Thursday, March 29, 2007

Making Peace Between Science and Religion

I ruffled some feathers on a thread over at Mormon Mentality yesterday when I posted this comment:

2006 — President Boyd K.  Packer

Eleven months ago, as he has often done in the past, President Packer again asserted that man is not the product of biological evolution:

" ' Children are an heritage of the Lord '  (Psalms 127:3).  Each is a child of God.  He is not a monkey; neither were his ancestors."  (BYU Women's Conference, May 5, 2006.)

Now you [Devyn S.  is the author of the post] claim one of the best books on evolution for Mormons is Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001; hereinafter E&M) by Trent Stephens and Jeffrey Meldrum.  This book flat out disagrees with President Packer.  It claims man's body was "prepared through the process of evolution." (E&M, p. 10.) The book claims only one of 282 LDS biologists felt that "man's body did not evolve in any fashion from simpler species and is not biologically related to them." (E&M, p. 12.) The book states that humans are "related to the animals of this planet," and that, in fact, "as proposed by the theory of evolution, humans are closely related to all life on this planet." (E&M, p. 29; emphasis added.)  After thousands of tests, the book says, "the data overwhelmingly indicate that humans are not unique but are related to other animals." (E&M, p. 30.) And on and on and on it goes.  Either this book is wrong or President Packer is wrong.

But there is nothing wrong with me or anyone else who chooses to believe President Packer on this subject.

One commenter said it's as if "Pres.  Packer told you that Bill Clinton had never been President of the United States, despite all the evidence to the contrary."

Another commenter thinks "Boyd Packer's practice of relentlessly raging in impotent fury against evolution says more about him than it does about evolution.  Specifically, it tells me that he should grow up and stop using the Bible as a comfort blanket."

A Roman Catholic evolutionist has some advice for these commenters.

Evolutionary Science and Society

A short article by Jared* titled "Free Book: Evolutionary Science and Society" was posted simultaneously last November on Mormons and Evolution (a group blog that Jared* co-hosts) and on LDS Science Review (Jared*'s personal blog).  The article references a book, Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation, distributed in PDF format without charge by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS).

The book is a collection of papers that were presented at a Symposium co-hosted in November 2004 by BSCS and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

An Article by Kenneth R.  Miller

Chapter 2 is "Looking for God in All the Wrong Places: Answering the Religious Challenge to Evolution," by Kenneth R.  Miller, a Roman Catholic who teaches Biology at Brown University. He is the author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.

In Chapter 2, Miller reports that

"Roughly half the American people, depending on how the question is asked, reject the theory of evolution."

He points out that,

"The conflict over evolution is unlike the controversies that scientists have come to expect within their disciplines.  The evolution controversy is far more than a conflict over scientific ideas.  It is a struggle for the soul itself."

He continues,

"The religious character of the debate gives conflicts over evolution a cultural and political weight unlike that in any other scientific controversy."

The foundation of everything wrong in society

Miller goes to the heart of the debate when he says,

"If Darwin's great idea is seen as the foundation of everything wrong in society, including lawlessness, abortion, pornography, and the dissolution of marriage, then it must be opposed at all costs.  Furthermore, any factual evidence that science might gather in favor of evolution must be disregarded in favor of the greater truth upon which all of society is founded.  Such powerful motivations drive sincere and dedicated opposition to science and must not be underestimated."

Latter-day Saints will easily make the connection between the logic outlined in the previous paragraph and this warning by Elder Boyd K.  Packer:

"No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak, more suffering and mischief, no idea has contributed more to the erosion of the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, but only advanced animals.  There flows from that idea the not too subtle perception that we are compelled to yield to every carnal urge, are subject to physical but not to moral law." (March 1992, "The Fountain of Life," 18-Stake BYU fireside, published in Things of the Soul, as quoted by Jared* in Elder Boyd K.  Packer on Evolution.)

A similar warning from President Packer was published by the Church two years ago in the Ensign:

"No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals, compelled to yield to every carnal urge." (As quoted in Ensign, Jan.  2005, 49; emphasis in the original.)

Miller's response

Kenneth Miller's main thrust in Chapter 2 seems to be a debunking of the intelligent design movement.  But along the way, he offers some pretty good advice to anyone on either side of the discussion who is interesting in making peace between science and religion.

