Evolution and Mormonism

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Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding

Can faith and science coexist within Mormonism? Faithful LDS scientists and writers present the case for an evidence-based faith regarding human evolution.

February, 2001

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Their approach comes from a position of faith. They quote from the Creation account in the Pearl of Great Price: “And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed and that their plan was good.” In the authors’ view, the passage’s emphasis on process over end result is consistent with modern science.

According to the LDS church, “Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection” or were formed by some other means is “not fully answered in the revealed word of God.” That God may have created the mechanism by which all life was formed—rather than each organism separately—is a concept that the authors find to be a satisfying and awe-inspiring possibility.

D. Jeffrey Meldrum (B.S., BYU; Ph.D., State University of New York) is Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University and Affiliate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. He is co-editor of a series of books on paleontology. He serves as a scout master in the Pocatello Fourth Ward.

Duane E. Jeffery (B.S., Utah State University; Ph.D., UC Berkeley) is Professor of Zoology at BYU. He has published in such professional journals as Genetics and the Journal of Heredity, as well as in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He is a contributor to Science and Religion and The Search for Harmony.

Forrest B. Peterson is an award-winning writer and movie producer. In 1990 his Trouble in Oz won five Crystal Reel prizes from the Florida Film Festival. His church duties have included elders quorum president and gospel doctrine teacher.

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4 reviews for Evolution and Mormonism

  1. In Evolution and Mormonism, BYU alumni Trent Stephens and Jeffrey Meldrum, with Forrest Peterson, approach the sensitive subject of evolution from the standpoint of faith. The authors, all committed Latter-day Saints, building upon the fundamental truths that God created the earth and that human beings are His spirit children, examine the traditional concerns of believers and the history of LDS views about evolution; then, examining Holy Scripture, they suggest that the processes of creation attest the hand and bespeak the patterns of God. This is a very helpful, timely, and faithful study.

  2. Trent Stephens and Jeffrey Meldrum have done an excellent job refuting creationists arguments, in my opinion. They give the official position of the LDS church on evolution, then review the statements that various apostles have made. They have some general comments on what evidence means. And they give good synopses of the chapters of The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin.

    DNA evidence is invoked to show that we are all related by common descent, and additional fossil evidence to show how close we are to chimps. I like the quote from Henry Eyring, a scientist and a leader of the LDS church: “I’d be content to discover that I share a common heritage with [animals], so long as God is at the controls.”

    The authors analyze the creation story to show that the perceived problems between scripture and evolution may be due to faulty interpretation of scripture. In chapter twelve they present their own favored view of how macroevolution might have come about. They insist that God must control the process in some way and quote Richard Strohman of the University of California, Berkeley, about non-random changes to the fetus during development. They indicate that DNA might have less importance than development in how the organism turns out.

    There are a couple of goofs where they should have used Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, but they are minor. Nor am I enthused by their concept of non-random changes. I see too many problems, and few answers. I do think, however, that their presentation of the evidence for common descent is well done. If followers of Man, His Origin and Destiny by LDS church president Joseph Fielding Smith read their book, they should have a better understanding of science. The authors quote a study of Mormons showing that 100 percent of biologists and about 85 percent of other scientist agree with evolution, while over 60 percent of LDS Seminary teachers disagree.

  3. The book’s thirteen chapters have an eleven-page bibliography and a few illustrations relating to biological evolution. Here is the main point from each chapter: (1) the universe is billions of years old, follows natural laws, and was created by God for mortal existence; (2) Mormon leaders say leave the theology to theologians and science to scientists; (3) many Mormons think biological evolution false but science and Mormon theology cannot conflict; (4) Mormon leaders’ 1909 statement did not reject evolution; (5) science is based on facts; religion on faith; (6) fossil evidence and DNA data support evolution and Neo-Darwinism but some evolution is directed by God; (7) DNA evidence links all life forms, but God created humans’ physical and spiritual natures on different time lines; (8) Joseph Smith said God created humanity’s spirituality before physicality; (9) organic evolution is the honest result of scientists explaining the evidence; (10) oldest fossil bacteria in rocks are 3.5 million years old; (11) Genesis is compatible with evolution; (12) evolution may be partly random and partly non-random; (13) biological evolution is one step in the process of eternal progression from humans to gods.

