Thoughts from Terryl Givens and Evolution

Jesus-Christ-Apostles-mormon
Christ ordaining his apostles. But for what purpose? (Wikimedia Commons)

I often bring up a quote from Richard Dawkins’ controversial The God Delusion. I found it entirely interesting and thought provoking. Later, while reading Terryl Givens’ Wrestling the Angel, I found that Givens had some commentary on the quote. I was very surprised to see that he quoted him.

Anyways, I wanted to provide some of Givens’ thoughts on the topic. I hope readers find this very interesting. Everything written or quoted by Givens is written in blue.

Givens, Terryl L. Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg 215-216.

Darwin’s more famous Origin of Species appeared in 1859, but precipitated no immediate crisis in religious circles. The 1860 debate between Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” and the Anglican Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in England, which presages the prominent “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925 featuring Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in America, typified the studied staging, rather than the natural unfolding, of confrontation and conflict between science and religion. Initially, most Christians were able to accommodate both by embracing a kind of theistic evolution. Books written early on in the Darwin controversy, with titles like History of the conflict between Science and Religion (1875) and History of the Warfare of Science with Theology (1896) reaffirmed and exacerbated an invented rather than an inevitable mutual hostility. 

At this time, Mormons were insisting upon the seamless marriage of science and religion. As we saw, Parley Pratt thought the intellectual strength of Mormonism was its unwillingness to claim special exemption from the laws of the scientific world. Even the father and Son, he declared in his Key to the Science of Theology  were part of an eternal and physical universe, and therefore “subject to the laws that govern, of necessity, even the most refined order of physical existence.” Because “all physical element, however embodied, quickened, or refined, is subject to the general laws necessary to all existence.” Young confirmed this conflation of earthly and heavenly law with a startling image: “Wen the elements melt with fervent heat, the Lord Almighty will send forth his angels, who are well instructed in chemistry, and they will separate the elements and make new combinations thereof.” 

Richard Bushman suggests in the same spirit that “The end point of engineering knowledge may be divine knowledge. Mormon theology permits us to think God and humans collaborators in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Engineers may be preparing the way for humans to act more like gods in managing the world.” In this speculation, Mormons ironically find an unlikely (and surely unwilling) ally in the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins. In his controversial critique of religion, he wrote that: “Any creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything comes into existence only at the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” Elaborating this point, he said that

You have to have a gradual slow incremental process [to explain an eye or a brain] and by the very same token, God would have to have the same kind of explanation. . . . God indeed can’t have just happened. If there are gods in the universe, they must be the end product of slow incremental process. If there are beings in the universe that we would treat as gods,. … that we would worship . . . as gods, then they must have come about by an incremental process, gradually.

Consistent with scientific understanding of the eternity of matter that had been suggested as early as the eighteenth century with Lavoisier’s principle of mass conservation, Smith had already rejected the earths ex nihilo creation, and contested the biblical version of its sic-day organization as well. The Book of Abraham, produced by Joseph Smith in 1835-1842, substituted indeterminate “times” for twenty-four hour days. And as for the antiquity of the results, Smith’s close associate W. W. Phelps recognized that Smith’s teachings in this regard conformed to, rather than conflicted with, the new science of geology. 

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