The Laws and Theories of Evolution

Getting back to Elder Packer's talk, which I still think is very good, we approach the topics of law and theory. He emphasizes that not only are there physical laws but there are moral or 'spiritual' laws as well. He contrasts what a law is with what a theory is. While he doesn't come out and say it in this segment, I will assume that he is referring to evolution as a theory and will address this issue as well.
A law is an invariably consistent rule, independent and irrevocable in its existence... Laws govern the physical universe with such constancy and precision that once man has discovered them, he can demonstrate their existence, generally by their effect, with unfailing accuracy. Laws do not change...
A theory is tentative, subject to change and may or may not be true. A theory is a means to an end, not the end in itself.
The point of my presentation is this: There are moral and spiritual laws pertaining to values, good and evil, right and wrong; laws as constant, precise, and valid as those which govern the physical universe.
If there is a crucial point of divergence between views on the origin of man, it is whether law governs both the physical or temporal and the moral or spiritual in the universe...
More often it is students of the physical universe who fail to accept moral and spiritual laws as valid and authoritative because such laws are not measured by methods they have been accustomed to use in their studies. Physical or natural laws are generally more visible and therefore much easier to demonstrate.
These students tend to gather endless examples of the effects of natural law to support their theory on the origin of man. But all of their examples put together--compelling or not, true or not, whether they prove natural laws or not--cannot disprove the existence of moral and spiritual laws. To study mankind and his beginnings by analyzing his physical body and environment only, is to study but half of him. Regardless of how much physical truth is discovered, it is but half the truth.

First, let us consider laws. Laws are, as he says, invariably consistent rules. There are no exceptions to law (not social laws mind you). If, in science, we do find instances of a law being violated, truly violated, then the law must go. For instance, the laws of gravity says that two masses will be attracted toward one another according to a certain ratio involving the masses and the distance between them. This does mean that they have to move toward one another, but they do have to be attracted toward one another, otherwise we trash the law and look for a new one, if one exists.

Now let us talk about spiritual laws. What are they? Can we consider "thou shalt not kill" to be a spiritual law? No, because it is violated on a regular basis. How about "if thou killest someone, there shall be hell to pay?" Again, no. God has not only allowed but told people to kill others. Is it "thou shalt do whatever the Lord thy God saith?" I'm not comfortable with this either since God was once a man and it is also possible that He ceaseth to be God. Should we obey Him under those conditions as well? Is it "thou shalt do whatever God, while He remainest God, commandeth?" Well, we are getting closer, but notice we haven't really said anything at all. What is it that God, while He remaineth God, commandeth? Why does He command as He does?

Complicating the issue, laws are, as Elder Packer says, independent, irrevocable and unchanging. In other words, just as God did not create the physical laws, He did not create the spiritual laws either, for they never were created. When we say "thou shalt do whatever God, while He remainest God, commandeth" we are only saying "thou shalt obey the spiritual laws." The commandments are not the spiritual laws. God did not create spiritual law UNLESS we are to consider the spiritual law analogous to our social laws, something which Elder Packer is clearly denying. While we can say that spiritual laws are on par with physical laws, it is something else entirely to actually says what such laws are. This, unfortunately, has not been done.

What about the verse which he actually quotes: "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." This verse refers to our having a advantage in the resurrection by learning more in this life. The law is that if we want to learn something we have to do it ourselves, nobody can learn something for us. There is no magic wand of knowledge. There is no substitute for experience. While this law has moral or "spiritual" applications, this is actually more of a physical law when we get down to it.

If we are to extend this verse, however, to all blessings, which is what the verse seems to imply that we should, it starts to look more like a social law than a self-existent one. God says that we have to earn blessings. Is it absolutely impossible for God to give somebody a blessing which they have not earned? I don't think so, though there may be consequences for either that person or God Himself. This is analogous to our social laws, not our physical laws. There might be, and probably is, a self-existent law which is the basis for this "spiritual/social" law, but the idea that God only blesses people who deserve it does not qualify as that law in and of itself.

