A Step toward the Emergence of an LDS Theology Compatible with Organic Evolution
by Steven L. Peck
Wesley J. Wildman, a liberal evangelical Christian, contributed this issue’s sermon as part of the ongoing “From the Pulpit” series. Provocatively titled “Narnia’s Aslan, Earth’s Darwin, and Heaven’s God”(see pp.210–17), it details some of the waste and brutality of natural selection that are inevitable accompaniments of evolution. “Surely such a loving, personal Deity would have created in another way,” he queries, “a way that involved less trial and error, fewer false starts, fewer mindless species extinctions, fewer pointless cruelties, and less reliance on predation to sort out the fit from the unfit” (214). In conclusion, he poses the far-from-rhetorical question: “What sort of God could, would, and did create the world through evolution?”(217). He shows that evolution has striking implications for theology—including LDS theology, I would add.
And in fact,what might it mean that God “used” evolution to create life’s diversity? Was this a choice for God among other alternatives? Do Wildman’s pessimistic conclusions hold for Mormonism? Does evolution imply a noninterventionist Deity? Are there more optimistic views possible, some of which may actually suggest that evolution enhances and expands our view of God? Are adjustments necessary to our key doctrines of the Creation, Fall, and Atonement to accommodate an evolutionary perspective? And why should we make this accommodation? What is lost and what is gained if our faith community fully and without compromise embraces evolution? There are deep and unavoidable theological implications for incorporating into our theology the belief that natural selection structured the way life evolved on our planet.
I would like to sketch some of these implications. By “sketch,” I mean that I intend to rough out some of the potential problems and perplexities that will need to be sorted through in embracing a fully compatible perspective between evolution through natural selection and our faith. In this conspectus, I hope to gesture to possible solutions to the perplexities that merging evolution and theology may bring to LDS thought. There are many sticking points, and I mean only to make a beginning and to seed conversation. I make no claims that the results are either complete or thorough, but I hope that making such a start will be useful.