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."

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Howard W. Hunter on Discrediting the Flood

In a book published the same year he became Prophet, President Howard W. Hunter addresses the question, "Should we disbelieve the account of Noah and the flood as related in the Old Testament?"  Here is what he said:

"There is an effort on the part of so-called modernists to change religious beliefs and teachings of the past to conform to modern thought and critical research.  They deemphasize the teachings of the Bible by modern critical methods and deny that scripture is inspired....

"The Old Testament unfolds the story of the creation of the earth and mankind by God.  Should we now disregard this account and modernize the creation according to the theories of the modernists?  Can we say there was no Garden of Eden or an Adam and Eve?  Because modernists now declare the story of the flood is unreasonable and impossible, should we disbelieve the account of Noah and the flood as related in the Old Testament?

"Let us examine what the Master said when the disciples came to him as he sat on the Mount of Olives.  They asked him to tell them of the time of his coming and of the end of the world.  Jesus answered:  ' But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.  But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.  For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.'  (Matt. 24:36-39.)

"In this statement the Master confirmed the story of the flood without modernizing it.  Can we accept some of the statements of the Lord as being true and at the same time reject others as being false?

"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, and they discussed the matter of the death of her brother and the resurrection.  Jesus said to her,  ' I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.'

"Both of these statements, the one regarding Noah and the fact of the flood and the one in which he declared himself to be the resurrection and the life, were made by the Lord.  How can we believe one and not the other?  How can we modernize the story of the flood, or refer to it as a myth, and yet cling to the truth of the other?  How can we modernize the Bible and still have it be a guiding light to us and a vital influence in our beliefs?

"There are those who declare it is old-fashioned to believe in the Bible.  Is it old-fashioned to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God?  Is it old-fashioned to believe in his atoning sacrifice and the resurrection?  If it is, I declare myself to be old-fashioned and the Church to be old-fashioned....  If it is old-fashioned to believe in the Bible, we should thank God for the privilege of being old-fashioned." (Howard W. Hunter, That We Might Have Joy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], pp. 22-23.)

The modernist view

BYU Professor Duane E. Jeffery has provided an excellent review of current modernist flood arguments in "Noah's Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions" (Sunstone, October 2004, pp. 27-45).

"The Incoherence of the Flood" (a current blog article) sets forth a few modernist flood arguments.

The old-fashioned view

According to the LDS Church's  Guide to the Scriptures:

"During Noah’s time the earth was completely covered with water." (Flood at Noah's Time.)

The old-fashioned view is also taught in these Ensign articles: Sept. 1980, 67, Jan. 1998, 35, and Feb. 1998, 22.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

"The Controversy over Mormon Doctrine"

"The Controversy over Mormon Doctrine" is a short section in the 2005 McKay biography by Prince and Wright. [1]  There was an apparent reference to it last month on blog FPR when Adam Laughton said he'd read "in the new David O. McKay book" that President McKay "found thousands of doctrinal errors in Mormon Doctrine." [2]

But what if that's not true?  What if Prince and Wright simply gave Adam Laughton the wrong impression?  Remember, just leaving out part of the story can create a false picture.

The Prince and Wright Mormon Doctrine Time Line

But let's not start with what Prince and Wright didn't say.  Let's start with a brief summary of what they did say.

1958: "Bruce R. McConkie, then a member of the First Council of the Seventy ... published an encyclopedic book with the presumptuous title of Mormon Doctrine. [3]

1959: David O. McKay asked Mark E. Petersen and Marion G. Romney to critique Mormon Doctrine for him. [4]

1960: Marion G. Romney's letter to David O. McKay was reviewed (but see the 1959 Romney omission, below) and Mark E. Petersen "gave McKay an oral report in which he recommended 1,067 corrections." [5]  The First Presidency asked Elder McConkie to drop his plans for a Mormon Doctrine second edition. [6]

1966: McConkie "moved with the same boldness of eight years earlier, and published a second edition of Mormon Doctrine." [7]

Actually, it isn't surprising that some people are confused about Elder McConkie and his book after reading the Prince and Wright short and sketchy version of the Mormon Doctrine story.  A more complete version might include:

Petersen as Editor

Admittedly, the exact nature of each of Elder Petersen's 1,067 recommended corrections isn't known, but I think it helps to remember his professional career.

