My Abstract for the Evolution: the Experince Conference

Evolution: the Experience is an upcoming confrence held in Melbourne, Australia in February 2009: Here is a discription.

    2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of his landmark publication On the Origin of Species. Because of Darwin evolution has become an accepted theory, explaining the great diversity of animal and plant life on Earth and underpinning much of the medical, psychological, agricultural and biological research going on in the world today. Evolutionary theory has permeated many other facets of modern life from economics to politics to theology.

I submitted this Abstract for a presentations (no guarantees it will be accepted):

Mormonism and Evolution: A Success Story?

“Mormonism started as a uniquely American religion in the early 19th Century and has grown to be one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Mormonism has a strongly hierarchal structure with the leadership of the Church defining the direction of Church doctrine and teachings. In the early part of the 20th Century vigorous debates among the hierarchy produced several statements about the origin of man which did not exclude evolution explicitly. Eventually, however, many in the Church, following mainstream American Christian Fundamentalism, promoted an anti-evolutionary stance especially within the Church’s education system. Several professors from Church-owned Brigham Young University were fired for their refusal to stop teaching evolution. While the Church has no official stand on evolution, the climate was largely hostile through much of the early to mid-1900’s. Currently, however, Brigham Young University supports a strong evolutionary biology program and faculty with a DNA sequencer and researchers publishing in major journals at the forefront of evolutionary theory. Evolution is a required course for Biology majors and is taught as part of the general education courses in Biology for undergraduate freshmen. BYU professors have been active in thwarting attempts of Utah State Legislators to introduce Intelligent Design into Public Schools’ science curriculum. This paper explores how this pro-evolutionary climate came about at the Church’s premiere private university despite leanings within the Church that were decidedly anti-evolution in their perspective and in some instances continue being so. The presenter is a Mormon evolutionary biologist, who has experienced these tensions first hand. While at BYU he has published papers in Evolution, American Naturalist, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution among other evolutioanry journals. He runs a blog on evolution and the environment for a Mormon audience and will speak about his experience in supporting evolutionary thought in the Mormon community, which run the gamut of belief in evolution from Young Age Creationism to mainstream evolutionary biology. This story provides an example of successfully navigating the tensions (many still remain) faced in promoting evolution in a traditionalist religious environment.”

Discuss the Question Mark in the title.

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8 Responses to My Abstract for the Evolution: the Experince Conference

  1. David says:


    I would say that the adoption of evolution is a success story. While not yet a consensus all communities depend on certain core groups to set the tone of discussion and debate. BYU, CES, GA’s/General Conference, and HPG are a few of ours. We’re seeing a bit of a grass roots movement in BYU, many High Priests, and now the “Nacle” and the anti-evo rhetoric has been toned down elsewhere; I’d call that encouraging to say the least.
    By way of further aside, while working with my father for over a year we used to drive to St. George, UT every Tuesday (3.5 – 4 hrs each way), net result of our discussions: I came to love him and respect him even more and he has taken a 180 on evolution — this a man who taught with CES for 10 yrs.

  2. Cap says:

    I would have to say that I find that more people are starting to entertain or accept the idea of evolution. Maybe not fully accepting evolution. I do not particularly think it is a finished success story, but instead a story that is still being written, and hopefully will end up a success.

  3. Austin says:

    I would say it has been a success story at an institutional level, but I think the vast majority of lay Mormons (and BYU students) reject evolution, at least as far as humans are concerned. There is definitely progress being made, but on a general level I don’t think it can be considered a success story yet.

  4. hbar says:

    First, interesting abstract. I’d love to hear the talk. Yes, I’d say success story. A big part of the success has been, in my mind, a fundamental tolerance for dissenting views on the issue. Not everyone has been so tolerant, but I think the prevailing trend has been to live and let live. I’m not sure this has been so much the case in other denominations.

    My own experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I began working on evolutionary biology in graduate school and was concerned about how it would affect my relationships with certain church members and leaders. Not at all. In retrospect, I think maybe I was the more dogmatic. Certainly this is anecdotal, but still encouraging.

  5. David says:

    I’m forced to conclude that calling it “a success story” is, unfortunately, wishful thinking. I’m also a faculty member at BYU and my research has a heavy evolutionary component (of course!). But most of my extended family would qualify as young-earth creationists, and they can’t/won’t bring themselves to thoughtfully consider evolution as a real possibility. My impression is that the issue never bothers them. They mostly don’t care, unless they happen to get their copies of Doctrines of Salvation or Mormon Doctrine off the shelf.

  6. Jared* says:

    I hope you will post a copy of your paper here!

    As to your question, I’d say it is mixed, and depending on my mood I find reasons to be encouraged or discouraged.

  7. S.Faux says:

    I have been an evolutionist since age 15, but much of my professional training on the topic was provided at BYU.

    I teach an evolution-based course at my non-LDS university.

    I think we are making forward progress, but it is snail-paced slow. That is OK. Darwin proposed gradualism, and as we know, gradualism leads to speciation. But, I would not mind seeing some punctuated change too!

  8. SteveP says:

    I think I vacillate between encouragement and discouragement and like S.Faux I think it’s going to be gradual. I’m encouraged by the growing acceptance I sense in many church members as they come to know more about it, but discouraged when my kids come home from seminary with stories of fossils from other planets. But carry on. We are making progress.

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