Theistic evolution is the belief that God uses evolution to create life.
I accept this proposition, to a certain extent. I believe that one of the joys of being a creator of worlds without number is seeing how life evolves on worlds without divine intervention. The Creator placed life on His worlds and subjected it to the vicissitudes of chance and time (Ecclesiastes 9:11). So, in a manner of speaking, the effects of time and chance are part of the grand master plan.
Thus we see that there is harmony between randomness and divine purpose. Contrary to Einstein’s assertion that the Creator does not leave anything to chance (i.e., all events, including falling dice, are law governed), God allows randomness and apparently “uses” it to accomplish His creative objectives (more on these objectives in the next paragraph). Divine purpose and randomness are compatible. They can co-exist peacefully!
It is important for us to recognize the compatibility between divine creation and randomness because, as science has shown, random events occur at the genomic level. Random mutation is a fundamental tenet of neo-Darwinism. According to the reputable Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science, “The theory of neo-Darwinism asserts that much of the evolutionary change observed at the molecular level occurs via random genetic drift.”
Because God and randomness are compatible under certain circumstances, there are no theoretical problems with asserting that He relies on evolutionary, random, genetic drift to achieve His objectives (by ‘objectives’, I am referring to the creation of new and interesting variations without direct divine intervention). So if God sometimes relies on evolutionary randomness, what is wrong with believing in theistic evolution?
The problem lies with the creation of man (and woman). You see, most theistic evolutionists believe that Adam and Eve’s bodies evolved from lower life forms, just like every other mammal. This claim is entirely inconsistent with gospel doctrine.
The gospel teaches that the creation of mankind was purposeful and directed – it could be no less because mankind had to be created in the image of God (Moses 6:8-9). The creation of mankind was not left up to the vicissitudes of chance over time. The Creator was not looking for new and interesting variations when He created mankind. It had to be done a certain way, in a manner that did not involve randomness inherent in evolution. The creation of mankind was not a processes to be left to evolutionary creativity. Prominent Latter-day Saint scholars support this view.
Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote:
Some have argued for a form of theistic evolution—that is, a God-inspired evolution—in which lower forms of life progressed over great periods of time to the point that God could take the spirit of the man Adam and place it in an animal and declare it to be the first man. The argument is at odds both with scripture and with an official declaration of the First Presidency on the origin of man.
Robert J. Mathews similarly wrote:
The theistic evolutionist often speaks of a guided evolution, in which God intervenes in the process. There are those in and out of the Church who, because they believe in a divine being, sincerely attempt to hold to both the theory of evolution and their faith in God as creator. It is my opinion that in the eternal plan of God these two positions are incompatible.
I have heard rationalizations from Latter-day Saints desperately wanting to reconcile gospel doctrine and their belief in common descent. I cannot fault them for trying, however, their efforts have largely proved ineffectual. Their explanations lack theoretical and theological rigor. For instance, a common explanation is that God-directed evolution only appears random to us lowly mortals. This explanation falls short because the real issue is not one of appearances; it is one of what is ontologically real about the creation of mankind. In other words, at its foundation, was the creation of mankind driven by chance processes as evolution asserts, or was it guided by deity? If God created mankind with guided “evolutionary” processes, then it really wasn’t evolution, was it, regardless of appearances?
Parallel evolution is another perfunctory attempt at reconciling the theory of evolutionary descent with gospel doctrine on the creation of man. In a manner of speaking, parallel evolution refers to the independent evolution of similar traits in life forms that shared similar ancestral conditions. Put differently, two organisms with similar traits may evolve in a similar manner in different settings. I suppose that this is supposed to show that there is an underlying law or metaphysical principle guiding the evolution of similar traits in separate environmental contexts, and that this principle has something to do with God’s influence.
Atheistic evolutionists will readily concede that parallel evolution reflects the underlying laws of nature governing evolutionary processes, but they will also add that those laws are purposeless and are not devised by higher intelligence. Theistic evolutionists, on the other hand, will say that parallel evolution evidences a purposeful creator, that he set the laws of evolution in motion and dictated how those laws were to work from the beginning.
