A week or so ago the world noted the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Dubbed “Darwin Day,” the event was met in the press with many stories related to evolution and the effect that evolutionary theories have had on not just the biological sciences, but also on society as a whole.
Included in the mix were several stories related to Mormonism and evolution. I particularly enjoyed one such story that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune about how Daniel Fairbanks, grandson of Avard Fairbanks. Dr. Fairbanks teaches at Utah Valley University and previously taught at BYU and has no problem reconciling evolution with Mormonism.
It appears that Dr. Fairbanks may be in the minority, however. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a report about the conflict between religion and evolution. In that report they resurrected the results to a question about evolution asked of 35,556 people in 2007 and first reported in 2008.
Question: Now, as I read some statements on a few different topics, please tell me if you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree or completely disagree.
(c) Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth.
Seventy-six percent of the 600+ respondents who self-identified as Mormon reported that they either mostly or completely disagreed with the statement. The indication, then, is that 76% of LDS don’t agree with evolution.
Of course, it is very possible that the wording of the question was parsed rather finely by the LDS respondents. I know many LDS who accept evolution, but don’t believe that humans evolved naturally from some primordial ooze. Thus, a literal response to a question about whether evolution accounts for the origins of human life would, for such people, be negative even though they accept evolution in other ways. (The Pew survey did not get more nuanced in its responses than what is indicated in the question above.)
Let’s assume for a moment that 76% of Mormons really do reject evolution. Does such rejection indicate that evolution must be doctrinally rejected? Some would say so—particularly those for whom evolution has become a gospel hobby horse. Yet, even the Pew Forum indicates on their resource page (under Mormonism) that it is not an open-and-shut issue within the Church.
It is safe to say that the Church has no official position relative to evolution. Leaders and influential people within the Church have taken positions on both sides of the issue—for and against—and it is taught at Church universities. Like the institutional Church, FAIR takes no official position on the matter, yet as a reflection of the Church membership there are members of FAIR who accept evolution and those who dismiss it. Regardless of their personal views on evolution, all FAIR members that I know accept that we are all children of God who lived with Him before coming here and seek to live with Him again.
Whatever your feelings on the matter, it is important that dismissal of evolution not be presented as doctrine and equally important that Church members not be viewed as homogeneous in their views on evolution.