I've been getting an awful lot of Google searches for evolution. While I'm not at the top of the page, I'm typically on the first page, depending upon the query. I'm not sure that's correct. But then I come up high for a variety of odd queries that I'm not sure I'm the best fit for. So to aid those searching for info on evolution I'm putting a few of my comments on evolution here along with links to resources. For those interested in discussions regarding evolution and Mormonism I'd encourage joining Eyring-L. It has of late been somewhat quiet but there are numerous scientists on it who have discussed the topic quite a bit. They also have on their web page one of the best resources for official church statements on evolution. On a lot of the pages you google, critics often bring up the opinions of various church leaders but frequently downplay that these are only opinions. Further they rarely quote the opinions of church leaders who believe in evolution.
Anyway, the following are edited excerpts of various comments I've made on evolution
One of the big reasons people outside of the sciences have such a hard time with evolution is the idea that one kind of thing can't turn into an other kind of thing. However this is an unfortunate remnant of Aristotle's thought on our culture. Often scriptures are appealed to so as to defend the notion of innate categories of creatures. However it is very important to realize that the very notion of species is a man made creation. It was a way various people guessed about how the world was structured. While it is very useful up to a point, once one leaves the kind of experiences you encounter in your day to day existence, it becomes untrustworthy. And indeed the discovery of molecular biology suggests that the old categories of Aristotle just don't make sense as some sort of ontological absolute limit on life. Life simply doesn't work that way.
It turns out that a lot of the old categories from both the ancient world and even the early modern world are wrong. Consider the rather common sensical notion that energy and matter are completely different notions. Yet Einstein showed that they are fundamentally intwined and that one can convert energy into matter and vice versa. As science progresses we find that many of the traditional notions to explain the world, while accurate in the world of everyday experience, are false when examined more closely. The question really ought to be, why should we expect life to be any different?
If we are primarily composed of molecules interacting via the laws of physics, then one must ask whether our conceptions of what a "kind" is ought not itself be seriously rethought. This is perhaps less of an issue for those Protestants who are not primarily materialists. But for Mormons who are primarily materialists in our theology, it seems quite odd that issues of form and category are so often appealed to. It seems that they make sense for those whose theology goes back to Aquinas but not for Mormons who reject that particular historical development of Christianity.
Beyond the philosophical issue of real categories there is the problem that species can be observed evolving. In particular there are numerous examples of groups evolving into new species.
Hermeneutics, or the science of interpretation, determines how we read various texts. An other common cause that leads people to have problem with evolution is when they adopt a conservative Protestant hermeneutic. While that may make a lot of sense if you are a Baptist, for instance, it makes very little sense for a Mormon. Mormons simply read scripture different than conservative Protestants.
Conservative Protestants typical appeal to Genesis to argue against evolution. While that make sense for Protestant Biblical literalists, it makes no sense for a Mormon. Why? Because the Joseph Smith "translation" of the Bible clearly adds a lot to the creation account of Genesis which render such a use of Genesis 1 impossible. Consider Moses 2:2-5
And I, God, blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it I had rested from all my work which I, God, had created and made. And I rested on the seventh day from all my work, and all things which I had made were finished, and I, God, saw that they were good.
And I God, blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because that in it I had rested from all my work which I, God, had created and made. And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all of the children of men, and not yet a man to till the ground. For in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air.
Now Mormons can interpret this in many ways. However it clearly precludes reading Genesis 1 the way conservative Protestants read it. The text clearly says that this has nothing to do with what is transpiring on the earth. Nothing yet has been done on the earth. The creation is a spiritual creation in heaven. Whether that is an organization or the creation of pre-mortal spirits is perhaps a matter of debate. Even the creation account of Genesis 2 isn't necessarily a creation account of the whole planet. It talks only of what transpired in the Garden of Eden. Yet we are not told of the creation of the Garden of Eden and certainly not of the creation of what is outside of Eden. We are told only that "out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree naturally..." ( Moses 3:9) We aren't told what "naturally" means. However one might suspect that it entails the natural process of evolution.
A common question related to evolution and historical evidence for Mormons is how to deal with the account of Adam. Doesn't the existence of Adam suggest that there was an absolute start to humanity? How do we reconcile this not only with evolution but with the abundant evidence of humans existing for tens of thousands of years prior to when Adam is typically presented as arriving on the fallen earth.
It is interesting that in the 19th century among Mormons there were indication that belief in pre-Adamites wasn't uncommon. Consider the following interesting magazine article. Now it was clearly written at a time when anthropology was blatantly racist in perspective. Howeever it invokes a view towards LDS theology that is rather significant.
