The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part I

So during the last month because of trips to Indonesia and Senegal and the SMPT conference, I’ve been rather inactive on my blog. Time to repent. The following is the text from my SMPT paper. It will be posted in four parts.

Just this week, researchers reported the results of the DNA analysis of a 40,000 year old finger fragment. It was a previously unknown species of human. It’s last common ancestor with humans and Neanderthals was over a million years ago. This forensic reconstruction and the skull going around are from Homo erectus, a hominin that lived about 1.5 million years ago. Our last common ancestor with the Neanderthals was about a half million years ago. Do such things have implications for Mormon Theology?

Catholic theologian, John Haught, says, “After Darwin, theology cannot plausibly be the same as before, any more than it could after Galileo.” He asks further, “. . . Why should theology be considered immune to the radical transformation in light of new discoveries? Other disciplines such as geology, cosmology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, computer science, and medicine have already undergone a major retooling in the light of Darwin’s’ findings. Can theology realistically expect to escape a similar metamorphosis?” p. xv.

In addition to thoughts like these, theology is under unprecedented attack from a cluster of philosophers and scientists, called the ‘New Atheists.’ While this group is hardly representative of scientists in general, they are popular, vocal, evangelical and influential. They are theologically naive, but their misrepresentations of religion and theology are gaining traction. What seems odd is that in responding to these athiests there seems to be a tendency for believers to buy into their most harmful (from my perspective) argument. That is, that evolutionary biology and religion are incompatible and that one must be chosen above the other. They both accept the thesis that there can be no compromise and that this is a fight to death between one or the other. This is unfortunate because this false dichotomy, widely accepted by both camps, is the real danger. As I have said elsewhere in speaking about the creationist movement Intelligent Design, “[My] complaint about Intelligent Design is 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. It makes people of religious faith suspicious of science. When students genuinely think that science and religion are incompatible, one of two things typically happens. One is they embrace science and since it is incompatible to religion, religion is abandoned. The other is that they maintain their faith but remain suspicious of science and cast doubt upon its methods and findings, inclining themselves to superstition and pseudoscience. I have to wonder if the reason science education in the United States is falling behind other countries is because misinformed people of faith have been dissing science to the point that many students are choosing other paths. Faith and science need not be enemies. I embrace both fully and without reservation. My religious convictions are part of who I am. My science and faith reciprocate and inform one another. They are part of the way I understand my place in the universe. Intelligent Design does nothing to promote the search for understanding and cooperation between these two vital ways of knowing. It is a darkening of the mind on every level, both religiously and scientifically.” [SL Trib]

However, my project here is not to argue against Intelligent Design, nor make a case against the ‘New Atheists.’ My project is to make room for a fully compatible LDS theology that embraces both Mormonism and evolutionary science fully. This will require some adjustment in thinking, as Haught points out, theology cannot be the same after Darwin, the same can be said of Mormon theology. Therefore for the remainder of this paper dismiss ID as irrelevant, and the New Atheists as a distraction. Theologically, both are on the same footing in that ID does not understand science and the New Atheists do not understand theology, so neither can be seen as a relevant launching point for serious discussion trying to reconcile our faith tradition and the science of evolutionary biology. This presentation will then go as follows. I first want to establish that there is a need for reconciliation between the two. They are in many ways speaking about different things, in different languages, and should remain separate. Next I will develop what I call contact, or pivot points, that seem to connect the two ways of speaking about the world that need particular attention because the things to which the two languages refer overlap. I will look at these pivot points in detail and why they seem to be points that need reconciliation before evolutionary biology can make headway in Mormon Theology. In particular I will look at Augustinian literalism, and make the case that perhaps a twist on his way of keeping literal interpretations viable, while embracing new evidences and directions from progressing scientific knowledge, has merit.

After having established these pivot points I will make clear what I mean by Darwinian evolution and focus on three areas: Design and teleology, consciousness, and embodiment. I will then take a stab at explaining formally why I think overlap between theology and evolution are compatible and make a modest proposal that promotes a fully compatible theology with current scientific viewpoints.

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15 Responses to The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part I

  1. Matt W. says:

    Really looking forward to this.

  2. Tracy M says:

    Steven, you give me so much hope.

  3. Thanks. Am eagerly awaiting more from someone who is neither an apostate nor a fascist.

  4. Clark says:

    Dang it Ardis. Now Dave can’t say the post had no fascism in it. (grin)

  5. Steven, I enjoyed your presentation at SMTP. Thanks for the effort you’re putting into changing Mormon perspectives on this matter.

  6. ricke says:

    Ditto 1-3.

  7. Rob Osborn says:

    Just to stand and defend my fellow Id’ers. As an advocate of intelligent design I also fully embrace science for what it is, what it does, and what it can be. As you know, there are parts of science that always need some adjusting. As for how life came about on this planet, you and I know all too well that perameter is constantly being adjusted.

    I question though- are you trying to reconcile evolution with other peoples opinions in the church leadership, or are you trying to reconcile evolution with actual doctrine? I am curious to see where you believe a creator fits in with your view of evolution.

  8. Ben says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Steve.

  9. S.Faux says:


    Thumbs up! I always seek a scientifically informed theology.

  10. JonW says:

    Should be interesting… I am looking forward to this and Yellow Darts comments on early Israel’s religious tradition continuations!

  11. witeguy says:

    I wish Charles Darwin could see the new levels of banality he has given us. The “fact” of his theory now underwrites the ascribing anything and everything to evolution, no matter how ludicrous. Evolution has become a tautology. Whatever we find in biology is simply chalked up to evolution’s amazing powers. A core tenet of evolution is that the biological variation, upon which natural selection operates, is independent of need. This view has been falsified so many times that evolutionists no longer skip a beat when reporting on evolution’s “secret” miracles. Evolution’s secret is to focus the multiple mutations where they are needed to construct jaw-dropping designs.

  12. Matt A. says:

    Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read the rest!

  13. Rich says:

    A trip to Sweden (still here) precluded me from attending your lecture. Looking forward to this (I’ve also been working on a book with my aging father along similar lines).

  14. Hans says:

    “Other disciplines such as geology, cosmology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, computer science, and medicine have already undergone a major retooling in the light of Darwin’s’ findings.”

    Very true, but inadvertently amusing. Computer science as a discipline in any form is much more recent than Darwin. Perhaps he meant mathematics. That said, we do apply principles of natural selection in computer science, mostly in machine learning circles.

  15. peckhive says:


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