We Should Be Mormons

It is discouraging to see many Mormons in our day and age following some fundamentalist creedal Christians in taking an anti-science stance relating to organic evolution or other matters in which fundamentalist creedal Christians, based on their own unnecessary inferences from the Bible, have chosen to see faith at war with science.

The doctrines of the Restored Gospel are what should govern our worldview as Mormons, not the convoluted inferences drawn by fundamentalist creedal Christians from their bibliolatry. Our doctrines of the Restored Gospel do not share the baggage that encumbers fundamentalist creedal Christians’ chosen understanding and rejection of the voluminous evidence produced by rigorous application of the scientific process in multiple fields of learning and discovery, from numerous biological sciences to archaeology, anthropology and many others. Such encumbrances include, but are not limited to, the unnecessary and damaging theories of Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency; a fundamental misunderstanding of the process by which the Bible came into existence and of its maintenance over the centuries; and unnecessary and speculative assumptions about the creation of the earth and the processes by which God brought this to pass. Year by year we seem to see more Mormons joining fundamentalist creedal Christians in their assumptions on these issues; it is an unfortunate abdication of a divine birthright and noble inheritance.

We Mormons need to be self confident in our own understanding of the Restored Gospel and recognize that it is not incompatible with every wonderful advancement that people have been inspired to discover through hard work, persistence and methodical mastery of the scientific process. This straightforwardly includes organic evolution. Given the amazing advances that have become possible in applied sciences and technology due to the reliability of organic evolution as a scientific principle, it is no stretch to see the hand of Providence in allowing such advances and discoveries to occur.

The Restored Gospel, in fact, provides no obstacle for seeing God’s hand in the exponential increases in scientific knowledge the world has experienced in recent centuries. We do not share ground with fundamentalist creedal Christians on doctrinal points about the creation of the world and God’s purposes in the Plan of Salvation. Our understanding of these two points, as limited as it might be in the broader scheme of things, derives from the further light and knowledge that has been revealed to us through restored scripture and through revelation in this dispensation of time, the “Latter-days”. Let us not be tempted by the allure of creedal Christians’ seemingly higher level of acceptance and respectability in mainstream religious society such that we abandon the unique and refreshing possibilities that the Restored Gospel opens to us in gracefully circumscribing knowledge gained from science and truth gained from our faith into one great whole. Joining fundamentalist creedal Christians in their various anti-science campaigns — in their shuttered biblical inerrancy and irrationality (i.e. “bibliolatry”, the worship of the Bible itself), both of which are completely unnecessary for Mormons — would be to shun the true illumination promised by the Restored Gospel in favor of darkness.

Our nineteenth-century Mormon ancestors boarded the ship Amazon and emigrated away from the Dickensian nightmare of their impoverished lives in a Victorian England that believed, based on its tortured creedal Christian understanding of the Bible at the time, that the lower classes in England (and the impoverished the world over) were consigned to their miserable and wretched fate and class by the predestination of God. They argued in favor of the perpetuation and maintenance of such artificial class designations on this basis. In their new homeland, the early Latter-day Saints hoped to live in a community free from the encumbrances of such a dark theology and the resulting abusive, oppressive and evil institutionalization of grinding the face of the poor. Although life in what they believed to be Zion contained its own challenges and disappointments, they were able to become their own men and women free from such encumbrances and obstacles of the prevailing creedal Christian biblical inferences of the time. They were free to live according to principles revealed through the Plan of Salvation.

Generations later, we have inherited the wonderful religious truths of the Plan of Salvation as restored in part from ancient times and revealed in part for the first time ever in the history of the world through true messengers in the Latter-days. Through these truths, we 21st Century Mormons are or should be grateful heirs to a worldview that in no way requires hostility between the enlightening advancements in knowledge available through science and the illuminating truths of the restored Christian faith that guided every aspect of those early Mormons’ lives in the Church. Our Mormon understanding of God’s involvement in the world of human affairs should leave little doubt of his capacity and desire to influence and inspire the minds of even the most atheistic of scientists in order to bring to pass many great and important things pertaining to our understanding of the world around us — and that can be used to further God’s Kingdom.

The atheism of some scientists (though by no means are all scientists in any given field atheists) might tempt Latter-day Saints to be defensive and gravitate toward fundamentalist creedal Christian bunkers in this artificial war between science and faith. The war is artificial because it need not exist in the first place. Instead of succumbing to such temptation, Mormons should resist the urge to bunker down and subsist, under siege by the evidence of science, on a diet of bibliolatry and scientific ignorance. This is one of the many strengths of the Latter-day Saint position — the Restored Gospel should give us a much broader vision of the wonders God has prepared and created for us and that he has in store for us as we live our lives in his service as disciples of Jesus Christ who are active in all fields of scientific inquiry and discovery. This position should actually allow us to hover above the fray in the contrived “culture wars” of our day rather than require us to be the foot soldiers for various questionable causes stemming from a fundamentalist creedal Christian interpretation of the Bible. As one example, we do not need to join fundamentalist creedal Christians in claiming that humans and dinosaurs co-existed or that the earth is 6,000 years old because we simply do not share the assumptions that have caused fundamentalist creedal Christians to need to believe those things in the first place. As such, our course as Mormons should be either to stand on the sidelines of fundamentalist creedal Christians’ ridiculous battles on this front or to try to broker a peace as objective observers, neither sharing the atheism and amorality nor the religious assumptions and inferences of either side in this unnecessary battle. Obviously, brokering a peace would be more consistent with Christ’s New Testament injunction for us to be peacemakers.

* * *

If the politicized atheism of some scientists aboard the bright ship Humana repulses us as Latter-day Saints as it sails far away, let us not therefore join the fundamentalist creedal Christian Armada, constructed from the last trees of a once-green country and sailing with the vain ambition of conquering some foreign shore. Let us rather board the Amazon anew in our day and, like our Mormon forebears, emigrate away from these crumbling shores, burdened as they are with the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture. Crossing “sprung longitudes of the mind” we will make our home in a new country where the religious truths about the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we celebrate through the Restored Gospel and the wonderful knowledge about the natural world with which God has blessed us through the exponential advances of science coexist in productive harmony, enriching every facet of every life.


  1. Bravo! Beautifully stated. More than a few fellow Church members I know need to understand this!

  2. well said.

  3. Hip-hip-hooray!

  4. Bro. Jones says:

    Wonderfully written. I love the word “Bibolatry”–an excellent term to convey the inflexible (and frankly, ignorant) refusal to think with our God-given faculties. Thank you!

  5. The biggest problem, that this seems to acknowledge, is Mormons and Evolution. The next generation has a vague belief that they do coexist. My small EQ was with the HP in a rather conservative class during this years first lesson. The earth’s creation was discussed and a mid-thirties elder said something similar to this post. I can’t read other’s heart or thoughts, but there didn’t seem any discomfort from either generation. The next step in the right direction would be open discussion of how the Creation and Evolution can go together.

    Other than that, I don’t see anything other than perhaps the flood that a Mormon would take issue with science. Even DNA and the Book of Mormon raises less questions about science (other than outliers) than with process and conclusions. Having Mormon views of Scriptural inerrancy and sufficiency can be a problem, but it isn’t a hurdle. An example would be the rather theologically orthodox FAIR and Farms who consistently argue against these notions. My guess is that very few have really talked about Scriptural development outside of the bloggernacle. Rarely has there been an absolute stance on the perfection of Scriptural text; in fact, the opposite.

    I do see where this blog post is coming from. However, it makes assumptions about Mormon views that are not fully consistent with at least my observation. The number of college graduates in the sciences in the Mormon community with faith intact seems to argue against this battle of science vs. religion. this post sees a war that is more like an occasional skirmish.

  6. Awesome post. I agree wholeheartedly. I think many of our recent problems as a Church have come from us not only adopting the stances of the Evangelical Right, but the rhetoric as well. Thank you.

  7. Peter LLC says:

    Preach on, brother.

    the bright ship Humana…as it sails far away

    …with grave determination and no destination.

  8. StillConfused says:

    Your discussion of the class caste system reminded me of the Church’s prior views on black people.

  9. Damn straight.

  10. re # 8, another reason that we as Mormons should avoid merging creedal Christian scriptural inferences with doctrines of the Restored Gospel given that we don’t share key assumptions based on unnecessary doctrinal encumbrances.

    Peter, exactly.

  11. I wish I could hear you deliver this in person, and then I would stand with a hearty, “Amen.”

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    I like the Mormon ethos that Mormonism is truth and we don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true, which this post so well exemplifies.

  13. Bravo.

  14. Wow. Amazing. Wonderful. Fantastic. Three cheers for John F!

  15. Prose verging on poetry. This is extraordinary.

  16. Thomas Parkin says:


  17. Wasn’t it the Pew report that showed that Mormons were the most likely religious group to deny evolution?

  18. Mormons take their cues from their leaders. As soon as a Mormon hierarch endorses evolution, the masses will follow.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Hooray for John F.! Son, when you’re good, you’re very good.

  20. It is interesting to see archaeology mentioned in your post. It would appear that the “voluminous evidence produced” in this field provides a much different world view than we hold from the teachings in the Book of Mormon.

  21. First off, thank you.

    I really feel though that those of us who live on the internet (read/write blogs, likely frequent reddit etc) all feel and think this way. The challenge we face is to find a way to open the minds of our brothers and sisters.

    As I get older I find myself shedding more and more constraints on my faith and opening my mind to broader interpretations of scripture… I feel that little would surprise me. I know several people who seem to be narrowing their faith though, as though they are trying to draw a tighter cleaner very specific definition of things … this seems to me to be heading for a major shock and/or disappointment when we do pass through the veil and the wall paper (and everything else) isn’t exactly as we imagined it would be with our very finite and under-informed minds :/

  22. >Hooray for John F.!

    His best work since The Magus!

  23. huh I found it rather passionate and that always puts me on the defensive. I agree that we need to be careful to not drift with the world-okay the christian fundamentalist world-towards something not doctrinally correct.

    I personally don’t think there will be a massive shift until the fall and evolution make sense together. I have this peaceful if rumbly coexistence in my mind. There is all this science stuff and I like to search for truth…then there is this really simple doctrine-the fall. It makes it hard for me to jump on the evolution band wagon. I tend to lean creationy-in an open minded-it’ll be interesting how that is reconciled- kind of jesus didn’t ride dinosaurs sort of way. Is there a God did it but I don’t know exactly how it all fits camp?

    I think these huge questions exist as a test of faith-the test isn’t to deny the proof of evolution, but rather to accept that things may not happen the way we think they do…to help us tease out doctrine from assumptions made based on doctrine.

  24. Is there a God did it but I don’t know exactly how it all fits camp?

    That sounds just about right to me.

  25. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    TT is right; among US religious groups, only Jehovah’s Witnesses are less likely to regard evolution as the best explanation for the origins of life than are Mormons: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=429

    I think John F. is right in saying that Mormon theology can be constructed in ways that fit with things like Biblical criticism and evolution. However, as a matter of lived religion, it’s probably the case that only a small minority of Mormons has ever done this. Furthermore, britt is right in pointing out that the reconciliation is not easy and changes the nature of the faith in some ways.

    But I still love John F.’s post. Let’s go roast some creedal Bibliolatry, shall we?

  26. Thomas Parkin says:


    I think you’re pretty much on the right track.

    Thing is: I’m not even aquainted with popular books on evolution. I’ve never read Stephen Gould. I’ve never even read Darwin. Let alone find myself aquainted with the ongoing hard science. So, I’m ignorant, but at least I know I’m ignorant and therefore can keep myself tentative and open rather than passionate and closed.

    (And I’m going to remain igonorant, because there is only so much time in life, and one must pick and choose, and I’m just not that interested.) ~

  27. What is required in approaching both knowledge deriving from science and truths deriving from religious faith is a measure of humility, as noted by Hugh Nibley, as both still require inferences to arrive at interpretive conclusions.

  28. “in their shuttered biblical inerrancy and irrationality (i.e. “Bibolatry”, the worship of the Bible itself), both of which are completely unnecessary for Mormons…”


    Forget ‘bibolatry;’ it seems to me that the real challenge for Latter-day Saints revolves BoM historicity. Book of Mormonolatry?

    Now there’s the ultimate taboo. Until Grant Palmer, et. al. are allowed to participate in the conversation and remain among the faithful, Mormons are really no different than creationist evangelicals when it comes to intellectual honesty. I certainly don’t mean to sound disrespectful here, but just sayin’….

  29. I don’t think a belief in Book of Mormon historicity (i.e. that Nephi was a real person) can even closely be equated with Bibolatry, which is how certain fundamentalist creedal Christians refer to the Bible as the Word and seem to view it interchangeably with Jesus Christ himself and therefore worship it, the book itself, as inerrant and sufficient.

    My hope would be that no Mormon views the Book of Mormon as inerrant and sufficient, notwithstanding our belief that it is the most correct of any book. Being the most correct of any book does not mean it is inerrant or sufficient. Believing it is inerrant and sufficient is not supported by the text of the Book of Mormon itself which disclaims and advises that the doctrines therein are true but any errors are the errors of men (primarily Mormon and Moroni as compilers/editors).

  30. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    John, I don’t think Mike is claiming that Biblical inerrancy and historicity views regarding the Book of Mormon are identical in every way, but rather that the intensity with which the views are held and the resistance to debate about them within the community of the faithful are parallel.

  31. Amen, John F.

    My favorite part: “…our course as Mormons should be either to stand on the sidelines of fundamentalist creedal Christians’ ridiculous battles on this front or to try to broker a peace as objective observers….brokering a peace would be more consistent with Christ’s New Testament injunction for us to be peacemakers.”

    As the culture wars and political discourse have become more divisive and strident of late, the call to be peacemakers could be one the most important choices we make.

  32. My sense is that anything short of agreeing with Palmer’s claims, inferences and conclusions re naturalistic origins (i.e. Joseph Smith was a fraud) would constitute being “intellectually dishonest”, is that right Mike? In other words, is it possible for FARMS people to argue strenuously with Palmer’s claims, including through a rhetorically legitimate ad hominem prong, and not be accused of “Book of Mormonolatry?

    To my knowledge, FARMS people who argue strenuously in favor of Book of Mormon historicity — i.e. present inferences and conclusions that follow from the historical record but that are ignored or glossed over by those who are attempting to subvert the Church’s truth narrative, and present counter-arguments to the claims and arguments of such critics — generally harbor a worldview consistent with this post: that science and faith are not at war with each other and that as Mormons we need not adopt fundamentalist creedal Christian premises and assumptions inferred from that particular reading of the Bible. So how does their rejection of Palmer’s claims relate to this post?

  33. The Spring issue of Dialogue (which went to the printer today–yay!) contains Wesley Wildman’s sermon on the difficulties of seriously reconciling evolution with Biblical creation accounts, and Steven Peck’s excellent response. I wish we’d had John’s sermon, too!

  34. Amen, and amen!

  35. Sterling Fluharty says:

    I want to know when we can gets these ideas into the hands of the Mormon masses. We are largely preaching to the choir here. Maybe we need more public intellectuals among our people.

