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Evolution & the Bible: Irreconcilable Differences? (Part 1 of 8)

Can evolution be reconciled with the Bible?  Ben Spackman is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University, and he says “Yes, but not the way people think.”  He introduces us to the idea of “Concordism.”  What is that?

Ben: This is not a question that is answered easily within 30 seconds, because it requires dealing with assumptions that people don’t even know they have. The main one is something called “concordism.” It’s an assumption that science, especially evolution or the age of the earth or various aspects of that, and scripture are speaking the same language. They’re talking about the same thing and therefore they have to match up or one of them is false. They have to be in concord with each other.

The assumption that Genesis is providing a natural history of the earth, a physical history of the earth, is simply not an accurate assumption, but most people have it. So you end up going in a couple of different ways. You have people who say, well, this is what my reading of the Bible says, so I’m going to make the science match that. You get young-earth creationists who say that the earth is only a couple of thousand years old. Everything was created more or less in its current form as we know it within the last couple of thousand years. Then you have the people who go the other way and they say, well, here’s what science tells us. So obviously that’s what scripture must be saying in some kind of veiled or poetic or metaphoric way.

You may wonder why I decided to talk to Ben. He has a very interesting background.

Ben:  If you really want to understand evolution and how different religious people have thought about it, you need three different areas of expertise. You need to understand the science of evolution, at least basically. That’s what my two major rounds of science as an undergrad and then as a post-bacc premed have given me. I have more science than a lot of people. But you also need history, especially intellectual history of about the last 500 years. That is history of ideas. That’s where two of my three Ph.D. exams come in, American Religious History and Reformation History. My third exam will be History of Science. So I’m really getting at the history of the worldview that people have today that leads them to read Genesis in certain ways. What are the roots of that worldview, of those unspoken assumptions back 500 years ago?

The third leg you need– so you need history, you need science, then you have to control the biblical interpretation. You have to be able to look at the Bible in its ancient setting, in its Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. The problem is that many people who write about evolution are scientists. They don’t have the history and they don’t control scripture. Most of the people who write about this, well, let me limit myself to a Latter-day Saint context. Most Latter-day Saints who have written about reconciling science and religion or evolution have either been scientists, so they get the science down well, but they don’t do the history or the scripture.

Most of the people who have written about it from a scriptural perspective, they don’t know the history. They don’t know the science. Because of our 19th century populist inheritance in Mormonism, that is, we were very skeptical of experts, very skeptical of clergy, very skeptical of authority telling us what this had to mean. If you look at all the books that have been written by a Latter-day Saints on this topic, the vast majority of them have no relevant expertise at all. They’re lawyers. They’re accountants. They’re doctors. They’re people who don’t really do the science. They don’t really do the history and they don’t really do the scripture either. So to my knowledge, I’m the only one who really has a foot kind of in all those different worlds, which is kind of a historical accident. I certainly didn’t choose to spend six years in graduate school and then be given the boot because of Babylonian or to not get into medical school. But in retrospect it’s worked out very well and my wife and I have been very lucky in certain ways. So that’s my story and my educational background. I consider myself an eclectic historian with different skills depending on the time period we’re looking at.

Check out our conversation….

Ben Spackman discusses whether reconciling Genesis & evolution is even an appropriate question.
Ben Spackman discusses whether reconciling Genesis & Evolution is even an appropriate question.

Here are some other conversations about Genesis & the Bible:

154: Simon’s Thoughts on Noah’s Flood, Religious Beliefs (Southerton)

075: Is Evolution Compatible with the Bible? (Perego)

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Murderous Mormon Mayhem (Part 8 of 8)

It’s sad to say that some groups that believe in the Book of Mormon are notorious for the crimes they have committed.  In our final conversation with Steve Shields, we will discuss the Lafferty brothers, and Ervil Lebaron.  Both groups were involved in murder.

