Saturday, December 29, 2007

LDS Seminary and Elder Callister's "intelligent designer"

The Church's seminary program is currently using material from a 1934 seminary manual to teach about a "designing intelligence."  The three paragraphs below are from the Old Testament Student Study Guide (English approval October 2002, p. 12).  This manual is used every four years by another 200,000 LDS seminary students.

Some people believe that the earth was created by chance and that mankind came about by the accidental combining of the right elements over millions of years. In response, one writer said:

"When you can dump a load of bricks on a corner lot, and let me watch them arrange themselves into a house—when you can empty a handful of springs and wheels and screws on my desk, and let me see them gather themselves into a watch—it will [then] be easier for me to believe that all these thousands of worlds could have been created, balanced, and set in motion in their several orbits, all without any designing intelligence at all.

"Moreover, if there is no intelligence in the universe, then the universe created something greater than itself—for it created you and me" (Bruce Barton in E. Ernest Bramwell, comp. Old Testament Lessons [1934 seminary course], 4).

In the Jan. 2008 Ensign, Elder Douglas L. Callister of the Seventy teaches that "the passage of time, even long intervals of time, is not a 'cause' and provides no answers without an intelligent designer."  ("Our God Truly Is God," Ensign, Jan. 2008, p.67.)

Elder Callister's words "intelligent designer" refer to a Creator God and not the Intelligent Design movement led by the Discovery Institute.  Elder Callister's "intelligent designer" is none other than the "designing intelligence" discussed in LDS seminary classes since at least 1934.


Blogger Jeff G said...

Aside from the totally inaccurate depiction of the naturalistic world view (evolution is NOT random by any stretch of the imagination), let me focus on the intelligent designer part.

That the designer is not the same as that obnoxious and unethical legal movement is a wonderful thing. Assuming there really is a difference between the two, it would be a shame if it were not appreciated. In the long run, I don't see any way that the ID movement can possibly succeed. On the other hand, I do see way in which "God did it, somehow" could turn out to be true.

Now as for the hypothesis that there was some intelligence in the creation, somehow. This is NOT a scientific hypothesis since it offers no predictions of any kind. This is not a bad thing, per se, since people aren't going to church to learn science.

There is a potential problem, however, with the idea that all truth is "one" (whatever that means) and that all science is part of the gospel. Furthermore, it is difficult, though perhaps not impossible, to see how "God did it, somehow" explains anything at all. In what way, specifically, would a universe where "God did it, somehow" differ from a universe where "God didn't do it?" Until an answer is given to this question, it's hard to see "God did it, somehow" as doing anything other than saving faith.

12/29/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark D. said...

Jeff G,

As a scientific program, evolution is intellectually bereft. The known laws of physics are deterministic and time symmetric. That means they are mathematically incapable of explaining a phenomenon that is understood to operate only in one direction.

Have paleontologists ever observed a consistent pattern of increasing complexity going in to the past? And yet according to Schroedinger's equations such a pattern is equally likely as a pattern of complexity increasing into the future.

So where does this magical special sauce come from that allows natural selection to violate the known laws of physics? Biologists haven't the slightest idea. It is one of the great unsolved problems. On mathematical grounds, I don't think it is possible for any significant sense of evolution to exist in a deterministic universe. All deterministic systems eventually go backwards and revert to form. Poincaire recurrence theorem and all that.

12/30/2007 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

Mark D.

First of all, I have no idea what your comment has to do with my comment.

Second, it is as clear a case as any of what I mention in the previous post; attacking 2 without addressing 3 in the least.

12/30/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom D said...

Mark D.,
Poincaré's theorem has a few problem when applied to the real world, the largest of which is the problem of entropy - there are some proposed solutions to combining the two, but none of them are perfect solutions.

Also, remember that the theory of organic evolution does not treat the Earth and the lifeforms on it as a closed system. While little ever gets off the Earth, the Earth receives continual radiation in the form of sunlight and cosmic particles. If the Earth were a closed system, then Poincaré might apply more fully, but because the Earth continues to receive stimuli the system of study becomes just that much more complex due to this environmental "noise".

Also, just because the laws of Physics are time-symmetric does not mean that all physical actions and reactions are also symmetric; it simply means that for physical equations the direction of time doesn't matter. Imagine the amount of energy required to turn a chicken egg into a cooked, scrambled eggs versus the amount of energy required to turn a cooked, scrambled egg into a chicken egg. It is possible to do so within the laws of science, but the Second Law of Thermodynamics means that in a system of increasing complexity it requires far less energy to go from a state of order to disorder. Evolution is constantly about producing a state of disorder in a species' genome which only rarely results in a beneficial change, producing the illusion of increasing order.

