Monday, December 3, 2012

Why It's Not Hard for Me to Accept Evolution as the Process By Which God Created Our Bodies

For what it's worth, evolution is an easy issue for me to reconcile. (I'm not saying it should be for everyone - only that it is for me.) There are a few things that make it so easy for me:

1) There never has been a unanimous voice rejecting evolution among the apostles and Prophets. There always have been some who accept it as the process by which the physical creation happened. Thus, in accepting evolution I'm not rejecting the Church leadership in any way; I'm just picking the ones with whom I agree. (*grin*)

2) I don't sustain church leaders in any way as scientists, and I don't expect apostles and even Prophets to understand science better than scientists. (That actually might be the main reason.)

3) Almost every personal rejection of evolution I have read is based off the assumption that evolution is founded on the belief that there is no God, even among those who otherwise reject a young earth theory. In other words, when someone is working from a faulty foundation and incorrectly feels their very core belief in God is being attacked (which is not incorrect in some cases with some advocates of evolution), I understand reacting negatively - and even over-reacting. That is true especially with regard to things that we simply don't understand fully.

4) The Pearl of Great Price supports the general idea of physical evolution MUCH more clearly than the Bible does - which means I feel justified in believing that physical evolution is much closer to being taught in "Mormon" scriptures than in other Christian scriptures.

5) The temple presentation of the creation of Adam and Eve used to state unequivocally that the depiction was figurative with regard to the man and woman.  That doesn't endorse evolution as the creative process, but it also leaves that door wide open as a possibility. 

6) The "current" official position of the Church (a 1909 First Presidency statement that was reprinted in the Ensign in 2002) explicitly leaves open the possibility that evolution was the source of the creation of Adam's physical body. When you read the statement carefully, Adam being the first man ONLY means that at some point there was someone who differed from all other creatures in that he consisted of a mortal body and an immortal spirit child of God - thus, he was the first "man", as the Church defines that term. Seriously, I'm not stretching anything by saying that; it's the way the actual statement is worded. I can accept that, especially when the same statement says that his body might have started out as an embryo.

7) I believe the Garden of Eden narrative is allegorical and that the "Fall" happened when we chose to follow Lucifer to this earth, leave the presence of God and be subject to mortality, sin and death - so I have no problem with the general idea of no death before the Fall. The passages in 2 Nephi that many use to reject evolution actually have no bearing on the actual mechanics of earthly creation for me.

In saying all of that, I am not arguing that our bodies were created through evolution.  I think that is the most likely answer, but I really don't know - and the Church's official position is that we don't know. 
I think this is a great example of how scriptures can be interpreted to mean various things, how it's important for us to be open to different ways to understand them, how we don't have to throw out the baby ("I am a child of God.") with the bathwater (young earth creationism that rejects evolution entirely). It is VERY easy for me to reconcile physical evolution with the Plan of Salvation as it is taught in the Church. I just have to be OK with not everyone agreeing with me - and that just isn't a problem at all.


ji said...

For me, the problem with the evolution argument is just that -- that it leads to arguments or disputations or even bullying, and it shouldn't be so. Some who adopt the evolution approach insist that they're RIGHT and everyone else is WRONG, and so forth, and it shouldn't be so.

Let's teach faith, repentance, and baptism -- there is the doctrine of Christ.

I don't go around professing an opinion about evolution. But I am offended by those who have strongly-held opinions and who insist that I must believe as they do in order to be correct and to be a meaningful Mormon. For me, the creation account -- and everything else in the scripture and all other knowledge we might be given through revelation -- is for the purpose of increasing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I read the creation account not for science, but to increase my faith. And it is a wonderful story, and entirely true, for that purpose.

Papa D said...

Amen, ji - with the caveat that I believe there need not be ANY hard choice between science and religion. To me, science is dedicated to the discovery of "how", while religion is dedicated to the exploration of "why". It's when people mix the two and start using religion to address "how" and science to address "why" that the problems multiply exponentially.

Patty said...

Where does that leave the "pre-man" in relation to God? Would he be a lesser being who doesn't think at the same level as modern homo-sapiens? And if he wasn't able to reason, would he have had a relationship with God or even a need for a Savior? Why would God create a lesser being that would evolve into his sons and daughters but not start with what we know as "man"? Why does God's word (bible) not mention anything about men (or their predecessors) before Adam and Eve?
This is an interesting topic but it seems like one question leads to another. I'm okay with it either way because I figure God is in charge and He knows what He's doing, but it still makes me wonder about things sometimes. :)

allquieton said...

