Friday, February 01, 2013

Three fallacies used to reconcile human evolution with the gospel

I remember the first time I heard an LDS scientist say human evolution could be reconciled with the gospel. I was impressed until I found out how it's done:

FALLACY ONE: Some LDS scientists argue that the anti-evolution teachings of earlier prophets and apostles like Joseph Fielding Smith are unreliable because those teachings came during a different scientific age. It is claimed that those same Church leaders would embrace human evolution today.

But here's the fallacy of that argument: Living prophets and apostles are speaking today about human evolution and they are not embracing it (click here).

FALLACY TWO: Some LDS scientists argue that Mormonism's open scripture canon allows them to view human evolution as a revelation from the book of nature, a revelation that supplants current and official Church teachings about the origin of man. They anticipate that continuing revelation will eventually catch up with science on this issue.

However, no book of nature has been canonized and Church members are taught to be suspicious of anything that contradicts the standard works or the teachings of living prophets and apostles.

FALLACY THREE: It is claimed by some LDS scientists that the First Presidency once commissioned science to search for and discover the origin of man. One particular biology professor has taken this as a personal mandate. He claims the same First Presidency told the rest of us not to disagree with science on this issue. His claim is pure fiction, completely erroneous.

This fallacy grossly misrepresents something the 1931 First Presidency said about an unpublished priesthood manual. The manual incorporated conclusions of geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology. The First Presidency said such things do not belong in a priesthood manual:

“Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.”

These words refer to the rejected manual and they mean the opposite of what certain scientists claim.

CONCLUSION: Changing the gospel to accommodate human evolution is not the same as changing one's thinking about human origins to accommodate the gospel. LDS evolution scientists are not authorized to change the gospel.


Anonymous Stanton S said...

Interesting thoughts, Gary. Thank you.

I have no intention of changing the gospel to fit my views on evolution. At the same time, I have no intention of changing my views about evolution.

2/01/2013 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The interpretation presented here of the April 5, 1931 memo seems misleading when read in light of the entire memo.

2/03/2013 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: Since May 2005, there has been a link on the sidebar of this blog to an article titled The Story of The Truth, The Way, The Life (TWL). James B. Allen, who wrote the article, is a respected historian. The article was published by BYU Studies. Please use the link in the lower right of the page to download a 38 page PDF version of the article. Then, when you have studied it, please come back and give me your thoughts about the above interpretation of the April 1931 memo.

2/03/2013 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Natural selection acting on random mutations in the genome cannot be reconciled with a purposeful and divinely directed creation of Adam and Eve. End of story really.

2/07/2013 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago I was babysitting my friend's kids when I overheard my seven-year-old daughter and her son (about the same age) having this conversation at dinner...

B (The neighbor boy): "Did you know humans came from apes?"

D (My daughter): [Seriously appalled] "Ummm, no we didn't."

B: "Yes, we came from apes."

D: "I DID NOT come from an ape."

B: "But that's how humans were made."

D: "No it's not. GOD made us. We came from Adam and Eve."

B: "But we came from apes."

D: "How do you know? Did you see it happen?"

B: "Uh... I saw pictures."

D: "But did you SEE it happen???"

B: "Well no... but I've seen pictures."

D: "Then how do you know that's how it happened?"

Haha, I love it! He couldn't back up his arguments after that and I kinda felt bad for the kid but I couldn't be more proud of her, totally sounds like a response I would give. She was very confident and calm. It was fun to listen to and it gave her Dad and me an opportunity to talk with the kids about what we believe and explain that they're going to learn about evolution in school but know that we believe something different.

I find it interesting that her gut reaction to the basics of evolution was repulsion. Honestly that's my reaction too and while I have other reasons for believing how I do I also feel that the Holy Ghost verifies truth and I feel that we can often judge truth by our initial reaction, that first feeling we get when we hear something, and it's just so interesting to me that a child who has no reason whatsoever to believe one way or another would have such a strong reaction to evolution.

2/14/2013 12:29:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Anonymous: When I read your comment, I thought of the following story that Boyd K. Packer once told in general conference:

-------------- quote --------------
Some years ago I returned home to find our little children were waiting in the driveway. They had discovered some newly hatched chicks under the manger in the barn. When they reached for them, a protective hen rebuffed them. So they came for reinforcements.

I soon gathered a handful of little chicks for them to see and touch.

As our little girl held one of them, I said in a teasing way, "That will make a nice watchdog when it grows up, won't it?" She looked at me quizzically, as if I didn't know much.

So I changed my approach: "It won't be a watchdog, will it?" She shook her head, "No, Daddy." Then I added, "It will be a nice riding horse."

She wrinkled up her nose and gave me that "Oh, Dad!" look. For even a four-year-old knows that a chick will not be a dog, nor a horse, nor even a turkey. It will be a chicken. It will follow the pattern of its parentage. She knew that without having had a course in genetics, without a lesson or a lecture.

No lesson is more manifest in nature than that all living things do as the Lord commanded in the Creation. They reproduce "after their own kind." (See Moses 2:12, 24.) They follow the pattern of their parentage. Everyone knows that; every four-year-old knows that! A bird will not become an animal nor a fish. A mammal will not beget reptiles, nor "do men gather … figs of thistles." (Matt. 7:16.)

