Views on Evolution

I know the LDS church has no official views on evolution. I had someone ask me what I thought about it, and frankly, I haven’t given much thought about it. As I understand, there are people at BYU who believe in evolution, but I think they believe that evolution has limits, and don’t rule out that God created the world.

So how do people reconcile evolution with creationism? What do you think about “intelligent design”?


24 comments on “Views on Evolution

  1. I’ve always said that science is God’s toolkit. Why do we have to reconcile it? Don’t you feel like if God wants something to change over the course of 2,000,000 years he will? We don’t believe the Earth was really formed in 7 days, but instead we believe it took seven periods… and each ‘day” could be any amount of time. I think evolution makes sense in a context that God uses evolution. He doesn’t have to, he could just spontaneously create matter, but then there’d have to be an equal and opposite reaction somewhere else. Everything has its opposite.

  2. Randall,

    How do we know that God could just spontaneously create matter? I have always read LDS theology to be that God “organized” or “formed” the Earth out of existing matter, rather than created it “ex nihilo,” out of nothing, as orthodox theology may attest. Perhaps this is a small point.

    Agreed, though, about the time scale of evolution. To me, to state unequivocally that evolution is not of God seems in one way to almost limit God’s power, as if to say, “There is no way that evolution was God’s mechanism.” As for intelligent design, I have no conception of what it entails, except perhaps a middle ground between “Creationism” and “Evolution.” What that middle ground is, I do not know. But I don’t really have a problem with the theory of evolution, and have a hard time understanding why it is necessarily wrong.

  3. I think that the problem with the evolution versus creationism argument is that a lot of people have no clue what they are talking about. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have seen mistakes made on the issue.

    First of all, I think you have to differentiate between natural selection and evolution. They are not the same thing. Natural selection accounts for differences *within* species. For that discovery alone, Darwin becomes one of the greatest biologists of all time. No one can dispute that natural selection works. It explains the variations that we see in, say, dogs (think Chihuahua versus Great Dane; same species, huge variation).

    Evolution on the other hand refers to the creation of *new* species. Darwin thought that natural selection may have been the mechanism whereby new species were created, but he never had any proof.

    NeoDarwinism (which combines genetics with natural selection) postulates that genetic mutation combined with natural selection is the mechanism of evolution. But even that theory is not without problems, and many NeoDarwinists are loath to admit it, but the facts do not fit the theory particularly well. Every time someone says they have found a *missing link*, all it does it show another fully-formed species that is most definitely not a hybrid between and earlier species and a later species.

    That being said, however, intelligent design is unscientific to my mind because it attempts to fill in the gaps in present theory of evolution without empirical justification. I think that you can’t reconcile the two. I think that scientists (e.g. Richard Dawkins) should lose the overconfident swagger, admit that the current evolutionary theories are flawed and look to developing better theories that explain the apparent history of life on Earth, rather than try to paint their opponents as uneducated, superstitious buffoons.

  4. Randall: Thanks for explaining how you reconcile, even if you don’t consider it reconciling.

    DPC: Thanks for explaining the difference between Natural Selection and Evolution. I honestly thought they were the same, and am glad to be corrected. From your comments, I’m guessing Richard Dawkins is a proponent of Intelligent Design. Do you recommend any good books (websites, magazines, etc) to brush up on the subject?

    It sounds like you’re not convinced by any of these theories. Is something else more plausible?

  5. MH: “From your comments, I’m guessing Richard Dawkins is a proponent of Intelligent Design.”

    I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear. Richard Dawkins is a rabid atheist with disdain for any organized religion. Even though he knows about the holes in current evolutionary theory, he apparently feels that evolution should be taught as a fact so as to stop religious folk from filling in the details.

    “It sounds like you’re not convinced by any of these theories. Is something else more plausible?”

    I’m an evolution agnostic. I think that the jury is still out. It’s sad to see how politicized it’s become. That being said, however, I see teaching evolution as a great way to teach the scientific method and its underlying philosophy at schools. You say, here are the facts and empirical observations, and here is the theory that attempts to explain those facts and observations, and here are some reasons why the theory fails to account for certain facts. It helps people understand that science is fluid, that we are free to change theories as we gather more information. It can demonstrate that, at its core, science is a way of organizing and categorizing the physical world around us and is descriptive. It tells us how the world is; it fails, however, to tell us, us how the world should be or even will be.