While we can see that there seems to be some confusion, maybe even equivocation, between physical and social laws, there also seems to be some confusion between social theories and scientific theories. By social theory I mean the theories of man, unsupported ideas, brainstorms, guesses, speculations, etc. This is not what a scientific theory is. Science calls such things hypotheses. A theory, in science, is a "logically confirmed explanation of a set of data or phenomena." While hypotheses are certainly better than mere guesses, theories are far better than hypotheses.

So is Evolution a mere "theory" as so many creationists are prone to point out? In some respects yes, while in others no. It is useful to divide up evolutionary studies into three categories: 1) the fact of evolution, 2) the path of evolution and 3) the theory of evolution. We can consider the idea that organisms have naturally unfolded and changed over the countless generations as much of a fact as anything can be. The remarkable amount of consilience involved in our understanding of evolution far exceeds that of any other science. Evidence for the fact of evolution pours in from biogeography, comparative anatomy, embryology, paleontology, molecular biology and much more. To say that we are not on the right track truly is absurd and akin to insisting that the sun really does revolve around the earth. Taken in this context of the fact of evolution, this is not an exaggeration.

The path of evolution is not quite as well established as the fact of evolution but this is through no fault of the scientists or of evolution itself. The further back in time we look the harder the path is to follow. Most people place a lot of weight, both in their arguing for and against evolution, in the fossil record. Both sides claim that the record is incomplete. Of course it is. Nobody has ever claimed that fossilization is a common occurence. Luckily, we have recently started to use gentics to be able to trace which mutations happened in what order and at what time between which species. It is from this that we are able to establish that Chimpanzees share 98.5% of their genetic makeup with us, and are more closely related to us than they are to Gorillas. Some paths are undisputable facts, others are still shots in the dark. Most lie somewhere in between.

The theory of evolution has to do with the causes and mechanisms of evolution. While some people suggest additional mechanisms to account for the diversity of complexity we see in life, biologist are virtually united in claiming natural selection as the primary mechanism. Some saw major holes, which were interpreted by some as flaws, in Darwin's account of natural selection. These holes, by far the biggest obstacles ever presented against Darwinism, were all buried in the discovery of genetics. With genetics in place, there was now a mechanism for reproduction which could carry the mutations from one generation to another with out being "diluted". The combination of these two mechanisms is what is meant by "neo-Darwinism" the reigning "theory" which shows no sign of ever being displaced by another more important mechanism. I must emphasize, natural selection as a mechanism is not wrong, there is no question of this. What can (possibly but not reasonably given our current understanding) be debated is its relative importance in the fact and path of evolution.

As to Elder Packer's statement, "more often it is students of the physical universe who fail to accept moral and spiritual laws as valid and authoritative because such laws are not measured by methods they have been accustomed to use in their studies," I will for his sake let this pass without saying more than he is wrong. Related to this comment, however, I would not think it inappropriate for somebody to explore the notion of spiritual and moral laws as self-existent laws as opposed to social laws. I really do think that there are such for us to explore and discover, but we should not consider the commandments to be examples of such.

In conclusion we must address the statement: "To study mankind and his beginnings by analyzing his physical body and environment only, is to study but half of him." I take serious issues with this, for if such is our logic then we aren't really studying any of an electron because we can't see it. But we can actually learn quite a bit about an electron, not by analyzing how it looks or anything like that, but by how is interacts with the things around it. The same can be said for the spirit. Surely we must believe that a spirit interacts with the body in some way, and if these interactions are to mean absolutely anything at all, they should be observable. Thus our study of evolution, biology, neurology and psychology can actually tell us quite a bit about even our spiritual side. While we might be made up of both physical stuff and spiritual stuff, to say that we can only understand 50% of man using science is a gross exaggeration.

Summary: 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.


Jeff Said:

"Summary: 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."

On Sunday - I wrote three lengthy posts. The first one made it. I thought for sure I saw one of the last two posted, and then they were gone. I will write a short summary, and see if it stays:

"In the beginning," Jeff quoted Hugh B. Brown, who said "it is more important students to have strong ideas than to be orthodox or correct about them" (a paraphrase), then Jeff said "Maybe I am wrong." In what I see as a bait-and-switch," he now leaves no room for doubt about evolution.

