Evolution and the Fall

We now come to Mc Conkie's fifth objection which is a big one. Fortunately we have already dealt with much of the material. (Topics which he has not already mentioned before and will be addressed here are in bold.) While we have addressed the issue of death in the world, I intentionally avoided a full treatment of the fall, with its supposed introduction of both temporal and spiritual death to the world. But such must now be addressed.
FALL OF ADAM AND ALL THINGS. — Before the fall there was neither death nor procreation. Plants, animals, and man would have continued living forever unless a change of condition overtook them; and in their then immortal condition they could not have reproduced, each after its own kind. Death and procreation pertain to mortality, that is, to the status and type of existence attained by all forms of life subsequent to the fall.
Lehi said: "If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall."
Eve expressed the same truth in this language: "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." Adam's fall brought temporal (natural) and spiritual death into the world. The temporal or natural death means that body and spirit separate, the spirit going to a world of waiting spirits to await the day of the resurrection, the body returning to the dust, the primal element, from which it was taken. The effects of this fall passed upon all created things.
Obviously, the whole doctrine of the fall, and all that pertains to it, is diametrically opposed to the evolutionary assumptions relative to the origin of species.

Dismissing the fall altogether is a notion that most members are simply not going to be willing to give up. But why is this? Is it the fall as we commonly understand it that cannot be rejected or the effects from and reasons for the fall which are more important? I suggest that it is the second, though saving the first would be icing on the cake. After all, Mc Conkie's strong adherence to the doctrine of the Fall stems from two things: 1) his desire to maintain the credibility of the scriptures and 2) it's association with the atonement which shall be dealt with shortly.

The doctrine of the fall is as follows and surely any attempt at reconciliation must account for such things:

  1. It was an introduction of physical death for those involved.
  2. It was an introduction of spiritual death for those involved.
  3. It was an introduction of the ability to physically procreate, again, for those involved.
  4. It was an introduction of knowledge in one form or another to those involved.

I have left these statements rather vague (i.e. "those involved") for good reason. First, and most obvious yet least persuasive, is that abiguity makes reconciliation easier. Second and more persuasively, we already saw that organisms have been dying and procreating for billions of years. We cannot say that the fall introduced death and procreation into the earth with the fall of two human beings about 6,000 years ago. There is no evidence for these notions and if one is to accept any form of evolution, even IDC, we simply must reject such ideas.

Thus, we cannot apply the ideas Mormons commonly maintain about the fall to the entire earth and its history. Whatever the fall was, it was not the introduction of death and procreation to the earth. Whatever the fall is meant to describe, it is to that and that alone that we should also apply the introduction of spiritual death and knowledge.

Well, what could it have been? Some of you already know my theory concerning this issue and I will describe it now since I can think of no other event which these ideas could refer to in Mormon doctrine. It makes little mention of Adam and Eve but such shall be taken up in one of Mc Conkie's later objections.

Before I go on the describe my theory, I should first address another category of "alternate falls." These other attempts at reconciliation invoke an isolated fall where death and procreation were happening outside of the garden of eden. I find such attempts unsatisfactory for a couple of reasons.

  1. We do not have a common ancestor which lived a mere 6,000 years ago which could have introduced any of these things to all of humanity.
  2. Such a limited account of the fall seems to destroy the point of the fall all together, since it is supposed to be a description of all of mankinds predicament.
  3. It seems very contrived and somewhat desperate. Though all attempts at reconciliation will seem that way to a certain degree, we should avoid excess.
  4. Such schemes, as we will see in reviews of Skousens' Earth in the Beginning and B.H. Robert's The Way, the Truth and the Life, usually posit someform of mass destruction of life around 6,000 years ago. This simply isn't true.

Some things to remember about the fall. Accounts of it tend to be closely intertwined with ceremony (the temple) or are rather legendary (genesis). Though I don't presume to actually do so right now in too much detail, we must separate, the ceremony from the story and the myths from the historical kernal. In the ceremonial setting, the point is not to learn about Adam and Eve. It is to learn more about yourself. The genesis is objective history, it is a story with a point. With this in mind I will continue.

What we know about life before the fall is:

  1. Adam was in God's presence. God walked and talked with Adam.
  2. Adam lived in a paradise, whereever this was, it was not "here."
  3. Adam had an immortal spiritual body of sorts. It is difficult to tell what this actually means.
  4. Adam was ignorant in that he had not gained some form of knowledge which seems to be an experience of good and evil. He could only progress spiritually by subjecting himself to spiritual and physical death.
  5. Satan was present was also present here in God's presence. Only after goes against the Father is he banished.
  6. Adam was childless. This seems to be related to the nature of his spiritual body.

After the fall the conditions were as follows:

  1. Adam was cast out of God's presence. We no longer had relatively easy access to God, but instead had to pray for "many days" for an angel to come.
  2. Adam was cast out of paradise into was is termed a lone and dreary world. In other words we was sent "here."
  3. Adam became mortal. He received a mortal body just like we have now.
  4. Adam could now have children. Again, just like we can with our bodies now.
  5. Adam began to gain knowedge and progress spiritually.
  6. Satan was also was cast out of the paradise. He then came to the lone and dreary world with Adam to tempt him.

If these events do not describe the Garden scene, what could they describe? An interesting question, especially when we consider that the name Adam means man or mankind (hence my reason for not mentioning eve, sorry ladies). If we replace Adam with mankind in all of these points we recognize these as describing something else, namely the pre-existence!

Now how this idea of the fall would work with our ideas of the premortal counsel would be a fun chore for another day, but we must admit that the parellels are startling. The story of our coming to earth and the story of the fall, seem to be telling the exact same story. Why not just consider them to be one and the same story, namely mankinds fall from heaven? This could be a valid way of reconciled the doctrine of the fall with evolution.

Summary: 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 of Organisms After Their Own Kind

Part of Mc Conkie's 4th objection is his rejection of the notion that one species could turn into another since living things were supposed to bring forth offspring after their own kind.

"After this temporal creation, this creation of all forms of life in a state of immortality, the Lord God issued the decree that all created life should remain in the sphere in which it was after it was created. Further, having in mind the coming fall and consequent entrance of death and mortality into the world, the Lord in that first primeval day commanded that all forms of life, after mortality entered the picture, should bring forth posterity, each after its own kind. These principles accord with the one announced by Paul that "All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds."

In other words, his objection again derives from a belief in essentialism. Men are men because they have man-ness about them. Fish have fish-ness and beasts, beast-ness. Species, according to this line of reasoning, is not merely a label that we somewhat arbitrarily place on organisms according to the differences we see in them. Instead, God creating separate species is in fact the law which causes the differences we see in them. This, however, is getting the cart before the horse.

First of all, we should note that the word kind, as used in Genesis as well as the famous passage by President Taylor, is not used in the same way as biologists in their "Kings Play Cards On Fat Green Stools" classification system. The text is merely stating the obvious fact that chicken do not give birth to turtles, nor monkeys to humans. The author is giving a reason for this otherwise, at the time, inexplicable tendency in nature. Evolutionists have never claimed that these things did happen.

As to Mc Conkie's use of Paul's statement, we have another case of getting the cart before the horse. Paul is using the differences we all observe in different organisms as an illustration of the differences between physical and spiritual beings. He is not saying that since there is a difference between physical and spiritual beings, there is necessarily a difference between assorted species. He didn't, after all, say there is a difference between the flesh of Gorillas and that of Chimpanzees, the flesh of piranas and that of gold fish. He is using broad groups (beasts and fish) which have obvious differences between the two so as to ensure that there will be no argument. He is not arguing anything at all about individual species, let alone that there are essential differences from species to species.

What we have here is a case which we warned about in the beginning. It is the same problem found in the books sold in Born-again Christian book stores which intend to show how physics proves that the Bible is true. They use vague proof-texts which mention the heavens expanding and say that these actually refer to the general relativity and the big bang. Mormons do the same thing with the Book of Abraham. And this is what happens when people accept their scriptures as being too perfect. The scriptures are not text books for science, neither advanced physics nor evolutionary biology.

I mentioned that evolutionists do not claim that monkey's give birth to humans. This statement should be unpacked a bit since creationists never tire of claiming the evolutionists do say this.

Speciation is a very noneventful occasion. There is simply no way to say when it is happening, only when it did happen in the past. It's like a person coming home to his wife and excitedly announcing "Guess what I did today! I helped give birth to Victor Hugo!" As Dennett asks, "What is wrong with this story?" It is completely anachronistic. At the time of Victor Hugo's birth there would have been no reason whatsoever to be excited about giving birth to him, for he had not yet made a name for himself. Victor Hugo's birth was no more significant than that of anybody else's and anything else's.