"To carelessly assume that today's opposition to evolution is simply the result of biblical literalism is to miss the point—and to seriously underestimate the challenge it poses to science....

"The key question all of us must face is whether science carries us as deeply into the mystery of life as we truly wish to go.  For many people, I am sure that it does.  But people of faith, myself included, would argue that it does not.  It is important to understand that this is not a rejection of science so much as a recognition of its limitations, limitations that are generally recognized by people regardless of their religious views.  I would argue that accepting the validity of this choice, even if one does not agree with it, is the first step in making peace between science and religion—a peace devoutly to be wished for."

I submit that it's time for LDS evolutionists to accept the validity of recognizing the limitations of science, "limitations that are generally recognized by people regardless of their religious views."


Blogger R. Gary said...

Please don't shower me with quotes from Miller's article showing that he's not on my side. I know that. I just think he made a few points that are helpful for all of us to keep in mind.

3/29/2007 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

So here is the structure of the argument:

1) If evolution is true all sorts of horrible things are true.
2) All these horrible things are not true.

3) Therefore, evolution must not be true.

The problem is that (1) is a stupid, stupid position. Evolution does not really entail anything thats all that bad. Those people who argue along the above lines are accepting a ridiculous premise in order to criticize a REALLY well established idea, namely evolution.

If only the likes of Packer would attack (1) with half the zeal that they attack evolution perhaps a meaningful conversation could be carried on within a Mormon context.

3/29/2007 12:58:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Actually, horrible things are happening, so that's not the question. The question is whether an idea, the idea that man's ancestral blood lines go to beasts, has been destructive of happiness, produced sorrow, heartbreak, suffering and mischief and contributed to the erosion of the family.

Just because Boyd K. Packer's answer to this question is "yes" doesn't make him an idiot. As Miller says, "To carelessly assume that today's opposition to evolution is simply the result of biblical literalism is to miss the point."

There is another side to the evolution argument, Jeff. And you can't just brush it off by saying it's "ridiculous ... to criticize a REALLY well established idea."

3/29/2007 06:11:00 AM  
Anonymous devyn s. said...

I responded to your post over at MM - by the way thanks for the lively discussion.


3/29/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...


I think you missed the entire point of my post.

I said absolutely nothing about (2). Of course bad things are happening. Indeed, I would even be willing to grant that some (but certainly not all or even most) of these things happen due to people's self-perception due to evolution. (Supportive evidence please?) My point, however, is that such people are stupid. The idea that I am VERY distantly related to non-human animals says nothing, absolutely nothing for or against morality. The idea that it does is stupid.

I do not criticize people who believe that people think this way. Rather I criticize people who endorse the way these people think.

I should rephrase the argument which people bring against evolution to be clearer:

1) If evolution is true then people are allowed to do all sorts of horrible things.
2) People are not allowed to do all sorts of horrible things.

3) Evolution must not be true.

Now this is the structure of the argument which other idiots use:

1) If evolution is true then people are allowed to do all sorts of horrible things.
4) Evolution is true.

5) People are allowed to do all sorts of horrible things.

My point was that both of these arguments are equally stupid, the second argument more so than the first. They accept a premise, (1), which has absolutely no support whatsoever.

The problem is that when Christians, among others, attack the evolution they are accepting a REALLY bad premise in order to attack a REALLY good one. This is the main problem which I see with the first argument. They going along with the idiots in accepting (1) in order to attacks one of most brilliant ideas ever contrived.

I'm not saying that its ridiculous to criticize evolution since it is a really good idea. Rather, I'm saying that it is really, really stupid to attack evolution, a really good premise, based on a really bad premise. This is just bad reasoning, plain and simple.

3/29/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


I'm not very comfortable with all of your inflammatory epithets. Please tone it down.

3/29/2007 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Obsidian said...

"There flows from that idea the not too subtle perception that we are compelled to yield to every carnal urge, are subject to physical but not to moral law."

For the record, I have never heard any advocate of evolution claim this.

"The idea that I am VERY distantly related to non-human animals says nothing, absolutely nothing for or against morality."

Repeated for truth. One does not have to believe that we are "offspring of God" (or even believe in God) to be a moral person. Religion does not provide the only impetus to a moral life.

