Evolution: Best Explanation?

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According to a Pew Forum poll (conducted in 2007, released in 2008), only 20% of Latter-Day Saints feel that evolution is the best explanation for human life.

I’m a little miffed about this study for asking if evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life, as opposed to asking if evolution is the best explanation for the origin of species (human or otherwise).

People might interpret this question to mean is abiogenesis the best explanation for the origin of life. As a member of the church, would this kind of wording make a difference to the way you answered the question?

Many of the things LDS are taught about the creation story are metaphorical. For example, nobody believes there are actual cherubim with flaming swords guarding any literal tree of life; intelligent people do not throw out evidence because of a metaphorical story.

When science speaks about evolution—it generally refers to the way species change and are formed, it doesn’t usually address how life started, nor does the creation story literally address the way species evolve.

45 thoughts on “Evolution: Best Explanation?

  1. I obviously have to believe in the laws and evidence that support evolution but my belief is that evolution is restricted to be within a species. I do not believe that we evolve from one species into another. The creation was each after its own kind.

    There were a couple of quotes from general authorities that I dug up in my first year of university, 15 years ago, that support that belief. I may have to try to dig those up again. The gist is that God did not work by evolutionary means to create the world.

  2. “I obviously have to believe in the laws and evidence that support evolution but my belief is that evolution is restricted to be within a species.”

    Way to have your cake and eat it too.

    If it’s obvious that you “have” to believe in the laws and evidence that support evolution, then you “have” to believe it is in evolution that we find the origin of species. That’s what the evidence tells us.

    It doesn’t require any leap of faith to believe in evolution. Repeatable experiments demonstrate that evolution does in fact change a species slowly from generation to generation until it is no longer what can be considered the same species.

    It also doesn’t detract from the teachings of the church as it has been documented that “The church has no opinion on the matter”.

    I figured that because most Mormons will say they believe in the science, that they understand what the science implies. Maybe 20% is accurate after all.

  3. For example, nobody believes there are actual cherubim with flaming swords guarding any literal tree of life; intelligent people do not throw out evidence because of a metaphorical story.

    I actually happen to believe in the cherubim and flaming swords and the tree of life. It may be metaphorical, it is symbolic, and I am going to believe it pending further light and knowledge.

  4. “…nobody believes there are actual cherubim with flaming swords guarding any literal tree of life…”

    Really?

    Jeff, I would have though you knew better than to make absolute statements like this.

  5. I was hoping to have a few realists (ones who are inclined to literal truth and pragmatism) join me in saying that they understand how literary devices like metaphors work within a religious context.

    It’s disheartening to think that the LDS population at large is as delusional as it’s atheist critics make them out to be.

  6. God did not work by evolutionary means to create the world.

    Evolution doesn’t explain the creation of the world, only the diversification of animal life.

  7. Jeff,

    For the record, I believe the Theory of Evolution is the best theory we have to explain how we (and all other species) came to be, especially when we consider archaeological, geological and genetic findings. Creationism as found in the first two chapters of Genesis is certainly far too general to be at all credible in explaining the method used to create us.

    I have no problems accepting that i am distantly related to other primates, or marsupials, or any other mammal for that matter.

    I also do not believe that the Theory of Evolution cancels out God’s involvement in our creation. Whether that means he started the process or controlled the environments and scenarios that made particular genetic adaptations favourable, I don’t know. What I do know is that we don’t have a dichotomy, where one theory (evolution vs. creationism) cancels out the other

  8. It also doesn’t detract from the teachings of the church as it has been documented that “The church has no opinion on the matter”.

    Speaking of which, Jeff, I came across this quote by Joseph F. Smith in a 1911 issue of the Juvenile Instructor.

    The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world . . .

  9. It makes sense that some people are descended from primates but not me. Can I choose another animal? How about a deer? They are graceful. Or swans are lovely, and pretty tough.

    Anyway, joking aside, I am one of those members who doesn’t take the creation literally and feels that evolution of a sort fits into it all, though how, I do NOT know. Doesn’t really matter to me anyway, I guess. :)

  10. It’s disheartening to think that the LDS population at large is as delusional as it’s atheist critics make them out to be.