Not so much a statement on the original post, but a needed response. Please note I'm not saying organic evolution is in existence or even ID (I'm rather thankful that the latter seems to be dead).

12/30/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark D. said...


The difference is clear. Intelligent Design implies that if intelligence did play a role in the process, life from single cells on up would not exist. That is every bit as scientific a hypothesis as the assertion that natural selection is solely responsible for biological complexity and that the origin of life was a cosmic accident.

Or in more explicit terms, ID predicts that science will never be able to give an adequate naturalistic explanation either for the origin of life or for macro evolution. Tell me, why does a cell want to live anyway?

12/30/2007 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...


You make it sound like ID is not a separate theory from natural selection at all, but that the former is merely a criticism of the latter. While such a claim might be scientific, it's hardly worthy of being called a theory in its own right.

Of course inasmuch as ID says anything beyond "natural selection isn't enough" it is not scientific at all. It is for this reason that evolutionists claim that ID is both unfalsifiable and false at the same time: it's criticisms of evolution are false, and it's own affirmative claims are unfalsifiable.

Now you suggest that ID suggests that the universe would be different in some way. (You honestly didn't think that I could have anticipated your response?) Okay, so the universe wouldn't have complex life... but why? What would have prevented complex life from emerging? The evolutionists seems to have provided a reasonably plausible scenario for how it could happen and any criticisms of these scenarios seem to be little more than argument from personal incredulity or from ignorance.

Aside from the general "complex life" what EXACTLY couldn't have evolved? What was the first system that was too complex to evolve without intelligence. Of course IDers are busy trying to answer this question (for surely there MUST be an answer) but so far haven't come up with anything that the evolutionists haven't been able to address rather well.

12/31/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark D. said...


Any consistent Intelligent Design theory is based on the proposition that intelligence is a fundamental, irreducible part of existence. If not, it would reduce to some variation on materialistic accidentalism.

The positive program for ID revolves around information theory - developing the techniques to demonstrate by rigorous mathematical means that both the origin of life and a continuous process of macro evolution are essentially statistically impossible by ordinary means, but that intelligence - having the crucial property of the ability to inject discoverable information (i.e. not entropy) into a system is the only way to explain the advent of any structure not discoverable in the prior conditions.

A second avenue of inquiry would be investigating whether a single cell can actually thrive under deterministic conditions. I previously made a thumbnail of an argument based on the fact that the time symmetry of the laws of physics cannot be used to derive substantially time asymmetric biological behavior. Intelligence and biology are temporally biased, determinism is not.

The only way to counter these assertions is to demonstrate the contrary - to discover additional time asymmetric laws of physics and use them to establish that a cell computationally simulated down to the molecular level exhibits the necessary time asymmetric behavior. Or alternatively, to simulate any major step in an evolutionary process (such as the origin of single celled organisms) using a comparable molecular level simulation.

The reason why it is scientifically an open question is because the necessary laws of physics have not been discovered, and (additionally) the necessary computational power is not available.

Without the former (at a minimum) or solid mathematical proof this question lies more in the realm of natural philosophy. There is as yet no science about it. Scientists do not get a free ride to label anything 'scientific' they care to speculate about, without the slightest shred of real evidence.

12/31/2007 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

Here is my few cents:

1) Evolutionary Biology is not Physics. Indeed, its not clear that biological laws are even possible in the same sense as physical laws are. In other words, who cares what the laws of physics are like?

2) Evolutionary Biology is not Math. Physics is not math either. Math can, however, be applied to both the physical and biological realms and produce interesting results. (Interesting is a bit of an understatement in the case of physics.) Nevertheless, in order to do this terms must be VERY clearly defined. From what I understand, Dembski & Co. does NOT do this at all.

Perhaps you could read this article and tell me where the author goes wrong:


1/02/2008 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

Here's another good link by the same author about the (ir)relevance of information theory to biology:


1/02/2008 11:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

Recently, I was at the library here in Hurricane, and I saw a paperback book, “The Death of Adam.” In skimming its contents, I noticed that it was a fairly typical humanistic discussion of the consequences to western civilization of modern science having proven that Adam and Eve are mythical figures, along with all other Bible Stories. Where will we now get the moral authority for our laws and others standards of right and wrong, now that our God has been relegated to mythical status? I have read discussions like this before.

Now, in the modern blog church, we in this narrow culture must now face the same question: with the majority of BYU and other church scientists now relegating the story of Adam and Eve that permeates the four standard works to de facto mythical status, how shall the remaining half of the “Fall and Atonement” equation in the Scriptures, namely, the story of Jesus and his miraculous birth, life, atonement, and resurrection, continue to retain other than mythical authority?

