5/19/2005

Jeff's Reconciliation Notebook

It has been claimed, most notably by Bruce R. Mc Conkie and Joseph Fielding Smith, that there can be no reconciliation between evolution and the gospel. Mc Conkie gave reasons for his believing this and it is these reasons which must be addressed before any kind of reconciliation can be considered satisfactory.

  • What needs reconciliation? Many church authorities have spoken many thing regarding evolution, both for it and against it. Those who spoke against it had reasons for doing so. Addressing these reasons is a suitable starting point in our quest for reconciliation.
  • Science and Religion. Some people try to disengage from the science vs. religion debate by claiming that the two deal with two separate questions, how and why respectively. This is not entirely true for the hows and the why are intimately connected. Any mention by religionists regarding creation and human nature are attempts to answer how questions and are, therefore, open to scientific criticism.
  • Scriptures. When beliefs based on scriptural statements are at odds which should win out? This is a difficult question which has no suitable answer for all circumstances for both science and scripture fall short of absolute perfection. Though it makes many Mormons uncomfortable, some scriptural passage may have to be rejected to account for the truths of evolution.
  • Does Evolution Leave Room for God? Evolutionists have rejected the more traditional forms of God in favor of a more abstract version of Him which amounts to little more than the natural laws of the universe. Mormons, however, have rejected the traditional form of God since the beginning and have tended to believe in a radically anthropomorphic Deity. Strangly enough this idea of a finite God may be fairly well suited for dealing with evolution.
  • Does Evolution Leave Room for God? Pt. 2 While evolution does not deny the existence of God, it does disprove many of the ideas which we may have about Him. This is especially true for the Mormon doctrine which denies the occurance of absolute miracles and posits a God subject to natural law.
  • What Kind of God Uses Evolution? Evolution tells us that life as we know it has been evolving for billions of years in order to "reach" mankind. This process involved prodigious amounts of waste and suffering, couldn't God have done it a better way? Mormons will want to answer "no" so as to maintains God's omnibenevolence, but this is at the expense of His omnipotence.
  • Does Evolution Preclude a Preexistence? In order to discuss the relationship between evolution and the Mormon belief in a preexistence, we much first try to understand that preexistence. The Mormon doctrine of preexistence has, by no means, been uniform over the years.
  • Does Evolution Preclude a Preexistence? Pt. 2 Each person's spiritual individuality comes under attack when applied to evolution. Issues of randomness, historical contingency and well as free will make many of our personal characteristics seem anachronistic in the preexistence. It is not at all clear that a finite God would have the foreknowledge or power to precreate what would later play out in evolution.
  • Evolution and Spirit Birth. The doctrine of a literal spirit birth inevitably gives rise to essentialism in our classifying living creatures. Evolution, however, has thoroughly demolished essentialism as applied to living creatures. Thus, it is very difficult if not impossible to reconcile evolution with a literal spirit birth.
  • Evolution and Self-Existing Spirits. Having found problems with the notion of a literal spirit birth, we must consider Joseph's doctrine of self-existing spirits. This doctrine, though currently not endorsed by most church members, was able to address many of the problems raised by the other preexistence doctrines rather successfully.
  • Is Evolution the Best He Could Do? Engineers are currently using evolutionary algorithms, analogous to biological evolution, as a substitute for hard work and creativity. The results have been very successful showing the power behind the theory of evolution. Attempting to use this example to show God's wisdom in using evolution does not solve many of the problems of evil discussed earlier.
  • Evolution in Paradise. Darwin not only showed that design and minds can be derived from chaos and order, but that it did. This is in direct conflict with the notion that the entire earth was once a paradise. While other imterpretations are open and should be investigated, that the entire earth was once a death-less paradise must be rejected if we are to accept evolution.
  • Mother Earth's Plan of Salvation. Related to the notion that the earth was created as a paradise, is the idea that the earth is itself passing through a mortal probation right now. Such a concept comes from taking the scriptures too literally and over-anthropomorphizing the earth and should not be defended.
  • Evolution and an Immortal Creation. Having rejected the necessity that God create things in an absolutely perfect form, it is not difficult to accept that there was death before Adam. In fact, according to molecular biology, there must have even been a certain amount of death in the Garden of Eden.
  • Evolution of Organisms After Their Own Kind. The Bible says that living things reproduce "after their own kind" but this does not pose a problem for our believing in both the Bible and evolution. Those who do see a problem do so because of their attributing too much information to various Biblical statements and a misunderstanding of speciation events.
  • Evolution and the Fall. We have already addressed issues concerning the fall of the earth. We cannot however evade the issues of the fall of man, since salvation must include us being saved from something. Startling parellels between the accounts of the fall and our coming to earth may provide us with the fall we need while maintaining scientific cerdibility.
  • Evolution and the Atonement. Some have unfortunately declared any attempt at reconciliation between evolution and the gospel to be a lost cause. This, they think, is due to evolutions rejection of the Garden story and consequently the Atonement. Such fears, however, are without foundation.