Speciation has no clear boundaries. It is never absolutely clear when, exactly, it happened. We can only say when it has happened. Thus, Mc Conkie objection does not hold water.

Summary: 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 an Immortal Creation

Moving on to number 4 of Mc Conkie's doctrinal objections to evolution, we must deal with the doctrine taught be many that there was no death in the earth prior to Adam's fall.

Adam and Eve and all forms of life, both animal and plant, were created in immortality, that is, when first placed on this earth, all forms of life were in a state of immortality. There was no death in the world; death entered after the fall. All things existed in a state of primeval innocence. If conditions had not changed, death would not have entered the picture. Instead, as the revelations express it, "All things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end."
If the revelations are true which say that all life was created in immortality, then evolutionary theories which necessarily assume there was always death in the world are false.

This last sentence seems to be a bit of an exaggerated dichotomy: either the scriptures are true and evolution is false, or vis-versa. Never the twain shall meet. One line of defense against evolution states that though somethings are true, there are still big holes in the theory. Why can't we adopt a similar position regarding scripture? This should definitely be kept in mind when the scripture in question is a conceptual translation (done by Joseph Smith) of an account (related by Nephi many years after Lehi's death) of an interpretation (given by Lehi to Jacob) of other scriptures (written by Moses) which were written 2,000 years after the events they describe! Maybe we could allow for a little bit of fallibility to have crept in after passing through so many mortal hands.

That being said, this objection is closely related to the previous one regarding evolution in paradise. Why would God create imperfect mortals, when all He creates is perfect, just as He is? Well, as we saw, when it comes to potence He is not absolutely perfect. Not only that, but His benevolence, which is as perfect as we could ever hope it to be, might also have reasons for not doing so. For instance, the trillions of organisms that lived and died before 4,000 BC could have been "inhabited" by inferior intelligences also in need of mortal experience.

This, I might even suggest, is a way in which that phrase from Lehi can be applied truthfully. "All intelligences which were self-existent must have remained in the same state in which they found themselves; and they must have remained forever, and had no end, unless they too entered an already "fallen" world." Whether my new rendition has any merit to it whatsoever, it is beside point. What the verse clearly intends to convey is that progess can only be achieved in a fallen world.

If we are able to overcome our notions of scriptural infallibility and God's utter perfection as well as that of His creations, we don't have to reconcile much of anything. God used the billions of years of utter mortality to help inferior intelligences progess, just like He is now doing with us.

We should also mention some other things regarding death prior to the fall. The fact is, there was death, even according to the scriptures. Ben S. commented over at Virtual Theology that according to Trent Stephens, the co-author of Evolution and Mormonism:
To a cellular biologist, cell death IS death. The death of a human is just cell death on a large scale.
Saying there was no death must mean something other than what we assume, because regular day-to-day regulation of plants and animals requires death on a cellular level. Picking an apple will inevitably result in the cellular death of that apple.
Did Adam and Eve have hair? Fingernails? Both are made from dead cells. If a fingernail broke off in the process of gardening (as they were doing), would it be replaced? That would require the death of some cells, each of which, according to Brigham Young, would have had some intelligence or spirit (not going to get into that argument) associated or attached to it.
There was indeed death on a cellular and thus larger level, but something un-did or counteracted any effects of that until the fall. He suggested that they ate regularly from the tree of life (that wasn’t forbidden, remember) and that kept death in abeyance. (This is the theory which Jared posted on) Once they had sinned, they were NOT allowed to partake of the tree of life or else they would live forever. In this view, eating from the tree of life is not a magical thing that grants eternal life if you only eat it once. Rather, it’s like a supplement that you take continuously to keep your body in young condition, where the DNA that produces new cells to replace the old dead ones (you have a completely new body every 3-4 years, btw) doesn’t shorten and produce bad cells, ie. aging.

Now whether his theory regarding the tree of life has any merit is a different matter for a different post. The point is that there was death before the fall, not only outside of the garden (which all attempts at reconciliation have suggested), but in the garden as well to a certain extent. Further details regarding Eden and the Fall are still to come.

Summary: 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.


Mother Earth’s Plan of Salvation

Mc Conkie continues his third objection:

Bearing on this general theme that the earth was created in its glory and perfection, in a higher type of existence than it now enjoys, is the revealed fact that, as is the case with man, the earth itself is passing through a plan of salvation. It was created (the equivalent of birth); it fell to its present mortal or telestial state; it was baptized by immersion, when the universal flood swept over its entire surface; it will be baptized by fire (the equivalent of baptism of the Spirit) in the day when it is renewed and receives its paradisiacal glory; it will die; and finally it will be quickened (or resurrected) and become a celestial sphere. Evolutionary theories take no account of any of this.
Has he over-anthropomorphizes the earth? Or is there some vital doctrine at the core of this idea that we as Mormons cherish too much to throw away?

First of all, we must admit that this “plan” is very different from the plan we people are currently in. While we are born innocent, we also were born underdeveloped. It makes no sense to insist that the earth was born as a fully developed paradise because that is how we were born.

The fall, an issue that will be dealt with later, does not matter too much either. We are punished for our own sins, not Adam’s transgression. Why should the earth be different? How did the earth sin, so that it needed to be baptized?

As Prof. Jeffery pointed out, if we are to maintain that the earth had to be baptized, are we going to hold out for all animals as well? They are certainly more alive than the planet is. What about all plants and so on? What about infants while we are at it, for I can see no reason why the earth would need baptism, but not infants?

Regarding the baptism of fire, we are not literally subjected to fire when we receive such. Why must we insist that the earth be? How will the earth die? It doesn’t seem to be alive in order to do so. And how could it then be resurrected? What about other planets? Are they alive? Must they be baptized? If not, what law are they breaking that the earth is not? These questions don’t seem to make much sense. Why does Mc Conkie insist on bringing them up in the evolution discussion?

  1. Reading the scriptures too literally. There are some verses, which refer to the earth moaning and weeping and the like. The fact is, the earth, while it might have a spirit of sorts, has no brain with which to contemplate anything, let alone tear ducts to cry with. These verses are better interpreted metaphorically.
  2. Defending 19th century speculations. Brigham really did believe that the earth was alive. He thought that the “ebbing and flowing of the tides” was caused by the earth’s inhaling and exhaling “and not the moon as some have vainly supposed. The moon has nothing to do with this natural phenomenon. The motion is natural to the Earth and independent of the moon’s influence.” It goes without saying that the earth has no lungs, and astronomers are quite confident in thief theories of what causes tides. Clearly this influenced the view, which began with Brigham that the earth had to be baptized. Unfortunately, the ideas, which the doctrine is based on, are all wrong.

This leads us to consider the flood. If geologists are sure about anything it is that the earth was never a sphere of water within the last 10,000 years. Such an event would have left massive amounts of evidence, none of which can be found. We can hold out for a limited area which was effected, but a totally global flood, as imagined by children’s books is completely out of the question. For a very good treatment of the subject see Duane Jeffery's article here.

When people insist that we cannot accept evolution because it does not allow for Mother Earth's personal plan of salvation, I simply cannot agree. They are either claiming inerrancy for the scriptures (something Mormons don't believe in) or even worse, inerrancy for their interpretation of the scriptures. They are also over-anthropomorphizing the planet, beyond what is necessary or supportable by reason and evidence. Might the earth have some sort of plan of salvation? This actually goes rather well with the doctrine of "lower" self-existent intelligences and evolution. But to say that its plan is the same as ours raises too many red flags.

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 in Paradise

Continuing down Mc Conkie's list of ten objections to evolution, we now come to #3 (and people thought we would run out of stuff to talk about after a week or two;).) the theory denies that the earth was created in a paradisiacal state.

This earth, when first it rolled forth from the Creator's hand, was in a paradisiacal or terrestrial state. This condition, which does not now prevail, will be restored when the earth is "renewed" (made new again) and receives its paradisiacal glory.
In its primeval, edenic state all of the earth's surface was in one place; thorns, thistles, briars and noxious weeds had not yet begun to grow on it; rather, all plant and animal life was desirable, congenial, and designed to provide for man (earth's crowning inhabitant) a fruitful, peaceful garden in which to dwell. It was not a condition attained by progressive, creative evolvement from less propitious situations; it was creation in its glory, beauty, and perfection; hence, the Lord God pronounced it "very good." The fall to present conditions was to come later.

