My Guest Post at Jana Riess’ Flunking Sainthood!

Check out my guest post at Jana Riess’ Flunking Sainthood!

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4 Responses to My Guest Post at Jana Riess’ Flunking Sainthood!

  1. DLewis says:

    Great post, Steve. I want to push you a little bit more. I’m totally comfortable with evolution but I think that Mormons actually have it more difficult than other religious groups to square its theology with these scientific advancements. For instance, from what I understand about evolution, is that it is ateleological, that there is no such thing as “progress,” just constant adaptation. While I think most LDS evolutionists would say that God help guide the process to create human beings, it doesn’t seem like evolutionary theory allows this type of guidance. Yet we hold that God’s body is similar to our own, while other Christian groups think of being created in God’s image as more of a spiritual creation. Squaring the concept of a deity that is physically similar with evolution seems especially tricky. Any thoughts on this?

  2. DHBailey says:

    DLewis: Thanks for your comments.

    With regards to whether evolution is “teleological,” this is not clear-cut — the question continues to be debated, both by scientists and philosophers. Some authors, like the late paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, held that there was no discernible “progress” in the evolutionary record, only the branching bush of the biological kingdom. But others disagree, noting that brain size of primates, properly normalized for body mass, has significantly and steadily increased on the line leading to humans. A lot of this question hinges on exactly how one defines “progress” in this arena. See Robert Wright’s book “Nonzero” for a very interesting discussion of this topic.

    With regards to whether God helped guide the process, while we see nothing that convincingly *requires* supernatural intervention, it is beyond the scope of the tools of science to completely rule this out. Still, we should be careful not to get carried away in ascribing apparent “design” to God. If we insist that God has meticulously “designed” individual species, including humans, then we are left to explain obvious deficiencies in nature, including in the human body. For example, in humans, along with many other animals, the nerves in the retina go to the surface (interfering with light reception), and then have to exit somewhere to the back (leaving a blindspot). In contrast, mollusks and certain other “primitive” species have eyes designed more logically with the nerves emerging to the back of the retina.

    Also, whereas almost all other species manufacture their own Vitamin C (whose lack causes scurvy, that curse of British seamen and Mormon pioneers crossing the Great Plains), we humans and a couple of closely related primates can’t, even though we have the same basic biochemical machinery. The reason is that some mutations have inactivated a key step in Vitamin-C-making system, which mutations evidently happened after our primate ancestors adopted a diet rich in fruit (so that when individuals suffered a loss of Vitamin-C-making machinery, it was not significantly deleterious to their survival and reproduction).

    As a general response to your question, my own approach is that it is pointless to dig deeply into the theological neverland, particularly on technical details of how God interacted the creation process (if at all), where we have only the scantest information. There is no suggestion in the creation scriptures that they were intended as a complete and/or technically precise scientific treatise on project creation. Instead, there is every indication that such questions are more productively studied by applying the scientific method, using brains that God has given us for that purpose. See, for example, Talmage’s discourse “The Earth and Man”.

    In short, while we may be eager to solve all “mysteries” in this realm, the consensus of many who have tread these paths is that patience is in order. In the meantime, we can certainly “enjoy the show” — we can stand in reverent awe at the grandeur of the natural world and the universe, which is now known to be much more magnificent than any of our ancestors, even a single generation ago, could possibly realize. Isn’t that enough?

  3. steveP says:

    David, Thank you for your thoughts! And everyone should check out his recent Dialogue article on ID and creationism in the current issue.


    Sorry to take so long to reply. I’ve got so much to say on this topic, but realize that I’ve been buried and I’m not going to get out for a few days and I thought I’d give you something to chew on in the mean time. I did a four part series on randomness and teleology in which I unpack these ideas. I come to the conclusion that both creation and no teleology are compatible. Here are the references for this series. Also my paper at the Studies for Mormon Philosophy and Theology paper explore this a bit.

    Here is the four part bit on teleology and randomness:

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