  36. I’ll add my hearty “Amen” to John’s post.

    I’d also like to call out the “kevinf” post just above this one (#31). The last line (“As the culture wars and political discourse have become more divisive and strident of late, the call to be peacemakers could be one the most important choices we make.”) is a statement that we as Mormons should all take to heart.

    The sea of culture is heaving and tossing with hate, divisiveness and scorn for the “other.” And it will most likely only get worse as time goes on. We need desperately to make sure we don’t get sucked down in those depths and drown.

  37. Thanks JNS for doing the lmgtfy.com work…
    I think that I’d like to suggest that john f.’s assertion that “creationism” is some non-Mormon invasion of false doctrine ignores both the particularities of Mormon-versioned creationism as not rooted in biblical inerrancy, but prophetic authority. While rhetorically powerful to depict anti-evolutionism as a doctrinal invasion into the purities of the “Restored Gospel,” I don’ t think that such a neat division between “fundamentalist creedal Christians” and the “Restored Gospel” has any more legitimacy than the idea that anti-evolutionary ideas are extrinsic to Mormonism. Rather, Mormonism belongs to a complex culture in which both a “native” anti-evolutionary stance and a similar “foreign” view are mutually interdependent, and can even morph to being authentically Mormon without resting on some of the same assumptions as non-Mormon anti-evolutionary views.

  38. I think our current political climate is pretty temperate compared to what you had in, say, 1800 with Jefferson v. Burr.

  39. I’ll have to respectively disagree with you “john f.” Yes, previous political climates were extremely nasty, to say the least. But what we have now in America is nowhere near what I’d call normal or temperate.

  40. MikeinWeHo said:
    [i]Now there’s the ultimate taboo. Until Grant Palmer, et. al. are allowed to participate in the conversation and remain among the faithful, Mormons are really no different than creationist evangelicals when it comes to intellectual honesty.[/i]

    I think the point is that Mormonism is unique from Creedal Christianity and should remain as such. The fact is the faith claims of Joseph Smith cannot be simply tossed aside like a wet dishrag because we might be uncomfortable with some portion of it. So I do not see the Book of Mormon as the same measuring stick.

    First the book itself claims errancy – see Moroni. The other is that I am not sure how anyone can say it is false and stay in the church. Not being excommunicated but rather that there is little point being attached any more.

    Palmer’s idea of a nice faith lesson manual seems to leave no place to go with the book. By its very nature the Book of Mormon does not allow that middling response and that is why I see it differently then the Bible which is a book which has been editorialized for three thousand years.

    For me that is why I see no reason to take Palmer et al on a face value basis.

  41. In other words I see it as an apples to grapefruit comparison

  42. TT, I think it’s more along the lines of Mormons not having to see faith and science as hostile to each other but rather feeling free to harmonize them in much the same way that many non-fundamentalist creedal Christians do. Nothing too problematic about any of this. It’s all the realm of hope, anyway: I hope that my fellow Mormons choose not to follow fundamentalist creedal Christian examples in viewing scientific discovery and knowledge as opposing religious faith absent inferences and arguments that force such a conclusion.

    Pressing forward unencumbered by the unnecessary theories of Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency is liberating in that sense. Add to that the freedom contained in the properly understood Gospel of Jesus Christ, in which we believe that many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God are yet to be revealed, and our worldview can accommodate such further revelation. Underlying all this is the notion, which I think the Restoration of the Gospel provides room for, that the knowledge available to us through science and the scientific process (not necessarily the politicized inferences and conclusions sometimes drawn from such data) and the doctrinal truths available to us through the Restored Gospel (including, e.g. a glimpse into the purpose of life and existence through understanding something about God’s work and glory) can and should be comfortably circumscribed into one great whole. Along the way we might even get the sense that the world around us and religious truths might not be both consistent and complete at the same time according to our manner of perceiving things during this life. Or maybe someone will be able to construct such a system for viewing the expanse of human scientific knowledge and revealed truth in such a way. In either case, participation in the culture wars seems wholly unnecessary for Latter-day Saints whose way of looking at the Bible does not obligate us to see any scientific data as necessarily conflicting with religious faith.

  43. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Mormons actually got on near the ground floor as far as creationism as a scientific hypothesis is concerned. The idea was largely a 20th-century invention, led by Seventh-Day Adventists but picked up by Mormon leaders directly from the source and largely before the kind of fundamentalists one might consider calling “creedal” became really involved with “creation science.” A good source on this is Ronald Numbers’s book, The Creationists.

  44. Great post, John.

    “Year by year we seem to see more Mormons joining fundamentalist creedal Christians in their assumptions on these issues”

    Is this really true? I ask because I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I fear this is true, but I wonder if what I’m perceiving really is greater numbers of Mormons joining in, or just a greater sensitivity/intolerance of this nonsense on my own part. So I’m genuinely curious.


  45. Well, I hope it’s not true. Maybe it’s not! That would be great.

  46. re: 30
    That’s exactly what I meant. Thanks for making me coherent, J.

    I don’t think most outsiders would view it as an apples to grapefruit comparison. I see a lot of similarity between the arguments advanced by FAIR et. al. and those made by evangelicals like Josh McDowell (“Evidence That Demands A Verdict”).

    Is there that much difference between defending the Pentateuch and BoM as the stories of real people who actually existed in history? Outside the echo-chamber of one’s own faith community (be it LDS or Evangelical), it sure looks similar.

    The Jewish community has dealt with this stuff much longer. I don’t see even conservative, religious Jews (and I know plenty!) terribly bothered by the knowledge that the Exodus as traditionally understood didn’t happen in history. Grant Palmer is ahead of his time, not pointing down a dead-end road imo.

  47. Cynthia L. says:

    Spectacular piece of writing, John F.

  48. Mike, if someone named Nephi really existed then Grant Palmer is just plain wrong. This isn’t about science vs. faith. It’s about not rolling over at arguments that claim your religion’s founder was a fraud and giving reasons why the case of person who is making the claim is not as straightforward or cut and dried as they are making it seem.

  49. Damn. Very well put.

  50. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    John, let’s differentiate between arguing against someone and defining them out of the community. I think it’s clearly fair game to argue against Palmer, but not to call him non- or anti-Mormon. Debate among different points of view is pretty much what you’re calling for and what Mike seems to be calling for regarding the Book of Mormon. Debates in which one side is inherently ruled out of the community are what you’re both arguing against. Nobody’s saying there shouldn’t be a debate, but simply that the debate ought to involve recognition that both sides are Mormons.

  51. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Also, if God really did create the world 7000 years or so ago, Darwin is just plain wrong…. For whatever the Nephi/Palmer point is worth…

  52. Yes, john f., and Joseph Fielding Smith can just eat his own nonsense.

  53. Our faith does not require us to believe that God created the earth 6,000 or 7,000 years ago — and neither does the Bible itself. Of course, fundamentalist creedal Christians will point to this among other things as evidence that our faith is wrong. Anyone with the desire to argue that the Mormon faith is wrong can hang that argument on infinite hooks. I don’t see any of this as relating to Mormons not having to view the data produced by correct application of the scientific method as inherently hostile to our faith, even if we do argue in defense of our faith when someone takes a competing religious claim or makes inferences from scientific data to subvert our faith. One can argue against a critic’s interpretive inferences without becoming an enemy of science or feeling threatened by the exponential advances in scientific discovery and progress that we are constantly experiencing thanks to humanity’s innate drive to explore and discover more about the world and universe (when that desire is not actively suppressed by unnecessary religious inferences).

  54. re # 52, is there something by Joseph Fielding Smith that’s been canonized referring to some kind of scientific data or knowledge being hostile to our faith or inherently in conflict with scripture unencumbered with creedal Christian interpretive assumptions?

  55. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    John, we’ve reached conversational divergence… Too bad.

  56. hear, hear John. Mike and JNS, the church seems to be backing away from insisting on a belief in BoM historicity in any case, so I think the comparison doesn’t really go anywhere.

  57. john f.,
    Let me put the problem another way since I am not being entirely clear in my argument that Mormonism is not some complete abberation from all other Christianity.
    Are there, in your view, any specific aspects of Mormonism which can resolve the conflict between “science” (here, you mean evolution in particular) and “faith” that are NOT the same as those adopted by Christians who are not fundamentalists? That is, is there something distinctive about Mormonism that offers a solution here that other Christians who are not fundamentalists don’t have access too? Again, keeping in mind that other Christians are much more likely than Mormons to accept evolution, what tools do we have for answering this issue that are not identical to other believers (e.g., rejection of a certain kind of literalism?)

  58. here, you mean evolution in particular — this isn’t true.

    keeping in mind that other Christians are much more likely than Mormons to accept evolution

    I think the point of this post was to talk such Mormons down off of the ledge, but I’ll have to double check the original post to make sure.

    As for other Christians, I think that the original post is pretty careful in always describing the creedal Christians at issue as “fundamentalists” — I might have missed one or two but that was the gist.

    Are there, in your view, any specific aspects of Mormonism which can resolve the conflict between “science” (here, you mean evolution in particular) and “faith” that are NOT the same as those adopted by Christians who are not fundamentalists?

    I think that Mormons’ doctrinal freedom from theories such as creation ex nihilo, biblical inerrancy and sufficiency, closed canon etc. offer a lot of potential for avoiding run-ins with scientific data as hostile to religious faith. Mormons’ expanded beliefs about pre-existence, circumscribing all truth into one great whole, further revelations etc. all contribute perhaps to a more flexible interface with knowledge obtained by science, or at least they should have that affect, in my view. Of course, all of this depends on how you look at things and as you’ve pointed out, most Mormons that were surveyed apparently rejected evolution as somehow incompatible with their religious faith.

    A first step would be to move away from the fundamentalist creedal Christian position and simply join mainstream high-church creedal Christians in seeing many areas of potential harmony between science and faith, or at least areas where the relationship is not well understood, rather than hostile. A further step would be for us to be Mormons and circumscribe all knowledge derived from science and all truth stemming from revelations from God in ancient times and in our own time into one great whole, as we are instructed to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.

  59. re # 54, you misread me. We agree.

    After all, Joseph Fielding Smith was the Prophet, Seer and Revelator all of, what, some 4o years ago. Out with the Old and in with the New.

    Well, at least until the New have something new to say on the topic.

  60. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    John C., maybe that’s true — but I don’t really see evidence of it. We can hope, etc.

  61. OK, john k. What about Ether 1:31-34ish. How does one reconcile evolution with the Tower of Babel as reported in the Book of Mormon (so not biblical literalism we’re talking here)–i.e., the Tower of Babel existed, Jared and his brother were there, their languages were not confounded.

    I think this, at the very least, is why so many Mormons accept a young earth. ‘Cause they paid attention in Seminary. Specifically many, if not all, of my family members disagree with you as to Evolution. I’d like some hints, actually, other than your suggestion that it’s not necessary to believe in a 6000 year old earth.

    Mormons I know are much more likely to believe that humans appearied roughly 6000 years ago. I notice that Adam-ondi-ahman is included on this site’s 10 most important LDS historical sites. https://bycommonconsent.com/2006/06/18/top-10-church-history-sites/

  62. Agnes, there are a dozen posts on this website that are responsive to your comment # 61. If objecting to evolution floats your boat, there’s an Armada waiting for you. Have fun.

  63. I wouldn’t care so much (maybe) but in my family this reads “Evolution is wrong, therefore Science is a poor way to discover the truth, therefore I don’t have to vaccinate my kids. Therefore #2 I can give them a crappy education at home that includes minimal science–because, you know, they’ll be horribly maimed by the secular (read evil) education they would be exposed to in Lehi, Utah. Therefore #3 those poor kids start adulthood rather more than a few steps behind.

  64. And a subset of said family members were just at Adam-ondi-ahman. So, honestly, what arguments can I give them that they won’t immediately discredit as being anti-mormon? Honestly. Honestly? The above post is beautiful, but relies heavily on creedal christianity and also talks pretty much entirely in generalities. Or are you telling me its hopeless? I think the point of the post is that it is not, in spite of the Pew evidence otherwise.

  65. Despite my snarky response to you in # 62 (for which I apologize), my heart goes out to you agnes — it sounds truly awful what your family is doing and I really wonder how Mormons come to this point considering the beauty and openness of our doctrine. It is meant to liberate us to accept all truth, wherever found, and not shackle us down in such a manner, shutting us off from various forms of knowledge.

  66. OK, I’ll use google to look up the other posts, but then what’s the point of this one? I really wish “They teach it at BYU” worked. It really should. I’m changing my mind, the idea here that anti-evolutionary thought is being driven by evangelicals may just be the nudge that my relatives need. I’ll try it.

  67. Booyah!

  68. This is a great post, but the last paragraph reminds me a lot of the parody of the ship-freedom metaphor on the first page of Jon Stewart’s book America:

    “In this chapter we will briefly explore the evolution of an idea, following the H.M.S. Democracy on her dangerous voyage through the mists of time, past the Straits of Monarchy, surviving Hurricane Theocracy, then navigating around the Cape of Good Feudal System to arrive, battered but safe, at her destined port-of-call: Americatown.”

  69. agnes,
    I think ultimately john’s argument should be enough. Boiled down, it’s, There’s nothing in Mormonism that requires hostility to science (including to evolution). Moreover, we have a unique (AFAIK) mandate to recognize that scientific truth is part of Truth.

    It’s worth noting, as regards the Brother of Jared, et al., that even accepting the historicity of the Book of Mormon, we’re under no obligation to accept its assertions at face value. That is, presumably the Nephites believed in creation in much the same way others in Jerusalem in 600 BC believed in it. As such, those beliefs would undoubtedly have marked their worldview and left their mark on the Nephites’ reporting of history. But they certainly could have been wrong and, as premodern writers of history, their historical record certainly wouldn’t pass the muster under today’s standards of what constitutes accurate history.

  70. Michael Dundee says:

    Agnes, the tower of babel happened relatively recently in history. There is nothing about the tower that would preclude a hundred million years of evolution to get there.

  71. Sam B your comment is well-meaning, but it would be thought of as heresy by my family. At least by the older members. Do you say that in a church- or church-like setting? Because that would be awesome.

  72. Andy, that’s great stuff.

  73. Agnes, it’s fine to say stuff like Sam’s comment in Church. Plenty of people do. Can’t account for your family, but in my experience most members are open to discussions like these.

  74. thank you Sam B, I’m tentatively using your argument (I wonk mention the problems I fear, perhaps they won’t materialize).

  75. I won’t mention. I am a wonk.

  76. An aside–my (extremely extremely large) family totally sees loyalty to the Mormon Church as requiring shutting out all forms of knowledge (pretty much) that don’t appear at Deseret Books. An aunt has even accused Deseret News (twice!) of being anti-Mormon. So, please, all you Sams and Steves and John F’s out there, talk in church, openly, about how Mormonisn “is meant to liberate us to accept all truth, wherever found, and not shackle us down in such a manner, shutting us off from various forms of knowledge.”

    Thanks, all.

  77. “The doctrines of the Restored Gospel are what should govern our worldview as Mormons, not the convoluted inferences drawn by fundamentalist creedal Christians from their Bibolatry”

    # 28 MikeinWeHo makes an excellent point. How is the above statement any different than the position of creedal Christians in regard to science?