    So disagreeing with Jeff Milner = being delusional?

  11. I suppose my original statement, “nobody believes there are actual cherubim with flaming swords guarding any literal tree of life” was a little far-reaching. Certainly some people will believe anything.

    What I was getting at, was that I don’t think the church necessarily wants people to believe it in a literal way.

    Also I wasn’t necessarily saying that the LDS population at large is delusional. I was trying to say that if it’s not just a few outliers that believe so much of the creation story to be literal, THEN it’s disheartening to think so many people are that delusional.

    Disagreeing with me has nothing to do with it. Correlation does not equal causation.

  12. By the way, if it’s not to personal, how many reading this believe that cherubim literally exist?

    I was always taught in the church that “angels don’t have wings”. Isn’t that the standard teaching of the church?

  13. Right, but it’s my understanding that cherubim are usually depicted as angelic creatures with feathered wings. You are correct, as far as I know, they are different than angels.

    What is your opinion on their literal existence?

  14. Wow. I never would have expected that.

    Maybe it’s because in my own family it was such a strict teaching that angels don’t have wings that I interpreted it to mean that cherubim were merely a metaphorical tool with symbolic meanings.

    Now I’m even more curious how widespread the belief in cherubim is within the church. This blows me away.

    If you don’t mind, the next time you get a chance, ask a few of your LDS friends and acquaintances what they think and let us know.

  15. I figured out why I thought it was a widespread teaching that Cherubs/Cherubim are literary devices: Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine.

    See ANGELS, HIERARCHY, SERAPHIM. Apparently a cherub is an angel of some particular order or rank to whom specific duties and work are assigned. That portion of the Lord’s word which is now available among men does not set forth clearly either the identity or work of these heavenly beings. The concept of sectarian scholars that they are “mythological living creatures,” who filled for the Hebrew people the same position that the griffins did for the Hittites, is utterly false. (Griffins were supposed to be winged sphinxes having the bodies of lions and the heads and wings of eagles, and they were in fact mythological creatures.)

    In English, the plural of cherub is cherubs; in Hebrew, the plural is cherubim except that the King James Version of the Bible erroneously translates the plural as cherubim. The Book of Mormon (Alma 12:21; 42:2-3), the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 4:31), and the Inspired Version of the Bible (Ex. 25:20-22) give the plural as cherubim when Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, it was “cherubim and a flaming sword” which kept them from partaking of the tree of life so they would have lived forever in their sins. (Moses 4:31.)

    As seen in the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1; 10; 11); as placed over the mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25:17-22; 37:6-7); as decorations on the curtains and veil of this tabernacle (Exodus 21:1, 31); as embroidered on the veil of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 3:14); as decorating the base whereon the molten sea rested (1 Kings 7:23-29); and as placed in the holy of holies of that magnificent temple (1 Kings 6:23-30; 8:6-7; 2 Chronicles 3:10; 5:7-8; Hebrews 9:1-5) — the cherubim were shown with wings. There are, of course, no angels (cherubim included) who have wings. Their usage in these instances was symbolical; as with certain beasts seen in vision by John, the presence of wings was “a representation of power to move, to act, etc.” (D & C 77:4.)

    The statement that the Lord “rode upon a cherub” is figurative it means, as the balance of the sentence explains that “he was seen upon the wings of the wind.” (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10.) Cherubs and the wind both have wings in the same sense and in no other.

  16. I think BRM is pushing it. There are far too many references to cherubim having wings in the scriptures. I’m not sure what he’s basing his theory on: just the belief that angles don’t have wings?

  17. As an aside, my dad loves to point out that if cherubs were real, (also assuming they are mammals), then it makes more sense that they would have leathery bat wings, not beautiful feathered wings.

    How’s that for imagery?

  18. Re: #24

    Agreed, nevertheless perhaps he’s taking the pragmatic approach that “creatures” as described within LDS canon are mythical in nature and using D&C 77:4 as the basis for that intuition.

