Are Mormons Creationists? pt. 1

Having covered Mc Conkie's doctrinal objections to evolution as enumerated in his Mormon Doctrine and having found his objections to be superable we now move on to another list of issues raised by an Apostle against evolution. I say issues instead of objections because, as we shall soon see, this Apostle seems to be surprisingly open to evolution, though he himself does not accept it. Rather than offering a list of reasons why we must reject evolution, he seems to be offering a list of issues which must be dealt with if we are to accept evolution. This Apostle is Elder Boyd K. Packer and the talk is "The Law and the Light" presented at the 1988 Book of Mormon Symposium.

Immediately Elder Packer opens his talk with a display of non-authoritativeness and openness:
What I shall present is a personal conviction for which I am willing to take full personal responsibility...
In spirit of the Book of Mormon, please, may we drop all labels, all the 'ites,' and 'isms,' and 'ists'? Let there be no "evolutionists" nor 'creationists' nor any manner of "ists"; just seekers after truth.
One need not be labeled a creation "ist" to accept the hand of God in a separate creation of man. And I surely will not qualify as an evolution "ist" notwithstanding I believe that many things evolve, for I believe that many other things do not. Views can change, evolve, if you will, toward the truth...
Those who defend opposing views on the origin of man use the same words but sometimes attach very different meanings to them.

Thus we can see that Elder Packer is no Darwinian by much anybodies definition and this talk of his, is essentially his reasons for believing as he does. These are his opinions, for which he gladly takes full responsibility. This should be kept in mind as we proceed to address and dismiss some of his "issues."

His first issue, though he doesn't really intend it to apply to the issue at hand, is actually very well received by a Darwinian. It is the issue of labeling and defining people and/or things. There are three types of definitions I would like to address in this post: 1) defining a species, 2) defining evolution and 3) defining creationists. The first two should be relatively brief while the third will be our main preoccupation.

We have already dealt very breifly with the notion of 'essentialism' as applied to our ideas of the pre-existence. While I can tell from some comments I have read as of recent around the bloggernacle that I will have do dedicate another post specifically to the relationship between our spirit-birth and evolution, we will restrict ourselves for the time being to essentialism in evolution.

The author most concerned with essentialism and what evolution has to say about it is definitely Daniel Dennett. One reviewers of his wrote:
The... theme, from his 1995 Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, is the most important philosophical legacy of evolution: the death of essentialism. (Of course, many philosophers are as yet unaware of its demise.) With evolution, the idea of a non—material “ghost in the machine,” which distinguishes man from the rest of creation, must be abandoned. We differ from the animals not in kind, but in degree...
The weight of this issue does not intimidate Dennett. “We need to draw lines,” he writes, but we “should abandon the fantasy that either science or religion can uncover some well—hidden fact that tell us exactly where to draw these lines. There is no ‘natural’ way to mark the birth of a human ‘soul,’ any more than there is a ‘natural’ way to mark the birth of a species.”

Now as has been noted by Greg and others, Dennett is a staunch naturalist who finds all this talk about God and the like to be unconvincing to put it mildly. While he is not as vocal as is Dawkins in his atheism, Dennett is by no means a "closet Mormon." But this does not disqualify him as a spokesman for evolution.

His point has merit after all. There was no 'first' mammal. There was no 'first' man. And, getting a bit ahead of myself, we should not look for any 'first' spirit-child of God. This will be quite analogous in many ways to our looking for those who are creationists and evolutionists.

Next, we should clarify what evolution is. Packer says that he believes that some things do evolve: "views can change, evolve, if you will, toward the truth." Packer is right to immediately follow this statement with the caveat that sometimes the same words used by different people mean different things. No better example can be found than in Packer's use of the word 'evolve.' Evolution is not a synonym for change, contrary to what he seems to think, especially if one means change for the better or 'progression.'

My growing up from being an infant to an adolescent to an adult is not evolution. Nor is our becoming like our Heavenly Father through eternal progression. This is not what is meant by Darwinian evolution. This is actually closer to Lamarckianism which is basically Darwinism which the inheritance of acquired changes. For instance, if I get really good at tennis and I then have a son, my son will not be naturally good at tennis. He will probably inherit many of the genetic qualities which allowed for my to become good at tennis, but this is something entirely different. Lamarckianism is false, plain and simple.

Any particular organism within any species does not evolve, ever. This concept simply doesn't make any sense. What does evolve are species by the elimination of weak members before they are able to reproduce. If there is no reproduction or elimination there is no evolution strictly speaking. This is why evolution cannot apply to any individual.

This is also why there is no such thing as 'progress' either. Some might think that the weeding out of the weak is a form of progress. This is simply not so. The 'weak' are defined as those who do not survive to reproduce for any given reason. By the same definition we call the 'strong' or the 'fittest' merely those who reproduce. Thus, bacteria are strong in the exact same sense as a lion or a human is. In fact, the success story of humans is ultimately exactly that of the bacterium and is just as breath-taking, no more, no less. There is no 'goal' that evolution is shooting for. To speak of species progressing toward something is about a meaingful as saying that gravity is progessing toward something. It's not. It's only doing what gravity does, attracting mass toward one another.

This leads us directly into a discussion regarding the Mormon's status as a creationist. But before we do I simply must mention that we cannot accuse the Darwinians of using 'our' terms in a different way. It is 'we' who have taken their words, misunderstood them and then misapplied them in the evolution/creation discussions. We can't get mad at them.

Continued in the next post.

Summary: Having spent some time on Mc Conkie's objections to evolution, we will now move on to discuss Packer's issues. Packer suggests that we stop being so anxious to file individuals under certain labels. While labels are useful we should not try to push them too far.




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