“FAIR Conversations,” Episode 12: Steven L. Peck on Evolution (part 1 of 2)

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In this episode of “FAIR Conversations,” associate professor of biology Steven L. Peck discusses the relationship between science and religion.  Latter-day Saints have long praised the blessings of science, including medical advances and various technological developments. But our relationship with various scientific theories hasn’t invariably been particularly cozy, particularly on the subject of evolution. A 2009 Pew Forum survey asking respondents if evolution is the best explanation for human life discovered that the general American public is evenly divided, with 48% saying it is the best explanation and 45% rejecting that position. Strikingly, only 22% of Mormons say it is the best explanation for human life, with three-in-four (75%) disagreeing. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses rank lower, at 90%.

Although the survey’s phrasing may skew the stats a little, Peck feels that many Latter-day Saints do reject evolution without knowing that Mormons need not do so. In part one of this episode, Peck gives a basic overview of the idea of “science” and how it helps us better understand the world. He also outlines the theory of evolution and describes some of its yet-to-be-solved puzzles.  He tackles a few common questions like: “Science has been so wrong in the past, how can we rely on it in the present with any confidence?” and “If evolution is true, why don’t we see half monkey-men walking around today?”

Incidentally, Peck also recently published a great fictional book called The Scholar of Moab. It can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Note: This episode has a few technical glitches, you will hear some light pops and skips through the beginning of the interview. Questions or comments about this episode can be sent to podcast@fairlds.org. Or, join the conversation in the comments here at fairblog.org.

 

Additional Links:

Gary James Bergera, “The 1911 Evolution Controversy at Brigham Young University,” (from the volume, Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism, eds. Gene A. Sessions and Craig J. Oberg, Signature Books, 1993).

James M. McLachlan, “W.H. Chamberlin and the Quest for a Mormon Theology,” Dialogue 29, no. 4 (Winter 1996)

Duane E. Jeffery, “Seers, Savants, and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface,” Dialogue 34, no. 1 (Spring 2001). This is an updated version of the original article, which was published in Dialogue 8, no. 3/4 (Autumn/Winter 1974).

Steven L. Peck, “Crawling Out of the Primordial Soup: A Step toward the Emergence of an LDS Theology Compatible with Organic Evolution,Dialogue 43, no. 1 (Spring 2010).

Peck’s blog, “The Mormon Organon: A BYU Biology Professor Looks at Science and the LDS Faith”

Essay by Peck, “Why Mormons Should Embrace Evolution.” (Posted as a guest blogger at Jana Riess’s blog, Flunking Sainthood.)

My book review of a recent book on evolution by the late Howard C. Stutz: “Let the Earth Bring Forth.” A few other sources I drew on to prepare for the podcast include Thomas Dixon’s Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction and Conor Cunningham’s Darwin’s Pious Idea

(My gratitude to Dan Wotherspoon at mormonmatters.org,who put together this useful collection.)

 

Runtime:

46:52

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24 thoughts on ““FAIR Conversations,” Episode 12: Steven L. Peck on Evolution (part 1 of 2)

  1. Fairchild

    I took Evolutionary Biology at BYU from Duane Jeffery the same semester that I took the first half of the Old Testament religion class. Good times!

    By the way, that evolution class was required for my major.

  2. Pingback: Blair, Me, and Evolution at the FAIR Blog « The Mormon Organon

  3. Rob Osborn

    I wouldn’t believe anything from Peck. For starters he has no idea where the Creator even fits into the picture of the creation (he has even told me that). Second, he doesn’t allow any voice of dissent, it’s either his way or the highway. His views about evolution are right in line with all other atheistic views only he is worse because he claims to believe in a Creator, just as long as He doesn’t get involved with any aspect of actually designing anything in the creation.

  4. Mike Parker

    Rob: Your comment is a classic example of poisoning the well: “a rhetorical device where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say.”(*) Rather than deal with Peck’s arguments in the podcast, you’ve decided to attack him personally. Bad form.

  5. Michael Hoggan

    I do not know Brother Peck personally, but I think that he wouldn’t have been included in the FAIR site if his ideas had no value. Heavenly Father can direct and guide things (like genetic transfer across generations) without exercising complete control over them.

  6. Rob Osborn

    The well was already poisened! It spews forth corruption!

    Personally Peck is probably a just man- religiously speaking. Me and him do not get along. He has permanently banned me from his site because he didn’t like a voice of dissent.

