This post is a follow-up to an earlier post titled Unguided Theistic Evolution.

Guided evolution is the belief that the Lord used evolution to create all living things, including humans. In a manner of speaking, He used Darwinian mechanisms as a tool to evolve lower life forms into humans. Guided TE is popular among many Latter-day Saint evolutionists because it preserves evolutionary beliefs while recognizing the Lord as the creator.

People who accept guided theistic evolution are in distinguished company. They’ve joined the ranks of respected scientists such as natural selection’s co-founder Alfred Wallace (1823–1913), eminent Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810–1888), and Human Genome Project director Francis Collins. But their beliefs also put them in an uncanny situation. Guided TE deviates from both the modern theory of evolution and traditional Christianity. This means that their beliefs on the Creation are at odds with both Christianity and orthodox evolution. Their beliefs are not fully consistent with either evolution or Christianity.

Let’s begin with guided TE’s deviations from Christianity. If the Lord used natural selection acting on random mutations over millions of years to create humanity, He would have accomplished this feat by seemingly arranging environmental conditions on earth so that they promoted the survival or destruction of certain species. The thinking goes that by controlling natural selection in this way, He steered evolution down a path which led to the creation of humankind.

This view of guided TE raises an important question. Would an omnipotent being limit himself to micromanaging an infinitesimally small number of natural events to bring to pass the fullness of His creation, namely humanity? Why would He limit himself to tweaking environmental conditions over millions of years to ensure that simple organisms progressed through countless stages of development that eventually led to humans? Such an approach is not consistent with the realities of an all-powerful Deity.

Then there are the blaring scriptural problems with guided TE. If Adam and Eve evolved then they had mortal parents who gave birth to them on earth.  If we traced the parentage of Adam and Eve back far enough we would eventually find hominids, primates, and lower life forms. This is an interesting concept, one that preserves the idea of common descent from lower life forms. It also preserves the idea of divine creation -- a supreme being is needed to alter conditions on earth so that evolution follows a path that leads to humanity created in the image of God.

Let’s unpack this concept of Adam and Eve being the end result of a continual line of evolutionary development. To begin with, the scriptures teach that Adam was the first man to live on earth. If Adam and Eve evolved they would not have been the first man and woman. Their parents or some ancestor would have been the first human (unless you allow for a sudden jump from non-human parents to human offspring – an amazing feat by evolutionary standards, to be sure).

​Consider also that the scriptures teach that before the Fall, Adam and Eve could not die. How might evolution have created immortal bodies? And if Adam and Eve’s ancestors were living and dying according to the process of natural selection, how do those deaths play into the fact that humans never perished before the Fall? In response to these questions, guided theistic evolutionists often resort to claims that traditionalists have misinterpreted scripture or that scriptural accounts are more allegorical than factual.

Another problem with guided TE concerns the claim that random mutations in the genome are essential for evolution across life forms to occur. These random mutations provide essential trait variability that natural selection acts upon. If genetic mutations that led to the evolution of humankind were truly random, they could not have arisen from divine influence. A deity-directed event cannot be considered random in the true sense of the word. In response, guided theistic evolutionists admit that genetic mutations are not really random, they only appear random.[1] They claim that because random genetic events are indeterminate and unpredictable, they only have an appearance of randomness. What we call random genetic mutations are actually divinely directed events.  

Indeed many of the details in God’s creation are unknown to us and what appears random to us may not be random to the Lord. However not knowing whether genetic mutations are truly random does not change their underlying reality. If, as guided TE supposes, the creator influenced genetic mutations to bring about the evolution of species, then they were directed events. If they were directed events then they are contrary to the current mainstream view of evolution, namely that of being “purposeless,”[2] “undirected,”[3] and “without either plan or purpose.”[4]

Thus we see how guided TE deviates from orthodox evolution. Some evolutionists realize how much their TE deviates from evolution. For example, eminent botanist and theistic evolutionist Asa Gray knew that his belief in divinely guided evolution represented a major deviation from orthodox evolution. This realization led him to admit that his version of divinely guided evolution was “very anti-Darwin.”[5]

Despite these and other concerns with guided TE, it is gaining converts! It is being touted as the best way for believers to buy into the evolutionary program while avoiding cognitive dissonance (i.e., mental discomfort that arises from holding two opposing viewpoints). However providing an escape from cognitive dissonance does not explain the growing popularity of guided TE. Guided TE is getting a boost from a surprising ally: federally funded science organizations. 

Realizing that evolution has an image problem with Christians, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) recently launched efforts to change perceptions. The NCSE hopes to convince Christians that evolution is not hostile toward religion. It wants to convince Christians that evolution and religion are compatible. To this end, the NCSE launched a program of reconciliation. It has encouraged reconciliation by providing churches with educational materials promote TE. It has also encouraged the distribution of written statements from religious leaders who support TE.[6] The National Academy of Sciences has also got into the game of promoting TE. Recently it released pro-TE statements like “the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith” to the public.[7] With all this TE promotion coming from esteemed scientific organizations, who wouldn’t want to jump on the guided TE bandwagon?

Believers might want to hold off jumping on the TE bandwagon after considering the following question: Why are atheistic scholars in scientific institutions promoting a belief system that they ultimately disagree with? The answer is that they want to make evolution palatable to Christians. They so badly want to win over the minds of Christians that they are willing to make statements like “evolution fits well with good theology.”[8] According to a prominent atheist scholar, non-believers are promoting TE because they “desperately [want] to be friendly to mainstream, sensible [Christian] people.” He continued, “[T]he way [they] do that is to tell them that there’s no incompatibility between science and religion.”[9] The upshot is that non-believers are attempting to lure believers into accepting Darwinism by glossing over the inconsistencies between religion and evolution, at least for now.

The Savior taught that “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). This teaching has relevance to our discussion on guided TE. We cannot buy into evolutionary accounts of the creation of humanity while holding fast to scriptural accounts. They are too much at odds. Either Adam or Eve’s bodies evolved from lower life forms or they were placed on earth by the Lord. The decision of what to believe is up to us. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” (Alma 30:8). 
In the next post I will consider the evidence for and against evolution.


[1] See, for example, Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), 205.

[2] Salvador E. Luria, Stephen J. Gould, and Sam Singer, A View of Life (San Francisco: Benjamin-Cummings, 1981), 574.

[3] Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph S. Levine, Biology (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000), 658.

[4] Miller and Levine, Biology, 658.

[5] Asa Gray, in Daniel C. Gilman, The Life of James Dwight Dana (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazzar, 2009), 302.

[6] John G. West, “Having a Real Debate,” in God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2010), 53–54.

[7] Ralph J. Cicerone, Harvey Fineberg, & Francisco J. Ayala, Science, Evolution, and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2013), Preface.

[8] Michael Shermer, “Darwin on the Right: Why Christians and Conservatives Should Accept Evolution,” Scientific American (October 2006).

[9] Richard Dawkins, quoted in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Premise Media, 2008.

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