    I think it is quite reasonable to say we have our own convoluted inferences about science, in particular Meso-American history and archaeology.

    If our doctrines of the restored gospel should govern our worldview as you have suggested, then actually we are doing the same thing as the creedal Christians. We are interpreting scientific through the lens of our faith.

  78. John,

    I appreciate your post. I myself an agnostic or could care less about evolution. Certainly there is no reason to believe in LDS doctrine that the earth is 7K years old. I am of the view that HF thru Christ created the earth and could have possibly used evolution in that process.

    Where you and I part ways is that I really think that its of a long term benefit to the church to have so many members with firm beliefs about the creation similar if not more firm then I have. I think it gives our faith some strength and energy that the creedal christians in the mainstream denominations simply lack as they fade into obscurity.

    The Pew study as far as I can tell was not aimed specifically at Mormons who have a more nuanced view on creation then the typical fundamentalist. The survey questions did not pick up on the nuance in LDS beliefs.

  79. agnes,
    If you really want to have fund, Pres. Eyring’s dad has written a couple books that are very sympathetic toward/embracing of evolution. One, “Reflections of a Scientist,” was published by Deseret Book. It’s out of print, but you can get it used on Amazon, among other places. He makes strong, but accessible, arguments along the lines of what john f. has said. To the extent you don’t want to buy the book, there are some excerpts here. Mormonism has a long history of permitting belief in science.

  80. (if you really want to have “fun,” not “fund”)

  81. re # 77, I agree that Mormons will ultimately interpret scientific knowledge and data through the lens of our faith. My hope is that this lens lets the data through to enrich our minds and lives without our seeing it as a threat to our faith. My sense is that the premises underlying our faith are more compatible with ever-expanding knowledge available through constant scientific discovery through the scientific process. However, what agnes is describing above in her extended family is very unfortunate and tragic, actually, given that Mormonism is supposed to liberate us spiritually, intellectually, eternally and not shackle us even further in our understanding of existence and the world.

    Nothing in this post implies, however, that we Mormons cannot or should not be arguing against atheistic scientists who present interpretive inferences from the data to force conclusions about the non-existence of God. Embracing the scientific process and the data and discoveries resulting from that process in no way means accepting questionable inferences (that are not necessary) that are meant to undermine our belief in the existence of God and his involvement with us as his children.

    As I mentioned to a friend, it almost seems that the scientists who are doing that also need to rely on the same fundamentalist creedal Christian premises as the fundamental creedal Christians themselves in order to construct their arguments that evolution proves anything about the existence of God or religious faith. Absent fundamentalist creedal Christian assumptions, premises and inferences from the Bible, the atheistic scientists wouldn’t necessarily have an object of argument in saying “Look, the data and record contradict what you claim the Bible says infallibly about the creation of the world”.

    Since we as Latter-day Saints should not see ourselves as obliged to incorporate such unnecessary and actually harmful premises as Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency (which is the basis for a belief in young earth creationism, for example) into the foundation of our faith, we do not need to see our belief in the existence of God as in any way implicated by the inferences that atheistic scientists draw from data on evolution or other scientific issues.

    There is a lot we don’t know about how God created the world. Scientists of all religious persuasions (and atheists) and fundamentalist creedal Christians alike (and Mormons, for that matter) are all likely going to be very surprised to find out the true method/approach/process should that ever be revealed to us, whether in this life or in the hereafter. Given our starting premises as Mormons, to the extent we have not abandoned them for fundamentalist creedal Christian look-alike premises, I believe we’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure if fundamentalist Christians and atheistic scientists are going to be pleasantly surprised; my sense is that given their entrenchment and starting principles, there might be some incredulity and perhaps even some disappointment.

  82. Bibolatry is my new favorite word.
    And “Reflections of a Scientist” is excellent. I wish DB would have republished it instead of putting out the watered-down “Mormon Scientist.” Eyring goes into quite a bit of detail in “Reflections” about how we know dating techniques are accurate–and therefore, the earth is very very old.

  83. John F.

    I share in your hope although I am not as optimistic. The prevailing attitude within the church in regard to science is that science is compatible with our faith so long as it complements our faith.

    Evolution is a great example. It really doesn’t represent any kind of threat to our doctrine or scriptures so sure we’ll take it. Other scientific evidence doesn’t sit so well with our beliefs.

    I agree that we as Latter-day Saints should not incorporate premises like Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency in the application of science to our world view.

    I would just add that we should be extra careful that we do not also incorporate an attitude of inerrancy or sufficiency to the Book of Mormon, to LDS doctrine, or to modern-day prophets as we examine important scientific discoveries of our time.

  84. HLS,
    I’m far more optimistic–in my experience, most Mormons just need permission to believe in science. That is, they need to see active, believing members who aren’t conflicted by, and don’t see a problem with, evolution. Or big bang. Or whatever. I suspect that most Mormons who aren’t willing to get with the evolution train believe that it is incompatible with Mormonism, but beyond that, don’t think much about it. When they see others who don’t see a problem, often they come along. Of course, as always, that’s my subjective experience and YMMV.

  85. re # 81, do you consider it very “unfortunate and tragic” for the family of recent Prophets (i.e. Joseph Fielding Smith) to still foolishly cling by the butts of their finger nails to recent prophetic teachings? You are telling many families in this church that their prophetic ancestors, and recent ones at that, spoke with authority but without knowledge.

    Your arrogance is unfortunate and tragic.

  86. This is all great stuff, guys, please talk about it in church.

  87. Rupert, consider this a warning.

  88. I think the unfortunate and tragic arrogance referred to in 85 occurs when those who think that every word a prophet or general authority says is the gospel truth.
    I see certain relatives of GAs who teach religion classes and say, repeatedly, “my (relative) said x, therefore x must be true.” And I compare that to two people I’ve been friends with who’ve been related to two fairly prominent GAs, and who downplayed the relationship (and, in one case, successfully hid the close family relationship from me for quite a while), certainly never bragged about it, and were very aware that their relatives, although good people, were human (and therefore prone to make mistakes and say things that are false).

  89. Steve,

    I tremble,


  90. And agnes is 100% right when she tells us to talk about it at church (and with our extended families, etc.) Wards in places like Palo Alto or Boston or DC may already be open to this stuff already, but when a respected member in a ward in Bluffdale, Pocatello, or Atlanta speaks up and says “I accept evolution and it doesn’t threaten my faith” people may actually become more open to science.
    I didn’t accept evolution until an LDS science teacher (a Bishop in his own ward) told me that. Statements like that can make a big difference.

  91. Beautiful Post!

    I have always wondered what the R. in R. Gary stood for. Now we know. Rupert.

  92. Joseph Fielding Smith and his son-in-law, Bruce McConkie, very much embraced ideas about a “fast creation”. However, their writings on this topic were not endorsed by the First Presidency, and were contradicted by officially endorsed writings by John Widtsoe and James E. Talmage, apostles who were also PhD scientists.

    The official statements of the First Presidency on “evolution” affirm our belief in the reality of Adam and Eve as our ancestors, but specifically refuse to take a position on anything else about evolution or deduced from evolution. Basically, they say that if you can reconcile the existence of Adam and his fall with evolution, you are free to believe in and teach evolution without fear of acting contrary to LDS doctrine.

    “Evolution” means different things depending on the context. For rampant atheists like Richard Dawkins, evolution means that a completely materialist story of the history of life on earth is the only scientifically acceptable view, and that there is no need to breing God into the story. For Christian biologists like Kenneth Miller, PhD, author of a widely used college text on evolution, they believe that God acted in crearing the universe to enable evolution to bring mankind into being. Dawkins has berated Miller to his face for not believing that evolution forces atheism.

    Many religious scientists see flaws and limitations in the current neo-Darwinian synthesis that is “evolution” as taught and practiced by scientists. Some point out that the place where random mutation and natural selection works is at the level of minor changes, but that the theory fails to explain the major changes that are necessary to create original mechanisms, precisely because evolution is NOT teleological or goal-oriented. Most lay people think that evolution is driven by some force toward more complex organisms, eventuating in humans. That is the pciture most people think of when they see the classic diagram of a fish turning into a Neanderthal and then a modern man. But true evolutionary theory says that there is NO reason for intelligence to increase over time, no reason to think that the creation of humanity or even any high intelligence is a necessary result of evolution. After all, most of the species on earth are insects, and are the same as they were millions of years ago.

    Critics of the way evolution is taught today, like microbiologist Michael Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box”) point out that most scientists, even biologists, don’t really work out a creible Darwinian evolutionary path (with imperceptibly small mutations accumulating into a new mechanism) for the organisms they study; rather, evolution is invoked in exactly the same way that God used to be invoked by naturalists two hundred years ago, as the ultimate explanation, without any real explication.

    The biggest elephant in the room of evolution is the problem of how living cells came into being. we understand through geneitcs and DNA how evolution of a cell can take place. However, evolution is only a theory that takes us from one mutatable living cell to another. It cannot, by definition, say anything about the transition from inanimate matter to a living cell, since inanimate matter has no DNA, no proteins, no mechanism for reproduction. And there is NO accepted theory of life’s origin, period. This is the problem that Dwakins and other atheists want us to ignore. There is simply NO theory to explain the first living cell, and evolution is by definition NOT such a theory.

    The living cell, with a complete mechanism for living and reproducing itself, PLUS a complete computer program describing all of those parts and functions and how to construct them, is something much more complex than any human made mechanism. The probability that the mechanism and the instructions came together by random concatenation of inanimate matter is so low that it should make any reasonable person suspicious.

    It is easy to believe in the creation of life and the evolution of life. They are two separate things. This does not require any special theological training to understand. It is a simple scientific fact.

    The difficulty of reconciling creation and evolution stems principally from the elaborate “young earth creationist” notions that are contradicted by every scientific discipline–physics and cosmology, astronomy, chemistry, geology, paleontology, and biology–and don’t even offer a sensible interpretation of Genesis. The other element is the insistence by materialists that we accept, on faith, that the only causes for life are those things we know in our everyday experience. Dawkins does not like to talk about the idea of some scientists that living cells were “seeded” through space from some other world, or that it could have been intentionally planted on earth by a visitor, who had ten billion years or so to achieve the ability to drop in on the earth 4.3 billion years ago. If you really accept the age of the universae, you have to admit that there is a lot of time and space for advanced intelligences to have been mucking around on earth back in the beginning of our own planet. We are such a young species, that we have no right to limit the capabilities of intelligence races a billion years older than we are.

    And the there are the suspicious coincidences in the 30 or so “random” physical constants of the universe, which, if they were changed by 10%, would make life impossible. some scientists try to avoif the implications of this universe designed for humanity by positing an infinite “multiverse”, but that means that in one of the universes, an advanced intelligence indistinguishable from god would exist–and that might be OUR universe.

    There is just no avoiding the fact that modern science gives us positive and specific reasons to believe that our world and its life came into being through the action of an intelligent agent. This is not a “God of the gaps”, based on ignorance and inability to explain. It is the same reasoning that leads forensic scientists to conclude that the evidenceat the scene of a death shows the cause was an intentional act and not a random occurence. It is the same logic that leads archeologists to conclude that an item was a man-made tool and not a random rock. It is the same logic that leads us to know that, when two Boeing 757 jets hit the two World Trade Center towers within a few minutes of each other, it was the result of a plan, not a random accident. The most likely cause of highly unusual events, as we well know from our own experience, is intentional action.

    Besides, in the last 10 years scientists have discovered that 80% of the universe is an otherwise unknown Dark Energy, that is accelerating the expansion of the universe, and most of the remainder is an unknown Dark Matter. They have no idea what this stuff is, but it is the vast majority of reality. True science requires admitting that mankind really has no idea about the boundaries of knowledge and reality, no right to claim that what we don’t understand cannot exist, because, manifestly, it does.

  93. re # 92, Mr. Raymond Takashi Swenson, succinctly, if not succulently, versed.

  94. Steve Evans says:

    Holy hell that’s a long comment.

  95. Steve,

    re comment # 94,

    Steve, i’m beginning to like you more,

    or at least, not to dislike you so much,


  96. Ron Madson says:

    John F.
    Brilliant post! Thank you. In 1966 (when I was just eleven) my Sunday School teacher (Walter Pyper) gave me “Joseph Smith as a Scientist” by Widstoe. From childhood I remember my father telling me that in Mormonism I do not have not believe in anything that is not true and that Mormonism embraces all truth, ie, “we believe all things” or, in other words, we assimilate all truth–that is what I thought was our only creed. That is the Mormonism that I love to the core and which I embrace with faith. It also has been a source of pain and angst in some of my relationships with the church(some of which I accept responsibility). Nevertheless, it is the John F’s that allow me to once again believe that one can dive into Mormonism and never bump our head…thank you

  97. Steve Evans says:

    baby steps, Rupert!

  98. I’ll say holy hell, that is an awesome comment by RTS! Excellent explanation.

  99. Wes Brown says:

    This was the first time I have considered ‘Latter-Day Saint’ as a progressive term. I have found the default position of many Mormons to be in step with ultra conservative pundits and include an almost disdainful attitude toward science. This observation comes from casual conversation and seeing distrust of lessons that have not been through correlation. #93 cites dark matter as a suggestion for a god at the end his post. This god-of-the-gaps argument is not a legit case for anything except for the persistence of science where religion has provided no (or false) answers. Let us not forget that there have been many previous god-of-the-gap ideas that have been proved false by science only to have religions scrambling for excuses.
    I think this post could be continued to address persistent belief is a literal bible. Do you believe the flood happen as stated in the bible? Why or why not? Would your conviction change with advanced discoveries? Would an apostolic declaration outweigh scientific evidence? I would love to see this conversation continue in many areas. And, as members of a truly Latter-Day church, I would think it appropriate as well.

  100. crawls of a rhinoceros, barely and only, Steve

  101. Excellent information Raymond.

    Apparently too much substance for Steve or Rupert. Try and sprinkle in some dogma or a general authority quote next time and that should help them.

  102. Steve Evans says:

    HLS, perhaps you have me confused for someone else. I’m the Steve who’s the admin around here — you know, the one who happily bans people he doesn’t like. So shut it.

  103. Thanks much to JohnF and others who have made comments above. I completely agree that it is a serious mistake to embrace the creationism of (mostly) evangelical denominations. This completely surrenders Mormonism’s #1 advantage in this arena, namely that we see God as not utterly beyond law and the natural universe, but instead as acting in accord with natural law and the natural universe. This great idea, which can be seen in numerous writings of early LDS leaders, renders the “war” between science and religion completely unnecessary.

    By the way, some of you may be interested in a new website that I have constructed, which deals with science and religion issues in general, and also has a section with material of interest to LDS readers. The URL is:


  104. Does this mean I am on probation? I didn’t know you could get excommunicated from the bloggernacle.

    I like Jon Stewart style humor, but if that is not to your taste I will “shut it” as you so kindly put it.

  105. Question: If one believes in the literal bible but also thinks rationally, how would one explain the story of Noah’s Ark?

    In seminary I was told that the bible provided measurements (from Noah’s time) of how big Noah’s ark was. The seminary teacher told us that through revelation it is known that the size of Noah’s Ark was about the length of a football field. On LDS.org it says the ark was “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high”.

