Another Mormon deconverts, and we learn about the Church’s stand on evolution

May 1, 2015 • 8:45 am

A reader who doesn’t want to be identified wrote in with some information about how Mormons regard evolution (hint: not favorably). I’ll start with his/her “deconversion” story, which is short but emphasizes again the effectiveness of critiques of religion and paeans to reason on drawing people away from superstition.

I was raised a Mormon, but became an apostate at 17 and became an agnostic with religious yearnings until reading Harris, Dawkins and Pinker.  Your WEIT book has been the best reference for discussions I’ve had with both Mormon and God believing ex-Mormons who reject evolution.  The points you have made in the book makes their mental gears turn.
And now information about evolution (LDS stands for “Latter Day Saints,” part of the Church’s official name):

I thought you might be interested in an article published by the LDS Church’s newspaper:

The LDS Church has been saying there is no conflict between science and religion for years, yet there are few Mormons who accept evolution, and those who do reject speciation in favor of micro-evolution.  I have met only one Mormon who accepts that humans evolved from non-human animals.

The article describes the opening of a new Life Sciences Building at Brigham Young University (a Mormon college in Utah), and quotes Elder Russell M. Nelson, a former cardiothoracic surgeon and a member of one of the Church’s governing bodies, The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Nelson is quoted in the Deseret News: “This university is committed to search for truth, and teach the truth,” said Elder Nelson. “All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible.”

Really? After all, the Book of Mormon says that Jesus not only visited North America, but that the Native Americans migrated here from the Middle East. The latter claim is completely refuted by the genetic evidence (Native Americans are genetically related to Siberians, as we expect since they came to the New World over the Bering Strait.) Of course Mormon theologians are busily trying to comport the genetic data with the book of Mormon, an amusing exercise I discuss in Faith vs. Fact.

And what about evolution? My ex-Mormon correspondent added this:

There’s a Pew article showing that only 22% of Mormons accept evolution.

In 1984, former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinkley wrote the following in the church magazine Ensign:
“I remember when I was a college student there were great discussions on the question of organic evolution. I took classes in geology and biology and heard the whole story of Darwinism as it was then taught. I wondered about it. I thought much about it. But I did not let it throw me, for I read what the scriptures said about our origins and our relationship to God. Since then I have become acquainted with what to me is a far more important and wonderful kind of evolution. It is the evolution of men and women as the sons and daughters of God, and of our marvelous potential for growth as children of our Creator.”
(The full article is here.) Hinkley was quoted in an article published in 2004 in the same church magazine.

A Mormon colleague told me that he took a human evolution class at BYU.  The professor spent some time trying to convince students that human evolution didn’t conflict with LDS beliefs and therefore wouldn’t harm faith.

Here’s the 2009 Pew graph showing acceptance of evolution among various faiths in America (the question asked is at the top). As usual, the question deals only with human evolution; I suspect that the numbers would be higher if people were asked about evolution of nonhuman life. But, as you see, Mormons, while above Jehovah’s Witnesses, who adamantly and explicitly reject evolution, are below Evangelical Protestants and have only half the evolution acceptance of Muslims. That’s pretty low for a faith in which religious truth is fully compatible with scientific truth!

evolution

There are 6.5 million Mormons in the U.S., and many of them are prosperous, upper-middle-class citizens. They are hardly the toothless Bible-thumping fundamentalists that come to mind when you think of creationists. The official position of the Mormon Church on evolution is that it takes no stand one way or the other on the process, but does affirm that humans came through Adam and Eve and did not evolve from other creatures. As far as I can see, the ongoing position of the Church, first articulated by the “First Presidency” in 1909, is still in force, and was reaffirmed as late as 1988 (my emphasis):

All [men] who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner. It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of the race … all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.

True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.

I wonder what the position of accommodationist organizations like the National Center for Science Education would be about churches that might accept evolution but not human evolution. At any rate, they’re going to have a hard slog convincing 5 million Mormons (the 78% that deny human evolution) that our own species evolved. (I wonder how successful that BYU biology professor was!) What they’ll have to do is to show those Mormons that the explicit statements about Adam and Even shown above are really just metaphors, and that humans evolved from earlier primates. Good luck!

 

The Thinking Atheist’s book

August 27, 2014 • 2:13 pm

Just a quick note: Seth Andrews, who hosts “The Thinking Atheist,” one of the best and most popular podcasts for the godless, wrote a book about his deconversion from evangelical Christianity to atheism.  I met Seth at the “Imagine No Religion” meeting in Kamloops; he was a great guy and gave a fascinating talk about how the tropes of secular, popular culture are appropriated by Christians to create a self-contained parallel world for their youth.  After years as a Christian broadcaster and d.j., Seth’s faith slowly waned, largely because he read the books of the New Atheists.

I’ve just become aware that Andrews’s Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason was published in December of 2012. It wasn’t on my radar screen for some reason, but a reader called my attention to geologist and science writer Don Prothero’s positive review of the book in the latest issue of the online Skeptic. Here are two excerpts from Prothero’s review, which is called “The Thinking Atheist Confesses.

The latter part of the book is full of his shrewd observations on religion and atheism. Among the gems are his list of the different categories of believers he’s come to know (the Feeler, the Theologian, the Folklorist, and the Foot Soldier), and his answers to the common questions he gets from the many believers who cannot accept his atheism. As someone who grew up in a slightly different Protestant tradition (Presbyterianism) and grew out of his family’s faith also, I can relate to many of Andrews’ experiences—as can most people who were raised in strictly religious families and have found their way out of their religious shackles.

. . . Andrews’ book is a short but very enjoyable read. It is especially of interest to anyone who has made a similar journey from faith to non-belief, or wishes to understand how this process works.

And the Amazon reviews, and ratings, are pretty impressive:

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I’ll definitely be reading this.