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

Here are few pictures from my talk to show some of the evolutionary convergences I was talking about:

Evolution solves the problems of moving through aquatic medium: fish, mammals, and reptiles.

Marsupial ‘saber-tooth cat:’

Comparing the placental and marsupial saber-tooths:

Flight evolves in three times in different linages: birds-like reptiles, non-bird-like dinosaurs and mammals. (note: birds use their ‘arm’ to fly; pterosaurs use their first finger to fly; and bats use their ‘hand.’)

Philosopher Daniel Dennett captures some of these ideas with the idea of a design space. He uses it to argue for a deterministic universe, but the idea is that there are only so many possible combinations of DNA that produce viable ‘creatures.’ From a given starting point, the unfolding of different life forms, must wander around on this space, driven by local selection regimes, but the set is finite, and the steps must be small ones. Richard Dawkins uses the same notion in his view of ‘climbing mount improbable’ in which he demonstrates how evolution can completely explain the designed complexity of life on earth. Recently Sergey Gaverlets has been exploring these design spaces in some detail, developing the idea of a ‘holey’ landscape in which genetic possibilities move through natural selection in a given environment to fitness peaks on these landscapes:

They are right that evolution completely explains complexity, but the question that deserves some consideration is can we ask where the design space comes from? Of course that is in principle unanswerable from a scientific perspective. But it does raise interesting theological possibilities.

So there exist at least two possible answers to the problem of the first pivot point. Can we take this as an existence proof, or proof of concept?

Pivot Point II Consciousness

Evolutionary biology has much to say about the evolution of consciousness. Not that science has solved the problem of consciousness, meaning the problem of explaining it. But it has found much about the apparent evolution of consciousness on life on earth, with brain structures correlating strongly with cognitive abilities. LDS theology posits that consciousness is conferred by a preexistent spirit. Spirit matter is a kind of matter inaccessible to the methods and modes of science about which we know very little except that it is ‘finer’ (which I don’t think we have to translate as smaller or more fundamental even, just different).

One possible reconciliation is that a spirit needs, (is attracted to; depends on) complex configurations of matter. That an evolved body is a necessary component into which a spirit is placed. Another possibility is that spirit is a process idea and is an event rather than a monad of some kind. There is much that needs exploring here (look at my paper on consciousness on the right for more discussion of this).

Pivot Point III Embodiment

How might evolutionary biology be useful to Theology? LDS theology holds that God is embodied. There is much discussion on what this might mean. But from a biological perspective it should mean at least two necessary things:

(1) That God stands in a whole-part relationship of some kind.

(2) That those parts have functional meaning.

In biology, there is an explicit functional relationship among the parts. Hearts are for moving blood. Fingers are for holding things. The heel of the foot for bearing the weight of the body. This is not to argue that God’s body must have the same parts and function as ours. However, to be embodied means at least these two things, perhaps more, but at least these. For example, if God were just a circle, the parts of the circle, say particular segments, stand in relation to the whole. There function might be just to define shape. Of course this is an absurd reduction, but biologically to be embodied would require at least these two elements. And as I’ve pointed out evolutionary biology cannot answer any questions about theology but it can make contributions by framing new questions and exploring the implications of what designed life must imply.

My Modest proposal (This gets a little technical so ignore the equations if you wish, they don’t necessarily add to my arguments)

Assume Realism is right just in the sense that we can say things that represent reality (no claim that we can say something about everything, the we can say things that are true in some sense).

Let L be the set of all narratives units that can be constructed from the Library of Babel: The Library of Babel is from a Jorge Borges story about a library that contains all the books that could be written (The basis of my novella, A Short Stay in Hell too!):

A picture from by book by my son Christopher:

Now switching to slides because I can’t figure out how to make good equations in wordpress:

My proposal is just that although we don’t know what it is yet, there is likely some explanation of how God acts in the world that is both scientifically and theologically adequate to describing how these two work together. It means that we don’t cut out our most well-established scientific theories (evolution) nor do we toss out our faith that God is behind the creation, but that we act humbly, accepting for now that both are true and that one day the two will fit together and that such a unifying explanation is indeed existent.