I reject what amount to Jeff's "witness", by virtue of intellectual evidence, of evolution's place in creation. I reject it, first of all, because I have read individual's just as smart and knowledgeble as him who have convinced me that the theory has current flaws that have not been solved.

The second reason I reject it is because I agree with Elder Packer's "Apostalic comments" in The Law and the Light. Jeff has done a fine job of "beating" Elder Packer's intellectual arguments. But, Elder Packer did not speak as a scientist, but as an Apostle. As an Apostle, he said 5 things that I will focus on. I will paraphrase:

1. "I know Jesus." (From private sources, I know that this as "personal" as Apostalic knowledge gets).

2. "I have asked my frend, Jesus, if the Scriptures that might touch on the subject of Evolution are literally true, and he said "They are.""

3. "Jesus is the Law and the Light (this is a Book of Mormon verse). He directed the creation in a very direct way."

4. "I have prayed, as anyone can do, and asked God if Adam came from lower forms of life. I was answered, and the answer was 'No'".

5. "Don't mortgage your tesitmony on an unproven theory."

After serious study, I have also asked God if the Scriptures are true, and whether the 1909 First Pres. Message about my physical heritage is correct. I have received answers to both questions on more than one occasion, and the answer was "YES."

In the Sunday posts now apparently floating in cyberspace, I told Jeff that many visitors and potential visitors to the blog would be more comfortable if a change in tone resulted in the following paradigm.

1. IF evolution is true, then:

2. Here is what "Mormonism" must do to CONFORM (not "reconcile") to evolution.

To call it Mormonism and Evolution, A Quest For Reconciliation, as I have said before is misleading, and I will again give 2 reasons in summary.

1. "Mormonism, to the vast majority of the active, must include the 4 Standard Works and Apostalic witnesses as truth keys. To substitute these when they clash with science is not part of "Mormonism" for anyone except those with high IQ's and advanced, specialized training. By the way, let me say here that Jeff has done a great service and deserves to be published for his excellent work in finally showing what the "reconcilliation" to evolution REALLY means for those who place science above seership when the two appear to clash.

2. Since science holds fast, and Scripture, et.al., give way, I would call it a "CONFORMATION" rather than a reconciliation.

Summary: Above, Jeff "testifies" that "Evolution is CERTAINLY more than a theory." Here, I add my own witness to that of Elder Packer, and testify that, as far as man's ancestry goes, it is false.

Jared - as one who's life has been interesected in painfully negative ways by forceful personalities TEACHING unorthodox doctrines to members of the Church, I cannot look at this blog as merely "rearranging furniture." If Jeff would soften his positions and quit TEACHING AND PREACHING, I would worry less. I have battle scars that itch like crazy, and, as I said before, I do love you guys.


Posted by Greg

5/17/2005 02:43:00 PM  

Sorry about the comments not showing. Sometimes blogger has issues. Since it is a free service I guess I don't really get to complain too much. Any ways, on to addressing what you say. (By the way, it's good to have you back.)

When talking about evolutions validity we need to separate the three things we could be talking about.

1) Evolution as fact, as Ruse calls it. This means that species have evolved and share common ancestries. This part of evolution is simply undisputed, even by the smartest most fanatical intelligent designers. The evidence for this is simply overwhelming and to call this a mere 'intellectual' testimony not worth putting trust in is tantamount to embracing full-blown skepticism.

2) The path of evolution. This is being filled in more and more each day. There are somethings that are absolutely certain, others (especially those species which lived and died in the distant past) are not so certain.

3) Theories of Evolution. This includes natural selection, genetics, self-organizing complexity and the like. So far all signs point to natural selection being overwhelmingly the most important mechanism in this, but if it turns out that something else, by some miracle, is more important, this doesn't change the fact or path of evolution. This is where the IDers are trying to criticize the entire thing they call 'evolution' when really their criticisms have nothing to do with the real issues at hand.

To call Elder Packer's comments apostolic is rather misleading. He himself says that they are his own opinions for which he takes full responsibility. Not only that but he isn't really presenting objections to evolution. He is actually pointing out issues which must be addressed before he is comfortable with our evolutionary origins. At one point he even says that if his issues can be addressed then there isn't a problem with evolution. I haven't been trying to beat him in any way at all, only to point out that most, if not all of his issues have been addressed, many of them after he gave his talk.

