Darwin Week

The year 2009 was a special time for evolutionists. It marked Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. (He was born in 1809). I was teaching part-time on the BYU campus in Provo. I remember seeing books, articles, and speeches honoring his achievements. The BYU biology department celebrated the week with public lectures on Darwin. Curious about what sort of things were being said and how the lectures were going, I attended an evening lecture on the similarities between Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, and Charles Darwin. Judging by the energetic applause from the large crowd in attendance and the praise being heaped upon Darwin all that week, it was clear to me that the man is held in high regard. Unbeknownst to me, Darwin had become a pop star.  
            With all the revelry, I began to wonder if a faculty member would openly advocate theistic evolution (TE) (TE is the belief that the Lord used evolution to create life). It was one thing to honor Darwin for discovering natural selection, it was quite another to say that Darwin’s theory of evolution across life forms and descent from a common ancestor is in harmony with the restored gospel.
            While walking across campus the next day I picked up a copy of the university newspaper, the Daily Universe. The newspaper contained several articles and announcements related to Darwin Week festivities. As usual, I first looked for the letters to the editor—a favorite of mine for morally opinionated content—and then moved onto the articles. I didn’t have to read long before I found what I was watching for—a statement from a faculty member openly advocating TE. The Daily Universe quoted a BYU biology faculty member as saying, “We [the biology department] spend time dispelling the myth that evolution and religion are incompatible.”
            I had to read that line a few times to understand the full extent of what was being said. Three things stood out in my mind. First, this statement suggests that some in the biology department believe that the gospel account of the creation is in harmony with Darwin’s idea that all living things, including humans, evolved from lower, common life forms. Second, according to some members of the department, members who disagree and say that the gospel and evolution are incompatible have accepted a myth. And third, some members of the department are encouraging students to accept their brand of TE.
            I don’t mind that these faculty members personally accept TE, and I don’t mind that they think that I’ve bought into the myth that the creation and evolution are incompatible. Moreover, it is not my place to say what they should and should not be saying about TE in their courses; as long as they are teaching the principles of evolution in a rigorous manner, they are doing their jobs.
            What concerned me about Darwin Week was the lack of opposing voices. Certain aspects of evolution are at odds with the gospel. Where were the voices expressing theological concerns with reconciling the gospel and evolution? And where were the voices assuring Latter-day Saints that it is scientifically reasonable to reject portions of evolution? From what I could tell these voices were not invited to be heard during Darwin Week.
            With all the excitement surrounding Darwin and the admission from a faculty member that the biology department is promoting reconciliation between evolution and religion, I could not help but wonder if some young Latter-day Saints were feeling pressured to embrace TE. Because TE is growing in popularity among believers, accepting some sort of reconciliation between evolution and the gospel might seem like the logical thing to do. Nevertheless TE is fraught with spiritual and doctrinal concerns.
            In the next post we'll take a closer look at some of these concerns and analyze their impact on believers and religious skeptics alike.

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