Steven L. Peck on “Why Evolution and LDS Thought are Fully Compatible: Overcoming our Suspicions of Science”

This is a video of Steven L. Peck’s presentation on “Why Evolution and LDS Thought are Fully Compatible: Overcoming our Suspicions of Science” at the Science & Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth & Man symposium which took place on November 9, 2013.

This is also available as an audio podcast, and will be included in the podcast feed. You can listen by pressing the play button or download the podcast below:


15 thoughts on “Steven L. Peck on “Why Evolution and LDS Thought are Fully Compatible: Overcoming our Suspicions of Science”

  1. While I find those thoughts very interesting I’d like to point out that we should always be suspicious when people think they have determined the truth by themselves.

    Never forget that evolution as presented in this video is ONE possibility but also one that we can never be sure of since we cannot proof something that happened in the past. We can gather all kinds of information and try to form a theory out of them. But that’s of course still only a theory. And other people can use the same information to form another theory – like for instance so called creationists.

    To criticize a theory DOES NOT mean to deny the value and function of science.

    • If you think evolution and creationism are equally valid possible theories, then you must have a faulty concept of what a theory is.

      Evolution is pretty much the ONLY (not one of many) possible theories that fits the evidence we have. The entire scientific community has accepted it as the most viable theory to explain the evidence.

      Creationism does not fit the evidence much at all. It only exists because of the agenda of religious people to force the evidence into their preconceived religious beliefs, based on mythology thousands of years old.

      The word “theory” is not a synonym for a guess, or for speculation, or for some possible idea one person came up with to explain the evidence. (One person? The whole scientific community accepts it!)

      A theory is a model developed to account for the evidence, which model can then make predictions about what future evidence will be found. The theory is substantiated when those predictions are met. A theory is something much more substantial than an idea or speculation. It’s something presented to the scientific community to be examined and questioned and substantiated or rejected.

      The “theory” of relativity is no speculation, It’s been substantiated every time it’s been tested. The same with quantum “theory.” Theories are not guesses, and any schmuck’s new idea of a theory to explain the evidence is not equally valid as any other. It must be supported by the evidence and account for the evidence in a superior way than the existing theory, or it’s useless. Which is exactly the status of creationism.

      You say criticizing a theory does not deny the value of science, but it does if your criticism is lame and based on your religious biases instead of facts. What is your criticism of evolution, that creationism as a theory explains better? If it doesn’t bear up under scrutiny, then your criticism is worthless.

      (Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who does believe in God and who does not believe evolution’s mechanism of random chance married to natural selection can fully account for life’s existence. But Biblical creationism is an absurd theory to try and fit the facts to. Any honest and objective investigator would easily see that.)

      • If scientific evidence fits a theory then this theory is valid (not necessarily true of course) until contradicted by some other (new) evidence.

        Your examples of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics cannot be easily compared with the theory of (macro) evolution. While results predicted by the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics can be observed and continuously repeated in an experimental setup the same is not true for predictions made by the theory of evolution.

        But of course we have to differentiate between micro and macro evolution. Events of micro evolution (change within a given preset of a genetic pool) can be easily observed. No creationist will deny it. But macro evolution has never been observed and only exists in theory.

        Booth – the theory of evolution and the theory of creationism – use predetermination to build their theory – which is perfectly OK of course. Booth interpret the evidence at hand differently but still use the same observable evidence.

        • I guess you missed the part in the video about believing in inches but rejecting miles.

          You only repeated what you originally said, in different words. There is nothing in your response to respond to that I haven’t already. You can try to claim all day that creationism is equally as valid as evolution as a scientific theory, but in the real world, your words have no meaning.

          • Well, I have tried to explain why every theory is valid that takes the facts at hand and interprets them without being disproved by contradicting evidence. If you choose to believe otherwise then you are free to do so.

          • You are correct about that. What you’re not correct about is that creationism is such a theory.

      • I understand that evolutionists have failed to see the following:

        1) Evolutionists have NO EVIDENCE of how non-life evolved into life.

        2) Evolutionists have never seen one species change into another. Evolutionists would claim that such a change takes too long to observe. Thus, evolutionists are being unscientific because part of the value of the scientific method is that it can be used to show observers. Thus, evolution cannot be observed and is only a theory – and is only an interpretation of fossils the alleged changes of which, none of the evolutionists have observed. I wish that evolutionists were more scientific.

        3) The THEORY of evolution violates the PRINCIPLE of entropy, that is, that things tend to degrade unless countered by an organizing force. I practice the theory of evolution by doing no work on my yard in the hope that my yard will evolve into something better – despite my wife’s insistence that without being worked on, our yard will get worse. So far she’s been right. But I keep hoping. I don’t do maintenance on my car with the hope that my car will evolve into something better (e.g. evolve into a Cadillac?) – despite mechanics telling me that without maintenance my car will get worse. But I keep hoping.