    When I took another look at the question and answer in Alma 12:21. I don’t see it as literal.

    Do Mormons actually expect to find themselves eventually partaking of literal fruit of the tree of life? I mean, I’m not trying to disparage the story at all, I just think it’s delusional to think it’s not a metaphor.

  19. Don’t get me wrong; I think a lot from the scriptures is allegorical.

    Perhaps he is thinking all such creatures are mythical. That sure is a lot of references to have to explain away.

  20. Jeff, I think you’re trying too hard to box people into believing in a certain, narrow definition of “cherub.” I believe that some kind of beings referred to as cherubim exist but I can’t say much about what they are. Why I would ever associate this scriptural reference to some Renaissance painter’s fanciful invention, I can’t imagine.

  21. I think you’re trying too hard to box people into believing in a certain, narrow definition of “cherub.”

    Well you’re wrong. I’m simply wondering if Mormons believe they literally exist and if they have wings—of any type, feathery or otherwise.

    Bruce R. McConkie seems to believe they do exist in a literal sense. He just doesn’t think they have wings.

    I assumed, possibly incorrectly, that this was the standard view among Latter-Day Saints. I’m still surprised if that’s not the case.

  22. Jeff, I’m honestly confused at this point. You seemed to be saying that most Latter-day Saints don’t believe that cherubim really exist (or more specifically, you claimed that “no one” believed so). Then you said you thought that most Latter-day Saints thought the cherub was a mere literary device. Then you pointed out that Elder McConkie believed cherubim were beings that literally exist, and now you say you thought that most Latter-day Saints believe as he did.

    What’s your stance? Please help me understand.

  23. I don’t understand how my interpretation of what a cherub is, what it represents and if it’s literal or figurative, as a “stance” really matters.

    The point in the very beginning was made to say that hey, LDS people understand literary devices. Perhaps I should have said, nobody believes a literal talking snake tempted Eve.

    Or would I have been way off with that one too?

  24. After questioning people in regard to our previous Flood thread, my anecdotal evidence suggests that literal interpretations are still very prevalent in the LDS populace at large.

  25. I don’t understand how my interpretation of what a cherub is, what it represents and if it’s literal or figurative, as a “stance” really matters.

    Which is probably why I haven’t asked you for your interpretation of what a cherub is, what it represents and if it’s literal or figurative. What I’ve asked is what you are trying to say about the beliefs of Latter-day Saints. In the original post you said nobody believed in their literal existence–OK. Then in comment 20 you seemed to say that the Church teaches that they don’t literally exist but are merely literary figures. Then, in the very same comment, you quoted Elder McConkie saying that cherubim are actual beings with a literal existence, and briefly noting at the end of his article that in one scriptural passage there is a purely figurative reference to cherubim. Then in comment 30, you said you believed that most Latter-day Saints agreed with Elder McConkie by believing that cherubim are literal beings.

    So what I’m trying to find out is whether you believe most Latter-day Saints think cherubim are beings that literally exist, or whether you believe most Latter-day Saints believe they are nothing but literary devices.

    Disagreeing with me has nothing to do with it. Correlation does not equal causation.

    Then let me rephrase: Why are you so confident that those who hold beliefs other than yours are delusional?

  26. The issue at hand is not what I believe most LDS believe, but what they ACTUALLY believe. Why are you trying to make this personal?

    I have admitted in this thread that I was wrong to make assumptions about other’s beliefs in cherubs/cherubim and yet you continue to bring up old posts highlighting my indiscretion. So if it’ll make you happy, yes I changed my mind. I was being inconsistent. Please forgive me.

    I had forgotten about Bruce R. McConkie’s statement on the subject, but suffice it to say that as a general rule I think the majority of LDS consider “Mormon Doctrine” to be Mormon doctrine.

    Why are you so confident that those who hold beliefs other than yours are delusional?

    I’m not.

    I am confident that those who believe that talking snakes, angels with wings holding flaming swords guarding trees, and the like are real, are delusional. As stated previously, my beliefs have nothing to do with it.

    By my definition, a person is delusional if an erroneous belief is held in the face of evidence to the contrary.

