending graduate school in the mid-west.
    That being said, I think things instructors at BYU are (mostly) pretty good. A good friend of mine taught an art history class and defended ancient art against young-earthers. A chemistry professor shot down the “thermodynamics” argument used by creationists. And, of course, evolution was hammered in over and over again in quite a few biology courses I took.
    So, BYU–fairly good. Mormon culture within most of the US–not so good.

  34. Rob Osborn says:

    Steve P,

    I would hardly agree that modern medicine and agriculture are a gift from the Darwinian leagacy! Scientists in the lab do not concerne themselves on the theory of mans origins when developing pesticides or allergy medications or flu vaccinations. Yes it is true that life can and does change in small ways, we have very well documented that, but that is completely different in regards to “how” life may have evolved. Scientists in labs are not concerned with the origins of life when developing new cures and medicines. They study instead how chemicals react and interact with each other. It is more of a chemistry theory than an evolutionary theory.

    I have heard this argument applied to all aspects of science exploration. Its a shame that people would banner up Darwin for every aspect of known biology and other sciences. What a shame! Give credit where credit is due- most of the developments in science, especially in biology do not hinge off of Darwins theory being either false or true!

    For you to state that -“(And from my perspective, if you don’t believe in evolution you pretty much don’t believe in nor understand science. Strong words but I stand by them.)” is completey doing so in disregards to your own standards of what scientific understanding is all about. Scientific theories need scrutinized, they need challenging ideas. All you are stating is that anybody who challenges Darwinian evolution is not a scientists, nor knows anything about science as a whole. That is a very dogmatic approach. At least from my side I can state emphatically that both ID and evolution are both scientific theories. I am being more disciplined in relation to scientific inquiry.

  35. “As Hbar points out above, others of us who work in academia have a stake in not being regarded as ignoramuses by virtue of our BA institution, and I wish you would stop affirming that perception.”

    Not following. BYU is not the problem. We teach evolution straight up, no apologies. BYU is the place to learn evolution. Where did you get I was attacking BYU?

  36. SteveP,
    Reading the above comments, I don’t think they’re implying you’re directly attacking BYU; rather, I think the idea is that you are being interpreted as being down on the Mormons’ general attitude toward evolution, and that implicates BYU indirectly, since it’s teeming with Mormons.

  37. Awe, they are guilty of faulty logic. Those we educate here would never fall for such a fallacy.

  38. SteveP,
    Let me be more blunt: I think they’re saying that you’re calling Mormons stupid–from BYU or otherwise.

  39. Then they would be wrong of course. It’s a call to avoid fundamentalism.

  40. My point was more that it is counterproductive for those who would like to promote the acceptance of evolution to use adversarial language. It makes those who disagree with you become more, rather than less entrenched. When was the last time you admitted you were wrong when someone was shouting at you (even metaphorically shouting)?

    Most of the church members I talk to who disagree with me about evolution tend to want my professional opinion and generally are willing to consider changing their minds if I approach them humbly, as a teacher. See above for my experience with many scientists.

    However, I can’t blame them for feeling attacked and wanting to retreat to their old opinions given the tone of many evolution advocates. Try to remember the last time you admitted you were wrong in an argument where your opponent was shouting. Scientists shouldn’t shout (even metaphorical shouting is out). I don’t, and most people who have trouble with evolution I talk to are willing to listen to me.

  41. I don’t disagree hbar. The trouble just rigorously suggesting that evolution is true is seen as a confrontational act. To state what I believe is perceived in itself as picking a fight.

  42. Jonathan Green says:

    Steve P., here’s how the logic works:

    1. You say, “If you don’t believe in evolution you pretty much don’t believe in nor understand science.”

    2. You say, “Only 22% of us believe in evolution,” with no attempt to provide nuance or context.

    What other conclusion are we supposed to draw, if not that you hold ~80% of your fellow Mormons for irrational and superstitious?

    In the meantime, the controlling metaphor of your post is the decline and downfall of civilization, with you, the scientist, watching in sorrow as the barbarians burn the libraries. Isn’t that a bit of an overreaction to one guy with a website, possibly aided by your Sunday School teacher? Also, isn’t that a bit of a harsh dichotomy in which to cast the discussion of science and belief? The problem is that you don’t recognize it as just the kind of condemnatory language that causes confrontation.

  43. “Isn’t that a bit of an overreaction to one guy with a website, possibly aided by your Sunday School teacher?” I have no idea what you are talking about. Guy with a website? Sunday School teacher?

  44. Can you answer a question I have had since my totally fun evolution class in college. Evolution is based on the theory that a genetic mutation creates an ability or characteristic that increases the survivability of that organism. Adaptation allows the “improved” organism greater survivability allowing it to out live the earlier mutations, visually similar to ripples in water. The origin being the center with each ring being another adaptation. We have all seen the chart showing an ape on the left with each mutation leading to us today. If this is the case why do we so often have an organism from millions of years ago living next to a “new mutation”, while all mutations in between are gone? An example is Apes and Homo sapiens (Us). Shouldn’t we have homo sapiens with a few neanderthals, and fewer homo-erectus and so forth? Instead we have apes in the same form for millions of years next to homo sapiens and all mutations in the middle gone. Why is this so common in evolution? This is a genuine question from someone who believes that God uses aspects of evolution in His system of order for the universe.
    I will leave my comment that corporate interests are high jacking political parties, who happen to be religiously backed, in an effort to discredit scientific evidence that hurts corporate profits to another day.

  45. JasonB, there are at least two partial explanations I am aware of.

    1) Evolution is local, not global. It is not true that things evolve from simpler to more complex, or that there is a global direction of “improvement”. Natural selection occurs at the local level, and sometimes the advantage is atavistic. If humans do not compete with apes for food, the apes feel little selective pressure. Presumably this was not the case with Neanderthals.

    2) All phenomena without a preferred (time) scale display a power-law spectrum. The characteristic time scale of evolution is the rate of reproduction, which varies widely from bacteria down to whales, so one would expect evolution at wide rates as well. So we have 300 million year old sharks next to 3 million year old humans next to 10000 year old domesticated dogs next to this year’s cold virus next to this hour’s bacteria in the presence of weak antibiotics. This will always be the case where interaction between orders of different reproductive rates is turbulent (not causally linked or coherent).