Here is where Mc Conkie really digs in his heals, even the ID movement isn't willing to assert the things he does. The evidence against the earth being in any kind of state which resembles what he describes simply isn't there. The land hasn't all been in one place for a really... long... time. And at no time can we consider the entire earth to have been an eden of any sort.

The issues surrounding the earth's "plan of salvation" will be dealt with in my next post. Here I will limit myself to what seems to be his main problem; namely that instead of the earth being created good and afterwords we defiled it, evolution asserts that the earth was created not so good and we are still trying to improve upon it. Indeed, it would probably be best to describe the earth's creation as not yet completed.

Briefly, I must mention the land being in one place. This comes from a verse in Genesis which says in the days of Peleg the earth (land) was divided. This could mean any number of things. In D&C it says the earth will return to being one as it was in the days of Peleg. Again, it can mean any number of things, and as far as I know, no more revelation has been given on the subject. Given what we know about plate techtonics and the like, I would suggest that Mc Conkie's view, which He inherited from his Father in law, Joseph Fielding Smith, is simply incorrect. I would interpret the separation of the land as referring to political or social division of some kind.

But back to what I take to be his main objection which cuts to the very heart of evolution, whether biological or algorithmic. Darwin suggested, and this is what made his idea so revolutionary and dangerous at once, that complexity, design and diversity need not come from above. Before him, we had a neat pyramid around which essentially all religious sects interpreted their understanding of the world.
  1. God
  2. Mind
  3. Design
  4. Order
  5. Chaos
  6. Nothing
It would be better to refer to this as a chandelier instead of a pyramid, since all thing are based on and depend on God. What Darwin did, is turn it into a pyramid: give Chaos time and we will get Order. Give Order time and we will get Design. Design gives us Mind, and Mind, we can speculate, just might give us God. I mean this quite literally as did Truman Madsen in his lectures "Timeless Questions: Gospel Insights." It is not to be interpreted as some sort of psychological yearning for something more.

I answer, so what? What's wrong with that? After all, that
chandelier is already quite different in Mormon understanding. For one, there is no such thing as "nothing." Nothing does not exist, by very definition. God himself cannot create anything, even chaos, out of nothing. Second, intelligence, we are told, is eternal, as eternal as God. Where exactly does this fit in? If I had to put it anywhere it would be Mind, but I am not comfortable restricting it so much.

From there, we can see other problems not unique to Mormonism. What, exactly is the difference between chaos and order? Order and Design? These have vague boundaries at best. In other words, holding too strongly to the
chandelier is a bit like building our house upon the sand, don't expect it to stand up to the rains.

The desire stems from two problems: 1) reading the scriptures too literally and 2) trying to use the account of the garden of eden as a form of theodicy. With regards to (1), all prophets have taught that at least some of the garden story is allegory. The fact that we use it is our ceremonies should be an obvious tip off that we should be more concerned with symbolism that history.

As to (2), which I think is what Elder Mc Conkie issue is all about, the attempt to show that evil derives from man is misplaced in the Mormon context. Evil always has existed, just as agents have always existed. We don't have to believe that God created the world as a perfect paradise and then man messed it up. We believe that God is limited enough by self-existed intelligences, elements and laws to not require it all being Adam's fault.

We cannot accept that the entire earth was recently (within the past 10,000 years) in a paradisiacal state and accept evolution. Some general authorities have suggested that the paradise was limited to the local garden of eden. Others have suggested that it was in a terrestrial state and we shouldn't look for evidence here in this telestial world. There are other suggestions which I will cover later, but that the world earth was a paradise that Adam recently cursed is simply untenable.

Summary: 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.



Adam and Eve: How?

The year following the First Presidency's statement, "Origin of Man," the following was published in the Improvement Era, April 1910:
Origin of Man.-"In just what manner did the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve come into existence on this earth?" This question comes from several High Priests' quorums. Of course, all are familiar with the statements in Genesis 1:26, 27; 2: 7; also in the Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price, 2: 27; and in the Book of-Abraham 5:7. The latter statement reads: "And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man's spirit) and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, until the Lord shall see fit to give more light on the subject. Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. For helpful discussion of the subject, see IMPROVEMENT ERA, Vol. XI, August 1908, No. 10, page 778, article, "Creation and Growth of Adam;" also article by the First Presidency, "Origin of Man," Vol. XIII, No. 1, page 75, 1909. [emphasis added]

For more discussion about this passage see Duane Jeffery's article here.

Since Joseph F. Smith was one of two editors at the time, this passage has been attributed to him and although it probably did not reflect his own opinion it shows that no specific creation process was officially endorsed. Although the creation of Adam and Eve has been the topic of continued discussion in the years since this statement, the lack of official clarification has been maintained.

Some cite certain scriptures was well as statements by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others, to argue that Adam (and presumably Eve) was physically born of Heavenly Parents and later became mortal in the manner described in Genesis. This would seem to contradict the scriptural teaching that Jesus was the only physical son of God. Elder Bruce R. McConkie resolves the contradiction this way:
Father Adam, the first man, is also a son of God (Luke 3:38; Moses 6:22), a fact that does not change the great truth that Christ is the Only Begotten in the flesh, for Adam's entrance into this world was in immortality. He came here before death had its beginning, with its consequent mortal or flesh-status of existence. ("Son of God" in Mormon Doctrine)

However Stephens, Meldrum, and Peterson in their book, Evolution and Mormonism, rightly point out that the phrase "Only Begotten in the flesh" is not contained in the scriptures.

For some, the idea of a divine origin of our physical bodies presents a significant impediment to accepting the concept of common descent as being applied to mankind. And yet investigation of the anatomy, genome, and development of humans does not reveal any marks of special creation. Rather they strongly support that we and other primates have common ancestors. Stephens et al. write:
The unsupported notion that our physical bodies must be in some way special, i.e., apart from nature, and directly descended from God's immortal body is a major source of conflict with evolution theory. There are no scientific data to support any of these supernatural hypotheses; in fact, the body of accumulated scientific evidence stands against them. If our physical bodies are in some way "special," in that our ancestors' physical bodies came from some other planet or directly from God, then we could predict that the physical nature of our bodies should be in some way different from those of life forms originating on this earth.

Regardless of whether Adam was a literal son of God or was "transplanted from another sphere," the basic conflict with science remains the same. Whatever the truth is regarding the origin of our physical bodies, it must explain the evidence that we see for common descent. The following are two hypothetical scenarios that might resolve this discrepancy:

1. Stephens, Meldrum, and Peterson propose a theistic evolution scenario where Adam and Eve's physical bodies were the result of hominid evolution. However, at some point after their spirits were placed into their physical bodies, they became immortal by partaking of the fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. (Perhaps they experienced something similar to translation.) This is the immortality that they later fell from. Variations on this scenario are possible, including the geographical and organismal range involved.

2. Another scenario might be a compromise between theistic evolution and the idea of a divine origin of our physical bodies. Perhaps Adam and Eve were born (physically) of Heavenly Parents. Their Fall entailed taking on the physiology of the most similar hominids by some sort of tissue transplantaion. Although I am not sure whether it can be reliably traced to Joseph Smith (I cannot trace it past Joseph Fielding Smith), a common doctrinal concept is that Adam and Eve did not have blood while in the Garden of Eden. Since blood is derived from bone marrow, perhaps something like a bone marrow transplant occured where the donors were the most similar mortal (non-children of God) hominids. Certainly this scenario is highly speculative, but something like it allows for our close genetic relationship to other animals while retaining our spiritual and physical relationship with God. Adam and Eve thus fell by taking mortal physiology and genetics into their bodies, and our relationship to other animals is therefore a partial illusion.

Yet to come--Adam and Eve: When and Where?



Supplementary Quotes by Carl Cox

The process of evolution, by Gould

"The modern theory of evolution does not require gradual change. It in fact, the operation of Darwinian processes should yield exactly what we see in the fossil record. It is gradualism that we must reject, not Darwinism. [.]

Eldridge and I believe that speciation is responsible for almost all evolutionary change. Moreover, the way in which it occurs virtually guarantees that sudden appearance and stasis shall dominate the fossil record. All major theories of speciation maintain that splitting takes place rapidly in very small populations. The theory of geographic, or allopatric, speciation is preferred by most evolutionists for most situations (allopatric means 'in another place'). A new species can arise when a small segment of the ancestral population is isolated at the periphery of the ancestral range. Large, stable central populations exert a strong homogenizing influence. New and favorable mutations are diluted by the sheer bulk of the population through which they must spread. They may build slowly in frequency, but changing environments usually cancel their selective value long before they reach fixation. Thus, phyletic transformation in large populations should be very rare-as the fossil record proclaims. But small, peripherally isolated groups are cut off from their parental stock. They live as tiny populations in geographic corners of the ancestral range.

