Evolution and Spiritual Things in General

Mc Conkie's final objection to evolution is basically a grab bag. Pick any doctrine of the gospel, he seems to be saying, and it is sure to be inharmonious with evolution:
Merely to list the basic doctrines of the gospel is to point out the revealed truths which are inharmonious with the theories of organic evolution and which were to taken into account by those who postulated those theories. In addition to the considerations so far mentioned attention might be given to revelation, visions, and angelic ministrations; to miracles, signs, and gifts of the Spirit; to the enjoyment of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the faithful; to the truths comprising the plan of salvation; to the decreed judgment according to works, and the ultimate assignment of all resurrected men to kingdoms or degrees of glory hereafter.

Its almost as if he's rejecting evolution because it doesn't teach about faith, repentance, baptism and the like. While evolution certainly doesn't teach these things, it doesn't teach against them either. In fact, this can be said for any science, for these things simply fall outside of the scientific method, and the inherent methodological naturalism inherent therein.

But I think this is where Mc Conkie's objection really lies. While scientists have been using a form of methodological naturalism since the days of Galileo, no theory has ever shown how powerful such a method is than has evolution. Phsysics and astronomy could assume that there was nothing more than physical stuff to what they were observing because the stuff they were observing did do anything special. It didn't seem to act on its own to any remarkable degree.

Evolution, on the other hand, describes life and intelligence in our case. It attempts to, and seems to succeed in, describing these phenomena is purely physical terms. No soul or spirits. No supernatural free will. Nothing but organisms made of genes which in turn are made of atoms. This is what is assumed in science so as to tease out patterns which will later be called laws. Now what do we have? If we give away life and intelligence to naturalism what is left?

But methodological naturalism need not be metaphysical naturalism, though the slope can be slippery. After all, if everything can be explained by naturalism (this is the ulitmate goal of science) then why invoke anything else? Everything has alread been explained. Why should we, in direct contradiction to the rules of parsimony and Ockham's razor, bring in unneccesary and superfluous hypotheses?

We should here note that the connection between methodological and metaphysical naturalism only arises when we go from "working with what we know exists and can observe" to "what we know exists and can observe is all there is." The only thing needed to separate the two is a bit of modesty.

Mc Conkie seems to have fallen in company with people such as Philip Johnson and Richard Dawkins, the epitomy of incompatibilists when it comes to theism and evolution. Both argue that methodological naturalism is (or should be considered) essentially metaphysical naturalism. Johnson feels that evolutionists while claiming to use methodological naturalism, keep pulling the bait and switch technique on us. And some do, such is the case with Dawkins who never tires of sprinkling a healthy dose of atheistic anecdotes in his books on evolution.

But where do Mormons lie? We obviously don't fully side with Dawkins who claims that we have no reason to believe in anything miraculous and therefore shouldn't. But we don't side with Johnson either who allows and advocate completely supernatural phenomena totally disconnected from the chain-like sequence of cause and effect. We lie somewhere in the middle, accepting a spiritual realm which is not really supernatural, but materialistic, made up of "finer matter".

We don't believe that physical law when taken as a whole can be broken, even by God. Nor do we accept that the world which science has so far observed is all there is to observe. There is more which is yet to be discovered (probably in the next life). Thus, Mormonism is very science friendly, always operating with in the realm of cause and effect, without accepting metaphysical naturalism as it is now defined. A miracle, in Mormonism comes from three things: 1) the timing, 2) the intentionality and 3) the meaning. None of these having anything to do with supernaturalism, strictly speaking.

We can believe in miracles. We can believe in God. We can believe in angels, gifts and the whole nine yards while fully accepting science that is kept in perspective. Copernicus didn't take into account relativity or quantum mechanics. This didn't make him wrong at all. Nor did it make Newton completely wrong. Nor do the theories of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and Evolution take "more fine matter" into their considerations, but this doesn't make them wrong either.

Summary: Mc Conkie's final objection arises when we confuse the methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. Mormons should accept the former while rejecting the latter. This separation allows Mormons to accept both a spiritual realm and evolution (as well as science in general).


Perhaps our modern response to evolution is akin to the struggle accepting a heliocentric world view. In both cases religion held firm beliefs in models of the physical world derived from dubious textual interpretations. Faced with physical evidence contradicting the faith, there is a natural resistance. As it is faith, the uncertainty of why one has faith in a belief is not so disturbing as it might be in science. 

Posted by John Welch

5/05/2005 12:21:00 PM  

This fits better with the post on pre-existent spirits, but I couldn't get it to come up, so I'll put it on the grab-bag of evolution and spiritual things.

Just out of curiosity, has anyone else read the Ender's series by Orson Scot Card? After waiting two entire books for him to use LDS theology in the story (he lets many potential situations pass by), in Xenocide  he pulls out this concept of aiua which are essentially souls (or in LDS terminology, intelligences). These intelligences are already exist in some nether region of the universe and are called or summoned by deity-like individuals to assume an existance. I thought it was very interesting and gave me opportunity to explore this aspect of theology with an atheistic friend with whom I was discussing the book.  

Posted by Mike Wilson

5/06/2005 07:06:00 AM  



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