  46. Evolution is based on the theory that a genetic mutation creates an ability or characteristic that increases the survivability of that organism

    The conventional form of evolution, or “modern evolutionary synthesis”, yes. Darwin himself knew nothing about genetic mutations, DNA, or anything like it, and there are a large number of alternative mechanisms (epigenetic inheritance for example) that fall under the strict definition of “evolution by natural selection”, and perhaps a number of others that are close.

  47. I have no idea what you are talking about. Guy with a website? Sunday School teacher?

    – NDBTF Gary
    – Sunday School teacher as placeholder for Mormons at church who don’t believe in evolution as presented by gleeful atheists

  48. Different Gary says:

    SteveP: I really think your complaint is not with members in general. It is with the leaders of the church, from the top down to the local leaders.

    Members are taught that revelation trumps science when they conflict. They are also routinely taught a traditional understanding of a literal Adam and Eve who did not descend or evolve from other species, who lived in a literal Garden of Eden, whose Fall necessitated an Savior. There is no room in this understanding for evolution.

    The problem is not that rank and file members are ignorant or that they don’t understand science or that they are no better than barbarians who reject science. If you are correct, the real problem is that they are being taught false doctrine in church in manuals and through talks and other publications approved at the very highest levels in the church. Your criticism should be directed to church leaders, who have frequently taught false doctrine to members who have also been taught, and who therefore believe that those teachings constitute revelation. The leaders of the church could make this problem go away in a heartbeat.

  49. SteveP- On another post you once told me you’d later present your synthesis of how God is involved in the evolutionary process, suggesting you felt it was in the arrival of consciousness. Have you ever written that post?

  50. Jason B,

    You understand things pretty well. That is correct. And for a while humans, Neanderthal, and Homo erectus did overlap. Three hundred thousand years ago all three were around more or less (humans were of a bit archaic variety). The trouble is that species that are similar tend to compete for the same resources and competition drives the least fit to extinction. By 100,000 years ago H. erectus was gone, and by about 25,000 ago Neanderthal was gone. So we did overlap for a time. But we one the competitive bout in the end. You can see the same thing today in rats. About 75 million years ago rats started diverging and today we have about 63 species of rats all still around.

    Chimps and humans diverged about 5 million years ago, but if you look at the recent Ardi fossils you see that our ancestor looked like neither of us.

    And why don’t some seem to change much. Selection can be stabilizing as well as divergent. If the environment is not changing, it may be that a particular form really is fit enough to stay on top for long long periods.

  51. Matt (48) Yeah, thanks for remembering. It’s coming out in the Spring issue of Dialogue! Remind me and I’ll send you get a copy!

  52. #33 Rob Osborn
    Evolutionary theory perfuses nearly all aspects of modern biology. Your assertions to the contrary are incorrect. Evolutionary thinking guides experimental design for a lot of lab-based biological reserach. Flu vaccines? There’s hardly an organism around that mutates and evolves faster than the flu virus.
    EVen if it’s only conservation of genes between species, you can’t really get away from evolution as a laboratory biologist.

  53. Different Guy (47) I disagree. The leaders will always have opinions along with the direction they give as prophets, seers and revelators. The responsibility is on us to know when they are speaking as such. Our leaders’ role is to lead us to Christ and testify of him and give direction on how to live our lives that reflect that relationship with Christ. The trouble is the saints often are lazy in sorting out what is opinion and what is direction because they haven’t taken the Lord at his word that we are to search out of the best books and study the things that are above the ground, under the ground etc. We tend to want idols not humans (there is a site recently set up to follow the physical movements of Pres. Monson as if where he is mattered, not what he was teaching, a sad development be cause it reeks of personality worship. He must be horrified. It is linked on the sidebar right now).

    So no. I don’t blame the leaders. I blame the members who want a pope instead of a prophet and treat them as if they are infallible and their opinions on every little thing must be followed. The leaders are doing exactly what they should be doing in leading the Church.

  54. “a literal Adam and Eve who did not descend or evolve from other species” (47)

    Why do you get that Adam and Eve were created =/= evolution as part of that process? How does evolution not fit into what we are taught in the gospel?

  55. AllOfTheGospel says:

    Am I the only one who sees little or no relevance between evolution and our personal and spiritual lives, and sees little reason for an interest in it at all (unless a person is inclined to work in a profession related to biology)?

    Am I the only one who thinks that a healthy distrust of science could be a good thing? After all whereas it has seemed to have succeeded in the creation of more destructive weaponry, of foods and food production methods that seem to make us more sick, yet it still fails miserably in the areas of economics, psychology, politics, and any related to human happiness.

  56. Is evolution of apes to humans falsifiable? What kind of evidence could provide it falsifiable? If none, doesn’t that make it a religion?

    Again, I’ve no problem with 98% of evolution, just the conclusion that it necessarily means humans came from apes, rather than just humans have a lot in common with apes.

  57. “yet it still fails miserably in the areas of economics, psychology, politics, and any related to human happiness.”

    Notice the one common factor in all those disciplines.

  58. “Again, I’ve no problem with 98% of evolution, just the conclusion that it necessarily means humans came from apes, rather than just humans have a lot in common with apes.”

    I’ve found this to be a pretty common viewpoint among mormons. In my mind, it’s logically more consistent to disbelieve the entire theory, rather than to accept it but create some sort of special caveat for humans, when all the evidence for common ancestry, etc. apply just as much there as with any other lifeform.

  59. On the falsifiability of evolution read my post here. It will answer some of your questions. Short answer, it could have been falsified by anatomy, physiology, genetics, DNA, embryology, the fossil record, archeology, radiometric dating, the DNA of our associated fleas and louse, many many ways. It has not. It’s cracking good science. Grab one of the books I recommend. Confront your beliefs with evidence itself. See what you think.

  60. AllOfTheGospel says:

    Woodboy – I presume you are pointing out that humans are involved in those areas – hence the imperfections.