Selective pressures are usually intense because peripheries mark the edge of ecological tolerance for ancestral forms. Favorable variations spread quickly. Small peripheral isolates are a laboratory of evolutionary change. "What should the fossil record include if most evolution occurs by speciation in peripheral isolates? Species should be static through their range because our fossils are the remains of large central populations. In any local area inhabited by ancestors, a descendant species should appear suddenly by migration from the peripheral region in which it evolved. In the peripheral region itself, we might find direct evidence of speciation, but such good fortune would be rare indeed because the event occurs so rapidly in such a small population. Thus, the fossil record is a faithful rendering of what evolutionary theory predicts, not a pitiful vestige of a once bountiful tale."

- "The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change," Error! Bookmark not
defined., New York: W. W. Norton, 1980, pp. 182-184.

Monday, May 27, 2002

Is evolution like a well-tuned car that purrs down the road at a steady pace? Or is it more like an aging, rattling jalopy that often lurches forward?

The aging jalopy is a handy metaphor for the evolutionary theory popularized by Stephen Jay Gould, who died of cancer last week at age 60. Thanks to Gould's numerous popular writings, his theory known as "punctuated equilibrium" has been at the center of a major scientific debate since theearly 1970s.

Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge argued that the evolution of life isn't a slow, steady, gradual process, as conventional scientific wisdom held. Rather, they said, evolution is a multi-million-year saga usually characterized by brief, sudden shifts separated by long periods of little or no change.

In recent years, some experts claim, the weight of evidence has increasingly favored the Eldredge-Gould hypothesis. Others aren't so sure. "Up to now proponents (of punctuated equilibrium) think they've been vindicated, while those of gradualism claim the same," says University of California at Berkeley paleontology professor Kevin Padian, a leading admirer of Gould.

In an outline for his course, Integrative Biology 100b, Padian calls
Eldredge and Gould's 1972 article "perhaps the most influential and
frequently cited paper in paleontology in this century. It is also one of
the most far- reaching theoretically, and one of the best written papers you
will find in recent science . . ."


Among the evidence supporting punctuated equilibrium, said David Jablonski, chair of the committee on evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago, is "an impressive array of examples in the fossil record, from snails to horses . . . a core of solid analyses that are very convincing."

One scientist analyzed the evolutionary "trees" of 34 different types of scallops and found only one that displayed gradual evolution over time. The remaining 33 stayed pretty much the same from generation to generation, Jablonski says. Another scientist found gradualism in only eight of 88 lineages of trilobites.

Even so, traditions die hard, and critics have gone to great lengths to try to discredit punctuated equilibrium.

One renowned evolutionary thinker, John Maynard Smith of England, wrote in 1995: "Because of the excellence of his essays, (Gould) has come to be seen by nonbiologists as the pre-eminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary theorists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists."


Normally, even intense scientific disputes are unknown to the public: They rage behind the closed doors of laboratory and university seminar rooms. But punctuated equilibrium became a very public issue in the 1970s, thanks partly to Gould's prolific popular science writing in books, essays, and his column for Natural History magazine.

The son of left-leaning New York Jews, Gould hated elitism. A gifted and witty writer, he decided to bring the debate to the attention of ordinary folks -- the same kinds of folks with whom he rubbed shoulders and gobbled hot dogs at New York Yankees baseball games.

Punctuated equilibrium "went public" for another reason, too: the emergence of the modern creationist movement. Gould and Eldredge's dispute with other evolutionary theorists thrilled creationists, who misinterpreted it as a sign that evolutionary theory was on its deathbed.


That angered Gould, an agnostic. Few things made him madder than having to deny the charge that punctuated equilibrium theory played into the hands of creationists.

Punctuated equilibrium "is still very much a controversial theory," but "is fully compatible with what we term neo-Darwinism," said Peter D. Roopnarine, chair of invertebrate zoology and geology at the California Academy of Sciences. "Creationists unfortunately, and very incorrectly, seized upon this as a challenge to Darwin and evolution."

The story of punctuated equilibrium is a classic example of how scientists (like the rest of us) sometimes see what they expect to see, not what's really there in front of their eyes. Reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Traditionally, scientists looking at the fossil record assumed they didn't see strong evidence of gradual evolution because the fossil record was woefully limited. If the fossil record were more complete, they assumed, they'd see overwhelming evidence of gradual organic change, just as
characters on movie film gradually shift position from frame to frame.


But in fact, Gould and Eldredge argued, the fossil record was quite rich in some places and very adequate for seeing patterns of stasis, not gradual change.

The problem is that "people just didn't see the evidence of stasis," says geologist-paleontologist Carlton Brett of the University of Cincinnati.

"They didn't see the obvious pattern of stasis even though it was right in front of their eyes. Because they had a preconceived idea that they should be seeing gradual change, they failed to see the obvious pattern of stasis.

"This is a common problem in science: Sometimes we don't see what we
don't expect to see," Brett said. "The influence of a particular paradigm is
so strong that it may make people put blinders on, and it may prevent people
from seeing obvious patterns."


What causes stasis? That's still a hotly debated topic.

Gould suggested that "rapid" evolution -- say, over thousands of years, a blink of an eye in geological time -- might occur when a small splinter group of a species becomes geographically separated from its peers. For example, sea- level rise might turn a peninsula into an island, isolating a small number of animals from their kind on the other side of the water.

Result: When these isolated creatures undergo random mutations, as all species do from time to time, the mutations persist rather than being genetically washed out by genetic "blending" with a larger group of animals.

Over time the splinter group accumulates many mutations. Eventually it may become a different species.

"Of all Gould's contributions, in my mind nothing is more important than his establishment of stasis as a real phenomenon," Brett says. "This notion of stasis is something that people really didn't think about prior to 1972."


Brett recalls Gould as an effusive, brainy, sometimes arrogant raconteur who was capable of real warmth -- a man who would happily chat about evolution while repairing a flat tire in the middle of a field trip, as he did on an outing with Brett.

Gould dedicated his last book, the 1,500-page "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" (Harvard University Press) to Eldredge and their colleague Elizabeth Vrba. The book's dedication reads, in part: "May we always be the Three Musketeers / Prevailing with panache."
E-mail Keay Davidson

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Much of the scientific controversy over Gould's work concerned matters of definition. Few evolutionary theorists deny that evolution sometimes happens quickly and is a highly chancy affair. Rather, the key questions are: How quickly? and how chancy?

Gould argued that some creatures undergo dramatic changes in shape and size over time periods of thousands of years -- periods that are a blink of an eye, geologically speaking. He was furious when creationists misquoted his views in support of their belief in divine creation.


Evolution, The Process by Carl Cox

The Fossil Record

As part of Darwin's theory on Origin of Species, he proposed that random, gradual, continuous changes was the mechanism for changing one species to another. But even as he was formulating his theory he had information that showed species remained the same for long periods of time. He explained the lack of fossil that recorded the speciation event to the incompleteness of the fossil record, and persisted in teaching the gradual change as the mechanism for evolution. Biologists for over 100 years have diligently sought for those fossils which would verify that theory, but with extremely limited success.

Geologists, not trained as biologists, did not know they were supposed to find gradually changing fossils, so they identified what they found. They noticed that world wide certain fossils appeared in certain strata of rock, and when they found the means to accurately date the strata/fossils, they used the fossils as markers for dates in their explorations. The fossils they found remained the same for the duration of the time they were found, a time of up to several million years.

As time went on, paleontologists realized the same thing, that the fossil record showed organisms in stasis, or unchanging. Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge were among the major proponents of this idea, starting about 30 years ago. An article in Models in Paleobiology in 1972 was an early attempt to inform the professionals of what the fossil record showed.

But Darwin's theory still reigns supreme, and in order to explain how speciation could proceed without leaving a fossil record the current theory was proposed. It states that a small group of a larger population found themselves isolated, in a poor environment for their species. The environmental stress made many of the hidden mutations beneficial, so much change occurred in a geologically short while in this small population. The small area and the short time made fossils very difficult to find.

I have many questions about the proposed method of speciation.

The large group of the species had a great body of mutations to draw upon, but we are told that the large group tends to stabilize the population, that changes would die out rather than become fixed. But once the small population became detached, mutations would rapidly proceed to fixing.

