Why Darwin Didn’t Use God to Explain Evolution

Did Galileo use God as the explanation for why he thought planets revolved around the sun, or did he dig deeper trusting in math and calculations to form his ideas and then seek evidence to support it?

Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, will be presenting at an event at Salt Lake Community College this Thursday. The topic, Building Bridges Across Religious Differences, presented from the perspective of an atheist, intrigues me. Making plans to attend, I found myself browsing through some of my own recent notes on the topic, where I made the following observation:

One evening several months ago, I was visiting with some of my family. The discussion briefly turned to the topic of evolution, and how simply impossible it is to imagine the evolution of something as incredibly complex as the human eye, for example, let alone the evolution of life in all its many forms, etc. Although I was in the middle of making my way through Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker for a second time, I chose to remain quiet, rather than attempt to derail the conversation in an effort clarify that the process of evolution actually makes logical sense. Frankly, I feel ill prepared to try to explain or defend the process of cumulative selection over single step selection. At the time I did not feel inclined to engage the conversation, but I now I feel like it was a missed opportunity. I have a somewhat educated understanding of the process and I think it is a valuable study.

I take no issue with the sentiment that “an atheist before Darwin could have said ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’” (The Blind Watchmaker, pg 6). Not because I don’t believe in God, I just believe, like Dawkins, that things should have good explanations.

How can someone be blamed who chooses not to believe in God by observing the open ridiculousness on display exhibited by His followers?

Dismissing an argument simply because we don’t know and can’t explain it (as Neil deGrasse Tyson would say) is simply being lazy.

Dawkins addresses attempts by those with an agenda who try to smuggle divine creation in the back door:

“Instead of a single, once and for all creation in the Garden of Eden, many Victorians thought that the deity had intervened repeatedly, at crucial points in evolution. Complex organs like eyes, instead of evolving from simpler ones by slow degrees as Darwin had it, were thought to have sprung into existence in a single instant. Such people rightly perceived that such instant ‘evolution’, if it occurred, would imply supernatural intervention… For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all. It made a nonsense of the central point of evolution.” (ibid, pg 248-249)

If one is trying to explore a deeper awareness of nature and seeking to confirm their understanding through observable science, it would be counterproductive, not to mention lazy, to dismiss the unexplainable gaps by simply filling them in with “That’s one of the mysteries of God we’re not meant to know”. If Alma (from the Book of Mormon) is to be believed, there are no mysteries that we are not meant to know (see Alma 12:9-11).

When one is sincerely looking for an answer, dismissing the question with a lazy “don’t worry about it”, “it doesn’t matter” or “because I said so” isn’t good enough. That’s not how God responds. God encourages us to “reason together” (Isa 1:18) and promises if you lack wisdom He gives liberally (James 1:5).

Did Galileo use God as the explanation for why he thought planets revolved around the sun, or did he dig deeper trusting in math and calculations to form his ideas and then seek evidence to support it? Did Marie Cuire and her husband Pierre, use God as the explanation behind the mystery of radiation, or did they explore deeper using the scientific method to further inform their research? Did Albert Einstein use God as the means to explain speed and time or did he explore deeper to come up with the Theory of Relativity? There are those who have considered each of these examples inspired, possibly even guided by God, to come up with these discoveries to benefit mankind. Why fault Darwin for doing the same thing?

What do Christians think of the Mormon Mantra “The Prophet Can’t Lead Us Astray”?

If the Bible does not ultimately lead us to Christ, what purpose does it serve? The objective is to come to Him, not the Bible (or a prophet). Scripture is a means, not an end.

Last week I attended a church picnic with with some friends who are members of a local evangelical Christian fellowship.

In a conversation with one of the pastors, the question was brought up if Mormons consider our prophet to be infallible as the Catholics do the pope. Although the simple answer is an obvious no, the president of the Church is not considered infallible, it was more difficult to explain how it is that we teach that the prophet can never lead the members of the church astray. I explained that this was a teaching that has become popular in recent LDS teaching, but that there is no scriptural basis for it. Then I pointed out that the question misses the more important point, that the focus needs to be on us as members, not the man who presides over the church. There is a great difference between following President Monson on the one hand because he holds an office, and following the Lord on the other, whose voice you recognize in the teachings of President Monson. In the first, you are trusting in a man. In the second, you are following the Lord, not man. We both agreed that there is only one who is worth following. He is the way, the truth and the life and none cometh unto the Father but through Him (see John 14:6).

