Please note that this is an essay that covers the current
state of evidence for evolution in a summary fashion. It is written by a man, David H. Bailey, who has published a
good deal of research in this area, and who is a faithful Latter-day Saint.
David H. Bailey
I must confess that I find the continuing debates about what some LDS general authorities have said about evolution and the age of the earth, or what the "official" LDS position is on these issues, to be rather tiresome at this point in time. Such debates just don't matter any more, except perhaps to historians, because the scientific facts supporting the basic notions of these theories are now just too well established. Past writings by General Authorities or other religious leaders criticizing these theories only prove that they are human. I think it's time we accepted this and moved on.
Please indulge me while I discuss this matter in some
I. Overview of
Current Scientific Evidence
Once one could argue that there were uncertainties in
geological dating, or that there are too many "missing links" in the
fossil record, or that the fundamental mechanisms of heredity and evolution were
not known. But in the last few
decades, things have changed.
That the earth is many millions of years old is now well
established. Measured dates of
individual geological layers, even when taken from samples on opposite sides of
the earth, agree. Many thousands of
these measurements have been made, using a number of different techniques.
Can they all simultaneously be in error?
One modern dating technique is known as "fission track" dating.
This is based on the spontaneous fission of uranium atoms, which occurs
at a well-established rate not influenced by temperature, pressure, or chemical
combination. Such fissions leave a
distinctive track in specimens of a certain type of crystal.
Thus by counting the number of tracks in a given specimen, and by
measuring its uranium content, a very reliable date can be determined.
With regards to evolution, every year or so it seems we
hear of some new discovery of early hominid fossils -- not just isolated teeth
or bones, but nearly complete skeletons in some cases. A number of other convincing "missing link" fossils
have recently been discovered. Natural
evolution has been exhibited in ways obvious to anyone, including changes
observed in the resistance of certain diseases to medicines, and in changes in
the AIDS virus since it was first discovered.
The recent advancements in molecular biology, including the
discovery of the structure of DNA and the role of mutations, has provided a
clear mechanism for heredity and evolution.
Computer simulations of these processes not only verify the theory of
evolution but have also been applied to completely different fields.
The resulting schemes, which are known as "genetic algorithms",
are for some computational problems the most efficient solution schemes known.
Further, countless comparisons of DNA sequences between
species have now been published. Hemoglobin
molecule sequences have also been catalogued for many species.
These results provide virtually incontestable evidence of evolution,
since scientists no longer have to rely on vague similarities in appearance
between different species -- the evolutionary distance between species can now
be objectively and quantitatively measured.
For example, the 141-long alpha chain of the hemoglobin molecule is
identical in chimpanzees, differs in only one location in gorillas, yet differs
in 25 locations in rabbits and in over 100 locations in fish.
Even more dramatic are the recent announcements of
recovering DNA from ancient organisms. Ironically,
one of the most dramatic of these discoveries, namely dinosaur DNA, was made by
an LDS scientist (Scott Woodward at BYU). These
developments herald the advent of what Charles Darwin, in his wildest fantasies,
might not have imagined possible: the direct analysis of the course of
evolution, including human evolution, at the DNA level, through the eons.
All of these results are supported by reams of meticulous
research, and there is more than enough dissent in the field to insure that any
weakly supported or imprecisely argued claims are ripped apart.
Too bad the religious world doesn't subject itself to such rigorous
A small group of "creation scientists", funded by
a coalition of fundamentalist Christian sects, has generated literature
criticizing the conventional scientific theories, and proposing its own
alternate theories. Many
religious-minded people, including many LDS people, have found these arguments
convincing, since they reinforce a straightforward literal interpretation of
Biblical scriptures. However, they fall far short of having sufficient substance
to be taken seriously by knowledgeable scientists (and not just because of their
The most sophisticated and convincing of the creationist
arguments are based on probability. I
myself studied probability theory while a graduate student Stanford, and as far
as I can see these arguments are all fallacious. The usual flaw is that they ignore the trillions of possible
alternate biological systems that could have arisen on earth but didn't.
All one can really conclude from these lines of reasoning is that our
particular DNA sequence and biochemistry are unlikely to be duplicated
The creationist literature pretty well goes downhill from
here. For example, they like to
argue that evolution is impossible because it is contrary to the second law of
thermodynamics. Sadly, the LDS
authority Elder George R. Hill used this line of reasoning in his article in the
June 1993 Ensign. But the SLOT only
applies to closed systems, not to the earth's biosphere, which is continually
receiving prodigious amounts of energy from the sun. Using the creationists' SLOT argument, one could just as well
conclude that snowflakes, convection currents in pots of hot water, as well as
all other spontaneously organizing phenomena, are fundamentally impossible.
Another creationist argument is that if conventional
geologic dating were correct, then the Apollo astronauts would have been
engulfed in 100 feet of moon dust. This
claim is based on some early, flawed estimates of the rate of flow of space
dust. These estimates were
corrected many years ago with more accurate measurements, made by spacecraft.
Needless to say, these newer measurements are completely consistent with
the small amount of dust found by the astronauts.
One other creationist favorite is the famous
"human" footprint found in an ancient dinosaur fossil bed near the
Paluxy River in Texas. But this has
been exposed as a fraud. It is also
completely inconsistent with other fossils in the area, which represent
thousands of species, yet not a single specimen of any mammal larger than a
Some of the creationist theories are so ludicrous that I
don't know how any intelligent person can present them and hold a straight face.