I find this reasoning rather strange. I have read in biology texts the formulas for fixing of mutations, which takes into account the added benefit of the mutation and the size of the population. Those formulas are presented as being quite precise, once the additional benefit of the mutation is known. While the time to fixation is longer in a large population, it still seems to proceed to fixing. Recently the idea of neutral mutations has surfaced, and it becomes a random walk to fixation. In larger populations, I assume that the random mutations would not likely be fixed, thus supporting the proposal for speciation. However, beneficial mutations should still be
fixed, and these are the ones most likely to play a part in speciation.

So, according to the theory, a small group would be separated from the main body, and the mutations which were neutral in the main body would become beneficial in the stressed environment. But now you only have a small group to mine mutations from, so the process of speciation could slow way down.

The mutations that would not fix in the large group now fix quickly. This seems to be a contrived explanation, and is difficult to support. The large quantity of mutations available in the large group are no longer available, which makes the speciation process less probable. As soon as the residual mutations are fixed, the speciation process would almost grind to a halt.

Species are different from other species. Each species is different enough that paleontologists can assign markers to identify them from other similar species. But looking at the small group that are proposed to do the speciation. We find that in the best case, they have fixed several beneficial mutations, and are slightly different from the large group, but not yet different enough in the several markers to be considered a new species. Why does speciation not stop there?

To realize the importance of this point some discussion of speciation is needed. As we look at the fossil record, we note that every step in a species history is a discrete step. Tooth shape is one identifier of a species, and as I understand it is a major part of the new species. (I will have more to say about the size of step in speciation later in this paper.)

The small group that is separated from the main body of the species in question is a major player in speciation. However, in many species the small isolated group is the rule rather that the exception. A stressful environment is also common. Over a million year period it is probable that stressful environments will occur many times, so what would trigger a speciation event after such a long period of time with similar stresses and other conditions?

In trying to analyze the detailed process for speciation, it seems the most logical scenario is that mutations would gradually be accumulated in the group, but the mutation that finally made the difference would most probably be in a single individual. Just how a spouse would come by the same mutation is a great problem, but if we assume it could then we have a group that cannot mate with the others left behind. A major problem here is the amount of variation in the species. The evidence I have seen indicates that the new species has the same variation that the previous species had. But a bottleneck of one or two leaves behind most variation. The alternative is for the whole small group to change one mutation at a time, but this
requires much time. It also requires a viable path for each character that is different in the successor species from the equivalent character in the parent species. For the number of DNA bases that must be changed to describe the new species, it is almost impossible. To get an idea of the number of DNA bases that are different between species, it is instructive to follow such examples as Homo and chimp. The DNA clock studies give an estimate of the time when both species had the same ancestor, and the number of speciations since then in both lines can be intelligently guessed at. The number of DNA base differences is also known, so simple divisions gives a ball park number of the number of changes per speciation. The amount of 'junk' DNA is also known, as well as the number of places where 'don't care' mutations can be made. That leaves a guess as to the number of working bases
that change in each speciation. Recent studies have shown that some genes have more changes than has been expected by the current theory.

The above discussion shows that there are problems with the New Synthesis of Darwin's theory, and attempts to come up with answers to the problems sound contrived and not very convincing.

A proposal

What kind of speciation process would answer the fossil record? What predictions could be made from such a process? Here is the answer to both questions.

Speciation in a single generation would fit the fossil record completely. For speciation, only the necessary genes would be changed, and there would be multiple changes in those genes, which would preserve the variation found in the parent species. Now a definition: Speciation has several meanings so I have chosen microevolution and macroevolution to define exactly what changes make speciation.

This definition is based entirely on DNA. Microevolution is made up of random mutations, the source of SNPs.(Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) It can also include any of the mistakes made in division of the germ cells, improper division and recombination of the chromosomes, or the transfer of parts of chromosomes (DNA material) by bacteria or by other methods that science has found. Variation in species is made up by microevolution. The finches that spread around a lake in Russia, and have gone so far that the furthest around the lake cannot breed with those near the start, even though each adjacent variation can interbreed, another example of microevolution.

Species that spread over a countryside with gradual changes in coloration or habits are also microevolution.

Macroevolution is multiple DNA base changes within a single gene. This could be read as multiple microevolution, but the rate of the DNA clock is known within some rather broad error band and macroevolution would far exceed that known rate. Also, the multiple changes are only in a few genes, while microevolution is in most genes.

In the fossil record, one species disappears and another may appear in it's place. Thus macroevolution completely fits the fossil record.


About 5 years ago I predicted that studies of developing embryos would identify the genes that determined such things as the shape of the tooth, and at that time comparison of those genes in closely related organisms would show that multiple bases have been changed between the two. Last year, sequencing of the chimp/Homo 20/21 genes proved that prediction. The researchers, according to news reports, discovered some genes that have more changes than were expected between the two. I have not been able to get details, but this is exactly what I predicted, and what Darwin cannot

How much change for speciation - is there any guidelines? I say, yes. According to the proposal, these changes take place in a single generation, so the new embryo is a different species from the mother. The change in a successor species is the maximum that can be made, considering these constraints:
1. The new species cannot disrupt the parents immune system, and vice versa.
2. The new species cannot be too big for the parent to bear, if a mammal or
egg laying animal.
3. Habits of the new species must be compatible with the parents, as they
must teach them while young. (For species that rear their young.)
4. Appearance of the new species must be compatible with expectation of the
parents. They cannot look like some foreign species.

While we do not know all about the habits and environment of each step of all organisms, we can make good guesses enough to see that the species in the fossil record would generally follow the above guidelines.

There are many other examples in the fossil record that give great problems for Darwin, but fit in easily to this proposal. Also, many evolutionary biologists have made statements of problems with Darwin's new synthesis, but this proposal answers those concerns very well.

One remaining problem: I do not have a mechanism for the process of macroevolution. But if the fit with the fossil record and the predictions are acceptable, the good biologists can probably find a mechanism. I note that Einstein's work with the speed of light has no mechanism for the limiting speed, or the properties of matter nearing that speed, and has been that way for most of 100 years, so the mechanism is desirable but not mandatory if everything else fits.

Carl Cox
Mansfield, MO


Is Evolution the Best He Could Do?

We have already discussed, very briefly, how the God that uses evolution must be limited. With this in mind we should make a few more issues clear.

I recently read through the discussion on evolution held over at times and seasons. There Glen Henshaw wrote a great post on evolutionary algorithms and their potents usefulness in designing wonderfully complex and productive artifices. This is according to Orgel's second rule, "Evolution is cleverer than you are." He gives an explanation which brought to my mind the metaphor of smaller cranes building larger cranes, until we have huge cranes capable of accomplishing tremendous things.

He then concludes with the following:
It seems to me that in the debate between evolution and creation, the burden of proof was often on religious advocates of evolution to demonstrate why God would choose to use such an strange way of creating humans. But now that evolution is being proven to be such a powerful, flexible design technique, the burden of proof is shifting, and maybe it’s now incumbent on detractors to explain why He wouldn’t.
I think the analogy has a great deal of merit but hardly warrants the conclusion drawn from it. In the comments Gordon Smith pointed out that such a scenario is "silly" unless one believes that God is less than omniscient or omnipotent. I fully agree. Luckily, Mormons don't believe in a absolutely omnipotent God, and there is more than enough room for a less than absolutely omniscient God.

Where I disagree with his conclusion, however, is his shifting the question to "why wouldn't He have done it this way?" Because, whereas the engineers are using an evoluitonary algorithm to create wonderful things by designing thousands upon thousands of models and then dumping them, all in virtual reality, the Engineer of this world actually creates His models in actual reality, complete with death, waste and suffering, for the purpose of creating humans. The scientists find the "optimal design and then only really create that one design. God, it seems, couldn't do this. In other words, the scientists are doing it better than God! In other words, the question is definitely "Couldn't God find a better way to do it?" instead of the other way around.

If He was not able to, He is limited in His power to some degree, but He is still omnibenevolent, vastly powerful and still worthy of our worship and allegiance. If He could do better, but chose not to, we can maintain that He is still "omnipotent," again in the limited Mormon sense, but we cannot believe Him to be all-loving. Our allegiance to Him is such a state of affairs in questionable.

Some may say that He could have done better, but He chose not to in order to protect a greater good, but this only moves the question. Could He not have accomplished that greater good without having to allow so much suffering and waste? If we are to accept evolution, even the most basic beliefs about it, to be true, we must posit a God quite limited in His creative abilities.

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 and Self-Existing Spirits

As I mentioned in the previous post there are other, currently less popular, versions of the preexistence which we would do well to not ignore in our discussion. Here we should consider the following doctrines, both of which were believed by Joseph Smith during periods of his life: 1) that our we as spiritual being always existed without beginning, and 2) that we merely preexisted in God's mind.

