Richard Dawkins, Mormonism, and Evolution

Various Christian denominations teach unequivocally that organic evolution is a falsehood. Where do you think The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints stands on this issue? It might surprise you.

Have you ever been taught in an Sunday School class that the theory of evolution is outright falsehood? Have you felt on a high school or college science exam about evolution that you would have to choose between your faith and science?

If you're a Latter-Day Saint, you don't have to worry about these issues. Because your church's doctrine on this subject just might not be what you think it is.

I've been rereading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a book which fascinates me. While I don't think his understanding of early Christian history is anything to write home about, I have been impressed by his explanation of evolution--particularly Natural Selection. During reading, I have found myself--especially when I discovered that Natural Selection and Chance are two completely different things--seeing the plausibility of Dawkins' explanations.

But what if I start to believe it? Does that go against what my church teaches? If I believe in evolution, will I be banned from LDS Church membership? Does a belief in evolution detract from my belief in God?

In a word to answer these three questions--no.

Here, in a nutshell, is the doctrine of the LDS Church on the subject of organic evolution:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. . . . Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes.

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 ... .
In the April 1910 issue of the LDS Improvement Era appeared a statement about Adam and Eve and evolution.
Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection..." or were formed by some other means is "not fully answered in the revealed word of God."
Richard Dawkins said
It's rather like a detective coming on the scene of a crime, obviously after the crime has been committed, and working out what must have happened by looking at the clues that remain. [As evidence] of evolution, the clues are a billionfold.
The more I read Dawkins, the more I agree--it makes some sense. But also from what I've read so far, I don't think Richard Dawkins is so absolutely 100% positive about evolution that he would cling to that certainty if it were proven false. I also think that if he were to be faced with the evidence of God that he would begin believing that God exists.

I believe that God exists. For me that's doctrinal (but not dogmatic). I also believe in the plausibility of natural selection. That, however is a personal belief (but not doctrinal).

I like how Henry Eyring (the late father of LDS Church First Presidency member Henry B. Eyring), who as a scientist had a profound belief in God, felt about it:
[Henry Eyring] enthusiastically studied the possibilities and even the probabilities of evolution. He even published a paper saying that, given the chemistry involved, it would have taken about one billion years for the first life to form from nonliving elements. Yet, notwithstanding the scientifically rigorous speculation, in the end he wouldn't take a stand on how God did it. One of Henry's colleagues, a member of the [LDS] Church, wrote once to thank him for his unequivocally equivocal position on evolution:

When I was in Salt Lake one time, I was discussing some problems of early man with you in your office. I then asked: "Which way do you believe it was?" You replied, "I believe whichever way it turns out to have actually been."
Me, too.

Links to discussion on Mormonism and Evolution





Comments

  1. One of my favorite blogs is LDS Science Review. Jared, that blog's writer, does a great job covering this topic with quotes and stories from church history together with interesting science.

    Too many LDS think a testimony of the restored gospel requires suspension of belief in the validity of the scientific method. That is unfortunate.

    Great post!

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  2. There is a quote from Dawkins that I remember reading (and unfortunately can't locate to link to) that says basically his 'uncertainty' lies in his doubt of the popular assumption that the theory of evolution and a belief in a 'creator' are mutually exclusive.

    I thought it was an interesting perspective.

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  3. I've been writing a review of "The God Delusion" from a Mormon perspective. It might interest you:

    http://transfigurism.org/community/blogs/lincoln_cannon/archive/2007/10/30/3670.aspx

    http://transfigurism.org/community/blogs/lincoln_cannon/archive/2007/11/03/3693.aspx

    http://transfigurism.org/community/blogs/lincoln_cannon/archive/2007/11/08/3728.aspx

    http://transfigurism.org/community/blogs/lincoln_cannon/archive/2008/02/11/4120.aspx

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  4. I had a BYU religion class from Reid Bankhead, one of the last of the cranks that used to teach there.

    He used to refute evolution and other heresies by grunting.

    He said that fossils that scientists use to prove evolution were put there by God to test our faith. Or maybe they came from another planet where evolution did occur.

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  5. A great book by Henry Eyring is Faith of a Scientist, which is actually a collection of speeches he gave. It's a quick read, and a really good read.

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  6. Jeremy,

    LDSSR is a very interesting blog. I'll have to check it out regularly.

    Jason,

    In light of that, it's interesting that Dawkins entitles one of his God Delusion chapters something like "Why there ALMOST Certainly is Not a God." A lot of his reluctance about believing in God is related to the fact, I think, that he's observed so many apostate (non-truthful) descriptions of what God is. I think he would be intrigued by the Mormon idea of God.

    Lincoln,

    Thanks for stopping by. I'll check out your reviews!

    Anon,

    It's too bad that Reid Bankhead and the like were so pompously arrogantly sure that they were right. They should have had instead the aplomb of Henry Eyring. Bankhead's kind of dogmatism gives the LDS Church a black eye.

    Cameron,

    "Mormon Scientist" has some quotes from "Faith of a Scientist" and states that at one point the LDS leadership was interested in getting that book into as many LDS homes as possible. It sold over 150,000 copies. I remember as a child seeing a copy that my father had purchased.

