Monday, May 12, 2008

Mormon Biologists and Human Evolution

There was an interesting article in the Salt Lake Tribune from Stephen L. Peck, associate professor in the Department of Biology at Brigham Young University. It is an editorial piece that gives the view of evolution from a faithful member of the church.

The article is more a slam on intelligent design, arguing that it is not science and therefore does not belong in the science classroom.

BYU has a number of faithful evolutionary biologists and evolutionary science is taught at Brigham Young University just as it is at any other accredited university. Intelligent Design has no place in BYU's science curriculum.
Let me be blunt. I find nothing of value in Intelligent Design for both scientific and religious reasons....

...My next complaint about the Intelligent Design fiasco is its pretence to science. Exactly what makes it a science is not clear. It offers no testable hypotheses. It has established no research program. The theory of evolution has offered testable hypotheses that have been confirmed again and again....

My last complaint about Intelligent Design is that it sets religion and science against each other. It puts forward a false dichotomy in students' minds that suggests that evolution and faith are incompatible

I find the subject of evolution absolutely fascinating. The idea that life evolves slowly over time and that we can see similarities between animals that share common ancestors is truly amazing.

A number of months ago, I wrote a blog about questioning why religious beliefs are so threatened by evolution. I feel that I now have a better understanding of why the stonewalling. However, I agree with the article in the tribune that intelligent design proponents are doing a dis-service by trying to pass it off as science and trying to force it into science class. First of all, it isn't science, it
is religion, and second, it forces children to think that they have to choose between the two, which is also more harmful to religion, as there is much more evidence to support evolution, if one HAS to choose between the two.

I do not believe there is anything wrong with believing in the theory of intelligent design, but I believe that it does not belong in biology class as it is not science.

I have seen Ben Stein's movie Expelled:No Intelligence Allowed and was extremely disappointed. What I saw was amateur cinematography, sloppy editing, boring footage, next to nothing of any scientific value and over all about 10 minutes worth of interesting footage. The only parts that were interesting to me at all were when Stein interviewed the atheists.

Nova did a program on evolution vs. intelligent design, which is available online. I found this show to be much more informative, scientific and I feel that after watching it, I gained a much greater understanding.

I believe that people of all faiths will have to come to terms with evolution. It seems that every new scientific study further confirms this idea. For example, just a few days ago, Australian scientists released a report on the gene sequence of a platypus. We already knew that the platypus has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, fur like a beaver, it lays eggs and has venom like a reptile, is semi-aquatic, and yet is classified as a mammal because it produces milk. The platypus certainly is the oddest creature in nature I can think of. We have just recently learned that the platypus is genetically part bird, part reptile and part mammal. This is just one example of how evolution is a much better explanation of how the platypus came to be as opposed to idea that different animals are created separately and independently of each other.

Of course, there are religious implications of evolution. It makes one question what we consider scripture and how literal we are to interpret stories like Adam and Eve.

Disillusioned Mormon


MB said...

Evolution is 100% incompatible with the bible. It is only recently that religious people are waving the white flag. What we are seeing is complete capitulation of the bible.

Regarding the Mormon biologist, we need to ask him if he believes homo sapiens were an intended result of evolution. If he says yes then he does not really believe in the science of evolution he has created his own science to fit his faith.

angryyoungwoman said...

I wouldn't say evolution is incompatible with the bible. I think a few of the things in the bible are metaphorical rather than literal, and creation is one of them. If a person insists on viewing things literally 100% of the time, he/she will lose his/her faith very quickly. Literal people scare me. Literally.

Also, my dad was a biologist and a faithful Mormon. He said that evolution was undeniable, but it wasn't something that made him lose sleep or faith.

Anonymous said...

I believe that evolution is a myth. The scriptures say that Adam gave names to every animal in the garden of eden.

Abraham 5:20-21 "And out of the ground the Gods formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, to the fowl of the air, to every beast of the field; and for Adam, there was found an help meet for him"

I don't buy the evolution argument, because it is not in the scriptures for one. Second, God created man in his own image, it does not say God created man from a bunch of monkeys. If evolution were real, why did the current monkeys living today stop evolving? Monkeys are still reproducing, why haven't they given birth to a human by now?

If I hold out my shoe, it doesn't matter how long I look at it, my shoe is not going to change into a chair. And that is just a shoe. Think about the complexities of nature, how unlikely something as complex as the human eye could have happened just by random chance.

Jeremy said...

The bible says nothing about the putting a man on the moon and oreo cookies but I believe those things to be true (yes even the moon). If you are going to take the bible so literal I hope you are a Jehovah's Witness, you are welcome to stop celebrating birthdays, holidays and donating blood, why? Cause there is no mention of those in the bible either.

