Do All Real Biologists Believe in Evolution?

Will said in a comment on a previous post:
“If my criticism seems over the top, try running this article by a real biologist and see what kind of reaction you get.”

As a matter of fact, when I took biology at the University of Nebraska in 1970-71, I discussed these things with Dr. Charles O. Ingham, the PhD. biologist that taught the upper division course on evolution. He told me that he didn’t believe evolution but taught it as a theory. He assured me that Bruce R. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith had it right about evolution: It was impossible because there was no death before the Fall.

Ingham wasn’t only my biology professor, he was also on our stake high council in the only stake in Omaha at the time. I asked him how he could teach evolution if he didn’t believe it, and he told me he taught it because he knew a lot more about it than anyone else in the department. Mormon scientists are funny that way, they get really conflicted over evolution, and they study it a lot more than other scientists do.

The fact is, there are “real biologists” who don’t believe in evolution. But they have to keep their mouths shut. They have been shouted down by their peers. The theory of organic evolution has become a religious-like dogma among professional biologists, and dissenting would jeopardize the careers of the dissenters. Such dogma is not science but secular religion posing as science. It is the existence of such dogma among professional scientists that early in my life caused me to lose a lot of respect for science. Oh, how I wish there was a “true” science just as there is a true Christianity. The trouble with scientists is that they are men and therefore fallible and imperfect. Because of this they are proud, and they glory in their errors, because they fall in love with their pet ideas, and are not willing to look outside the box for other explanations for the data.

As long as scientists “have a testimony” of evolution, they will never discover the real reasons for what they see. Tell me, how many scientists are trying to discover the mechanism that makes the communication of prayer possible? If the answer is “None,” why is that? Are they so sure there are no basic principles that they are overlooking in their investigations? The reality of prayer implies a physics that is utterly beyond the paradigms of modern science. Maybe if scientists were a little more open minded we would discover that mechanism and a whole new understanding of physics would be added to what we already know. As it is, they don’t even bother to look for one. The same problem exists in virtually all other scientific fields, especially in the so-called social or “soft” sciences. Mankind’s ignorance is truly profound.


14 Responses to Do All Real Biologists Believe in Evolution?

  1. bkb: If you are in the Church in Omaha, please email me at jredelfs at gmail dot com. I have family in the Church there, and would love to find out if you know them.

  2. bkb says:

    Wow! This is my very first day posting on this blog and I see an Omaha connection. I knew the professor of which you speak. Also, Professor Lundt who was also LDS was very well-respected and taught Biology and Zoology. I remember people discussing how he would add things to his lecture contrary to the theory of evolution. I never took either of them. I am glad though that in my section of Biology for nonmajors that the person teaching that unit began with a huge disclaimer saying that this was a theory.

  3. I got them mostly from Professor James Hall of the University of Richmond in his Teaching Company lectures “Philosophy of Religion”. It is probably the best lecture series I have ever heard in my entire life. What’s interesting about it is that is dedicates itself to the God of ethical monotheism, a God which Mormonism doesn’t believe in so you really has to understand the arguments in order to apply them to Mormonism. I would recommend them to anybody, be they non-LDS or LDS, Iron Rodders or Liahonas.

    The Criterion Which I listed come from his lecture “Evaluating Paradigms” (#30 of 36) wherein he is criticizing the idea that since science and religion are two separate paradigms they simply cannot interact with one another at all. He, like most people, doesn’t buy into that and instead present some criteria by which one can judge both their own and other people’s particular paradigm.

    1) Does this paradigm save the appearances? Fit.
    2) Does it do so without finagling? Honesty.
    3) How broad a range of data does it cover? Scope.
    4) How well does it integrate, internally and externally? Mesh.
    5) Does it accomodate novel data smoothly? Adaptability.
    6) Does it accomodate novel data willingly? Openness.
    7) Does it generate new and useful ideas and applications? Fertility.
    8) Does it have felicity standards that work? Effectiveness.
    9) How often does it break down? Reliability.
    10) Does it have internal procedures for dealing with failures? Self-correctiveness.
    11) Does it have legs? Endurance.
    12) Does it pay attention to Ockham’s Razor? Parsimony and Elegance.
    13) Does it have perspicuous rules of operation? Clarity.