Prior to his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, he was employed for many years by the Deseret News as a "copy reader, news editor, managing editor, and editor." [8]  He was fully qualified to look at Mormon Doctrine from a professional editor's point of view.

It seems unlikely that someone experienced in looking for spelling and grammar errors would suddenly adopt a different approach on Mormon Doctrine and concentrate only on sections that should be dropped or rewritten.  We could ignore Elder Petersen's professional background and speculate that his list included only doctrinal errors.

Or, on the other hand, we could accept the likelihood that his list covered the whole spectrum of editorial corrections.  Personally, I think it is ludicrous to assume that he brought a list of 1,067 doctrinal errors to the meeting.

The Inspired Version of the Bible

It is also possible that not all of the doctrinal errors Elder Petersen did bring to the meeting were, in the end, actually doctrinal errors.

Elder McConkie and Elder Petersen are on record with differing viewpoints about the Inspired Version of the Bible.  Elder McConkie thought it could "be used with safety" [9]  while Elder Petersen thought it was "of questionable value." [10]

Again, we could speculate that Elder Petersen didn't mark for correction any of Mormon Doctrine's references to the Inspired Version.  Or we could accept the likelihood that as many as 170 such references were on his list of recommended changes. [11]

Then we could observe that in 1979, just twenty years later, more than 600 "doctrinally significant ... excerpts from the JST (then commonly known as the Inspired Version)" became part of the LDS edition of the Bible after "the First Presidency decided ... early in that decade" to include them. [12]

Clearly, these Inspired Version changes may now be used with safety.  In fact, they "are scripture and have the same truth and validity as if they were in the Pearl of Great Price itself." [13]

Other Prince and Wright Omissions

I think it is noteworthy that, prior to being called as General Authorities, both Marion G. Romney and Bruce R. McConkie practiced law in Salt Lake City, both having held the title of assistant city attorney. [14]  It makes sense to me that President McKay would invite an attorney to review another attorney's book for him.

1959: On January 5, 1959, President McKay asked Elder Romney to review Mormon Doctrine. Twenty three days later, on January 28, 1959, Elder Romney wrote David O. McKay a lengthy letter detailing his findings.  The 1959 dates of January 5th and 28th are not mentioned by Prince and Wright.

Having been asked to look for problems, Elder Romney responded accordingly [15]  and apparently, his letter was reviewed again the following year on January 7th as pointed out by Prince and Wright who were careful to quote some of his negative comments. [16]

But in addition to his criticisms of Mormon Doctrine, Elder Romney made positive comments about the book and I think we ought to consider them as well.  They have been summarized as follows:

"In general, Elder Romney had a high regard for Mormon Doctrine and felt it filled an evident need remarkably well." [17]

1966: During the summer of 1966, the First Presidency assigned Spencer W. Kimball to act as McConkie's advisor in the preparation of a Mormon Doctrine second edition. [18]

"There were about fifty items that Elder Kimball wanted Elder McConkie to revisit... They dealt with tone and with the wisdom of including particular things.... Elder Kimball was a wise mentor who taught [Elder McConkie] the difference between being right and being appropriate.... Elder Kimball's list of things that needed changing [was] much less extensive than the changes that were made in the second edition....

"The report submitted to the First Presidency by Elder Spencer W. Kimball indicates that he checked changes made on fifty-six pages, all of which he approved.  He did not indicate a single instance of doctrinal disagreement with what was written." [19]

1972: When the First Presidency and the Twelve approved Bruce R. McConkie to be presented and sustained as the Church's newest Apostle, Marion G. Romney was a member of the First Presidency and Mark E. Petersen was a senior Apostle.

It would appear, according to Prince and Wright, that Elder McConkie had published his second Mormon Doctrine edition in 1966 against the wishes of the First Presidency and Apostles Romney and Petersen.

