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It depends on what one means by evolution. Some evolutionary theories are cardinal heresies others are reasonably compatible with the fundamental doctrines of the Church.

You use the word "heresies" with such relish, Mark ...

I think the differences between Gould and Dawkin's positions can primarily be attributed to their radically different targets. The religion which Gould speaks of is VERY different from that which Dawkins speaks of. The religion which has no overlap whatsoever with science is certainly not the religion of the popular masses which Dawkins criticizes. Yes, we can easily have a religion which does not conflict with science by simply throwing most all of the Old Testament as well as a good portion of the other scriptures in the trash. To claim that 1) religion makes only "value" claim and no empirical claims and 2) that a strict line of separation can be drawn between the two seems counter intuitive at best.

Would you care to elucidate which of these theories you see as being heritical?

My personal belief in evolution is this. The scientific facts behind evolution seem to be incontestable. But the belief in its randomness is just that, a belief. I believe that the Lord has at least occasionally guided the evolutionary process to produce the results he wanted to obtain.

And He uses evolution as his tool. Science cannot prove or disprove this since it is a matter of Faith. So this is not a matter of science at all. Any insistence on a random process is likewise not subject to scientific proof.

Jeff G,
I don't think we have to throw them in the trash. We just have to regard the empirical claims as instances of religion venturing outside of its magisterium and look for the underlying spiritual truth. For example, obviously the account of the Creation in Genesis is not historical. But that doesn't mean we dismiss it entirely. We take it on faith that it teaches God's word so we look for truths that the account teaches about man's relationship to God, while acknowledging that it's not historically accurate.

Dave quotes what he calls "the 1931 First Presidency statement on evolution." The fact is, however, that there was no 1931 statement on evolution.

The quoted 1931 memo (which, by the way, has never been published by the Church) was issued privately to Church leaders in response to a priesthood manual submitted in 1928 by Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy.

Neither the author nor his manuscript were sympathetic to evolution. Roberts had previously written, "the claims of evolution ... are contrary to all experience so far as man's knowledge extends" and his manuscript affirmed "each subdivision of life ... produces after its kind, whereas evolution in all its forms destroys that thought."

Problems arose, however, because the Roberts manuscript attempted to reconcile fossils with scripture using a bizarre personal theory that was both unscientific and doctrinally unsupportable. When asked to remove references to this theory, Roberts became uncooperative and the matter was referred to the First Presidency who ruled in April 1931 that further discussion of the manuscript and its unorthodox interpretations of "geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology" would lead only to "confusion, division, and misunderstanding." Accordingly, the manual remained unpublished.

The 1931 First Presidency statement was not about evolution. It was about the B. H. Roberts manuscript.

Gary, with all due respect, I don't think you are particularly well-informed about the status of LDS pronouncements on evolution. Go to Jeff Lindsay's post on evolution and follow the link to Michael Ash's article "The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution." Here's an excerpt regarding the EOM and the evolution article:

The most recent, and the most authoritative, words on the official LDS position on evolution are found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. This five-volume reference set [was] printed in 1992 with the strictest of supervision by the brethren (overseen by Neal A. Maxwell and Dallin H. Oaks) and edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, who was executive secretary of the Church Correlation Committee ...

No doubt you have a dozen quotes from dead prophets supporting your view of things. Go post them at NDBF and I'd be happy to comment further.

Incidentally, as a biologist, I can say that Dawkins' view is not shared by the biologists that I know. Obviously, there are a lot of atheists and agnostics, but I have not come across anyone as virulently anti-religion as Dawkins.

As a doctor I can REALLY appreciate the dawkins perspective. We are faced with some daunting ethical issues all the time. While certainly not all doctors are religious, \these are issues that really stretch my faith and increase my reliance on God. They do even moreso to the patients. I think a lack of respect for religion harms many a physician in the public view. I shudder to think that science would ever be relied upon to provide the answers to these questions. If you reduce euthenasia questions to economics for example, you have just started the slippery slope right to Fascist Germany.