    Think of the 10-100 millions of species on Earth (even “EVERY [non-evolutionized] thing that creepeth upon the earth”) that would have to fit in such a small space. Now multiply that number by 2 (male and female). I find no logical way all of these animals could have fit into an ark of any size (unless Noah had Mary Poppin powers and could makes things small and fit into a purse).

    Let’s say Noah could fit all of the Earth’s animals onto his ark. Admittingly, it would have to be very crammed. Now, most animals eat many times their body weight over a 40 day period. So now Noah has to make room for who knows how much food supply. Again, my logic confuses me.

    My last “stinky” predicament with this story is….IF all these animals were on board (with plenty of food), there certainly couldn’t have been much room…. Where did all their pee and poo go?????

    I guess we’ll never know in this life, but I do know I wouldn’t have wanted to be on that ark. I think I would have rather drowned.

    Gospel Art Picture Kit Picture of Noah’s Ark

  106. Good question SJT. It is hard to find a reasonable answer to the most basic questions like the ones you have asked.

    That would be really interesting research to investigate the amount of food that would need to be stored and how much space it would take up in the Ark.

    Imagine the logistics of that task for Noah. Were all the animals and their food taken from his location only? Or did he somehow gather all the animals and foods from other climates as well? How would you assemble all these species from forests, deserts, rain forests, etc. and the food they eat into one place?

  107. A Far Side cartoon showed his typical round shaped boy behind a table holding some scientific equipment. An explosion had just occurred. The boys face was charred, hair blown back, his eyes wide in surprise, and feathers were in the air.

    The caption said something to the effect, “God, as a boy, fails in his first attempt to invent the chicken.”

    I found some truth in that.

  108. Raymond, thank you very much for that comment # 92.

    re # 105, haven’t you seen The Day the Earth Stood Still?

  109. Those wondering about Noah’s ark should see this post:
    The science of biogeography (among other things) has made the traditional understanding of the ark look pretty ridiculous–but much of that fades when we stop practicing bibolatry and realize that those writing the Bible wrote from their own perspective.
    Certainly, believing that kangaroos were on the ark and that the entire globe was deeply covered with water is a form of bibolatry.

  110. Just a quick comment. “Bibolatry” is not a word. The word is bibliolatry.

  111. Thanks.

  112. Thanks. Original post updated.

  113. Bibliolatry can be applied to any book, but bibolatry (not a real word, I realize) refers to only the Bible. I personally think it’s a great word, and will incorporate it into my personal vocabulary.

  114. The scientific view of resurrection has got to be pretty darn shaky… it’s not like we can just throw away any religious concept or story because the science makes it look shaky. I’m not saying throw out the science either, or assume every biblical word is literally true, translation was impeccable or that prophets are perfect… I’m also not saying the story of Noah gets the same pass from me as the resurrection or the fall.

    It’s just that because I believe in the miracle of resurrection I’m more likely to err on the side of Noah as told in the Bible as opposed to science approved localized flooding. I’m also more likely to have my faith centered on the resurrection with a much more open mind when it comes to Noah.

    I think all the animals were in a coma-like state. No eating, no messes. Even if it was localized flooding and 10 animals it sounds awful.

  115. MikeinWeHo:

    All this talk of Grant Palmer being a harbinger of what is to come has me puzzled. Mainly because his book was nearly wholly derivative anyway, and the bit that wasn’t (regarding the Golden Pot) was simply unfounded. So I am unclear on why he is deserving of any sort of special place among those who preach a disbelief in the historicity of the BoM.

    The claims of the origin and development of the BoM and the Pentateuch are different, so the comparison falls flat there as well.

  116. Great post, John!

    I was fortunate to have grown up with a father who is an engineer and an active member of the Church, with a sound understanding of science and the Restored Gospel. Although I did not follow in my father’s footsteps, I am comfortable to follow his lead as it relates to both science and the Restored Gospel.

  117. BHodges,

    Palmer has said that he was not trying to use the Golden Pot as another Spalding theory or View of the Hebrews theory. So he wasn’t trying to say the Book of Mormon was based on that story.

    He explained he was trying to demonstrate the common themes in literature, religion, and pop culture during Joseph Smith’s time. He was able to see those themes interwoven in the Book of Mormon. He used the Golden Pot story as an example.

  118. Sure, a horrible and unrelated example. :)

  119. Joseph Smith and the Pearl of Great Price show us that, in the pre-mortal existence, Intelligences existed in a graded plane. There were bright ones, and presumeably dull ones, and ones in-between. This in my mind supports the idea that humanity could have gradually come into existence, and it gives place to a greater range of Intelligence. The natural question of “When did a ‘human’ spirit enter into an ape body?” need not exist. Furthermore, those who insist on a literalist interpretation of the Fall seem, to me, to have failed to divine the purpose of the Adam and Eve story. The purpose being to give us a metaphor explaining the transition between inanimate matter (that which is to be acted upon), animate matter, and free moral agents (that which acts). A kangaroo or whale cannot be taught good from evil, and probably aren’t moral agents. However, we are. Adam and Eve exercised what little choice they had through some event (I don’t know what this event is, so the metaphor of partaking of fruit must suffice) thereby signaling to God that they wished to be like Him, knowing good from evil. God then informed them that this choice would certainly cause them misery, because as soon as humanity began making choices as moral agents, He knew they would start making poor choices, and suffering therefore. Thus Christ would be necessary, and Adam immediately began the long wait for Him to appear.

    This doctrine of moral agency existed very early on in the ancient world. It was the principal teaching of Zoroaster, who may have lived and taught long before the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The question of “How and why did primates begin teaching and believing the idea that they had moral agency?” is answered through the Adam and Eve story. Many of those who study science have arrived at the conclusion that the Universe is entirely deterministic and that free will is an illusion. If so, why do we even have the illusion of free will? Why do our brains “trick” us into thinking we are making choices? This must clearly be an error in our thinking. But the Adam and Eve story teaches us that it is not an illusion, that our agency was a choice given to our forefathers.

    To me, all this has been obvious, even since youth, and I credit my mother and father for this. All Christ did was teach with metaphors. So those fighting tooth and nail for a literalist interpretation (and I grew up in the Bible Belt) left me scratching my head. Christ spent His whole life teaching us how to understand metaphors through the Spirit, but He wants us to switch it off when it comes to the Old Testament?

  120. I agree completely, it is unrelated to the Book of Mormon as a literal comparison. But that is not his point. His point is again, that these kinds of themes – magic, buried treasure, second sight, etc. – were common in that area during that time, especially within his own family.

  121. The themes are twisted from context in his reference to both the BoM and the Golden Pot, however, and he isn’t making so simple a comparison, he is hinting pure dependence and natural, that is, environmental origin. This overlooks the BoM in any ancient context or the complexities of translation itself. It is little more than a directionless, boundless parallelomania in that sense, and not a very good one at that.

  122. Arthur H,

    “Joseph Smith and the Pearl of Great Price show us that, in the pre-mortal existence, Intelligences existed in a graded plane. There were bright ones, and presumeably dull ones, and ones in-between. ”

    I do not see any evidence for this in the Pearl of GP. Where does Joseph Smith teach this. I think that some might infer this based on the idea of there “being noble and great ones.” But I do not think this is the case.

  123. Wes Brown says:

    It would seem to me that all people treat certain passages in any ancient scripture with their own discernment. I think it would be fair to state that we put stories into literal or figurative catagories without too much thought. This inconsistant epistemology may contribute to the disregard for science, since science is not locked into a certain position, but into a method.

  124. Steve Evans says:

    Chris H., I think Abraham 3 does convey the message Arthur describes. See, e.g., Abr. 3:19. Whether or not this leads you to Arthur’s conclusions is a different point, but I think Arthur’s reading is at least plausible.

  125. Steve,
    I read Abraham 3:19 as more of a discussion of individual variation than some sort of notion of graded intelligences. But to each their own, I suppose.

  126. I also think that verse is meant to emphasize the greatness of the Lord God and not so much the variation of brightness.

    I am working with the concept in my larger project. More later.

    Either way, I was one of the “dull ones.”

  127. Steve Evans says:

    John, quite right, as do I; my point is simply to defend Arthur’s reading as a possible one.

  128. I agree that is a possible one and a commonly held one.

  129. To me, “noble and great” implies that there were intelligences that were not noble and great. Joseph Smith taught that, “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest [of the intelligences] could have a privilege to advance like himself.” So we have at least three “categories” so far, the intelligence that God possessed, those who were “noble and great,” and those who were not “noble and great.” Throw in Christ, who was “pre-eminent” among all God’s spirit children. Throw in also the fact that it seems LDS teachings tell us that the Earth and its flora and fauna also have some sort of spirit, and it seems to me that what we have is a graded scale of spirit or intelligence.

    I’m not necessarily saying “better” or “worse,” as Christ taught that if you’re faithful with fewer talents you receive your reward the same as someone with greater. I’m also not endorsing some sort of doctrine that certain races or people are inferior to others. Perhaps “graded” isn’t the best way of putting it lest we start saying that our position in this Earth (or race, or country) is inherently privileged.

    I’m also not saying that I know I’m right. I just think it’s, as Steve said, a plausible interpretation. I’m open to alternate ones.

  130. “Perhaps “graded” isn’t the best way of putting it lest we start saying that our position in this Earth (or race, or country) is inherently privileged”

    This implication is part of what makes me nervous about the whole topic. That is clearly not your intent. Thank you for your clarification.

    My hunch (not even a theory or argument at this point)about the noble and great ones is that the noble and great ones seen by Abraham were not so much the noble and great ones in the preexistence, but instead they are the ones considered to be the noble and great one in history. Hence, they get mention because these greats of history were there and not so much because they were of a special classification at the council itself.

    Something like that.

  131. Britt, what would the scientific evidence supporting resurrection look like? The difference between creationism and resurrection is that the scientific evidence contradicts creationism, whereas death (the science) and resurrection are not necessarily mutally exclusive.

    As for Noah, when you say you “err on the side of Noah as told in the Bible” you are making assumptions about what the Bible says, not least that the original authors intended the story of Noah to be read literally. What evidence do you have that that was their intention?

  132. #130. Yeah, I completely understand. I don’t want people to think I’m moving backwards to “fence-sitters” doctrines. I guess my point has a lot more to do with the difference between agency and matter. Satan seems to even be attacking our agency these days, through incompatibilist determinism and other un-ennobling philosophies. I see the Adam and Eve story as a metaphor for the answer.

  133. re 130, Chris, I like that approach and brought it up recently in a discussion with Ronan and a few others about Abraham 3. I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts on the issue once you’ve worked through your theory.

  134. john f, I need to finish a paper related to it by mid-February, so I hope to get something up at FPR soon. Thanks.

  135. I enjoyed your thoughts, John, thanks for this post. I think we should also nuance the science side of things (not that you wouldn’t). That is to say, LDS should avoid a fundamentalist mindset in general, which includes scientific fundamentalism. We do not believe science is an untainted fount of wisdom and progress, and horrible things have resulted from and can yet result from various scientific endeavors.

  136. Thanks for the impassioned plea of this OP and the resulting comments. I’ve posted my own thoughts on this over at Feast Upon the Word. In short, I think Latter-day revelation and revealed temple ordinances provide the key for seeing how the scriptures and scientific truths complement each other here. I agree we should all be (temple going) Mormons!

  137. Yes BHodges, I agree on your point about parallel mania. These kinds of comparisons when used to look at the content of the Book of Mormon fall flat on their face.

    I do however see validity in the theory that Joseph Smith had a remarkable ability to assimilate popular ideas of his time into his writing.

  138. SJT said:

    In seminary I was told that the bible provided measurements (from Noah’s time) of how big Noah’s ark was. The seminary teacher told us that through revelation it is known that the size of Noah’s Ark was about the length of a football field. On LDS.org it says the ark was “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high”.

    I know a few people online who make a whole lot of the flood story as a reason why the Church is too fundy, or whatever rhetorical point they try to make that indicates LDS are somehow required to believe in a literal global flood. I think this provides a good opportunity to reflect on gospel teaching. What is is about the flood lesson that makes so many folks remember it so darn well, especially considering my own life, when I can only vaguely remember discussing it a few times?

  139. HLS:”Popular Idea of his time” seems a completely subjective area for comparison in this case, though. Have you ever been reading an old book and thought to yourself, “my goodness, this could have been written yesterday!” I certainly have. The Christianity of the BoM assures that it will resonate with much of 19th century American culture. But not all. And how do such examples compare with “popular ideas” of Israel circa 600 BC, etc.

  140. I also note that the BoM itself is a translation, and as such, we would expect it to use words and phrases that would make sense to the translator and/or intended audience. And Sam hit it on the head when he pointed out that believing in BoM historicity does not require reading the BoM as though it followed current (or actually slightly outdated) notions of historical inquiry.

  141. No I haven’t but maybe you could share an example?

    The popular ideas of Israel in 600 BC would be nearly impossible to determine by historical methods.

  142. “The popular ideas of Israel in 600 BC would be nearly impossible to determine by historical methods.”

    According to? Also, what is your rubric for assessing early 19th century “popular ideas”? So as not to further derail the thread if you want to continue the discussion feel free to email me at lifeongoldplates at yahoo.com.

  143. The translation theories are a common response to problems with historicity of the Book of Mormon. Honestly, and I am saying this respectfully, they seem about as credible as the parallel mania theories. You could call it apologetic mania.

  144. Re: # 142. According to the simple fact that we have very little source documents from 600 BC compared to the amount of source documents we have from Joseph Smith’s time period.

    Apologies to BCC for taking the thread off topic, I may take you up on the offer to discuss by email.

  145. We will have to respectfully disagree. For one, translation theories can play an “apologetic”function, but they can also represent a legitimate investigation into the nature of language, scripture and revelation. I see translation theories as crucial to discussions of parallels, textual structure, hebraisms, and other language-related things. I’m currently working on a project comparing the Russian and English translations of the BoM which has interesting implications for such a discussion. To cast off ideas with a pejorative label doesn’t cut it (and of course, I say that respectfully). :)

  146. I should clarify, I meant “they can also represent a legitimate investigation into the nature of language, scripture and revelation for their own sake.”IOW, Iwas not implying that apologetics is somehow “illegitimate,” but that questions of translation- no matter where you happened to bump into them- have important and legitimate implications beyond apologetics.

  147. Lost Sheep, you don’t sound so Happy.

  148. re # 141, have you read Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem? It’s a fun book with a good survey of things that are known culturally from that period. In terms of parallelomania, it could certainly be described as such but the parallels it highlights are a lot more fascinating and persuasive (to me) than the Golden Pot theory. Give it a read. If you expect faithful Latter-day Saints to read Palmer’s subversive writings, you could make good and read apologists’ theories and research relating to ancient parallels.

  149. Thank you for this post. As to Bishop James Ussher’s date (October 23, 4004 BC) – may we learn from the allegory rather than the literal interpretation.

  150. Bingo, john f.

  151. Kathryn, it is one of the problems with computer mediated communication, but I assure you that disagreement does not equate to unhappiness. I could embellish my comments with lots of : ) and LOL! if you like, but wouldn’t that be annoying?