Lets all take a step back for a moment from what ever religion we belong to and analyze this, Who wrote the bible? How many scribes did it pass through? How many translations? Who decided on the final content within? What were the original authors thinking when they wrote their stories and explanations? And where is their supporting evidence? (the Holy Ghost is not an acceptable answer due to it's questionable origin).

Now lets look at the scientific method: Question a problem, research it, hypothesize, experiment, draw a conclusion, rinse and repeat. Science is not fact, however things become widely accepted because they have supporting evidences and the results can be duplicated. This is what should be practiced today, clear logical thinking.

Before this clear thinking people relied on stories to explain what they didn't know. Sadly these things became "facts" simply because the number of people who believe it out number the ones proving it wrong with evidences and reproducible tests.

Zelph said...


I would not go that far, as I don't know any Christian church that doesn't believe that animals change over time. Many churches are leaning towards a less literal interpretation of the bible, namely the creation, simply because there is so much evidence. I view churches that deny evolution to be quite extremist.

angryyoungwoman- I would agree with you that someone can accept evolution as a means for God's creation. It probably pushes towards a less literal interpretation of the bible, and perhaps opens the door to a less literal interpretation of the new testament as well, but that doesn't mean someone can't be spiritual, or participate actively in the church.

anonymous- I assume you are Mormon since you are quoting scripture from the peal of great price. I will try not to be too combative, but I will say that I do not believe that you understand evolution. We did not evolve from present day monkeys, we evolved from a common ancestor.

The other mistake is to say that evolution happens by random chance. The mutations and slight variations are random, but the idea is that nature selects the changes that are beneficial because of having a greater advantage and a higher probability of surviving and reproducing. Ones with a change that is less beneficial will have a less likelihood of surviving and since there is a growing population competing for LIMITED resources, only the strong survive, or the best suited for the environment.

My suggestion would be to learn what evolution is and what it teaches before you condemn it.

Jeremy, I agree with you. The story of the creation was written by desert tribesmen that knew very little compared to what we know now. I am sure you would agree with me that we can cut them some slack for not knowing very much, but now that we have much more information, we have scientific research that will give us a much greater understanding. Genesis is antiquated beliefs based on fables to explain the origin of the universe and life. It includes a talking snake, which puts it on par with Chicken Little when it comes to literalness.

What is interesting is how people believe in science so quickly when it comes to things like electricity, or DNA until it conflicts with your religious ideals.

This goes for other churches as well. I had mentioned this before, but I find the ultimate hypocrisy when certain other churches try to persuade members of the LDS church to stop believing in the BoM because DNA proves that Native Americans are not Lamanites. Problem is that this same DNA demonstrates that their Asiatic ancestors were from 30,000 years ago, which goes against the whole 6,000 year earth idea. This DNA also coincides with what scientists in other fields already knew through anthropology and archeology. DNA simply confirmed what scientists already knew and the time period fits.

Jesus Satan said...


Typical of most christians you pick and choose the bits of something to suit your own agenda and twist it to make it so. you pick and choose OT verses then when confronted with the fact that you dont live the ot law, you make convenient excuses for it. now you attempt to pick a piece of science and twist it to suit your agenda , while at the same time shunning the vast scientific evidence supporting evolution.

Mark said...

mb, i'm with you. great point, by the way. anonymous: please listen to the evolution 101 podcast (the episode on how we date fossils). he answers the question of why monkeys don't give birth to humans. that's not how evolution works. and monkeys have evolved just as much as humans have evolved from that same ancestor, we just ended up different in some ways (but not a lot).

Anonymous said...

2 Nephi 9:28:

“O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.”

Maybe I don't know too much about so called scientists, but I know that the Book of Mormon is true. You either believe in the scriptures or you don't believe in the scriptures. The scriptures are inspired by God, whereas evolution is just a theory by man. So it comes down to who you believe more, God or man?

Jeremy said...


If you truly believe that verse, not putting your trust in man, why do you rely so heavily on the very computer you are using, the electricity powering your home, the water and gas piped to your appliances, the plastics that you use every day, the vehicles you ride in, the store bought groceries you consume, the soles of your shoes?.... (should I continue?)

The point is that you are trusting in man on a daily basis. Everything you have that you don't make, grow or hunt yourself you put trust in someone else and I'll tell you right now that it's NOT God.

You should give man more credit since you obviously don't know how much your "so called scientists" have made it possible for you to come here and be a whiny ill educated follower of the LDS church.

If you are going to participate you should consider coming up with more useful arguments than short verses from the BoM and single line "come to Jesus" statements.

Lincoln Cannon said...

So far as I'm concerned, evolution resonates strongly with Mormon theology. I'll even go so far as to say that evolution inspires me, and I embrace it in my view of the world not only for scientific reasons, but also for spiritual reasons.

Zelph said...