As to your 5 things I have not gotten to that part of the talk yet, if you are even talking about the same talk. He didn't say those things you list near as forcefully as you make it sound.

"I have asked, but not how man was created; I have asked if the scriptures are true."

This is hardly a pulpit pounding statement. For one, the scriptures are true, but this doesn't make them perfect, let alone with regard to evolutionary biology. We believe that the BoM is the most correct of any book but even its authors allow for many mistakes to be contained in it. Brigham thought that if it were retranslated it would appear very different. To say that the scriptures are totally, completely, absolutely true is false doctrine.

Additionally, this statement is hardly an official pronouncement of doctrine. This doesn't mean an apostle didn't give the talk, only that, as I'm sure you well know, placing too much weight on statements made unofficially by every G.A. will only lead to contradiction and confusion. In the production of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism Pres. Hinckley intentionally took out anything that could be interpreted as being anti-evolution. Surely this means something.

(Doh! I just finished reading your comment all the way down and realized that my comments above will probably sound harsh. I don't want to rewrite everything above so I'll try to tone down the remander. Sorry about that.)

In my opinion the two greatest things about Mormonism are 1) the VERY different beliefs regarding the nature of God and the reality we exist in and 2) the idea of continuing revelation. Both of these things, in my opinion, allow for a reconciliation of Mormonism with Evolution. I have already posted quite a bit on how the first one works, but as to the second one let me explain. We need continual revelation because we never have the perfect and complete truth. The scriptures were written in a very specific context and can be applied to us in our context but only through a lot of interpreting. Not only that but they were written by men who are limited, even when inspired, by their own knowledge and biases. The scirptures aren't perfect, so we believe in revelation which isn't perfect either, but its a lot better.

Almost none of Joseph Smith doctrines were perfectly reconcilable with the scriptures, even those given by himself years before. This can result in contradiction but so what? Just follow the greater light and knowledge and you should be ok. I don't expect evolution to conform with the standard works perfectly any more than I expect current Mormon doctrine to conform to them perfectly. When somebody says something and claims that it was received by revelation (by them, not by somebody who wrote it in the bible 3,000 years ago) I listen. Such statements should not be trifled with, nor do I believe that I have done so. Just because something is believed or taught by an authority of the church doesn't make it revelation or true. This doesn't give us free liscense to pick and choose what we want, but it does give us some room to work with. I'm not tear down our belief and trust in scripture, I'm only trying to put it in its rightful place.

Like I said before, and you acknowledge, that I am working with a rather hardcore version of evolution, if only to show what the worst case scenario is. Unfortunately, the best case scenario, given what we know about genetics and the like, isn't very different in its application to Mormonism either.

I am actually very interested to read your real reconciliaton. If you can overcome the obstacles which I feel we have, but without sacrificing some the doctrines which had to be compromised I would love to hear it. I am, however, a little skeptical, as I am of all such reconciliations, even my own.

Given what you said to Jared above I can tell that my bring in doctrines like A/G and Self-existent spirits isn't just educational to you. It really conjures up some feelings which you would rather not experience. For this I apologize. I sometimes think that everybody else is a lot more like me than they really are and this can lead to a bit of "preachiness". If I sound a little authoritarian, sorry. I don't mean to sound so closed to others opinions and suggestions. Your 'summaries' and your 'reaction to the A/G post' had me laughing out loud and I really appreciated them.

I have no problem with people believing different than me, but make no mistake I'm prepared to give reasons for my not believing like you. If this sounds harsh and condescending, I apologize. I'm not trying to bully others into seeing things my way. I'm actually trying to establish as clear as I possibly can the differences which exist between the two.

As to softening my position, here is where I will disagree. The purpose of this blog is to attempt a reconciliation of the gospel with evolution. This purpose would be compromised if we didn't come from the perspective that evolution was true. I also realize that the purpose is also compromised in we don't maintain Mormonism to be true, but I don't think that we have done anything of the sort personally.