    Thanks John F, I have added that book to my wishlist. I am interested in hearing all sides of the story. In fact the only non LDS source of research I have conducted so far was reading Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History.” I didn’t like it much because I found the author’s interpretation of the facts dominated the narrative.

  152. LOL! You’re right, disagreement =/= unhappiness. But why would a happy lost sheep frolic with the fold? :)

  153. I like Remini for a short, quick read on Joseph Smith.

  154. Because he is still a member on paper until he makes a decision. And because the fold are still his friends no matter what that decision will be.

  155. I thought Remini’s book was pretty lame, aside from his interesting contextualization regarding Jacksonian America and JS. I thought it would have been a better essay limited to that subject.

  156. Fair enough. I just figured you had greener pastures to graze in by now.

  157. Not quite there yet, I still have a lot of thinking to do. But the facts make it really hard to be comfortable back inside the fence.

  158. Baa-ram-ewe! To your breed, your fleece, your clan be true!

  159. It’s all about Rough Stone Rolling these days, Happy Lost Sheep. Read that next.

    I think it’s unfair to call Grant Palmer “subversive,” john f. You really need to get out more if you think there’s anything particularly radical about his perspective. There’s nobody outside of LDS circles that views the BoM as anything other than a product of the early 19th century, and there are quite a few Mormons who quietly hold a non-historical view as well (probably GAs, imo — but that’s just wild speculation). The Community of Christ has gone a lot further in acknowledging the situation, but even for them it’s a real struggle.

  160. Steve Evans says:

    Mike, if you’re LDS suddenly calling Grant Palmer subversive ain’t such a stretch.

    In any event, I think this is pretty much all a threadjack.

  161. Mike,
    That sample seems skewed, tho. If you believed it had some other origin, wouldn’t that put you somewhere in LDS circles?

  162. Thanks Mike, I recently read Rough Stone Rolling and continue to revisit it. It really is my primary source of information. I find it surprising that people come to so many different conclusions after reading it. I was quite disturbed by the facts presented there.

  163. Mike, I didn’t view it as a provocative term, only descriptive. My sense was that he was writing to subvert the Church’s own truth narrative and put forward an alternative narrative or theory (which was a compilation of alternative theories already put forward and extensively addressed and discussed by many faithful Latter-day Saints and apologists; if I remember correctly, Palmer’s work didn’t adequately take into account the considerable body of answers and responses already put forward by the faithful); in that sense, literally subversive.

    And don’t worry, I am fully aware that noone outside of Mormon circles believes in the Book of Mormon (as a historical document or otherwise); otherwise, they would probably be Mormons and therefore in the cirlce. As to GAs I am pretty sure that there aren’t any who believe Joseph was a pious fraud and therefore that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth-century religious novel. From everything I’ve seen, heard and sensed when listening to GAs, I think they probably uniformly believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Of course, many of them probably have drilled pretty deep and see the implications for the book as history considering how it was written by various prophets over hundreds of years and then compiled and heavily edited by Mormon and Moroni. But to my knowledge GAs have often stressed valuing the book for its doctrines and teachings about Jesus Christ and not for historical value, hinting that we shouldn’t be viewing it as history in the same sense as something written by a modern historian.

  164. I think it is important to clarify that one can question the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and still have respect for Joseph as a person. Acknowledging facts brought forth by reputable scholars from years of research does not mean a person considers Joseph Smith to be a pious fraud.

  165. Is there a reason I was put on comment moderation? (Happy Lost Sheep)

    I would like to continue to participate in discussions, so if I did something out of line I would appreciate some feedback.


  166. re: 160
    But isn’t Palmer still in the Church? Didn’t Elder Oaks say people who didn’t accept BoM historicity should stay in the Church anyway? I haven’t kept up. Guess I just find the term subversive rather pejorative, and I liked his book.

    So are you all saying that for faithful Latter-day Saints the historicity of the BoM is an extension of 1 Corinthians 15:14 ?? (If the BoM be not an ancient document, then our preaching is in vain…)

    Fair enough about the thread jack, Steve. My bad.

  167. On second thought, I’m not so sure this turn is a thread jack. If we’re talking about “a fundamental misunderstanding of the process by which” the scriptures of major faiths came into being, talking about LDS views of BoM historicity might be relevant indeed.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the Book of Mormon and read it almost every day. If there is such a thing as a true book, that’s it. Being outside the Church, however, gives me a lot of freedom to just look at it like I do the Bible, Koran, etc.

  168. Comparing the “historicity of the Book of Mormon” broadly with the “historicity of the Bible” broadly fundamentally ignores the nature and claimed origins of each book. For one, the Bible isn’t actually a “book” at all, it is a collection of books. Are we comparing the historicity of Job with Nephi? And if so, on what grounds? Should we dismiss the historicity of Jesus of Nazereth because we read about him in a book that also contains the book of Proverbs? Or the book of Kings (before it was split in 2)?

  169. *Nazareth, srry.

  170. Several comments have referred to the Noah narrative as another one where science and the traditional “literal” reading conflict. What follows is my own personal speculation, which I offer for your own consideration.

    I start from the perspective that, as LDS, who accept the Book of Moses as scripture, we understand Genesis Chapter 1 to actually be a summary of Moses’ vision of the creation of the earth and its immediate environs, not of the universe as a whole. Indeed, a careful reading of Genesis seems to me to be consistent with the understanding that it has a local perspective.

    I think this understanding, that Genesis has a local perspective, can also be applied to the Noah narrative.

    As LDS, we have the additional information about Noah that his ark was similar in design to the “barges” that were built by the Jaredites and used for a year long ocean crossing to the Americas. In rabbinical traditions about Noah, there are references to shining stones that were used to light the ark, another tie to the later Jaredite narrative. To me, this identification between Noah and the Jaredites suggests that Noah’s voyage was for the same reason as the Jaredites’ voyage: A journey away from a scene of destruction of a wicked nation, and toward a land of promise, where the righteous survivors could establish a new nation.

    Revelations in the Doctrine & Covenants also suggest, and statements by Brigham Young and others support, the concept that the physical location where Adam and Eve lived was in what we now call western Missouri. While that notion comes in for immediate ridicule from most people, the fact remains that if one is a believer in the actual existence of Adam and Eve, they had to live somewhere on earth. A second fact is that the prehistory of the Americas is still a subject shrouded in a cloud of ignorance, in which a single skeleton, like that of Kennewick Man found on the shores of the Columbia River in 1996, can make major changes in our perception of that prehistory.

    If we accept that Adam and his immediate descendants, including Enoch and his translated city, lived in central North America, then Noah lived there, too. Yet we know that Abraham, Noah’s descendant, lived in the Middle East. How did Noah’s line of descent get from the Americas to southwest Asia? Where is the migration narrative comparable to the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the voyage of Lehi to the Americas, or the voyage of the jaredites to the Americas?

    I submit that Noah’s voyage is a migration narrative, that fits the same pattern as the ones of Exodus, of Ether, of First Nephi: A righteous family is guided by God away from a wicked nation, which experiences destruction, and led by God to a promised land where their descendants can establish a new nation.

    While destruction was visited upon the Egypt of Moses, the Babel of Jared, and the Jerusalem of Lehi, these destructions destroyed or modified nations, they did not obliterate all people. Nevertheless, the scriptural narratives are emphatic that those nations experienced destruction due to their wickedness.

    If Noah’s narrative is part of the pattern of a righteous family departing from a wicked nation, while the wicked nation is “destroyed”, then we can see the significance of the narrative without having to inflate its importance in the geological history of the earth. Typically when the Bible or Book of Mormon narrators talk about “the whole land” or “the whole earth”, they are describing local phenomena, within the range of the narrator’s vision and observation. the message, that wicked nations are destroyed by God while righteous remnants are saved, is the message of all of these narratives, and one that is worth teaching to our own generation. God doesn’t have to wipe out all life on earth to get this message across. Indeed, the notion that every person on every continent, even those on the opposite side of the globe from Noah, was sufficiently wicked to be killed, implies a global society that is nowhere else evident in the bible.

    The Genesis description of the flood talks about all of the mountains being “covered” with water. But that is something that happens every time there is a heavy rain. The rain conitnues for some 40 days, a period that would saturate all soils and cause massive flooding as it accumulated in streams and on plains, just as the Mississippi and Missouri flood out broad areas near their banks with regularity, even in these days of flood control dams and levees. The land near rivers is also the prime location for communities, so extensive flooding would destroy farms and homes and stockpiles of food.

    After the rain stopped, Noah’s ark was on the water for most of a year, a time comparable to the voyage of the Jaredites from the “Old World” to the “New.” A flood that lifted his ark would have carried it to the ocean, where his voyage would continue until he reached his destination.

    A close reading of Genesis shows that most of the animals taken on the ark were for food, “seven of every kind”. It was less an ecological reclamation project than a survival project for Noah’s family.

    To summarize, I suggest that understanding Noah’s narrative in this way preserves its significance in teaching the need to be righteous in the midst of wickedness, and places it in a long tradition of such narratives. It reconciles the revelations about Adam-Ondi-Ahman with Genesis, and emphasizes, with Ether and First Nephi and Third Nephi, the global dominion of God, opening the horizons of scripture to encompass the earth. I think it is also an interesting way to understand the meaning of the statement in the Book of Mormon that the Americas became a promised land “after the flood”.

    Sorry for another long comment, but I think this has to be set out in detail to be understood (even if not accepted).

  171. re: 168
    I’m not making that exact comparison at all. I’m just pointing out that we can criticize “fundamentalist creedal Christians” all we want for their “convoluted inferences” (and hey, count me in on that!!!!), but there is an irony to Mormons doing this when they themselves participate in the same kind of mental gymnastics when it comes to the BoM. That’s all.

    (See, it can’t be a thread jack when you pepper it with quotes from the original post — right, Steve? : )

  172. RayTS, here’s a hint:

    When your comment is almost as long as the OP, significant editing is in order.

  173. re # 170, Mr. Raymond Takashi Swenson, succinctly, if not succulently, versed.

  174. but there is an irony to Mormons doing this when they themselves participate in the same kind of mental gymnastics when it comes to the BoM. That’s all.

    I don’t know if there is “irony”in it, maybe some hypocrisy, but again, you are still overlooking the distinctions I have made. You also seem to assume the BoM should be a history book as we understand it today rather than an ancient record. So call my approach “mental gymnastics,” but I’ll suggest you start getting more exercise. :)

  175. We’re talking past each other, BHodges, but we can meet in the mental palaestra anytime you’d like.

  176. RaymondTS: There was a talk given by John A. Widtsoe in General Conference, mentioning things like reproduction & death among the animals before the Fall. Too bad it was in that pre-1950 Conference Talks era, when the full talks were published after 1950, but after the Journal of Discourses.

    I agree with John F. about Mormons falling in ranks too much with Fundamentalist Christians about the Creation. I suspect Creation from nothing would be taught in the Church if Joseph Smith & others had not taught otherwise.

    Also, my wife, and billions of other women, have created children from the dust of the Earth, i.e. pregnancy & childbirth. A type of Creation? Something to ponder.

  177. What a great discussion. I loved the orginal post and #92. These are reasonable and intelligent ways to think about these fundamental issues. Creation, death, life, purpose of life, what is all about?–are among the great questions of human existence. And why not think about them? Dawkins-like attacks using science as a weapon against God and creationists who politicize education and the Bible in order to defeat anything new are both denying themselves and others the greatest gift of God–our ability to think, to reflect, to hope, indeed, to knowingly express faith. I think we couldn’t exercise faith without our intellect. Faith can’t exist without the possiblity of a will to act. Can a creature of instinct like a dragonfly or a lemming or a polar bear act on something more than instinct or survival? Does their intellect give them the capacity to consider other possiblities for life and then make a choice?

    Is faith only the domain of the innocent and naive? Can faith be truly exercised by the dogmatic and those who close any discussion or thought or deny the possiblity of truth?

    Thanks for this discussion–it started a chain reaction of thoughts and questions in my mind. I also wish these things could be talked about more in Sunday School as a way to further our growth as Mormons, not as members of an embattled creed in the culture wars.

  178. I have not taken the time to read all of the above comments, so please forgive me if what I am about to say is simply a rehash of previous comments.

    I applaud the attempts made by the author and many others in the Mormon community to reconcile organic evolution with Mormon theology. Sadly, I disagree that Mormons are able to “hover above the fray”, in that they are “free from the encumbrances of such a dark theology.” The oft made claims that organic evolution is consistent with Mormon theology is, while well-meaning, simply not supportable by a proper examination of both parties. Generally, when people attempt to reconcile the two (as is done above), it is done by cherry-picking particular elements of both sides and claiming a false reconciliation.

    While it is true that Mormon theology does not dictate the means by which the creation occurred. There are a few definite components that have been articulating since the dawn of the Restoration. A number of these points preclude the possibility of organic evolution being used as a tool for said creation.

    The primary problem is one that was emphasized so much by Joseph Fielding Smith, and has been taught continually before and after by modern prophets. Death did not exist before Adam’s transgression. Consider the following extremely clear scriptures.

    “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15:21)

    “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” (2 Ne. 2:22)

    It does not require more than a mere cursory understanding of evolution to know that death is an essential component. If there is no death, there is no natural selection, and no natural selection leads to no evolution. To affirm evolution is to deny the fall, which is to deny the necessity of the redemptive power of Christ’s atonement.

    Of course, there are those who attempt to reconcile this issue by a claim that the animals and so forth were brought here from a different planet where they had developed through evolution. This of course then begs the question of how the fossil record developed in the Earth’s crust in such a readable, non chaotic fashion. The only answer being that God is trying to fool people into believing in evolution, a wholly unpalatable idea for anyone who entertains the idea of a loving God.

    But, for the interest of argument, let’s accept the above idea. Another undeniable doctrine put forth by Mormon theology is that all of humanity descends from two humans, Adam and Eve, who lived roughly 6,000 years ago. All genetic mutation and racial disparity that exists in humanity somehow originated from just two individual DNA structures, a mere 6,000 years hence.

    Upon this issue, the common descent of man, there can be no doubt in Mormon theology. It is a base, core, saving doctrine. It is taught throughout the scriptures and must necessarily remain immutable because of its connection to Fall and, subsequently, the atonement.

    No matter how hard one tries, science cannot and does not agree in any way with this view of human descendancy. These two facts cannot be reconciled by any manner of intellectual/theological gymnastics. One need not hold any “creedal Christian” views to tease out incompatibilities with modern science (esp. organic evolution). The incompatibilities exist within the very nature of Mormon doctrine itself.

  179. 178:
    “I have not taken the time to read all of the above comments…”
    Yeah, your long comment made that point clear. Comment 176 mentioned a general authority talking about life living and dying before the fall–during general conference, no less. Other comments have also directly addressed points you made.
    Seriously, if you’re going to post a long comment like that, read the comments that came before. Your comment will be more relevant, and you might even learn something.

