Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Place at the Table

Why is evolution unpalatable to many Mormons? Unlike more fundamentalist devotees of the Bible---who tend to lump an "old earth" and evolution together---most Mormons seem capable of swallowing the former, while still choking on the latter.

Of Elder McConkie's litany of traditional doctrines to which evolution might be noxious, the first item on the list---God's creative role---wields a particularly potent psychological impact, and has far-reaching implications.

One of these implications---the question of God's existence---will be explored here.

At the Church's electronic interface to the world, one of many questions answered is How can I know that God exists? The answer's opening sentence states that there are many such evidences, but only one is explicitly cited and discussed: "the testimony of His creations." References to Psalm 19:1 and Alma 30:44 buttress the argument.

God's relationship to nature is seen differently by the believer and the skeptic. As exemplified above, for the believer, the creation is prima facie evidence of the existence of God. The skeptic turns this argument on its head: gods were invented to explain forces of nature beyond humanity's comprehension.

Evolution is anathema to so many because in the context of this argument over the existence of God, it is perceived as a potent weapon in the skeptic's hands. By telling plausible stories of man's origin without reference to God, the believer's usual prima facie evidence for God's existence is invalidated. (An "old earth"---merely stretching out the time scale of creation---is not usually perceived by Mormons as having the same effect, though it could: If there is such a powerful god, why did he take 4.5 billion years to create the world instead of six days?)

Any reconciliation between Mormons and evolution must begin by giving God a place at the table. At its etymological roots, 'reconciliation' is 'to sit down together again.' Evolution's disposal of the prima facie case for God's existence is perceived by many as the equivalent of banishment of the King from his own banquet hall, a rebellious expulsion at the hands of the generously invited lowly subjects! Reconciliation requires that the King be explicitly invited back in. To gain widespread traction for evolution among believers, the shock of this rupture must be soothed, the apparent breach of protocol resolved: The first task must be to identify evidences for the existence of God other than the wonders of nature, and compellingly articulate why they should be given primacy.

As this post is sufficiently long, and this author insufficiently qualified, these tasks are left as exercises for the comments---and for other posts, and sermons, and articles, and books.

[This is cross-posted from Mormon Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation. Please go to the original post to comment.]