Our conversation changed to a different topic, but my mind has since gone back to the original question. I imagined how the conversation might have gone if continued:

[Imaginary conversation]

Pastor: If there is no scriptural basis for it, then why do you say the teaching that a prophet cannot lead members astray has become popular in recent LDS culture?

Me: Oh boy. I don’t know an easy way to answer that honestly without exposing some difficult things about LDS history.

Pastor: (smiling) I’m game.

Me: (smiling back) Of course you are! (then becoming serious) Listen, if I can be open and honest about my church’s difficult past, I hope it will engender an openness on your part to be able to acknowledge things that may be troublesome with your’s as well. Sound fair?

Pastor: Fair.

Me: The best treatment of this subject that I have found is from LDS author Duane Crowther in his book Thus Saith The Lord (beginning top of page 72 for those interested). It appears the teaching originated as early as 1842 in an incident pertaining to Heber C. Kimball, but, “it was Wilford Woodruff who preserved the concept. He referred to it in a discourse he delivered October 6, 1890, following the Church’s acceptance of the Manifesto:
‘I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.'” (Crowther, Thus Saith The Lord, pg 73)

This is a tricky subject to be sure, and I don’t want to derail the conversation and get off topic to the subject of polygamy (as that topic is incredibly complex when you start unraveling the layers). But on this point the two ideas merge. In a nutshell, When Wilford Woodruff was claiming he would “not lead the church astray” he did not mean what we have attributed to his words. He was saying, in effect: “Don’t worry, the Manifesto is a lie. We’re not really abandoning plural marriage.” The Manifesto did NOT stop plural marriage and it was not a revelation. He referred to it as “beating the Devil at his own game.” Meaning it was intended to mislead the public. It was a press release designed to stop the persecution of the church and the threatened legislation to dis-incorporate and confiscate the Temples. Criticism from the eastern press resulted in it becoming part of the Doctrine & Covenants. Plural marriages continued from then until after President Joseph F. Smith testified before the Senate in the seating of Senator Smoot in 1905.

Pastor: Wow. That does sound complicated. Makes me want to hear more from you your thoughts on polygamy, but I’ll hold my questions on that for now.

Me: For certain it is complicated. It is an interesting study to observe the evolution from where originally Joseph Smith taught “that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (Joseph Smith, HC 5:265. Feb 8, 1843), to where the church now emphasizes that “The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, Feb 26 1980, BYU devotional). Or from the original teaching that the prophet can transgress, even providing for the trial of the President of the Church if he should transgress (see D&C 107:81-84), to now emphasizing that “The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works”, and that “The prophet will never lead the Church astray” (ibid, Benson, Fourteen Fundamentals).

Pastor: Not sure I followed all the LDS quotes, but if I understand you correctly, you are saying that the current position doesn’t necessarily resemble the original?

Me: Well, the original is not lost. But it appears our traditions can be shaped over time by our shifting culture. Something that the scriptures caution us about (Matt 15:1-6, Col 2:8, D&C 93:38-39).

I think the problem is that people have a tendency to place their trust in something that they can see with their eyes or hold with their hands. For Mormons, it can be a prophet. For Evangelical Christians it can be Sola Scriptura (The Bible). I would argue that both, without faith in Christ, will fall short.

Pastor: True, but the Bible leads one to faith in Christ.

Me: And that is what Mormons claim about their prophet, that he leads us to Christ. However, it is Christ that is “the way” (John 14:6). If we put the prophet between us and Christ, then we err. I believe the same is true for Evangelicals if they put the Bible between them and Christ, it is likewise an error.

Pastor: I think there is a difference between (and I mean no offense to you by saying this), between following what I consider a false prophet, and following the true word of God. I don’t see how the Bible can come between a person and Christ where it leads one to faith in Christ.

