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Is there conflict between Latter-day Saint theology and evolution?

Faith Matters

When Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he may not have understood the intense debate it sparked then would continue to rage more than 150 years later.

Charles Kingsley, a priest of the Church of England and university professor who supported Darwin, stated that he found it “just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self development… as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made.”

Less enthusiastic was a council of German Catholic bishops who proclaimed in 1860 that the notion that “man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith.”

Latter-day Saints have stood on both sides of this argument as well; while Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine clearly opposed the theories of natural selection over millions of years, Brigham Young (who was President of the Church when On the Origin of Species was published) said:

“In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular…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.”

Joseph Smith said it perhaps more simply when he stated: “Mormonism is truth.”

But while we may take comfort that true doctrine and true science will never contradict each other, big questions remain:

Firstly, is the idea of natural selection rooted in good science?

If homo sapiens did come to exist by natural selection, who were Adam and Eve, and what role did they play?

And if man and woman are formed in the image of heavenly parents, then what of the continuing evolution our species is bound to experience in subsequent geological eras?

To help us gain deeper understanding as we grapple with these questions, we invited Dr. Heath Ogden to steward this Big Question. Dr. Ogden is well-suited to the task: he’s not only a professor of evolutionary biology, he’s also a Latter-day Saint of deep faith currently serving as bishop of his ward.

His article, “Accepting Truth with Joy,” dives straight in, addressing what modern science really has to say about evolution, comparing that with the Church’s stance, and giving insight on what role our “first parents” may have had to play.

Next, we invited Terryl Givens to sit down with Dr. Ogden and talk through some of these issues. Their conversation centered around two central questions: “Can Our Faith Embrace Evolution?” and “Does Evolution Enrich Our Theology?” We hope you enjoy their graceful and reflective discourse.

Also, consider watching one of our earlier episodes in the Conversations with Terryl Givens series featuring Dr. Steven Peck, “The God Who Marvels”, where he shares how Mormons need not fear scientific discovery and inquiry but can instead be used to become more acquainted with God.

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Additional Resources

Can Our Faith Embrace Evolution? – Terryl Givens with Dr. Heath Ogden

Does Evolution Enrich Our Theology? – Terryl Givens with Dr. Heath Ogden

Accepting Truth with Joy: An Evolutionary Biologist’s Perspective

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