  6. DPC (or is it dpc?),

    You make a couple of good points:

    1. Evolution has become politicized. In my mind, this is due, at least in part, to the linking between government funding (by nature political) and scientific research. One could also consider the link between government funding and public education. To get the money necessary for education or research in our current society, one must play the political games or know the political people to get the right revenue streams. Following the money, in my mind, means that there is a necessarily political aspect due to funding. The same would not apply (at least in the same way) for private schooled or homeschooled education environments, nor for privately-funded research. Of course, most think that privately-funded research for public knowledge is a ridiculous notion, and that government funded research is much more objective and perhaps even honest and reliable. And most people think private schooling is for the rich, and homeschooling for the backward.

    2. Science tells us how the world is, but fails to tell us how it should or even will be. This is a great point. Not sure I have much to comment on this one, but it is a great point. It is important to understand the limits, as well as the capabilities, of scientific processes and approaches.

  7. “Do you recommend any good books (websites, magazines, etc) to brush up on the subject?”

    Mary Midgley, “Evolution as a Religion”

    Rodney Stark, “For the Glory of God”

    Michael Shermer, “Why Darwin Matters”

  8. Interesting points all. So if you were to explain all things things in a non-political way, how would you approach it? Do we start with the Bible, say that God uses Natural Selection, and Creationism/Intelligent Design, or some other approach?

  9. First, Intelligent Design is creation science. (see Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. – I suggest watching PBS’s Nova – Intelligent Design on Trial for an good portrayal of the trial)

    Second, as I understand it, natural selection is the definition of micro-evolution. I’ve read of creationists saying the evolution stops of micro evolution, but there is no definitive line between micro- and macro- evolution, at least as far as I can find.

    Of course, I’m not a biologist, and frankly, they would be the best source on the subject of evolution. 😛

  10. Thanks for the info. I’ll look into it, and if anyone else has other good sources, please let me know.

  11. there is no such thing as macro evolution. all evolution is on a tiny scale, but if you look at what has happened over millions of yrs, you’d see a big change. but it is only through the small changes that it has been possible. if you do some good research on evolution you’ll see how if you are unable to reconcile it with your faith, you will have to accept that your religion is not true. for a church that stresses it’s truthfulness so regularly it seems strange that some members thing they don’t have to reconcile it with other known truths or, facts. and also, it is doctrine that god cannot do certain things, like break natural laws. that should tell you he can’t do whatever he likes, so to say he can is not doctrinally sound anyway.

  12. Creationism and itelligent design are remnants of the old roman/greek way of thinking. Plato talked about an “unmoved mover” who must have created the earth. Aristotle was the one who came up with the idea of the earth being the center of the universe. Mainstream Christianity borrows heavily from these philosophers. Traditions die hard. Evolution has more proof almost than any other scientific theory. Many Mormons hold on to their protestant/catholic/etc. traditions. Evolution is not frightening, it is aligned with Mormonism completely. Darwin, on the other hand, got carried away towards the end of his life. He became an atheist of course, and at this point, he made some bogus claims.

  13. antonInus,

    Very interesting points. Do you have any references linking Creationism and Plato? What are some of the things you like about Darwin that mormons should embrace?

  14. I always thought that Bruce McConkie had it right when he said.

    “If death has always prevailed in the world, there was no fall of Adam which brought death to all forms of life. If Adam did not fall, there is no need for an atonement. If there was no atonement, there is no salvation, no resurrection, no eternal life, nothing in all of the glorious promises that the Lord has given us. If there is no salvation, there is no God. The fall affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself. The atonement affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself.”

    You can either have religion or evolution – not both.

  15. James,

    I think many biology professors at BYU believe that we can have both evolution and religion. I think that they would say that God uses evolution, so I don’t think it must be the either/or proposition you (and McConkie) suggest.

  16. I know this is a little bit late, (almost 1 year later) but I just ran into your site.

    I have a biology degree from Boise State, but went to Ricks and BYU-H. I have obviously had many classes if not the subject of Evolution, and least related to it. Most people do not understand what evolution is. it is the change of the ratios of genes in a population of animals. (we will assume humans are also animals for this).

    I will try to keep this short, but I could go on for pages if you wanted me to get more in to it. it is easy to see evolution as a small change. Say for example the English Peppered moth. for many years, most of them were white with black spots. There were some black with white spots, but they stood out to predators, because the trees they hid on were white. Then along came the industrial revolution, and the trees they lived on now had a bunch of pollution, turning them black. Now the white moths stood out to predators, and the black ones survived better. That is considered evolution. Now say that some black ones were isolated from white ones, say an earthquake happened or something, and they were separated for 5000 years. Because of random gene mutation, or whatever other reason (there are many) after this amount of time, they cannot interbreed. You bring them back together, and since the genes have changed so much, they cannot have a “mixed” breed. That is also evolution.

    Now, here is my question, why can’t people see that evolution may be the way that God created the Earth? Gods time is not the same as man’s time.

