Evolution of Spiritual Meaning

Continuing with my response to Elder Packer's "The Life and the Light" we come to the issue of evolution and the fall. We have already delt with this topic in our consideration of Mc Conkie's doctrinal objections to evolution so I will not dedicate another post to that topic. I do, however, wish to point out how comfortablly our take on the fall fits in with how Elder Packer describes the fall:
It is easier for me to understand the word "fall" in the scriptures if I think both in terms of location and condition. The word fall means to descend to a lower place... The fall of man was a move from the presence of God to mortal life on earth. .. Fall may also describe a change in condition. For instance, one can fall in reputation, or from prominence. The word fall well describes what transpired when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden. A transformation took place which made them "a little lower than the angels."... The bodies formed for mankind became temporal or physical bodies... After the transformation caused by the fall, bodies of flesh and bone and blood (unlike our spirit bodies), would not endure forever.

This is exactly how we view the fall in our 'reconciled version.' Thus, while we agree on most of Elder Packer's description of the fall, we do not accept both evolution and his definition of the atonement: "Many who perceive organic evolution to be law rather than theory do not realize they forsake the atonement in the process." This is not the case as we have already shown.

After this he goes on to show the interrelatedness of physical laws and what he has been calling spiritual laws by mentioning art, mathematics and music. It's difficult to tell if he is speaking out against evolution in this part of the talk, or if he is speaking out against a purely naturalistic evolution. The latter is not what we have been considering in our quest for reconciliation for I don't feel that his views really need to be refuted from a Mormon Evolutionist's point of view. We have not denied that there is a spirit to man which existed before birth. If we denied this we could hardly consider this to be a reconciliation of any kind. Both "The Evolution of Spirituality" and "The Evolution of the Light of Christ" fit in particularly well with Packer's ideas.

Where he might go a little too far, however, is when he says "There are too many interconnections uniting the physical and the spiritual in man to suppose that they came at random or by chance--not in a billion years or a billion times a billion years! It is against the law! What law? The law of common sense!" It would seem that by 'the spiritual' he means 'the abstract.' Music, art and mathematics only arise from the meaning which we give to or recognize in them. Could meaning have evolved?

Yes! This is actually the main question which Dennett's book "Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life" is meant to address. Meaning, according to Dennett, comes directly from our adopting the intentional stance toward that phenomena which surround us. (Remember, there is the physical stance where we see things as atoms and forces, the design stance where we see leaves designed for absorbing sun light and the like, and the intentional stance where we see plants seeking out the sun light.) "There is no substitute for the intentionaly stance [in evolution and survival]; either you adopt it, and explain the pattern by finding the semantic-level facts, or you will forever be baffled by the regularity - the causal regularity - that is manifestly there." With the adoption of the intentional stance, not only by humans but by any organism, emerge reasons, not just apparent reasons, but real ones. With reasons, eventually come interests. With reasons, interests and recognition comes meaning. "Real meaning, the sort of meaning our words and ideas have, is itself an emergent product of originally meaningless processes."

Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson approach the topic from the Epigenetic view (see Ruse's "Taking Darwin Seriously" or Wilson's "Human Nature"). Mathematics evolved in humans due to the advantage which the basic axioms of mathematics conferred upon those who could better adopt them. This eventually lead into more complex mathematics (undoubtably Dennett would claim that memes played a large part in this process) which also contributed to our species survival. With the advanced math we eventually developed technology, a super-weapon for survival.

Art is entirely contingent upon the human recognition of certain colors, sounds and compination of these which provided a biological advantage. We can only see and hear certain wave-lengths for the reason that we didn't evolve the ability to see or hear others. Color sensitivity is clearly influenced by genetic contingencies, not only in humans, but in many animals (especially birds). Certain patterns really do convey certain emotions, and this because of our genes. The same can be said for our tastes in what our ancestors ate, contingencies which would eventually contribute greatly to what would be the culinary arts.

Thus, notions of beauty and art or highly subjective, not just from person to person, but from species to species. I can easily imagine some "children of God" on another planet reacting somewhat differently to certain color, sound or taste combintions than we do. This would not be because either of us has a bad taste in art or beauty. It would only go to show the amount of contingency which is inherent in evolution.

Can abstract meaning evolve by itself? Yes. Can abstract meaing as we know it evolve by itself? I would say yes with some qualifications. Did abstract meaning as we know it evolve by itelf? Mormons answer 'no' based on their faith. God almost certainly played a part in the evolution of our sensitivity to inspiration and creativity. Thus we can ask the second question again: Can abstract meaning involving the inspiration of God as we experience it evolve by itself? By definition no, we can't. Can abstract meaning which seems to involve the inspiration of God as we experience it evolve by itself? It most certainly can. Thus, our saying that God directed the evolution of our artisitic tendencies is also a faith claim which we should not wave around as if it were a scientific argument.

We believe that God played a part in the developing of our particular tastes in art, mathematics and music. Similarly, we believe that God guided evolution toward "humans". Could evolution have produced intelligent beings by itself? Of course. Could it have produced humans by itself? Yes. Did it? We don't believe so, based on our faith. The two claims are exactly analogous to one another.