    I take it as evidence that since any of the snakes humans have ever seen don’t talk, that the simplest and most delightful explanation for a talking snake’s existence in the biblical creation story is that it’s a metaphor. Same goes for cherubs with flaming swords.

    This seems so obvious it’s embarrassing.

  27. Yes you are, Jeff.

    You believe cherubim can’t be real, and that it’s impossible for an actual serpent to have had even a brief and miraculous ability to speak to a woman. Therefore, because you don’t believe in those things, you’re absolutely confident that anyone who does believes in them–anyone who believes in the existence of a being of some type that goes by the name of cherub, or who believes that the means by which Satan tempted Eve could indeed have been a snake–can hold those beliefs only if that person is “delusional.”

    In other words, you assume that if I believe in what you don’t believe in, I can’t be taken seriously and I can’t be thinking rationally. My beliefs must be delusions.

    But Jeff, by the same reasoning you’ve offered in your last comment, don’t you have to conclude that anyone who believes in a man healing the sick or blind by mere touch, or who turns water into wine, or who walks on water, or who lies dead in a tomb and rises on the third day, showing his wounded body to friends, and then rises up into the sky in the presence of his followers, must also be delusional? Aren’t all those beliefs held “in the face of evidence to the contrary”?

    Aren’t all those events just as miraculous, or more so, than the possibility of speech coming on a single occasion from a snake, or the possibility that there’s a being somewhere in the universe called cherub that you’ve never seen?

  28. Continuing to tell me that I am assuming if anyone doesn’t think the way I do, I automatically dismiss them as delusional is getting old.

    Delusional is delusional, regardless of what I think.

    If you want to dismiss mountains of evidence that evolution exists, that’s your prerogative. It’s disappointing when a church that encourages lifelong education can have a membership that uniformly dismisses science because they insist on interpreting literally. The church doesn’t even take a stand on this; it’s the membership that continues to propagate it.

    If the church didn’t have a stand on the literal interpretation of a man healing the sick or blind, turning water into wine, etc, then yes, I’d be critical of the membership in the same way.

    The possibility of speech from a snake, in all seriousness, would require it to possess some kind of vocal chords. Doesn’t the church teach that everything God does, he does within the laws of physics?

  29. Continuing to tell me that I am assuming if anyone doesn’t think the way I do, I automatically dismiss them as delusional is getting old.

    Which makes it no less true. Your only apparent basis for dismissing others as delusional is that their beliefs differ from yours.

    If you want to dismiss mountains of evidence that evolution exists, that’s your prerogative.

    Since I have never done that, I don’t quite see why you make this comment.

    Delusional is delusional, regardless of what I think.

    And what you’re calling delusional isn’t necessarily delusional, no matter what you call it.

    It’s disappointing when a church that encourages lifelong education can have a membership that uniformly dismisses science because they insist on interpreting literally.

    I can’t think of an example of what you’re describing. You clearly have no basis for claiming, for example, that the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “uniformly dismisses science.”

    The church doesn’t even take a stand on [whether cherubim are literally existent beings or whether the serpent was literal]

    Which is a good reason to respect people’s right to believe in their own way, rather than dismiss outright everyone who believes that something they’ve never seen before can exist. I’m not claiming that everyone must believe cherubim are literal beings, or that everyone must believe an actual serpent spoke to Eve in the Garden of Eden; all I’m claiming is that people aren’t being “delusional” if they do so believe.

    As for my own belief, I can’t say with certainty whether cherubim are existent or only figurative. I also can’t say with certainty whether the serpent in the Eden story is real or figurative. I keep my mind open to the possibility of either. But your certainty is so absolute that you condemn anyone who maintains the possibility of these things as having a mental defect.

    The possibility of speech from a snake, in all seriousness, would require it to possess some kind of vocal chords.

    Would it? I really can’t say for certain, because I don’t pretend to have all knowledge about how miraculous or “supernatural” events work. I don’t close my mind to the possibility that there’s a way God or Satan can do such a thing–a way that I don’t yet understand.