    Yet evolutionary theory hasn’t been devoid of moral problems when interpreted and applied by humans – Nazi eugenics, Soviet purges, Cambodia’s year zero, and Roe vs Wade.

    Didn’t these things happen (or were justified) – at least in part – because of the authority, power and faith given to science?

  61. Again, in your examples it’s the interpretation by humans that is the problem. That science was coopted for nefarious political purposes does not make science bad. They would have done those things anyway. don’t hate the game, hate the player.

  62. AllOfTheGospel says:

    And how do we extricate Science from its abuses? Perhaps by lowering its status in the first place. I think most people would like to have seen more advances in human decency over the last 150 years, than advances in genetics.

    Rather than wondering about whether Adam had a navel, a little less scientific navel gazing, and a little more focusing on our fellow man might have a more profound effect of the world than the theory of evolution ever could.

    I am not talking about burying our heads in the sand – but more of saying “so what?” a little more. As someone involved in the minutiae of technology – I have come to think we have lost more by our focus on understanding things, and trying to make material progress, than we have ever gained in return.

    Why doe some feel the need to try to prove to someone who believes that they are descended from a divine being, that they originated from amoebas? Neither of them can provide absolute proof, and even if true, what is gained from that knowledge that is truly useful to our lives? That question is why – much to the frustration of some pro-evolutionists – many people just don’t care, and – I would argue – really don’t need to.

  63. Rob Osborn says:

    Different Gary (47),

    You are absolutely correct. There is nothing that bothers me worse than for others in our church to go around calling us that believe the prophets a bunch of anti-science idiots.

    It is quite obvious that the church teaches 3 fundamental doctrines-

    1. The creation.
    2. The fall.
    3. The atonement.

    Both #1 and #2 are in direct conflict with the evolution spoken of here on this board. So, when they say we should judge for ourselves, I think the answer is clear- The creation and fall really did happen. This of course destroys any notion of evolution, especially that of any supposed human evolution within the official doctrines of the church. Some just have a hard time trying to grasp the reality that the Brethren have spoken on this issue and as of today, the official stance is the exact same as it was a 100 years ago-

    No Human Evolution.

  64. SteveP – I am sorry to hear that. It sounds like things are a bit more heated in the church out west. I guess it is easy for me out east, but I wonder how I would do if people responded to my belief in evolution in the way you describe.

  65. Why doe some feel the need to try to prove to someone who believes that they are descended from a divine being, that they originated from amoebas?

    And, if you really think about it, those two aren’t in conflict with each other, at least not for Mormons with an understanding of the Plan of Salvation and the existence of continuing revelation/further light and knowledge. Those two things might, however, be critically damaging to the philosophies/theologies of creedal Christian Fundamentalists (e.g. young earth, six literal 24 hour days of creation, creation ex nihilo, no pre-existence of the spirit, election to salvation/damnation, etc. — none of which philosophies Mormons should feel obliged to believe as part of the package of the Plan of Salvation).

    Let’s be confident to be Mormons and not imitate the perplexities and concerns of creedal Christian Fundamentalists. Part of that, I think, includes realizing that neither the theory of organic evolution nor human evolution more broadly really necessarily contradicts our beliefs in God and his role as our heavenly parent and creator. This includes a belief in a literal Adam and Eve, which I agree is called for by various LDS scriptures. The Restored Gospel is a remarkable blessing in our lives; as Joseph Smith declared, it does not wall us in or close us off as do some other belief systems but leaves us free to seek and incorporate truth of any kind, whether religious, scientific, aesthetic or otherwise (which in Brigham Young’s vision of the Gospel are actually all in essence religious truth). As such, we are free to look with gratitude at the myriad scientific advances that God has seen fit to allow mankind to discover through hard work and persistence. My sense is that such discoveries are often or always supported or assisted by bursts of inspiration available from the Holy Spirit. Let’s be grateful for the knowledge of science that we enjoy in the last days but in so doing, let us understand that precisely the industry made possible by applied sciences can hold the keys to unlocking the “evils and designs that do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days”. As a result of this understanding, we can welcome such scientific advances as the understanding of evolutionary processes and technological advances while being mindful of the need to keep all things within the bounds the Lord has set and to ensure that they are used for our temporal and spiritual well-being and benefit, and not for abusing, oppressing, exploiting or misusing our fellow human beings.

  66. i think we all wish there had been more advances in human decency in the last 150 years. But I don’t think advances in human decency and advances in science are mutually exclusive.

    I also don’t feel a need to prove anything to anyone. But I do feel a desire to defend science education and policy in this country from consistent attacks by creationists.

  67. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    John F., nicely said! Amen.

  68. John F. Yes. Yes. Yes.

  69. Steve (#50) I’m looking forward to it.

  70. SteveP, thank you for sparking such excellent discussion. This is what is really needed to come to better understanding. Discussion!

    Regarding your comment #52, “The leaders are doing exactly what they should be doing in leading the Church,” I think you almost got that one correct. I would re-word it like this, though, “the leaders are doing what they should be doing in leading the Church, but like all of us, lay leaders that we are, they sometimes make mistakes.” And, my heart saddened veyr much to hear someone is actually tracking the whereabouts of Pres. Monson from minute to minute. He’s a wonderful man, and I believe, a prophet, too.

  71. SteveP, disregard, I missed the sentence right before that, where you said “infallible and every opinion”, but I still see too many times that the leaders DO give out too many opinions on every little thing.

  72. Different Gary says:

    SteveP: You conclude your post with this: “It seems we stand where Islam did in the 13th century. What are we going to do?”

    I don’t think the answer is to encourage a better understanding of science, at least that is not the answer for people like me. The answer is not ridiculing people who have concluded that evolution cannot be reconciled with the Gospel. Among those people whom you have targeted with your criticism are current and former apostles and presidents of the church. Elder Nelson is on record recently has heaping scorn on your position. Members can be excused if they find him to be a more credible teacher of doctrine than biologists.

