First, a little background: FAIR is an all-volunteer organization. One of the things we do is answer questions submitted through the FAIR web site. These questions are forwarded to a group of about 100 volunteers, any and all of whom are likely to reply to the questioner. We try to answer every question. Some questions generate only one response; others spur several volunteers to reply.
The questions we get run the gamut, from criticisms of LDS beliefs, to questions about Church history, to help dealing with critical family members.
Sometimes we receive comments critical of FAIR itself. Most often these are from non-Mormons. Occasionally, however, they’re from Latter-day Saints who disagree with something published by FAIR.
About the beliefs of FAIR volunteers: You’ll notice that FAIR’s web site does not contain a “statement of faith” or list of beliefs. All of us* accept the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we agree on the core principles of the Restoration. But we often disagree among ourselves on the less-well-understood or finer points of Mormon doctrine.
When a new and different question comes to FAIR, it sometimes sparks an email conversation among volunteers on how best to answer it. These conversation threads can sometimes go on for days, even weeks. It’s during these times that we are reminded that Latter-day Saints are not a Borg-like “hive mind.” Outside the core principles, clearly defined by revelation, there is a wide spectrum of acceptable Mormon belief.
Today we received an email from an angry Latter-day Saint. She had apparently read some of the information on the FAIR wiki concerning organic evolution and Mormon doctrine.
Because the First Presidency has not come out formally and directly against evolution, FAIR takes a moderate approach to this subject. The closing statement in our wiki article concludes:
The Church has no official position on evolution, and each member is entitled to his or her own personal views on the subject. In the evolution debate, difficulties have arisen when readers assume that statements by certain leaders represent an official position beyond that expressed by the First Presidency as a body.
There are, of course, certain individuals who take a more conservative approach — following Ezra Taft Benson, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, and others — in condemning evolution as a heresy that is incompatible with belief in the gospel. But there are also believing Mormons across the spectrum, including those who embrace evolution — even the evolution of man — as factual and scientific.
The FAIR approach is generally to support those things that have clearly been revealed, and to offer a range of acceptable beliefs when revelation is silent. Evolution is a perfect example of the latter. It doesn’t do any good to be dogmatic when there is room for interpretation and disagreement among believing Mormons.
This, I think, is especially important in raising our youth. The sister who wrote that letter castigated us for perpetuating “great confusion among the youth of the Church.” Yet the very youth who may be taught by this well-meaning sister will eventually go to universities — including BYU! — where evolution is taught in science classes, and where anti-evolution viewpoints are treated with considerable amusement.
They’ve been assured that a denial of evolution and death before the Fall is a key part of LDS doctrine. So, what gives? The Church? The science? One hopes they take the third route, and learn to integrate those things God has revealed with those things God has given us intelligence to discover. Sadly, all too often, it’s either science or the Gospel that gets chucked.
FAIR volunteers disagree among themselves on evolution and other “non-core” subjects, but there is one thing we do agree on: That we will be open to a range of possibilities when certainty has not been revealed.
*Some FAIR volunteers are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but are sympathetic to our position and have knowledge in special areas on which we rely. We are grateful to and for them.