I have been fascinated with evolution and how much evidence there is that supports it. However, I grew up with parents that were 100% against evolution and told me it was the doctrine of the anti-Christ and that if evolution was real then we are not children of God.

You can see how this put me in a place where I had to 'choose' between science or religion. With my parents, there was no gray area, it was black or white. That is why it is so painful when you are that deeply entrenched in a dogma to discover that your dogma is incorrect is a paradigm shift in your way of thinking.

I agree with those that say that science has a place in religion and we should embrace it rather than reject it. It helps us understand what is literal in the scriptures and what is allegory, or perhaps spiritual.

Once we learn that scriptures are not literal, we don't have to waste time trying to prove the veracity of the Book of Mormon or try to find evidence for the garden of eden in Missouri because it is not a literal story. If there ever was an Adam and Eve, it is evident that our first human parents came from Africa, and judging from the weather in Africa, it would be safe to say that they would have looked much like Africans today. I don't think Anglos would have survived the African Sahara.

Pete said...

Evolution does not discredit the idea of a supreme creator. God created all the living diversity that we can see, but the specifics of how God did it is not in the scriptures, and that is where science can take us.

Think of it like this, the scriptures take us on a macro journey of the creation and science can fill in all the details of all the steps of the process. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (the big bang) God created the earth in 6 days (o.k., that is a bit of a stretch but you get the point)

Our understanding is only enhanced by science. For example, when we look at the sun, from our perspective, it appears that it revolves around the earth from our vantage point. However, this perception from one angle is flawed, and science has demonstrated how this is not the case. Just because something has the appearance does not make it so. However, this does not discredit God's hand just because the earth is not the center of the universe as once thought.

Evolution is the same way. Looking at animals, from our perspective, it appears that animals were all created independently and separately from each other. However, upon further investigation it is apparent that animals not only change and evolve over time, but different species share common ancestors. Once again, this does not discredit God's hand, it simply lays out the details of the method God used to make his creations.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

I think it is interesting the amount of BYU students who believe as "MB" does, considering the biologists at BYU (some being Church members) teach the opposite.


I think it is very dangerous to ignore or exclude rather solid scientific evidence because of what something written thousands of years ago says.

I've never understood why so many Mormons have such a problem with science. It is my understanding that the Mormon concept of God is that he works through and uses the natural laws of the universe. They don't believe, for example, in Ex Nihilo creation - something that is impossible, scientifically speaking, and rather believe that conservation of matter and energy is something that is both scientifically and religiously true.

Not only that, but it is one of Mormonism's main belief tenets that the Bible isn't totally correct! I do realise there are creation stories in both Abraham and Moses as well, but I don't think it is hard at all to see that they are not literal accounts of exactly what God was doing to create life (assuming he did so). There was a world, and poof there was water and plants and animals on it. That's not the way Mormons believe God works/creates. Their own colloquial beliefs and interpretations of creation stories/evolution contradict their explicitly stated doctrines.

As a former Mormon, I never understood what all the fuss was about. There really is nothing in the actual doctrine that precludes evolution from being a believable, useful theory.

Zelph said...


I can only comment on my own experience in the church. My parents were completely 100% against evolution. I remember my mom sending me off to school telling me "o.k. now answer the questions on the tests the way 'THEY' want you to, but 'WE' know that it is a bunch of hogwash"

You can see how this pinned me against the wall and gave me a very 'us vs them' mentality. I think this is only destined for failure.

With that kind of attitude, people in the church will either leave it or revert to Mormon Fundamentalism.

My sister is in BYU and I could tell she felt uncomfortable with the idea that the platypus was part mammal, part reptile and part bird, so I didn't go any further on the subject but could tell there was a lot of resistance and confusion.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

You can see how this pinned me against the wall and gave me a very 'us vs them' mentality. I think this is only destined for failure.

Oh, I totally agree. I'm not sure what my parents think about evolution per se, but they are very orthodox when it comes to women, gays, etc. I know too well how destructive "us vs. them" is. It fell apart with polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, and is falling apart with evolution. I think it is only a matter of time before the church's stance on gays and women will also change - or else it will become like the FLDS church - totally obscure and ridiculed.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

For some reason, Mormons have adopted attitudes about science and bible-veracity that are very fundamentalist protestant (Southern Baptist for example), and not actually very Mormon, historically speaking. I think this may be a way to get more acceptance by more "mainstream" Christians, but in reality all it does is water down some of the cool and more sensible things about Mormon theology.

In reality excepting a few "moral" issues such as abortion, gays and women in authority, the Mormon theology lends itself very well to a much more liberal mindset. The problem is that in Utah, the seat of Mormonism, the Republican party has been adopted as representative of all things Good and Holy. This has only been in the past 30 years. It is really sad that this change has taken place. I convinced that it is the political/cultural atmosphere that makes so many Mormons so leery of "so called science and scientists", and not the actual theology of their religion.