Dave (re #8), It is ironic how you bristle regarding the 1931 statement. The 2006 First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve aren't dead. They approved NDBF in the current MP/RS manual. Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelsen aren't dead either. Both are clearly on record at LDS.org regarding NDBF and evolution.

On the other hand, your appeal to the authority of Encyclopedia of Mormonism fails on at least two levels.

First, the Encyclopedia preface stresses that "the role of the Encyclopedia [should not] be given more weight than it deserves." In fact, the editors "make it clear that those who have written and edited have only tried to explain their understanding of Church history, doctrines, and procedures; their statements and opinions remain their own." The efforts of BYU and Macmillan Publishing "do not necessarily represent the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Preface)

Second, the Encyclopedia teaches NDBF: "The Fall of Adam brought death [to] all creatures.... Adam and Eve were not subject to death until the Fall [when] mortality and its consequent death descended upon them, and subsequently upon all mankind and all other living things." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:676.) "Death ... was introduced to this world through the Fall of Adam and Eve." (Ibid., 2:677.)

I don't know Dave, Gary knows an awful lot about the church's position or non-position on evolution. I consider him to be a greater authority on the matter than Lindsay is. As much as I disapprove of the interpretation which most members will draw from the point which Gary and his site argue for, this doesn't change the fact that I think Gary's point is right. (It took me a long-long time to finally figure out what that point was. Thanks for the patience Gary! ;-) )


Your position is exactly what Dawkins wants and expects the religious person to take. While it's clear to us that Genesis cannot be interpreted both historically as well as being accurate, the religious assumption that it is the historicity rather than the accuracy which must be sacrificed is clearly motivated by prejudice. It is just as clear that Genesis was meant to be read as historical as it is that Genesis cannot be read as historical truth.

the religious assumption that it is the historicity rather than the accuracy which must be sacrificed is clearly motivated by prejudice.

True. I'm not saying that Dawkins or Joe Atheist would approve of the approach I propose. It's a way that prejudiced people (people with faith that the Bible contains the word of God) can be in compliance with NOMA if they want, yet still find value in the word. To the believer, the fact that Genesis was meant to be taken literally but can't be doesn't mean that there is no truth to be learned from it. It's not a particularly defensible position, but such is faith.

Jared E.,

Strictly speaking, neo-orthodox Darwinism entails the assertion that God had nothing to do with the Creation, that the forms of all life are an accident more or less, and furthermore denies the influence of morally significant free will or intentionality in the whole process from then until now.

In other words, as generally understood, neo-orthodox Darwinism is atheism, or at least a reduction of the true and living God to the sterile God of the philosophers, at the very best, and much more commonly to the even deader God of the scientists.

Just so Jeff G's comments (#12) don't confuse anyone, he's not really agreeing with Gary. Jeff's response to that sort of thinking is more clearly expressed in this post at the Mormons and Evolution blog. Of course, that was over a year ago and I know Jeff's thinking has changed. Maybe he believes in a young Earth now.

Gary's point, which it is taking him a long time to realize and with which he likely disagrees, is that some LDS leaders were and (to the extent any of them still buy into the 19th-century view) still are flat out wrong about evolution. This is not an earth-shaking idea: there were senior LDS leaders who couldn't change their views about plural marriage in the 1890s and 1900s, and eventually got exed. With the racial priesthood ban, God just waited for most of those who couldn't see past their racial prejudices to die, after which President Kimball strong-armed the few remaining holdouts and changed the policy. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

With evolution, the policy has already changed. It changed the day they started offering the evolution class at BYU. That's obvious to just about everyone. The 1931 statement is relevant because it was adopted and incorporated by the EOM editors in 1992, and (as noted by Ash) represents the most current LDS position. The editors adopted it for the EOM (rejecting other and longer drafts by other LDS scientists) because it best represented what the LDS leadership wanted said (and what it didn't want to say) about the present LDS position on evolution. It really does. And it really doesn't say that much. The fact that you are in complete disagreement with what little it does say shows how far out of touch your thinking on this topic has become, Gary.

