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

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Here’s part two of the Steven L. Peck interview on “FAIR Conversations” (check part one here). Peck is associate professor of biology at Brigham Young University. Peck has interacted with many students who begin to experience difficulties in reconciling their faith with what they learn in biology classes about the origins of human life. Various LDS Church leaders have expressed a variety of opinions on the topic of organic evolution. In part two, Peck discusses the historical situation in which early LDS debates on evolution took place. He also talks about multiple live options Latter-day Saints can embrace in good faith without doing away with belief in God or the scriptures. We also discuss the problem of natural evil, suffering, and a loving God’s involvement in the world.

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.o[email protected]. 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. Image above from Psychology Today.)

 

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1:02:37

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32 thoughts on ““FAIR Conversations,” Episode 13: Steven L. Peck on Evolution (part 2 of 2)

  1. Pingback: Even more of Blair, Me, and Evolution at the FAIR Blog: Part II « The Mormon Organon

  2. Mike Parker

    “Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts…. The blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.”
    —Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (1973)

  3. Theodore Brandley

    I listened to both hours of Steven Peck on Evolution and find him very sincere and totally convinced in his beliefs on evolution. The discussion has generated several questions in my mind. The first question is, in Steven’s scoffing rejection of “intelligent design” is he scoffing at the movement, or the concept that God in fact designed and directed everything in creation?

  4. SteveP

    Theodore, Intelligent Design is a Christian Fundamentalist movement promoted by the Discovery Institute that masquerades as an attempt at real science. It has nothing to do with God’s intelligence or His design of the Universe. It’s just a well named bit of deceptive trickery by a group of disingenuous fundamentalists. It has nothing to offer to LDS thought whatsoever.

  5. Theodore Brandley

    OK Steve. Then do you believe that evolution has proceeded by God’s design and direction, and that this is the method He used in the creation?

  6. bhodges Post author

    Hi Theodore. :) Thanks for taking the time to comment. As Steve pointed out, I agree that “Intelligent Design” is actually covertly tied to doctrines which certainly go against well-established LDS doctrine, including our rejection of creatio ex nihilo.

  7. Mike Parker

    Theodore: Steven and Blair are correct. Intelligent Design has accurately been described as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”

    It is simply an underhanded attempt to recast creationism — which the Supreme Court has ruled cannot be taught in public schools — as a “science.”

    For more on how ID fails as a science, I highly recommend the NOVA program “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.”

    Shorter, but also good: Stephen M. Barr’s First Things article, “The End of Intelligent Design?

  8. JT

    Joseph Fielding Smith’s reasoning about the incompatibility between Darwinian evolution and Mormon theology was clear, coherent, complete and consistent with the revelations of the prophet Joseph Smith. I do not think it is fair to discount his strong and persistent statements on this subject as being mere opinion. It is not as if he didn’t not pray and reflect deeply about these issues and, therefore, speak with the confidence and authority of a person endowed with the spiritual powers of a prophet, seer and revelator.

    Dr. Peck seems to make the current LDS official “non-position” on evolution sound like tacit support. It isn’t. While the Brethren have not given us good reasons, it does reflect their ignorance, whether that be of the science, an adequate theological solution, or both. Whatever may be the case, it does seem like their main reason is pragmatic/political – as Blair suggested when he said that saying anything might “get them in trouble again.” In other words, the Brethren are simply keeping their eyes on the 80% tithe-paying “base” whose thinking is just as clear, coherent, complete and consistent with past revelations.

    Unfortunately for the Church, Joseph Smith was simply wrong and its members seem more more entrenched in dogmatism than ever – which this “non-position” only perpetuates. The result is that the LDS Church is outdoing Evangelical Christianity in its own creationism game and giving the Jehovah’s Witnesses a good race to the bottom.

    I heard nothing in Dr. Peck’s responses that came close to a viable theological solution to natural selection despite his repeated insistence of perfect compatibility. He is correct when he says his views sound “wishy-washy.” In his paper, “Crawling Out of the Primordial Soup …” he makes the disclaimer that his ideas are “toy models.” Well, most members are not ready for toy models, especially when it means they will be left to themselves to quietly and unobtrusively play speculations about Adam and Eve’s parents being “biological machines” without souls.

    And what do souls do exactly? Do they provide “hidden in the gaps” neuronal nudges that make us responsible free agents? How would such an encroachment of religion on physical reality work? What is the mechanism?

    Will the next big science vs. religion debate arise from the biology of brains? In fifty years (perhaps 25) will Mormon intellectuals be dismissing the folk-psychological opinions of deceased GAs as they struggle with personalized theological fixes to the free will problem?