    The book’s main point is to present modern biological evolution as established fact and to make Mormon theology compatible with it. In the past, Mormons opposed evolution. The book weaves evolution with Mormon belief that God was once a man and that he evolved into God. (But if God created the universe, where did he live as a man before creation?)

    The book’s main strength is its excellent portrayal of biological evolution. Its main weakness is not clarifying the numerous contradictions between Mormon theology and science. For instance, DNA analysis is used to show physical man’s relationship to other primates, but the authors are silent on the use of DNA to show that North American Indians are descended from East Asians and not from Hebrews as Mormon theology demands. Also, modern dating methods show that American Indians came here 12,000 or more years ago, not 600 BC as stated in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon states that honey bees, various animals, and seeds of crop plants were brought to the new world by the Hebrews in 600 BC from Jerusalem. Yet none of these were found here until post-Columbian times.

    The book’s three authors have ties with the Mormon tradition. Stephens, professor of anatomy and embryology at Idaho State University, has co-authored ten books and is a Mormon bishop. Meldrum, associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, is co-editor of a series of books on paleontology and a Mormon priesthood instructor. Peterson, a writer and movie producer, is an elder and teacher of Mormon doctrine. Although the book is written primarily for Mormons, ASA members may find it useful to study the unbiblical, polytheistic theology of the Mormon Church.

  4. The unifying biological concept of evolution, and particularly its implications for human origins, is of widespread interest among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because questions of human biology and origins make contact with our sense of who we are and our relationships to one another, to other species, and to God. These two books [Edward J. Larson, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory; Stephens and Meldrum, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding] provide a valuable foundation for exploring evolution: What is this scientific framework, within which all of modern biology is now viewed? How did it develop, and what are its relationships to other or supporting bodies of scientific knowledge and facts? What of unofficial views of LDS leaders? Can evolution be reconciled with faith in a satisfying way?

    Larson’s book, Evolution, written by a prize-winning scholar with extensive publications in evolution-related intellectual and social history, gives valuable historical perspective for addressing these questions….

    If Larson’s book supplies the necessary historical background for investigating the meaning and philosophical impact of the unifying biological concept of evolution, Evolution and Mormonism by Stephens and Meldrum is the best source known to me that is currently available to begin the study of the relationship of LDS doctrine to this important concept. It provides a strong foundation of both religion and science to approach these issues. There are several reasons why I say this is the best current source: First, it is not insignificant that Stephens and Meldrum are both faithful and committed Latter-day Saints as well as respected scientists (biology professors at Idaho State University). The authors move in this work toward a synthesis of science and religion that is consistent with both LDS doctrine and recent science, and thereby construct a more productive synthesis than heretofore. Second, it is designed for LDS readers seeking an introduction that reviews relevant LDS doctrine as well as the basic science. Such an introduction is otherwise only available in bits and pieces, primarily in articles. Starting with this book, LDS readers can prepare themselves to pursue particular issues in more depth in other works. Third, this book is more ambitious than other currently available treatments of this subject; it goes beyond what anyone else has done, especially in remaining faithful to the scientific data. There are other, perhaps better, introductions to evolutionary science, but none better that also expounds and takes seriously the LDS doctrinal issues.

    The authors find no conflict between their faith and science, and they attempt in this book to show why other Mormons need find no such conflict. They do this by considering interpretations of the scriptures and of scientific data and concepts that are consistent with one another. Of course, theirs is not the only possible way to view either the scriptures or the science. And such a path necessarily involves speculation. Nevertheless, in my view their effort is reasonably successful, particularly in forthrightly addressing the two major questions that are commonly seen as separating LDS beliefs from an evolutionary worldview.

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