Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Mormons and Evolution

I contribute to a group blog entitled Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation. The subject addressed by this blog involves ongoing, multipart discussions. To maximize distribution, keep my blogging corpus together in one place, and help maintain an illusion of ongoing activity at this site, I cross-post these contributions here (while pointing to the other site for comments---my house is a house of order!). This post, linked permanently on the sidebar and updated as appropriate, serves as a roadmap to my contributions---in their reverse video instantiations, for your reading pleasure.

A reconciliation of Mormonism with evolution would require an appreciation of the issues at stake for believers.
  • A Place at the Table: There must be assurance that evolution does not preclude God's existence.
  • A Redeeming Place at the Table: There must be assurance that evolution does not preclude God's miraculous intervention in the world, and his ability to give us life beyond this world.

A reconciliation of Mormonism with evolution would require coming to grips with our understanding of Church doctrine---what the very notion of "doctrine" is, what it isn't, and how various doctrines touch on evolution.
  • On Doctrine: For purposes of communal coherence, the leading councils of the Church have the right to establish doctrine that defines standards of behavior and the boundaries of official discourse; but what is "official," or "canonized," or bound in leather at any given time is not pristine, perfected, glistening and crystalline Truth, but only a community's best collective contemporary judgment and perception of it.
  • An Ambiguous Ecclesiastical Constitution: The Authority of the President: D&C 107 describes the authority of the President of the Church as comprehensive, but not unlimited.
  • A Rollback of the Classical Mormon Perspective on Humanity's Origin and Destiny?: Some statements by President Hinckley suggest he may be open to the idea that God is only the designer of Adam's physical body, and not its literal father, as the traditional Mormon perspective would have it.

In making a reconciliation with evolution, what should Mormons think of arguments from design? What should their attitude be towards the teaching in public schools of so-called Intelligent Design?
  • Do all things denote there is a God? Is Alma’s teleological argument consistent with Joseph Smith’s mature views on the nature of God, and also with the ancient Hebrew worldview from which Nephite culture sprang?
  • Two Classes of Argument from Design, Which Both Fail: Problems with the view of ‘God as First Cause’ are largely avoided by Joseph’s mature anthropomorphic view of God; but the resulting perspective of ‘God as Engineer’ does not make for a good teleological argument either, because of known examples of ‘specialness amidst randomness’ and ‘specialness from randomness.’
  • Response to God and science: Because the role of God in creation is not testable, it does not belong in scientific theories; hence if Intelligent Design is taught at all it ought not be in science class, but in other areas of the curriculum, or in other venues.

What attempts at reconciling Mormonism with evolution have been made in the past?
  • What Did Nibley Think of Evolution? Nibley goes further than most Mormons in taking the findings of science seriously in thinking about the meaning of scriptural creation accounts, but in the end his engaging and bold approach fails on scientific grounds, right where it matters most: the origin of man.

How are ideas related to reconciliation of Mormonism with evolution received among our readers? Informal polls (collected here) provide feedback that, while less than statistically representative of Church membership, is nevertheless interesting.

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