  • The Natural Man in Evolution. Evolution is often dispised by many due to its saying that we came from lower life forms instead of from higher beings. Saying what our nature derives from, however, has little to do with what our natures currently are. Such an objection misses the point of evolution and the plan of salvation.
  • Adam as the First Man in Evolution. The most popular reasons for rejecting evolution have to do with Adam and Eve. There are, however, numerous versions of Adam and Eve worth believing in. The most popular one, which maintains that they were the first man and woman, goes directly against all the evidence gathered by science and must, therefore, be rejected.
  • Adam as Symbolic Myth in Evolution. Interpreting the story of Adam and Eve as a symbolic myth has become rather popular as of late. While this version of Adam does have its benefits, Mormons have commited themselves to a historical Adam in their modern revelations.
  • Adam as (First) Prophet in Evolution. Considering Adam to have been the first great prophet has many advantages. It allows for a historical Adam, while also enriching our views of the mythic Adam as well. Surely this is an Adam worth wanting.
  • Adam as God in Evolution. While our previous versions of Adam were acceptable with evolution, they were never taught by any prophet. The version of Adam as God, however, has. While this version has its benefits, its doctrinal corralaries might simply be too much for most members.
  • Adam in Evolution: an Update and Overview. All humans do share a common ancestor(s) who lived comparatively recently. This concept has no effect on the versions of Adam as first man and symbolic myth. It has some, though small, effects on Adam as first prophet, but has a very beneficial effect on Adam as God. Our analysis of Adam in evolution comes to a tentative conclusion, having found many versions of Adam worth wanting.
  • The Age of the Earth in Evolution. Mc Conkie's eighth objection centers around the time which the Lord has alotted for the earth. While the age of the earth has not been specified, the 7,000 year temporal existence must be dealt with. If we start the 7,000 years not with the beginning of death on the earth, but at Adam's advent, we are safe.
  • The Future According to Evolution. In his ninth objection, Mc Conkie lauches an assault on science in general, though he may not realize it. Mormon doctrine, as has been noted by many in the past, is in fact very science freindly do to its maintaining the eternal nature of physical law. Descriptions of the millennium can easily be interpreted as literary devices used to describe peace, harmony and freedom from death and disease without denying evolution or science in general.
  • Evolution and Spiritual Things in General. 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).
This point marks a transition in my posts from dealing with Mc Conkie's doctrinal objections to evolution as listed in his Mormon Doctrine, to dealing with the issues which Elder Packer raises with human evolution in his talk "The Law and the Life". I call them issues instead of objections because Packer is far less dogmatic in his approach and instead of trying to prove evolution wrong by using the gospel he merely points out a number of issues which must be addressed before church members could really accept the evolution of mankind.
  • Did God Use Evolutionary Laws? We must be careful to distinguish between operating "through natural laws" and "in accordance with natural laws." The latter is what Mormons claim, not the former, which separates us from other proposed forms of "theistic evolution." God operates in accordance with the laws of genetics and natural selection, He does not control them.
  • Are Mormons Creationists? pt. 1 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.
  • Are Mormons Creationists? pt. 2 Creationism is a vague label which covers a lot of ground and is often used as a synonym for creation science. While Mormons should accept the former, we should, in all honesty, reject the later. Our doctrine of God and creation is most similar to Evolutionary Creationism, a form of Creationism which tends to distance itself from other Creationists.
  • Contingency in Guided Evolution. Before we even suggest any kind of mechanism for how God could have used evolution to produce us, we must first fully recognize what constraints would be inherent in such an endevour. Mutation, Natural Selection and External Circumstances are very powerful factors which should not be ignored.
  • The Evolution of Spirituality. A possible suggestion for how God partially directed evolution is that God directed such through plain old inspiration. This gives not only God a way of directing the gene flow, but also may account for other human traits such as our ability to recognize inspiration.
  • Essentialism and Adam (Again). While it is possible to believe that Adam was the very first son of God in any way to walk the earth, this is not embracing evolution. Adopting a form of adoption which better fits with the gradualism inherent in evolution would be a better path which allows for a richer understanding of the creation and animal life around us.
  • The Laws and Theories of Evolution. Natural selection and Genetics both qualify as eternal self-existent laws, maybe even more so than do moral commandments. Evolution is certainly more than a theory and can actually tell us a great deal about not only our physical bodies but our spiritual selves as well.
  • Evolution of the Light of Christ. The difference between us and other species should not be considered one of absolute kind, but one of degree. This is so even for the reception of the Light of Christ as well as the possession of a conscience. To suppose that a conscience was not introduced into the human race until the advent of Adam is absurd.
  • Evolution of Moral Law. Elder Packer maintains that our conscience and sense of morality in what separates us from other animals. The Darwinist couldn't agree more. While our moral intuitions clearly derive, at least partially from our evolutionary past, our sense of morality has no rival in any other species.