  9. Theodore Brandley

    It appears that I need to clarify that I am not trying to defend the Discovery Institute or their “Intelligent Design” movement. What I am interested in is whether Steven Peck personally believes that evolution has been directed by God as part of the creation. I think this concept is pertinent to LDS thought.

  10. JT

    Theodore,

    I understand your question.  I think it’s a good one.  

    The scientific theory of evolution by natural selection posits a very deep contingency.  Variations in the transmitted genes, which lead to the trait variations that are selected, are as random as anything gets – we’re talking quantum indeterministically random.  

    And, on top of this is a  layer of unimaginably intractable contingency due to a cmples environment that “selects” one barely more adaptive variation over another.

    Bottom line.  The evolution of species is not a directed process – no pre-existent goal – no intetion – and, therefore, no intrisic meaning.  In other words, there was no INTELLIGENT DESIGNER.  

    And if anyone, for theological reasons, needs to posit a God (trancendent meaning makr) sticking his finger into the ecological pot to shepherd “natural selection” toward beings of his own likeness…well, that’s a conflict between science and religion.

    After all, what does it mean for a God to “use” random processes based on natural laws that pre-exist his own Godhood to bring about something?  This isn’t creation. It’s not even organization. The “creation” is intrinsic to Nature alone and precedes all “creatures” complex enough to be self-aware. The only God is imprsonal nature – it is Spinoza’s and Einstein non-theistic God.

    This  is a real problem for all flavors of theism.  The only solution I’ve noted is to imagine an outside of time/outside of space ineffable “beyond” being and non-being God, whatever that means. Every other version is far less plausible than the well-substantiated idea that it was the human species that created all these differnent gods in their own images.

    And yet it is possible resolve the Mormon difficulty in a way that preserves almost all of its propositional bliefs . Heavenly Father and Jesus are intelligent alien representatives of a species that evolved naturally on another planet in a galaxy far far away with a few thousand year “head start” on us.  They and their starship crew have been periodically visiting humans over the centuries making special semi-stealth contact with guys named Adam, Noah, Abraham, Noah, Jesus, Nephi, and Joseph Smith – among others – pretending they were “supernatural” beings. They are setting things up to share their life-extension technology with us which will happen at the end of the latter-days. They didn’t discover us until about 6000 years ago and….

    So, I share your question for Dr. Peck.

  11. JT

    Please excuse all the typos (eg. comples = complex, intetion = intention, bliefs = beliefs, etc.). My fingers were designed too big for this iTouch keyboard!

  12. BHodges

    JT, it seems to me your main problem is that you want this podcast, or Steven Peck, or LDS leaders, or religions generally to offer all the particular answers you’re interested in. (You also mix in a bit of snark there with your allusions to aliens and spacecraft. Perhaps the condescension is inadvertent. You’ve been a respectful commenter in the past.)

    The main purpose of this interview isn’t to answer all the questions you want answered, certainly not to answer all the questions there are. What I hoped to do was to create a little breathing room, not to declare that we’ve finally got everything figured out. As discussed in the podcast, various LDS leaders have had various positions. I see that as a good thing. You as a no-longer-believing-member would probably do better to see that as a good thing too. It’s probably the nature of Internet-based communication but you almost seem a bit annoyed that a member of the Church like Steven would offer several possibilities members can think about. Why? Again, even if you don’t find various suggestions plausible it seems to me the opening of discussion would be embraced by you as a good thing, but you come across as a nay-sayer instead.

    I don’t have the time to go the rounds with you on this, and I’m not an expert. The podcast is what it is. I think it can be a really useful way to introduce people to wider Mormon thought. If you find it insufficient you can also check out the mormonmatters evolution episode, it has some fun suggestions. Howard Stutz’s book I linked to is another place you can explore. And there are many brilliant suggestions outside of LDS thought trying to make sense of some of the problems you raise, including consciousness, etc. Don’t imagine we think we’ve got it all figured out, JT. We don’t. But we embrace the uncertainty. Don’t begrudge us of that.

  13. bhodges Post author

    Rob, it’s really no different than the difficulty of identifying the hand of God in creation generally. People usually point to the good order, amazing designs of various things, etc. but overlook some of the dead-ends, the natural evil in suffering, the “red in tooth and claw” bits.

