In the January 2009 special edition of Scientific American there is a scathing report on evolutionary psychology (EP). The report raises concerns about the way evolutionary psychology is being carried out and the truth claims it is making. The article was written by Dr. David Butler, a professor of philosophy at Northern Illinois University.
I should point out that Butler believes that our mental capacities evolved, however, he is skeptical of the truth claims being made in EP. He says that many of the “grand and encompassing” claims lack rigorous empirical evidence. The claims may be correct, but EP does not have sufficient evidence to back them up.
Here are the four concerns he raises.
1. We cannot know our ancestors’ psychological traits.
EP claims to understand the adaptive problems that our Pleistocene ancestors faced. An understanding of these adaptive problems is essential to understanding how the human mind evolved. Yet, Butler points out, the paleontological record provides few clues about the challenges our early ancestors faced. It also says very little about their social interactions which would have played a major role in shaping how the human mind evolved to cope with social challenges. Without knowing the social and physical challenges they faced, we know very little about their psychology. If we do not know the psychological starting point, we cannot know how evolution shaped their minds.
2. Evolutionary psychologists are limited in their use of comparative methods.
To better understand how and why our adaptive mental traits evolved, one must do comparative research (i.e., compare the development of similar traits in a nearby species). However, Butler points out that our nearest living ancestors do not possess many of the same psychological traits that make us uniquely human (e.g., verbal language). Thus we lack crucial evidence needed to uncover our psychological evolutionary history.
3. EP is stuck in the Pleistocene era.
Butler says that EP relies too heavily on the Pleistocene era when describing the evolution of human psychology. He quotes the oft used statement “our modern skulls house a stone age mind” as evidence of this problem. He says “The idea that we are stuck with a Pleistocene-adapted psychology greatly underestimates the rate at which natural selection and sexual selection can drive evolutionary change.” For instance, the more recent agricultural and industrial revolutions presented challenges that greatly shaped human psychology. We are not locked in a stone-age mindset.
4. Some EP truth claims rest on shaky empirical evidence, and always will.
EP claims that it has uncovered human psychological adoptions. Much of the data supporting these claims were gathered with paper and pencil surveys (questionnaires). Forced choice questionnaires do not provide sufficient evidence to substantiate claims about how psychology adapted to social and physical environmental challenges. Thus, “the evidence needed to substantiate accounts of adaption…is scarce. And this isn’t the kind of evidence that is likely to materialize; such evidence is lost to us, probably forever.”
I have found that the same sort of arguments may be used against common descent. Specifically, as far as common descent is concerned, we cannot know exactly what took place back when organisms were supposedly evolving from one species into another because we were not there. Our evidence for common descent is largely driven by the historical fossil record. Try as we might to paint a picture of what happened, we cannot be certain. Moreover, decisive evidence that evolution across life forms will always be lacking because of the long period of time required to observe these supposed processes at work.
One final thought. Butler is not suggesting that EP close up shop. He is just pointing out its limitations and cautioning it from making unsupportable truth claims. In the same way I am not suggesting that common descent scientists stop their work. I am just pointing out its limitations and cautioning it from making truth claims that lack definitive evidence.
Dear Gentle Reader,
I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown tired of all the evolution skeptics saying: “If evolution is going on right now, then why haven’t we seen it in the human race over the last few thousand years?” Well at last we can put those silly arguments to rest.
We now have solid evidence showing that humankind is evolving! That’s right folks; humanity is currently evolving and it will continue evolving into 2 species over the next 100,000 years – so says London School of Economics professor Oliver Curry.
Curry, an evolutionary psychologist, reports that by the year 3000 (that’s about 1000 years from now) microevolutionary processes will breed men into “tall, handsome studs with deep voices, square jaws, and substantial [reproductive organs].” The ladies are not exempt from changes. Curry claimed that females will have “smooth, hairless skin, glossy hair, large eyes, and perky [mamillary glands].” Hmm, sounds interesting, even scandalous!
But what about macroevolutionary changes - that is what we are most interested in, right? Here it is: Professor Curry says that in 100,000 years (that’s the year 102,009 for you doing the math), macroevolution will split the human race into two species. Yes! In your face anti-evolutionists! Curry says that there will be a species of “tall, slim, intelligent privileged” people, and a “short, squat, ugly, dim-witted race of servants.” Brilliant! (Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6057734.stm)
Oh, I know what race I would want to belong to - the short, fat dim-witted race because in the year 102,009 the hard working short species will rise up and annihilate the tall, lazy species. And after annihilating the tall species of humans, members of the short species will place Randy Newman’s song “Short People” on the Index of Prohibited Songs.