    Doesn’t the church teach that everything God does, he does within the laws of physics?

    I don’t know–is that an official Church doctrine? I suppose I could probably find a comment that says somehting close to that by a general authority, but I doubt it would say exactly that. Regardless, here’s what I think: I think when God performs a miracle, or for that matter when Satan does a thing we can’t understand, the “laws of physics” are not being violated, but are rather being used in a way we don’t understand.

    Turning water to wine and walking on the Sea of Galilee apparently violate the laws of physics, just as much as a talking snake does. Wouldn’t you agree? So I don’t see why you have any more reason to vilify people who believe in the existence of a being called a cherub (about which we know virtually nothing) or who maintain that a snake might or might not have been involved in the temptation of Eve.

  30. Once you’ve accepted that fact that there are miracles, it seems relatively pointless to try and reconcile science and the miraculous. It’s a fool’s game, no?

    I do not believe in miracles, so I can say with all sincerity that I believe that people who do, are delusional. It makes sense, if you put yourself in my position.

    It seems much harder to argue delusional thinking from the standpoint of a person who already believes in miracles, and I think that may be the barrier which you appear to be running up against, Jeff.

    It’s just my opinion, for what it’s worth.

  31. Continuing to tell me that I am assuming if anyone doesn’t think the way I do, I automatically dismiss them as delusional is getting old.

    I really should have read that comment more carefully when I responded above. Let’s see if I can do better:

    I haven’t said that you automatically dismiss everyone who doesn’t think the way you do as delusional. What I have said, and do say, is that when you are dismissing people as delusional, you’re doing so because their beliefs are different from yours. You have no good reason for thinking that they suffer from delusions, or that their beliefs are based on such.

  32. And what you’re calling delusional isn’t necessarily delusional, no matter what you call it.

    I am not sure I even wanted to call anyone delusional. I did say it, in a round-about way, so here we go.

    What is delusional? Well I think we are in agreement that a delusional person holds an erroneous belief in the face of evidence to the contrary.

    All of the evidence indicates that evolution is the most reasonable explanation for the origin of species. Therefore, holding onto an erroneous belief that God created all life within a six day period in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is, by this definition, delusional.

    Honestly, I didn’t think Mormons were particularly fond of the literal interpretation of the story, but I now stand corrected (at least concerning those of you that comment here).

    “when you are dismissing people as delusional, you’re doing so because their beliefs are different from yours”

    My beliefs coincide with the evidence, therefore, as explained before, there might be a correlation but it’s not causal. You do understand what that means, right?

  33. Honestly, I didn’t think Mormons were particularly fond of the literal interpretation of the story, but I now stand corrected (at least concerning those of you that comment here).

    Woah, Nelly. I have commented here, and I did not say I am fond of the literal interpretation of the Creation. To be clear, I look at it figuratively.

  34. only 20% of Latter-Day Saints feel that evolution is the best explanation for human life.

    Sorry Kim, I do realize you are among the 20%. I’m still surprised at that number.

  35. Now that I have time to get back to this ‘blog occasionally, let me give the follow-up on this thread that I’ve been thinking about:

    Jeff, you look at the world around you and you see things. You see evidence. That evidence includes fossil records, a strong consensus of scientists, and other things. You weigh that evidence, and you reach a conclusion about how the world was formed and how life came into being. You’re very confident about your conclusion. In fact, you’re so confident about it that you say (above) that you’re *embarrassed* by people who don’t reach the same conclusion.

    There are other people who also look at the world around them. They consider the same things you’re considering. They look at the evidence. They also consider other forms of evidence. Among those forms are the testimonies of ostensibly reliable witnesses about the reliability of the scriptures, and the spiritual witnesses they feel regarding the scriptures. They also consider that the body of scientific knowledge is constantly changing and frequently wrong (and they’re proven right about that every time a new scientific discovery is made). They see that scientists used to laugh at theologians for believing that the universe came into existence in an instant, and now scientists are propounding the theory that the Big Bang was essentially just that–a creation of all matter, time and space out of near-nothingness, in an instant. They assume, very reasonably, that there are millions of things that human beings don’t understand about the universe. They consider those things, too. They weigh the evidence. And some of them reach a conclusion very different from yours.