  14. Theodore Brandley

    Steve,

    I interpret your reluctance to answer my question as a “no.” This prompts the subsequent question as to why your interviews were published on this website, which was initiated for “Defending Mormonism?” Creation, and Jesus Christ as the Creator, are foundation pillars of Mormonism. When Moses was shown every particle of the earth and every inhabitant thereof, he asked God two questions, “Why did you make these things, and how did you make them?” (paraphrase – Moses 1:30) God answered the last question first, and the first question last:

    And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth. (Moses 1:32)

    For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

    The earth and all things in it were created for man, by the power of the word of Jesus Christ. Allow me a few quotes for clarity:

    And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed should be in itself upon the earth, and it was so even as I spake. (Moses 2:11)

    And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind, and it was so;
    And I, God, made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything which creepeth upon the earth after his kind; and I, God, saw that all these things were good. (Moses 2:24-25)

    There are two aspects of creation that I would emphasize here. First, that all living things that God created were commanded to multiply each after their own kind, or species. This aspect is given greater emphasis in the Endowment account, and precludes organic evolution, or more specifically, speciation. Second, that all things were created by the word of God, and occurred even as He spake.

    In our scientific arrogance of the 21st Century we do not yet comprehend the science of changing water to wine, of controlling the seas, of moving mountains, of multiplying loaves and fishes, or of reviving dead human bodies after they have decayed, all by the exercise of the power of the priesthood, by commandment with the words of our mouths. It is clear from the scriptures that the elements of the universe are subject to the commands of God and those who are authorized to exercise His power. In our scientific ignorance we search for “natural” explanations because we cannot yet understand the more advanced science of God. We know that there are other energy forces at work in the universe, but we don’t know what they are or how they work. However, if we listen to Him more carefully, and trust Him more fully, “life” makes much more sense and all things are more clear. There is good reason that Mormons have a higher degree of skepticism of evolution than even other Christians. We have three additional revelatory witnesses for the creation by Jesus Christ, the Endowment being the most specific and detailed.

    Personally, my own rejection of evolution is because I find the complexity of life to far exceed the probability of that which is possible by random chance, no matter how much time is allotted; and the evidence for intelligent engineering to be so overwhelming as to be self evident. Speciation has never been observed. Evolutionists reply that is because it takes millions of years. However, there are millions of species so if it were true we should see examples of it every year, but we never see it. The commonality of the species in the fossil record is more evidence for common engineering than it is for a common parent. It is the interpretation of the evidence that is in error. Belief in organic evolution requires a leap of faith equal to that of religion and I view it more of an alternate religion than a true science.

    Theodore

  15. Mike Parker

    Theodore,

    FAIR certainly does not reject God, and affirms the participation of God in the creation process. It’s how that process was accomplished that has not been revealed (as it is clearly stated in D&C 101:32–33), and so has been left to science and reason.

    In the endless online debates between creationists and evolutionists, I’ve seen over and over that creationists misunderstand or misrepresent evolutionary thought, while at the same time are vague on their interpretation of scripture or are unable to make it fit into observable reality.

    For example, your use of the word “kind” is sloppy and not based on anything observable. (TalkOrigins has responded well to this common claim, BTW.)

    Likewise, your rejection of evolution in favor of creationism because of the “complexity” of life actually runs into far more problems than perhaps you realize. The variety and diversity of life we see today could not come out of a handful of animals getting off one boat in the Near East only 5,000 years ago.

    In short, if evolution is completely false, then God has gone to great lengths to cover up exactly how he created the world, and has left a massive amount of evidence that points to life developing gradually over billions of years.

    But this battle has been joined over and over again, and I doubt that anyone is going to have their mind changed here in this forum. If you don’t like what Steven Peck had to say, then perhaps it’s best that you just ignore this little corner of FAIR and enjoy the rest of it.

  16. Theodore Brandley

    Mike,

    It is not so much that I “don’t like what Steven Peck had to say,” it is just that I felt the need for an opposing point of view to be published along with it. As I understand the peer review process that kind of thing is expected and welcomed. ;-)

  17. Theodore Brandley

    Mike,

    When taken in context, as in, “command them to multiply each after their own kind in their own sphere and element,” the word “kind” has the same definition as “species” (a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring).

    The variety and diversity of life we see today could not come out of a handful of animals getting off one boat in the Near East only 5,000 years ago.

    That is a good point on which I cannot disagree with you. The answer that I would suggest is that all creation did not end with the creation of Adam. The Lord rested for a period of time but “there is no end to [His] works, neither to [His] words” (Moses 1:38). I can find nothing in the scriptures that would preclude the Lord from replenishing life on the earth after the flood.

  18. Mike Parker

    Theodore,

    “Kind” has no technical definition from a modern scientific standpoint. To the ancient Hebrews it was determined based on appearance. This discussion is useful:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/2009_10.html

    The only way to get modern diversity of animal and plant life is to presume a massive miraculous intervention by God, which Genesis does not indicate took place. Genesis 1-11 is not a scientific or historic account, as we understand science and history today to mean.

  19. Theodore Brandley

    Steve and Blair,

    In your discussion you both expressed concern and doubt over why God would make a world where there was so much pain and suffering, including innocent animals where many are “red in tooth and claw.” And yet God has told us that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25), and that “every form of life might have joy” (Endowment). How is this paradox resolved?