Fortunately, one can hold errant views on a variety of topics and still be a perfectly good Mormon. Senior leaders try to avoid public statements on evolution for the same reason they try to avoid making political statements: it would alienate some active Mormons over what they view as essentially a peripheral issue. It's not worth arguing over.

And I'm not really arguing the point. I'm willing to agree to disagree, Gary, but when you post long comments on my blog suggesting present LDS leadership and thinking embrace your fundamentalist views, I have to respond. If you post this stuff over at NDBF, then you can say whatever you want without me objecting.

Well, you are pretty much right about my position, but I don't think that you have Gary's quite right. His position isn't simply that some church leaders have spoken against evolution, but rather that the church as a whole has taken a position on the matter, even if we don't like to call it official. Even if the statement against evolution aren't all that direct, all the official and less than official teachings of the church leaders on down to the present assume the falsity of evolution. Take for example the doctrine of NDBF.

The church has basically taken a very political stance on the matter in that they encourage people to not believe in evolution without having to take the bad PR which would come along with outright denying evolution. Thus, while the church will never officially come out and say evolution is false, they will continue to preach against it indirectly.

The idea that the church is completely neutral on the subject is an exaggeration, according to Gary. Yes, there are lot's of statements which say that the church has no position, but this should be interpreted within the context which I mentioned above. What Gary wants to make clear is that those statements which evolutionist Mormons are so fond of quoting simply shouldn't make them think that the church is as neutral on the subject as they want to think it is.

The bottom line for me on the question of the Church's position on evolution is this: nobody faces ecclesiastical discipline for believing or teaching evolution, evolution is robustly taught at its flagship university, nobody argues in official venues directly against evolution (no, Gary, Elder Nelson's recent talk on the Fall doesn't argue directly against evolution). As a practical matter, the Church is neutral on evolution, even if some leaders wish I wouldn't believe it.

While there was a lot in DOM:Rise of Modern Mormonism I did not like (The Paul Dunn 2-3 quotes a chapter habit, The Sensationalism, the ironic speculation, the egotistical introduction by prince) I did appreciate his directly quoting Mckay's belief in evolution.

Of the Current General Authorities, we have pretty good evidence that Oaks, Eyring, and Holland may support evolution. We have Strong evidence that Packer is for NDBF, and quasi evidence for Hinckley and Nelson leaning to the NDBF side. I'd say we can't infer much from the rest.

Yes, I think you can observe "operational neutrality" by contrast with other institutional orthodoxies. Some Protestant denominations make opposition to evolution an article of faith which, if contravened, effectively puts one outside the circle of good standing. Many academic orthodoxies make acceptance of evolution and public repudiation of Creation (in almost any sense) a required position.

The present LDS position takes neither tack. Leaders prefer to avoid the question as one that can only offend members they would rather not offend. No one is subject to discipline for any belief related to evolution. I don't know how the Church could get any more neutral. The fact that individual leaders do have their own views that on occasion they slip out does not compromise institutional neutrality, it just means leaders can speak their mind from time to time. Which means the Church does not muzzle its leaders -- another praiseworthy institutional feature. The fact that you have to dig quite a bit to find LDS statements that lean one way or the other is another good indicator of institutional neutrality.

When the closest thing to a modern LDS position statement says this -- "Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church" -- I don't know how one can conclude anything other than LDS institutional neutrality on the subject.

Jeff, it's hard to escape the impression you are caricaturing the LDS position so as to more easily criticize it.

Jeff, it's hard to escape the impression you are caricaturing the LDS position so as to more easily criticize it.


Dave and Geoff,

I can see why you would think that, but I was actually trying to explain what Gary's position is. Now of course that position is then used by Gary and myself in two very different ways, namely that he sees it as reason to not believe in evolution while I see it as reason to think that church and/or its leaders are simply wrong on this matter. Nevertheless, I do think that it is a fairly accurate representation of what the church's position is once one stops with all the nonsense about official/non-official/personal beliefs.