How do the atheists feel about divine guided evolution? They do not like it, and rightfully so. For atheists, parallel evolution just shows that there are underlying laws of nature resulting in uniform progression. Atheists believe in law governed evolution, however, they reject that those laws were created for a divine purpose. The laws are just laws, nothing more and nothing less. Atheists reject divine, purpose-driven evolution because, as they correctly point out, at its core evolution is purposeless.
Notwithstanding their anti-religious stance, Richard Dawkins and Will Provine are two evolution atheists who tend to think more clearly about this issue than most theistic evolutionists. Here is what they had to say about believing that God provided the laws of evolution for the purpose of creating mankind.
If I were God, I wouldn’t do it by evolution! I would do it directly. By invoking the idea of evolution by natural selection as God’s way of doing it, you are in effect invoking the one way which makes it look as though God isn’t there. So if God chose that way of doing it, then he deliberately chose a way which totally covered his tracks.
I think creation scientists are very intellectually honest in their beliefs. If evolution is true, then none of the things that deeply religious people want to be true are in fact true. No God. No life after death. No free will. No ultimate meaning in life and no ultimate foundation for ethics. All these things are taken away.
So what are we to conclude about Latter-day Saints who embrace theistic evolution, notwithstanding its inconsistencies with true gospel doctrine and evolution orthodoxy? Perhaps LDS scholar Robert J. Mathews put it best when he wrote:
It may be that the believer who accepts [theistic evolution] has simply never thought it out to its logical, moral conclusions.
Well, I finally got around to finishing my January 2009 issue of Scientific American, you know, the special issue on the "most powerful idea in science" (shhh! Don't tell Einstein). I think most of the evolution articles were well written. I particularly enjoyed “Evolution in the Everyday World” which talks about how evolution is being applied in technology, criminology, medicine, and computer science. Because I graduated with a doctoral degree in psychology, I was especially interested in “The Four Fallacies of Pop Evolution Psychology.”
Generally speaking, evolutionary psychology uses evolutionary principles to understand human development and behavior. It is “the new kid on the block” in the discipline of psychology. It has only been around (in classrooms and texts) for about 10 years. I thought that the queen bee, evolution biology, would welcome this new offspring into the hive and put it “under her wing” until evolutionary psychology could successfully branch out on its own. On the contrary, she views the new discipline as an unwanted species resulting from an unfortunate mutation in the social sciences. And so now the queen bee is trying to artificially select it for elimination. That’s right folks; evolutionary psychology has been voted off the hive by evolution biologists.
Hoooray! As several hundred of my former students know, I don’t think too highly of evolutionary psychology. I have always said that it was intellectually bankrupted from the get go, and Scientific American (SCIAM) agrees, to a certain extent.
I found it interesting that SCIAM calls it “pop evolution psychology,” as if to suggest that there may be a legitimate evolutionary psychology out there somewhere – yeah right! SCIAM sould have just called it “evolutionary psychology” because the scholars it attacks are those the psychology discipline recognizes as modern architects of the evolutionary psychology movement, notables like Steve Pinker. SCIAM’s criticisms are legitimate, but as we shall soon see, this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
According to the article, evolutionary psychologists attempt to understand human behavior by “analyzing the adaptive problems our ancestors faced [long ago].” However, the article also points out that claims regarding our ancestors’ adaptive problems “are purely speculative because we have little evidence of the conditions under which early human evolution occurred.” In other words, evolutionary psychologists can’t say for certain what conditions and adaptive challenges existed long ago because they were not there!
The article also points out that for evolutionary psychologists to effectively speculate on how adaptation to environmental challenges influenced our ancestors’ psychological traits, we need “knowledge of our ancestors’ psychological traits – which we don’t have – [so] we can’t know how selection tinkered with them to create the minds we now possess.” In other words, evolutionary psychologists cannot speak authoritatively on how our minds developed because we are missing too much information, thus they resort to best-guess story telling to fill in the gaps.
The gist of these and other criticisms is that evolutionary psychology is plagued by speculation. It lacks facts to back up the ideas it’s advocating. Jack Nicholaus might put it this way: “You evolutionary psychologists are writing checks (hypotheses) that your research (facts) can’t cash!”
