Evolution & the Law of Consecration

Perhaps the men most responsible for popularizing evolution was Herbert Spencer and Thomas H. Huxley (sometimes referred to as "Pope Huxley" of "Darwin's bulldog"). Interestingly enough, their popularization efforts centered not in the biological consequences of Darwin's idea, but in the political ramifications, especially in the case of Spencer. Spencer's coining of the phrase "survival of the fittest" was intended not only to describe biological evolution, but as a principle of economics as well. Those who are able to prosper is some sense should and should not try to bag down the rest of humanity by helping the "weak" to survive and reproduce through altruistic acts of charity.

It is for this reason that the LDS church of the second half of the 19th century was not too persuaded by evolution. At the time, Pres. Young and to a lesser degree Taylor were trying vigorously to impliment the United Order and nothing could have been more contrary to the United Order than Spencer ideas of Social Darwinism. It is in this context that Brigham writes to his son:
We have enough and to spare, at present in these mountains, of schools where young infidels are made because the teachers are so tender-footed that they dare not mention the principles of the gospel to their pupils, but have no hesitancy in introducing into the classroom the theories of Huxley, of Darwin, or of Miall and the false political economy which contends against co-operation and the United Order. This course I am resolutely and uncompromisingly opposed to, and I hope to see the day when the doctrines of the gospel will be taught in all our schools, when the revelation of the Lord will be our texts, and our books will be written and manufactured by ourselves and in our own midst. As a beginning in this direction I have endowed the Brigham Young Academy at Provo and [am] now seeking to do the same thing in this city. (Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons, 200)

Clearly this was a bit of an over-reaction on Brigham's part on a number of levels. First of all, Darwin did not himself fully buy into Social Darwinism, despite it's unfortunate name. Second, I don't think that anybody at Brigham Young University would really want to take the scriptures as their textbook for any subject outside of the religion department.

Where Brigham was right, howver, was in his rejection of Social Darwinism. Though I should make it clear that his rejection was hardly based on any kind of logical error which he perceived in the theory. He almost certainly rejected the theory out of an allegiance to his interpretation of scripture and revelation. Luckily, by the end of the second world war, the rest of the academic world has also come to realize many of the flaws in Spencer's reasoning. These errors came to mind all to easily upon seeing Hitler take Spencer's reasoning to an extreme in his genocidal racism.

Darwinism in itself does not contradict the United Order as practiced by the early Saints. I wouldn't say that it supports it either, but nobody has ever articulated the logical bridges necessary to cross from the "is" of biological evolution to the "ought" of Social Darwinism. But wait. Aren't we told that evolution is centered around the "selfish gene"? How can a biological theory is is surely based of selfishness of some kind or another ever support the altruism necessary for the Law of Consecration to work in any form?

The answer to this question lies in the difference which exists between the "selfish genotype," an idea which evolution definitely supports, and the "selfish phenotype," an idea called Social Darwinism which biological evolution says little about. It is in the very selfishness of our genes that the altruism of our phenotypes has evolved. Altruism can emerge under many forms, for example kin selection and reciprocal altruism.

Kin selection is the altruism found in most animal species where the parents or siblings make sacrifices for the benefit of their children or siblings. This can be understood by the fact that the children bear the genes of their parents, thus when a parent sacrifices for their offspring, they are actually serving their own genes as found in their offspring. Thus, phenotypic altruism serves the selfishness of the genes.

I very interesting example of this is found in wasps, ants and bees where by an unusual genetic phenomenon, females are more closely related to their sisters than they are to their daughters. Thus, from a selfish gene point of view, it is more profitable for these females to occupy themselves raising the offspring of their fertile sisters than their fertile daughters. And this is exactly what we observe in such colonies in the case of females, but not males who have no such genetic relationship. This is a clear example of the selfish gene producing radically altruistic behavior on the phenotypic level.

The other example of genetically based phenotypic altruism is reciprocal altruism. This too is found among many species of animals, especially mammals, the great apes in particular. This is where I am nice to people when they are nice to me, thereby allowing all of us better chances at survival and serving the selfish gene again. Many studies have been done using game theory to show how such behavior could evolve and with great success. Due to the societal relationships of early man and most great apes, where the society are small bands with a relatively large perentage of the population being related, it would not be at all improbable for kin selection to evolve into reciprocal altruism. It is due to such "in born" reciprocal altruism that our tendencies towards contractual relationships has evolved, suggests the founder of sociobiology, Edward Wilson. We are naturally inclined, to a certain extent, to be altruistic on the phenotypic level.

Now we are approaching the law of consecration as expressed in the United Order. The revelation was as follows:
And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself. For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D&C 38)

This was the point of the Law of Consecration the extending of the family, that we consider those around us (remember this was in the context of the United Order) brothers and sisters and not just in name but in action. It was not just giving of your "time and talent" to the church as we hear today, but giving of everything, especially money. How many are willing to merely give of their time and talents to their children, expecting that to be enough for their sustanance? We are to treat those around exactly as we do our kin, because that is what they are.

Some people, especially mothers, consider their children to be but an extension of themselves. It isn't a her and them relationship at all, but is instead a "we" relationship, the first person plural. The Law of Consecration as practiced in the United Order was an attempt to extend this first person plural to include all other members of the church and community as well. It was to transform the my family and their family relationship into an "our family" relationship. Thus, in the United Order people were asked to embrace an intense phenotypic expression of reciprocal altruism (done by a covenant and deed which cannot be broken, D&C 42:30) which was to be considered a form of spiritual kin selection.

I'm not saying that we are biologically engineered to be communists or to embrace the United Order. I'm simply pointing out that the genetic selfishness inherent in evolution is not at all in conflict with our doctrines concerning consecration as Brigham evidently believed. Indeed, most naturalists view religious inclination in general to have been an evolutionary adaption meant to facilitate greater group cohesion. I can think of no greater expression of this cohesion than that found in the United Order.




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