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42 Responses to The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part IV

  1. Stan says:

    “and that one day the two will fit together and that such a unifying explanation is indeed existent.”

    The unified theory of life!

  2. Christine says:

    “Richard Dawkins uses the same notion in his view of ‘climbing mount improbable’ in which he demonstrates how evolution can completely explain the designed complexity of life on earth.”

    Really? He explains merely that there are different phyla that generate similar response to the environmental challenges. That is a vastly long way from explaining all of the complexity of life on earth.

    I am still not satisfied that there isn’t irreducible complexity where various organs develop that presuppose the development of other capacities first. For example, the hominid prefrontal cortex is the most complex structure we know, but it doesn’t seem to have much function without consciousness. Why all the wasted complexity without some function? As you admit, the existence of consciousness itself is not explained by this complexity.

    I am much more worried by the implicit deism in your account — or should I say implicit atheism? If all that God does is watch nature do its thing, then how is there a God as conceived by theism at all?

  3. steveP says:

    Where does the Lord influence the world? Through us. Through our consciousness and through our action. Why does God have to inspire Nephi to build a boat? To make plates? Why does Pres. Monson ask us to visit the widows? Does someone step in magically if we don’t? Why did the Lord have to inspire Mormon to add the records in case someone lost the first 116 pages? Or why did the no one try to preach to the Lamanites until it entered the consciousness of the Son’s of Mosiah to do so?

    God enters the world through us. Again and again if people don’t act, it doesn’t get done. Consciousness is how God enters the world. Consciousness, Faith and Grace. I know the Lord comes into my life as an experience. If there isn’t an experiential thing in the universe yet, perhaps looking at it as a machine (as we see in the motion of the planets) makes sense.

    Your implication that this is disguised atheism is offensive. Just because I don’t believe in your version of a Harry Potter God that has to keep stirring the potion to make things run, don’t dare paint me with those strips. This entire effort is based on creating a faithful response for those who embrace both modern science and their faith. Your attempts to cast us as outside that realm are harmful to many who seek to wrestle with, and come to terms with both realities, without compromising either. Your view that God is constantly tinkering with things seems to me a much weaker version of creation than one who acts through relationships with this children.

  4. witeguy says:

    What is your take on this quote from Elder B. H. Roberts?

    “The theory of evolution as advocated by many modern scientists lies stranded upon the shore of idle speculation…. If the hypothesis of evolution be true,… then it is evident that there has been no “fall,”… and if there was no fall,… then the mission of Jesus Christ was a myth, the coinage of idle brains, and Jesus himself was either mistaken, or one of the many impostors that have arisen to mock mankind with the hope of eternal life. Such is the inevitable result of accepting the philosophy of evolution, after which all the world is now running—it is destructive of the grand, central truth of all revelation.” (The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 7th edition, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1928, pp. 265-267).

  5. steveP says:

    He was wrong. (We don’t believe in the infallibility of our leaders, do we?)

    What do you do with this one from him?

    “The conclusion based upon these even limited facts carry back the antiquity of man from 25,000 to 30,000 years in his occupancy of the Earth, and hence tend to establish the probability of pre-Adamic races in the earth.” Roberts, B. H. The Truth, the Way, the Life 2nd ed. BYU Studies. 1996 p. 302

    Proof-texting cuts both ways.

  6. Stan says:


    It’s a false dichotomy. Everyone’s faith is shaky to a certain extent. When faith runs into the facts of evolution there had better be more options that what B.H. Roberts (and others) suggest. This is in fact what Steve is working so hard to do, to present reasonable answers and alternatives to thinking people of faith. I can understand his frustration when people associate this effort with atheism and going against the statements from previous leaders of the church that people take as an official stance. Evolution cannot be dismissed with a few statements from general authorities. It *must* be reconciled somehow, someday.

  7. witeguy says:


    It is important to note that Elder Roberts had used the term “pre-Adamites” in a way that did not support organic evolution because these beings did not evolve. They were created and placed on earth last, after all other forms of life, millions of years ago. (TWL, 238-240.)

  8. Christine says:

    SteveP: You suggest that God acts through us. However, we are as much a part of nature and evolution as any other part of nature. What is it God does through us that we couldn’t just do on our own? How does he act through us — through our consciousness? But that is the very fact that evolution cannot account for it seems to me.