"After these inferior or first races were created
(it may have been millions of years) Jehovah Elohim, translated
LORD GOD in our version, formed the superior or Adamic man of the
dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of
life. He subsequently formed the white or Adamic woman from a part
of the body of the man, nearest the heart, viz.: the bony case
enclosing it, instead of forming the Adamic race, male and female,
from the start, as the inferior colored races were created."
Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources.
Volume 30, Issue 2 (1868)
Hereditary Descent; or, Depravity of the Offspring of Polygamy among the Mormons pp. 206-216
Now once we get past the uncomfort at the racism, xenophobia and social darwinism implicit in the article, note what it speaks of. The idea that Adam was the first of a "race" but not of humanity. Rather striking. (I put race in quotations, not just because of the racism of that era of western thinking, but because it uses the word far more expansively than we do today. For instance the article talks of a Mormon race. Race at that time was an odd blend of what we'd call race proper and a society.) What is striking is that the idea of pre-Adamites was so widespread. Now I've not done too much research on this, but I'll note a quote from fervent literalist and opponent of evolution Joseph Fielding Smith.
Even in the Church there are a scattered few who are now advocating and contending that this earth was peopled with a race--perhaps many races--long before the days of Adam. These men desire, of course, to square the teachings in the Bible with the teachings of modern science and philosophy in regard to the age of the earth and life upon it. If you hear any one talking this way, you may answer them by saying that the doctrine of "pre-Adamites" is not a doctrine of the Church, and is not advocated nor countenanced in the Church. There is no warrant in the scripture, not an authentic word, to sustain it. (Utah Genealogical Magazine, October 1930, pg. 146)
Again what is interesting isn't the thrust of the comments but what it exposes about Mormon belief at the time. Apparently many Mormons believed in pre-Adamites. I suspect Smith's comments here were veiled attacks at B. H. Roberts, John A. Widstoe, and James A. Talmage who were strong supporters of the idea of pre-Adamites. Yet the notion, as the earlier article attests, goes back much earlier. For instance Orson Hyde said the following at General Conference on Ocober 6, 1854.
The world was peopled before the days of Adam, as much so as it was before the days of Noah. It was said that Noah became the Father of the new world, but it was the same old world still, and will continue to be, though it may pass through many changes. (JD 2:79)
Brigham Young came up to the pulpit after the sermon and stated that he didn't feel move to correct any of it. Now my aim isn't to go through the debate on this subject. I'm sure a search of various writings would turn up a lot - especially from the period of Joseph Fielding Smith's and James A. Talmage's arguments over the issue. To me what is so interesting is how widespread the idea of pre-Adamites was and from how early a period. I think it truly goes back far since there is a comment along the same lines in the Millennial Star from June 29, 1861 but dated as from Joseph Smith's diary of April 28, 1844. There Hyrum Smith is quoted as saying, "There were prophets before Adam, and Joseph has the spirit and power of all the prophets." This was quoted in History of the Church 6:346 but with the bit about Adam expurged. An other reference dating to around the same period relates to the work on the papyri from Egypt. There we had published in the Times and Seasons of January 1, 1845, the following as coming from Joseph Smith.
Well, now, Brother William [Smith], when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been of old, from eternity [Micah 5:2]; and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years: and to know at the same time, that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years;--it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated and see and know as we are seen and known!
Exactly how one should take this is up in the air. Some have suggested comparisons to various Jewish beliefs, especially from the medieval period, where they taught of pre-Adamites and had a date for the beginning of life that arose out of the one day of the Lord to one thousand of our years. Certainly that appears to be where the figures of 2.55 billion years arose. I should note that while we now date life to 4 - 4.5 billion years that more complex life does arrive closer to this time.
Some might simply suggest that all this is simply an indication of a contradiction within LDS theology. However Elder Marion G. Romney pointed out that LDS theology commits us to certain beliefs regarding Adam and Adam's line but says nothing outside of that.
There were no pre-adamic men in the line of Adam. ... I am not a scientist. I do not profess to know anything but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and the principles of his gospel. If, however, there are some things in the strata of the earth indicating there were men before Adam, they were not the ancestors of Adam. Adam was the son of God. ... He did not come up through an unbroken line of organic evolution. There had to be a fall. 'Adam fell that men might be.' (2 Nephi 2:25.) (Conference Report, April 5, 1953)
For those interested, one of the better talks on the subject of Adam and Evolution was by Elder James A. Talmage back in 1931 called The Earth and Man. Interestingly that was published by the Church as a pamphlet. So it is quasi-official in status.
Someone pointed out to me the following quotes by Brigham Young that are probably applicable. I'll leave them without commentary as I think they speak for themselves.