  180. Thank you Tim. Your snarky comment is much appreciated; I greatly look forward to this “learn something” of which speak (sarcasm intended). I had no interest in reading through 177 comments, comments of which very few had anything of any interest to say. After slogging through about 20-30 comments, I decided to not waste my entire afternoon, but to just post my comment.

    As for comment #176, if you want me to refer to alleged comments by general authorities that have never been printed, I would be happy to do so. But, I think I’d rather stick to actual, attributable commentary by general authorities and the scriptures.

  181. “The oldest, that is to say the earliest, rocks thus far identified in land masses reveal the fossilized remains of once living organisms, plant and animal. The coal strata, upon which the world of industry so largely depends, are essentially but highly compressed and chemically changed vegetable substance. The whole series of chalk deposits and many of our deep-sea limestones contain the skeletal remains of animals. These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.”
    James Talmage, “The Earth and Man”

    This was not only stated by a general authority, it was also published directly by the church itself.

    I have no desire to get in a “well, so and so said this” war. I’m merely showing that a belief that life live and died before Adam is compatible with the gospel.

  182. Left Field says:

    Fair enough, Michael. If it’s “actual, attributable commentary by general authorities” asserting death before the fall that you want, you may refer to the September 1987 Ensign where James E. Talmage (a general authority) is actually, attributively cited as saying that “animals. . . lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.” You may find the same attributively cited quotation (from a 9 August 1931 address in the Salt Lake Tabernacle) in the Deseret News of 21 November 1931 and the December 1965 issue of The Instructor (an official Church publication).

    Is that attributable enough for you?

  183. Left Field says:

    Tim beat me to it while I was typing.

  184. Interesting discussion. Michael Bailey’s comment #178 is the best response to what I consider John F’s unwarranted attempt to pin his gripes about Mormon views of science on fundamentalist Christianity. Given that uniquely Mormon scripture and theology provides Mormons plenty of reason to distrust the claims of science, it would have been nice if the original post had provided reason to believe Mormons have relied on Christian views at all.

    At least we can be confident that the Christian qualms about science aren’t rooted in Ether or 2 Nephi 2, pre-Columbian archeology and DNA, or the accounts of Noah from the PoGP.

    It seems to me that TT is exactly right in #57: the options available to reconcile faith and science for Mormons are the same available to Christians.

    Because prophets have compounded the divide in crucial ways (Adam and Eve are first parents, from Missouri — good luck with that, science, and good luck blaming that on Christians, John F.), there’s no reason to think prophetic authority and revelation will help.

  185. “his gripes about Mormon views of science on fundamentalist Christianity.”

    He probably should have blamed it on the Mormon tendency to cling to boneheaded right-wing ideology instead of truth. Not sure if that would have made Matt feel better, but it may have been more accurate. Of course it is this tendency that tends to lead people into thinking that they have anything in common with fundamentalist rubbish, whether it be the Mormon fundamentalism expressed by Michael Bailey or Christian fundamentalists. Both types are not worried about truth, but instead are primarily concerned about preserving irrelevant and false perspectives.

  186. In rereading Moses and Abraham this weekend, I didn’t see anything that should oblige Mormons to take a hostile stance toward the wonderful exponential advancements in science we have seen throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (However, that reread caused me to reflect on a uniquely Mormon reading of Genesis 1 and 2 in light of the Documentary Hypothesis’s E and J sources.) To the contrary, considering that such a rapid pace of scientific discovery was set after the Restoration of the Gospel and at the same time that religious truths were pouring from the heavens, it seems reasonable for a Latter-day Saint to conclude that such unparalleled advancements in scientific knowledge (including advances attributable to one of the most mechanically reliable natural processes discovered and further studied since that time — organic evolution) are included, alongside the Book of Mormon, in Moses 7’s reference to truth that was to be sent forth out of the earth in the last days.

    It is thrilling to consider that Mormonism allows us to lay claim to such knowledge as part of the package of truth to come forth in the last days. The Restored Gospel is centered on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and offers us clear, revealed knowledge about our eternal relationships, particularly with our Father in Heaven. How wonderful to relish this revealed knowledge without having to feel burdened with a hostility toward the light and discovery that God has seen fit to allow hard-working, studious and contemplative minds to reason and put forward as further stepping stones toward even further knowledge in the ever developing body of scientific knowledge with which we are blessed!

    As 2 Nephi 2 was mentioned in a recent comment above, it is interesting to note that my lesson in Elders Quorum yesterday included significant portions of 2 Nephi 2 (together with D&C 93 and John 5). I see 2 Nephi 2 as an unparalleled sermon by an Old Testament-era prophet (Lehi) on the “why” of God’s creation, particularly highlighting God’s reason for creating man and woman (“men are that they might have joy”), and not so much on the “how” of God’s creation. The text gives us no reason to assume that Lehi had received revelation about the mechanics or timeframe of God’s creative processes. And the text certainly gives us no reason to read it as a statement of any kind on any scientific topics. As great a prophet as Lehi was (one of the greatest, in my opinion), I am not sure he was particularly familiar with any kind of biological sciences, aside from perhaps skills in animal husbandry and maybe selective breeding in farming. Certainly nothing on the cellular level or relating to prolonged experimentation in the framework of the scientific process. I don’t see that kind of knowledge as being relevant to him, particularly in his doctrinal exposition on moral agency and the Plan of Salvation (i.e. 2 Nephi 2, which is one of my favorite chapters of scripture in all of the standard works).

    As noted in the original post, the fact that some atheistic scientists choose to put forward certain (or all) scientific advancements and knowledge as an argument against the existence of God does not mean that we need to follow them in those inferences or agree with their conclusions. We can be self-confident in our Mormonism, rejecting any such atheistic inferences or conlusions that such scientists or others have associated with these advancements in knowledge (including through vigorous argumentation), while at the same time circumscribing such amazing knowledge into one great whole with the religious truths that we uniquely embrace as Latter-day Saints.

    The original post was not political. Instead, it was a contemplation encouraging us as Mormons not to feel obligated to support anti-science initiatives pursued by others who see such initiatives as required by loyalty to fundamental religious principles different from our own. I am a Mormon and my opinion as a lifelong, deeply religious Mormon is that our own unique doctrines (which are comprised of restored truths and newly revealed truths) do not put us into a posture of conflict with scientific advancements. To the contrary, we are free to embrace them as part of the package of continual improvement of humanity and exponential increase of knowledge that I understand to be promised by the truths of the Restored Gospel. It’s a very happy place for me to be: faith and knowledge united and harmoniously coexisting within the eternal perspective offered by the Restored Gospel.

  187. “It would have been nice if the original post had provided reason to believe Mormons have relied on Christian views at all.”
    I hear a challenge here for a new post, focused on how the whole “no death before the fall” idea came into the church. Especially since there is evidence that the notion of NDBF as suggested by some church leaders originated, not from God, but from Seventh-day Adventists.
    “Elder Smith had proclaimed that evolution was a fraud, that the earth was very young, as implied in the Genesis account of creation, and that there was ‘no death upon the earth, either vegetable, insect or animal, prior to the fall of man, and that human life did not exist upon the earth prior to Adam’…..Elder Smith had become acquainted with the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist creationist George McCready Price and had corresponded with him.”
    It’s clear that the church itself didn’t want to take sides on the issue. but Smith and Talmage certainly had very different ideas on the topic. Talmage got his ideas from science, and Smith may have gotten his (at least partly) from a false prophet.

    As far as Adam and Eve being the first parents, and in Missouri–I don’t think that’s a problem for science, especially when the church makes clear that it has no stance on how Adam and Eve were created (and therefore, what exactly “first parents” means), and science has no way to go back in time and verify if Adam and Eve actually lived in Missouri. Most organic material doesn’t usually stick around for thousands of years, and so evidence of people in Missouri during Adam’s time would be limited to stone tools and maybe a handful of other indicators–and there’s absolutely no way to show that those did or did not belong to Adam.

  188. Left Field says:

    I’ve never really studied it, but I suspect that Joseph Fielding Smith was the first to put a NDBF interpretation on 2 Ne 2:22. I get the impression that Elder Smith determined that evolution was incompatible with the gospel, and then went in search of scriptures that could be used to support that view.

    However, I think that as a NDBF proof text, 2 Ne 2:22 fails in multiple grounds.

    1. The passage does not address at all the actual conditions that *did* exist before the fall. It explicitly limits itself to the *hypothetical* conditions that “would have” existed “if” Adam had not transgressed.

    2. The passage also explicitly excludes any discussion of what conditions existed *during* the process of creation. Note the wording: “…same state in which they were *after* they were created.”

    3. The verse doesn’t mention death at all. It does say, “All things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” Now, if you’re approaching this verse as a proof text, determined to get NDBF out of it, then one will read this passage as an allusion to the death of individuals within biological populations. But I don’t think that interpretation is necessary, or even the most reasonable, particularly since death isn’t directly mentioned at all. A far more plausible understanding of that passage is that it refers to continuing populations, rather than continuing individuals.

    4. One could plausibly read the verse as consistent with the idea that Adam and Eve (only; excluding other forms of life, and disregarding processes involved in the creation of their physical bodies) themselves became immortal in the garden, and that IF (there’s that hypothetical condition again) Adam and Eve had not fallen, they would not have died. However, even that interpretation is not necessarily required by the text. It does not say (or even imply) they would not have died; it says only that they “would have remained in the garden of Eden.” Of course, there may be other scriptures that say that Adam and Eve were immortal in the garden, but this isn’t one of them. All it says is that they wouldn’t have been evicted if they had not transgressed.

    5. Even if we read the verse as saying that Adam and Eve would not have died if they had not transgressed, there is no evidence that this would be a physical, rather than spiritual death. Spiritual death is understood as separation from God; that would have been a result of their eviction from the garden.

  189. Blake Messinger says:

    As a non-Mormon this makes perfect sense to me. I will continue to dig deeper for a better understanding of the faith my forbearers held so close to their hearts.

  190. Chris, I have no idea what you understand from my or Michael Bailey’s comments to concern right-wing ideology. To my knowledge no political ideology helps us know how to reconcile scriptural claims of resurrection and prophecies of the future with the claims of science and reason that resurrection and knowledge of the future are impossible. Please elaborate.

    John, I too love Mormonism’s embrace of all knowledge. But that isn’t the issue. The issue for Mormons, as for Christians, is what to do when all of this knowledge we love and embrace contradicts each other. While there are many benefits of our expanded canon and belief in continuing revelation, I don’t see special tools for reconciling contradictions among them.

    Mormon prophets tell us, contrary to any and all scientific claims, 1) that all humanity is descended from a single couple who lived in Missouri; 2) that many people, including Christ, have been raised from the dead, and several people born about 2000 years ago have never died at all.

    Given your assertion that Mormons have a special way to resolve these conflicts that’s unavailable to Christians generally, it would be helpful if you would demonstrate the uniquely Mormon solution to the two examples above. Rather than speculate about your solution, I’ll wait to see it’s application before commenting further on this point.

  191. contrary to any and all scientific claims

    When you say science “claims” something, are you referring to the atheistic inferences and arguments that some scientists use scientific information to support? Or are you claiming that science actually claims something in contravention of the doctrinal beliefs that constitute the Restored Gospel?

  192. Matt,

    I never mentioned “political,” though ideology does seem to imply it, so let me explain. The fundamentalist view, tends to be one which views things in singular and simple ways in order to have things, if not all things, make sense from that perspective. From my perspective, this is an example of an ideology in that it is a lens by which one views and interprets the world. Logic and evidence which does not fit within this lens is quickly dismissed.

    Do other also fall into this trap? Sure, I do all the time (not the fundamentalist trap, but the ideological trap).

  193. Good post, john. Very thought-provoking.

    Just for the record, as mentioned in one comment way back in the thread, the actual question posed in the survery that people read to say that Mormons reject evolution at a greater rate than any other Christian denomination other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses simply asks if evolution is the BEST explanation for the origin of human life.

    I believe in evolution, but even I probably would answer, “No,” to the question as it’s worded. Fwiw, I believe the general opposition to evolution in the Church is based on the mistaken assumption that “evolution” necessarily excludes divine participation in creation – that it is not THE BEST explanation of the origin of HUMAN life. Remove that misconception (in the survey wording and in the writings of most Mormons who have written against it), and the conversation changes radically, imo.

    Also, if one views the Garden of Eden narrative as a figurative account rather than an actual account, the whole NDBF debate is moot.

    Finally, Mormonism (as opposed to some Mormons) doesn’t posit scripture as inerrant – which adds weight to Left Field’s comment in #188.

  194. In reading john f’s comments, I am seeing a common thread. His original thesis of Mormonism not contradicting science is easily made true by simply casting anything that does not reconcile easily with Mormon theology as the work of “atheistic scientists”. So, good science does not contradict Mormon theology because he has defined good science to be that science which does not contradict Mormon theology. Brilliant!!

    Tim & Left Field, thank you very much for providing a reference. Though neither of you providing the actual reference in question, that asserted by #176 from “a talk given by John A. Widtsoe in General Conference”.

    On the issue of NDBF, I question those who are so quick to dismiss the multiplicity of statements by numerous general authorities (especially presidents of the church) in favor of a few comments made by a couple apostles. Are we dismiss the words of a prophet spoken over the pulpit? Are you truly going to deny that Joseph Fielding Smith (among others) has taught this doctrine across the pulpit? Are we to dismiss the words of a prophet simply because they do not reconcile well with science?

    Also, I have not seen much comment on the other issue (which seems even bigger to me), that all mankind descend from Adam & Eve, who lived roughly 6,000 years ago. That is one concerning which their is no ambiguity. If you abandon that doctrine, then you must also abandon the doctrine of Adam-Ondi-Ahman. After all, why would all mankind return their keys to Adam if he were not the first human?

  195. “Also, I have not seen much comment on the other issue (which seems even bigger to me), that all mankind descend from Adam & Eve, who lived roughly 6,000 years ago. That is one concerning which their is no ambiguity. If you abandon that doctrine, then you must also abandon the doctrine of Adam-Ondi-Ahman.”

    To be honest, prior to you comment yesterday, I did not think that anyone actually thought “that all mankind descend from Adam & Eve.” This is new to me. Is”the doctrine of Adam-Ondi-Ahman” a core doctrine to the Antonement of Christ? I do not think so.

    As for giving Joseph Fielding Smith special weight on the topic, it is one of my favorite parts of the NDBF position (it humors me greatly). Given that he was President of the Church only a short period of time, I do not think any of there pronouncements came from him while he was president of the church. Plus, he is well known as one of the leading anti-intellectual forces within Mormonism during the 20th century. Hence, it makes sense that one interested in understanding scientific aspects of this issue would turn to Talmadge and Widstoe, two scientists (and at the same time, great disciples).

  196. Even if we take as authoritative past statements about “death” not existing prior to the “fall”, if “death” in this context carries a salvific or soteriological connotation (i.e. the separation of a spirit from a body) rather than strictly biological ones (there isn’t a clear biological definition of what constitutes life or a living organism and, conversely, death, but perhaps something like the permanent loss of metabolic activity or the onset of systemic, irreversible decay), then the NDBF concept is not at all problematic. It simply asserts that no individual biological organism that was once conjoined with a pre-existent spirit had ever been uncoupled from it before Adam (whatever “Adam” means — “man,” “Man,” “the human race,” “the man,” a proper name…) experienced the cognitive, dietary, lifestyle, life-history, and ecological changes associated with expulsion from God’s presence.