While one will occasionally find private and personal confessions on record of church leaders believing in evolution, all public statement which do take a stand on the issue, however indirectly, almost all point in the same direction. Furthermore, it remain very dubious what these confessions actually amount to, especially with relation to NDBF. I simply have to conclude with Gary that while the church may have no "official" position on the matter (whatever that may mean), they certainly have a position nonetheless.

Now of course, as Geoff knows, I have conjured up a version of NDBF which is fully consistent with evolution, but the fact is no single church authority has ever taught it. Furthermore, most members, and I suspect most leaders would not at all be excited about the allegorical twist which such a reconciliation forces on the entire Adam story.

In the end, I don't think that I'm really criticizing the church for their stance on evolution. Sure, I see their position as being wrong, but so what? I see it as being entirley possible for a fully faithful Mormon to believe in the strongest form of evolution. I simply want to make it clear, with Gary, that reconciliation is not the simply task which many hope it to be.

Actually I tend to agree with Jeff's portrayal of Gary. I think Gary brought some very necessary critiques of the neutrality issue, even if almost everyone tends to get confused by what he's arguing for.

I don't think Jeff's misrepresenting the Church either. Rather the issue is the ambiguity over what the Church is. To turn to the analogous situation Dave suggested. Did the Church teach that polygamy was essential for salvation? Did the Church teach Adam/God? Well, it depends upon what one means by "the Church."

I think both sides are right in this. Clearly in terms of official doctrine the Church is neutral on evolution at this time. However in terms of more quasi-official stuff the anti-evolution stuff outweighs the neutral stuff by quite a bit. Which is ultimately Gary's point.

"Any insistence on a random process is likewise not subject to scientific proof."--from comment #5.

This seems to be a common stance for coupling evolution with a belief in God as a creator, but I suspect it depends on ignorance of stochastic processes. Randomness is a testable proposition.

John, when people talk randomness they aren't clear what they mean by randomness. Are they talking randomness as an epistemological point (as it was typically taken in the 19th century and before due to determinism seen inherent in Newton) or are they taking it as an ontological view. Such questions don't appear to be testable in an ultimate fashion.

However indirect arguments against randomness and God's control arise. i.e. why this particular set of affairs. Obviously we can't, ala Leibniz, say this is the best of all possible worlds. At a certain point have God direct everything becomes more and more implausible (IMO).

Jeff G. correctly understands the LDS NDBF position. He doesn't believe it, but he understands it. He made an excellent comment about it last month at millennialstar.org.

Dave, the phrase "leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology" has never been published by the LDS Church in any magazine or manual. How then can it be "a modern LDS position statement"?

The problem is about this whole controversy is that the whole dispute is based on a false dichotomy. The idea that Moses is a strictly literal account of two people who partook of a piece of fruit and brought mortality upon the whole word is not supported even by the book of Moses.

Moses 1:34 says the Adam was many. Moses 4:26 says the same thing about Eve. The whole account describes a society in an immortal state. NDBF is the doctrine of the scriptures.

So rather than trying to force fit the Garden into a few days six thousand years ago (something that is a ridiculously untenable proposition), it makes far more sense to understand it as an allegory of our first estate.

This is directly supported by D&C 20:20, which says "that by transgression of these holy laws mankind became carnal, sensual, and devilish, and became fallen man". It is also more than supported in the temple as well.

Unwitting hyper-literalism is the "stupid gospel" and it brings discredit upon the whole Church. It introduces non-scriptural propositions as some sort of binding creed, and then presumes, without proper authority, that all who do not believe it (a manifest falsehood) will be damned.

Gary, the EOM article is a reliable statement of the current LDS position because LDS leaders let it be known that they carefully reviewed and approved it before it was published in a highly publicized reference work that was published with the informal sponsorship of senior LDS leaders and with the active editorial participation of some General Authorities. I have read that private inquiries to the Church regarding the LDS position on evolution are answered by sending out a copy of the 1931 statement or the EOM article, but I don't have a link or reference handy to confirm that. Perhaps someone else can give a link. I would be surprised if you haven't sent them a letter or two yourself, Gary. How do they reply?