3/29/2007 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Retief said...

Okay so President Packer says that the idea that we're not children of God has been harmful. But why lay that on evolution? Mainstream protestant denominations believe that only the saved are God's Children. They certainly don't believe in a preexistant spirit that could be a Child of God. Why can't we be advanced animals and Children of God?

3/29/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

Point taken. However there are two points I would like to iterate:

1) Don't let the "stupids" and "idiots" sprinkled throughout the comment distract from the point I am trying to make.

2) I never called any Church leader an idiot or stupid. Indeed, on further reflection, the anti-evolutionists are not the real "idiots" in this debate. Rather, it is the evolutionists (those VERY select few) who think that the theory provides an excuse for immorality of any kind. Those people, I think you will agree, are the real "idiots" in our tale.

In turn, those people who criticize these people are unwise in criticizing wrong premise of the evilutionist (who I will distinguish from the real evolutionists). Thus, I still see the anti-evolutionists as being unwise at best, but they are not the real villians in our tale.

3/29/2007 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr Nick said...

A better title for your post: "Making peace between science and religion, through the unconditional surrender of science"

In response to your final statement, I would submit that it is finally time for LDS creationists to accept the limitations of scripture. They are not science textbooks. They teach us how to come unto Christ and become like him. They do not teach us how the world was made, they only teach us why the world was made. Leave the 'how' to science and the 'why' to scripture and priesthood leaders. That is the only way for peace: for each to get off the others' turf. (That includes Dawkins)

3/30/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

It seems to me that there is the assumption that if evolution is true we can't be children of God. But that's a false dichotomy, as are most charges against evolution. We are a dual being of spirit and regular matter. To focus on one aspect of our being is not to deny the rest.

Lots of people claim something is entailed by evolution without demonstrating that it is. Typically these end up as strawmen.

3/30/2007 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not see any conflict between the scientific idea of evolution, the divine creation and nature of man and Elder Boyd K. Packer's position. If God used the system of evolution to create man from the dust of the earth or not is irrelevant (although I personally think it is a reasonable idea ). Until a spirit child of our Father in Heaven inhabited that body it was not Human nor was it our ancestor any more than than the matter our mother ate while pregnant with us is our ancestor. Once the body of Adam was given a spirit it became Man and our first ancestor on tis Earth. Prior to that the anmial Homo Sapien was little more than an intelligent Monkey as evolution teaches.

4/01/2007 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Capt.  Obsidian,
Jeff G,
Dr Nick, and
Clark Goble,

I can accept that your opinions about evolution are different than my own.


You misunderstand Boyd K.  Packer.  There is definitely conflict between the theory of evolution and his position.

To the degree evolution asserts man to be the product of an evolutionary process, Elder Packer says "it is false!" [1]  and the idea that God used evolution to create man is, according to Elder Packer, "equally false." [2]

Elder Packer says evolution as an explanation of the origin of man's body is incompatible with "an understanding of the sealing authority," which he says (twice for emphasis), "cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts." [3]

Certainly you may accept the theories of evolution if you wish, but you can't claim Elder Packer's position is compatible with evolution.



[1]  Boyd K.  Packer, "The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990).  21; see also an on-line pdf, 11, but note that the page numbers in the book don't match those in the pdf.

[2]  "The Law and the Light," 21; on-line pdf, 12.

[3] "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12; see also "The Chicks," and "After Their Own Kind" in Boyd K.  Packer, "The Pattern of Our Parentage," Ensign, Nov.  1984, 66.

4/01/2007 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Obsidian said...

R. Gary,
"Certainly you may accept the theories of evolution if you wish, but you can't claim Elder Packer's position is compatible with evolution."

Fair enough, but you can also make the case that Elder Packer's understanding of evolution is not compatible with scientific teachings on the subject.

4/02/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is laughable to think Gary's (and Pres. Packard's) comments are a surrender to science. At best, science is light years from understanding molecular descent. Every week, something new comes out which turns popular and sometimes fundamental thinking upside down.

If you believe in what Joseph Smith saw in the first vision, can you say it was a biological occurrence of accidents he exactly resembled the Father and Son? The story of the creation, and specifically man, starts to sound more literal. If you believe the evolutionists, you must also consider, given time, we (mankind) will yet evolve eventually into a different species. Additionally, how does the eventual resurrection of our physical bodies fit into current evolutionist thinking? That's right, it doesn't.