In the countless billions of opportunities in the reproduction of living things, one kind does not beget another. If a species ever does cross, the offspring cannot reproduce. The pattern for all life is the pattern of the parentage.

This is demonstrated in so many obvious ways, even an ordinary mind should understand it. Surely no one with reverence for God could believe that His children evolved from slime or from reptiles. (Although one can easily imagine that those who accept the theory of evolution don't show much enthusiasm for genealogical research!) The theory of evolution, and it is a theory, will have an entirely different dimension when the workings of God in creation are fully revealed.

Since every living thing follows the pattern of its parentage, are we to suppose that God had some other strange pattern in mind for His offspring? Surely we, His children, are not, in the language of science, a different species than He is?
-------------- end quote --------------

2/14/2013 12:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read through Allen's article in its entirety. In its light, my original assessment of 'Fallacy 3' (i.e., that it is misleading) is still quite valid. Allen's history gives some perspective to the 1931 statement, but it does not alter its clear meaning--Joseph Fielding Smith's statements were as much at issue as statements from TWL.

2/23/2013 02:00:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: Your first (Feb 3rd) comment is here and my response to it is here. Thank you for accepting my invitation to study Allen's article and share your thoughts.

Allen's article is, of course, the story of a book. And having read that story, you know that Joseph Fielding Smith's involvement with the book's author was the result of Smith's assignment as one of the five apostles who evaluated the book on behalf of the Church. I quote from Allen's article:

-------------- quote --------------
On October 10, 1929, the committee sent their report to the Council of the Twelve. In a cover letter of that date, [Committee Chairman] George Albert Smith graciously affirmed the committee's feeling that for the most part Roberts's work was "very worthy" in its treatment of the mission of Jesus Christ and gospel principles,... There were, however, objectionable doctrines of a "speculative nature" that, the committee said, "appear to be out of harmony with the revelations of the Lord and the fundamental teachings of the Church." A three-page discussion of twenty-seven points questioned by the committee was given to Roberts.
-------------- end quote --------------

The committee's twenty-seven point objection to Roberts's book is crucial to understanding Grant's April 5, 1931, comment because (a) the twenty-seven points accurately represent the core of Joseph Fielding Smith's objections to the book; (b) the twenty-seven points represent the unanimous feeling of all five members of the reading committee, not merely the opinion of committee member Joseph Fielding Smith; (c) the twenty-seven points were never questioned by Heber J. Grant; and (d) the twenty-seven points of objection were not withdrawn even after the April 7, 1931, meeting where the April 5th memo was issued.

This much is clear: Heber J. Grant's words were consistent with his actions. And his actions were these: On April 9th, 1931, in a meeting of the First Presidency and Twelve, Heber J. Grant authorized another effort to have Roberts remove those parts of his manuscript found objectionable by the reading committee. It was no longer up for discussion whether sections of the manuscript that contained the conclusions of geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology would have to be removed. The 1931 First Presidency had affirmed the 1929 reading committee's conclusion that such things do not belong in a priesthood manual:

-------------- quote --------------
“Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.”
-------------- end quote --------------

Heber J. Grant was apparently frustrated with both Roberts and Smith for allowing a private, confidential discussion to become public. But by ruling in favor of the reading committee, Grant terminated both the private and the public discussions and solved the problem.

2/23/2013 02:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should email this BYU evolutionary scientist, Seth Bybee and professor who, by the way, deemed it his duty to establish that there is no clear cut view on the origin of man using the classic priesthood manual citation as his base. ( http://lifesciences.byu.edu/~sb38 ). However, he has gone well beyond the limits by having a guest lecturer, an evolutionary biologist and past BYU professor, go into our course and teach a day of class who went on to say that we do, without a shadow of a doubt, come from apes given the overwhelming biological and historic evidence. Clearly, this gentlemen was reasonable enough to remind us that the Church has no position on the matter, but, during the rest of the lecture, he referred to the matter as fact, clear cut and certain. Now, since I am currently enrolled in his Biology 100 course, I am remaining anonymous in this request but I do ask that you send my professor a personalized request so that he might clarify or correct what was said by this guest lecturer. Thank you!

3/07/2013 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: Personally, I think that teaching students about the overwhelming scientific evidence for human evolution is what university science teachers are supposed to do. But I also feel strongly that giving out misleading information regarding the position of the LDS Church on evolution is dishonest.

LDS scientists have often, wishfully proclaimed that there exists a diversity of views among latter-day apostles on the subject of human evolution. Do this: Ask your professor to provide one single Church published statement, new or old, by any member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve endorsing the idea that evolution explains the origin of man. The alleged diversity of views among the apostles on evolution simply doesn't exist. The LDS Church has never published an apostolic statement sympathetic to human evolution.

I probably won't email Seth Bybee, but you might want to give him a copy of this response. I'd be interested in what he says to you about it. You could also tell him I'd be happy to hear from him regarding the alleged diversity of apostolic views on human evolution.

3/07/2013 07:27:00 PM  

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