    The other thing that I want to mention, is something that I asked a professor about in Hawaii. We talked about Evolution, and I asked this same question to him that you are putting out. How does evolution tie in with church doctrine? He explained a few things, but the main point was that God uses the principle of adoption for many things. (I won’t give any examples, but there are some) God may have adopted one species to use to place His spirit children in.

    This probably doesn’t answer your question completely, but hopefully it gives a little insight into it. If you want more discussion, you can send me a message, and we can get into more detail about it.

  17. Jason,

    Thanks for stopping by! I’m not sure why this topic is getting a few hits lately, but I’m fine with that. I figured out how to copy your comment here. It’s quite timely, since James just pulled out that Bruce R McConkie quote.

    I think most people completely understand your white moth example. As someone else commented, this white/black moth example is micro-evolution, not macro-evolution.

    I think the problem that people like James Brown and McConkie have is to say that evolution causes macro-evolution, meaning that man was formed from apes who were formed from fish, who were formed from amoebas. Nobody is doubting micro-evolution as in the case of the moth, but rather the idea that man evolved from amoebas is much more difficult to swallow for the pious.

    Certainly, if one subscribes to macro-evolution, it certainly didn’t happen in just the 10,000 years or so of Biblical history. My question to you is this: how do you reconcile macro-evolution with the Bible, or do you?

  18. This is one of my favorite topics!

    I would refer anyone with questions regarding the science of creation vs. evolution to the EXCELLENT website, AnswersInGenesis.org. There are many, many articles there written by highly qualified scientists on just about any creation/evolution topic you can think of. Answers In Genesis comes down solidly in favor of the literal Biblical account of creation but don’t let that dissuade you. They have the hard science to back it up. Check it out! I promise, you will be amazed at what you discover.

  19. Lori,

    Thanks for the link. It seems to have a lot of information there. I did a quick look, but plan to check it out in more detail.

  20. while I too find it fascinating to ponder the nitty gritty details,(I was uh.. by chance ;0) getting some very tantalizing clues from Abraham chapters 3-5 this morning) and I enjoyed the comments.As I do so I try to always come back to some of those simple truths that I know to be true. Some as follows…
    The plan of salvation itself is a process of “evolution” or as we call it eternal progress. Our purpose for being in this life is to become something we currently are not, but which is better and closer to God.

    The works of God and the spirit are constantly reflected in the occurrences of the physical world.

    While I am in fact rather poor at math, the thing that best helped me to understand this concept was a calendar that my mother had that was pictorial renderings of mathematical equations that are called Fractals. These can also be found in nature (though not with perfection) They are essentially a repetition of what came before and you can see that as they continue they create myriad patterns and designs of great beauty. Yet they are still the same pattern. Think of the family. Before this life we had a family, we were born into a family, we marry and create another family, our children then do the same.

    (I am not sure if anyone else can see how that ties in but for me it does)

    God is a scientist. He has all knowledge of the natural world. Who is to say what exact method was used in the creation of man. Creation does not require the conscious manipulation of every single atom. I know, I have taken part in creation by carrying a child.

    The scriptures can be understood in many ways. I have found some scriptures to apply literally, figuratively, physically, spiritually, and in other ways I cannot describe. We have no way of knowing exactly which bits are literal and which may not be. Also these revelations were given to people with a completely different understanding of the world. Is it fair then to judge each word as though it came from one with the same understanding as ourselves. I think not.

    I think this topic may be intentionally ambiguous and difficult. We are here to live by faith, if we knew every minute working aspect we could not do so. Perhaps some people are troubled by this lack of a concrete answer, but I am not. It is enough to know that the complete understanding exists with God, though I probably wont gain it myself for a long time to come.

    So I ponder it from time to time and remain open to the infinite possibilities, but no discovery or claim by either scientist or religionists will ever shake my faith in He who gave us life. (no matter how He did it!)

  21. Sally,

    Thanks for commenting. I was recently asked to post at Mormon Matters, so I decided to recycle this topic. A much livelier discussion is currently going on over there. Check out http://mormonmatters.org/2009/03/28/what-do-you-think-about-evolution/

    Of course, you’re welcome to comment here as well. There certainly are an amazing number of possibilities on this subject.

  22. @Randall

    May I point out one thing?