4/15/2007 01:05:00 AM  
Anonymous PhysicsGuy said...

I thought I should mention to you that I posted a comment on the other blog that you discussed here. I explain my position better there, but, in short, I was surprised at how much confidence in science the people were showing over there. I am a scientist, and frankly don't have a whole lot of trust in science when it begins to encroach upon religion. I of course think science is a vital part of society, and should be studied and taught more, but I only trust it enough to do things like make computers, or warm up frozen burritos.

Anyway, I think that we must be very careful when trying to bend our religious ideas to conform to science. Dr. Nick said here, "Making peace between science and religion, through the unconditional surrender of science". He was using this in a sarcastic way of course, which is why he said it in such an extreme way, but that is the direction I lean. See my post on the other blog to understand my reasoning better.

4/19/2007 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

PhysicsGuy is talking about his comment #136 at Mormon Mentality.  It is such a great comment, I hope he doesn't mind if I reproduce it here.

-------------- quote --------------
Thu, Apr. 19 @ 11:51am

I hope I am not breaching etiquette by resurrecting this topic, but I stumbled across this post and thought I should post my view.  This is a soap box of mine, so Ill try (but most likely will fail) to keep the post short.

For any person (scientist or not), when trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with science, there appears to be a spectrum of positions that can be taken with two extremes.  On one extreme you have someone who has utter confidence that the scientific community has a handle on how the universe works, and the only work left is to hammer out the details.  They believe that when those details are discovered, it wont really change the whole picture much (these can tend toward atheism).  On the other extreme you have someone who has very little trust in science or scientists, and claim that we have very little understanding of how the universe really works.  These people believe scientists are wrong on most theories (these tend to be religious in a very strict sense).

In the middle you have three options that I can see (there are probably more).  One option (leaning toward the science trusting end of the spectrum) is to pick and choose only theories that appeal to your religion, or try to conform your interpretation of religion to fit science.  The second one (right in the middle of the spectrum) is to just become a two hat person, putting on your science hat when discussing science, and your religion hat when discussing religion.  The third option (leaning toward the science distrusting end of the spectrum) is to understand that science is really only in the business of predicting outcomes of experiments, and it is not in the business of saying whether God exists or not (metaphysics), or whether fundamental concepts of religion are valid or not.  It cant even guarantee that it is discovering fundamentally how nature works, although it would appear that nature seems to work by mathematics and some of the laws we have discovered, but this is just the simplest possibility from our perspective.  A metaphysical elephant can easily hide in any uncertainty in scientific theory or experiments.  As you can tell, I consider myself somewhere near this description.

I am a physicist, so I dont claim to be an expert in biology, but I am surprised at the large amount of confidence in science that scientists here are showing, especially when discussing things that happened long ago, or far away.  I have always assumed that the lay person tends to be on the extremes of the spectrum, and the scientists tend toward the middle.  I still remember the day in graduate school when I had an epiphany that science really is just a bunch of educated guesses, and that we really have no idea if anything we assume is valid.  I have always thought that all scientist must receive this idea at some point in their careers, but maybe it is just me.

If one of the fundamental assumptions made in science is shown to not be right all the time, then the sky is the limit.  You could even argue scientifically that the Earth is really only 6,000 years old.  For example, (I am only using the following as an example, I dont necessarily believe it, although it is surely a possibility) all you would have to do is say that when Adam partook of the fruit and the Earth was cursed to its telestial state, time was changed fundamentally, or that some universal constant was changed somehow.  If this were the case, that singularity would cause all scientific theories to break down beyond 6000 years ago.  Anything could happen, one second at or before that point could look like millions of years to us when looking back.

I guess Im just saying that science is good and all, and we need to keep making educated guesses, but we must be extremely careful when bending our religion to accommodate it, because (in my opinion) science could easily be classified as the blind leading the blind.
-------------- end quote --------------

Is it really possible for all scientific theories to break down beyond 6000 years ago?  I think the answer is, "Yes!"  Thank you, PhysicsGuy, for your cogent input.

4/19/2007 02:23:00 PM  

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