It was observed here just now that we differ from the Christian world in our religious faith and belief; and so we do very materially. I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood. Says the scientific man, "I do not see your religion to be true; I do not understand the law, light, rules, religion, or whatever you call it, which you say God has revealed; it is confusion to me, and if I submit to and embrace your views and theories I must reject the facts which science demonstrates to me." This is the position, and the line of demarcation has been plainly drawn, by those who profess Christianity, between the sciences and revealed religion. You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, "If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago, our studies are all vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain; we must be what you call infidels, with the demonstrated truths of science in our possession; or, rejecting those truths, become enthusiasts in, what you call, Christianity."
In these respects we differ, from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts-they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways, we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. (Brigham Young, JD 16:115-116)
I want to say a few words about our religion, but first I will ask you to remember this prayer which I offered at the commencement of my remarks with regard to the poor. If you will do that, they will be looked after and brought home. Now we will talk a little about our religion. Ask the scientific men of the world how many of the arts can be reduced to a science? When they are so reduced they become permanent; but until then they are uncertain. They go and come, appear and disappear. When they are reduced to science and system their permanency, and stability are assured. It is so with government-until it is reduced to science it is liable to be rent asunder by anarchy and confusion, and caprice and scattered to the four winds. Government, to be stable and permanent and have any show for success must be reduced to a science. It is the same with religion; but our traditions are such that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to make men believe that the revealed religion of heaven is a pure science, and all true science in the possession of men now is a part of the religion of heaven and has been revealed from that source. But it is hard to get the people to believe that God is a scientific character, that He lives by science or strict law, that by this He is, and by law he was made what He is; and will remain to all eternity because of His faithful adherence to law. It is a most difficult thing to make the people believe that every art and science and all wisdom comes from Him, and that He is their Author. Our spirits are His: He begot them. We are His children; He set the machine in motion to produce our tabernacles; and when men discard the principle of the existence of a Supreme Being and treat it with lightness, as Brother Taylor says, they are fools. It is strange that scientific men do not realize that, all they know is derived from Him; to suppose, or to foster the idea for one moment, that they are the originators of the wisdom they possess is folly in the highest! Such men do not know themselves. As for ignoring the principle of the existence of a Supreme Being, I would as soon ignore the idea that this house came into existence without the agency of intelligent beings. (Brigham Young, JD 13:300)
The knowledge possessed by this people is of more value than all the knowledge of the world put together, and infinitely greater. In this kingdom you will find the root of all science, and that, too, in men who have not been taught the sciences after the manner of the world. They understand the origin of science, and can trace it through the life of man, much to their satisfaction. Let any man who possesses the Holy Ghost, though never taught the sciences but a very little, hear a learned man exhibit the principles of any science, he understands the origin and proper bearings of the subject treated upon by the speaker, through the increased rays of that light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. This is to us a matter of no little satisfaction. (Brigham Young JD 6:314)
Beyond the Eyring-L resources on evolution Times and Seasons had an interesting discussion on the topic. BYU's packet for students on evolution is quite interesting as well. It contains only those statements that can be considered official and presents a view fairly different than what even many Mormons may expect. Unfortunately I think evolution is a topic where many Protestant ideas have been adopted uncritically by many members. The sadly deceased Marc Schindler also has numerous articles on the topic of evolution. Many of these were derived from discussions on Eyring-L.
A couple recent papers on teaching evolution and so forth at BYU-Idaho. Probably fairly relevant here. (Thanks to Jack Couch at Eyring-L)
Teaching Biological Evolution at BYU-Idaho
Teaching Geology and Evolution in the Context of the Gospel
An Explanation of the BYU Library Packet on Evolution
I'd recommend reading "Darwin, Genesis Trying to Make Sense. I think you'd find it interesting. And it's another way to try to get you to read Wittgenstein (or at least one of his pupils).
I'm pretty certain the BYU library has this.
Sorry, I couldn't find the reference anyway. What's the full author? I assume it's not Charles Darwin. (Grin)
Well, I tried to do italics and it got me in a mess. Whatever I did, took out the middle of what I was doing and turned everything else into italics. Sorry. Here's the essential stuff restated.
I would recommend reading "Darwin, _Genesis_ and Contradition" in Peter Winch's _Trying to Make Sense_.
I think that Duane E. Jeffery’s “Seers, Savants and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface” from the Autumn/Winter 1974 edition of Dialogue (reprinted in the 25 year Commemorative issue) is the best starting point for discussing evolution within the context of Mormonism.
Mike Ash's paper The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution which was published in Dialog a few years back is available online.
Some might find this paper by a Rabbi, "Making Sense of Genesis 1" very helpful as well. I also recommend Jon Levenson's Creationa and the Persistence of Evil. It is a consideration of all the creation accounts of the Hebrews. (There's more than you might think)
Just a note for people coming here via Google, you might wish to check out the blog Mormons and Evolution