Summary: Evolution could have produced intelligent agents with affinities for art, math and music all by itself. This means that humans, along with our meaningful experiences, could have been produced by blind evolution alone. It is our faith, not scientfic necessity, which persuades us to believe that such was not the case.


As you read E.O. Wilson's "Human Nature" you come to realize that our tastes in visual, aubible and edible art are actually powerful evidences for evolution, not against it.  

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/23/2005 02:13:00 PM  


I've never read any of Wilson's writings, so I can't commment very intelligently on evolutionary psychology. I do know that some within the scientific community criticize evolutionary psychology--my understanding is they think it is not grounded well enough in experimental evidence.

I'm not rejecting your arguments--I just want to make sure you aren't overplaying your argument, since EP has critics. That's all. 

Posted by Jared

5/23/2005 02:30:00 PM  

I understand that. Usually the critics of EP get upset by those who would convert EP into genetic determinism. GD is false, but EP does show that a lot of what we experience and are inclined to do are highly influenced by our genes. But again, GD is false. Make no mistake in that. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/23/2005 03:09:00 PM  

I interpret Elder Packer a little differently than does Jeffrey, and the two of us have discussed some of those differences here .

In my view, it will help us to understand Elder Packer more clearly if we look at a complete paragraph, beginning with the last sentence Jeffrey quoted in para. 2, above:

"After the transformation caused by the Fall, bodies of flesh and bone and blood  (unlike our spirit bodies), would not endure forever. Somehow the ingredient blood carried with it a limit to life. It was as though a clock were set and a time given. Thereafter, all living things moved inexorably toward mortal or temporal death. Temporal, I repeat, means temporary" (Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990, 14).

Jeffrey claims death came for Adam and Eve at the fall.

Elder Packer claims death came for all living things at the fall.

"Remember," said Elder Packer, "the scriptures speak of the spirit in animals and other living things, and of each multiplying after its own kind (D&C 77:2; 2 Nephi 2:22; Moses 3:9; Abr 4:11-12, 24)." (Ibid., 21.)

I think that says remember what the scriptures say about animals and see 2 Nephi 2:22. Whoa, stop right there! Did Elder Packer say "animals and other living things" and mention 2 Nephi 2:22 in the same sentence?

"And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end." (2 Nephi 2:22.)

On May 15th, I explained here how the entry in True to the Faith for Fall clarifies a point of confusion some have expressed regarding 2 Nephi 2:22–23, namely that the word "they" in verse 23 leaves the meaning of verse 22 unclear. As I pointed out, True to the Faith eliminates this confusion by substituting the first occurrence of "they" in verse 23 with the words "Adam and Eve," which leaves the meaning of verse 22 clear—it means exactly what it says.

In "The Law and the Light," Elder Packer confirms the point of view found in True to the Faith regarding 2 Nephi 2:22–23 and the word "they." According to Elder Packer, the word "they" in verse 22 includes the "animals and other living things."

If death came for "all living things" at the fall and 2 Nephi 2:22 refers to "animals and other living things," that means Elder Packer probably believes the doctrine of no death before the fall, doesn't it?

Posted by Gary

5/24/2005 07:11:00 AM  

I think that he might believe in it personally, but this talk certainly gives the impression that he allows for it in faithful members of the church. If you don't even allow for that then I must say that I am at a complete loss. Now if he does believe in a total NDBF, just like those before him, (BRM, JFS2) then I simply say that he is wrong. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/24/2005 10:51:00 AM  

Jeffrey said:  "He [Elder Packer] allows for it [DBF] in faithful members of the church. If you don't even allow for that then I must say that I am at a complete loss." 

It doesn't bother me when you "simply say that he is wrong." Your frank acknowledgment of your disagreements with Elder McConkie, President Joseph Fielding Smith, and President Boyd K. Packer just means we both know where the other stands. Okay, let's take it from there. I would never intentionally give you the impression that I think your ideas define you as unfaithful.

Posted by Gary

5/24/2005 10:46:00 PM  

Elder Packer:  The bodies formed for mankind became temporal or physical bodies... After the transformation caused by the fall, bodies of flesh and bone and blood (unlike our spirit bodies), would not endure forever. 

Jeffrey: This is exactly how we view the fall in our 'reconciled version.'

Jeffrey, I don't understand. Elder Packer is saying that physical bodies were created immortal. Is this part of your reconciled version? 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

5/25/2005 08:04:00 AM  

Now it must be remembered I said that "we agree on most of Elder Packer's description of the fall." Now obviously he believes that our bodies were created immortal. This I am not contesting, nor am I believing. But in the portion that I quoted he doesn't say that. He only talks about us receiving mortal bodies of flesh, bones and blood as opposed to the spiritual bodies we used to have. It all hinges on how we define "spiritual bodies". He means a body of flesh and bones vivified by the spirit. I mean a premortal spirit body. If we use my definition, then we agree with his statement (the part I quoted anyways) completely. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/25/2005 10:16:00 AM  



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