Beliefs on Darwin's evolution vary from religion to religion
Many seem unenthusiastic about schools teaching intelligent design
As the Legislature begins its wrangling over how evolution should be taught in Utah's public schools, the people who will affect the debate include not only lobbyists and legislators but, more subtly, Adam and Eve, Sunday school teachers, rabbis and the pope.
Religion has been trying to get a handle on Charles Darwin since his "The Origin of Species" and "Descent of Man" were published in the 1800s. Darwin's theory that human life evolved from lower life forms a process that includes random mutation and natural selection shocked people who believe that Adam was the first human. Evolutionary theory also implies that life could have occurred without divine direction, although Darwin himself inserted the phrase "by the Creator" in a later edition of "Origin."
The controversy over Darwin's work has come to a head in Utah this week as the Legislature debates a bill by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. SB96, expected to come up before the entire Senate today or Friday, requires that public school science classes teach that not all scientists agree about the origins of life.
Although the bill makes no mention of intelligent design the theory that the complexity of biological life shows that some "designer" must have had a hand in its creation the Utah Office of Education and other critics argue that the bill leaves the door open for religious theory to be taught in science classes. And that, they argue, may violate a constitutional separation of church and state.
As legislators debate the bill, it's hard to imagine that their own religious beliefs won't creep into their deliberations and that they won't be lobbied by people swayed by their own beliefs about the origins of life.
That's the backdrop for a slim little book, hot off the presses, written by Utah Valley State College physics professor William E. Evenson and Brigham Young University biology professor Duane E. Jeffery. Titled "Mormonism and Evolution: the Authoritative LDS Statements," the book is a compilation of statements made by or sanctioned by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from 1909 to 2004.
"There has been a belief, for years and years and years, that Mormonism and evolution are diametrically opposed," Jeffery said in a recent phone call. He hopes the book will illuminate the grayer areas of the church's position. Jeffery calls himself a "theistic evolutionist."
Included in the book are four official First Presidency statements released in 1992 by Brigham Young University in a special "evolution packet" for students. In 1999 the packet was distributed to all teachers in the Church Education System.
According to Evenson, "the LDS Church has really been careful over the years not to get into a box where they are taking a position that later gets undermined by science and other developments of human knowledge. I don't think that's well understood by people who would like to have this be a settled issue."
A reading of the official statements, which also include 12 that are not a part of the "BYU packet," shows a subtle evolution of response. In 1909, Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund of the First Presidency wrote that Adam is the "primal parent of our race" and that the church "proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity."
In a 1992 section on evolution in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the church-sanctioned entry reads that: "The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again." It ended with a reiteration that "Adam is the primal parent of our race."
Ten years later, President Gordon B. Hinckley was quoted as saying, "What the church requires is only belief 'that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race.' Scientists can speculate on the rest."
Some religions are more eager to speak out against Darwin. Fundamentalist Christians take the Bible literally that God created the Earth in six days, and have made clear their position on the teaching of evolution.
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