Me: No offense taken. But even a true prophet will not put himself between you and Christ. Take any biblical prophet that you can think of and you won’t see any of them say “follow me” (unless you count Paul, but even in his case it’s a matter of language semantics).

Pastor: Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t understand how you think the Bible can come between someone and Christ, where reading it will lead you to Christ.

MeThe purpose of scripture is to lead us to Christ, to have His word written in our hearts (Heb 10:16), and make Him alive in us (Eph 2:5, ). Despite the claim that the scriptures alone save, we can’t ignore the promise of scripture that God will continue to speak to man. (James 1:5-6; Joel 2:28-32) If the Bible does not ultimately lead us to Christ, what purpose does it serve? The objective is to come to Him, not the Bible (or a prophet). Scripture is a means, not an end. What difference is there between a Mormon who blindly follows a prophet that he assumes cannot lead him astray, and a Christian who blindly assumes that scripture alone can save by trusting in the word alone, without getting a witness from God Himself? The missing element in both is the personal connection with Christ. Do I turn to Him? Do I know His voice? (John 10:27)

Pastor: That is an interesting perspective. I may have to mull that around in my head for awhile.

Well, so much for fantasizing on imaginary conversations. I guess the whole point of this post is to share my inner tension of trying to honestly explain to someone from the outside looking in, why the LDS focus appears to be on “follow the prophet” over “follow Christ”.

Within our ranks (as LDS) it might be of benefit to remind ourselves of a few teachings from our own church leaders.

President George Q. Cannon: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop; an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place, they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone, but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. They could still see that He is just and true, that truth is lovely in His sight, and the pure in heart are dear to Him. Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men! Therefore, my brethren and sisters, seek after the Holy Ghost and his unfailing testimony of God and His work upon the earth. Rest not until you know for yourselves that God has set His Hand to redeem Israel, and prepare a people for His coming.” (Deseret Weekly, March 7, 1891. pg. 322, No. 11 vol. XLII a Discourse by Pres. George Q. Cannon, Manti, Sanpete County on the evening of February 15, 1891).

“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:150)

The Missing Verse

Jesus was the Word, creator of the earth
He is the Prince of Peace, Son of the virgin birth

I penned new words to a primary song earlier this week. Today I composed and published this video on YouTube. Enjoy!

(to the tune of Follow the Prophet)

Jesus was the Word, creator of the earth
He is the Prince of Peace, Son of the virgin birth
In the garden and the cross He suffered for our sin
By faith, grace, and repentance, I can come to Him

Follow the Savior, Follow the Savior, Follow the Savior, don’t go astray
Follow the Savior, Follow the Savior, Follow the Savior, He knows the way

How the fight against porn made me question the need to fight against porn

“Isn’t fighting against something, still encouraging fighting?” I asked… Then I posed, “Is it better to hate war, or love peace?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something inherently wrong with attempting to eradicate evil.

Back in April I was invited to an event for a small group of artists where a presentation was given to promote the battle against porn by an organization called Fight The New Drug.

The movement began as a grassroots campaign from a group of college students who were concerned about the harmful effects of porn.
The movement’s About Page features a video that states, “We’ve made it our life’s focus to raise awareness on the harmful effects of porn”, and concludes with “Join the movement and become a fighter”.

Over time, Clay Olsen, CEO and co-founder, quit his job to do this full time. In 2009 it officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and now employs talented people to support the movement and raise awareness.


The presenter, Whitney Van Wagoner (Office Manager for Fight The New Drug), was sporting an attractive red T-Shirt with the slogan, “Porn Kills Love”. During her presentation I pointed out that the words could be switched to say “Love Kills Porn” to give a more positive twist to the message. I questioned the emphasis on “joining the fight”.
“Isn’t fighting against something, still encouraging fighting?” I asked.
I shared a quote that I like from Mother Teresa, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
Then I posed, “Is it better to hate war, or love peace?”