    Now, I don’t know why, but you don’t seem to be able to tolerate this. You simply can’t imagine that people are looking at evidence and not reaching *your* conclusion. It’s just too inevitable, in your mind, for anyone to miss. You therefore apparently conclude that they *aren’t* considering evidence, but simply disregarding it. You decide they’re *delusional.*

    I don’t have a problem with a Latter-day Saint believing as you believe, with regard to life. I also don’t have a problem with a Latter-day Saint believing that the universe was created in a very different way from the one you imagine, and a way which we don’t understand. I tolerate both. I wish you would, too.

  36. Is evolution the best explanation for the biological evolution of life? As ever the evolution creation debate remains as hot today as it was when the Catholic Church resisted the efforts being made by the English and French racing to translate the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone until eventually the French made the big breakthrough that was needed. For those who believe Joseph Smith was a prophet the Challenge is just as real when presented with evidence offered in support of Darwin’s original theory, not just about the biological origin of the human race but about how the Church that today presents itself on Joseph Smiths foundation work should respond to this issue.
    The title of this site being ‘Exonerating Joseph smith’ perhaps we should first look at how Jesus responded to the question raised about the prophet Moses allowing the writing of the divorce certificate, Jesus firstly gave the reason why Moses did this and then reminded the Church of his day that ‘it was not so in the beginning when he made them male and female’ so was Jesus talking about the creation of the natural world world, or was his focus still on the beginning of the human race as a result of the union of Adam and Eve as man and wife?
    Today, if we accept the growing body of evidence for Darwin’s original theory of Natural selection we begin to have a workable explanation that has been overdeveloped by such atheists as Richard Dawkin’s, who has produced his own ‘Meme’ theory as an attempt to explain the transfer of cultural information as psychological ‘packets’ or ‘units’ of information and so take God out of his own atheistic reasoning. In this respect I find it very helpful to keep in mind that the Bible has preserved the original template for human socialisation, which comes into its own when we look at the beginning of the new life as a free people apart from the darkness of 400 years slavery in Egypt that Moses led his people out of.
    When I say ‘begin to have a workable explanation’ I mean one that also works with the language of symbolism that all the Bibles prophets used to communicate the same message From which it becomes arguable to suggest Moses also re wrote the pre existing Sumerian creation story for the same reason as he allowed the divorce certificate, he re wrote it not about the age of Biological man or the natural world, but to emphasis the new beginning as a people free from slavery just as Christians are when on exodus from the cross.
    The Sumerian creation story was examined by Kraymer for about 20 years from which he points out the obvious comparisons with Genesis but does not explore it further in the light of Moses rewriting it because his Egyptian upbringing would have had made him very aware of the long term health problems of incest and close relative marriages, that was common practice in Egypt. Is it then to much a stretch of logic to say that Moses rewrote the Sumerian creation story to allow for the hardness of the heart? In the Sumerian story the god Enki was a serial paedophile and had no conscience about incest with generation after generation of his own family and Moses obviously had a vested interest in a legacy that protected his own culture, from the long term biological health problems of incest.
    Anyone who is not sure about the need today for the Bibles original template for human socialisation need look no further than the experiment Kellogg made rearing his son alongside a chimp, or the compelling evidence of the feral children that has come to light in recent decades, and not least in the deterioration of social behaviour so often compared with the days of Noah. One thing atheists cannot dispute is that human speech is not written into any genetic code it has to be re learnt by each new generation and it makes no difference at all if one has a full set of mirror neurones because they still have to be programmed by the socialising experience of the 5 senses, the Bibles socialising template is the software for normal behaviour in the Kingdom of God where the causes of Genetic diseases are excluded for our future generations, as the product of normal union –one man one woman-as it was in the beginning of Marriage. Jesus may no more approve of some of the things Joseph smith allowed to be written into the original Law of Moses than he approved of Moses allowing the writing of the divorce certificate, yet he exonerated Moses.

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