    Plus, even within a fundamentalistic framework, assuming that Adam and Even had, say, hair and fingernails, then we know with certainty that death existed on at least a cellular level — to say nothing of all that digested fruit which they freely ate…

  197. Left Field says:

    Michael, you didn’t ask for a reference for Widtsoe. You asked for “actual, attributable commentary by general authorities.” Tim and I obliged, providing exactly what you asked for.

    Given that some general authorities have agreed with NDBF, and others have disagreed, I feel perfectly comfortable accepting the view that is consistent with science, and rejecting the view that isn’t. I’m going to reject the view of some general authority either way. If Talmage can disagree with J. F. Smith, then so can I, dag-nabbit. And at least I’m in good company.

    And as Chris pointed out in 195, I’m not aware that actual presidents of the church have weighed in much on that topic. Please remember that until January 23, 1970, somebody other than Joseph Fielding Smith was president of the church, and it’s a pretty clear doctrine that there is only one president at a time (D&C 132:7).

  198. His original thesis of Mormonism not contradicting science is easily made true by simply casting anything that does not reconcile easily with Mormon theology as the work of “atheistic scientists”. So, good science does not contradict Mormon theology because he has defined good science to be that science which does not contradict Mormon theology. Brilliant!!

    Atheistic scientists produce perfectly good science through their experimentation, application of the scientific process and testing of hypotheses (actually all three of those things in that list are the same thing). It is the arguments that they then construct using the data and information that their application of the scientific process has produced that matter. These arguments depend to a large degree on the premises that the arguments are constructed to negate or prove wrong. Those premises are actually incorporated into the arguments together with the raw scientific data and information. What if those key premises are taken out of the equation? Then what are the atheistic scientists arguing against? If Mormons do not share a belief in Biblical literalism or sufficiency, then there is little in even atheistic scientists’ arguments that can legitimately say anything about God as understood in the Restored Gospel.

    When they say “evolution proves there is no God” what they are really saying is “evolution, as inferred by us based on copious data in various fields of study and sustained results upholding the theory in the laboratory, proves God did not create us as you [fundamentalist creedal Christians/Mormons/Catholics/other religious people] have claimed he created us [i.e. young earth, Biblical literalism etc.].” Two observations from this argument:

    1. The scientists’ data and lab results are independent of the abstract arguments they use the data and information to support about ultimate conclusions on the existence of God.
    2. The arguments are only relevant or work if they actually speak to the premises actually put forward by the religious people against whom they are arguing.

    Further to 1., the science — i.e. data, information, process by which such data has been discovered/produced — can be perfectly “good” but the inferences and arguments still unwarranted depending on the reality against which the arguments are focused. (In other words, maybe they have some weight if the fundamentalist creedal Christians are right about Biblical literalism and young earth creationism, etc. If you as a religious person aren’t claiming those things in the first place, then what relevance or weight do such arguments employing the raw, neutral data have? They might be annoying to the extent such atheistic scientists simply lump Mormons in with the types of religious people who would be making such claims. But Mormons are not, or should not be, claiming those things.)

    Further to 2., as noted, the Restored Gospel offers the possibility of harmonizing the data and information acquired through the scientific method and inquiry and truth revealed from God through scriptures, prophets/apostles and other avenues of dissemination of truth (e.g. personal witness through the Holy Spirit). This is because it allows us to step back from the premises against which the atheistic arguments are constructed in the first place.

    It doesn’t seem controversial to say that science and faith should not need to be seen as hostile to each other even if, admittedly, there is no lack of atheistic scientists who will use scientific data to construct arguments against religious people’s arguments in favor of the existence of God. We could actually be proactive and use the same data to construct arguments in favor of the existence of God — but since we understand the principle of faith, that isn’t even necessary. We need to teach people to reach out to God in a personal relationship with him, through prayer. That relationship will develop outside the bounds of scientific data, information or argumentation. The science can simply be accepted and incorporated as the advances in knowledge that it represents — and used for the good and improvement of all humanity.

  199. “are you claiming that science actually claims something in contravention of the doctrinal beliefs that constitute the Restored Gospel?”

    Yes, science and reason contradict the church on many doctrinal beliefs, including:

    – resurrection
    – miracles, including healings and men walking on water
    – whole human race descending from Adam and Eve, in Missouri
    – water covering the whole earth in flood, and the only flesh surviving being on Noah’s ark
    – prophecies of the future
    – at least four people now on earth having lived for nearly 2000 years
    – the existence of special glasses, stones or hats to translate foreign or unknown languages
    – pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americans being descended from Israelites
    – the existence of horses, steel, silk, elephants, etc., in the pre-Columbian Americas

    All of these issues could be included within a general category, miracles. To claim that there’s no contradiction between the Restored Gospel and science is to claim either that the gospel denies miracles or that science accepts them. And it seems to me that a definition of miracle, as used in the gospel, must include the concept of being inexplicable by human reason and science.

    For as long as the gospel recognizes miracles, the gospel will acknowledge its incompatibility with contemporary reason and science.

  200. I’m not sure science contradicts the church; I think there are just many things science can’t currently explain, and, honestly, isn’t currently equipped to study. How can science study things such as the resurrection? It can’t, so it ignores them. Perhaps one day such subject matters will be understandable to science.
    Same with most of your other points. No way to study it scientifically, so there’s not much science can do with it.
    As far as Noah’s Ark, I don’t think such a literalist approach is necessary. Not all general authorities have taken such a literalist approach. A careful reading of the scriptures will reveal different meanings of both “earth” and “flesh,” and there’s no real reason to assume that it was as wide scale as the fundamentalists believe.

  201. John f (#198),
    Atheistic scientists (in general) do not claim that evolution proves that God doesn’t exist. Not even Richard Dawkins says that. What they claim is that evolution makes the existence of God very unlikely.

    #199 & #200,
    I think we should avoid miracles in the discussion of contradictions with science. Science really has nothing to say regarding the resurrection. All it can say is that there is no evidence for it, but there is also no evidence against it. Therefore, in the eyes of science, there’s not much to say.

    On the contrary, events like the flood and common descent from Adam & Eve, are ones concerning which science is able to speak. These are events that should, if true, leave various evidences. In the eyes of science, these evidences should be visible in geology and biology. For example, if the flood occurred we should see a corroborating distribution of species. These are things on which science can comment.

  202. I can’t imagine what science or scientists would have to say about miracles one way or another without observing one in the lab.

  203. Matt,
    You’re right about the problems reconciling scientific understandings with the beliefs you list. I wonder, though, how many of the things you list are really central or important as opposed to idiosyncratic doctrines that could be easily dispensed with without undermining the Restoration/Plan of Salvation. With the exception of resurrection, my sense is that, at a minimum, each of the beliefs is at least subject to complicating factors that would minimize what might be at stake when they are scrutinized with the tools of scientific naturalism. In other words, even if we claim that all items on the list are, in fact, important Mormon doctrines (a highly contestable claim, at least in the case of a few), I think we can safely assert that we are not so wedded to a highly simplistic or straightforward understanding of them as to render them in irredeemable contravention to science. Put differently, in the case of many propositions on the list, the degree to which they contradict science positively correlates with the degree to which they are taken in highly simplistic, literalist, fundamentalist terms.

  204. I would add to Brad’s insightful comment that I think fundamentalist approaches to reconciling the miraculous and the natural not only insist on narrow literalist readings but also seem to assume that maintaining the mystery around God’s methods of execution is a requirement for maintaining faith.

    Questions of literalism aside, the other rift here seems to be between those who think God operates through science and those who think he operates through magic.

    Why would an embodied God like the God of Mormonism have to resort to magic?

  205. Why would an embodied God like the God of Mormonism have to resort to magic?
    Because he still doesn’t have an iphone.

  206. Only because of ATT’s crappy coverage area.

  207. God, can you hear me now?

  208. To claim that there’s no contradiction between the Restored Gospel and science is to claim either that the gospel denies miracles or that science accepts them.

    Matt, what does “science accepts them” mean? How can “science” accept anything? When you say “science” accepts something, are you really saying scientists with a particular worldview either do or do not accept certain religious truths?

    I believe firmly in miracles and understand that many of the miracles, such as those you listed like Resurrection or walking on water, do not seem to be provable through the scientific method. Included in this list is a relationship with God through prayer. My recommendation is to take those miracles on faith and not expect scientific argumentation to prove them to the satisfaction of atheists or others who do not share our religious faith. Accepting such miracles on faith is different than seeing a war between faith and science and joining a hostile campaign against the latter, particularly on a host of issues where there need not be much if any conflict for Latter-day Saints because (in my view) we don’t/shouldn’t share the same assumptions as either side in the battle.

    I suppose keeping the hostility alive does serve a purpose to rally the troops, give them a common enemy. Of course, I agree (and have expressed this numerous times in the course of this discussion) that if atheistic scientists are using scientific data to support inferences and conclusions they have constructed in opposition to the existence of God, then we can and should argue vigorously against the validity or soundness of such conclusions — but hopefully when we do so we argue in defense of premises that are actually relevant to us as Latter-day Saints.

  209. I think miracles are important for this discussion because they show that God chooses not to make some or all of his acts available to scientific inquiry. We know he didn’t send the resurrected Christ to the press, hasn’t put the Three Nephites on 60 Minutes, didn’t have Joseph Smith send the gold plates or Sword of Laban to the Smithsonian, didn’t leave a big city in Guatemala with a sign labeled Zarahemla, and most importantly, has revealed himself in the flesh to almost no one. The only rationale for God not providing these evidences is that he doesn’t want to be discovered this way. God covers his tracks. He could heal everyone anointed with consecrated oil if he wanted the power of the priesthood to be discovered in a scientific lab through double-blind studies.

    Because we know that God covers his tracks so as not to be discovered in conventional ways, there is no reason Mormons should expect to God to have left evidences of the creation or flood, either. There’s no more reason to expect to find an ark with accounting tallys on Ararat, or any other evidences, than we should expect to find the Title of Liberty in Mexico.

    As far as the concern generally about Mormon attitudes toward science, whether or not descended from Christian views (though no evidence for this claim has been provided), what is the purported harm of the LDS view that science is a limited method of knowing truth? Which prominent scientific theories are not taught at BYU?

    If the concern is that Mormons are too much like Russel M. Nelson, who does not _accept_ key elements of organic evolution even though he studied them for years, then, given his impressive scientific accomplishments despite his rejection of important scientific theories, I personally see little reason for concern. The important titles he held, including Chairman of the Cardiovascular Surgery Division of the American Heart Association and President of the Thoracic Surgery Society, indicate that even at the highest levels of the scientific establishment the acceptance of important scientific theories is not required.

  210. It seems like your comment is a defense of defensiveness against the arguments some people use scientific data to support. My original post and comments endorse arguing vigorously when we encounter such arguments.

    You are consistently using “science” synonymously with the arguments people make based on selected scientific data and information. I am not using those terms synonymously. That divergence might be confounding this discussion to some extent. To me science (i.e. data and information made available through application of the scientific method) seems neutral. When coupled with agenda-driven inferences such data and information become argument in favor of a particular conclusion. Hopefully when we as Mormons engage such arguments, we do so based on premises that are actually religiously relevant to us based on our doctrines, and not based on borrowed defensiveness from other religions whose assumptions differ fundamentally from our own. My sense is that this is too often not the case; too often, it seems to me, we are borrowing premises not required by our own worldview from fundamentalist creedal Christians when we join in the “culture wars” on issues where atheistic scientists are claiming that a particular scientific perspective disproves the existence of God. Hence my post. A source of your umbrage with the post might well be that you and I disagree on the extent to which espousing the Restored Gospel frees us from limiting assumptions embraced by fundamentalist creedal Christians.

    Also, you seem to be using “science” (by which term you actually mean the arguments put forward by some scientists) as synonymous with “reason”, which certainly is not the case for my original post or any of my comments. The miracles matieral is associated with the incorporation of “reason” into the discussion. Reason and faith are often in conflict with each other specifically because of miracles associated with religious faith. The miracles that inform our faith as Latter-day Saints (the Atonement, the Resurrection, forgiveness, healing, prophecy, angelic visitations, visions, toungues, interpretation of tongues, and many more) all challenge reason, i.e. our rational or empirical minds to some extent. How grateful we should be for such miracles and for the miraculous guidance we often receive from the Holy Spirit! The original post and my comments fully endorse every wonderful and unique aspect of being a Mormon and, what’s more, encourages us all to be confidently Mormon (which to me means embracing the Church’s own truth narratives). The tension between reason and miracles/faith to my mind isn’t part of this post or my comments.

  211. Matt, it almost sounds like your advocating the view of the Evangelicals who adopt young earth creationism. That is God “lies” by making it appear like the earth is billions of years old and that evolution is true and that there was no universal flood. It seems to me the theological implications of this are disturbing. This isn’t merely covering up traces of miracles but outright deception.

  212. Ditto what John and Clark just said, but I also want to add that your perspective on healings doesn’t jibe particularly well with our tradition. Also note that it isn’t the power of the priesthood that is manifest in healing, but the power of faith.

  213. Matt, what makes you think that Elder Nelson studied evolution for years? Off the top of my head, he probably went to university in the 40’s or 50’s and I’m sure medical schools then did not have a strong evolutionary biology component. Practicing medicine, pioneering new techniques in heart surgery, and administration does not necessarily lead to a good understanding of evolutionary principles, as evidenced by some of his statements on the topic.

  214. A twenty minute conversation with a randomly chosen medical student or young doctor today will likely disabuse the notion that they are steeped in scientific theory…

  215. Doctors are to biology what mechanics are to physics and chemistry.

  216. Also note that it isn’t the power of the priesthood that is manifest in healing, but the power of faith.

    I thought it was a combination of the two? Or are you referring to the April 28, 1842 sermon to the Relief Society where it seems Joseph allows for healing independent of priesthood?

  217. Uh, as a doctor/surgeon I think you’d be surprised at how much biology we know. While it’s been nearly 14 years since I finished medical school, and nearly 8 since fellowship, I have kept up on pharmacology, biology, biomechanics, immunology, etc. I have read dozens of books just in the past few years on evolution, intelligent design, etc. including everything by Hawkins, Hitchens, etc. For Christmas, I bought myself a college textbook on comparative vertebrae anatomy to learn even more about that. I could hold my own in a conversation on elementary particle physics, string theory or the multiverse. I could program this website. So, perhaps I’m a unique case, but I think perhaps doctors know more biology and scientific theory than is implied.

  218. Clark, even Bruce R. McConkie conceded that Priesthood is authority, not power. The association of “priesthood power” with healing is a very modern thing. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime all church members were authorized to heal (see Kris’s and my paper from this summer’s JMH, “The Forms and the Power”). This relationship is perhaps best illustrated JS’s expansion of the Enoch narrative: “For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course[.]”