    Professor Hall is a very religious man who is simply not willing to “sign on the dotted line” on some of the ideas which he sees in ethical monotheism. It becomes apparent that he is a very good and rather conservative man. In the end he doesn’t find the arguments for or against God entirely fool proof and ends with a empassioned plead to all religious people to be a bit more responsible and humble in their claims. Like I said, I love these lectures.

  4. Jeffrey, have you written something that elaborates on these criteria? I would like to learn more about what you mean by them, and where you got them. Or is it just your own philosophy?

  5. It is possible to find independent criteria for judging both in my opinion. Here are some standards to which I hold both the scriptures and science, both being highly influenced by the fallibility of man:

    1) Fit
    2) Honesty
    3) Scope
    4) Mesh
    5) Adaptability
    6) Openness
    7) Fertility
    8) Effectiveness
    9) Reliability
    10) Self-correctiveness
    11) Endurance
    12) Parsimony
    13) Clarity

    Like it or not, science has definitely faired better in these categories over the years than has religion. It’s with this in mind that some people appear to be judging the gospel according to science.

  6. According to the prophets, we must judge science by the standard of the revealed gospel. According to some scientists, we must judge the gospel by the standard of current scientific thinking. Most of us have made a decision in our priorities and we use one of the above “standards” by which we judge what is true. I judge science by the gospel, not vice versa.

  7. It can be really tiresome when theists are always so willing to exaggerate thier claims of “knowing” well beyond what is justified by reason or experience, but when some idea which they disagree with, which is backed by IMMENSE amounts of evidence suddenly they become so skeptical about things.

  8. Just to clarify, I said the best established idea, meaning model, in all of biology, not fact. Of course your fact in only true for every form of life which we have observed so far.

    I too agree that saying “I don’t know” is a virtue when there is simply insufficient evidence. However, saying “we don’t know” when there is plenty of evidence is about as bad as it gets. I personally think this is just as bad as saying that you know when you really don’t.


    I’m curious as to why your comment was directed at me.

  9. I believe the fossil record is a fact of science. I believe that it is “true” in the scriptural sense that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” (D&C 93:24) So the fossil record is just as “true” as the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    But I also believe that there was no death, spiritual or temporal, before the Fall of Adam. This is also “true” in the scriptural sense mentioned above.

    How can these two truths be reconciled or harmonized? At our present level of understand of both science and revealed religion I believe it is impossible. They cannot be reconciled. There is too much data missing, both in the revelations and in the discoveries of science.

    There is a yet undiscovered paradigm in which both the fossil record and the revealed fact that there was no death before the Fall are explained, reconciled and harmonized. But I don’t believe that either scientists or prophets have yet discovered that paradigm. It has not been discovered either by science or revealed religion.

    As a person who would like to learn the “truth” of the matter, I anxiously await the reconciliation. If an angel sent from heaven were to visit me and offer to answer only one gospel question, I would ask, “What is the explanation for those fossils that seem to indicate pre-Adamic men?” For me it is the most interesting of all questions that could be asked of God. It is the most puzzling to me of all seemingly irreconcilable contradictions between science and religion. I have been unable to answer the question. And I know a number of LDS scientists, one of them with an international reputation in American paleoanthropology who was a teaching assistant to Stephen Jay Gould, who like myself was unable to reconcile the “facts” of science with the “facts” of revealed religion. He became an agnostic/atheist after his mission to Norway while he was studying for his doctorate at Harvard. I, on the other hand, have become a strong believer in the teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. Some LDS scientists have been able to reach a reconciliation in their minds between science and religion on the origins of man. I have not, and I know that some scientists also have not.

    I think that the problem on both sides of the debate is the unwillingness of many to wait for further data. I believe that there is insufficient data to reconcile the two views. We just don’t know the answer. And some people are not humble enough to say, “I don’t know.” They feel compelled to fill in the gaps with their own interpretations, speculation and theories. I think this problem exists in debates over Book of Mormon historicity, Book of Mormon geography, and the lack of evidence that there were ever horses, wheat, wheels, or steel in the Americas before Columbus.

    As human beings we need to learn to be more humble. We need to learn how to say, “I don’t know.” Our failure to learn this retards our acquisition of new knowledge.

    Jeffrey, you asked, “Do you really think that the most basic and well established idea in all of biology is nothing but a religious faith claim? This leaves me absolutely speechless.” But evolution as popularly understood is not the most basic and well established idea in all of biology. A more basic fact of biology is that all life comes from pre-existing life. And there are other basic principles of biology that are more fundamental than evolution.