    Your notion of an adequate God — one that cannot change whether a baby is born with defects, one that cannot calm the storm or walk on water or raise the dead or provide manna isn’t much of a god now is it? So it isn’t far off to suggest that you have a deist quasi-deity who couldn’t be equated with the God worshiped by Jesus and Joseph Smith. That’s not much consolation. Just how would a biologist go about detecting whether God caused a mutation anyway? How would it look different than your run-of-the-mill gene?

  9. CK Rock says:

    Great post. Thank you so much for exploring the common ground between science and our faith.

    I found an equation editor for WordPress ( that uses LaTex (not sure if you’re familiar with it). If you need help installing it or anything else with your website, I’m a web developer, so let me know.

  10. SteveP says:

    Thanks CK Rock, That will be very handy.

    Christine, I don’t think God causes mutations so if you want him to, I’ll leave it to you to explain it.

    So your God causes a babies defects? Horrifying.

    Seems to me everything Joseph did came through consciousness. Had to find location plates, translate them by power of God, etc. You want a magician fine, but I don’t see it.

  11. Christine says:

    Really — everything was through Joseph’s consciousness? How did he heal all those people on the shores of the Mississippi? Merely being aware of sick folks doesn’t entail that they are healed.

    Yeah, if God can’t cause mutations he can do much less than mere human genetic engineers can do. That would make him weaker than mere humans and not really quite worthy of our devotion. Not all mutations are bad — how about a mutation that makes us smarter? And just how does consciousness make the resurrection possible?

    Look, I’m not against evolution — just the kind that says God can’t direct it because it’s all random mutations. My question about the detectable difference between genetic mutation caused by God and those that occur as a result of random chance was an honest one. Could any human biologist tell the difference? I suggest that God’s hand in evolution cannot be seen in the geological record and making judgments about whether a difference (or similarity) in species is due to divine design or random difference cannot be detected by scientific means.

  12. SteveP says:

    Christine, my problem is that you seem to be assuming that God must act at the level of genetic mutations. Here Haught’s idea of going deeper than that is important. If God is directing mutations there is a lot of slop that needs explaining, especially given the horrors that take place in the natural world. You may want to look at the paper that I’m responding to in my Dialogue paper to see what I mean. The natural world is not a pretty place. It is “red in tooth and claw” and to attribute that to God seems problematic.

  13. JonB says:

    Thanks for this 🙂

  14. JonB says:

    Also, Christine, when was the last time that you (or anyone you know) had a prayer answered by some physical manipulation of the environment around you?

    And I would argue that if God NEEDED to act like a human (physical manipulation of DNA) then it would make him weaker, not the other way around. If we try to make God like us then he ceases to be God. Why limit his power by shoving it into the box of YOUR understanding.

  15. raedyohed says:

    Late to the thread, as usual, but I remain interested in the continuation of your argument.

    Just thought this might be a good place to insert a link to some interesting talks given at an excellent university with which I may or may not be affiliated.

    Dr. Rebecca Saxe of MIT discusses the neurology of moral reasoning and the methodologies used to uncover the connection between morality and biology. The fMRI talk is more technical and, therefore, better.

    While “LDS theology posits that consciousness is conferred by a preexistent spirit,” scientific inquiry generally presumes a material, biological explanation for thought and behavior, including consciousness and moral reasoning. The linked talks give some indication of how the field of neurology is progressing on the topic.

    I also highly recommend the talks given by VS Ramachandran (towards the bottom of the page) who is a renowned neurologist studying the connections between consciousness, the body, synesthesia, and creativity. Enjoy!

  16. Matthew says:

    Steve, Interesting posts. Especially in regarding to the part/whole issue with god. It’s perhaps an area where we will never understand exactly how it works.