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  7. Nice post Frank. I also read "The God Delusion" and wrote a review over at: http://frombehindthezioncurtain.blogspot.com. I've been preparing a post on Mormonism and Evolution but keep revising it.

    Mormonism is interesting in that the Genesis creation story isn't as central to Mormonism because they don't teach "original sin."

    The best argument against evolution comes from a scriptural passage (either John or 1 Corinthians- I'm losing my scripture savvy over time) that says "for since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead", which implies that it was the fall of Adam that started death, and therefore natural selection isn't plausible from a scriptural point of view.

    Henry Eyring mentioned evolution in my first college class at the U (I'm giving my age away), and noted that the evidence for organic evolution was quite impressive.

    Dawkins is pretty explicite with the idea that if he is presented with overwhelming evidence against evolution or for the existence of God, he's willing to change his mind. If you find mammalian fossils in Cambrian sedimentary rock, you could certainly call into question evolution. His point is, that with all the possible evidence that could disprove evolution, none has. Therefore the theory stands.

    Best regards.

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  8. Obi Wan,

    Based on the reasons you stated in your comment, I have a very high regard for both Henry Eyring and Richard Dawkins.

    I think it would be interesting to invite Richard Dawkins to speak at a Tuesday Forum at BYU. I'm not sure whether BYU officials or Church Leadership would agree with me, however.

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  9. My 14-year-old found an old dusty copy of McConkie's Mormon Doctrine the other day and started reading various topics at random. He told me (I already knew) that McConkie slammed evolution big time. My son was surprised when I explained that this was just McConkie's opinion. He and his father-in-law leaned toward fundamental Christian creationism. I explained to my son that there are a variety of ways of looking at the matter, and that there is a diversity of opinions on this topic, even among notable LDS general authorities.

    My son finally stammered, "Well, what do you believe?" I said that I believed that Adam and Eve were the first people of the human race. Exactly how that was accomplished, I explained, is still an open question. Evolution looks like a good possibility. I'm not about to place any limitations on God.

    The problem I have with evolution is that some have turned it into an atheist ideology. In fact, there is an idological priesthood in Big Science today that excommunicates scientists who have the audacity to follow the evidence beyond the boundaries of Darwinism. See Ben Stein's take on this issue. Watch the long trailer.

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  10. I think the problem that religious people have with evolution is that they put evolution at the wrong point in the time-line of the earth. Genesis 1 and 2 describe the creation of the earth. I think it is clear from the scriptures about the Fall that the earth was created as a celestial body with no death. Death entered the world via Adam and Eve. So, when people try to put evolution at the beginning of the creation of the earth, they immediately have a dilemma. Evolution requires death, and if the earth was created as a celestial body with no death, then evolution couldn't have been part of the creation. I agree that evolution couldn't have been used in the creation of a celestial body since evolution is a mortal law not a celestial law.

    So, let's put evolution in the time-line of the earth at the point where the scriptures say the earth became mortal, that is, after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit. By doing this, we remove conflicts between evolution and the scriptures, and we can see how evolution could have been used by God in his creation of the mortal world.

    For those interested, I've written an essay that goes into more detail about this. The essay can be downloaded from here.

    All of the scientific research pertains to the mortal creation of the earth, that, from the viewpoint of the scriptures, occurred after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit. Scientists have no way of getting information about the celestial creation of the earth as described in Genesis 1 and 2.

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  11. I think if both religion and science are both concerned with discovering truth, there will come a point when both will arrive on a similar path.

    The problem is trying to keep wayward opinions from tainting the search.

    I'm going to have to check out the LDS Science Review site as well.

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  12. Scott,

    I watched the "Expelled" Trailer, and I'm not sure why they chose Ben Stein as their main 'actor'. I don't suspect that he has a lot of certification to talk about Darwinism and science. The trailer played hard to the claim that scientists who espouse intelligent design views are losing their jobs and being blacklisted regularly. It's hard to believe that this is the case, unless such scientists are discrediting themselves by saying they are absolutely sure that Darwinism is false. Richard Dawkins does not make a similar claim about God.

    I plan to watch the movie, though--it looks very interesting.

    Allen,

    I glanced through your essay on Adam, Eve, and Evolution. I'll spend more time a little later, but I am intrigued by your thought that maybe "The Fall" of Adam occurred gradually. I think it sounds plausible, and it does not hurt to speculate on these things so long as we don't hold to our beliefs so strongly that we can't discard them when the truth becomes known. I, as I'm sure you do, await with eager anticipation the answers to these questions.

    UK,

    Your words are very similar to those spoken on various occasions by Henry Eyring (father of the LDS 1st Presidency member). I completely agree with you.

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  13. "I think if both religion and science are both concerned with discovering truth, there will come a point when both will arrive on a similar path."

    That's the thesis for my blog on the convergence of science and religion.

    http://convergencesciencereligion.org/

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  14. Frank, This is a great post. I just wanted to say that I totally agree on your last couple of lines. When people have asked me what I thought, that is what I tell them, "I believe whichever way it turns out to have actually been." Which we will find out sooner or later.

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  15. Exactly. Because that's what (despite what some people, including Mormons, think) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is all about--accepting truth no matter where it comes from. The LDS church is not about dogmatism, even though many of its members are.

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  16. check out my blog about the church: shawnmccraney.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

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