    In order to know joy there must be misery. One could not have joy in being warm if they had never been cold, etc. There must be opposites in all things. There must be evil in order for there to be righteousness. Lehi explained it this way:

    For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.
    And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. (2 Ne 2:11-13)

    So, God created a telestial world, and allowed Satan to be there and create pain, sorrow and suffering. If all life were confined to this world alone then there is no justice and universal joy and happiness could not be brought to pass. But there is a resurrection, though the atonement of Jesus Christ, to a world of happiness and joy for all life, according to their desire for happiness. All will be compensated for all pain with eternal happiness. Then it will be that:

    The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

    The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust [shall be] the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 65:25)

  20. bhodges Post author

    Theodore, I’m sure I can speak for Steve and myself in saying we look forward to those times; our hope is in Christ. But those are scriptures of comfort I can’t share with that raccoon I saw in the road, so I try to share it with those I can.

  21. jt

    Blair,

    OK, yes, this “alien representatives” speculation was a bit snarky sounding.  I apologize.

    However, it was not gratuitous ridicule.  With just a few word changes I could have framed this speculation as a serious propositional belief that was at least as plausible as LDS claims.  Indeed, with a few changes (e.g. alien = from Kolob, life extending technology = resurrection) you would be approaching some core LDS beliefs.  Which begs the question, under what circumstances do propositions delivered from (or through) a single person’s mind become accepted as true by others?

    Let me be clear. My “main problem” is not wanting particular “answers [I'm] interested in.” I am looking for good arguments. And whether or not you read condescension into my words is irrelevant to the the validity of the criticisms of the ones I heard here. I could as easily interpret your reading of my wants and attitude as condescending – but I don’t.

    FAIR’s mission is to “provide well documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.”  Having a faithful LDS scientist “create a little breathing room” serves this apologetic function. So it seems appropriate that I made these criticisms that suggest that Dr. Peck carved out less “breathing room” than he was leading the listeners to believe. I invite his response to each of my points.

    As a scientist experienced with the peer review process, Dr. Peck ought to be comfortable with stark criticism. Dealing with unvarnished criticism is the fundamental ethic of science. It is the central requirement for participation and the fuel for science’s extraordinary progress.  Please do not feel personally obliged “to go the rounds with me.” But I would love Dr. Peck respond, in a respectful and intellectually honest manner. I regret that I do not have such opportunities at home.

    Also, I am not “annoyed that a member of the Church like Steven would offer several possibilities members can think about.” Rather, I am annoyed by weak arguments that might leave people who are biased toward belief unwarrantably satisfied with “the closest thing they can feel it with.” The compatibility between evolution and Mormon doctrine is a tougher problem than he impressed and I feel it is wrong for him to leverage his scientific “authority” to do so, intentionally or not.

    I do not begrudge Dr. Peck’s faith in the face of his not yet having worked out in detail an evolution friendly LDS theology for HIMSELF. However, as I said, the status of his “toy model” hardly merits the strength of his assurances TO OTHERS. Intellectual honesty demands that he accurately portray how science-friendly, or unfriendly, modern evolutionary theory is to Mormon belief. In the absence of revelation (as he admits) the man-made theological “adjustments” may be too huge to abide.

    Also, the type of “uncertainty” that you ask me not to begrudge does not go far enough for me to fully respect. The uncertainty that you and Dr. Peck describe draws an implicit boundary around your existing core religious beliefs. I hope you wouldn’t begrudge me the less circumscribed uncertainty that led me out of belief – but which also leaves me open to returning to some manner of religious faith. For I am truly uncertain about whether this will or will not happen before I die. This is why I remain engaged in these discussions, though playing the “devil’s advocate” for now.

    Finally, I do appreciate that you entertained this issue and that you did not shy away from at least asking “tough” questions. I did listen to the Mormon Matters episode on evolution. My posted comments were not answered by Dr. Peck when I last checked. I hope the fact that I took the time to read Dr. Peck’s paper, and that I will very likely read Stutz’s book, says something positive about my approach to these questions.

    Thank you and sorry again for the “snarkiness.”

    JT

  22. bhodges Post author

    Theodore, you miss the point. That raccoon I saw was in a good deal of agony as far as I could tell, it had been struck but not killed. Its tail was waiving around frantically, it was on its side and unable to roll over, its legs were apparently broken, or perhaps it was paralyzed. Either way, I don’t know how long it sat tortured in the road, but all of the thoughts I had about various attempts at theodicy weren’t good enough to make me not feel terrible about its suffering in that moment when I saw it struggling in my headlights. Whether it “knows” now or not isn’t relevant to its own incomprehensible suffering. It is a being who can suffer without the sort of ability to reflect on suffering in the ways that we can, it seems.