I further predict that after the annihilation, short academicians and evolutionists will become embroiled in a heated debate about whether they and the tall people evolved from the same ancestors (common descent). The evolutionists will say that the fossil record and genetic facts clearly indicate that common descent took place. The skeptics will demand more proof. They will insist that evolutionists prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they evolved from the same ancestor(s) as the repugnant tall, lazy people.
Ah yes. Doesn't history seem to repeat itself?
Have you ever heard or read the phrase, "Evolution is a fact"? I am hearing this statement more often these days. What does it mean to say that evolution is a fact?
It is important to note that this statement is most often construed as referring to the ontological status of the theory. In other words, it is a statement about whether the theory agrees with what is happening in the natural world. Now some people like to say that evolution is a fact because it is based on factual data like fossils and genetic data. I would argue that that saying evolution is a fact because it is based on factual data is a misleading argument and should be avoided.
Fine. Now let’s move on.
There are two major categories of research in science; there is theory explanation and there is theory testing (justification). Sometimes these two categories overlap and they share similar research characteristics, but they are very different. I bring up these two categories (theory testing and theory building) because sometimes evolutionists and others confuse them. This confusion leads to unjustifiable truth claims about evolution (more on this in a bit).
When talking about the factuality of evolution, it is essential to distinguish between two types of evolution. Now I know that some evolutionists don’t like to distinguish between micro and macroevolutionary processes, and that’s fine; the distinction may not be important in their everyday work. However, the distinction is important when exploring the question “Is evolution a fact?” It turns out that one type of evolution has been subjected to rigorous testing and passed while the other has not.
Microevolutionary processes within a species is a demonstrable fact. It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt with rigorous testing. Specifically, random genomic mutations and environmental selection have been shown to create change within a species.
However, macroevolutionary processes across life forms is not a demonstrable fact. It has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Then why do so many evolutionists and others claim that macroevolution is a fact? I think there are two main reasons for this mistake. First they confuse the theory description and theory testing processes, and second, they do not understand the kind of testing that justifies “beyond a reasonable doubt” truth claims.
Much of the evidence for macroevolution is descriptive in nature. Here is what I mean. Macroevolution involves a lot of descriptive research wherein one goes out into the real world, gathers data, and best explains that data in a manner consistent with macroevolution. Gathering real world data and explaining that data in a manner consistent with a theory is an inductive process. Sometimes it is called making an inference to the best explanation or it is sometimes called ‘abduction’. Much of the real world data “fits” into the macroevolutionary theoretical framework, however, because the data are inductive in nature, they do not provide certain evidence of macroevolution.
If you are feeling confused, the following example should help.
Sherlock Holmes used induction when he collected observable facts and used those facts to reconstruct what happened at a crime scene. (It is interesting to note that Holmes said he was using ‘deduction’ - actually he was using ‘induction’.) In philosophical terms induction is going from particulars to a single explanation, and that is what Holmes did; he went from particular evidence to a single conclusion about who committed the crime. In the same way evolutionists collect facts in the natural world and explain or describe them using macroevolution (common descent). This too involves moving from particular field evidence to a single conclusion (macroevolution). Although the evidence may appear to support a conclusion, we cannot be certain that either conclusion is correct. Holmes never saw the crime being committed and an evolutionist never witnessed common descent (evolution from one life form to another). This sort of evidence does not lead to certainty.
Yet evolutionists argue that macroevolution is on the same footing as relativity and gravity, because, they claim, relativity and gravity were built using the same inductive methodology. This is true. Relativity and gravity were built using the same inductive methods; however, evolution is not on par with these two well established theories. Why not? The answer is that macroevolution lacks rigorous testing; it has not been subjected to, and passed, tests of hypotheses to the same extent that relativity and gravity have.
What macroevolution lacks are controlled crucial tests of its core tenets, and assuming that such tests could be carried out, the theory would also have to survive those tests. A major barrier to carrying out a controlled, crucial test is time – too many years are required to observe change from one life form to another. (Note that some evolutionists like to point to one species of salamander evolving into another “species”. I am talking about going from a salamander to another significantly different life form like a platypus.)