It is a simple fact that all of the scriptures teach that the fall of man came by a choice made by our first parents in the Garden of Eden. While evolutionary theory does not allow for one such couple to be the primal parents of our race, even if it did, they would have arrived on the scene already in their fallen state. So, I ask, what consistent scriptural authority exists for the “story” of the atonement? If the first half of the Fall and Atonement equation is a myth, I say, we may as well admit that the scriptures regarding the atonement have no authority to do anything but make us “feel good.”

We might as well subscribe to the James Cameron (Titanic Director) financed book (also at the Hurricane library) proclaiming the scientifically verified discovery of the Jesus Family Tomb which also proves that the resurrection story is a myth. I think James would be happy to know that in China, (where I now live and teach 40 weeks each year), the final scene in Titanic, where the lovers are reunited after Rose, the heroin, dies in her old age, in a “spirit world wedding celebration,” was cut by government censors. These folks obviously were ahead of the curve and Jim has finally caught up.

But, these same censors might also be surprised that the “myth” of the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve is well known to present Chinese university students, who have been taught official atheism all of their lives and have never read or seen a Bible. At least once or twice each year, students act the story out, almost “Scripture Perfect,” without any prodding or help from the teacher, to almost universal recognition among their classmates.

1/04/2008 06:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom D said...

Greg -
Let me preface that I believe in Adam and Eve as real people. I don't know how their physical bodies were made, I do not know if I believe in the physical Garden or a physical Fruit, but I believe that the essentials of the account in "The Pearl of Great Price" of Adam being told of the symbol of animal sacrifice are real. I have no explanation for it; it is just what I think.

I am something of a pseudo-Pelagianist: I believe that it is possible for a man to not sin. I believe that the Savior of the World did this being both man and God, and I believe the potential is there for all human children to grow up sinless but that NONE do it. Thus, I believe that every human being on this Earth has fallen from salvation and is in need of an Atonement. Even if the /Fall/ didn't happen, /falls/ occur for everyone throughout life.

The story of the Garden of Eden can easily be applied to every human being individually. As though each of us were either Adam or Eve, each of us have started in a state of innocence only to have broken that innocence by willful rebellion. Each of us requires a Savior to save us from the effects of this sin.

Relegating Eden to myth does not diminish the theological necessity of a Savior, and neither does it abolish abstract concepts like right and wrong, which have always existed in societies that don't have Eden in them. Also, having Eden be a myth, or a real event that is mythologized, does not lead to the effect that everything dealing with Eden (Creation, Fall, Atonement) is also myth or mythologized; this is a locigal fallacy known as denying the antecedent.

1/05/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


To Jeff G, Mark D, Tom D, and Greg,

Thank you for your comments.  At this time, I'd like to remind you and all of our readers about what the Church has taught for years to investigators, newly baptized members, and members returning from inactivity.

The Sunday School Gospel Principles course "is for investigators and others who want basic gospel instruction." (See "Curriculum 2005 through 2008," click here.)  The Gospel Principles course manual is an approved resource for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society First-Sunday lessons.  It is for "investigators, the newly baptized, those returning to activity, and those who may need or desire a stronger understanding of basic gospel principles." (Ensign, Mar. 1993, p. 80.)

Gospel Principles is very clear that there was no death on this earth until after Adam fell.  Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were not mortal, in fact "there was no death."  Not "no death in the Garden" but simply "no death."  In that same paragraph, the manual sends its readers to Elder Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine article on the Fall of Adam (Gospel Principles, p. 32;  click here.)

Elder McConkie's Mormon Doctrine article on the Fall of Adam reads as follows:

-------------- quote --------------
"Adam, our first parent (1 Ne. 5:11), a ' son of God '  (Moses 6:22), was first placed on earth as an immortal being.  His coming was the crowning event of the creation; and as with him, so with every department of creation—immortality reigned supreme.  (2 Ne. 2:22.)  There was no death, no mortality, no corruption, no procreation....

"In that first edenic day, Adam was still in the presence of God, with whom he walked and talked and from whom he received counsel and commandments (Moses 3; 4.)  He had temporal life because his spirit was housed in a temporal body, one made from the dust of the earth.  (Abra. 5:7.)  He had spiritual life because he was in the presence of God and was alive to the things of righteousness or of the Spirit.  He had not yet come to that state of mortal probation in which are found the testings and trials requisite to a possible inheritance of eternal life.  As yet the full knowledge of good and evil had not been placed before him; and, what was tremendously important in the eternal scheme of things, he could have no children.