What do you think about Moses 3:7?

Papa D said...

Good question, allquieton. My short answer is:

1) I don't interpret many scriptures literally, and I certainly don't consider them to be inerrant, especially from the earliest times. We talk of "as far as it is translated correctly" - and I see that not only relating to the linguistic translation of words but also to the conceptual and interpretive translation of stories. I see many of the stories in the Old Testament and Pearl of Great Price as allegories, parables, etc., not as literal events - and that is true especially of the Garden of Eden narrative. Thus, I have no problem reading the account in Moses 3 non-literally.

2) Even in that verse, Adam's physical body is said to have been formed out of "the dust of the earth" - and that alone can be read as arguing against some supernatural and/or ex nihilo creation. It is a very good way to say it that body was created "naturally" as a normal part of the creation of the earth itself - and that is a simple way of implying what we now think of as an evolutionary process. It certainly isn't authoritative, by any stretch, but the possibility is there in spades, I believe.

3) I read the scriptures as much more a record of a people's understanding of God and their relationship to God than as immutable truth. There's way too much contradiction in the totality of our canon, and I see a very clear "evolution" of understanding to see it otherwise. Thus, I'm not required to take everything in our scriptures as unchanging, eternal truth - and I am free to study and ponder all possibilities to see what rings true to my heart and mind.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is kind of neat to think that God waited for thousands of years, as species adapted and evolved until finally a species reached his own image and likeness with the ability to reason and choose that would be worthy vessels for his own spirit children.

allquieton said...

papa d-
Not reading scriptures literally is fair, but that scripture is pretty specific. And if you keep reading, it explains how animals were put on earth after man. What I'm getting at is it sounds more like you just disagree with the scripture. Which is fair also. But that seems different to me than not reading it literally. What's your take?

allquieton said...

Why does that version of how God created us appeal to you any more than another?

Papa D said...

allquieton, My answer is two-fold, and part of it is a deeper look at what I said in the third point in my last comment:

1) When I say I don't take a lot of scripture literally, I mean that in two ways:

a) I think a lot of stories, especially the oldest ones in the Old Testament era, are allegorical, mythological, figurative, etc. At the most basic level, that's how I see the Garden of Eden creation narrative, so I'm not required to try to come up with justifications to show that it is literally factual in nature;

b) I also don't believe in the inerrant, from-God's-mouth-to-man's-ear-to-printed-word version of scripture. I don't believe in sola scriptura or any other interpretation that posits perfection within scripture. I see scripture as humanity's best understanding at the time, and I view revelation and inspiration as God speaking to people "in their own language and according to their ability to understand". Thus, I can see factual error in scripture and not get tied up in knots trying to defend it - but I also can be grateful for scripture in a very real and profound way. Thus, again, I can read the Garden account from multiple perspectives - none of which must be literalistic.

2) If you look at the totality of the creation narrative in the Pearl of Great Price and not just the account in Moses 3, you see something that is fascinating. **The account in Moses 2 describes the standard creation order, with man and woman being created last.** Then, in the following chapter (Moses 3), the narrative turns and starts discussing how things were created spiritually prior to being created physically and being placed on the earth. In that chapter, man is created prior to everything else.

If I am putting on my literalist glasses, I read those chapters as saying that "man" was conceived in God's mind (in the "planning stages", if you will) first, then trees and animals and everything else was created afterward - but when it came to the physical creation itself, that part of the creation occurred in the order outlined in the Bible and in Moses 2, which is very much in line with evolution as the means by which the physical creation occurred.

If I get more philosophical and not literal, I can read those two chapters as part of the same grand story and say that humanity is the beginning AND end of God's creation - that the earth and everything on it was created to be a part of our eternal existence and progression - that we existed prior to everything else and will exist when everything else is gone - that without us the world would be "wasted" - etc.

I'm fine with all of that, and it only falls apart if I read Moses 3 in isolation as literal, inerrant history and ignore everything else that both scripture and science seem to teach.

allquieton said...

The way I read it, moses 2 is talking about the spiritual creation, and moses 3 about the physical. it's interesting that you read it the opposite way.

Do you think it naturally reads that way? Or are you "trying" to put an evolution friendly spin on it when you read it.

Evolution is actually really interesting I think. I like some of it quite a bit. But I am also suspicious of it b/c it's pushed so fanatically and revered so much by god haters. And b/c it's so incomplete.