Evolution, Science and Mormonism pt. 1

Now we come to a part in Elder Packers talk in which a lot of things are said very briefly and in an off-hand sort of way. He addresses Mormonisms position in regards to science, which will lead us into a discussion regarding the nature of God as we see it versus the nature of God as Darwin saw it. He then addresses in a very indirect way the status of evolution as a science, which we will use to address issues surrounding Intelligent Design. He also mentions that fact that scientific knowledge is cumulative, which is true, and accusses some people of getting a bit over confident in their scientific knowledge, which is also true. This will serve as a good spring board into a brief discussion regarding the accusation that Darwinism is either just a theory or is an atheistic religion in itself. This will probably take two or three posts to adequately cover.
I envy your opportunity to work in fields of scientific discovery: anthropology, paleontology, geology, physics, biology, physiology, chemistry, medicine, engineering and many others. Just think of the opportunity to study the laws of the physical universe and harness the power inherent in obeying them for the good of mankind. It gives me feelings of wonder, of reverence.
No Latter-day Saint should be hesitant to pursue any true science as a career, a hobby, and interest, or to accept any truth established through those means of discovery. Nor need one become a scientist at the expense of being a Latter-day Saint of faith and spiritual maturity.
Science is seeking; science is discovery. Man finds joy in discovery. If all things were known, man's creativity would be stifled. There could be no further discovery, no growth, nothing to decide--no agency.
All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation. Tests of faith are growing experiences. We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery. The kind of doubt which is spiritually dangerous, does not relate to questions so much as to answers.
For that and other reasons, it is my conviction that a full knowledge of the origin of man must await further discovery, further revelation.
Latter-day Saints may safely follow an interest in science and pursue it with commitment, dedication, and with inspiration.
Laws which govern both the temporal and the spiritual are ordained of God. After all of the tomorrows have passed and after all things have been revealed, we will know that those laws are not in conflict, but are in harmony. The Lord said that not at any time has he given either a law or a commandment which is temporal. (D&C 29:34-35) Of course he has not! Temporal means temporary and, whether they govern the physical or the spiritual, his laws are eternal!
Know this: Knowledge of the physical universe and of the laws which govern it is cumulative. Thus each generation builds upon and expands the knowledge gained from discoveries of the past. Contributions to scientific and practical knowledge are gathered from one generation to the next. As greater light and knowledge are discovered, tentative theories of the past are replaced.
Unlike knowledge of the physical universe, the moral knowledge of each generation begins where the previous generation began rather than where they left off. For example, the remedy for an infection in the physical body has changed dramatically over the centuries; the remedy for infidelity, not at all. Morality is not so easily conveyed from one generation to the next. It is acquired more from example, ideally in the home.
This apparent imbalance in accumulating knowledge can easily contribute to a spirit of arrogance in students of the physical world, especially in so-called intellectuals. They may feel they have inherited the larger and more valuable legacy of knowledge.

I have mentioned in previous posts that one of the tendencies of Mormonism, is not hallmarks of it, is our acceptance of science. Most of us have heard the quotes from Orson Pratt and Brigham Young which state that all science, it being a large sub-set of eternal truth, is included within the gospel. Brigham Young even went so far as to say:
If one of our Elders is capable of giving us a lecture upon any of the sciences, let it be delivered in the spirit of meekness—in the spirit of the holy Gospel. If, on the Sabbath day, when we are assembled here to worship the Lord, one of the Elders should be prompted to give us a lecture on any branch of education with which he is acquainted, is it outside the pale of our religion? I think not... Or if an Elder shall give us a lecture upon astronomy, chemistry, or geology, our religion embraces it all. It matters not what the subject be, if it tends to improve the mind, exalt the feelings, and enlarge the capacity. The truth that is in all the arts and sciences forms a part of our religion. Faith is no more a part of it than any other true principle of philosophy. JD 1:334

Orson Pratt remarked:
The study of science is the study of something eternal. If we study astronomy, we study the works of God. If we study chemistry, geology, optics, or any other branch of science, every new truth we come to the understanding of is eternal; it is a part of the great system of universal truth. It is truth that exists throughout universal nature; and God is the dispenser of all truth--scientific, religious, and political. JD 7:157

Closely related to this acceptance of science is the Mormon doctrine of miracles, namely that they are always done in accordance with natural law. Brigham went so far as to say that there is no such thing as a miracle to those who know how it is done. In other words, Mormons don't believe in real magic, only in the magic that really is real, namely an illusion. Real magic isn't real, even in Mormonism.
Another doctrine which is closely related to this is our idea that Laws are eternal and self-existent. God can't break, change or create physical law. He can only work within its bounds and use it to His advantage due to His knowledge of these laws. Thus, one will find lots of Mormons majoring in engineering and other physical sciences, the parts of science that study these laws.
So here is the Mormon God: He did not create natural law, but discovered them just like we must in we want to become like Him. He can intervene in the world by performing what appear to us to be miracles in order to accomplish His designs.
Now, how does this compare with Darwin's God? Darwin's God!? some might exclaim. Wasn't he an atheist or at least an agnostic? Not at first. He was, at first a Christian. He believed in a God that created the physical laws of the universe and occasionally intervened in affairs 'down here'. Eventually he became a deist (similar to many great minds in science) in that he rejected the idea that God intervened in the world since He created it, but He was the one who created the laws of the universe and got the ball rolling so to speak. In otherwords, this God is the complete opposite of the Mormon God.
Darwin's conversion to deism was greatly influenced by Charles Lyell's theory of uniformitarianism. It was largely due to his acceptance of Lyell's theory that Darwin rejected the idea of miracles, and with them, Christianity. "He grew to accept an Unmoved Mover who works through unbroken law, rather than a God of intervention who works through miracles that break physical laws." (Ruse in Darwin and Design) Notice, neither one of these gods is the God of Mormonism. We do not believe that God works through natural law. Instead God works in accordance with natural law, just like we do though to a greater degree. Which means that we also reject the idea that God intervenes by breaking natural laws as the other position states as well. Instead, we find ourselves walking a fine line down the middle of these two positions.