        • The fact that you say evolution is “only” a theory indicates that you do not understand science. (Well, a lot of what you said indicates that, but I want to concentrate on this.)

          A theory is not speculation. A theory is not a guess, even an educated guess.

          A theory is a model that explains the empirical data that scientists have gathered. All of science is built on theories. Those theories are not educated guesses or speculation. They are the models that all of science is built on.

          The current theory of any field of science is science’s best determination (so far) of what the evidence means. It’s not put together haphazardly. It results from extensive research, experimentation, observation, publication, and peer review.

          No theory is ever “finished.” It is always subject to modification when new evidence arises. Sometimes a theory is superceded by another theory–but almost never does the new theory replace the old theory. Rather it expands on the old theory based on new evidence.

          This is what happened with the theory of relativity. The old theory was Newtonian physics. But Newtonian physics didn’t account for all the data. Einstein came up with the theories of special and general relativity to account for that data.

          But these two new theories did not replace Newtonian physics–not one bit! Newtonian physics still holds today in all the cases where it used to work. Relativity took over where Newtonian physics did not work and accounted for that observed data.

          Newtonian physics was actually folded into relativity, not replaced by it. It was not proven to be false. It could nto be proven to be false because it did account for virtually all the evidence available. Relativeity only expanded on it.

          Evoution accounts for a great deal of data. It does not account for all of it. Modification of the theory is possible, perhaps even a new theory will come along. But it won’t cause the current theory of evolution to go away. The new theory will have to encompass evolution to the extent that evolution does account for the data.

          If you think you can dismiss evolution by saying it’s “only” a theory, you will not only fail miserably because evolution does work for most of the data, but you will also look foolish to those who do understand how science works.

          • Dr. Martindale,
            I respect your understanding of science, which goes far beyond my own and agree with you that evolution is more than a theory. You made that very clear. I find it interesting, however, that you did not address a couple of the issues Mr. Landrith brought up. Entropy is a thorn in the side of evolution. I do believe some form of evolution took place. I also believe it was divinely directed. I do not believe creationism needs to be taught as science. That is a matter that goes far beyond the scientific method.

          • D. Michael Martindale,

            I’m afraid that you’re the one who doesn’t understand what a theory is, because you have placed a theory on too high a level. The point about ALL theories – no exception whatsoever – is that all theories are ultimately inconclusive. They may seem to account for many facts, but as you yourself admit, theories do NOT account for all facts. When a theory accounts for all facts, a theory is no longer a theory but becomes a principle.

            I’m not saying theories are useless. I’m not saying theories are not useful. Joseph Smith had theories about which church was true. His careful consideration of those theories prepared him for James 1:5: Let him ask of God…. I believe that one has to theorize in order to receive revelation: D & C 9: 8, 9. Thus, I love considering theories. That’s a basic part of pondering.

            The reason that I emphasized that evolution was “only” a theory, was that I have heard a few scientists imply that the theory of evolution is no longer theory but is scientific fact.
            In one sense I sympathize with these scientists because in some way they are reacting to the stupid perception of the universe taught by apostate Christianity: e.g. God made everything out of nothing – which led to centuries of stupid theological discussions of how evil and free will could exist in a world made out of nothing. Joseph Smith comes along and quickly resolves the issues of evil and free will by saying that evil was not created out of nothing but has always existed, that people were not created out of nothing but have always existed, and that the Gospel enables people to exercise their free will to the fullest.

            In the same way I sympathize with atheists, who look at all the so-called gods of false religions, and say that there’s no way they could believe in any of those gods. The famous English playwright George Bernard Shaw, a proclaimed atheist, was asked if he believed in god. He said, are you asking me if I believe in Zeus?

            What I don’t like is the atheistic scientist who claims with scientific authority that god does not exist. The following is FACT, and NOT theory: IN THIS WORLD THE EXISTENCE OF GOD CANNOT BE DISPROVED OR PROVED SCIENTIFICALLY. I personally believe that God PURPOSELY put us in a fallen world in which the only real way to learn of God is to do as Joseph Smith and others have done: pray to him, and find out if He exists. Thus, any atheistic scientist who claims with scientific authority that god does not exist, is being very UNscientific. I would understand a scientist being agnostic (not knowing whether there is a god), but I don’t understand a scientist being an atheist on a so-called scientific basis. And their being unscientific in the crucial question of whether God exists, undermines their credibility in proclaiming the theory of evolution as true.