    Rob:

    Even if evolution were proved true (which I doubt, but just sayin), would we be able to recognize Gods hand at some point in the past or is Darwinian evolution just at complete odds with the creation?

    You repeatedly demand an explanation of where God fits in the process. You’re not going to get a decisive answer from me on that, and from what I understand, you won’t get one from Steve. This seems like a rhetorical move on your part to declare victory because you value what you understand to be certainty on your part, apparently. You’ve got all the answers, and since Steve doesn’t, you win.

    It seems to me, Rob, that you seek signs in nature, signs which can be used to prove God or justify faith in God. When does recognition become proof? Is your sign-seeking legitimate? And is faith contingent on recognition of such things to begin with, for all people at all times?

    I try to recognize the hand of God in the world and in my life; our scriptures say we can show gratitude this way. And I’ve had wonderful experiences in God’s creation, in some ways revelatory I would say. But these experiences haven’t disclosed to me the exact ways God is involved in the unfolding of His creation. There is absolutely no compelling reason for me to embrace the conjectures of various Young Earth Creationists as you seem to do, who themselves mingle the philosophies of men with scripture ostensibly in an effort to fight a battle against disbelief. There are a variety of positions Latter-day Saints can situate themselves within, without being “atheist.”

    In other words, your implication that not knowing exact details = atheism is simply fallacious reasoning. Saying that I don’t know exactly where the hand of God is operative in the ongoing creation is not a claim that God is not involved in creation. My lack of precise knowledge is not resignation. My inability to completely reconcile my religious faith with current scientific views (and my refusal to simply dismiss one or the other) does not amount to atheism. With Nephi I can still say “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

  23. bhodges Post author

    Which begs the question, under what circumstances do propositions delivered from (or through) a single person’s mind become accepted as true by others?

    JT, it seems to me you’re simply entering the realm of epistemology here, and debates over what we can reasonably adhere to as being justifiably true beliefs. It seems you turn God and theology into hypotheses which needs to be subjected to specific scientific tests in order for us to rationally believe them. I don’t have any hard and fast solutions to these problems, which seem to be pretty perennial.

    You point out that you want more specific answers from Steve. The “Primordial Soup” article is still pretty new. I imagine Steve hasn’t moved too far beyond the proposals and suggestions he made there.

    You say Steve has ‘carved out less “breathing room” than he was leading the listeners to believe.’

    Since that’s somewhat of a subjective argument, I’ll simply disagree by so saying. He’s created some room in the publications he’s written, he creates space in his classrooms as well. By “space” I’m not talking about extremely detailed propositions which you and I can verify and accept or reject in any simple sense. As the podcast and articles suggest, he recognizes ongoing difficulties. But I’m talking about creating space for members of the church to not feel alienated for accepting scientific propositions which other members feel are “atheistic,” which are labeled as “spewing corruption.” Albeit, such comments from Rob are extreme, I’m not sure how most members of the church would phrase things. But the point is we have a faithful member and a good scholar who provides a few entry points, a few suggestions, others can expand on or reject. It seems you wish Peck would go that extra mile on your behalf or else simply declare evolution an intractable problem for Mormonism and admit defeat. While I suspect he doesn’t have it all figured out, I know he’s also sincere in recognizing things within Mormonism which convince him of truth here. As for your particular points, I’m not sure how he would answer any of them, or if he would, but the point of this podcast wasn’t to nail such things down so neatly. You believe he was overconfident. Maybe he is, but if that is so the fact remains that he’s overconfident within Mormonism without leaving. If he’s not overconfident then we have no problem.

    Intellectual honesty demands that he accurately portray how science-friendly, or unfriendly, modern evolutionary theory is to Mormon belief. In the absence of revelation (as he admits) the man-made theological “adjustments” may be too huge to abide.

    Or they might not be too huge to abide. Again, it seems we’re in the realm of what each of us respectively finds adequate, what we assume “LDS belief” must entail, and how we think evolutionary thought can or cannot have a place within it and to what extent. Calling into question his intellectual honesty is simply uncharitable. (You might object that you didn’t intend to do so, but it’s the prima facie reading of your comment.) You say you’re “annoyed by weak arguments that might leave people who are biased toward belief unwarrantably satisfied with ‘the closest thing they can feel it with.’” You add that “The compatibility between evolution and Mormon doctrine is a tougher problem than he impressed and I feel it is wrong for him to leverage his scientific ‘authority’ to do so, intentionally or not.” You seem to imply he knows better, or that he’s terribly mistaken. You seem to imply that he hopes everyone just blindly accepts that evolutionary theory need not be excluded from Mormon thought, in fact that it can fit within it in some way. I see him as, again, creating space for further work. That’s the whole idea behind his “primordial soup” piece, as the piece itself makes very clear, it has the word “toward” in the title, it introduces itself as a presentation of models. You seem to believe he must have certainty in a reconciliation before he expresses confidence in compatibility. I disagree with that.