On the other hand, relativity and gravity have been subjected to crucial tests of their core tenets, and survived. The last time you accidentally dropped something you unwittingly submitted gravity to a crucial test, and I am sure it passed (the item fell). In 1919 a research team led by Sir Arthur Eddington submitted relativity to a crucial experiment by measuring shifts in the Hyades star field near the sun during an eclipse. And in 1971 Hafele and Keating submitted relativity to a crucial experiment by measuring time differences in previously synchronized atomic clocks flown in jet airplanes. Relativity passed both tests. Because of these and other successes, we've elevated gravity and relativity to law-like status. For the time being they have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt – macroevolution has not.
So the bottom line is that microevolution is a fact, but macroevolution is not. This does not mean that macroevolution is necessarily false; it does mean, however, that it has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a manner of speaking, yes, it is still just a theory.
I am not an evolutionist, but I like evolution. Some parts of the theory of evolution are really cool, like explaining variety within species and how bacteria become antibiotic resistent. At the same time, however, some aspects of the theory are on shaky ground and apparently inconsistent with mainstream LDS theology. The notion that mankind evolved from lower life forms is one example. But as is the case with most scientific theories, you take the good with the bad.
I am not an intelligent designer, but I like Intelligent Design (ID). The thing I like best about ID is that its central theme is consistent with LDS theology. According to Intelligentdesign.org, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” This statement sounds really good to me. It is a welcome breath of fresh air in an increasingly secular and godless science. But as we shall see below, ID also has its problems.
Proponents of ID and evolution are currently in conflict with each other. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn might have called it a Revolution, but I am going to dispense with the academic jargon and use a more vibrant description: a boxing match. That right, right now there is a big slug fest going on between evolution and ID.
Here is a description of the boxing match thus far.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!
Welcome to the science battle royale! In the left corner we have evolution’s goliath. He weighs in at 150 years of hegemony in the natural sciences. In the right corner we have the upstart Intelligent Design. ID weighs in at 10 years of “can’t get no respect” in the natural sciences.
As the two boxers meet in center ring to receive instructions, evolution bounces up and down in anticipation. Evolution points at ID and tauntingly says: “I own you! You’re mine! You’re going down, punk!” ID looks up in stoic fashion and doesn’t respond.
After the opponents move back to their corners, evolution looks at the audience and shouts, “I pity the fool! He don’t belong in the same ring as me.”
(Bell rings) Ding Ding
Evolution comes out swinging with: “You’re not science! You’re repackaged creationism! Dover! Scopes! Monkey Trial! Pandas and People! Take that, you fool! Arrgh!”
Many of the punches hit their mark, but ID is still standing.
After the first round coach Dave says to ID: “You’ve got to publish in mainstream journals. Expunge creationist influences; they are not scientific. Don’t use legislation to gain access into schools. And above all, avoid embarrassing trials and text books! ”
(Bell rings) Ding Ding
Evolution comes out swinging with: “You say evolution lacks scientific rigor and should not be taught in schools? Well then you’re not getting into our universities! You ain’t even getting in BYU and Notre Dame, sucker! No grants! No tenure! No faculty positions! No research positions! No soup for you! Argh!”
ID took a serious beating during that round. His right eye is swollen and he has trouble seeing. “Cut me!” he begs. Coach Dave grabs a razor blade and reduces the swelling by cutting above the eye. After patching the wound, coach Dave turns to ID and says: “Stop trying to restrict evolutionary education. You are not going to get ahead by stepping on evolutionists. Prove your metal by producing solid, scientific work!”
(Bell rings) Ding Ding
Now ID comes out swinging with credible science methodology. It is deflecting evolution’s punches by not limiting evolutionary education. It is also avoiding embarrassing books and court cases. It has learned that if it is going to gain respect in science, it must do so through scientific means.
No one knows the outcome of this match. One thing is certain, however; it is going to be a difficult struggle for ID. Evolution is much larger and hits harder, but ID has one advantage that most evolutionists are unaware of; it is that most evolutionists have a prideful and arrogant attitude toward their theory. This pride among evolutionists may prove its downfall. In the Bible, Job teaches us that pride cometh before the fall, which you could say, in boxing terms, translates into "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."
We'll have to wait and see.
