Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mormon Stance of Evolution

     For those who don't know, I was raised LDS (pronounced marmon in missoura). I even went on an LDS mission. I was at one point I was"in full faith and fellowship with (The LDS church), a duly ordained minister of the gospel, and as such has authority to preach the principles of the gospel and to administer the ordinances thereof," according to the white bible (the missionary handbook). When I became interested in evolution, I wondered how scientists could think that all animals descended from others, and an even more unbelievable claim, that mankind descended from other animals.

     It became clear after examining the evidence (and a lot of evidence at that, it took literally years to overcome the falsehoods taught to me in the various church educational systems and church about the origin of species and in particular, humans) that evolution is the best explanation for the array of facts we observe in animals. It accounts for the incredible diversity of life in all of its forms, it accounts for the origin of species, and for the curious facts of biogeography. There are loads of others but, the most life changing for me was much more personal. I gave me insight as to our place in nature. It tells us we are a part of nature; in-fact, that we are nature. We share ancestry will all animals, fungi, and plants (in order of relatedness actually, yet another interesting find from research in evolutionary biology). I'll have to post some posts on evolution in the future.

     The real reason for this post is a particular problem I have with church doctrine. Trying to pin down what counts as doctrine to a mormon is like nailing jello to a tree. Usually the conversations go like this: “Only the prophet delivers church doctrine,” and then I show them something the embarrassing or obviously wrong prophet has said and then, “well, the prophet is just a man, he has opinions too,” but he is speaking as a prophet, officially representing the church, (enter fall back answer)“well, all I know is that the church is true, and if you trust...” blah blah close your minds and open your heart stuff.

     Often I ask mormons what they think about evolution. ALL, and I do mean every, LDS person I remember talking to who didn't attend college say that they don't believe it. Those that have a college education or better, their beliefs become as smoke, both tricky and shifty. Most believe that animals can adapt to their environment but don't accept the idea of speciation, or that new species arise. Some come to accept that animals evolve, but think that humans share no ancestry with animals. On very few occasions, they actually accept the entire theory including the animal origins of humans. Almost all say that “The church has no official stance on evolution,” and I think they are wrong!

     What is the highest form of doctrine in the church? Scripture right? Well, how about modern scripture, as in the Ensign. What if I said the first presidency of the church produced a document signed by each member of the presidency, including the prophet. That's as high as I can think. In 1909 (consequently the 50th anniversary of Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species, and the 100th anniversary of his birth) the first presidency published an article in the Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 75–81 titled The Origin of Man by the First Presidency of the Church. It was reprinted as in the Ensign "The Origin of Man", Feb. 2002, 26. It lays out the official church doctrine about the creation of the earth and humans, man's place in nature, and evolution.

“In the early 1900s, questions concerning the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution became the subject of much public discussion. In the midst of these controversies, the First Presidency issued the following in 1909, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position on these matters. A reprinting of this important First Presidency statement will be helpful as members of the Church study the Old Testament this year.”
     The prophet and his two councilors wrote, signed as representatives of the church, and published it as an official church publication, how can it not considered church doctrine?! If it isn't, then the words of modern prophets can be meaningless.

      Most of the article is quoting scripture. But it does get to something very interesting:

“It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men.” 
      Boom. Evolution is among the “theories of men,” which is a particularly potent phrase to mormons, (especially when it is mingled with scripture).

“True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.”

     There are many other instances where the church published unfavorable things about evolution. Read the older version of the old testament study manual, it has 4 full pages of anti-evolution/creationism drivel. Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, in Mormon Doctrine which is a encyclopedic book about various mormon doctrine topics, tries for 10 pages (pp. 247-256) to dismantle the many points of evolution that conflict with LDS doctrine. It culminates in 
There is no harmony between the truths of revealed religion and the theories of organic evolution.

      BYU, a church owned school, does in fact teach evolution, and I must say quite well. It actually has a very respectable evolutionary biology research program.They were one of the most represented schools at Evolution 2009, the professional evolutionary biology conference I went to. This seems to conflict with many of the members beliefs though.

      This creates problems for people that believe that books and/or people can literally speak for God or literally contain his words. This is yet another example of science moving triumphantly forward discovering the once mysteries of nature, and religion hanging on desperately to archaic dogma. The theories of “God” are becoming more and more kookie, and our understanding is pushing these theories into the camps of mythology, as it should be.

      For a more through discussion see


  1. I know this is off topic, but I'm saying it anyways. Bruce Redd McConkie He and my pops are the two people I want to be most like in this world. Whether I evolved or was created, those he is one of my hero's


  2. evolution and religion can coexist. Science will never be able to prove a higher being doesnt exist. They will never be able to answer the why question. There is a great article in the national geographic about this subject. Darwin never stated god didnt exist. And dont just assume people who didnt go to college dont study this for themseleves. Infact many bioligist believe in a higher power. Dont think to much about things, you will confuse yourself. Things are more simplictic and organized then we think.