  • Evolution of Free Agency Pt. 1. Many attempts to establish a notion of free will and responsibility based on our being animals have been flat out wrong. It is right for Elder Packer to criticize these attempts, but he does so by falling into the same error as them, they all try to derive 'ought' from 'is.'
  • Evolution of Free Agency Pt. 2. The Evolutionary accounts of free will as provided by both Dennett and Ruse are reviewed as well as that of Blake Ostler. While we clearly have a sense of free will far surpassing that of any other animal, this does not imply that evoltionary accounts of humans are incorrect.
  • Evolution, Science and Mormonism Pt. 1. 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.
  • Evolution, Science and Mormonism Pt. 2. Mormonism and the Intelligent Design movement do not find mutual support in one another. ID moves beyond the design to complexity (which science fully supports) and zealously moves on to the argument to Design, an out right faith claim. While Mormons believe that there was a significant element of design in the creation of modern life, the best way to discover this element is through evolution as it is currently taught.
  • Evolution, Science and Mormonism Pt. 3. 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.
  • Evolution, Mormonism, Rationality and Patience. Elder Packer calls for less hostility between evolutionists and creationists. This is a praiseworthy goal which can only be attained through more patience and rationality on both sides of the divide. Notions of mortgaging one's testimony on one position or another are sure signs that more patience and rationality are indeed needed.
  • Evolution into the Image of God. God did not use 'trial and error or chance' as much as He worked in accordance with them. He could have guided evolution somehow, but this is a total faith claim which science has nothing to say for or against. While we must hold out for God directing evolution toward His phenotype, it is unclear if He had to direct it toward His exact genotype. As Elder Packer says, more light and revelation is needed.
  • Evolution of Spiritual Meaning. 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.
  • Transplanting, Evolving and Sealing. The doctrine of transplantation was a pre-darwinian forced conclusion based on two doctrines which are themselves compatible with evolution. While the gradualness and the mutability of species inherent in evolution seems to pose a problem for temple sealings, such a reading is based on our ignorance of the sealing process.
At this point the focus is taken off of Packer's essay and moves on to Kenneth Miller's wonderful book "Finding Darwin's God". This book is wonderful in that it rightly rejects the anti-intellectual forms of creationism while still maintaining that God not only exists but took some part in creation. Miller's theological arguments, however, were not intended for a Mormon context, a difference which will need some clarrification.
  • Mormons, Evolution & a Young Earth. The evidence for an ancient earth, complete with death before the fall is simply over whelming. To suggest that God anybody else has altered reality to give it the appearance of age is not only bad science but terrible theology as well.
  • Creationists Sound Off! This is the rather long paper which I wrote a few years ago when I was still an Intelligent Designer of sorts. Anybody who has read any of my evolution posts will instantly recognize that I don't think the arguments I present here hold any water, and as such I will spend a few posts critiquing my own former arguements.
  • God as Magician in Evolution. Having considered the false idea of a young earth, Miller continues his attack on the creationists who dismiss the notion of common descent. Such an idea is alos bad science and terrible theology since it depicts the Magician Designer as being utterly wasteful, incompetent and deceptive.
  • God as Mechanic in Evolution. The third form of creationism is considered and rejected. Behe's criticisms of evolution rest of the argument from ignorance (which makes for bad theology) and personal incredulity (which makes for bad science). The inconsistencies between the three types of creationists are also pointed out.
  • Evolution & the Gods of Disbelief. The worries which creationists and naturalists alike see in evolution are worries which Mormons must deal with even in evolution is false. While evolution may make belief in a spiritual reality superfluous, based on a particular view of human life, it certainly doesn't disprove a spiritual existence. Our belief in God and an eternal existence should not be based in the argument from design.
  • Evolution & the Anthropic Principle. Miller's use of the anthropic principle as room for God's creative acts is evaluated and seen to be suspiciously similar to the arguments put forth by the creationists he has just rejected. While the anthropic principle does allow room for God's creative acts, such space is tentative and possibly inharmonious with Mormon doctrine.
  • Quantum Mechanics & Evolution. Miller's use of quantum physics an a impenetrable safe-haven for God's acts doesn't work too well in the Mormon context. Nevertheless, this not to say that God couldn't have, or didn't use it. Clearly God's creative acts lies in our ignorance somewhere, the problems only arise (as they do in creation science) when we resist penetrating this ignorance out of fear that God will be left without another job.
  • Evolutionary Theodicies. Miller's evolutionary theodicy compromises the absolute omnipotence of the God of ethical monotheism. His God sounds very similar to the God of Mormonism in His being bound by natural law. An attack is also brought against the idea of separate-species transplantation.
  • Did God or Evolution Create Us? Mormonism's views regarding life of other planets, both previous, future and contemporary, forces them to consider God's contribution in our creation to be rather significant. Miller's views, on the contrary, reduce most, if not all, creative work to mindless evolution.

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