A couple of weeks ago a very good post on abduction appeared on Mormon Organon (view it here). In that post, Mr. Peck correctly argues that abduction, or inference to the best explanation as it is sometimes called, refers to a sort of logical competition between theories. A theory that explains a body of evidence better than its rival theory is more reasonable to accept. If we apply this concept to theories on the origins and complexities of species, evolution is the clear winner, although probably more by default than anything else. But this explains why evolution is so widely accepted. It is simply the best scientific theory available for explaining the origins and complexities of life.
Mr. Peck also effectively pointed out that most theories are created through accumulating observation and empirical facts. The process of collecting empirical facts and creating a suitable theory that explains those facts is sometimes referred to as an inductive generalization. Put differently, an inductive generalization involves moving from many observations to a single, explanatory theory. Many great theories like evolution have been created via inductive generalizations. Creating scientific theories through inductive generalizations is not a theoretical faux pas or scientific weakness; it is just one aspect of how science progresses.
So far we have only considered the logic of theory discovery. As stated above, scientific abduction plays a role in determining which theories gain prominence. It also plays a role in determining which theory will be singled out for confirmatory investigation, however, the process of confirming a theory through testing is different from abduction.
The most common approach to confirming scientific theories is the hypothetico-deductive (H-D) model of science. In short, the H-D model of science involves deducing observational hypotheses from a theory and testing those hypotheses in a controlled setting. If the results are consistent with the theory’s expectations, then the theory is tentatively confirmed. If the results are not consistent with the theory’s expectations, then the theory is tentatively disconfirmed.
Not all H-D tests of hypotheses are created equal. Influential philosopher of science Karl Popper pointed out that an ideal test of a hypothesis is one that is falsifiable and addresses, as much as possible, the core tenets of the theory. Popper called it making a risky prediction.
Theories that repeatedly survive falsifiable tests and risky predictions gain “certainty” status; we become so certain of their truthfulness that we start calling them laws instead of theories. Theories that have repeatedly survived falsifiable, risky predictions include Relativity, gravity, and the Germ Theory of Disease, to name a few.
Now, because of lengthy time requirements needed for testing falsifiable macroevolutionary hypotheses that make risky predictions a’la the H-D model of science, macroevolution has not risen to the same level of certainty we typically associate with Relativity and gravity. Relativity and gravity have repeatedly undergone crucial testing. In most cases, the results of these tests have been confirmatory (i.e., 1919 Sir Arthur Eddington solar eclipse expedition, atomic clocks in airplanes, and every time you drop your pen it falls, as predicted.)
I don’t have a problem with people saying that they personally accept the certainty of the theory of common descent. Evolution’s pre-eminence in the game of scientific abduction makes this statement legitimate. I do have a problem with people claiming that macroevolution and common descent have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. IMO, the scarcity of confirmed falsifiable and crucial tests of macroevolutionary processes does not warrant such claims.
Sources: (Philosophy of Science: A to Z by Stathis Psillos; Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues by Curd & Cover; Philosophy of Science: A Short Introduction by Samir Okasha.)
Mormons and science is one year old.
I started this site because I wanted to share my ideas with others and gain a better understanding of the relationship between science and the gospel from others. I believe that we can enrich our understanding of both by integrating them. This integration is largely inspired by the Prophet Brigham Young’s mandate for Lattery-day Saints to gathering in truth and bring it to Zion. By bringing scientific truth to Zion, we enlighten our understanding of the gospel and increase our appreciation and knowledge of the handiwork of God. Bringing scientific truth to Zion also enlightens our understanding of scientific principles and facilitates our quest for truth in science.
In an attempt to bring scientific truth to Zion, I have written posts covering the physical sciences, social sciences, health sciences, and quantum mechanics. There are also a few posts on political issues and the history and philosophy of science. So far, for the most part, the response from readers has been positive. I thank you all for your thought-provoking comments.
Sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree. Disagreement is welcome when it is done in the right spirit. There are many different perspectives in science and there are different viewpoints on gospel teachings for which we lack certain knowledge (i.e., things that God has not yet revealed). By fostering an open and amiable exchange of perspectives, this site provides members with the opportunity to “try out their views” in the marketplace of ideas and discover new viewpoints.
Over the last year there have been a couple of unexpected surprises. One came a few weeks ago when I posted an article on the homosexual community’s efforts to redefine marriage. Several non-members and even some members posted comments in direct opposition to the church’s stance on same-sex marriage. Why someone favoring same-sex marriage would want to read a conservative, Mormon-themed blog and post comments contrary to the teachings of the LDS church is beyond me.