The main motive for this blog is so that people won't feel like evolution is an issue. "Don't mortgage your tesitmony on an unproven theory." If I were to mortgage my testimony of evolution being false I would be really, REALLY uncomfortable and this is what Mc Conkie and the like are really doing with their statements which say that the two are irreconcilable. If this is true, then there is simply no more effective anti-Mormon propoganda out there then the biology department of any university. The professors haven't made it that way, Mc Conkie did with his statement. If a person insists that evolution is false, then I submit that their efforts at reconciling the HUGE amounts of evidence with the doctrines associated with the Mormon acceptance of science will be FAR more difficult than anything we have done here. In fact, I will go so far as to say that THAT reconciliaton simply cannot be made, and I would love to see somebody, anybody, give it a try.

Greg, while reading my posts always remember that I myself am an amateur. I am not a trained theologian or professional scientist. If I sound pompous, go ahead and have a laugh at my expense, I don't mind. And if you can, point out my error because I would really appreciate the help. While I feel that you characterization of me and my posts isn't entirely accurate, I've never been offended by anything you've said about me or my work. I'm just trying my best and something I think is important and which I really enjoy.

Thanks for you love Greg and no that no harm has been intended by me or anybody else here. Like Jared says, don't take us too seriously. We're commited to the same thing here, though we come from different angles. You perspective is important to us and while I would respect your decision to no longer participate here, if it came to that, know that know that I greatly appreciate your comments and would miss them. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/17/2005 03:47:00 PM  

Jeff - as you know, I have been spending some time at NDBF and just got back here. I just reread the last part of TLATL by Elder Packer. I should have done that before my last post. I put down what I got out of it, which is more than he actually said. Although, he left no doubt that his personal conviction about NMFA (NO MEN FROM APES), and that this had been confirmed by answers to his own prayers.

I would be interested to know about Pres. Hinckley and The Encyclopedia, which also omits its own entry on the Flood. I were him, I would also avoid or tone down controversial issues to some degree.

I will review the rest of your post later, but, I did want to put a link here to an article critical of Common Descent, (from the Access Research Site) that you said is no longer questioned by Intelligent Design(ers). In spite of your brilliance and the breadth of your basic information, you still seem to miss some important things. (Earlier, you had missed one about a DNA related 6,000 year old Adam). Click here  for the Common Descent article.

(In case you read this and haven't seen it, I am going to post a link to an article about Blacks and the Priesthood over at NNDBF that I feel is relevant, as that issue seems to be held up as a high-level "doctrinal error.")

Posted by Greg

5/19/2005 12:50:00 PM  

Greg is right that not all ID proponents accept common descent. Behe seems to, Meyer apparently doesn't.

The ID people don't seem to be on the same page on this one, so it's hard to know what to make of their arguments. Much of their criticism has to do with events pretty low on the "tree of life"--they seem obsessed with the "Cambrian explosion." They seem to argue that fundamentally different life forms were separately created then. But it is unclear whether they accept common descent back to that point or not. Even if it were established that different types of life-forms popped onto the scene during the Cambrian, that says nothing about much later events, ie. human evolution. This is partially Jeff and I argue that ID is currently impotent where the theological stakes are highest (for some people). 

Posted by Jared

5/19/2005 02:17:00 PM  

I agree with pretty much everything Jared said. I will read the link, but I should mention that is almost all scientific argument used against evolution the evidence used to support our evolutions from a form of apes in rarely questioned. The evidence is simply too strong. The transition fossils are all there. The genes are what we expect. There aren't any unexplained gaps or anything. For this, they find it more convenient to attack other gaps in fossil records, the cambrian explosion and the development of immune systems and eyes. Theses things, however, happened long, long ago. It is interesting that right where we would expect to find the strongest, most complete evidence (in the relative recent past) is where we do indeed find it. Nobody ever criticizes the lack of tranistional fossils or genes sequences in animals that are still alive. Instead they criticize the evolution of animals which are extinct, animals for which evidence never will surface. It seems to be hiding from the evidence if you ask me.

In the near future, probably when I am done with Packer's talk, I am going to post a long paper which I wrote when I was an IDer. I will then criticize it. Boy that will be interesting, modern day Jeff against past day Jeff. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/19/2005 03:06:00 PM  



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