    The begrudging comments are a direct result of your apparently snarky tone in the previous comment. I hope someday you’re able to find some solace in faith, I certainly don’t intend to begrudge you any uncertainty in the least. Like I mentioned above, I don’t know if Steve will have time to go through all the points you raise. As for me, I’m on to other projects for now, so you can have the last word as far as you and I are concerned in this particular post. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

  24. Theodore Brandley

    Blair,

    In my youth I was an avid big game hunter. One fall day in the mountains of Southern Alberta I shot a moose from about 300 yards. I neglected to adjust my sights for the fact that I was at a higher elevation than the moose and instead of hitting his heart I hit him higher up, just below the backbone. He went down and started screaming with pain. It took me several minutes through thick brush to reach him and put him out of his misery. All that time he kept screaming with pain. The mountains echoed with his screams. I have not been hunting since.

  25. Theodore Brandley

    Mike,

    Here is another passage that adds a qualifier to the word “kind.”

    And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness… (Abraham 4:11)

    Then if you want to know what the word likeness means:

    And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his own image, and called his name Seth. (Moses 6:10)

    The offspring of the “kind” has to look like the parent even as Seth looked like Adam. My bible dictionary translates the Biblical Hebrew word in question, “miyn,” to “kind” or “species.” When the scripture states that they multiplied each after their own “kind,” how many plants or animals are you aware of that multiply beyond their own species? To see any meaning in the use of the word “kind” to be other than “species” is a stretch designed to hopefully not exclude evolution from biblical creation.

  26. Mike Parker

    Theodore,

    Your previous comments are exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned creationists misunderstanding or misrepresenting evolutionary thought.

    The passages in the early chapters of Genesis that speak of “kinds” and “likeness” are clearly observational: When two parents have a child, almost always that child has physical characteristics that mimic her parents’. Modern science has revealed that this is because she has inherited DNA from each of her parents. Offspring of animals and plants have a “likeness” to their immediate ancestors.

    What the Genesis account does not describe, however, is another fact of genetic science: Inheritance with mutation. Every offspring, plant or animal, is not simply an exact combination of its parents’ DNA; it also includes some unique, random genetic sequencing.

    What anti-evolutionists fail to grasp how this genetic mutation acts over long periods of time — I’m talking hundreds of thousands or millions of years. As unique DNA combinations are passed down over many, many generations, what start as unique mutations can eventually become the norm through successful reproduction. Given enough time, these mutations become evolution — a significant change within a species, even to the point of the creation of a new species.

    That microevolution exists cannot be doubted. (If it didn’t, you wouldn’t need a new a new flu shot every year.) Microevolution, given enough time, results in macroevolution. This is the conclusion of DNA science as well as paleontology.

    Are my children “in my likeness”? Certainly. But go back along my ancestral line 100,000 years, and I’m certainly not in the “likeness” of those distant ancestors.

    For this reason I agree wholeheartedly with Elder James E. Talmage, who said

    “Let us not try to wrest the scriptures in an attempt to explain away what we can not explain. The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a text-book of geology, archaeology, earth-science or man-science. Holy Scripture will endure, while the conceptions of men change with new discoveries. We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation.”

  27. JT

    Blair,

    I’m really not a last word fanatic, but I would like to respond the points you made.

    “JT, it seems to me you’re simply entering the realm of epistemology here…”

    Yes. The central question of this podcast was how theology might “adjust” to science. In other words it was about the project of upholding knowledge derived from a religious epistemology by constructing a theological response to knowledge derived from a scientific epistemology.

    “It seems you turn God and theology into hypotheses which needs to be subjected to specific scientific tests in order for us to rationally believe them. I don’t have any hard and fast solutions to these problems, which seem to be pretty perennial.”

    On the contrary. I do not see God as a scientific hypothesis. God and theology only become a scientific hypothesis when proponents put them forward as proximate explanations natural processes – i.e. when they are placed in competition with scientific theories. As far as the evolution of life on earth goes, there is arguably no scientific evidence that supports God’s involvement as a scientific hypothesis. So I that leaves God’s role in creation a matter of theology.

    So, the assertion that “[God] did something, we just do not know what or how” is simply a faith claim. Fair enough. However, to make a claim that God intervenes in a real physical sense places the burden of evidence on the person making the claim. I think that many theologians understand this – which is the reason they tend to carve out two separate realms where there can be no conflict.