In any case, I'm sure we're both agreed that nothing in McConkie's Mormon Doctrine or Joseph Fielding Smith's various books should be relied upon. They were not only "not published by the Church" but were either opposed by LDS leaders (Man's Origin and Destiny) or privately repudiated after the fact (when McConkie, not even an apostle at the time, pretentiously published a book holding itself out as a definitive statement on Mormon Doctrine). They did a lot of harm to the Church by publicizing their personal views. Too bad they didn't just follow good counsel and keep their ideas to themselves.

Bottom line: I see the 1992 endorsement of the 1931 statement -- which simply reaffirmed the LDS commitment to not meddle with scientific views -- as the best statement of the official LDS position in 2006. And that's what we're really after here, the LDS position on evolution in September 2006. If LDS leaders want to change the well-understood neutral position they have been pushing for thirty years or more, they won't bury it in a priesthood manual that no one reads, they'll make a public statement that gets noticed.

I don't think I can add much to what has been said. I agree with Clark and Jeff. Additionally, I don't think Gary's personal views on evolution are strident as it might appear. Rather, his arguments have largely been about historical accuracy and I think he makes many good points.

I think people can reasonably disagree on what the inclusion of the 1931 statement in the EOM means for the Church's position now. Gary's point is that the statement was not about evolution then.

Mark (and others who hold that Eden is an allegory about our first estate), do you believe in a literal Adam? If so what was/will be his role in the plan of salvation?

Dave (#27), are you willing to be consistent on that appeal to the EOM though? That is, how do you deal with Gary's quote of the fall introducing death to all creatures as being in the EOM? It seems that is at odds with the pro-evolutionary stance since it's pretty impossible to reconcile the two. (Unless you think Adam Eve were wandering around the earth around the rise of bacteria)

Clark, those quotes aren't from the "Evolution" article. I'm not vouching for the whole EOM, I'm just saying that the evolution entry states the most current LDS position.

I put the whole "no death before the Fall" idea in the same class as the worldwide flood and the continents flying apart in the days of Peleg. My advice (and I have it from a reliable source) is this: "Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research ..."

But Dave, you can see how that leads to a bit of a contradiction if you appeal to the EOM. i.e. there appears to be a bit of a double standard.

I certainly agree with you. But I think those arguing for neutrality on the basis of the EOM are being more than a tad misleading.

Clark, about a year ago you put up your own M-Star post about a SL Trib article specifically noting that the wording of the 1931 statement is distributed to BYU students as the LDS position (as of 1993) and that a book published in 2002 explicitly stated that Pres. Hinckley shares the view of the 1931 statement.

I'm not basing my belief that the LDS position is expressed in the 1931 letter solely on the fact that it appears in the EOM article. I'm basing it on the fact that every statement the leaders make that has the aura of an official statement (EOM, BYU packet, statements by President Hinckley) uses that language. They could have put an entry in True to the Faith -- and they really should have -- but it is plain enough where it stands now.

It's not like neutrality is a stick to beat people with -- it is "neutral." But it's good enough to keep cowboy bishops from holding disciplinary proccedings against biologists and it is effective at keeping well-meaning folks still laboring under the doctrinal fog of the Smith-McConkie era from painting the Church into a corner.

My view is that the church teachs NDBF, a doctrine which presupposes no strong form of evolution. When worries arise concerning this presupposition, the official answer is "Don't worry about it."

The idea that the EOM constitutes the "official doctrine" seems like wishful thinking. I question the whole idea that there is really any such thing as "official" doctrine, but if you want to know what the church teaches you should look at what it actually teaches: i.e lesson manuals, conference talks, the Ensign, missionary discussions, the "missionary library," the LDS editions of the scriptures, etc. The EOM is not even published by the church, is not used in church meetings or proselyting in any way, is not even available to most members, and I doubt most members have even heard of it.