Another surprise is the response to my evolution posts from members who are theistic evolutionists. Now I have no problem with theistic evolutionists sharing their views on the creation on mormonsandscience.com and at BYU where I teach. A willingness to explore theistic evolutionary ideas is a sign of good scholarship. What is surprising, however, is the undercurrent of arrogance and dogma that currently exists among some within the macroevolutionary community.
This recent comment, posted by Mike, expresses my concern very well. He wrote:
The evolutionary world is in a twist about their pet theories, they love to style their struggles as backwoods religionists (we poor pathetic rubes) vs. intellectual heavyweights (the smart, superintelligent evolutionists). They seem to portray Darwin as a demigod, and his theory as absolute fact, and don't seem at all capable of applying critical thought to their own theories. They laugh, they sneer, they condescend, they kick out from their midst anyone who dares question them. It's not peer review anymore, it's peer pressure.
The bottom line is this: in our post modern evolutionary world, there is no room for dissent, no room for questioning fundamental tenets of macroevolution which, it is claimed, have been “proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” This attitude is reflected in the following statement on recent challenges to the well-accepted theropod dinosaur-to-bird hypothesis. James and Pourtless observed that, among evolutionists, “Criticism [about the hypothesis] has usually been dismissed, often with the [misleading] claim that no more parsimonious alternative has been presented” (James, F. C. & Pourtless, J. A. . Cladistics and the Origins of Birds: A Review and Two New Analyses, Ornithological Monographs, 66, 1-78).
The same dogmatic adherence and arrogance has, I believe, fueled personal attacks against those who oppose macroevolution. While there is nothing wrong with being committed to one’s favorite scientific theory, it is unscholarly to personally criticize scholars who hold opposing viewpoints.
Why has it come to this? I think that evolutionists’ aggressive posturing may have something to do with the backlash against unreasonable challenges from creationists who have tried to get biblical creation in the schools and evolution out of the schools. These challenges (in particular, the 2004 Dover Trial Of Pandas and People debacle, and the 1912 Scopes Trial) have the evolutionists circling the wagons and standing guard with plenty of ammunition to keep the wolves away, and understandably so. Unfortunately, they’ve grown trigger happy. Instead of just keeping the wolves at bay, they are now taking shots at anything that moves, at anyone who opposes macroevolution.
Anyway, I look forward to more informative discussions and novel ideas from readers. I hope you are enjoying the posts and will continue visiting on a regular basis.
Unlocking the secret of evolution, which is that natural selection acts on random genetic mutations, has greatly enriched our understanding of the natural world. This understanding has lead to scientific breakthroughs in genetics, medicine, pharmaceuticals, computer science, and in learning how variation arises within species. These breakthroughs have had a positive impact on our society, whether we realize it or not (Source: Scientific American, January, 2009 issue).
The theory of evolution contains theoretical assumptions about the world that are inconsistent with the doctrines of the restored gospel. At a fundamental level, evolution is mechanistic. By mechanistic I mean that evolution makes two ontological assertions about the fundamental nature of the natural world, namely materialism and efficient causation.
Materialism is the belief that the fundamental nature of the world is physical material. Everything that truly exists is made up of matter. In a manner of speaking, what matters is matter. There is no such thing as the non-physical. Spirits are not real, neither are your thoughts, emotions, and personal sense of identity - these are nothing more than the actions of electrochemical processes in your nervous system.
Efficient causation is the belief that events or change result from natural laws acting on physical material. There are no supernatural, spiritual, or cognitive sources of change. Also there is no purpose or agency in events; there are just the unintentional forces of nature which determine how matter is to behave. Mother Nature is like a blind watch maker that creates a beautifully complex world without a purpose or goal in mind.
Unfortunately we cannot simply pay attention to the Good while ignoring the Bad in evolution because the Bad has ugly consequences. The Bad provides an impetus for people to not believe in God.
According to a 2005 Rice University survey by Elaine Howard-Eckland, 66% of all scientists surveyed said that they believed in God. Pretty good. But when the researchers divided the survey responses by area of expertise, namely natural vs. social science, they found startling differences. Natural scientists are less likely to believe in God than are social scientists.
Other studies support these results.
According to a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), nearly 95% of biologists are either atheists or agnostics, much higher than all scientists in general! (SOURCE: Larry Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.)