  7. Mike Parker

    Rob: And you will be here, too, if you continue to stoop to personal attacks. Accusing Steven Peck of being “worse than an atheist” and “spewing forth corruption” is not acceptable. But if you wish to listen to podcast and deal with the arguments he makes, that would be okay.

    (Normally I would have blocked your second comment, but I want to give an example of how not to improve the discussion.)

    Consider yourself warned.

  8. bhodges Post author

    Rob, I can’t make much sense of your comments. But one thing you said caught my attention:

    “His views about evolution are right in line with all other atheistic views only he is worse because he claims to believe in a Creator, just as long as He doesn’t get involved with any aspect of actually designing anything in the creation.”

    We talk specifically about this issue more in depth in part two and it seems to me you’ve misrepresented Steve. Your claim that he doesn’t like a “voice of dissent” isn’t convincing to me. I usually don’t like being accused of atheism and “spewing forth corruption.” That’s just weird. And sends me a loud signal: this person is not looking for dialogue, this person wouldn’t be able to agree to disagree.

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  10. Pingback: “FAIR Conversations,” Episode 13: Steven L. Peck on Evolution (part 2 of 2) | FAIR Blog

  11. Ken Kyle

    While the the editor of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Daniel Ludlow, pointed out that that book is not Church “doctrine”, Pres. Hinckley and his counsellors have explained that statements by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve do constitute doctrine. See:
    http://newsroom.lds.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

    Since the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve were involved in preparing the statement on evolution in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we can take that statement as Church “doctrine”.

    From William E. Evenson*

    “Because of a fairly broad science background as a physics professsor with research interests in evolutionary biology, I was asked to write the article on evolution for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. This article went through a long process of refinement and review. It was originally to be 1,000 words long, then was revised to 2,500 words, to 3,000 words, and to 4,500 words. Finally, in the spring of 1991, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve reviewed my last two versions, and a more antievolutionary revision of my article by someone else connected with the Encyclopedia. The Brethren decided that they wanted only a short article referring to the First Presidency statements on this subject, which are the only definitive source of Church doctrine. The resulting entry in the Encyclopedia is only 258 words long…

    *William E. Evenson was professor of physics at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. This essay is adapted from a sacrament meeting talk he delivered at the Pasadena Second Ward on 10 April 1994.”

    This is from the chapter entitled “LDS Doctrine and the Theory of Evolution” in the book “Can Science Be Faith-Promoting?” by Dr. Sterling B. Talmage, Blue Ribbon Books, Salt Lake City, 2001.

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  13. Gary Carlson

    The LDS scriptures–Bible and Pearl of Great Price–clearly state that God (or the Gods) were strongly involved in creating the earth and life on it. Steven Peck has not said anything about how this fits in with the science of evolution. While there may be good evidence that evolution occurs now and has had a role in the development of life we see on today’s earth, there is no evidence and never can be evidence sufficient to support the leap of faith that many believers in evolution take when they say it explains all of the history of life on the earth.
    In the LDS church we are not burdened with dogma that requires us to reject evolution, but if we accept the message of our scriptures on creation we might want to point out the need for humility when we speculate about what the scant evidence science has on ancient life says about the whole creation process and the history of life on Earth. As you go back in time the gaps in the science widen out into chasms and there is plenty of room where the Gods could do their work.

  14. Mike Parker

    Administrator’s note: Please confine comments on this thread to discussion of the podcast and the issues raised in it. This should not become a debate over evolution vs. creation. Thank you.

  15. Rob Osborn

    Hum…didn’t know what happened to my last post…oh well.

    The main point, and in order to understand where Peck is coming from, is that his philosophy and teachings and understandings are all based off of the typical Darwinian evolution model. Of upmost importance here is the FACT that Darwinian evolution relies on a completely godless paradigm to explain EVERY aspect of how life came into existance to begin with. It is very important to realize this fact when in discussion with Peck and his work.

    Now, what does this mean? It means that “God” cannot be part of any model or paradigm that would scientifically explain how life arose and how we came into being. If one were to ask Peck (and I have on several occasion) what role if any God does play in the creation, his belief is that he is not sure other than perhaps he just “allows” the natural force of evolution to run it’s course with absolutely no help or guidance from God Himself.

    Now, or paramount importance to all of this, if we really are in the game of defending Mormonism, then of course we have to reject Darwinian evolution and chalk it up as a threat that goes against the very principles of what we “officially” believe as it pertains to the Creator and His role.

