“‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’: The Uses and Abuses of Evolutionary Biology in Six Works”


Natural history


It’s Friday, and so, as might easily have been predicted, a new article has just been published by Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture:





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  • brotheroflogan

    Here is part of a comment I made on Greg’s article. (which is a very good article, btw, notwithstanding my comment below).

    I also am frustrated that so few mormon scholars engage in the stronger and more intellectually honest and rigorous Intelligent Design or creationist literature. I haven’t found anybody who has engaged in Michael Behe’s work or Hugh Ross’s “More than a Theory.” I know that creationists have shot themselves in the foot with bad scholarship in the past, so I was hoping that David Stowe’s book would be as good as Jonathan Wells’ “Icons of Evolution” which is much better known among Intelligent Design advocates. Both Wells and Behe are biologists as is John Sanford who wrote “Genetic Entropy” (which is another book I wish mormon scholars would pay attention to). Sanford is a retired geneticist who became a young earth creationist by studying plant genomes, so his view could be a good counterpoint to Fairbank’s work.

    • DanielPeterson

      I do think that there’s a reflexive fear among scientifically inclined Latter-day Saints to be linked with Intelligent Design in even the most tenuous ways. We don’t want to be thought young-earth creationists. Yet I, frankly, see some pretty good stuff coming out of the better ID writers, and I wish that LDS in the relevant fields, with the relevant expertise, would seriously engage them.

      • brotheroflogan

        I can understand the reluctance. Some YECs have engaged in dishonest and shoddy scholarship. This has perhaps done more to hurt their cause than anything else could and has tainted anyone associated with the movement. It innoculates people against the movement so that they can brush it aside using a mental shorthand.

    • RaymondSwenson

      I concur with your sentiment. Intelligent Design doesn’t have to be a stand alone theory that is a total alternative to the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis of evolution and genetic theory. As microbiologist Michael Behe points out in his book The Edge of Evolution, classic evolutionary theory is observationally confirmed at a relatively low level of mutation such as that involving the development of the malaria bacteria and the sickle cell response in Africans. The most coherent arguments for ID are more properly characterized as a critique of evolutionary theory, which has all sorts of claims made on its behalf for its explanatory power, when in reality it is often a means of avoiding a detailed engagement with the question of how certain complex biochemical mechanisms actually arose. Like good old Newtonian physics, evolution is a decent first order explanation for all sorts of observed phenomena, but many scientists are reluctant to even talk about the possibility that the theory might fall short as a full explanation for all of the observed complexities of biology.

      A similar attitude prevailed among geologists for many years. They were insistent on the history of the earth being driven by long periods of time and gradual processes like erosion, so much that they were highly critical of catastrophic natural processes like the massive Ice Age floods of the Columbia River, the horrendous volcanic and earthquake events like the Yellowstone eruptions, and mass extinctions caused by comets and asteroids.

      Perhaps the sin of the scientists who identify with ID is that they went beyond some very cogent critiques of the explanatory limits of evolutionary theory, and proposed that the best alternative explanation is to attribute the things that evolution cannot explain to the action of an intelligent agent. It is a subtle difference, but if they had made the thrust of their argument the fact that Darwinian theory leaves room for those who choose, for other reasons, to believe in an intelligent Creator, I think they would have had more success in the long run in getting their arguments in front of the public, and made it easier for many scientists to admit the validity in many of their critiques. By putting their inference to a “creator” up front, they have become just another tennis ball in the ongoing war between materialists and those who argue that Genesis must be accepted as literal and modern cosmology, geology, nuclear physics, and biochemistry be thrown out. Most of the ID literature is actually just as contrary to the more militant Young Earth Creationist propaganda as classic college textbooks. It seems to me that the classic goal of Mormon apologetics, to demonstrate that their is room for both rationality and belief, is supported by the substance of the critiques advanced by ID proponents. Mormonism can embrace science without materialism, and many of the arguments made by ID proponents are worthy to be adopted by us. I find them to be praiseworthy and beautiful. I am disappointed that LDS scientists have not engaged them more directly, rather than simply echoing the denunciations that have been uttered by atheists like Richard Dawkins.

      • brotheroflogan

        I found your comments very insightful.

  • Loran

    Oh no! Is this a “hit piece” on evolutionary theory??

    • brotheroflogan

      No it really isn’t. Sometimes it borders on a love note to evolutionary theory. But actually it is a very well reasoned article looking at 6 different books relating to different aspects of evolution and religion.

  • hthalljr

    An excellent contribution that would be helpful to any Latter-day Saint taking college biology. I especially enjoyed his exposition of the wonderful advantages that Latter-day Saints have in approaching such dilemmas as theodicy. He almost made me feel sorry for William A. Dembski.

    “I do not think that any other theism can offer so compelling an argument for both God’s beneficence and power and our own genuine moral autonomy. Joseph Smith almost casually hit this issue out of the park without even seeming to understand how many leagues lay between him and the fence. This doctrine is, to me, one of the great miracles—though often underappreciated—of the Restoration.”

  • DanielPeterson

    You’ve got us pegged, Loran.

  • brotheroflogan

    I see. Thanks.