    It seems like unless god is doing crazy un-natural things then he isn’t god. If he created nature itself, wouldn’t he respect his creation enough to not violate it unless he absolutely needed to? It’s interesting that theists sometimes vilianize naturalists, when naturalists are paying homage to something that theists believe was created by god. 😛

    Whatever the answer is, I’m absolutely fascinated by the natural world. It’s truly mind boggling and for me personally all concepts of god that I have seen thus far don’t seem to do justice to how beautiful the natural world is. Most concepts of god place him as a rather petty jealous creature. It clashes in my mind with the insane amount of ingenuity and diversity we see in life on planet earth, and in the vastness and mindboggling beauty of space.

  17. Owen says:

    The Atonement also makes most if not all meddling with the normal course of nature unnecessary. Perhaps God could micromanage the world, but why bother? What would be the point? We don’t need physical saving from the natural world in this life for the Plan to be successful. We take our lumps, kill and eat other animals, ingest bacteria and viruses, get sick and eventually die, none of which has anything to do with whether we choose charity and faith in each of the brief moments we have. There is nothing fair about any of it, but the Atonement places everyone’s judgment on an even footing.

    I’ll second (or third) the idea that God is powerful enough to create a system he doesn’t have to constantly tinker with.

  18. Jared* says:

    King Benjamin says that God “has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another…”

    So is the autonomic nervous system deist/atheist-ic?

  19. Dusty R. says:


    I understand passion, but I think your remarks about atheism are uncalled-for and unfounded.

    >>”Yeah, if God can’t cause mutations he can do much less than mere human genetic engineers can do.”

    Why would he need to? Humans can also alter their environment with pollution, but is God doing that? Is God making CD players? Does not doing it make Him less powerful?

    Personally, the more I understand the gospel AND the natural world, the more convinced I am that God doesn’t alter natural law (if He even can). Even Mary’s conception with the Christ child did not violate natural law, as with all of Jesus’ miracles.

    Have you ever considered that natural law may be the reason behind the commandments? Take, for example, the law of chastity — if sexual intimacy releases a cocktail of brain hormones and organic chemicals that bind that person to his/her partner (or activity), then could that explain the reason for that commandment?

    Taken from a web site addressing this and in an article called ‘The “Brain Science” Behind Internet Porn Addiction’ by Mark Kastleman it says, “During sexual process, the brain begins narrowing its focus as it releases a tidal wave of endorphins and other neurochemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and serotonin. These “natural drugs” produce a tremendous rush or high. When these chemicals are released during healthy marital intimacy we refer to them as “the fabulous four” because of the myriad positive benefits they generate between husband and wife. When they are released during pornography use and other sexual addiction behaviors, we call them “the fearsome four” due to the severe addiction and many negative consequences they produce in the brain and nervous system.” (see

    One last for you question, Christine:

    Why is the ONLY theory taught in the College of Life Sciences by the ENTIRE faculty at BYU that explains the origin of species and biodiversity happen to be the theory of evolution? Take a gander at the school’s web site (e.g. See ANYone studying Irreducible Complexity? Has the chair of the BYU Board of Trustees (i.e. President Monson) lost his grip on the University’s direction? Certainly doesn’t have anything to do with accreditation…I mean, it’s a private university, and no other universities require Book of Mormon classes, for instance. So, why do you think?

    By the way, Steve’s post about why ID doesn’t make the cut should help you see why Irreducible Complexity doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in H at ever being accepted in the scientific community. No, not even at BYU. (see

  20. Christine says:

    Your comments seem to dodge the obvious. When was the last time that God answered by changing the weather — how about when Christ calmed the storm? How do you account for that one? How do you account for something as basic as, say, the resurrection? Or raising the dead for that matter? How about healing the sick ? You all keep ignoring these obvious interventions by God. Not a one of you has addressed them and until you do you leave us with a theology that looks nothing like what is taught in Mormon history or scripture.

    So here is the challenge — instead of dodging the instance that I give that are both scriptural and documented in LDS history, actually provide an explanation within the non-interventionist “theology” that you espouse.

    As for the issue with bad mutations — are you really saying that God doesn’t have the power or knowledge to stop them? Answer that one as well. Note carefully that I didn’t claim that God caused all mutations, only that he could and sometimes does. The problem of evil is a problem for every theology except perhaps a-theism and process thought: but the God left us is so wimpy that it isn’t worth praying to. However, I suggest that a broad soul-making theodicy coupled with a natural law theodicy would go a long way toward answering your challenge regarding evil mutations.