Ed, I agree that in some discussions, the approach you outline is the right perspective. What most Mormons believe might differ from what senior LDS leaders want them to believe. CES and supplementary curriculum material introduce a middle layer that might have its own rather independent approach on some topics, including evolution, although Correlation was supposed to fix that.

As I see it, the concern with "official" positions relates to doctrinal or historical positions that can get you in trouble with the disciplinary system or, to be more polite, are used by leaders to define LDS membership. Since early in the 20th century faculty members were terminated from BYU by the LDS Commissioner of Education (an ironic title!) for teaching evolution at BYU, and certain individual LDS leaders have, in times past, equated acceptance of evolution as a form of apostasy, it is important to establish that officially a member or academic can accept evolution without running afoul of LDS disciplinary system (even in the hands of what I refer to as a cowboy bishop).

It would be nice if there were a Mormon catechism, especially given the extent to which Mormon Doctrine was incorrectly held by many members to be exactly that (which is why senior LDS leaders were so upset with McConkie for publishing it). True to the Faith fills some of that gap, but it contains no direct statements on evolution that I have found.

Gomez (#29),

Yes I believe in a literal Adam. Moses 1:34 is not an either or kind of thing. Adam was the first man of all men, and he was also many. Abr 2:10-11 applies three or for different meanings to the name Abraham in the same manner:

1. Abraham : an individual invested with a name
2. Abraham : individual and all his natural posterity
3. Abraham : individual and all those who obey the gospel

That is a recursive definition by the way, something that can often be noticed in Hebrew names by the presence of the letter Aleph, which is a place holder for the divine name, or someone who bears it. I posted on this at Millennial Star the other day (Leader of the Band).

The way Adam (as an individual) relates to Adam (as a synechdochical, pars pro toto reference to mankind in his fallen state) should be understood in a manner comparable to relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and those persons who faithfully bear his name, the members of the body of Christ.

In other words, Adam wasn't perfect either, he had faults representative of the whole, but through the plan of salvation he is now known as Michael (the e is an aleph) the prince - one who is like unto God. There is a pattern of name "upgrades" in the gospel, where individuals and groups are invested with greater names according to humility, righteousness, and preparation.

Thanks for responding Mark. If you don't mind I have another question. If the species had been evolving for millenia what was Adam (individual) the first of? Do you think he was the first to whom God revealed Himself and the plan of salvation?

Dave, my point is like Jeff's. We have contradictory positions taught in the church when one thinks through the implications. NDBF is incompatible with neutrality towards evolution. Now I agree that neutrality is more aimed at overzealous Bishops, CES instructors and the like. i.e. like so much it is more primarily a political rather than doctrinal act. So I don't disagree with you there and certainly welcome Pres. Hinkley's actions. But clearly there are some doctrinal difficulties that could do with some official clarifying. (Which I doubt will ever happen - rather I think folks will slowly just realize over the decades that evolution is true and different exegesis of scriptures will dominate in the community - we'll look back at NDBF comments the way we do unfortunate racial comments)


When I say the first estate, I mean the era that started with the first man of all men received a spirit body, created of the dust of the earth in what I call the "surrection" (as opposed to the "re-surrection). That event presumably occured more than six hundred million years ago, as the record of mortality on this earth is at least that long.

In answer to your specific question, we have no hard means of verifying that the first man Adam is the same as the Adam we know. One of these name-title things - theologically it makes little or no difference. We cannot tell whether the Most High pertaining to this earth is the Most High pertaining to all eternity either.

Now one of the reasons why I say that certain types of evolutionary theories are heresies is that by explicitly denying divine power (or influence) in bringing about the surrection (even by gradualist means) they explicitly contradict the divine power required to bring about the re-surrection. And then John Maynard Keynes would be correct when he said - "In the long run, we are all dead".

And a tip of the hat to Mr. Keynes seems like a nice place to end this thread. Thanks for the lively discussion, folks.

Gary has put up two posts (here and here) to restate his position on the LDS view of evolution, and I encourage interested readers to go visit his site and contribute there.

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