    This may be in line with the distinction Dr. Peck made between “proximate” and “ultimate” causes. I see the former as scientific and the latter as theological. This also lines up with the idea of “just leaving” the proximate causes to the scientists and the ultimate causes to the theologians.

    There is a lot to mull over here. Clearly history has shown religion, particularly more progressive or liberal strains, withdrawing from propositional claims on physical reality without permanent damage (e.g. a geocentric Universe). Mormonism may be able to do the same. But it is a tough problem given its orthodoxy and the 78% Pew statistic. If I had one last thing saying, that is it.

    “You point out that you want more specific answers from Steve.”

    Here you repeat an inference I thought I addressed as mistaken.

    “The “Primordial Soup” article is still pretty new. I imagine Steve hasn’t moved too far beyond the proposals and suggestions he made there.”

    Yes. Dr. Peck admits this. I do not have a problem with that. I also do not expect that Dr. Peck could have done much more in a single two-hour interview.

    Let me recommend Kenneth Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God for a more extensive attempt to harmonize theology and evolution. Miller is a prominent biologist (Brown University) and devout Catholic. He was a principal pro-evolution witness at the Dover. What I admired about Miller’s book is that he fully confronts the nature of the challenge (e.g. the extreme contingency of nature).

    “You say Steve has ‘carved out less “breathing room” than he was leading the listeners to believe.’ Since that’s somewhat of a subjective argument, I’ll simply disagree by so saying.”

    Yes, there is room to debate that point. I briefly supported my subjective opinion. Dr. Peck can offer a rebuttal, either directly on in later interviews/articles. Or, perhaps I can look forward to other work by LDS theologians who can do the theological “heavy lifting,” as Dr. Peck says.

    “He’s created some room in the publications he’s written, he creates space in his classrooms as well … space for members of the church to not feel alienated for accepting scientific propositions which other members feel are “atheistic,” which are labeled as “spewing corruption.”

    I am fine with that, as long as the full story gets presented at some point. No straw man version of evolution. I think he would agree.

    “Albeit, such comments from Rob are extreme, I’m not sure how most members of the church would phrase things.”

    Yet, I can sympathize with Rob (if I understand him properly). The LDS scriptures and early Church teachings encourage the seeking and interpretation of signs. Indeed, the Book of Mormon is the foundational a sign. The major apologetic argument for the Book of Mormon is that its production is miraculous because it is impossible for such a person as Joseph Smith to have dictated it without revelation.

    “But the point is we have a faithful member and a good scholar who provides a few entry points, a few suggestions, others can expand on or reject.”

    That’s fine. I’m on board with entry points as long as exit points are not obscured. I realize faithful members cannot be expected to celebrate the problems, not to mention point out the exits, but they shouldn’t obstruct them. AND I AM NOT SAYING THAT DR. PECK IS DOING THIS! I mean this generally, or in principle.

    “It seems you wish Peck would go that extra mile on your behalf or else simply declare evolution an intractable problem for Mormonism and admit defeat. “

    Blair, I will try to emphasize to my own mind your use of the word “seems” because I did not expect this from Dr. Peck. Also, where did I say that the problem was “intractable” or that my goal was for you all to admit defeat? That would be naive of me. I wrote that this was a “tougher” problem than Dr. Peck’s words suggested (or so it seemed to me). While I did use the word “intractable,” it was as an adjective to describe the contingency arising from the complexity of environmental processes. That is well supported as a proximate influence on natural processes.

    “While I suspect he doesn’t have it all figured out, I know he’s also sincere in recognizing things within Mormonism which convince him of truth here.”

    I do not doubt his sincerity. That is besides my points.

    “As for your particular points, I’m not sure how he would answer any of them, or if he would,”

    That is his prerogative. I would appreciate a response, but I hope he does not feel obligated.

    “but the point of this podcast wasn’t to nail such things down so neatly.”

    Yes, I understand.

    “You believe he was overconfident. Maybe he is, but if that is so the fact remains that he’s overconfident within Mormonism without leaving. If he’s not overconfident then we have no problem.”

    Yes, I think that we can agree that he might be overconfident. I do not doubt that he is also of strong faith. Perhaps they are related through the position of hopefulness.

    “the man-made theological “adjustments” may be too huge to abide. Or they might not be too huge to abide”

    Yes, I agree. When all is said and done, there will be those who will still be able to abide Mormonism and those that won’t. Indeed, this generally reflects what is going on in the Church today, whether the issue is gold plates, polygamy, or evolution. I still say that full disclosure of the best ethical position to take. People need to make informed choices – irregardless of the balance they strike between spirit-based and scientific epistemologies.

    It will be interesting to see how Mormon teachings change over the years (as delivered from the leadership). That is, whether the President of the Church will move from a “non-position” by revelation.