“Love Stronger than Shame

Whitney got my point and was quick to agree. Then she pointed out that the movement emphasizes REAL love, with positive slogans like:
Love something that loves you back
Love takes two
Real love is sexy
Keep it real
Live for love

I left agreeing with the good the organization is doing. Nevertheless, after the meeting I continued to reflect on the need for an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the evils of porn. For that matter, what’s wrong with any organization whose mission is to raise awareness about or eradicate the existence of anything deemed “evil”.

Something about capitalizing on fighting against anything “bad” makes me tend to question motives (“non-profit” doesn’t mean that nobody is profiting from it). I’m reminded of the documentary, Pink Ribbons Inc., Capitalizing on Hope.
“The film documents how some companies use pink ribbon-related marketing to increase sales while contributing only a small fraction of proceeds to the cause, or use “pinkwashing” to improve their public image while manufacturing products that may be carcinogenic.”
(wikipedia article, Pink Ribbons Inc.)

I believe it is the nature of institutions to take on a life of their own. Over time they tend to protect themselves and fight to survive just like any other living thing. In the case of Fight The New Drug, for example, if any solution emerged that could actually eliminate porn, it would threaten the life of the organization. There are people whose livelihoods depend on the existence of the organization, and, because it’s mission is to fight against it, the organization requires the existence of porn in order to survive. (Perhaps Mother Teresa really does make a good point)

The story of the March of Dimes gives a better example of what happens when an organization, whose mission was to find a cure for polio, struggled to survive after the cure was found.
“In his book Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, sociologist Professor James M. Henslin describes March of Dimes as a bureaucracy that has taken on a life of its own through a classic example of a process called goal displacement. Faced with redundancy after Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine, it adopted a new mission, ‘fighting birth defects’, which was recently changed to a vaguer goal of “breakthrough for babies”, rather than disbanding.”
Greenwald, Howard P. (2007). Organizations: Management Without Control. Sage Publications, Inc. p. 369. (reference given in wikipedia)

How does this apply to contending for or against [insert your pet thing here]
Women’s rights
Black rights
Gay rights
Someone else’s false religion
Someone else’s false political ideology

Contending is contending, regardless of however noble you feel your cause is. Is it possible to stand for your cause without contending about it?

There appear to be two opposing forces at work, one destructive and the other creative. A destructive force that fights against terrorists and attempts to eradicate them from off the face of the earth only ends up creating terrorists faster than you can kill them, like Hercules cutting off heads of Hydra that multiply faster than he can cut them off. Such is the fate that rises from a mentality that embraces the elimination of evil in the world.

A creative force, on the other hand, seeks to build up instead of tear down. Love is the great healer. The Mother Teresa approach of focusing on the merits of promoting good lead to more than just eliminating evil. One converted to Christ who has “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2. See also Rom 8:1-4), has not only solved a porn problem, but a multitude of evils.

Celebration of the Trees

I wanted to join in the singing, but being powerless to do so, I simply felt the music in my heart.

A late snow in early spring inspired the following meditation.

This morning I took a walk after the sun had come out. I walked along the river and joined in the celebration of the trees. As the snow from last night’s storm melted from their drooping branches it felt like walking in gentle rain when I passed under them. I smiled at them and gave tribute to their strength for enduring the burden of snow that left their branches strained and drooping under the weight. Surrounded by casualties of broken limbs that did not survive the night, the sound of the placid dripping to me felt like a celebration song. I wanted to join in the singing, but being powerless to do so, I simply felt the music in my heart and thanked them for allowing me to witness their branches, leaving their burdens behind, raise toward heaven in praise.

Snow in Spring
Apple tree in my front yard with broken branch from an ash tree in the foreground.

I was reminded that only a few short weeks ago, I apologized to the apple trees in my yard for the pain I certainly inflicted on them when I cut off branches that yielded no fruit and pruned others so that the tree’s strength would be dedicated to producing better fruit. I took note of the burden of snow on their branches as I hurried off to work this morning, but as I pulled away I thought I could feel their gratitude. Because of the offensive pruning they endured, they now could feel the vigor of their strength as they strained under the storm’s heavy load they now bore.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)