Faith can be weakened by secular learning. At greatest risk are those who study from mechanistic theory books in one hand while letting go of the iron rod with the other. They allow themselves to be carried away by the mist of secularism and eventually abdicate their childhood faith. They wander away from the teachings of the gospel because they do not hearken unto the counsels of God. Ezra Taft Benson acknowledged this problem when He said, “Students at universities are sometimes so filled with the doctrines of the world they begin to question the doctrines of the [Lord’s] gospel.”
This is what happened to Charles Darwin.
You see, Charles was a brilliant naturalist. He greatly advanced our understanding of evolutionary processes that create variety within species. But like so many others, the more he studied evolution, the more he loosened his grip on the iron rod of faith. The study of evolution was not to blame for his faltering faith. On the contrary, his study of evolution was a good thing. His faith faltered because he did not “hearken unto the counsels of God” while studying evolution. Remember: studying evolution = good; not hearkening unto the counsels of God while studying evolution = bad.
Let’s take a closer look at his digression from believer into agnostic in his own words. The following are excerpts from the “Life and Letter of Charles Darwin”.
1. He was once a believer.
During these three years (1836-1839) I was led to think much about religion. Whilst aboard the Beagle I was quite orthodox [in Christian belief] and remember being laughed at by several of the officers for quoting the Bible as an…authority on some point of morality.
2. He had a spiritual witness that God lives.
[T]he most unusual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward convictions and feelings which are experienced by most persons…. I was led by such feelings…to the firm conviction of the existence of God.
3. Atheistic influences in evolution worked on him gradually.
But I had gradually come by this time to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than sacred books of the Hindoos…. By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, and that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become…I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.
4. His disbelief grew little by little.
I was unwilling to give up my belief,…but I found it more and more difficult…to invent evidence that would suffice to convince me [to believe in God]. This disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never doubted for a single moment that my conclusion was correct.
5. Natural selection led him away from God.
The old argument from design in nature…which formerly seemed so conclusive, fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.
6. He let go of the iron rod.
[Once] I deserved to be called a theist,…[now] I must be content to remain an agnostic.
This post is not a diatribe against science and evolution. Studying science and evolution is cool and highly recommended. The Lord wants us to study scientific theories (see, for example, D&C 88:78). What is neither cool nor recommended is allowing science to displace faith.
Science usually displaces faith when the two disagree. So what should we do when science contradicts fundamental gospel principles? The answer is to recognize that scientific theories are constantly changing and being replaced by better theories; hence science is not perfect. A scientific principle that contradicts a fundamental gospel truth today may be replaced by a scientific principle that is consistent with the gospel tomorrow.
It also helps to remember that our understanding of how the Lord created and governs the natural world is not perfect. The gospel is silent on most natural matters. However, when the Lord comes again He will reveal secrets regarding life, the earth, and the heavens, things currently not revealed in the gospel (D&C 101:32-34). We may be surprised to learn that some of these secrets are consistent with modern theories of science.
(Note: mechanistic refers to scientific theories that explain natural phenomena solely by physical material and physical forces.)