    Speaking of prayer, are you suggesting that we shouldn’t pray for the weather to change, or for people to be healed even when it is beyond our medical science? I challenge you all to answer these questions instead of avoiding them.

    Owen — explain to me how the atonement makes such intervention unnecessary — especially in light of the fact that the incarnation is the clearest instance of a miraculous birth and intrusion by God into the natural order in the history of the world.

    The notion that doesn’t intervene in the natural is just not the relevant claim for either Mormonism or Christianity. I’ll look forward to you responses.

  21. SteveP says:

    Christine, you are the one making specific claims of where to draw interventionist lines. I’m not claiming there are no miracles.

    I would like to point out that rarely for someone in an automobile accident and they are decapitated, say, do we ask that the head be restored. Would you slap them as denying God’s power because they don’t? “You have a weak God,” you seem to claim, “if he can’t put the head back on!” You are trying to argue that you know where the lines of God’s interventions are. I do not. All I know is that I don’t need to invoke them as causal explanations to account for all of life’s diversity.

    Also, I find in my own life my miracles have come though people’s consciousness, like the EMTs going fishing that happened to feel like they ought to bring their gear and who where the first ones on the scene in my headon with a drunk driver. Maybe God is always rearranging the weather to your whims, and actually makes the brakes of your drunk drivers to go on suddenly without cause (and I bet the people of various places of the Earth wish God had been on the ball a little more for their natural disasters. He blessed you with moisture and caused the death of their entire family).

    If those are your experiences so be it. They are not mine. All my miracles have come because of people listening. Like the ‘Angels’ of Elder Holland’s talk a few conferences ago, they’ve all been people acting on inspiration, not God coming down and stirring the pot.

    I don’t claim he can’t, only that I am without examples. (Oh, and pointing to Christ is cheating. He was God you know.)

  22. Christine says:

    (Oh, and pointing to Christ is cheating. He was God you know.)

    Well now, that would be the entire point in a discussion of how God acts in the world and what God can do, isn’t it?

    Given your (new?) position that God can indeed intervene in the natural order, why isn’t Mormonism easily reconcilable with evolutionary theory just by invoking theistic evolution (not creationist theory) and explaining the marvelous convergence of life, the punctuated evolution and the fairly obvious teleological directedness of evolution toward human life as God ordered and a result of intervention to bring about the relevant mutation at the relevant points in evolutionary history? It just doesn’t have to be difficult.

  23. Christine says:

    Dusty: Irreducible complexity and ID are hardly the same thing. The fact that you conflate them seems to suggest to me that you fail to grasp what requires explanation. I wouldn’t suggest ID in the remotest; but I hold that there is irreducible complexity in many instances including primarily human consciousness.

  24. Dusty R. says:

    >>”Dusty: Irreducible complexity and ID are hardly the same thing. The fact that you conflate them seems to suggest to me that you fail to grasp what requires explanation. I wouldn’t suggest ID in the remotest; but I hold that there is irreducible complexity in many instances including primarily human consciousness.”

    Irreducible complexity is the flagship offspring of cdesign proponentsists…whoops! I mean Intelligent Design proponents. Silly me. Please excuse the Freudian slip.

    To suggest Irreducible Complexity is to suggest its parent “theory”.

    Again, how do you feel about ID and all of its appendages never even getting it’s foot in the door at BYU?

    Oh wait, there was that talk that Behe gave on campus last year in the WILK, at the…what was it…Response to the New Atheism conference? And I thought ID was supposed to be a valid theory that could stand on its own two feet and wasn’t supposed to be connected to anything religious…seems like the
    cdesign proponentsists keep getting in their own way.

    >>”but I hold that there is irreducible complexity in many instances including primarily human consciousness.”

    When you publish just ONE of those ‘many instances’ in a peer-reviewed journal — and not in a future edition of “Pandas and People” — please holler at me.

