The Good
Unlocking the secret of evolution, which is that natural selection acts on random genetic mutations, has greatly enriched our understanding of the natural world. This understanding has lead to scientific breakthroughs in genetics, medicine, pharmaceuticals, computer science, and in learning how variation arises within species. These breakthroughs have had a positive impact on our society, whether we realize it or not (Source: Scientific American, January, 2009 issue).

The Bad
The theory of evolution contains theoretical assumptions about the world that are inconsistent with the doctrines of the restored gospel. At a fundamental level, evolution is mechanistic. By mechanistic I mean that evolution makes two ontological assertions about the fundamental nature of the natural world, namely materialism and efficient causation.

Materialism is the belief that the fundamental nature of the world is physical material. Everything that truly exists is made up of matter. In a manner of speaking, what matters is matter. There is no such thing as the non-physical. Spirits are not real, neither are your thoughts, emotions, and personal sense of identity - these are nothing more than the actions of electrochemical processes in your nervous system.

Efficient causation is the belief that events or change result from natural laws acting on physical material. There are no supernatural, spiritual, or cognitive sources of change. Also there is no purpose or agency in events; there are just the unintentional forces of nature which determine how matter is to behave. Mother Nature is like a blind watch maker that creates a beautifully complex world without a purpose or goal in mind.

The Ugly
Unfortunately we cannot simply pay attention to the Good while ignoring the Bad in evolution because the Bad has ugly consequences. The Bad provides an impetus for people to not believe in God.

According to a 2005 Rice University survey by Elaine Howard-Eckland, 66% of all scientists surveyed said that they believed in God. Pretty good. But when the researchers divided the survey responses by area of expertise, namely natural vs. social science, they found startling differences. Natural scientists are less likely to believe in God than are social scientists.

Other studies support these results.

According to a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), nearly 95% of biologists are either atheists or agnostics, much higher than all scientists in general! (SOURCE: Larry Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.)

Similarly, according to a 2003 Cornell survey of leading evolutionists, a whopping 87% deny existence of God, 88% disbelieve in life after death, and 90% reject idea that evolution directed toward “ultimate purpose!” (SOURCE: Gregory W. Graffin and William B. Provine, Evolution, Religion and Free Will, American Scientist, vol. 95 (July-August 2007.)

And according to a 2007 national survey of faculty at colleges and universities, more than 60% of all college biologists consider themselves atheists or agnostics! (SOURCE: Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, How Religious are America’s College and University Professors? Feb. 6, 2007.)

The scriptures teach us that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” It appears that one of the fruits of the theory of evolution is atheism, or it may be that evolution biology attracts atheists. I expect that both are true, but given that, as President Ezra Taft Benson observed, “Students at universities are sometimes so filled with the doctrines of the world they begin to question the doctrines of the [Lord’s] gospel,” it is fairly safe to conclude that evolution is driving some people away from God.

So what should we do? Well we can’t just stop teaching evolution; it is an important part of science (look at the “Good”). As a scientific theory it has its faults, but that is no reason to stop teaching evolution either. If we start restricting science education to only theories that are perfect, soon there would be no theories left to teach. Science is not perfect. It is an ever progressing and self-correcting manmade endeavor.

From an LDS perspective, I think the key is to make LDS youngsters aware of the mechanistic assumptions underlying evolution. We commit a grave injustice by pretending that evolution is free from faults, especially those faults that are at odds with the gospel. More importantly, we need to help our youth develop a strong testimony of the gospel so that they will not be deceived by evolution’s atheistic allure.  In other words, the perfect mix is a good understanding of evolution (including its underlying assumptions) and a strong testimony of the gospel. With a sound understanding of evolution and the gospel, we can celebrate the Good without fearing the Bad and the Ugly.

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