    There are unanswered questions, and until they are answered, we must keep our minds open. If we don’t, then we will never find the answers.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Jeffrey, that was also 35 years ago. You’de be hard pressed to find someone like that today. Without emperical data, I imagine that all scientists do believe in evolution. And if there are some that do not, they will retire in the next 5 to 10 years.

  11. This is one of the most troubling posts I’ve read in a while. Do you really think that the most basic and well established idea in all of biology is nothing but a religious faith claim? This leaves me absolutely speechless.

    This so called biologist was not acting in that capacity when he told you that. He was acting as a high councilman who was defending Mormon faith claims rather than explaining scientific evidence and reasoning. To say that there was no death on this earth before the fall about 6,000 years ago goes against ALL of science, not just a few evolutionists who might get a little over zealous. It we are really going to hold out for this version of the fall then we might as well skip school, both college and high school, because this would require that ALL of it be incredibly wrong.

  12. will says:

    John, regarding my response to your previous post, you’ll notice that Buchanan’s arguments have nothing to do with the Fall or any other faith-based doctrines. Rather, he recycles Paley’s watchmaker analogy and the missing link argument, claiming that “evolution fails to answer the arguments of reason.” Buchanan’s “arguments of reason” are open to rebuttal, and have, in fact, been refuted soundly for quite some time.

    With regards to your loss of respect for science, it’s true that scientists suffer from the same hubris as the rest of us, which is why the scientific method and peer-review process are designed to keep human prejudices in check. Your depiction of the scientific community as a good ol’ boys club is simply wrong; those who disprove accepted theories are rewarded, not punished. If anyone were to present evidence against evolution that outweighed the evidence in favor of it, they would be a shoo-in for the Nobel Prize.

    Regarding your professor, even the handful of scientists who advocate ID would disagree with his creationism. I’d be interested to know his current position.

  13. Brother Tom says:

    Science has nothing to do with God. It has nothing to do with the Fall. Evolutionary theory is accepted by scientists becuase it explains the data beautifully, not because it agrees with a putative anti-God worldview of scientists. It is true than most biologists are irreligious and many are hostile to religion, but the science they practice isn’t driven by an anti-religion agenda. The vast majority are simply trying to figure out how things work. They formulate theories and come to conclusions as to how stuff works based on rational analysis of the evidence they are presented with. This is “true” science. They can’t constrain themselves by whether or not their theory agrees with scripture. This would not be “true” science.

    There will never be a scientific inquiry into the “mechanism that makes communication of prayer possible” becuase there is no evidence that prayer is communication. To the observer prayer is nothing but a person talking to himself. The “reality of prayer” cannot be demonstrated. It can only be experienced.

    As a scientist (ok, maybe I’m not a full-fledged scientist–I’m a grad student) I can say with confidence that the most reasonable explanation of the fossil and genetic evidence is that Homo sapiens and modern apes share common (non-human) ancestry and that there has been life and death on the earth for hundreds of millions of years. How can I still believe in the Bible, in the Fall, in God as Creator? I just assume I don’t know everything. I don’t know for sure that man and apes share common ancestry, I just know that that’s what the evidence overwhelmingly supports. I don’t know exactly what the Fall was, when it happened, how it happened. I don’t know the exact role that God played in the creation of the earth and it’s life. I know what’s in the scriptures but that doesn’t mean I fully understand them, nor do I know that they have all the answers to these questions. I think they tell us enough so that we know how we should live our lives. That’s all we need right now. I don’t need to know everything about the Fall. I just need to know that I’m a son of God, that Christ can reclaim me from my imperfect state, that I need to have faith and develop love for my family and my fellow man in this life in order for that to happen. The rest is peripheral.

  14. Jared says:

    “Tell me, how many scientists are trying to discover the mechanism that makes the communication of prayer possible?”

    How confident are you that they would find one? I’ve previously dealt with something similar at my blog.

    There are scientists looking at what parts of the brain are active during prayer–it made big news a few years ago, perhaps you remember. (See Neurotheology.)

    I believe the Holy Ghost interacts with our bodies–or at least our mind. If we’re going to probe a mechanism, first we need some way to reliably measure the physical effect. Do you think Church leaders would allow us to scan their brains during their meetings so we could figure out when the spirit is interacting with them? Or do you think they would object, and on what grounds?

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