    The first problem with intelligent design and creationism is that both presupposed that God operates on a time scale based on a Gregorian calendar of 24 hour cycles for seven days, divided by times of light and times of darkness. (Believe me, I’ve been having this argument since I was 7 years old) The problem is that even today, this does not hold water since there are places in the extreme north and south wherein a day and night, divided by light and dark, could last as long as 120 24-hour cycles! Secondly, making that presupposition is itself a direct heresy, proclaiming to know the nature of God, by way of restraining His power and authority to the time scale of humanity. We cannot claim to know the nature of God, nor have any knowledge of his timescale. What is seven days for God could be any amount of time to us, we cannot say because it has not been revealed through scripture. So, say that the earth existed for (random number) 4.8 billion years before there was a single man on it…we can’t say that it’s not true because we weren’t there to see it for ourselves. We can’t say that a day for God isn’t 100,000 or even 20,000,000 years for us. recklessly proclaiming that God is restrained by our time scale is very dangerous territory, religiously speaking, and should be avoided since we, not one of us, has any knowledge of what applies to God.

    just an opinion…thanks

  23. JDR,

    I’m no expert on Intelligent Design, but I am quite sure that many who call themselves creationists don’t believe God created the earth in 6-24 hours days. Most people I know think this is figurative, or that 1 day to God is 1000 years. Most creationists I’m familiar with think the earth is about 13000 years old, and that God took 6000 years to create the earth as it says in Genesis. Perhaps some believe as you claim, but I think there is more variability in belief than you are claiming.

  24. Er, please forgive if this does not work, but I’m going to attempt using some HTML in these posts, for better grammatical clarity. I don’t know if I can do this or not… new to this group blogging thing!

    Like Randall, I’m always in the process of integrating scientific and religious concepts, and I agree that there is no problem in doing so.

    Doctrine and Covenants 93:29
    Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

    Like Mormon Paleo said, LDS theology seems to support that God created us from existing matter.

    Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
    There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;

    To me this scripture shows that supernatural phenomenon are really just natural phenomenon that can only be perceived under specific circumstances. It also (to me) supports the idea that God works by natural means in all that he does.

    Doctrine and Covenants 88:40
    For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence… light cleaveth unto light… judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

    I love what Sally said about evolution being a common theme in the plan of salvation…

    Here is how I think: All atoms and sub-atomnic matter (including spirits) are all matter. All matter is made up of “intelligences”, which are smaller than atoms, electrons, quarks, etc, etc.

    The nature of the universe is good. Light cleaves to light… In other words, these intelligence particles are eternally existant, and they have a tendancy to want to come together and become more complex…

    By more complex, I mean they want to join together and become something more.

    Think about the fundamental emotional nature of human beings – we want to be together. We want to commune with each other, become bigger, be in harmony with each other, etc. Our natural (spiritual) tendancy is to want to be part of something big and wonderful, and our spirits are never joyful or satisfied until we are harmoniously together with others = LOVE. And the more people we can include in that love, the more wonderful we feel…

    Think of matter… gravity… it all wants to get together and start doing some kind of complex, organised, structured, patterned dance with other pieces of matter. God is Love… In a way, gravity is also Love – the Law of Gravity is one of the proofs of God’s existence. Love = wanting to be together!

    So, Love permeates the whole complex structure and order of the universe. That is why love is so important. This whole universe was created on the principle that tiny particles of semi-awareness always are attracted to one another, want to be together forever.

    Even the particles that make up a human body are individuals, all consenting to work as a whole towards a common end.

    It is the intelligent nature of all matter that makes all evolution (and gravity) possible.

    Doctrine and Covenants 130:19
    And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

    Think of the “advantage” that Jesus had – he had power over the elements – over atoms. He could command a tree and it would wither and die. He could command another and it would bear fruit. The elements obeyed him because he had more “light and truth” which I believe does not refer to intellectual knowledge, but light and truth come from persistence in faith, love, obedience, hopefulness, seeing the good, generosity, mercifulness, tolerance, etc.

    Think of 2 Peter 1:5-10 – another scripture that describes how spiritual evolution occurs. Spiritual evolution relates so closely to physical evolution because it is through spiritual evolution that the children of God obtain power to command the elements, and therefore to command atoms, genes, etc, to change and grow in certain ways (or to wither and die).

    Jesus did say that if we had faith as a mustard seed we could move mountains. I believe that is literal. I have noticed that as my faith in God has increased and increased over the years, every prayer I pray is coming true. So, I can see in myself how a being as immense as God, who is so full of “light and truth” (faith, love, positive thinking, etc) can influence matter and guide the evolutionary processes. Sometimes the changes were big and immediate (eg. 2 Nephi 5:21) but the changes can be smaller. (eg. 1 Nephi 16:29 & Alma 37:-7).

    Meh, I think that’s enough about this from me for now. I can’t explain it properly, but when I integrate scientific knowledge and spiritual truths, and ask God questions, and think about all the commonalities between all the religions of the world, I come to the conclusion that God is an awesomely amazing creature, and the godly universe is an amazingly wonderous place to be.

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