  16. SteveP

    Let’s try Rob’s post subtly rewritten,

    The main point, and in order to understand where Peck is coming from, is that his philosophy and teachings and understandings are all based off of the typical Mechanical model of car repair. Of utmost importance here is the FACT that car mechanics rely on a completely godless paradigm to explain EVERY aspect of how cars break down to begin with. It is very important to realize this fact when in discussion with Peck and his work.

    Now, what does this mean? It means that “God” cannot be part of any model or paradigm that would mechanically explain how cars break down. If one were to ask Peck (and I have on several occasions) what role if any God does play in how cars break down, his belief is that he is not sure other than perhaps he just “allows” the natural force of car mechanics to run it’s course with absolutely no help or guidance from God Himself.

    Rob does not believe in natural law and we have no grounds for a conversation.

  17. bhodges Post author

    Gary: check out part two of the podcast, we talk more about specific religious implications of evolution. As you mentioned, humility is actually an important part of this discussion.

    I also encourage folks to listen to the podcasts themselves before being scared away by Rob. :)

  18. Martin

    I don’t have much time to go into it, but this interview is very misguiding. It talks about evolution and the 3 methods, but this is actually describing natural selection not, I repeat, not evolution. There is no question that variation occurs, there is no question that selection occurs, but these happen within their own kind. For example pigs cannot change into birds in order to reach better food on an island with better food in the trees. My point is that we are taught very clearly that our heavenly father and his son created animals in their different kinds. I am a biologist and there is simply no evidence for evolution, there is plenty for natural selection and variation within species. Whilst I love to learn and explore science, man will never fully understand some of the things of God until we are taught by the master creator himself. We should try to gain as much knowledge in this life as we can, but somethings are meant to be left to faith in the creator. There are plenty of more important things that we as scientists could be spending time, our most valuable commodity, researching and learning. Then when the time is right these knowledge gaps will be filled.
    Evolution points towards nature just happening and is an area of science which if you look at it properly (and in the course of my studies I have looked at it in as much detail as necessary) there is no evidence, and why? Because we are not able to fully comprehend the things of God such as no beginning, no end, omnipresence. There are many things that need to be taken on faith.
    This is in reference to this interview because it is disappointing to see someone with influence make such rash comments which will mislead many listeners.
    It is recorded for all of us to see and read and understand how and why the earth and all that is therein was made, Moses asked these exact questions and the answers are in Moses chapter 1 for all to read, not just the answer to why (1:39) but the answer to how. It serves no purpose to know any more than that, and again I would say that I believe that no mortal can fully understand because again, that is what we are taught.
    Again, I am definitely not attacking science, I am saying that there is already a plethora of evidence showing that evolution is simply against the fabric of nature, and that what the ‘book of nature’ simply helps us to understand is that variation occurs, selection occurs and inheritance occurs, within each kind (this is natural selection), not…. not across different kinds, there is NO evidence whatsover that proves that we originated from the same ancestry as apes or an amoeba. This claim is made from scientists without any belief is God and those trying to make sense of not having any real belief. We mere mortals are very naive if we think we can understand the things of God and creation is effectively why God is God.
    The positives you have said comes out of “evolutionary science” is simply genetics, not evolution.
    It is ludicrous to say that if someone doesnt believe in evolution that they don’t believe in science, this is also contradictory to what you have said science is. The examples of “evidence” is natural selection, not evolution can you not see that? There is so much more evidence for creation in the nature book. Which I will happily go into if you do not know this.
    I am writing this is quite disappointment of the interview as it was put across, and could easily be taken by listeners as evolution is fact and that anyone who doesn’t believe does not believe in science, this is contradictory to your own comments and simply is not true.

  19. bhodges Post author

    Martin, I see you didn’t like the podcast. You mention that you’re a biologist and I’m interested, based on your other comments, to know what type of biologist. How did you become a biologist, and what sort of work do you do?

    You seem to imply that evolution entails atheism. That’s simply false. There are a variety of theistic positions which can be adhered to which include a model of evolution. Mormonism is one of them.

    You were “disappointed” with the podcast. I’m disappointed with your comment. Not because I disagree with your personal view, that humans did not evolve, though. I’m disappointed because you seem to say that one cannot believe the things Steven Peck believes and be a good member of the Church, or even have faith in God. I disagree with that.

    You say the podcast will “mislead many listeners.” Well, I think your comment will mislead a few readers in regards to whether or not Mormons can embrace evolutionary ideas and still be faithful members of the Church. They can, and they do.

    Despite our disagreements, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving.

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