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What parts of it do you believe?

Ah the lonely wanderings of the LDS evolutionary believer. First, she is under suspicion by those who think there is something suspect about the claim of even being an ‘LDS’ evolutionist. ‘Shouldn’t she at least believe in Intelligent Design?’ There is a whiff and taint of unbelief about her. ‘Aren’t evolutionary biologists the ones writing those books advocating atheism? Didn’t your mother warn you about choosing your friends? I think I smell sulpher whenever you are around.’ Let’s throw her in the pond and see if she floats.

Over on an LDS list server a few weeks ago I was asked by a member what part of evolutionary biology I believed.

What parts of it do I believe? In the current issue of the journal Evolution is an article called, “Natural selection along an environmental gradient: a classic cline in mouse pigmentation by Lynne M. Mullen, Hopi E. Hoekstra. Is he asking if I believe that this study represents a classic cline in mouse pigmentation? The question he asks is intriguing because it is not one that you would likely ask someone of any other science. Imbedded in the question are suspicions that this science has things that one ought not believe. And not in the way we skeptically view all scientific results. The question seems to broker deep suspicions about its legitimacy as a science as such. It seems to me that one would rarely ask a physicist, say, ‘What parts of the standard model do you believe?’ Not that we think the standard model is completely correct or even that it’s the right model, string theorists have another model that seems to work, at least coherently. But somehow we trust the guys and gals interpreting the results coming out of the superconductor-supercollider more than the men and women looking at Galapagos finches, although the I’d put up the logic, analysis, careful data collection etc. up against those particle physics jocks any day. Their looking at swirls of bubbles does not elicit the same visceral distrust that evolution does.

‘What parts do I believe?’ All of it and none of it I suppose. Like any science, individual findings I leave open to skeptical suspension. But not in the way the asker of this question I suspect means. It’s an impossible question taken at face value. I haven’t been following say the bat echolocation evolution debates very closely. In fact, I suspect the ‘parts’ of evolutionary theory are getting close to being found in such a large number that we can start to call them innumerable (not mathematically, of course, which would mean it mapped to the real numbers which is way bigger infinity than the measly, teeny-tiny infinity of the integers. That’s an infinity for babies.).

So what parts to I believe? Not all of it certainly. By this I mean something like, “Well, I’m not really sure if the above example in mouse pigmentation is going to hold up in the long run, but hey they did a good job and I see no good reason to discount the study, so sure why not, let’s call it a classic case of cline selection, but if more comes in the pipeline that suggests something else, hey, I’m open to change.” But if the writer thinks that the deep findings supported by DNA evidence (see Dan Fairbank’s excellent book on this), the fossil record, embryology, anatomy, brain science, current research in artificial life, or that the theory and findings of population genetics are going to suffer from a whole scale refutation from somewhere. No I don’t believe that. Evolution is on as strong evidentiary basis of any science. It’s about as likely to suffer a complete overturn of its fundamentals as the science of chemistry. Certainly there will be disputes about this finding or that, as there are in any discipline, but evolution is not going anywhere. So are there parts I don’t believe? Sure. No big ones though. I’m an evolutionary biologist true blue and through and through. But, that said, I still have some open questions about mouse pigmentation and its classic clinishness.

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9 comments to What parts of it do you believe?

  • larryco_

    Latter-Day Saints have always believed in at least one type of evolution, only we call it “eternal progression”. We even believe in a God who evolved from mere man through participating in a natural selection process of “choosing correct principles”. In the survival of the fittest, individuals can evolve into celestial beings, while others won’t.

    We can learn much by examining the Talmage/Widstoe/J.F. Smith discussions of the 1920’s. I don’t believe such discussions will ever take place on a GA level again.

    My personal take: 1) the Lord expects me to use my brain, 2) He doesn’t plant false evidence to mess with my mind, 3) His scriptures are not scientific treatises, and 4) Until He speaks definitely, I’ll sit back and ponder all things without judgement.

  • Being an LDS evolutionist can indeed be lonely. That’s why it’s great to have blogs like this–if nothing else than for the supportive knowledge that there are others like me.

    I think the question “What parts do you believe” reflects the continuum of belief that exists within those trying to reconcile fundamentalist-type interpretations of scripture with scientific learning. In fact, I wonder if one could map out that continuum. My quick attempt: age of earth, no world-wide flood, death before the fall, evolution of plants and animals, evolution of man.

    Any one else is welcome to add to or rearrange the list.

  • Matt W.

    I’d say the question has more to do with “Do you believe in the that God had absolutely no part at all in the randomness of natural selection which caused man to have his present form and dispositions, genetically speaking?” or “Do you believe that life came from nowhere?” or “Do you believe in a premortal spirit?” or “Do you believe in causal determinism?” etc?

    Often, we the lay people do not know what is and isn’t evolution, I think.

    Personally, I am sort of an Eyringite on this one, but I know the other side too, I guess.

  • Cap

    “His scriptures are not scientific treatises”

    I have to agree with that. I have learned so much from the scriptures. They are a huge part of my life. They uplift me, and help me to understand this gospel, and also myself. The Gospel is wonderful. But when it comes to science, the scriptures are lacking. When it comes to understanding Evolution, the scriptures are lacking. They are not intended to teach us about evolution. Modern-day Apostles are not called to teach us about Evolution. They are not called to show us what is true and false in science.

    I think I will just stick to the authority of the subject.

    CK Rock – Good list.

  • Is he asking if I believe that this study represents a classic cline in mouse pigmentation?

    I like the twist you put on the question.

  • Thoughtful essay! Some Latter-day Saints are just going to have to get used to the idea that there are a few of us that are orthodox Darwinians. In fact, I put a lot of stock in the scientific method in general. For example, I love theoretical physics, although I can hardly keep up with the math behind it.

    To me, God talks to us through nature (little chance of ever talking me out of this idea too). I tell my students: “Nature does NOT lie, although it sometimes mumbles.”

  • steve

    I like that. I’m going to start telling my students that saying too. Thanks!

  • Ryan

    Cap,
    Regarding your comment on Aug. 7th, 2008, 4:07 pm, which reads, “Modern-day Apostles are not called to teach us about Evolution. They are not called to show us what is true and false in science,” you may want to consider some of President Benson’s 14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet (http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6751):

    “The prophet can receive revelation on any matter–temporal or spiritual.”

    “The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.”

    “The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.”

    This is the same talk where Pres. Benson lamented that “Some would-be authorities on evolution want the prophet to keep still on evolution.”

    Cap also said “When it comes to understanding Evolution, the scriptures are lacking.” I would agree with this completely. And I think the reason is because the scriptures are true and evolution is false. One thing that evolutionists conveniently forget is that their adherence to evolution is based on belief, not science. Science has never verified any instance of macroevolution. So you must BELIEVE that it can happen; it has never been demonstrated. Believing! Now that’s not science, is it? I think we can all agree on that. But evolutionists constantly refuse to admit that they are going beyond the realm of observable science. Let’s represent an accurate picture of what is demonstrated fact and what is belief.
    What I find disturbing is that Church members who believe in evolution will compromise the scriptures in any way they feel they need to, but one thing is always constant and never compromised — their belief in Darwinism.

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