  25. SteveP says:

    Christine, just stating that consciousness is irreducibly complex doesn’t make it so. Irreducibly complex means something explicit. It means that there is some protein that cannot be formed through natural selection and that needs a divine push to get over the bottleneck. It just doesn’t mean emergent or hard to explain given current scientific understanding which is what you seem to be arguing. If you argue something is irreproducibly complex you’d better be able to point to the biological point you think can’t make a leap with natural selection. We don’t knew enough about consciousness to make that point. You’d better bone up on what these terms mean before you start arguing for them.

    Christine you keep making an inductive leap from Christ to God’s normative interaction in the world. “Can” and “does” are two different things. God can lie. Does he? No.

    My point is God does not need to tinker in the natural world, there is no evidence He does, there are lots of problems when you assume He does–like explaining the horrific nature of natural selection. In positing a tinker as God (and not a very good one when you look at the inefficiencies and slop and waste in the natural world) you have produced a God-of-the-Gaps which acts only in those spaces where intervention is not too much (‘no reattaching severed heads’) and not too little (‘God must do something important with genes, what’s His point if he can only influence consciousness’). You want him tinkering in the universe, but not in anyway that’s detectable or leaves evidence. You want him hiding in these spaces because you seem to be afraid that He’ll get lost if he can’t work at a level you understand and are comfortable with.

    But interventionists rarely can explain why God must intervene in the way they want Him to, they don’t know enough biology to even make point to a given biological explanation for a specific case and yet they insist he must tinker.

    The irony is that they always draw limits on intervention (no decapitation repairs), but ignore, or downplay, or call it weak, to think he intervenes in that realm we know he intervenes often, abundantly, and with ample evidence from our lives: that of subjective consciousness. With effect! People are healed through inspired actions, (even modern medical science acknowledges the power and place of consciousness in healing), the poor are blessed, temples are built, the gospel is preached, all through consciousness.

    You insist God has to intervene through magic when all around you God is acting in the world through people. Your conception of God is laking oomph in my view.

    Keep your magician God whose actions are hidden and mysterious. My God is one that forms his actions through relationships with other eternal beings and acts by influencing them to act on the given world of ‘things acted upon’ which play by rules according to natural laws. God for me acts in and through relationships, not waving wands at DNA proteins. Acting in consciousness is not some watered-down version of God. It’s the God of relationships, which is the one I know well and whose actions I feel and see working in others. I can’t think of anything more powerful.

  26. Christine says:

    Steve: I’ve given long lists of God intervening in the natural order, both in Christ and in Church history, that are not dependent on the mere mechanical operations of the natural order. You choose to ignore these instances because . . . well because it appears that you believe that Christ is the exception to everything you assert and not the revelation of the way that God acts and interacts. You now say that god can intervene in the natural order, he just doesn’t. Really? How do you know that given that he has created a distance in the way we could detect him to make room for faith (pretty standard Mormon beliefs I would think).

    You’re right, I mean by irreducible complexity something that is better explained (not exclusively explained) by divine intervention. Punctuated equilibrium and the development of the cerebral cortex sufficient to sustain consciousness are both examples of developments that are both complex and make no sense apart from the already enabled abilities that arise from the complexity. You assume that if some naturalistic explanation is even conceivable that irreducible complexity arguments are defeated. They are not — they remain either the best explanations or at least viable explanations for theists.

    If a theist is explained how and why life developed as it does without God, then you’ve got a blind diest god who just sat and watched after he got the initial constants going. As I understand you, you claim that all that God does is align the initial constants of the universe that give us the entire natural order as a result that physically follows from such an act. But the Mormon God cannot get the initial going if he is bound by the natural order because he comes too late to choose or create the natural constants. Moreover, the entire range of physical possibilities is so large that it is vastly random what would fall out. The position seems nonsensical.

    Do you truly think that you have established that evolution necessarily occurs without divine intervention? Do you really think that you have shown that no positing no teleological purpose better explains the data of evolutionary theory contrary to de Chardin?

  27. steveP says:

    “you’re right, I mean by irreducible complexity something that is better explained (not exclusively explained) by divine intervention. ”

    You are using a private language no one else means that. If you are going to talk to biologists or theologians you’d better get on board with what they mean by it.

    “Do you truly think that you have established that evolution necessarily occurs without divine intervention?”