            The reason that my above discussion is relevant to the issue of evolution is that I have heard an atheistic scientist say on tv in an interview that evolution proves that there is no god. Frankly I don’t know whether evolution is true. I wonder if LDS scientists feel pressure to accept the theory of evolution in order to not appear as religious bigots.

  2. Well, that video was disappointing. He spent half an hour saying very little of meaning. I certainly didn’t hear anything at all compelling to think one way or another about evolution or religion.

  3. Totally agree with the last two comments. I actually wrote to FairMormon when I first heard this because I am of the mind that evolutionary theory is fully compatible with the gospel but he lays out why he thinks there is proof for evolution and states that he thinks that it is compatible but then never explains how or tries to synthesize the two. FairMormon did not explain either but sent me links to more videos that were also somewhat disappointing.

  4. Peck’s presentation is a fail on all counts. He does not explain why evolution and LDS thought are compatible. He does not explain why youth shouldn’t accept methodological naturalism/materialism as sufficient explanation of life, with no need for a creator. He refutes the new atheists not at all. He does seem to acknowledge that naturalism is a philosophic, not scientific, position, but never follows up on this idea or explains why other ways of “knowing” (basic epistemology) are just as valid.
    He also demonstrates an appalling lack of understanding of basic biology: Claiming that chess board configurations are somehow analogous to DNA machinery is stupendously oversimplified and implies a naivete really surprising in someone who claims to be an expert. Ever hear of epigenetics Steven?
    Ever really looked at the few fragments of hominin bones claimed to be ancestral to man, without peering through preconceptions about what they are? There’s really very little there once you let go of assumptions.
    Along his way Peck ridicules and dismisses the field of Intelligent Design, making clear he has little understanding of its current state. Have you read anything but 15-plus year old screeds against Irreducible Complexity? Were you aware that Michael Behe more than adequately answered the so-called refutations of his examples? Have you read Stephen Meyer? Or any of the other of dozens of works published since “Darwin’s Black Box?”
    Claiming that Intelligent Design “…characterizes God as…” anything reveals complete ignorance of the theory. It actually and officially takes no position on the nature of, or even existence of, diety.
    In fact many of its adherents hold the same position as Dr. Peck apparently does; that God programmed the Universe from the start with all its potentialities, then hit “Go” (as he says) and let it play out. There is no one belief system or approach in the Intelligent Design community. Many of its adherents believe in common descent, as does Dr. Peck. Their only unifying belief is that life is just too complex to be explained by orthodox neo-Darwinian mechanisms. And the distinction between “micro” and “macro” evolution is not one of scale, as Peck naively states. There are profound qualitative differences, which he doesn’t even acknowledge.
    The ‘more secular than thou’ attitude of the BYU Biology faculty, as demonstrated in this presentation, is a travesty. They should be foremost proponents for the idea that there is Intelligence behind life. Unfortunately they value too highly the acceptance of their colleagues in other institutions to hint of any criticism of orthodox dogma.
    If you want an explanation of “why evolution and LDS thought are fully compatible” this talk won’t provide it. Much more satisfying, complete, and informed answers may be found in the writings of Intelligent Design advocates, who Peck is either unaware of or ignorantly dismisses.
    Until you can demonstrate that you really understand their position and arguments, Dr. Peck, don’t make public presentations about people you disagree with. It only demonstrates your ignorance and undermines your credibility in other areas.

  5. I am certain that the geocentric theory of the universe was equally hard for Christians to abandon, as evolution is now. I understand the pain of those struggling to reconcile their religion with evolution, as I went through a 30-year struggle myself. So for those who might be struggling still, I want to say that you are not alone.

    Fortunately, I have finally been able to reconcile my religion with science, and Steven Peck has helped me tremendously in this regard (Read his book “Evolving Faith”. It is excellent). President Hinkley said “What the church requires is only belief that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race. Scientists can speculate on the rest.” If you want, you can even speculate that “man” is only 10,000 years old and still reconcile yourself to evolution. How? At some point along the way, God saw that homo sapiens had evolved to where we had the capacity to receive the gift of the “knowledge of good and evil”. At that time, the choice was presented to Adam and Eve, and, thankfully, Eve choose this gift and convinced Adam to choose likewise. Though I suspect that the Garden of Eden story is an allegory, I do believe that there was a point in time when the Light of Christ was bestowed upon mankind, and we became accountable beings.

    Personally I think my cousins the apes are marvelous creatures, and I think it is fantastic that I am related to them. The same is true for my more distant cousin the giraffe, and even beautiful flowers and trees. I stand in awe of God’s creations, and my relationship to them.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged.