Saturday, September 5, 2009


From time to time, the topic of evolution comes up on the Bloggernacle. It seems that there are four possible views:

1 Young-earth creationists assert that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old and that all species were unchangeably created at the moment of origin by divine miracle.

2 Old-earth creationists reject natural selection as an explanation of biological species, but they do accept the age of the earth as established by scientific techniques such as radiometric dating. In this view, each "day" described in Genesis was a long time. The mechanism of creation is identical to the young-earth theory.

3 Theistic evolution is a common Christian view. In this view, evolution was the method of divine creation. This is the official position of the Catholic church, for example. I have also heard this position articulated by BYU biology professors who teach evolution.

4 Scientific evolution holds that all organisms come to be through entirely natural processes. In contrast to theistic evolution, scientific evolution holds that there is no design for living creatures and no necessary progression in evolutionary change, only adaptation to local circumstances.

I'm guessing that very conservative Mormons are young-earth creationists, that mainstream Mormons are old-earth creationists and that liberal Mormons believe in theistic evolution. I would guess that very few Mormons believe in scientific evolution (undirected adaptation). It would interesting to know what proportion of the LDS population falls into each of these buckets.

There's a strong association between creationist views and anti-gay sentiment. (People who hold one of these views tend to hold the other. Young-earth creationists, in particular, tend to be extremely anti-gay.) It's interesting that when creationism began its ascent in the U.S. in the 1920s, one of the main issues was race. Evolution was seen as justification for the mixing of races, which at the time was extremely controversial. Today, the issue is no longer race, but conservatives are anxious about the loss of strict gender roles and about homosexuality. A purely natural explanation of biological origins seems to intensify this anxiety.


Search YouTube for "Darwin's Legacy Stanford" for a series of useful lectures on evolution. Lecture 2 is especially relevant to the issue of religious views.


Evan said...

Theistic evolutionist here :)

I'll never understand the young-earth peeps.

Anonymous said...

european white males want to preserve the status quo and fear anything that threatens their top role in society, whether it be civil rights, evolution, or major changes in economy. science is not a search for truth but a means to keep everyone in their place

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

To me the only one which makes any sense (and is supported by reality) is scientific evolution. There is zero evidence for any sort of theistic or deistic influence in evolution (nor for religion at all for that matter).

But I can accept theistic evolutionists only in as much as they believe in what science has proven, and have a belief about the reasons which mean nothing to me - but the other two are just so incredibly impossible and counter-indicated by science and reality to be completely ridiculous.

C. L. Hanson said...

I think you're a little off on the most conservative Mormon belief:

Mormonism historically divides the age of the Earth into thousand-year-long "dispensations" -- corresponding to days on Kolob (see the PoGP). So each of the days of the Genesis creation story (according to Mormon belief) is one thousand years long. I'm sure you've heard Mormons talk about what's going to happen in "the Millennium". The Millennium is the final dispensation in the LDS Plan of Salvation.

So a Mormon Young Earth Creationist would say the Earth is about twelve or thirteen thousand years old. The six thousand year figure (with creation taking six Earth days) is the fundamentalist Christian version.

I sorry to be making a nit-picky point, but it's interesting to me to see how ideas that were once key elements of Mormon theology have been de-emphasized to the point where lifelong Mormons are only fleetingly aware of them.

Sabayon said...

This is perhaps a reflection of growing up outside the corridor, but I don't actually know any Mormon young earth creationists (I'm sure they are out there though). Most people I've talked to have some sort of vague combination of theistic evolution and old-earth creationism. That is most people I've talked to about it believe God did more than set evolution in motion, and this "more" would have taken the basic shape of the Genesis story but they do accept evolution as true.