  219. Mike S:

    You included “Hitchens” in your list of books regarding your keeping apace with biology. Are you referring to Christopher Hitchens? If so, I am not aware that he claims any expertise whatsoever in any biological (or scientific) field. If he does discuss biology I hope he is more careful with that subject than he is with the religions he talks about, seeing as how he gets virtually everything wrong about them.

  220. Also, did you mean “Hawkins”or “Dawkins”?

    If Dawkins, you may be safe to read many of his works in regards to data. Where his approach becomes atheistically religious, however, he stretches far beyond the realm of science into the realm of dogmatic faith.

  221. Steve Evans says:

    Mike S.: “I could program this website.”

    Au contraire, Mike!

  222. Mike, I’m glad to hear it. I think Clark must be trying to be funny (unsuccessfully) painting such a diverse lot as physicians all with the same ignorant brush. Back to the point though, are you inclined to reject evolution because Elder Nelson (a physician) is a proponent of Intelligent Design?

  223. John Mansfield says:

    Hold on a minute, Alex. Are you calling mechanics ignorant?

  224. Mike might be ignorant, but the mechanics sure aren’t.

  225. John, it will help me understand the neutral, non-agenda driven science you’re speaking of if you’ll spell out exactly which science you believe Mormons are mistakenly waging war against.

    Clark and Stapley, re: liar/deception argument. If we did an exhaustive scientific study on the effects of priesthood blessings on Mormons recovering from surgeries, we’d either find that those receiving blessings recovered better or it made no difference. If the evidence conclusively showed there is no difference, would you want Mormons to conclude that priesthood blessings have no effect on recovery, or that God must be “deceiving” the scientists? Is there another way to argue that the blessings are efficacious even though God gave the scientists conclusive evidence to believe otherwise? (Resist the urge to fight the hypothetical.)

    Stapley, regarding the priesthood, you’ll notice my reference to healings dealt with consecrated oil.

  226. Matt, I have actually responded to your hypothetical, though not in print. There have been studies of faith healing (not Mormon, though) that show precisely what you state. Joseph Smith offered three reasons for failed blessings: 1) The person healing lacked the power to heal; 2) the person to be healed lacked faith; 3) God willed the person not to be healed. Furthermore, if we compare our health and mortality against our pioneer ancestors who relied on ritual healings far more than we do, modern science proves more efficacious than church membership at healing the sick. However, perhaps it isn’t the healing of the body that God wants through the rituals (though I believe that miraculous healings do occur). Perhaps in our recapitulation of the temple (that is where our healing rituals came from), we are sealing ourselves as a people.

    Also, consecrated oil as a sole prerogative of the priesthood is of a fairly recent vintage.

  227. Alex, mechanics aren’t ignorant but they aren’t scientists either.

    Matt, God withholding blessings from people who are testing him is quite different from lying to people. Sign seekers are already condemned. But then so are liars. I think you need to rethink through your theology.

    J. Stapley, I think we were saying the same thing for the most part. The sermon I mentioned was Joseph Smith talking about this.

    Regarding ID, the empirical difference between that and evolution is non-existent. The only difference is over the mechanism of certain large scale changes that happen over history. But in terms of the facts about the history of the world both ID and normal evolution are identical. The question is just about chance – and which really isn’t even a scientific question.

  228. I was just trying to make a Mike and the Mechanics remark.

  229. Steve: your valiant effort did not go unnoticed!

    (Trying mightily to come up with a way to use lyrics from “All I Need is a Miracle” to mock Matt, but it’s just not coming.)

  230. I just read the original post and all of the comments. All I have to say is bravo to the OP. The comments are a gold mine, though you might have to sift them in your hand for awhile. Thank you BCC.

  231. I never said mechanics are ignorant, I said Clark was.

  232. Re: Agnes # 76 = Don’t feel like your family is alone in their ideas. I have known many people who think along those lines. I live in central NC – an area comprised of 3 separate cities (in 3 diff. counties) known as the ‘Triangle’, b/c 3 major universities are located w/in a 1/2 hour of each other. 2 of the schools are considered pretty liberal. In direct correlation to these schools, I believe many of the members here are pretty open-minded re: science, esp. the natives. But what I’ve never understood are that often the outsiders (it seems that these people are usually ‘westerners’) who come to grad school here are the ones who say the types of things some of your family believes. (i don’t mean to imply anything by this, really !) They seem more like fundamental Christians to me than LDS, and since the South is very highly populated w/ Fund. Cs, they fit rt. in, but not w/ about 1/2 the ward. They will say something similar to this discussion in SS and are usually met w/ dead silence ( or rolled eyes) by – you guessed it – 1/2 the ward. I really don’t know why this is the case, esp. since these students are in their 20’s. Shouldn’t they know better after 4 yrs of higher education ? I believe too many people take their education w/ a grain of salt, but not their gospel or church leaders. So, my long-winded point is that i think these extreme ideas held by members is unfortunately more common than most of us would like to believe.
    #92 RTS = I really enjoyed your comment and was immediately reminded of 1 of my favorite movies, ‘Mission to Mars’. Don’t wanna give the fun away, BUT higher intelligences (aliens) helped to populate Earth demonstrating evolution. LOVED the way it was shown in the movie. Made me think of the possibilities, esp. since I am pretty scientifically ignorant.
    And finally, to end on a lighter note #105 SJT = I have often thought of these problems re: the Ark and Noah’s clean-up problems. I was puzzled until I got a beagle who ‘recycles’ as I like to call it. The fresher the better, but the age and species of the ‘litterer’ don’t matter to him. He’s not the 1st dog I’ve had that does this, but he is the most enthusiastic & most frequent indulger ! So, I am pretty sure Noah had a beagle on board !

  233. Oh, I was too ignorant to pick up on that… (231)

  234. T-NC- if your dog is eating a lot of feces it could indicate a nutrition problem. Or it could just indicate a dog who likes eating feces. There are supplements you can give the dog to make its feces less attractive, but it doesn’t work for all dogs.

  235. J. Stapley, the issue for the scientists wouldn’t be modern medicine vs blessings, the research question is whether blessing improve success rates of those undergoing modern medical procedures. Even if Mormons already acknowledge that some share of blessings are inefficacious for the reasons you list, Mormons believe that some share of blessings are very effective, and scientists would be able to test that.

    Clark, the people getting the blessings aren’t testing God, the scientists are. The scientists’ research could be based on surveys of Mormons who had surgery in the past year. If the evidence is conclusive that blessings didn’t help, then Mormons should either conclude that blessings don’t make any difference or that God is giving the scientists deceptive evidence that leads them to conclude that Mormon blessings don’t work.

    John F., in case it got lost in the comments above, I’m still wanting to know the neutral, non-agenda driven science you believe Mormons are mistakenly waging war against.

  236. I’m not sure that statisticians could test what you are getting at, unless they looked at two groups of randomized Mormons, one which got the blessings and one which didn’t. If one group weren’t Mormons then Mormonism would be a conflating variable. I’m not sure what the results of such a study would be, though I’m not particularly interested in paying for such research.

  237. Mark Brown says:

    Matt Evans,

    John can speak for himself, but I have what I think you will agree is a satisfactory response to your question.

    When Dallin H. Oaks was president of BYU, there was a controversy as to whether evolution should even be taught on church-owned campuses. It was a big enough problem, with enough support from the no evolution crowd, that Pres. Oaks offered to resign his job as president of the university if the board did not provide him with support to allow evolution to be taught at BYU.

    Yes that was 30 years ago, but there are still some strong anti-science impulses among us. As more and more LDS begin to homeschool, they are using science materials borrowed from the New Earth Christian homeschool crowd because that is what is most readily available.

  238. Mark Brown says:


    Here is the relevant quote from Elder Oaks:

    There is a clear issue here: Should the board continue or should it revise its policy that permits Brigham Young University faculty to teach the theory of organic evolution–teaching it as a theory and not as a proven fact?

    We are all aware of the scriptural and scientific deficiencies of the theory of evolution. There are many. But the problem with ignoring this theory is that the theory of evolution currently explains more phenomena that are observed in the physical world than any other theory. Numerous fields of science use this theory and its corollaries, and will continue to do so until a better empirically based theory is propounded. . . . If we stopped teaching this theory, within a few years students from BYU would not be admitted to . . . graduate schools. At that point we would cease to function as a recognized university and would, in the eyes of the world (especially the world of higher education), be little more than a seminary with added courses in the humanities. I have no doubt whatever that our accreditation as an institution of higher education would be lost. The issue is that loaded.
    . . .

    There are thousands of our faith who feel threatened by that openness, and while I have sympathy with that as a personal [p. 168] point of view, in my judgment that kind of narrowness should never be allowed to impose the darkening hand of censorship on this university.

    The source is here:


    At this point, I think you have to agree that we have a problem, or you have to accuse Dallin H. Oaks of having an agenda.

  239. “then Mormons should either conclude that blessings don’t make any difference or that God is giving the scientists deceptive evidence that leads them to conclude that Mormon blessings don’t work.”

    Or that current scientific method and instrumentation are ill-equipped to measure the effects of blessings. (duh)

  240. Matt, by contributing to such a study you’re testing God and (IMO) being involved in sign seeking. But otherwise, yes, if nothing happens then almost by default nothing happens. I’m not sure how one could say otherwise. I just don’t think one could conduct such a test without sign seeking and were I God I’d not answer such prayers.

    Once again though that is considerably different from looking at what is there. So if there are undeniably dinosaurs and the like and one simply denies the evidence to me that’s like being under a blue sky and demanding it be pink because you read some GA said it. Such an attitude is inherently deceitful and self-deceptive and I just can’t see God having anything to do with it.

    It’s one thing to look at the methodology of a study and find flaws. It’s quite an other to deny evidence even exists.

  241. Kristine, I think that hard to claim. You need merely measure how people’s health improve. Now you can always say there are aspects which are real blessings which this doesn’t capture. (Say a person’s faith increases) But in terms of whether blessings are real in terms of healing I think it very measurable. (And, I should note, such studies have been conducted with various classes of people praying) To me, as I said, I just don’t think God would answer such prayers.

  242. It’s easy, Clark. Measures of physical outcomes are very crude measures of _healing_. You can say a patient didn’t die of a heart attack, but it’s virtually impossible to gauge whether, for instance, she recovered enough to live 10 more years or 20. You can measure days in hospital, blood levels of cholesterol, size of tumors, etc., but there’s no way to measure healing of the whole organism (let alone the soul).

  243. Yes, but it still tells us a lot. If God’s healing is fairly small such that it’s not detectable then that in and of itself tells us a lot about what it means to be healed. Further most studies of this sort tend to measure mortality rates. While you might be right about the differences among those who live it seems clear that in dying they didn’t get healed.

  244. To add, the other common type of study is to look at complications from surgery. While that doesn’t address long term survivability I think there is a lot of significance in the comparing the rate of complications. (That was the Templeton study from a few years back – those prayed for actually had more complications)

  245. “fairly small such that it’s not detectable”

    It _is_ detectable, just not with scientific instruments. Even mortality rates wouldn’t tell you what you need to know. There’s a big difference between, say, dying alone in agony, and dying peacefully with your family around you. It seems to me that being preserved long enough to make such peace might well be adduced as evidence of healing that is not small, even though it wouldn’t show up in a study of mortality or morbidity.

  246. Right there is a difference, but it’s not a healing difference. Put an other way if a blessing of healing is merely about psychological comfort then I have a hard time calling it healing. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate such comfort. (And I come from the school of thought where God typically acts through inspiring others rather than some direct act on the physical world) I just don’t think it’s healing of the sort we read about in the scriptures.

    So if the question is just whether science can’t measure some blessings, that’s fine. The question is over what science can measure and what most people think is the point in healing – you know healing in the here and now.

  247. Clark, you’re such a Cartesian!

  248. Oooo. Not that’s hitting below the belt! (bg)

  249. Whoops. Now not not.

  250. Clark, you think God wouldn’t bless a woman receiving a blessing before her surgery today, because he knows a scientist will call her a year from now to ask whether she had a priesthood blessing at the time of her surgery? If we’re calling each other’s theology into question, I’ll go on record saying I think that’s strange theology.

    J. Stapley, even if they’re comparing only active, endowed Mormons vs non-Mormons they’d be testing priesthood blessings vs no blessings.

    Mark Brown, thanks for the interesting history. So is evolution the only issue, and references in the original post to “science” should be read as “theory of organic evolution”?

    Kristine, be a Mormon and accept science! : )

  251. Matt, no they wouldn’t.

  252. John F,

    I came to this discussion late (which is why I’m comment #250, I suppose), but thanks for the thoughtful essay.

    I was reflecting on my own experience. As a ninth grader (in 1973) I was so scared of evolution, I argued against it in my biology class in school. I don’t recall ever discussing it with my parents, and I can only assume I behaved as I did because of the social norms at the time (though LDS, I lived in a non- LDS but very religious community).

    As a BYU student four years later, I learned evolution in an honors seminar and was thrilled to do so.

    As recently as a month ago, I was arguing evolution with my eighth grade son, who took a creation science view, which he learned from his friends at school while I argued in favor.

    Thanks for the discussion.


  253. Those discussing testing blessings need to incorporate the placebo effect. Scientists agree that if you think something will heal you, the chances of you being healed increase (sometimes significantly). If you think that sugar pill will cure your cancer, your survival rate increases. I imagine that applies to priesthood blessings too. If you think the blessing will heal you, your chances of being healed increase.
    Matt wants to compare those who received a blessing with those who didn’t–but he needs a decent control group.
    To test if priesthood blessings work (and I’m not recommending such a test be done), you need a control group–a group that believes they might be receiving a priesthood blessing, but really aren’t. (Perhaps they’re receiving a blessing from men who don’t hold the priesthood). You can then compare healing rates to a basically identical group that does receive actual priesthood blessings.
    Both groups would be told the truth–that their blessings could be valid or not valid.
    Again, moral problems with doing the study, but it would be scientifically valid if done correctly.

  254. Seeing the effects of healing blessings would be no problem at all even without an actual experimental study. Just looking quasi-experimentally at pretty much any health data from Utah vs. other states, controlling for all of the usual demographics and behavioral patterns (diet, smoking, etc), the effects of all of the blessings going on would stick out like a sore thumb. A lower average length of bouts of influenza, faster recovery times from surgeries, slightly longer life expectancies (remember you would already control for the lack of smoking), etc. This would have been noticed a thousand times over by now if physical healing were what blessings are about. And seriously, is God going to bother to hide his handiwork? Ever been to Zion National Park or seen a new-born baby? Or 14-year-old boys voluntarily doing service? Gimme a break.

    The will of God is going to be done either way, with a blessing or without. Nearly always that will is simply the natural result of the systems he has set up, because it is his will that we be mortal. Blessings almost always just allow us to learn what that will is and to consecrate ourselves to his will. IMHO there is much more to be gained from recognizing the hand of God in all things and learning why the world is the way it is than in seeing that God can change the normal rules for us if we stay off the naughty list. Why set up this system if he’s just going to be making exceptions all the time?

    43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
    44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
    45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

    Seriously, is life rosy for faithful Mormons in any way that isn’t explainable by living the principles? Does any non-Mormon living the same principles lack any of the physical blessings? That we have been given the principles and an organization that helps us follow them is the miracle.

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