    The real problem is that many members, myself included, honestly do not know how to reconcile evolution with doctrine as it has been taught to us. These members are not all crazy fundamentalists. I don’t have a fundamentalist bone in my body. But I do not know how to reconcile belief in a literal Adam and Eve, a literal garden of Eden in North America, a literal fall and scriptures, both ancient and modern which seem to me to suggest that all of this happened relatively recently compared to the evolutionary time scale. It is all well and good to say that God used evolution to create physical bodies for Adam and Eve, but acceptance of this assertion has other implications. A great many questions get raised as a result. If you really want to make a contribution, explain how to reconcile these issues and provide plausible answers to these questions that are consistent with our doctrine.

    Banging us over the head with more scientific proof doesn’t deal with the real problem. I get that already. I believe you when you tell me about the mountains of evidence that support it. That does not answer the question that most deniers need answered before they can accept your science. Until you demonstrate how to reconcile doctrine with science, you will be talking past your intended audience.

  73. Different Gary I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I might suggest the Kenneth Miller book as a place to begin. What he does is show how to open a space that shows how faith and science can be reconciled. Applying it to Mormonism, while not straightforward, at least seems a possible and worthwhile project. Faith and science need not be opposed. I and many scientists see both (as Elder Scott says in his conference talk) as important ways of knowing. There is work to do obviously, on this front in the church, but it is worthwhile and will ultimately bring blessings of discovery and understanding to our knowledge of the who (faith), why (faith) and how (science) of Creation. However, I still hold that we ignore the last question at our peril. My argument is that all those questions are important to the understanding of who we are and what our place is in the universe.

  74. what is gained from that knowledge that is truly useful to our lives?

    – a lot! Learning the similarities between species has allowed us to use model systems (in dogs, mice, monkeys, bacteria, fungus…) to study things we can’t study in humans. Without knowing how and to what extent we are related to other animals and organisms – where we are similar and where we diverge – we can’t tell how well our models hold up. And without model systems there would be very little advancement in medicine. I, for one, am incredibly grateful that my sister is not debilitated by her MS, that my grandfather did not die from his heart attack, and that my grandmother is a breast cancer survivor.

  75. Different Gary says:

    Thank you for engaging me, Steve.
    I have read Kenneth Miller’s book, and I enjoyed it. I think that Mormon doctrine poses particular challenges not faced by other Christians like Miller. I don’t find it at all difficult to avoid a literal, fundamentalist reading of Genesis. In fact, if I just take the Bible on its own terms, I think it is exceedingly difficult to accept the fundamentalist assumptions. Once you reject those assumption, you are in the clear.

    In my opinion, Mormon doctrine poses more difficult challenges because some of our modern scriptures and teachings of modern prophets are not as easily dispensed with. For a Mormon, it is not enough to reject fundamentalist assumptions about the Bible. You also have to be comfortable concluding that men whom you consider to be living pophets, seers and revelators have frequently taught and continue to teach as doctrine certain teachings that are demonstrably false. And then you have to pick up the pieces and try figure out the answers to a lot of other questions that go to the heart of Mormon doctrine because evolution has profound implications for numerous doctrinal issues. That unpleasant prospect is enough to make a lot of people fight hard to “disprove” the scientific facts that evolutionary biologists present us with. Torturing science is easier than torturing revelation, real or perceived. And so it goes.

  76. But I do not know how to reconcile belief in a literal Adam and Eve, a literal garden of Eden in North America, a literal fall and scriptures, both ancient and modern which seem to me to suggest that all of this happened relatively recently compared to the evolutionary time scale

    I think it helps to distinguish between interpretations of individuals from what are undeniably doctrines of the Church. The existence of a literal Adam and Eve is undeniably a doctrine of the Church. The idea that they are the genetic parents of every person who has ever lived on this planet is not.

    The Church does not have to maintain the literal infallibility or literal interpretation of any given passage of scripture. NDBF (no death before the fall) is scriptural, but the Church almost certainly does not teach that this particular event (in the sense of the advent of mortality for all living things) occurred six thousand years ago, if the advent of mortality was an “event” at all. Not as a doctrine of the Church at any rate.

    The idea that the Fall is real in some sense or another, is, on the other hand, one of the undeniable doctrines the Church. That sort of interpretive flexibility is the only way that a biblical church can maintain any credibility at all, or at least outside a relatively small hard literalist minority. Brigham Young certainly didn’t have a problem taking such liberties, referring to the alternative as nursery school stories, toadstools and all.

  77. Steve,

    I read your post you linked in your previous comment and it somewhat read like a disgruntled rant.

    I don’t think it really addressed how could you falsify ape-to-man evolution, other than I guess that you’re suggesting there should be no testable hypothesis whatsoever.

    But I’m not talking in terms of experimentation, but I’d like you to assume for a minute if ape-man evolution were not true, what would you expect to certainly turn up?

    I dunno… I can’t think of anything. I can think of things that would or would not happen with the speed of light, but then again that is testable.

    Since you are unable to demonstrate anything, other than to point to evidence and then ask your audience to make a logical leap (a very logical one depending on your point of view) it would seem there is most definitely an element of faith to evolution. Or am I wrong?

    I don’t think pointing to DNA, embryos that look like a fish, etc. have anything to do with confirming man-ape evolution. It certainly shows hows how humans develop. And the similarities across species show we are all connected somehow. I don’t know how that proves ape-to-man.

    I will certainly grant, the physical evidence is greater for ape-to-man than the physical evidence for god-placed-man theory. Of course. That’s why we have faith.

    But your position seems to also require faith.

    I’ve got no problems really one way or another with the topic. And one way or another what I do tomorrow, the next day or the next 50 years will not change by the knowledge gained from studying evolution. Well that’s probably a stretch, because I think we can call benefit from studying various scientific works. But maybe you see what I mean…

  78. Rob Osborn says:

    In every sense of definition standards applied, evolution is as much a religious idea as is intelligent design. It is a “faith” based system where the evidence of history requires a belief in a system of beliefs and disbeliefs from the onset. Perhaps they are neither scientific either because they both have presuppositions that discount honest scientific inquiry that goes against the belief system. Both sides- that of evolution and anti-evolution need to drop the baggage- the political or religious baggage they both drag around and war against each other with. Why is it that “biology science” just can’t stick with that which is actually observed and leave “origins” to the philosophy and religious institutions? It truly boggles my mind.