Darwin's deism also played a major part in his developing his theory of natural selection. Since God was the creator not of each kind of animal, but of the laws whereby animals would eventually be created, evolution, instead of being a stumbling block to Darwin's faith (as it was to most Christians) was instead a remarkable vindication of his faith.

It was only later in his life, well after the first publication of the Origin of Species that Darwin fell into agnosticism, though he never reached atheism. This had quite a bit to do with the fact that upon closer examination, the wonder design brought about by his deistic God was not so perfect after all. Natural selection cares nothing about perfection, only success in competition. We don't need to be, and indeed are not, perfectly designed, only designed better than others. Combine this with the importance which the British placed on teleology at the time and the devestating Humean criticisms of it which were circulating and Darwin gradually slipped into agnosticism.

What do these things have to do with the God of Mormonism? Actually quite well in my opinion. We reject the reality of miracles which break natural law so we are able to bear, even accept, the uniformitarianism inherent in geology, astronomy and evolution. Nevertheless, we, like science today, reject the strict uniformitarianism which Darwin and Lyell endorsed thus allowing us to maintain a certain degree of intervention in God 'creating' the world.

The God of Mormonism did not create the physical laws so evolution was by no means a vindication of the Mormon faith. However, given Mormonism's rejection of onotological miracles as well as a letter perfect Biblical text, evolution was not an insuperable obstacle either. Darwin's theory of natural selection was actually quite neutral with regards to Mormonism.

While Mormonism does embrace a certain amount of teleology with regards to God, His plans and His intentions, we have never placed too much emphasis on the teleological argument for God. We don't believe that God created the laws which would eventually create animals nor do we believe that God created them by a process contrary to natural law so we don't insist that said animals be perfect. The Humean criticisms, while totally devestating to the Christian use of the teleological argument, are significantly less harsh on the Mormon doctrine of God. (see David Paulsen's Doctoral dissertation, "Comparative Coherency of Mormon (Finistic) and Classical Theism) Instead, we place more stock in the proof of God by revelation, something completely separate from evolution.

Due to the ideas and doctrines that are both related to and the base of Mormonisms strong acceptance of science, we are able to embrace what is one of the more fascinating of sciences as well, namely evolution.

to be continued...

Summary: Darwin's changing views of God can be seen to be closely related to his progressive understanding of evolution. While he went from Christianity to Deism to Agnosticism due to his understanding of God, teleology and evolution, Mormonism's belief in a finite God (which is intimately related to their acceptance of science) is able to put a stop to such a degeneration of faith.


Naturally, the passage of Elder Packer's talk that you quoted here is my favorite section of his talk. He may view evolution as false, at least as it applies to humans, but he still expresses support for science. I'm thankful for that.

Regarding Darwin, I've not read any extensive biographies on him. What I have read comes from Zimmer's Evolution , where he paints a sympathetic view of Darwin. Darwin was not evangelical in his doubts about Christianity, rather he shied away from the topic. Also Zimmer attributes some of Darwin's theological views to personal tragedy. He suffered poor health and saw the death of his father and favorite daughter. I think the death of a child could shake the faith of any man--especially when combined with teachings of damnation that he found distasteful (and which we reject). Though some have used Darwin to attack religion, I don't think it is unfair identify Darwin, himself, as the aggressor. 

Posted by Jared

5/16/2005 12:33:00 PM  

That's very true. Darwin, though having serious person doubts about Christianity, was always very tackful in his public discourse. He wasn't like Huxley who considered evolution to be a new "world view" of sorts and insisted that others follow suit. He deliberately refrained from mentioning anything regarding man's evolution in his origin. He constantly made deliberate efforts to avoid controversy. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/16/2005 01:11:00 PM  

Man finds joy in discovery. If all things were known, man's creativity would be stifled. There could be no further discovery, no growth, nothing to decide--no agency. 

I would be curious to ask President Packer what implications this has for God's current experience. Is his creativity stifled? Does he have nothing to decide, no agency?

All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation.

This perspective puzzles me. Our own children are in our presence, and don't have to wonder about our existence as parents, and still somehow manage to disobey us. Similarly, if God were more open and present with humanity, and revealed more about the nature of the universe, it would still be a challenging test to develop godly attributes. In no way would obedience be automatic, or agency thwarted.

(You can see by where I'm commenting how far behind I am in my reading of this blog, let alone writing for this blog!)

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

5/21/2005 06:23:00 AM  

All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation. 

Is this sufficient justification for wholesale deception? 

Posted by Jared

5/21/2005 07:12:00 AM  

Good point. I'm currently reading Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God which I highly recommend, especially to creationists. He considers three views of a the creationist's God 1) God the mechanic who creates life by overcoming irreducible complexity 2) God the Magician who created life by someway the wasn't evolution because the fossil record doesn't really show it (yeah, right) and 3) God the Charlatan who created all life in special creations less than 10,000 years ago, and gave us all sorts of evidence as a 'test' of faith.

It really worries me when I see Mormon's adopt, or come close to adopting, the third. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/21/2005 09:15:00 AM  



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