Sunday, February 15, 2009

Note to Salt Lake Tribune: Mormons do NOT "generally accept evolution"

The Salt Lake Tribune announced Friday that Latter-day Saints "generally accept evolution." Yet in the same sentence, the paper also states that the First Presidency's official statement on the subject contains "anti-evolution sentiments."

In what blogger Matt B. last year called "the single most extensive canvass of American religious life ever achieved," Pew Forum discovered that "more Mormons, 76%, disagreed with the notion that evolution 'is the best explanation for life on earth' than any other group but Jehovah's Witnesses. Only 21% of Mormons even 'partially agree,' " reported Matt.

It makes you wonder where the Salt Lake Tribune gets its news.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It makes you wonder where the Salt Lake Tribune gets its news."

From the Mormon blogs?


2/15/2009 07:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The actual statement in the Pew survey that Mormons disagreed with was:

"Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of HUMAN life on earth." [emphasis added]

I think the word Human is important here. I hope you'll correct your post. To reflect that.


2/16/2009 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: You need to correct Matt B. over at the Juvenile Instructor blog. This post correctly quotes Matt. Besides, you are making an artificial distinction. Evolutionary science doesn't make such a distinction. Even LDS evolutionists like Duane Jeffery and Trent Stephens don't make such a distinction.

2/16/2009 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous is still complaining about the way Matt B. quoted the Pew survey. Anonymous claims that

-------------- quote --------------
"many Mormons make a distinction between evolution as an explanation for life in general, and as an explanation of human origins."
-------------- end quote --------------

I suggest Anonymous commission his or her own survey and find out how much difference, if any, the wording change really makes.

2/17/2009 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Accepting" evolution makes about as much sense as "accepting" gravity. It's frustrating that religious fundamentalists/literalists take such a defensive stance against well-established and documented truths. It is also unnecessary. Science and religion can inform one another since they fundamentally deal with different questions.

God did not give us science and reason as impediments to our spiritual growth. He did not fill our world with evidences and natural laws meant to deceive us and try our faith.

An acceptance of well-researched and supported scientific theories leaves ample room for faith.

3/03/2009 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

It is claimed above that "Science and religion can inform one another since they fundamentally deal with different questions."

In some cases, however, the questions aren't so different.  For example, science and the Church have very different views about whether evolution explains the origin of man.  Here are some teachings of just one current Church leader:

President Boyd K. Packer has consistently denounced "those who equate humankind with animals," explaining that " ' 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."  ("Children of God,"  BYU Women's Conference, May 5, 2006, p.5.)

In earlier comments about evolution, President Packer clearly stated his opinion that organic evolution as an explanation for the origin of man is not only a problem, it is "the problem" ("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, p.6, italics in the original.)

He has pointed out that "fundamental doctrines" (i.e. the Creation, Fall, and Atonement) "cannot co-exist" with the belief that man's body evolved from lower forms of animal life.  (Ibid., p.7.)  He has declared that if the theory of evolution applies to man, "there was no Fall and therefore no need for an atonement, nor a gospel of redemption, nor a redeemer."  (Ibid., p.22.)

President Packer has warned members not to mortgage their testimonies "for an unproved theory" on how man's body was created and admonishes members to have faith "in the revelations" leaving man where the revelations have put him.  (Ibid., p.10.)  He has warned, "Do not mortgage your soul for unproved theories." (Ibid., p.26.)

President Packer has said that man is not the product of evolution.  This idea, he has said, "is false!"  (Ibid., p.21.)  And, he has also said, theistic evolution "is equally false."  (Ibid.)

President Packer has explained that evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body is incompatible with "an understanding of the sealing authority," which (he said twice for emphasis) "cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts."  (Ibid., p.22; italics in the original.)


Note: neither of the talks quoted above, nor any other talk given by an individual apostle, is an "official declaration."  Yet apostles have the authority and responsibility to expound doctrine under the direction of the First Presidency. And we members have a responsibility to look to the apostles for our understanding of doctrine.

3/04/2009 12:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I respect your faith in Church leaders, I think there are two points to be made about your response.

1. The idea that evolution is an "unproven theory" shows a lack of understanding about what is meant by a scientific theory. Scientific theories are supported by a myriad of facts--they can not be simply dismissed as the misguided musings of Godless scientists.

2. Elder Packer's message shows a profound lack of understanding about even the most basic premises of evolution. Biologists do not claim we are descended from monkeys, they simply claim that we share a common ancestor that no longer exists and they support this claim with evidence that has become fundamental to understanding biology.

When I seek spiritual truth I look to inspired leaders and turn to prayer. When I seek secular truth or scientific truth, I turn to experts on those subjects.

Is it really that problematic to believe that there are many things about the particulars of the Creation that we do not understand? Do we presume to have that perfect of a comprehension of the mysteries of God?

I suppose the bottom line is this: the critical determinant of our salvation lies in our acceptance and application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives, not in our ability to rebut scientific truths with dogma. Our faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ need not hinge on the need to make circular arguments explaining away substantiated scientific truths.

3/04/2009 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

It is claimed above that "Elder Packer's message shows a profound lack of understanding about even the most basic premises of evolution."

I suppose that if Elder Packer's message were an isolated, one-time thing, I might show more interest in your rebuttal of what he said.  However, his message has spanned multiple decades and it has remained constant.  And his fellow apostle, Russell M. Nelson, has likewise given a consistent message on this subject that spans decades.  More importantly, these apostles are merely corroborating the official position statement of the Church on evolution.

Elder Russell M. Nelson on evolution

Two years ago, when the Pew Forum asked him about the position of the Church on evolution, Elder Russell M. Nelson said this:

"We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life....  Man has always been man.  Dogs have always been dogs.  Monkeys have always been monkeys."