The idea that our we as spirits always existed in explained best in Joseph's King Follet discourse wherein he compares our spiritual existence with a ring; there is neither a beginning, nor an end. "I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops, that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all."
Smith's.. doctrinal teaching was that the human spirit as a conscious entity is eternal--as eternal as God. It has no beginning and has no end. It was not created; it is self-existing. God, being more advanced than the other spirits, organized them and instituted laws to give them the privilege to advance like himself. He presides and will preside over them throughout eternity. Smith used the terms "spirit," "soul," "intelligence," and "mind" synonymously to describe the inchoate, indestructible essence of life.
This summary is drawn from eight documentary sources--dating from 6 May 1833 to 7 April 1844. None of them suggest that God presides over the spirits because they are his begotten offspring, but because he was more intelligent, more advanced, than they and because he organized them into a premortal council. -Van Hale in Line Upon Line
How does this picture measure up to the difficulties we mentioned before? It's a bit difficult to tell.

After all, what, under this model, is a spirit? Does it have a spirit body? Does this spirit body look like the organisms they would later become? What kinds of intelligences are there? Human? Cro-magnon? Jelly fish? Trees? Dirt? While its clear that Joseph believed that we were autonomous agents, such that we could choose a savior and be organized by God, it is not clear at all how far "down" we can extend this.

As we noticed before, evolution would seem to call for a somewhat vague idea of a spiritual identity, devoid of our current familial resemblances and traits which are inherited genetically. Do to historical contigency, randomness and free will we would not know for sure who our earth spouses would be or who our exact children would be. This model of the preexistence works quite well in this area.

There is also the issue of essentialism, some spirits were literally begotten of God and others were not. Under this model, noboby was literally begotten of God. They were only organized by God, analogous, I imagine, to adoption. This does leave a bit more space for gradualness. After all, when is something a member of your family? When they are a parent, a sibling, an aunt, a fouth cousin twice removed on your mother's side, a pet dog, a pet gold fish, a box of silk worms, intenstinal worms, a cold, the mildew under the sink?

This question of where to draw the line may be difficult for some, especially cat lovers (pause for shudder), but the question only gets that much more difficult when we ask "when is somebody in the human family?" Is it possible to be partially adopted into the family of God? I answer, "Why not?"

We could speculate as to the possibility of generational adoption, where certain individuals (not just humans mind you) are adopted to individuals other than God. But again we must not commit ourselves to too much detail. But we must remember, that this model insists on a vague notion of each person's preexistent spiritual identity. The more details we insist on applying to our preexistet selves, the more difficult it will be to harmonize with the utter randomness of evolution.

This lead us Joseph's first notion of the preexistence, namely that we preexisted in God's mind. This is what the Book of Mormon means that when Adam fell, all of mankind fell, for we all existed "in" Adam. This is what is referred to in the Books of Genesis as well as Mose by the spiritual creation. It does not mean spirit as in "finer matter", but spirit as in God's pre-knowledge of sorts.

We can see this is that in the Book of Abraham as well as in the temple depiction there is no mention of a spirit creation, only planning sessions. These planning sessions where what the Book of Moses meant by "spiritual creation." While people can insist that the Lord knew what He was talking about, we should remember that he was speaking to Moses in Genesis and Joseph Smith and the earliest saints in the Book of Moses. They did not believe the same things then as we do now. We should stop trying to attribute things to the Lord which have no contextual credibility.

This first notion is very easy to reconcile with evolution, for it involves little more than God's foreknowledge. Again, we must consider Mormonism's unique limitations which are placed on God, but I doubt many Mormons would be comfortable fully adopting this model. Modern day revelation regarding the preexistence originally came in the context of this belief, because it was the belief held by most Christian churchs from which the early Saints came. The revelations were corrections of this view, not endorsements.

It would seem to me that Joseph's doctrine of self-existent intelligences would be the best path to take in persuing a reconciliation of evolution with the preexistence. It also opens up other questions, which we probably cannot do other than speculate upon. Can intelligences evolve? I would answer yes it that they can become more or less intelligent, but I would say no to their evolving from one "kind" of intelligence to another.

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.



I have gone back to each of my posts and added a summary at the end of each so as to briefly state my arguments and conclusions reached. This, I feel will help keep the comments more confined to the real issues at hand. It will also help to clarify what in the world I am trying to say.



A Place at the Table

Why is evolution unpalatable to many Mormons? Unlike more fundamentalist devotees of the Bible---who tend to lump an "old earth" and evolution together---most Mormons seem capable of swallowing the former, while still choking on the latter.

Of Elder McConkie's litany of traditional doctrines to which evolution might be noxious, the first item on the list---God's creative role---wields a particularly potent psychological impact, and has far-reaching implications.

One of these implications---the question of God's existence---will be explored here.

At the Church's electronic interface to the world, one of many questions answered is How can I know that God exists? The answer's opening sentence states that there are many such evidences, but only one is explicitly cited and discussed: "the testimony of His creations." References to Psalm 19:1 and Alma 30:44 buttress the argument.

God's relationship to nature is seen differently by the believer and the skeptic. As exemplified above, for the believer, the creation is prima facie evidence of the existence of God. The skeptic turns this argument on its head: gods were invented to explain forces of nature beyond humanity's comprehension.

Evolution is anathema to so many because in the context of this argument over the existence of God, it is perceived as a potent weapon in the skeptic's hands. By telling plausible stories of man's origin without reference to God, the believer's usual prima facie evidence for God's existence is invalidated. (An "old earth"---merely stretching out the time scale of creation---is not usually perceived by Mormons as having the same effect, though it could: If there is such a powerful god, why did he take 4.5 billion years to create the world instead of six days?)

Any reconciliation between Mormons and evolution must begin by giving God a place at the table. At its etymological roots, 'reconciliation' is 'to sit down together again.' Evolution's disposal of the prima facie case for God's existence is perceived by many as the equivalent of banishment of the King from his own banquet hall, a rebellious expulsion at the hands of the generously invited lowly subjects! Reconciliation requires that the King be explicitly invited back in. To gain widespread traction for evolution among believers, the shock of this rupture must be soothed, the apparent breach of protocol resolved: The first task must be to identify evidences for the existence of God other than the wonders of nature, and compellingly articulate why they should be given primacy.

As this post is sufficiently long, and this author insufficiently qualified, these tasks are left as exercises for the comments---and for other posts, and sermons, and articles, and books.


Evolution and Spirit Birth

As I said in the last post, if we believe in evolution it becomes difficult to believe that we knew our spouses in the preexistence, or that we even knew who our families would be or that we even had the same "physical" appearance that each of us enjoys now. Of course one can, and probably should, maintain that organization into families is an ongoing process which is happening as we speak. All in all, however, each person's preexistentent individuality is becoming more generic.

These problems are nothing, however, compared to the notion of spirit birth. Remember, Joseph Smith didn't believe (or at least didn't teach) that we were born to spiritual parents. He believed us to be uncreated spirits with no beginning or end. But this is not what we teach now so we must address this issue.

All things, especially living things, were created spiritually before temporally. We are the spirit children of God, while the animals are.... what? Usually it is believed that animals are formed, somehow, but this goes against the logic of those 19th century Mormons who believed that the only real way to create is through procreation. This is why they taught that Adam was literally a son of God. This is one of the reasons why some adopted the idea of spirit birth in the first place. So maybe animals were born spiritually to some resurrected and glorified animal. But here is where the problems arise.

In the geological strata we can go back in time and see that man evolved from an ancestor which we share with chimpazees. There was no definite break. No place where we can say, this son was a human while his parents were cro-magnon. No place where we can say, this son was a spiritual son of God while his parents were spiritual creations of God, or even a spirit child of a cro-magnon-God.

We can say that all of the children of Adam were spirit children of God, but this brings up other issues which we will address later. One that I will mention here, however, is that we are related quite intimately to animals. Which means that if we all go back to an Adam, this Adam goes back to a cro-magnon. The same logic can be applied to any "species" as we humans have labeled them for convenience if we are to attribute spiritual birth to them. We can't say that each animal from any given species were spiritually born to a single "God" of that species. This destroys the continuity displayed by evolution.