    Did you even read this paper? It’s not an argument on ‘whether’ its on ‘how.’ If you are going to just make things up without reference to the what we see in the world, go back to idea the creation 6000 years go. Your version has no more merit than that one.

    “Do you really think that you have shown that no positing no teleological purpose better explains the data of evolutionary theory contrary to de Chardin?”

    No evolutionary biology has established that. If you think you can pull out some teleology from the data, join the Creation institute and start looking. So far they got nothing.

  28. raedyohed says:


    so, SteveP, if I can pull you away from this scintillating debate, which is clearly breaking new ground on so many fronts…

    In a nutshell, do you hold the view that God influences/intervenes/interacts with His creation (the natural world, and us in it) pretty much exclusively (or at least let’s say primarily) through what you have termed consciousness?

    If so what is stopping advances made in neurology, evolutionary psychology, and the like from eventually waving god away from that realm too? It seems like every generation God’s sphere of influence has to retreat to more and more scientifically remote positions. How is your argument different, or does it still fall prey to this pattern?

  29. steveP says:

    raedyohed, Great questions. I’m really not making any claims yet. I’ve not made up my mind or claiming this is the way it is. I am just interested in opening possibilities. And, interested in fighting dogmatism about how God ‘must’ act in the world.

    Consciousness as an access point for God makes sense to me just because that how all my experience with God acting in the world has been structured. And there are good ways of thinking about this from scriptural perspectives.

    One thing about consciousness that seems to be fascinating is that the subjective experience is something science can never really get at, because it is personal and acceptable only by the individual. So even if we knew everything about neurological processing there is to know, there are still aspects of consciousness that are untouchable (see this thought experiment about Mary, to see what I mean).

  30. Jared* says:


    I don’t think punctuated equilibrium means what you think it means–at least what I think you think it means.

    I explained it a couple of years ago here.

  31. steveP says:

    Thanks Jared* you aways bring a bright spot to any scientific discussion.

  32. raedyohed says:

    I would agree with your assertion that “even if we knew everything about neurological processing there is to know, there are still aspects of consciousness that are untouchable,” but I’d explain it as a function of observational and statistical (and thus scientific) limitation, and not as something necessarily supernatural.

    We can’t ‘touch’ consciousness in the same way that we can’t ‘touch’ singleton mutations for disease causation. In the same way, we can’t ‘touch’ genotype-phenotype relationships (not absolutely) even with whole genome sequencing. Individual genomes are totally unique (even twins’ genomes are unique due to somatosomal mutation, epigenetic factors, etc) and so statistics has no way to analyze this kind of non-patterned data.

    The scientific method breaks down in individual cases, and when reality can only be affirmed experientially, as opposed to observationally (which demands the presence of patterns among multiple events) we are left with art, not science. As you said back in the ‘Mary’ post: “There is something about the universe we cannot detect directly, but suspect is there only because we each individually have the experience.” So God is just an individual (some might read: imagined) experience?

    This has opened up lots for me to explore… but remind me what this has to do with reconciling evolution and Mormonism? Can you indicate how you see this connecting to God as Creator? I look forward to having this being explored in future installments!

  33. Kreed says:

    Alas, another conversation pitting theology against science.

    Christine, evolution is a given to objective science. There is no controversy within the trained scientific community. Behe and the other creationists/ID’ers were creamed by Ken Miller in a well-documented court case. You cannot argue creationism without falsifying Miller’s arguments. Good luck with that.

    If you can disprove evolution by theological argument, you can disprove Mormonism too. Joseph Smith did not walk on water or feed the multitude. His miracle was the production of the Book of Mormon. He did other things, but the BOM is the major miracle of our time.

    There are some interesting archeological and even statistical (wordprint) tests that support the authenticity of the BOM. I find these results compelling, but at base, my testimony has to be rooted in my conscious mind. The anti-mormon press concocts a vast number of silly and plausible accounts of the origin of the BOM, but none of those arguments are anything but theological. They prove nothing.

    Some are falsifiable, others are not. But the BOM lives on. Just so are the theological arguments against science and evolution. Science too lives on and the theology will change to accommodate it.

    Nothing can be proven or falsified by theology. Sorry.