Steve: It’s really hard to deal with some of those that are just so grossly offensive in what they do. A lot of people, especially Bob Crossfield’s folks would rather I not talk about the Laffertys. But I say, well, I can’t not [talk about them] because they exist or existed, and there was something going on. Bob Crossfield was a self-proclaimed prophet from Canada who eventually developed what they called the School of the Prophets and Bob himself issued more than 100 revelations. The Lafferty brothers, Ron and Dan got involved in Crossfield’s School of the Prophets, but quickly took over what that was all about and turned it into something evil. Evil, maybe that’s not objective, but when you receive or proclaim a revelation that says, “God tells me to kill this person and kill that person and kill that person…” They were a modern-day resurrection of Ervil LeBaron. Ervil was evil. Most of the family members that I know in the LeBaron clan would say the same thing. I don’t know any of the Lafferty folks, but I do know Bob Crossfield’s people. They were just devastated by how the Laffertys twisted everything that Bob Crossfield is all about and turned it into something so horrible. History is not always pretty. Thankfully there haven’t been too many of those kinds of things happening in all of Latter-day Saint history, but every now and again, some of that stuff crops up and you have to deal with it the best way you can.

Check out our conversation.  If you have missed any of our previous conversations with Steve, check out the links below.

Steve Shields describes a few Mormon groups involved in murder.
Steve Shields describes a few Mormon groups involved in murder.

240: Para-Church Mormon Groups (Shields)

239: Cutlerite Endowment, Female Priesthood, & House of Aaron(Shields)

238: Fundamentalists and Cutlerites (Shields)

227: Conspiracy Theories:  William Smith, Samuel Smith, James Strang(Shields)

226: Sidney’s Unsung Role in Restoration (Shields)

225: Steve’s Shields Own Divergent Path

224: Who Owns the Temple Lot? (Shields)

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Para-Church Mormon Groups (Part 7 of 8)

Not all groups in Steve Shields book should be considered denominations.  In our next conversation, we’ll talk about some of these subgroups with official endorsement of the LDS Church, such as Affirmation and the Genesis Group. 

Steve:  Affirmation is a para-church organization. It provides a church-oriented fellowship for LGBTQ people who are not often welcomed in the standard ward and most of them are LDS folks in Affirmation. But, they’re providing a ministry that is, dare I say it? Tangential to the LDS Church. So, I consider that an expression.

GT:  Would it be like the Genesis Group?

Steve: Genesis Group would have been a very similar kind of a group. Genesis had the full support of the church where Affirmation does not. So, there’s a little difference there. Maybe that’s a big difference, actually. Certainly, with the LDS Church’s policy of a couple of years ago about LGBTQ people, and their children being able to be baptized [that] would take them even one step further the other direction, away from seeing Affirmation [as a good thing]

GT:  Whereas the Genesis [Group] was [fully supported by the church], right?

Steve: Yeah, they were. Right.

GT:  Just for people who may not know what Genesis Group is, I know we do. But can you describe Genesis Group?

Steve:  I probably don’t know very much about it. It was before blacks were allowed to be ordained and it was a ministry group for black LDS Church members, their families and friends. They could be members of the church and it was a support. It was supported by the church, mostly here in the Salt Lake area, I think. Darius Gray, who is well-known in Mormon thought circles, was one of the key people, as I remember.

GT:  Yeah, he was one of the original counselors and he went on to become President later. He’s a great guy.

Steve:  So that was an important ministry in the era of civil rights upset in the United States. Ultimately then in 1978, when full ordination was finally permitted for all.

Find out more about these and other groups!  Check out our conversation…

Steve Shields describes para-church Mormon groups.  What is that?
Steve Shields describes para-church Mormon groups. What is that?

Check out our other conversations with Steve!

239: Cutlerite Endowment, Female Priesthood, & House of Aaron (Shields)

238: Fundamentalists and Cutlerites (Shields)

227: Conspiracy Theories:  William Smith, Samuel Smith, James Strang(Shields)

226: Sidney’s Unsung Role in Restoration (Shields)

225: Steve’s Shields Own Divergent Path

224: Who Owns the Temple Lot? (Shields)