Put another way, evolution effectively destroyed what has been called essentialism as applied to organisms. Aristotle taught that we could define everything, in our case organisms, by its essential properties, properties which if any given organism did not possess it would no longer be classified as a member of that particular species. The whole point of evolution is that there are no essential properties in life. Numberless intermediate life forms make it impossible to categorize each organism according to essence. In fact, all life forms, including us, are intermediate, on their way to becoming something else. Dennett describes the predicament of the essentialist paradigm as follows:
You may think you're a mammal, and that dogs and cows and whales are mammals, but really there aren't any mammals at all-ther couldn't be! Here's the philosphical argument to prove it.
  1. Every mammal has a mammal for a mother.
  2. If there have been any mammals at all, there have been only a finite number of mammals.
  3. But if there has been even one mammal, then by (1), there have been an infinity of mammals, which contradicts (2), so there can't have been any mammals. It's a contradiction in terms.
The way around this, according to Darwin, is that things gradually became more and more mammal-ish until enough separation has been established between them and what we now call non-mammals to officially declare a difference between the two.

But this doesn't work for spiritual birth. Can creatures gradually become more and more born-of-God-ish? No, a creature is either a spirit child of God or not, there is no grey area.

Let's consider an alternative which was actually tossed around by Orson Pratt. We are not so much children of God as much as we are spirit grand children of God. This, Elder Pratt speculated, would releave our Mother in Heaven from having to give birth to the billions of people of the earth. This idea has some advantages in this context, for it allows us to be related to our earthly family members and thereby let's us think that our spirit displayed our current family resemblances and so forth.

This leads us to talk of (please hold back the laughter) "spiritual genetics" and "spiritual evolution." This would help eliminate the issue of essentialism in the spirit realm as it has here. It could also give us a place to maintain that God actually did control evolution, again, somehow.

But problems still remain in addition to a new one. We are saying that evolution took the exact same road twice. This is a direct violation of Dollo's Law:
Dollo's Law is really just a statement about the statistical improbability of following exactly the same evolutionary trajectory twice... in either direction. A single mutational step can easily be reversed. But for larger numbers of mutational steps... the mathematical space of all possible trajectories is so vast that the chance of two tragectories ever arriving at the same point becomes vanishingly small. -Richard Dawkins
Also, unanswered are the issues surrounding free-will (the ability the have children with whoever you want) and historical contigency (extinctions, bodily dismemberments and so forth).

All in all, I simply cannot find a footing for a literal spirit birth in the preexistence. There are other options however. There is the "eternal spirit" doctrine taught by Joseph Smith which involves a kind of spiritual adoption into God's family. There is also the idea of our having preexisted in God's mind, but having no actual preexistent identity.

The literal doctrine of a 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.



Does Evolution Preclude a Preexistence? pt. 2

Some might be surprised that Darwin actually addressed, though very briefly, the subject of the preexistence:
Commenting on the claim that Plato thought our "necessary ideas" arise from the pre-existence of the soul, Darwin wrote: "read monkeys for preexistence."
Here, he is addressing the things that we just seem to know without us having learned it anywhere. This, as a mater of fact, was one argument a friend of mine put forth against evolution. "When the kangaroo is born, it knows where to crawl to find its mother's pouch and nipple. It must be God which is doing it." Needless to say, I didn't buy it.

My friend's argument is based on his believe that when we are born, aside for inspiration from God, our mind is a blank slate. This assumption is false. (See Steve Pinker's book Blank Slate for details.) Sometimes I have wondered if this same concept is one of the big reasons why Mormon's believe in a preexistence or at least in many of the details we attribute to it.

Let us first address the modern-day version of the preexistence story as described in the Proclamation on the family.
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a
beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a
divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

What we learn about this version of the preexistence is that (1) we were born "spiritually" (whatever that might mean), (2) we had gender there, judging by the context of the statement it is intended to mean the same gender which each of us has here. And that's about it.

There are not too many problems here (aside from humans being born while other creatures created) unless we try to extend our beliefs into meeting our spouses there or knowing which family we would be in or any other prediction as to what would happen to any given individual in this earth life. This is where evolution weighs in with its utter randomness as well as its reliance on historical contingency.

This cannot be overstated.

  1. Since our physical appearance is contingent upon genetics, nutrition as well as what has happened in our lives (losing an arm and such), our premortal selves could not have born too much of a resemblance to our current physical selves.
  2. Each organism's physical existence is based on their genetic sequence, which is random, as well as our parent's ability to survive and reproduce (historical contingency). Each individual could not have been organized according to family with too much detail. This completely throws out the romantic idea of meeting ones spouse in the preexistence.
These points are not only true for humans, but for everyliving thing as Elder Mc Conkie asserts.

We can argue that God knew who would do what and when but this raises other issues.
  1. The Mormon God is in time, just like us. He does not know the future as He does the past, He predicts the future though with much greater precision than we are familiar with. There is no guarantee that He could physically know about each and every living organism which would later appear on earth.
  2. Even if we did believe that He knew all of that, and it is a big if, knowing the future and doing something before hand which will exactly match it are two very different things. We have already seen that the God that uses evolution is limited by natural law. To assume that God can "spiritually" create all of the exact life forms which would latter arise on this earth physically through random variation and contigency is a big stretch. If God is powerful enough to do that then He should have been able to avoid all of the prodigious waste in this planets past.
This brings up the question of how was spirit life created? Was it through birth? That is certainly what the proclamation seems to be saying for us, but what was it through birth for other animals? If so birth from who? Bear-God? Jelly fish-God? Virus-God? Regardless of the answer, evolution says there is no line between animals and man. Is there a line between spiritual animals and spirit men?

We will address these questions in the next post.

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.



ID and 75 cents Will Buy You a Cup of Hot Chocolate

Over at LDS Science Review I've posted a review of Defeating Darwinism. I make an argument about Intelligent Design that I want to post here. It's not that, in my opinion, there is something wrong with believing that God took an active part in creating the world and life on it. The problem is that we have no idea what exactly that involvement is. Furthermore, even under the best of circumstances ID is of very little help in dealing with science and LDS theology.
The critical problem with ID, in terms of science, is testability. If God has intervened in the development of life on earth, how would we know it? Proponents of ID argue that design can be detected by positive evidence. What is this positive evidence? The answer is IC. But the very notion and implications of IC are disputed--or ignored--by mainstream science. And at root, IC is an argument from ignorance--we don't know how something could have evolved by natural means and therefore it must have been designed. It is a subtle trick to turn an argument from ignorance into "positive evidence"--create a category that is derived from an argument from ignorance, find a biological system that fits the criteria of your category, then call that positive evidence for design.

What I don't think many people realize is that ID really cannot get them what they want. For the sake of argument, let's say that IC is a legitimate concept and really does indicate ID. The reason it can detect design is because it is the only marker that can distinguish natural processes from intelligent ones. In other words, it distinguishes organisms created with ID from those related just by common descent. The IC systems that have been proposed thus far might distinguish some higher taxa, but most species and genera would probably be unaffected. For example, what kind of IC system would distinguish chimpanzees from humans? The only IC systems proposed so far are things like vision, the immune system, blood clotting, and cilia. Both humans and chimpanzees--most vertebrates for that matter--have all of those. Given the very high degree of DNA identity between these two species, I think it is highly unlikely that any IC biochemical systems will be identified to differentiate them. With the main tool of ID being useless in distinguishing between humans and chimpanzees, we are left with naturalism. So we can infer ID throughout the tree of life except where it really counts--us. The concepts of IC and ID are therefore useless to anybody hoping to establish that humans are uniquely created apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and we are essentially left with a concept that Johnson finds unacceptable--naturalism/materialism responsible for the ultimate creation of humans!

My point here is not to argue that mankind are merely animals or that God has nothing to do with our creation. It is to show that ID is utterly useless to show otherwise where the theological stakes are highest. If the tools of ID cannot establish a unique creation for humans, does the rest really matter?

Rather than help push an agenda that has a shallow rooting in science (some would say none) and is of very little help to us theologically, let's focus on making mainstream science the best it can be.



Does Evolution Preclude a Pre-Existence?

The nature of God, serves as a good spring board into one of the more difficult topics to reconcile; the pre-existence. Elder Mc Conkie's objections are as follows:

PRE-EXISTENCE. — Life did not originate on this earth; it was transplanted from other and older spheres. Men are the literal spirit children, spirit offspring, of the Eternal Father; they were born to him as his spirit progeny, as spirit entities having bodies made of a more pure and refined substance than that comprising these mortal tabernacles.
Further, every form of life had a spirit existence in that eternal world before it came to dwell naturally upon the face of the earth; and that prior existence, for all forms of life, was one in which the spirit entity had the exact form and likeness of its present temporal body. Animals, plants, fowls, fishes, all forms of life existed as spirit entities in pre-existence; their number, extent, variety, and form were known with exactitude before ever the foundations of this earth were laid. They were all destined to live in their time and season upon this particular globe. There was no chance whatever connected with the creative enterprises. All things were foreknown to that God who fathered man in his own image and who created all other forms of life for the benefit and blessing of man. Evolutionary speculation takes no account of any such revealed knowledge as this.
If all of this is true, then we are in for a very difficult time in our quest for reconciliation. But first let's put this statement is perspective. Blake Ostler said in his essay "The Idea of Preexistence in Mormon Thought":

Since 1960, a philosophy in contrast to traditional Mormon thought has gained some popularity in Mormon circles. Known as Mormon neo-orthodoxy, it emphasizes human contingency, the creation of humankind as conscious entities, and God's absoluteness and complete otherness. The most influential proponent of Mormon neo-orthodoxy was probably Apostle Bruce R. McConkie.