  79. Different Gary, to be frank, I think that torturing revelation is what we do when we assume it has one clear, unambiguous meaning and that we possess that meaning. If we don’t assume that we know what the revelations mean, then the vast evidence in favor of evolution can become an interpretive tool in trying to understand our religion rather than a source of contradiction. We get into trouble because we assume our religion to be clear and unambiguous in its central claims — when in fact it is certainly the opposite. When we form an idolatry out of our current reading of the scriptures, we get into trouble…

  80. Rob, you don’t understand how science works. Science is about using theory in conjunction with data to leverage the tiny collection of observable information in order to account for the vast scope of unobserved nature. So, for example, gravity has only been carefully observed and documented in a certain (very large but finite) number of circumstances. But science uses the consistency of results across those circumstances in conjunction with theory and other confirmed predictions to generalize across the history and scope of the universe. Evolution’s moves from the data toward a broader story are the same kind of steps; the conclusions are rigorously based in extensive testing, even though the really exciting thing about them is that they reach well beyond what humans today can readily observe. Throwing out evolution because it contains more than just observed data is really no different from arguing that there won’t be gravity tomorrow morning.

  81. Rob, the question in my mind derives from a distinction between evolution and Evolution. To my mind evolution is exactly what JNS describes, an absolutely stunning compilation of important observations, inductions, and deductions that appear to account for a wide variety of important biological facts. Evolution with a capital E however is the propagandistic elevation of the not terribly scientific implications of evolution with a lowercase e to the level of social truth. evolution with a lowercase e doesn’t necessarily _mean_ anything about the moral world we inhabit–hoping fervently that it might but refusing to admit that it is a hope rather than good science strikes me as a classic example of Evolution with a capital E.

    Please note that if I’m making this distinction, I’m not doing it because I believe in creationism or this ID version of it–they strike me as both scientifically and morally vacuous, as silly in their way as over-zealous Evolutionism.

  82. It says much about a blog where this topic can be debated so evenhandedly and politely. Some say the world is round, others flat. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree….

    NOT. The comments above give the very false idea that there is some controversy, or two sides to the question. There is not. Saying does not make it so. Researching, cross-checking, testing of hypotheses, data, data, and more data…that makes it so.

    Lenin taught us that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Lenin was right. Ignorance is lazy and infectious, and should always be called out. I guess on this blog that distasteful duty falls to me.

    There are many (many!) things humans do not yet know. How bizarre then to single out the one scientific fact better supported than most any other in all science (save maybe statistical thermodynamics). Persisting in demonstrably false superstition is disingenuous, corrupting, and damages the credibility of faith communities that embrace it — and even those that don’t. It is slander. It is evil.

    It is a testament to Darwin that he was able to publish a truth 150 years ago without being fatwa’ed. It is a testament to that truth today that it is being so aggressively attacked. Pontius Pilate once asked “what is Truth”? A cynical politician like him no longer knew Truth when he saw it, only the power of the mob. No wonder Jesus did not bother trying to explain.

    I apologize for the bad form. Politeness may be a virtue, but honesty is a duty. I hope others will do theirs.

  83. Rob,

    Every post of yours just lays down so many claims, many of which Dembski and Behe would never in a millions years claim themselves, and then provide absolutely zero justification for them.

    “In every sense of definition standards applied, evolution is as much a religious idea as is intelligent design.”

    Oh, c’mon! ID was created by Christians, for Christians in order to defend Christianity. What religion does evolution have anything to do with? In fact, isn’t that the real rub for the creationists, that evolution doesn’t mention anything about religion at all?

    “It is a “faith” based system where the evidence of history requires a belief in a system of beliefs and disbeliefs from the onset.”

    You make it sound like religion is simply a system of beliefs and nothing else, regardless of what the beliefs are, where they come from, how they are justified or what behavior the beliefs entail. Religion is so much more than that, and inasmuch as it is more than that, evolution simply doesn’t fit the bill.

    “Both sides- that of evolution and anti-evolution need to drop the baggage- the political or religious baggage they both drag around and war against each other with.”

    But that’s all ID has, political and religious content. It has yet to show anything scientifically… at all. Evolutionists would love to drop all that political and religious garbage and get back to the science, but they can’t just sit back all let people attempt to preach or legislate their incorrect take on science.

    “Why is it that “biology science” just … leave “origins” to the philosophy and religious institutions? It truly boggles my mind.”

    Why in the world would they ever do that? That’s like asking why the police investigate murders that didn’t have any witnesses rather than just consulting religion/philosophy. It’s a fact that life began on earth, why in the world wouldn’t science be able to or want to investigate this fact?

  84. Different Gary says:

    JNS: I am not sure what you mean when you say we must not assume we know what the revelations mean. I don’t think the deniers are just assuming they know what the revelations mean any more than biologists are assuming they know what the fossil record means. It is not an assumption. They have read and studied the revelations and the teachings of the church authorities. Based on that study, they have come to conclusions about what God has revealed. They have also concluded that the conclusions of scientists cannot be reconciled with the revelations without doing violence to revealed truth. If somebody can show them that their understanding of the revelations is incorrect, they can probably be persuaded. But they won’t be persuaded by more science. They will only be persuaded if somebody can show them how to reconcile revealed doctrine with science.

  85. Different Gary says:

    Dan: One who believes that God has revealed the truth about the creation of mankind through his prophets could have written an identical post about the need to accept revelation. If you admit that faith and revelation constitute another means knowing and discovering truth, then both sides can make identical arguments using very much the same language you have used. Of course, if you don’t accept that, then there is nothing much to talk about. But that is what is at the core of this debate.