Well done evolution biology, but did you notice that some of the criticisms you leveled at evolutionary psychology also apply to you? That’s right – you better be careful when pointing a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you, you schmuck.
In the same edition, SCIAM also presents in stunning artistic detail the human pedigree showing the evolution of mankind. The article boldly claims that “we KNOW that our closest living ancestor is the chimpanzee and that humans arose in Africa between five million and seven million years ago.” Somewhat surprisingly, after making this bold claim, the article admits these 4 weaknesses: (a) “the human family tree contains many dead branches;” (b) “the story of our origins is far from complete;” (c) paleontologists have yet to find “fossils of the last common ancestor [linking] chimpanzees are humans,” and (d) we have yet to learn how “homo sapiens [were] able to outcompete the Neandertals and other archaic humans.”
Soooo, what evolution biology is saying is it lacks facts to back up several of its assertions regarding the human pedigree because its wasn't there when those things happened, and it is left with conjecture when filling many of the gaps of the human pedigree. Wait a minute! Yet evolution biology claims to KNOW that humanity arose in Africa 5-7 million years ago as a close relative of chimpanzees?!
Evolutionary biology, when it comes to the origins of mankind, like the evolutionary psychologists, you too are writing checks (hypotheses) that your research (facts) can’t cash!
Biological reductionism asserts that every human experience is reducible to biological events, inlcuding human consciousness. While I do not deny that our physical bodies influence conscious experiences in mortality, it is not true that our bodies are the fundamental source of consciousness - our spirits are.
Before entering mortality we existed as conscious, sentient, learning, and agentic spiritual beings. None of these spiritual characteristics were taken from us when we entered this life under a veil of forgetfulness. In this life we still possess a sentient spirit. Unfortunately, all too often the learning and truth acquiring capabilities of our spirits are brushed aside and often denied by modern-day biological reductionism.
God provided us with 2 major ways for acquire truth; they are both important to our quest for truth and happiness in this life. They are the empirico-rational approach and the spiritual approach.
The empirico-rational approach is the domain of science. We learn by touching, smelling, hearing, and seeing the world around us and by thinking about the world in a logical fashion. Good science involves observing and thinking about the natural world in a clear and objective manner.
The spiritual approach is outside of the domain of science, but it is no less important in the quest for truth. According to the spiritual approach, we learn when the Holy Ghost and Light of Christ communicate with our spirits. Good spiritual learning involves fine tuning our spirits to the frequencies of these two spiritual powers.
In our material, science-driven world I am concerned that we underestimate the power of spiritual learning. Here is a little exercise to demonstrate this point.
Think back to a time when you had a powerful spiritual experience - a time when the Spirit communicated with your spirit by answering prayer, testifying the truth of a gospel principle, bringing peace to your life, or by enlightening your mind. Ok, now think back to the birthday cake you ate and the presents you opened on your 18th birthday. Which experience stands out more in your mind? Which can you remember better? Both events were meaningful to us, but which left a more lasting impression - the empirical or spiritual?
As time passes, empirical experiences turn to shades of black and white and tend to become clouded with uncertainty. On the other hand, powerful spiritual experiences live on in vivid color and retain their brightness. Why is this so? I do not know all the reasons why, but one thing is clear: Spiritual learning is real, powerful, long lasting, and, more importantly, provides certain knowledge of things that the Lord communicates to us.
In fact, spiritual knowledge is just as certain and real as empirical knowledge. Moreover, given that our eyes, ears, and touch can deceive us but the Lord never will, spiritual knowledge is oftentimes more real and certain than everyday empirical knowledge. I have experienced this in my own life. On more than one occasion I have known the certainty of some personally important idea or event because it was made known unto me by the Spirit of the Lord.
So as we go about acquiring truth via the empirico-rational model of science, let’s not forget the spiritual model of acquiring truth. The spiritual model is not solely limited to the religious domain; it can be applied in other areas as well, including science and secular scholarship. One of the greatest scientific minds of all time was aided by the Spirit of the Lord in discovering a revolutionary scientific truth. When asked how he discovered the mathematical laws of gravity, Newton replied: “I [kept] the subject constantly before me and wait[ed] ‘till the first dawnings open[ed] slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”