    “Again, it seems we’re in the realm of what each of us respectively finds adequate, what we assume “LDS belief” must entail, and how we think evolutionary thought can or cannot have a place within it and to what extent.”

    Yes. It’s about everybody needing to make choices. Again, hopefully informed choices. This is what motivated my response on this public forum, obviously emotionally enlivened by perspective.

    “Calling into question his intellectual honesty is simply uncharitable.”

    I can understand your reading this into my statement. All I know about Dr. Peck is what I hear and read, mixed into what I expect an expert in Biology to be cognizant of. I noticed substantive points missing and others I felt needed countering. I was responding to his words – not perceived dishonesty. At most I may have judged a bias supported by his faithfulness and hopefulness – which is something we all bring into these debates and need not be counted as dishonesty.

    For all I know Dr. Peck would agree with my points and would have addressed them if asked. If one get’s beyond my “snarkiness” (and, I admit, “high-horsiness”), I hope what I offered was a deeper delineation of the challenge in harmonizing modern evolutionary theory with orthodox LDS beliefs.

    “(You might object that you didn’t intend to do so, but it’s the prima facie reading of your comment.)”

    Yes, I understand that. If we can now set that aside, with my apology, I would ask that you, or anyone else, simply pay attention the points I made and not get distracted my perceived lack of charity. I did go so far as to admit “stark” criticism, and, as I said, I expected Dr. Peck should be use to this.

    “You say you’re “annoyed by weak arguments that might leave people who are biased toward belief unwarrantably satisfied with ‘the closest thing they can feel it with.’” You add that “The compatibility between evolution and Mormon doctrine is a tougher problem than he impressed and I feel it is wrong for him to leverage his scientific ‘authority’ to do so, intentionally or not.” You seem to imply he knows better, or that he’s terribly mistaken.”

    Well, I did take the time to write “or not.” I stand by my statement.

    I worry about how apologists use the “authority” of faithful scholars to accomplish (in their favor) precisely what Dr. Peck worried about working to the contrary – namely being satisfied with ‘the closest thing they can feel it with.’ I once read a piece by David Bitton who wrote:

    “There is nothing that requires the conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fraud. How can I say this with such confidence? For the simple reason that the historians who know most about our Church history have been and are faithful, committed members of the Church.”

    Trusting authorities runs deep in the LDS Church – as deep as trusting feelings. Consider also Boyd K. Packard’s most recent General conference talk. In a key portion of it he stresses that “hearing” the spirit is matter of “feeling.” This was among the most unambiguous statements of Mormon religious epistemology I have ever read. Obviously I would see this as problematical. It’s just not an epistemology that passes the test of other people’s faith and it is an approach that can create a lot of “mischief” in the wrong hands. But that’s another topic.

    “You seem to imply that he hopes everyone just blindly accepts that evolutionary theory need not be excluded from Mormon thought, in fact that it can fit within it in some way.”

    This is an inaccurate reading between my lines. This is certainly not what I read between Dr. Peck’s words. His point was that Mormon theologians still need to do some “heavy lifting” and was obviously hopeful that it can be done in an intellectually satisfying way. So Let the lifting begin.

    “I see him as, again, creating space for further work. That’s the whole idea behind his “primordial soup” piece, as the piece itself makes very clear, it has the word “toward” in the title, it introduces itself as a presentation of models.

    Sure, I completely agree.

    “You seem to believe he must have certainty in a reconciliation before he expresses confidence in compatibility. I disagree with that.”

    No, I do not expect certainty. This is an inaccurate inference. I personally try to abide the dictum that confidence in a proposition should be commensurate with the evidence and the degree of development of the argument.

    “The begrudging comments are a direct result of your apparently snarky tone in the previous comment.”

    OK, I understand that.

    “I hope someday you’re able to find some solace in faith,”

    Thanks.

    “I certainly don’t intend to begrudge you any uncertainty in the least.”

    Thanks again.

    “Like I mentioned above, I don’t know if Steve will have time to go through all the points you raise.

    I would understand if he doesn’t.

    “As for me, I’m on to other projects for now, so you can have the last word as far as you and I are concerned in this particular post.”

    OK. Best wishes for success.

    “Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.”

    I did. Thanks. I spent it with my own family and a family from my wife’s ( my former) ward, every one a faithful member that I have neither pointed to (nor hid) the “exit points” that I perceived. Perhaps the strain of keeping my views to myself all these years is the source of that “snarkiness” that leaked out – made easier by the relatively impersonal nature of on-line forums. I guess I’m only human :)

    Best wishes,

    JT

  28. BHodges

    Thanks JT, we’re gonna close up comment shop on this one, but hopefully we can revisit it in the future. You raise some interesting questions, so I look forward to it!

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