  34. MJury says:

    I am probably the least intelligent person reading these posts, so I usually leave reconstituting my own theories and supposed truths. But most of you are ignoring an important point Christine is making. Steve, you talk at length about miracles that need a human intervention to make complete (your EMT example, the BOM, visits by Pres. Monson). But what about Jesus walking on water? Or the seagulls saving the crops of the saints in the SL valley? Or one I read today of a quick 48 hour thaw in SLC that allowed a harvest that was all but lost. I agree with your stance on the human-to-human miracles. But you still haven’t explained the nature-to-human miracles to Christine’s satisfaction. Great post! Love the discussion!

  35. SteveP says:


    Thanks for weighing in. I love hearing from those who are usually silent. I can tell you are a sincere seeker so keep the pondering up. There is nobility in thinking a lot.

    As I pointed out above to ‘Christine,’ Jesus is a special case. Unfortunately the seagull story turns out to be largely a myth. And as for the saving of the crops, what about the many times there was a 48 hour early frost that destroyed the crops (like the orange groves recently in Florida)? You play a dangerous game when you try to assign God to random acts of weather, because you implicate Him for disasters as often as you get to assign as blessings favorable outcomes. When disaster occurs, I praise Him. When good things come I praise, Him. An outcome-based view of God’s power creates more problems then it solves.

  36. Tormak says:

    Great articles. When are you going to post part 5?

  37. Owen says:

    In response to Christine’s question high above, what is so miraculous about Jesus’ birth given current reproductive technology? Having a current deity as the donor of half of the DNA is astounding, but not particularly magical if such beings exist. A birth is always a miracle of the first order, but never unnatural.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of this post. I think what I come to is that God does act overtly in altering the normal course of events (which is what I do every time I use my technology…his is just way beyond mine), but that the vast majority of things we think are interventions aren’t. They’re happy coincidences that everyone in every culture experiences. When your team wins, you thank God; when they lose, you’re too sad to think about it so you forget to make a tick mark in the “God didn’t act” category. The balance seems tilted to the “I’m miraculously blessed” side just because we aren’t recording all of the non-events in our minds.

  38. Owen says:

    Oh, and has anyone ever notices how the more reliable the scriptural record, the more toned-down the miracles are? All the really wild stuff happens in the least reliable records.

  39. Marty says:

    Steve, thanks so much for all of your hard work. I enjoyed attending your SMPT presentation, and am pleased to be able to read more of it in detail here. It is nice to see someone versed in the subject matter try to work at a real synthesis with LDS theology. I think you have done some great headway. Personally, I think only our temple Q&A is essential to our doctrine (God, Christ, Joseph, Prophets, Priesthood, Gospel Living), and the rest is up to considerable reinterpretation and even expendable. So I don’t see the tension the others see.

    It is difficult to transition us Mormons from the naive tradition (and I mean this in no disrespectful way, no snub us v. them) to the results of modern biblical scholarship, science, and philosophical reasoning. I wish there was an easier way; I know it was (is) hard for me even still. I appreciate those who carry on, and try to synthesize their faith and reason. You are a good example to us all. Thanks!

  40. Samuel says:

    All of you are not asking the right questions. God knows everything and can comprehend every circumstance and situation. Miracles are called miracles because they cannot be understood by the human mind. If we did understand them they would cease to miracles. Maybe Christ knew the sea would calm when he said, “peace be still”. Miracles cannot be taken out of context. God works through multiple means, and everything is running as he intends (Yes, even the mutated babies).

    “BY SMALL AND SIMPLE THINGS ARE GREAT THINGS BROUGHT TO PASS” Perhaps when a butterfly flaps it wings it escalates through a series of events into A WIND WHICH CALMS THE STORM. It is impossible for us to tell. Does God “interfere”? YES! But it is not for us to understand? Let that which is God’s be his. Can you marvel at the perplexity of it? How is it possible how Christ was able to overcome all things by descending below them, even Lucifer himself? His experience of the atonement would have seemed eternal and infinite pain and suffering of every kind. Too him it was eternity. Is it a wonder how he did shrink? The atonement was not subject to any relations of time or depth. CAN YOU MARVEL THE TRIUMPH OF IT?! IT IS THE GREATEST MIRACLE

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