He considers Mc Conkie to have been one of the more influential in a long line of people who modified "the view that individual spirits existed without beginning... in favor of a concept of contingent preexistence more congenial to classical Christian absolutism."

In other words, when we speak of reconciling the preexistence with evolution we need to specify what version of the preexistence.

Joseph Smith did not distinguish between a time before which these spirits/intelligences were organized and a time after they were "born" as "spirit children"--in fact, the contemporary Mormon notion that God is the literal father of individual spirits through spirit birth would probably have been foreign to him. He taught that spirits were eternal and uncreated and used the terms "spirits" and "intelligences" synonymously.
Thus, the current idea of preexistence in the church was not Joseph's. How such a view became so wide spread is not an issue for the topic at hand, but it would be useful to review what Joseph did say about the preexistence.
The Book of Mormon foreshadowed a kind of preexistence by treating the Adamic myth as an expression of generic human experience. Book of Mormon prophet Alma explained the necessity of the Atonement by noting that "mankind" had fallen from God's presence and could "return" only through the Atonement (Al. 42:7, 14; see also 2 Ne. 2:21, 25; Al. 34:9; 41:9). The Book of Mormon inculcated (to borrow Orson Pratt's term) the belief that humanity existed in God's presence--at least, on a mythic level--prior to the Fall, and identified all humans with Adam in a corporate existence. If one were to identify a point from which the Mormon idea of preexistence developed, this description of humanity's fall from the presence of God would be, in my opinion, the best candidate.
Regarding the spiritual creation mentioned in the Book of Moses:
First, it should be noted that the term "spirit" was not clarified in Mormon usage until 1843 to mean "pure" or "refined" matter, and "to create" was not clarified until 1842 to mean to "organize" rather than creation out of nothing. Prior to this, Mormon use of these terms was similar to the Christian definition of creation ex nihilo... Further, the early nineteenth-century usage of the word "spiritual" often implied a conceptual or intellectual blueprint without connoting real (i.e., mind-independent) existence. Moses 3:7 indicated that the physical creation proceeded "according to [God's] word." That is, God formed the idea and spoke the command before the actions occurred. This is consistent with Smith's later redaction in the Book of Abraham. (See also Moses 6:61-63, which identifies God's plan of salvation as the spiritual likeness of temporal things).
As to the spiritual creation of Adam:
Adam did not exist until he was spiritually created in the Garden of Eden. The notion that everyone preexisted in the Garden of Eden in Adam is also reinforced by the Book of Moses' comment that Adam "is many" (1:34). This theme of identifying all humans in a corporate existence in Adam was adopted in the later temple endowment creation narrative... The notion that "man was also in the beginning with God" and that "every spirit of man was innocent from the beginning" was simply a confirmation that Adam was innocent when placed in the Garden of Eden prior to mortal existence. However, the identification of individuals with Adam was actualized in the revelation so that every individual human had the same moral qualities (i.e., innocence) as Adam prior to the Fall.
Then we come to the Book of Abraham:
The Book of Abraham speaks of intelligences/spirits being "organized before the world was" (v. 22). However, "organization" did not mean organization of spirit body through spiritual birth, but social organization of the spirits into a heavenly council of preexisting entities.
Well, which version of the preexistence is more correct? Which is more Mormon? Which agrees more with what we observe as to the earth's history? I would suggest the second.
The belief that humans necessarily exist provides philosophical justification for the idea that they may ultimately become like God. It stresses the positive aspects of human existence, rejects the dogma of original sin and salvation by grace alone, and emphasizes works and personal ability to do good. It accentuates freedom of the will, explains the existence of evil and the purpose of life, and, most importantly, asserts that God is a personal being conditioned by and related to the physical universe.
Clearly our ideas regarding the preexisence are nowhere near clear enough, or back up by enough revelation to be dogmatic about its proving anything, let alone a scientific theory backed by as much evidence as evolution.

To be continued....

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.


What Kind of God Uses Evolution?

I recently posted that Evolution does leave room for God, but only certain versions of Him. I also insinuated that the finite God of Mormonism probably qualifies. But we should be a bit more specific. How finite?

Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion posits a God, which Dennett thinks is strikingly similar to what is proposed in Darwinism. This God is
a stupid mechanic, who imitated others, and copied an art, which, through a long succession of ages, after multiplied trials, mistakes, corrections, deliberations, and controversies, had been gradually improving(.) Many worlds might have been botched and bungled, throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out: And a slow, but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world-making... Why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to human affairs... If such foolish, such vicious creatures as man can yet often unite in framing and executing one plan, how much more those deities ... whom we may suppose several degrees more perfect?
If we ignore the exaggerated rhetoric we are left with a model which closely resembles the Mormon idea of creation. Hugh Nibley (as Mormon as they come) said, "The creation process as described in the Pearl of Great Price is open ended and ongoing, entailing careful planning based on vast experience, long consultations, models, tests, and even trial runs for a complicated system requiring a vast scale of participation by the creatures concerned." The similarities are striking.
Dennett continues:
The task of the wise God required to put this world into motion is a task of discovery, not creation, a job for a Newton, not a Shakespeare. What Newton found... are eternal... fixed points that anybody else in principle could have discovered, not idiosyncratic creations taht depend in any way on the particularities of the minds of their authors... So, as we follow the Darwinian down this path, God the Artificer turns first into God the Lawgiver, who now can be seen to merge with God the Lawfinder. God's hypothesized contribution is thereby becoming less personal - and hence more readily performable by something dogged and mindless!
This is also rather harmonious with Mormon doctrine for God once, just as some of us will in the future, had to learn (discover) the laws by which creations are created. Do we really think that God is continually making the Hydrogen in the Sun fuse to create that energy or does it make more sense to say that He leaves it to act according to physical law?

But this is also where people get nervous as we said before, for it is a slippery slope to saying God did nothing at all! But do we think the same thing when somebody builds a beautiful house? Yes, but the person clearly intended to build the house. His method of building the house is not near as wasteful as is evolution either.

There are two questions which much be addressed: (1) couldn't God have done it any better way? (2) What was His intention? What was His purpose? With regards to (2) the answer is easy. We are His purpose, or so we like to think. The answer to (1) is not so simple. Science has shown that the earth has existed for billions of years, and during much of that time it was teaming with life which was struggling to survive. There was no bambi. "Nature red in tooth and claw" it has been said. Couldn't God have done it a different way?

This is what philosophers have called the problem of evil, natural evil to be exact which precludes any appeal to free agency. Either God could not have prevented all that waste and suffering (suffering didn't really come into play until there was a conscious animal), or God could have prevented it, but for some reason did not want to. Remember, we cannot appeal to free agency. Is God less kind than we have always thought, or is He less powerful? The Mormon tradition has generally been that He is less powerful:
Traditionally, the affirmation of God's sovereign power is expressed philosophically by the concept of "omnipotence," which means that God can do absolutely anything at all, or at least anything "logically possible." This often accompanies the dogma that all that is was created ex nihilo (from nothing) by God. The conclusion follows that all forms of evil, even the "demonic dimension," must be directly or indirectly God-made. In Latter-day Saint sources, God is not the only self-existent reality. The creation accounts and other texts teach that God is not a fiat creator but an organizer and life-giver, that the "pure principles of element" can be neither created nor destroyed (D&C 93; TPJS, p. 351), and that the undergirdings of eternal law, with certain "bounds and conditions," are coexistent with him (cf. D&C 88:34-45). "Omnipotence," then, means God has all the power it is possible to have in a universe—actually a pluriverse—of these givens. He did not create evil. -Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
Now we are better equiped to answer the original question: What kind of God uses evolution? Answer: a God you has limitations put upon Him. This is an issue which people must deal with if they are to accept evolution. Luckily the Mormon doctrine is far more accomodating in this regard than is strict ethical monotheism.

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.