Elder Nelson was speaking as a Church representative and he was well prepared to discuss this question—it is one he has discussed in his talks for many years.

The Church's current official statement on evolution

Elder Nelson made an indirect reference to the Church's current doctrinal position statement on evolution (the 1909 First Presidency's statement on "The Origin of Man") when he mentioned doing open-heart surgery on lower forms of animal life:

"It's interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are.  We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being.  We owe a lot to those lower species.  But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible."

Elder Nelson's answer parallels the Church's doctrinal position statement:

"It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation.  These, however, are the theories of men."

Another similarity between Elder Nelson's answer and the Church's official statement is his reminder that "there are just some things that we [don't] know."  In like manner, the Church's official position on evolution says:

"Man, by searching, cannot find out God.  Never, unaided, will he discover the truth about the beginning of human life.  The Lord must reveal Himself or remain unrevealed; and the same is true of the facts relating to the origin of Adam's race—God alone can reveal them.  Some of these facts, however, are already known, and what has been made known it is our duty to receive and retain."  (Ensign, Feb 2002, p. 30.)

Your claim that science HAS discovered "the facts relating to the origin of Adam's race" appears to be a rejection of the Church's official statement that "God alone can reveal them."

Elder Nelson's earlier testimony

Speaking earlier about evolution, Elder Nelson said:

"Through the ages, some ...  have deduced that, because of certain similarities between different forms of life, there has been a natural selection of the species, or organic evolution from one form to another....

"To me, such theories are unbelievable!...

"We are children of God, created by him and formed in his image.  Recently I studied the scriptures to find how many times they testify of the divine creation of man.  Looking up references that referred to create, form (or their derivatives), with either man, men, male, or female in the same verse, I found that there are at least fifty-five verses of scripture that attest to our divine creation....

"I believe all of those scriptures that pertain to the creation of man.  But the decision to believe is a spiritual one, not made solely by an understanding of things physical, for we read that  ' the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.'  (1 Cor.  2:14.)

"It is incumbent upon each informed and spiritually attuned person to help overcome such foolishness of men who would deny divine creation or think that man simply evolved.  By the Spirit, we perceive the truer and more believable wisdom of God.

"With great conviction, I add my testimony to that of my fellow Apostle Paul, who said, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? ' "  (Russell M.  Nelson, Ensign, Jan 1988, p. 64.)

Yes, according to Elder Nelson, the theory that man "was a development from lower orders of the animal creation" is foolishness and it is incumbent upon informed and spiritually attuned persons to help overcome such foolishness.  His word, not mine.


Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson are two of today's four highest ranking apostles and they have for decades affirmed the Church's official position on evolution.

3/05/2009 03:58:00 AM  
Blogger PhysicsGuy said...

Anonymous said, "'Accepting' evolution makes about as much sense as 'accepting' gravity." I think this shows a misunderstanding of either the scope of the evolution argument, or a fundamental misunderstanding of science itself. It is perfectly sound to not accept gravity in the same way that many do not accept evolution.

Few deny that a force named gravity acts on objects. Few deny that something named natural selection happens on a small scale. Both have been measured.

Many disagree that the theory of evolution as explained by science is correct. Many disagree that the theory of gravity as explained by science is correct. I happen to disagree with both the theory of Evolution and the theory of Gravity.

Calling a scientific theory "truth" or "fact" is utter nonsense. Calling the outcomes of scientific experiment "truth" or "fact" is more reasonable.

3/07/2009 12:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

PhysicsGuy -

"Calling a scientific theory "truth" or "fact" is utter nonsense. Calling the outcomes of scientific experiment "truth" or "fact" is more reasonable."

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. A theory is NOT a hypothesis - it is necessarily the outcome of scientific experiment.


May I add my thoughts on evolution as a Mormon scientist. I'm a chemist, so it comes up all the time, usually in the context of enzymes that "evolved" to do certain tasks, both in humans and other organisms. I have no problem with these statements. Evolution is the current scientific model for how we understand life came into existence. Just like any scientific model or theory, it will be updated as new data are discovered.

Science is not interested in truth. Science is interested in gathering data and performing experiments that lead to a model with predictive value. Currently, scientific data point to evolution as the origin of man. The theory of evolution gives scientists a useful paradigm in which to work. As new data are discovered, that paradigm will change.

Religion is interested in truth. We believe we can know truth through a sort of "spiritual experimentation" (cf. Moroni 10, Alma 32, John 7:17) which results in the Spirit communicating truth. Does revealed religion contradict evolution as the origin of man? Absolutely, but I'm not losing sleep about it because men's theories are constantly changing.

Where I believe scientists overstep their bounds is when they claim they have the "truth" and tell religionists they are wrong - scientists simply don't have enough data to go that far with their conclusions. These claims are scientifically dishonest - if we knew everything we'd all be unemployed. Moreover, in 150 years we may have to eat our words and tell religionists they aren't as wrong as we thought they were. The future of science is IMPOSSIBLE to predict - we simply do not know what we will discover tomorrow, let alone 100 years from now.

Science and religion are separate disciplines. Religion should not tell science they are "wrong" because we're just doing the best we can with corporeal, tangible, reproducible data. Science should not tell religion they are wrong because the data necessarily limit us in the conclusions we can make.

4/17/2009 08:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

May I also clarify that it is appropriate for prophets and apostles to reaffirm the divine origins of man. I am uncomfortable when they condemn science or say we're "wrong" because it can confuse people that don't understand the role of science and religion, thus leading to more contention.

Most scientists realize we're wrong about a lot of things. Let us keep learning and gathering data and see where it leads us! It's the only way for a community of mortals to approach the situation.

4/17/2009 08:38:00 PM  

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