Evolution, Science and Mormonism pt. 3

This will be the final post in this Evolution, Science and Mormonism series, I promise. Elder Packer says in his talk:
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.

He is absolutely right about this, and he is absolutely right in applying this to evolutions past.

We should note that Charles Darwin was not the first to promote a version of evolution. There is a difference between Darwinism, meaning evolution based principally on natural selection, and evolution is general, meaning the idea that all species share origins with one another. Charles' grandfather, Erasmus, was actually one of the founding fathers of evolution in general, believing in what would later be called Lamarckianism (evolution with the inheritance of acquired characteristics). This was pretty much the most popular theory at the time of Charles' publication of Origin of Species.

Once Origin was out, however, this theory began to slowly fall into disfavor since Darwinism could accont for far more phenomena than could Lamarckianism. Even so, however, there were still some doubts about Charles' work. He had no mechanism for inheritance, without which all 'selected' features of any sexually reproducing organism would diluted to the point of being useless and non-existent. In other words, the scientific community had serious issues with Darwinism and kept the theory at arms length for some time.

It was for this reason that not too much work was being done in biology during the 19th century using Darwinism in any novel way. The principle way in which it was used and popularized was as a social theory by Huxley. He almost single handedly carried Darwinism into the 20th century with his endless 'proselyting'. No this is not an inappropriate word for what he was doing for he really did see Darwinism as supplanting Christianity as the new world view. He considered it to be a new religion of sorts.

It is for this reason that the only mention of Darwin's name by Brigham Young was his stating that his purpose in establishing what we now call BYU was to counter the false doctrines of Darwin and Huxley and other such notions that go against the United Order. (It should be mentioned here that Darwin did not believe in social Darwinism, interestingly enough.) In other words Brigham's issue with Darwinism was its social implications, implications which were later shown to be totally misguided by scientists as well. Brigham never really said much of anything about Natural Selection as Darwin understood it.

Darwinism was very much a theory which wasn't being put to much of any use until the 1930's and 40's when people started integrating Mendelian genetics with it. Then it really took off. But before that, it was not inappropriate at all for anybody, be they scientists or preachers, to have called evolution a "theory of men". And this is what we see in the 1st Presidency statements in the early 20th century: "It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lowers orders of animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men." It's true, it was a theory at the time and a lot of that 'theory' was eventually rejected being flat out wrong.

Times have changed, however. Evolution is no longer considered to be a theory by any stretch of the imagination. With the coming of molecular biology, no scientist doubts that man was descended from 'lower animal creation'. This is simply fact. No the paths which we took and the mechanisms which were responsible can be consider theory to a certain extent, but it is no longer acceptable to brush evolution off as a mere "theory of man."

What this account also shows is that scientists are not clinging to evolution with religious fervor. Natural selection came as a replacement of other evolutionary theories. Darwinism itself was eventually modified (meaning parts of it were rejected) to become what is now called neo-Darwinism. Even now, some parts of evolution are debatable. These parts, however, are limited to paths and mechanism. Evolution itself is not questioned, not even by the Intelligent Designers.

With this in mind I should also address the idea that evolution is a telestial law. To a certain extent it is. Evolution requires three things: 1) replication, 2) variation and 3) a struggle for survival. This means that for there to be biological evolution there must be organisms both giving birth and dying. In the garden there was neither of these things so obviously there was no biological evolution. But so what?

The facts are that there has been birth and death on this planet for billions of years and that we are descended from a common ancestor as chimpanzees. Whether there is evolution is the terrestrial or celestial kingdom has nothing to do with these things. We can say that Adam was introduced into this telestial world from some other non-telestial world, but this doesn't change the fact that we have a lot more hominid than Adam in us and these things must be accounted for. As near as I can tell, pointing out that evolution is but a telestial law accomplishes nothing in our attempts at reconciliation.

Summary: Evolution was not introduced by Charles Darwin, nor was it finalized by him. Many ideas related to evolution have been and are currently being rejected by the scientific community, but the evolution itself is not one of them. This is not our of blind allegiance, for even the IDers don't question evolution as a fact. While dismissing evolution as a mere theory was OK for a time, since the mid 1900's this is no longer acceptable.


It is frustrating to me that our discussion of evolution in the Church is rooted in a statement that is almost 100 years old. And even that statement didn't claim to put forth anything new, but reasons from the scriptures.

Now I'm not trying to be negative or discredit the 1909 statement. My point is that scientific discovery is exploding and continues to support common descent, old earth, etc. In contrast there has been no new revelation on the topic. Duane Jeffery argues that to the extent we keep science at arms length, we disqualify ourselves from future debate--we don't have the theological tools to really deal with the increasing ethical decisions facing society.

Lest I seem overly critical, I'm sure the Brethren will deal with such issues when they are ready, or decide they are important enough. Mostly I'm just expressing frustration that others don't act on my  timetable. 

Posted by Jared

5/17/2005 04:38:00 PM  



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