Similarly, according to a 2003 Cornell survey of leading evolutionists, a whopping 87% deny existence of God, 88% disbelieve in life after death, and 90% reject idea that evolution directed toward “ultimate purpose!” (SOURCE: Gregory W. Graffin and William B. Provine, Evolution, Religion and Free Will, American Scientist, vol. 95 (July-August 2007.)
And according to a 2007 national survey of faculty at colleges and universities, more than 60% of all college biologists consider themselves atheists or agnostics! (SOURCE: Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, How Religious are America’s College and University Professors? Feb. 6, 2007.)
The scriptures teach us that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” It appears that one of the fruits of the theory of evolution is atheism, or it may be that evolution biology attracts atheists. I expect that both are true, but given that, as President Ezra Taft Benson observed, “Students at universities are sometimes so filled with the doctrines of the world they begin to question the doctrines of the [Lord’s] gospel,” it is fairly safe to conclude that evolution is driving some people away from God.
So what should we do? Well we can’t just stop teaching evolution; it is an important part of science (look at the “Good”). As a scientific theory it has its faults, but that is no reason to stop teaching evolution either. If we start restricting science education to only theories that are perfect, soon there would be no theories left to teach. Science is not perfect. It is an ever progressing and self-correcting manmade endeavor.
From an LDS perspective, I think the key is to make LDS youngsters aware of the mechanistic assumptions underlying evolution. We commit a grave injustice by pretending that evolution is free from faults, especially those faults that are at odds with the gospel. More importantly, we need to help our youth develop a strong testimony of the gospel so that they will not be deceived by evolution’s atheistic allure. In other words, the perfect mix is a good understanding of evolution (including its underlying assumptions) and a strong testimony of the gospel. With a sound understanding of evolution and the gospel, we can celebrate the Good without fearing the Bad and the Ugly.
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!
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was an evolutionist who believed in the inheritance of acquired traits. Inheritance of acquired traits is the notion that changes in an organism’s characteristics that are caused by life events or exposure to environmental stimuli may be passed onto offspring. For instance, if a man takes up body building and develops muscle mass, he will pass muscle mass characteristics onto his offspring. Or if a mother becomes a prolific reader, her children may become good readers.
Here is what Lamarck said:
"All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the young."
Lamarck deserves credit for being among the first to provide a comprehensive theory of evolution. He also deserves credit for stressing the important role that environment plays in giving rise to changes in organisms. However, because he advanced the idea of inheritable acquired traits, and idea that has been rejected by the scientific community, he has been relegated to the bottom of the evolution contribution totem pole. At the top of the pole is Darwin’s face, under it is Wallace’s face, and somewhere near the bottom is Lamarck’s face, positioned where people have been able to kick his teeth once and a while for proposing inheritable acquired traits. Well, that may be changing.
Recent discoveries in genetics have uncovered an exciting field called epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of the mechanisms that drive gene expression without altering the basic structure of DNA. Put simply, certain genes may be turned on and off, thus leading to changes in human phenotype (visible characteristics) without altering the genotype itself. The effects of epigenetics may be far reaching. It may lead to a better understanding of aging, life changes, and the causes and potential cures of diseases, to name a few.
What I find interesting about epigenetics is that the mechanisms driving gene expression can be influenced by environmental stimuli. What is even more intriguing is that epigenetic changes can be passed onto offspring. That’s right, the sort of things you expose yourself too (good and bad) can influence your offspring. I am not just talking about pregnant mothers here. Environmental influences we were exposed to as young children may have epigenetic consequences for our offspring.
Epigenetics is not a vindication of Lamarck’s principle of inherited acquired traits; they are not the same thing. But if I had to pick a scholar who came the closest to presaging epigenetic phenomena, it would have to be Lamarck. Well done, Jean-Baptiste.
Epigenetics is a recent discovery, yet God has always known about it. He knows everything about how the environment affects our epigenetics. I am certain that He took epigenetic phenomena into consideration when he gave us the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom was given to us as a form of godly admonition or divine advice about what we should take into our bodies. He did not tell us why He gave us the Word of Wisdom, He just did. Yet as science’s understanding of the importance of consumptive habits grows (e.g., balanced diet, moderation, avoiding harmful substances, type II diabetes, epigenetics), we are increasingly uncovering the godly wisdom in the Word of Wisdom.
So those of us who want to pass on favorable epigenetic characteristics to our children and grand children should heed the counsel of the Word of Wisdom. It now appears that the things we were exposed to as children can influence our children’s epigenetics, and the things that we expose our young children to can influence our grandchildren’s epigenetics.