  86. One of the things that comes out of the Evenson-Jeffery book I mentioned above is that there is no doctrine on evolution. There have been vocal individuals who have spoken against it, and it is an accident of history that the list of those who saw it as a viable possibility (Widstoe, Talmage, Roberts, David O’ Mackay, etc) were less vocal and more careful in putting up their opinions. Science as shown us the evolution by natural selection has structured how life has evolved on Earth. It says nothing about the deeper metaphysical underpinnings that guide our faith, nor should it. Revelation as guided our understanding the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of creation. The ‘how’ we have been commanded to search out ‘above’ and ‘under’ the Earth. Science as had 150 years to explore this and we know more about the ‘how’ than we ever have. That knowledge is wonderful, important and growing.

  87. Different Gary:

    There is much to talk about. I only regret that we are not talking about it. A debate requires a few minimal ground rules: clear statement of axioms, sound logic, unbiased collection of data, formation of hypotheses, predicting outcomes, running experiments, comparing outcomes with predictions. Without respect for these ground rules, there is no debate, only assertion.

    No, what is at issue is not WHAT but HOW. Suppose we are given divine revelation. How shall we persuade others of this truth? Too many false prophets have poisoned the well scamming the credulous. Empirically, the scientific method (though requiring more effort) has shown itself to be quite difficult to game by the unscrupulous, so if you use that others will be much more likely to believe you.

    If Revelation is not just assertion, but true assertion, then God will have included some evidence of its truth (or be a secretive god indeed!). It remains only for you to find it and present it. You’d better hurry, though. The opposition has got a 150-year head start. Until then, you might consider reserving the word “debate” for assertion backed by evidence, not by “trust me”.

    Because I don’t even trust myself without evidence. Who knows, I could be imagining all this in some schizophrenic delusion.

  88. Different Gary, a tricky argument! Let’s look at the grammar here:

    They have read and studied the revelations and the teachings of the church authorities. Based on that study, they have come to conclusions about what God has revealed. They have also concluded that the conclusions of scientists cannot be reconciled with the revelations without doing violence to revealed truth.

    See the problem here? Reading and studying is fine; we all do that. Coming to conclusions on the basis of reading and studying is also fine; a normal human activity. In the context of scriptures, it’s a highly error-prone activity, though, because the scriptures are almost singularly dense with meaning possibilities. But in your last sentence, these human, error-prone conclusions suddenly acquire the status of revealed truth. Too hasty!

  89. Now I’m lost. Somehow someone comes to conclusions about scripture and revelations without science. Why then do scientific results change these conclusions? They do not need science, so they are not invalidated by it. If they become faulty after scientific result, then the methodology itself was flawed before scientific result.

    Either revelation is sufficient without science, or it is insufficient with science. Where is there a middle ground?

  90. If they become faulty after scientific result, then the methodology itself was flawed before scientific result.

    Subject to epistemological limitations with regard to both science and revelation, absolutely. And well said, I might add.

  91. Different Gary says:

    JNS: Yes, I agree. I was disagreeing with your assertion that their conclusions are just “assumptions”. They are much more than that. Of course I agree that none of us infallible, and we must be open to the possibility that have misinterpreted something. And so the question becomes to what extent must one let one’s understanding of revelation be altered by scientific knowledge. Obviously as the evidence for the scientific knowledge piles up, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain contrary religious beliefs. However, as long as one can see no way to reconcile those religious beliefs with science, or to revise those beliefs while preserving the integrity of the revelations which gave rise to those beliefs, a believer is faced with a stark choice: abandon your faith, or find some reason to discount science. Many have, for that reason, abandoned their faith. I am convinced that this issue lies at the heart of the deniers’ arguments. It really isn’t about science at all, but they can’t see any way out of this dilemma other than to buy into specious arguments about science.

  92. Different Gary says:

    Dan: The fact that somebody comes to conclusions based on their understanding of revelation without science does not mean that science does not invalidate those conclusions. That is precisely the problem.

    I am not sure who you are targeting with your comment #86. If it is me, then I have clearly not explained myself very well. I am not an evolution denier and I am in general agreement with what you have said. I agree that debates should be about assertion backed by evidence, or at least by logical reasoning about the implications of whatever evidence we have. Nevertheless this is a blog is sponsored and read by many people who accept that one can “know” certain things by revelation and that this is a perfectly acceptable means of knowing.

    One way to respond to these people is to do what you have done. You would rule their evidence to be inadmissible a priori because it is not evidence at all. One cannot “know” anything by revelation. This is a respectable argument to make, but it is also an assault on their faith. A second way to deal with them is allow them into the discussion, but to explain why they have misunderstood the revelations and to show them how one can respect the text of the revelations while at the same time accommodating evolution. I favor the second approach because I believe that, if successful, it will help people maintain their faith while maintaining intellectual integrity.

  93. Different Gary,

    The problem is, revelation isn’t admissible as a scientific argument. There’s no way around that. I realize it sounds arrogant to tell people to check their faith at the door, but it’s kind of what science requires.

  94. Different Gary says:

    Kristine: True enough. But the question whether evolution is compatible with doctrine is not just a scientific argument.

  95. kristine N,

    There’s no problem with that so long as science remembers that it is merely science.

  96. #93 – and that question ultimately hangs on how one defines “doctrine” – and the merry-go-round continues to spin.

  97. #94 – and religion remembers that it is merely religion – that it isn’t science. Back to the good, old merry-go-round.

  98. Ray,

    Yes. But shall we check science at the chapel doors?

  99. Jeff G,

    J:”Oh, c’mon! ID was created by Christians, for Christians in order to defend Christianity. What religion does evolution have anything to do with? In fact, isn’t that the real rub for the creationists, that evolution doesn’t mention anything about religion at all?”

    If ID theory is “religion” then so must “evolution” be religion. ID falsifies Darwinian evolution and Darwinian evolution falsifies ID. Who cares what religious affiliation people have in the sides of the debate. If evolutionists are going to demand ID theory is a religion, then they must admit themselves that their own theory of evolution is as much a religious idea as is ID.

    “You make it sound like religion is simply a system of beliefs and nothing else, regardless of what the beliefs are, where they come from, how they are justified or what behavior the beliefs entail. Religion is so much more than that, and inasmuch as it is more than that, evolution simply doesn’t fit the bill.”

