Monday, October 18, 2010

Evolution and the Gospel

With the utmost respect for Jake Corkin as both a friend and a fellow student, I write this post as a rebuttal to his post, "Thoughts on Evolution"
Being raised a Latter-day Saint in rather conservative Christian community from my youth, I had long lived under the assumption that the theories of organic evolution and religion were diametrically opposed to each other. One day while having a deep discussion with a close friend of mine, I expressed to him my fervent conviction of the reality of God. I ending my testimony with these words: "and I am certainly convinced that nothing could make me believe otherwise." In sincerity, my friend then asked, "Well what about evolution?" Had I known then what I know now—oh I sure wish this were the case—I would have responded to his inquiry with something like this:

"One of the most unfortunate mores of people of faith, and greatest victories of those opposed to the idea of the existence of God I might add, is the notion that the existence of a God who created the universe is mutually exclusive with a belief in the scientific theories of evolution. However, this is by no means the case. On the contrary, there are many points of similarity and harmony between the two." 

At work, I frequently have the opportunity to come in contact with people (youth, teenagers, and adults) who have become disillusioned with their faith in God after becoming aware of scientific theories of evolution. These people are often extremely surprised when I try to explain to them this point; that these two systems of belief are actually quite compatible. You, as well as them, may be asking, "how so?" Let me share with you the following thoughts:

1) The Biblical account of creation was by no means written with the intent of being a scientific expose on the creation. However, these accounts were taken from ordinances meant to teach humankind their relationship to God. Understanding this allows one to take a much less-than-literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis.

2) Latter-day Saint doctrine unequivocally declares that God works by the natural laws and means that he, himself instituted.

3) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that there is not one set of truths in religion and another set of truths in science. But rather, that all truth is part of one whole, and that truth does not contradict truth. When there is an apparent contradiction, it is simply because one has not fully come to understand the other.

4) Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted. —LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," 4 May 2007 off-site

Keeping these points in mind, it is important to note that the LDS Church has no position on evolution. It has, however, produced a number of official doctrinal statements on the "origin of man." These statements generally adopt the position stated in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that "[t]he scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again."[2]

I was a having a discussion on this topic today when someone chimed in, "I don't see how this is important?" I responded that it is of utmost importance. Why?

Peter, in the New Testament counseled, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you..." In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are also counseled to "Teach ye diligently...that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms" And finally, we are told, "And as all have not ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." I believe that these scriptures make it clear that Latter-day Saints, and people of faith in general ought to have educated, well formulated opinions and beliefs on matters such as these. More often than not, in today's world, the answer "you just gotta have faith" does not help others build faith—especially those with little or no belief in or experience with God. 

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not preaching that all Latter-day Saints should accept the theory of organic evolution as taught by science. However, what I am suggesting is that each person of faith reconsider both sides of the arguments and recognize that it is possible to believe in both. I stand with by this statement made by James E. Talmage regarding the Church and evolution, "This is one of the many things on which we cannot preach with assurance, and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good."

If you are interested in reading more on the subject, please consider these links: