Here to whet your appetite are the first few paragraphs of my Dialogue article in the Spring 43 (1) issue called “Crawling Out of the Primordial Soup: A Step toward the Emergence of an LDS Theology Compatible with Organic Evolution.” If you want to read the rest, pick up the new issue! In this paper I try to take a stab at identifying the tensions that appear as one tries to reconcile LDS theology and Darwinian evolution and gesture toward some possible solutions to these quandaries. Also, I will speaking at the SMPT Conference on March 26 on “The Implications of Evolution and Consciousness for Key LDS Doctrines.”
From Peck (2010):
Wesley J. Wildman, a liberal evangelical Christian, contributed this issue’s sermon as part of the ongoing “From the Pulpit” series. Provocatively titled “Narnia’s Aslan, Earth’s Darwin, and Heaven’s God” (see pp. 210–17), it details some of the waste and brutality of natural selection that are inevitable accompaniments of evolution. “Surely such a loving, personal Deity would have created in another way,” he queries, “a way that involved less trial and error, fewer false starts, fewer mindless species extinctions, fewer pointless cruelties, and less reliance on predation to sort out the fit from the unfit” (214). In conclusion, he poses the far-from-rhetorical question: “What sort of God could, would, and did create the world through evolution?” (217). He shows that evolution has striking implications for theology—including LDS theology, I would add.
And in fact, what might it mean that God “used” evolution to create life’s diversity? Was this a choice for God among other alternatives? Do Wildman’s pessimistic conclusions hold for Mormonism? Does evolution imply a noninterventionist Deity? Are there more optimistic views possible, some of which may actually suggest that evolution enhances and expands our view of God? Are adjustments necessary to our key doctrines of the Creation, Fall, and Atonement to accommodate an evolutionary perspective? And why should we make this accommodation? What is lost and what is gained if our faith community fully and without compromise embraces evolution? There are deep and unavoidable theological implications for incorporating into our theology the belief that natural selection structured the way life evolved on our planet.
I would like to sketch some of these implications. By “sketch,” I mean that I intend to rough out some of the potential problems and perplexities that will need to be sorted through in embracing a fully compatible perspective between evolution through natural selection and our faith. In this conspectus, I hope to gesture to possible solutions to the perplexities that merging evolution and theology may bring to LDS thought. There are many sticking points, and I mean only to make a beginning and to seed conversation. I make no claims that the results are either complete or thorough, but I hope that making such a start will be useful.
Another potential difficulty is that some of the proposed solutions to the identified problems cannot be sorted out except through further revelation. Since we Mormons fully believe that further light and knowledge await bestowal, its current incompleteness should neither surprise nor disturb us. Ruminations such as these might serve as a catalyst for the kinds of questions that must be asked before revelation can be given. In scriptural and LDS history, questions are well known to have opened every major revelation from the First Vision to the 1978 revelation on priesthood ordination for worthy black men. Questions such as those orbiting a reconciliation of evolution and our faith are difficult and will sometimes remain without answers, yet that does not mean we should not ask them. Elie Wiesel captures this need nicely in a conversation with a friend:
“Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks Him, he liked to say. Therein lies true dialogue. Man asks and God replies.
But we don’t understand His replies. We cannot understand them.
Because they dwell in the depths of our souls and remain there until
we die. The real answers, Eliezer, you will find only within yourself.”
“And why do you pray, Moishe?” I asked him.
“I pray to the God within me for the strength to ask Him the real
For the purposes of this paper I will assume that evolution through natural selection is a true description of how life arose on this planet and that life on Earth has emerged through a completely Darwinian process; furthermore, throughout this paper, by “Darwinian,” I mean evolution through natural selection. Much has been written on the nature of the evidence supporting these claims, including the evidence found in the fossil record, comparative anatomy, geological stratigraphic analysis, DNA molecular studies, the physics of radiometric data, etc., and I will not here debate the nature of the evidence nor the conclusions drawn from inferences made from that evidence. Here, I accept them as accurate according to the current understandings in contemporary evolutionary science. The LDS tradition also has a rich history of attempts at legitimizing and reconciling evolutionary science to the faith and tracing views of evolution within Mormonism, historically and contemporaneously. This project is different in that I assume from the outset that evolution through natural selection has been established as true (and I use that word very deliberately) and that there is a legitimate, faithful response both to doctrine and to our best understanding of how life on Earth unfolds.