    Then perhaps we can get it straightened out. ID doesn’t fit the bill of being a religion either- by your own very standards.

    That aside, the theories of evolution and ID both gather from evidence and belief in a presupposed manner. You just do not see scientists out there who neither side with evolution or ID and “just” look at the observable evidence with no predisposition. What needs to be made clear in order for progress to be made is that science shouldn’t be political, religious, etc- it needs to have a complete neutral stance and be objective to all ideas and constructs. Instead, we often see evolution built up as a theory that can’t be challenged, not because it can’t be- it certainly can, but because we have placed a dogmatic ideal stating it as fact and everything else challenging it being labeled a non-science. We have literally turned “science” into a political agenda- kind of life some invisible all-too powerful monsterous invisible entity.

    I just get tired of evolutionists complaining over and over again how creationists or ID’ers can’t bring this or that to the table of scientific inquiry if it challenges at all the theory of evolution. Id’ers are saying “hey, we want to try to falsify Darwinian evolution”, but evolutionists can’t be challenged. They can’t even attempt to answer the real reason they wouldn’t dare attempt to falsify evolution, because to do so plays right into ID hands. That is why they state it as fact so they don’t have to go there.

  100. Rob O., The problem is that the ID folks are doing an extraordinarily bad job of it, starting with the very name they chose to describe their position. External intervention is not something they can prove. The idea that they could prove it (rather than perhaps a much more subtle and general proposition) appears to have been a fatal oversight on their part from the very beginning.

  101. Jack,
    Two years ago, I was teaching high school biology. Next Sunday, I’m teaching EQ.
    Should we check science at the chapel doors? Certainly. I spent several weeks on evolution while teaching biology (even states like Utah and Idaho recommend that biology teachers put considerable focus on evolution). I didn’t spend any time on religion(including creationism and its descendant ID), because it was not an appropriate subject for a high school science class.
    Likewise, I will spend no time at church talking about evolution, because people don’t go to church to learn science–they go to worship God.
    So yes, it’s entirely appropriate to check science at the chapel doors, at least for teaching purposes.
    Now, admittedly, if someone else brings the matter up, I will be honest and tell them that I believe science and religion can be compatible. But I won’t bring it up myself.

  102. The facts as they are presented in support of evolution theory are found time and time again to be consistent and therefore supportive of evolution theory.

    However, it’s just as easy for me to point to the facts of living a moral, Christ-center life, consistently applied leads to a better person. There are a hundreds of million of bits of evidence for this over the millenia. Regardless of the circumstances and suffering a person encounters, when they are focused on Christ from a position of faith, they become better people.

    It is by that standard (among others) that I say my faith is very much based in reason. But it does take faith first, to accept and then live what is being preached. No matter what pile of evidence is presented in an attempt to thwart my beliefs, it will not work.

    Can the same be true for an evolutionist? I think so. They have thousands of years of evidence and observations that span the entire earth. From their observations they arrived at a position, which they believe to be truth. There is very clear reason behind their faith.

    And I can even accept they have to exercise less faith in their daily life in accepting evolution.

    But I see it as faith all the same. They have pratical and acceptable hard evidence, while I have only the subjective evidence of people, experiences and good lives — but these should not be discounted because it is the very essence of humanity. Flesh is greater than stone…

    All of that being said, I find it bizarre that someone in support of evolution would be so upset of even mocking of those who do not agree with their faith (backed up by a tremendous amount of physical evidence). It’s almost the reverse corollary of the fundamentalist, fire and brimstone preacher who thinks only a fool wouldn’t believe in God.

  103. Rob Osborn says:

    Mark D,
    I wholly disagree. Evolutionists want to believe ID’ers are doing a horribly bad job of it but the truth is that ID is the first real scientific inquiry to challenge Darwinian evolution and it is doing a pretty good job of it. It is sad that many still think that ID is nothing more than cloaked creationism. It’s basic ignorance to science in my opinion for people to just discount it as anti-science or religion.

    Evolution asks for supernatural intervention to explain it’s origin of life principles. Perhaps it is evolutionary theory that has made the fatal oversight in going so far as to support a godless, unguided process for lifes origins. We all know by now that there is not any scientific known principle that explains how life originated other than life only coming from a previous known life source. So, evolution must go one step further than the ID folks because they are attempting to defy known scientific principles to support an idea that must in and of itself draw off of some supernatural unknown force to explain how complexity arose in the first life-forms. It’s all in make-believe-land right now- no conclusive evidence.

    This is what I was getting back to in my previous post. If evolutionary theory would just examine and test the observable evolution as seen on small scale within taxa lines they would be better off. It’s not that I am saying that science should not look into finding reasons for why life exists and how it may have arisen, it’s that they shouldn’t be so dogmatic about what ideas they accept based entirely off of political or egotistical agendas. Science by itself should be objective to all ideas including the possiblity that life may have always existed in the universe we know of and that life on this planet arose because of the life force and propagation of it on this planet at some finite time in the past. Science cannot be subbjective to possibilities. It could happen, and perhaps possibly did happen this way, but science has to be objective in how it views and understands ideas and not be so dicriminate to actual phycial and real scientific possibilities.

  104. Rob, The crux of the issue is not whether some external agency guided evolution in actual fact, but whether it was necessary for some external agency to do so to have a macroscopic evolutionary process (or abiogenesis) at all.

    Having some familiarity with the work of Michael Behe, William Dembski and company, I can tell you that they have a start on an argument that such processes require something more than simple determinism and random chance. That is why I am sympathetic to where they are coming from – meaningful free will requires something more than determinism and random chance too.

    But they don’t have a trace of an argument for the next step, that a process that exhibits something more than determinism and random chance is concrete evidence for the necessary, designing influence of an external agency. They realize that these days, by the way, and tend to define their program in broader terms, something more like “determinism and random chance alone fails to account for certain features of the universe and living things”.

    With regard to that broader definition, I fully agree, and there is a broad spectrum of contemporary philosophers (of the mind, in particular) who defend the same proposition.