If that were true, one would have to wonder why Romney and Petersen approved McConkie's 1972 call to the Apostleship.  But Romney and Petersen obviously had a much more complete understanding of Mormon Doctrine's history than is found in Prince and Wright.


President David O. McKay clearly did NOT find "thousands of doctrinal errors" in Mormon Doctrine, even though one could get that impression from reading Prince and Wright.

Not only did Prince and Wright omit some things from their story, they didn't bring forth anything to suggest this information is false.  Rather, by simply leaving out certain parts of its history, they created a false picture of "The Controversy over Mormon Doctrine."


1.  Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. SLC: University of Utah Press, 2005, pp. 49-53.

2.  See Adam Laughton's comment #30 on LXXLuthor's FPR thread "The Best Books?"

3.  Prince and Wright, p. 49.

4.  Prince and Wright, p. 50.

5.  Prince and Wright, p. 50.

6.  Prince and Wright, pp. 51-52.

7.  Prince and Wright, pp. 52-53.

8.  Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, Mar. 1984, p. 9.

9.  Elder McConkie stated in Mormon Doctrine:

"At the command of the Lord and while acting under the spirit of revelation, the Prophet corrected, revised, altered, added to, and deleted from the King James Version of the Bible to form what is now commonly referred to as the Inspired Version of the Bible....

"Such Biblical revisions as have been made may be used with safety, and parts of these are now published by the Church in its standard works [including] the Book of Moses [and] the revised 24th chapter of Matthew." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, 1966, pp. 383-385; the same wording is in the 1958 first edition.)

10.  Elder Petersen stated in As Translated Correctly:

"It will be recalled that the Prophet Joseph Smith began what truly was an inspired translation of the Bible, but persecutions and his subsequent martyrdom made it impossible for him to finish the work.  Certain parts which he did finish are now printed in the Pearl of Great Price as the Book of Moses and the 24th Chapter of Matthew.

"Not satisfied with these, however, the Reorganized Church decided to publish the  ' inspired version '  including what changes the Prophet had made.  But, not happy with all of his changes, THEY ALTERED THE BIBLE TO SUIT THEIR OWN DESIRES, and actually changed some of the corrections made by the Prophet Joseph himself....

"Such changes of course make the work of questionable value, because the ordinary reader is at a loss to know what the Prophet corrected and what the Reorganized Church  ' corrected '  (?) to their own liking." (Mark E. Petersen, As Translated Correctly, SLC: Deseret Book, 1966, p. 30; capitalized emphasis and "(?)" in the original.)

11.  See Dennis B. Horne, Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights From His Life & Teachings, Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2000, pp. 63-64.

12.  Robert J. Matthews, "Why does the LDS edition of the Bible not contain all of the corrections and additions made by Joseph Smith?" Ensign, June 1992, p. 29; see also David Rolph Seely, "The Joseph Smith Translation:  ' Plain and Precious Things'  Restored," Ensign, Aug. 1997, p. 13

13.  On March 10, 1985, a Churchwide satellite fireside on "Using the Scriptures" was held.  Speakers included President Gordon B. Hinckley and the three Apostles (Thomas S. Monson, Boyd K. Packer, and Bruce R. McConkie) who served on the Scriptures Publication Committee during the preparation of the new LDS edition of the scriptures.  During this fireside, Elder McConkie said:

"Other Inspired Version changes are found in the footnotes of our new edition of the Bible.  Those too lengthy for inclusion in the footnotes are published in a seventeen-page section at the back of this Bible edition.  All of these changes and additions are scripture and have the same truth and validity as if they were in the Pearl of Great Price itself." (Ensign, Dec. 1985, p. 58.)

14.  See Ensign, July 1988, p. 74 (Romney) and New Era, June 1985, p. 9 (McConkie).

15.  Horne, p. 63.

16.  Prince and Wright, p. 50.  Prince and Wright date the letter Jan. 7, 1960, but I've seen multiple sources that date it Jan. 28, 1959 (i.e. Horne, p. 63).

17.  Horne, p. 63.

18.  See Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son, SLC: Deseret Book, 2003, p. 183; click here to read the entire chapter; see also Horne, pp. 65-66.

19.  Reflections, pp. 187 & 191.)

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