"But all these conditions, in the providences of the Almighty, were soon to change.  According to the foreordained plan, Adam was to fall; that is, ' in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things '  (2 Ne. 2: 24), Adam was to introduce mortality and all that attends it, so that the opportunity for eternal progression and perfection might be offered to all the spirit children of the Father.

"In conformity with the will of the Lord, Adam fell both spiritually and temporally.  Spiritual death entered the world, meaning that man was cast out of the presence of the Lord and died as pertaining to the things of the Spirit which are the things of righteousness.  Temporal death also entered the world, meaning that man and all created things became mortal."  (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 1966, 268-269; italics in original, other emphasis added.)
-------------- end quote --------------

The LDS Church teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam and that death entered the world as a direct result of the fall.  The Church teaches this in its basic gospel doctrine manual, Gospel Principles, which also sends its readers to Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine article quoted above.

Some Church members feel the Church is wrong about the fall.  And that's okay as long as we are all willing to acknowledge what the Church does teach.

Now please carry on with your discussion.

1/05/2008 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...


I must say that I am quite shocked at how much I have come around to agreeing with you in so many ways. I don't know if you were paying attention or not, but I was recently claiming over at New Cool Thang that members are FAR too willing to invoke prophetic fallibility whenever and wherever they see fit. About 50 comments into the discussion I realized that I was defending YOUR views. It made me chuckle a bit.

1/05/2008 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger lonepilgrim said...

Some of you may be interested in a new video that discusses what the Presidents of the Church and other of the Brethren have taught on the subject of organic evolution. This is the website: www.zionvision.com
This video discusses the unity among the Presidents of the Church on this subject that has become more controversial through the years. The video does not directly address Intelligent Design theories, but it tackles the literal interpretation of the scriptures regarding the Creation, Adam and Eve, Miracles and other doctrines. It also discusses the Scopes trial and 1909 Presidency message on evolution.

1/27/2008 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff G said...

I just posted this on another thread, but I thought it was quite relevant to this discussion as well.

Gary's NDBF position should not be confused with the intelligent design movement at all. Gary's beef with evolution concerns common ancestry and the age of the earth, things which are very different from what the ID movement is about.

Even if ID turned out to be right and that Darwinian evolution by natural selection could not account for all relevant biological phenomena, this would have very, very little bearing on the issues which Gary brings up. The difference between the two, to put it slightly uncharitably (sorry Gary), is that Gary is even more anti-science than ID is, and that's saying a lot.

This is not to say, however, that Gary doesn't hit the nail on the head in terms of addressing the major religious objections to evolution. Science says that death has regularly been occurring on this planet for billions of years, not thousands. Science says that humans share a common ancestor with the great apes.

Unfortunately, these are two of the most scientifically secure conclusions in all of science. ALL of the evidence points in favor of these positions, which are actually quite independent of Darwin's theory.

This is the reason why most attempts at reconciling religion and evolution fail; they only attempt, or in some cases succeed, in reconciling the parts of evolution which don't really bother anybody.

After all, who cares how subtle God's interaction was in the creation? Who cares whether all other animals and lifeforms are related to each other or not? The major rub is when people say that man is just another animal, special though he may be.

Intelligent Design simply doesn't address this most important point. This is primarily due to the fact that they want to retain a degree of scientific respectability and all the scientific evidence, and I mean all of it, goes against special creation.

What Gary does, contra ID, is abandon the aspirations to scientific respectability and stick to the prophets word.

1/27/2008 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger richard Sherlock said...

Richard Sherlock

Jeff darwinism per se is intellectual nonsense and should be rejected out of hand by serious thinkers Christian or not. No one has ever answered the mathematical objections to randomness stated succinctly by Frank Salisbury in Nature in 1969 to get a string of amino acids in a protein 100 amino acids long out of randomness has a probability of 10-125 which is hughly below any confidence level Furthermore, intelligent design is profoundly mormon as I have shown in FARMS and the Dover decision is as intellectually bankrupt as any court decision has ever been. Intelligent design does lead to further lines of inquiry eg. how was it designed, what function does each part play and especially what is the purpose of the design just as we do when we find an ancient "machine" or designed object such as Stonehenge Furthermore no serious philosopher of science would ever say that we have a clearly defined idea of what is science. Ecology was for decades just descriptive not experimental, so was paleontology, and just what predictions come from string theory. Paleontology offers no predictions but no one will really say it isn't science . Furthermore the way evolution is usually presented it too offers no testable predictions and fails the most meager popperian test for science.

3/22/2008 12:17:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

Gary and Richard,

I am going to comment on Richard's FARMS paper over at The Waters of Mormon thread:


3/24/2008 07:40:00 PM  

<< Home