  105. For example, the world view of Orson Pratt, as strange as it is, does not require an external designer at all. Orson Pratt would say that all these little “atoms”, including the ones that compose the body of our Father in heaven himself, have some degree of intelligence, so it wouldn’t exactly be necessary for an external, designing agency to form the first cell, but rather some means for the “atoms” to teleologically assemble into the first cell themselves, incrementally or otherwise.

    The issue for LDS theology here is, if God has a body, does he need one? If he needs a body, doesn’t design by an external agency lead to an infinite regress with no explanation for the origin and nature of bodies at all?

  106. Rob,

    There are so many places that I found myself slapping my forehead in disbelief, but I’ll limit my response to a few questions:

    “Instead, we often see evolution built up as a theory that can’t be challenged, not because it can’t be- it certainly can, but because we have placed a dogmatic ideal stating it as fact and everything else challenging it being labeled a non-science.”

    Where in the world did you ever get this idea? Darwinian evolution has been challenged many times over throughout its history, some times coming surprisingly close to being discarded when it didn’t match the observed facts. But instead scientists merely modified their conception of evolution, and it came out all the stronger because of it. What is not allowed, however, is the following:

    1. Faith based objections. (Young Earth Creationists)
    2. Objections which have been falsified. (Behe)
    3. Objections which are irrelevant due to conceptual confusions and equivocation. (Dembski)
    4. Objections from social impact. (Phillip Johnson)
    5. Objections from ignorance. (Origin of life mumbo jumbo)

    Now please answer the following questions:

    A. What do you think ID gets you?
    B. What successes do you think ID has had and why?
    C. What are your sources for all these bold claims you make?

  107. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Jeff, the sources for the bold claims are, I think, a bit embarrassingly self-evident.

  108. I think the problem is what science and religion are trying to argue, which is truth. Religion likes to say that here is the “Truth”…which is universal and ultimate. D&C 88:79 “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass…”

    Science isn’t arguing they have “Truth” (ok some do, but most scientists will allow others to challenge their conclusions). Science is trying to present our current understanding that they CANNOT disprove.

    Using religious knowledge as a background, it seems that we are searching for a universal broad brush to cover everything. I don’t think most people would disagree with evolution for the most part, but have difficulty when it comes to human evolution. Why are we willing to throw out a valid scientific theory because we don’t like one aspect of it? For those who believe Adam and Eve were beamed down from the starship Enterprise by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the rest of the gang, fine with me. For those who believe in evolution, like I do, that is great too. But let’s realize that when science and religion disagree, usually they are talking past each other, not to each other.

  109. Mark D,

    “The issue for LDS theology here is, if God has a body, does he need one? If he needs a body, doesn’t design by an external agency lead to an infinite regress with no explanation for the origin and nature of bodies at all?”

    It doesn’t really matter to us how, when or even if there was a start of Gods. That’s a matter for philisophical minds to hash out and blow each others minds to insanity with. Physics and astronomy must deal with other enigma’s as applied to an infinite universe. Personally it is easiest just to assume that life only comes from life because we have proof, the universe goes on forever because we can’t see any end to it and matter and energy go on in never-ending abundance.

    What really applies to LDS people is “how, when, where and why” life came from on this planet and how it effects our faith in prophets to the word of God.

  110. Jeff G,
    “A. What do you think ID gets you?”
    ID is a case in logic from inferrence. When information at the cellular level is studied, analyzed and observed it shows the simple yet intriquite genious of a very intelligent design of the which, as aknowledged, is prepared and preserved to convey it’s kind and perpetuate at a level unmateched by anything man could ever dream of doing. ID is a theory that is made from the best inferrence of the observations. Anyone who sees all the intriqute circuits, cells and systems making up a biological organism has to explain that this is not something that nature turned up as it tripped it’s big toe on a rock hap-hazordly. I have waited my whole life for evolution to just provide something solid- it truly has no clue and the best scientists working on the phenomenon we call life are still left to exclaim they haven’t a clue on how life evolved!

    B. What successes do you think ID has had and why?
    There is lots of observable evidence in support of intelligent design. For starters, we as “intelligent agents” ourselves defy imagination on why we exist and to what extent we exist in nature. The DNA code is nothing short of complete genius in how it operates. The code itself- a digital code, is evidence enough that random nature is not the father of this system and can’t be because we know through scientific testing that DNA does not self assemble in environment where all the pieces exist. Many many experiments have proven beyond reasonable doubt that self replicating life containing intelligent information cannot and does not self assemble without an intelligent agent to guide it’s process. This for me is the ultimate “read-it-and-weap” trump card for Id’ers over evolutionists.

    “C. What are your sources for all these bold claims you make?”

    It’s called your eyes, open them up and see the evidence- see where it is pointing. It is pointing directly to an intelligent creator. For us LDS believers we must exclaim his power in the creation, otherwise we can hardly be called Christian at all.

  111. Steve Evans says:


  112. weep

  113. Come on Steve, why should he spell well? Spelling isn’t necessary for reproduction (as evidenced by texting) so why should it be selected for?

  114. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Rob, like Mark, is a troll and should not be fed…

  115. classy J….

  116. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Hey, Sam, it’s just the truth — these guys aren’t in dialogue and are just generating solipsistic text. Not what makes a blog thrive.

  117. One thing for ID folks to remember is that at least one of their intellectual leaders, Francis Beckwith, has spent substantial portions of his career critiquing Mormon theology. While he has been relatively careful, he is no theological ally. For example, in an article comparing mormon and “christian” concepts of god (apparently we aren’t christian in his view), he concludes: “I believe these criticisms clearly demonstrate that philosophically the Mormon concept of God is irredeemably flawed.” Other prominent members of the ID movement are tied to evangelical sects that really dislike us.

    There is no reason to believe the ID people are our friends, and plenty of reason to believe they are not. So, let’s be careful about borrowing theology from them. And ID is theology.

    To address some points above, evolution is still science. That means that there are interesting questions about it that have not yet been answered, including issues connected to the origins of life. This does not make it wrong. It makes it a thriving area of current research. It has tremendous predictive and explanatory power. It is easy to falsify evolution. Just find some bones of a billion year old man.