One of these is the notion that all of the worldwide geological layers
were deposited during Noah's flood, and that the reason more advanced animal
fossils are found near the top is that they could swim better.
Why then indeed are the geological layers so well defined?
What about infants, the sick or the aged -- why didn't they sink to the
III. Geology and
Evolution at BYU
Those of you who have attended BYU are probably aware that
the conventional scientific theories of geology, paleontology, botany and
zoology are taught at the school, with the approval of the administration.
These departments have successfully beaten back several attempts to
impose creationism at the university. BYU
has a number of very well respected scientists in this area, including Scott
Woodward (mentioned above) in DNA, Duane Jeffery in genetics, and Jim Jensen
(now retired) in geology, who assembled what is currently the largest collection
of dinosaur fossils. It is stored
under the BYU football stadium.
It is important to note that not one of the numerous LDS
scientists at BYU currently espouses the creationist viewpoint, according to a
recent surveys of the faculty. Thus
those Mormons who insist on a literal reading of Genesis not only place
themselves outside the mainstream of worldly scientific thought, but they also
place themselves outside the mainstream of LDS scientific thought as well.
None of this means that one has to abandon belief in God,
the Plan of Salvation, the Atonement of Christ, or any other basic doctrine.
One can even believe that God oversaw the process of creation and
evolution and be consistent with known scientific facts.
But, in my opinion, thinking latter-day saints (or thinking Christians of
any denomination, for that matter) cannot continue to cling onto the classical
notion that God created the earth and universe a few thousand years ago, or that
there were no living or dying beings on earth before Adam.
We have to at least accept the basic outline, that the earth is many
millions of years old, and that there has been a steady progression of living
organisms, culminating in beings much like modern humans, through the ages.
The only other choice, as far as I can see, is to posit
that God created the earth out of thin air about 6000 years ago, complete with
an intricate system of fossil-laden, radiometrically dated rocks, plus a hundred
other very convincing indications of a old evolutionary origin.
Further, depending on how one reads Genesis, one may have to posit (as
creationist Duane Gish has actually suggested) that God created the entire
universe at this time, complete with light rays already streaming on a path to
the earth as if they had originated from stars that are millions of light years
As a "test of faith"?
I submit that such a creator, guilty as he/she presumably
is of executing a deliberate fraud of an inconceivably wide-ranging scope, is
utterly unworthy of our worship or obedience.
My God is a god of truth, reason and rationality, who rewards diligent,
honest seekers of truth with ever grander rewards of knowledge.
Furthermore, if Mormons continue to deny very well
established scientific facts, then the LDS Church will find itself in a camp
with only most extreme wing of the literal fundamentalists.
This in general is the same group which produces most of the anti-Mormon
propaganda that is distributed. Would
this have been the wishes of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other founders of
our faith? Is this your wish?
Joseph Smith shocked his contemporaries by teaching that
the Bible is incomplete, incorrectly translated and not necessarily 100%
inspired. He also taught, contrary
to orthodox Catholic and Protestant doctrines, that God's miracles are not
contraventions of natural law, but that instead God works within the realm of
natural laws, and that we can discover these laws by diligent study and faith.
Joseph specifically denied the doctrine of creation ex nihilo.
Brigham Young was particularly explicit in rejecting a highly literal
reading of the creation scriptures: “ As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.” [Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 14, pg. 116 (May 14, 1871).]
Growing up in Utah Valley, with its ring of mountains
exposing intricate, convoluted geological layers, and with amazing fossils (esp.
dinosaurs) at numerous locations around the state, it seemed clear to me that
the Lord led the Saints to this region so that they would not be seduced by
creationism. Why then do Mormons
cling to Biblical literalism even today? It
A quote from Elder B. H. Roberts sums up this discussion quite well: “On the other hand, to limit and insist upon the whole of life and death to this side of Adam's advent to the earth, some six or eight thousand years ago, as proposed by some, is to fly in the face of the facts so indisputably brought to light by the researcher of science in modern times, and this as set forth by men of the highest type in the intellectual and moral world; not inferior men, or men of sensual and devilish temperament, but men who must be accounted as among the noblest and most self-sacrificing of the sons of men -- of the type whence must come the noblest sons of God, since ‘the glory of God is intelligence’ (D&C 93:36); and that too the glory of man.”
These searchers after truth are of that class. To pay attention to and give reasonable credence to their research and findings is to link the church of God with the highest increase of human thought and effort. On that side lies development, on the other lies contraction. It is on the former side that research work is going on and will continue to go on, future investigation and discoveries will continue on that side, nothing will retard them, and nothing will develop on the other side. One leads to narrow sectarianism, the other keeps the open spirit of a world movement with which our New Dispensation began. As between them which is to be our choice?
[Brigham H. Roberts, "The Truth, the Way, the Life: An
Elementary Treatise on Theology", 1930 (republished by SRA in 1994), pg.
Note that the above passage was written by B. H. Roberts in 1930. Consider for a moment how much more compelling this conclusion is today!
Positions of the LDS church
2.55 Billion years old ( WW Phelps, Joseph Smith? )
is 2.55 Billion years old ( WW Phelps, Joseph Smith? )
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