When I was a child, like many my age I had a fascination with dinosaurs. The animals existing so many years in the past was hard for my young mind to comprehend. All I knew was that great monsters once roamed the land. What we knew of them came by digging the bones out of deep rock and dirt. Names for beasts were long and complicated, but flowed smoothly from child lips proudly pronouncing each syllable.
The idea these real myths came from a long natural process never crossed my mind until later in life. These creatures at first came fully formed in my imagination. My wonder came from the wide variety of large herbivorous animals forging for plants or carnivores hunting. Again, I loved learning about and pronouncing Saurischia Theropods and Sauropods to the Ornithiscia plated and horned. To date my favorites are not actually dinosaurs, but the more ancient mysterious Theropsida that are said to have given rise to mammals.
Evolution entered my thoughts and vocabulary only when extending interest to what came after the dinosaur extinction. If they lived, why are they no longer here and how do we have life now? This brought me to the study of what scientists call human ancestors. Books told the story of bones that looked like humans and yet were not, at least not completely. There was some discussion of the “missing link” that incidentally hasn’t been missing since the 1950s and 60s discoveries. Knowing the Adam and Eve story since before my interest in dinosaurs, it was all so confusing. I began asking religious questions relating to all these past lifeforms. The answers I got back from others were less than helpful, but I had faith in God from Scriptures and ancient life in fossil remains.
The most prevalent answer was that the Earth formed from the remains of other planets. Fossils were a record of other places along with past times. Some point to Moses 1:33-35 where it talks about, “And worlds without number have I [God] created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son,” including, “there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power.” These are coupled with the statement of Joseph Smith:
The world and earth are not synonymous terms. The world is the human family. This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live. The elements are eternal. That which has a beginning will surely have an end. Take a ring, it is without beginning or end; cut it for a beginning place, and at the same time you have an ending place.
At first this seems logical when needing to account for religious and scientific claims. By the time it sunk in what they were speculating, I understood where this was wrong. Rudimentary knowledge of paleontology made the idea unattainable. The first step to proving this false was a look at a map of the Earth. If this planet got put together from others, it did so with very precise jigsaw connections. Take South America and connect it to Africa for a near perfect fit as an example.
Next you have the fossils themselves to prove the theory incorrect. Each layer of stratification has matching discoveries of plants and animals. There are some so specific to a layer that other finds are dated by them existing such as types of trilobites. More impressive is hundreds of the same fossils have been found in South America, Africa, Asia, and Antarctica among other places. This includes a mammal-like reptile Cynognathus, the pig size Lystrosaurus, the water reptiles Mesosaurus and Ichthyosaurs, along with many plants. The most recent mixed continent fossil Rugops primus puts to question how late in history a land bridge exist between hemispheres.
All of this to say complications arose whenever trying to put together the puzzle of how natural history relates to Scriptural history. Many simply decide one of two things; reject either for the other or put the questions on a shelf for the next life. As someone who is a paranormal enthusiast and loves to read and write Science Fiction, cognitive dissonance with suspension of disbelief doesn’t bother me. I can follow the advice of the White Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass, where she states, “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Yet, I don’t like to put things on the shelf just because its complicated.
To be sure there are difficulties that I see in the theory of Evolution. It can be pointed out by already formed living examples and fossils, but rarely observed in its action if ever depending on your definition. Some claim that laboratories have observed the evolution in fish, flowers, and bacteria. None of them, like the flowers, actually changed into something else. The one with the bacteria couldn’t be replicated except by the same group. The fish might even be described as an experiment in Theo-evolution because of how much care the scientists had to take in the process of change. Other problems I see are beyond the scope of this post.
There is a reason anti-Evolution remains in Mormonism even if Creationism is seen as unattainable. Despite all the witnesses (evidence) to Evolution, many Mormons hold on to anti-Evolution positions because there isn’t anything to fill the void. The unsaid argument for Mormon Creationists is “if there is no position on Evolution, than what exactly are modern Prophets and Scriptures saying?” There has been little discussion on the theological implications. Keeping the questions of Evolution vs. The Creation on “a shelf to ask when I am dead” might be a good personal approach, but it will fail to convince other LDS members. And that means more than dismissing McConkie, Smith, Benson, et el. as wrong. It means the very difficult, but I believe possible, work of explaining how they are correct in their own message (such as explaining what they are really going against is the atheist use of the theory). Then, moving past that, explaining how Evolution fits into Mormon theology and Scriptures.
Religious Evolutionists must confront theological concerns to make any lasting headway. To simply say that science and religion ask and answer two different questions is the real “God in the gaps.” Exactly what questions do they ask and what kind of answers are to be found? Scientists should understand there has to be interpretive frameworks to make sense of desperate evidence. The “don’t take it literally” is still NOT an answer or even a discussion. There has to be interpretive discussion of even non-literal meanings. You don’t read a book if you can’t understand the words.
I have for a few years had my own tentative theory of how Evolution and Creation work together. Many questions remain such as the idea of pre-Adam-ites and no death before the fall. Still, it is better than leaving it alone or dismissing one or the other. Even Elder McConkie didn’t believe in the Young Earth theory. That is a starting point. For the next few weeks I hope to expand on what I have already considered and find more common ground. They both have too much meaning for me to ignore or reject.