(April 13th, 2013)
Introduction: On a recent YouTube post, I was confronted by a person who appeared to be of the same faith I am (LDS) but who found it disturbing that I said anti-Mormon arguments are as fallacious and dishonest as anti-evolution creationist arguments (a point I stand by, incidentally). For a long time I've said to people that teaching evolution without creation or creation without evolution is akin to ripping the beating heart out of both and that most, if not all, major themes of the Gospel are represented in biological evolution. As I considered how to present this in a way in which people could relate (especially those of my own faith, who should KNOW better than to reject something solely based upon an archaic interpretation or ancient tradition), I decided to frame it in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book style, though without the same level of complexity, since there will only be two branches: evolutionary creation (think Darwin) and "popcorn" creation (think C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew - i.e. the animals popped out of the dirt like popcorn), both of which shall be referred to as "Creation" in the options (just keep track of how many times you select A and how many times you select B).
Point #1 - Time: People of faith (especially my own) are frequently taught to beware chasing after instant gratification. Instead, we are taught that, in the Law of the Harvest, the farmer must wait for the seed s.he plants, nourishing it and protecting for a long time before s/he enjoys the fruit of their labor. We are taught that God expects us to have patience and to do good works even when we don't see the reward immediately. So...
(Option 1A) Avoiding instant gratification couldn't be THAT important because God created the Earth in either seven 24-hour days (Gen. 1) or one 24-hour day (Gen. 2:4) and then left deceptive fossil records to cover the fact that He used divine powers to get what he and his kids wanted right now. After all, why should our all-powerful God have to wait billions of years for something when He can command and all things obey? Laws are for others, not Him.
(Option 1B) There is a great lesson of patience and love in the fact that God took billions of years to craft this Earth for us. He created the natural laws, and one is only elevated by living within law, especially laws of your own creation. He would never deceive us with fossils of creatures that never existed or try to pretend He spent longer making the Earth than He really did because He is a God of honesty. Instead, he left the fossil evidence for us to find as we come out of our darkened stupor and begin to set aside foolish superstitions (like "ex nihilo") for actual living, vibrant truth.
Point #2 - Force vs. Agency: In religion (especially my own), we are frequently taught the supreme value of free will and that one of the primary reasons the devil and his angels were cast out of Heaven was because they conspired to destroy the free agency of Mankind. Throughout the scriptures, the value of choice is extolled (such as "Choose you this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.", "Wherefore, men are... free to choose liberty and eternal life... or captivity and death.", and "Behold, here is wisdom, let every man choose for himself.", to name just a few). God never forces men to do something. He encourages and guides, but the ultimate decision rests with us. So...
(Option 2A) God doesn't have to give freedom to the elements or the animals. They are creations He can command, so why wouldn't He? If he wants to mold that lump of clay into a Human but the one next to it into a slug, well, tough luck for the slug dirt. You win some, you lose some, right? I mean, come on, God is far too busy to care about being fair to dirt. It's dirt, for crying out loud!
(Option 2B) All Creation is sacred, even the dust of the Earth, and, by eternal decree, God's laws operate on a system of free choice, even for the "lowest" forms of life (as we categorize life, anyway), not on a system of enforcing His will. It's true that He gave commands, but He allows His creations to choose how they will obey those commands. As they choose their own way, he helps them grow better able to exist as they have chosen. Some animals chose the path of a carnivore, so they received adaptations to make hunting easier for them. Some chose to be herbivores, so they received adaptations to make digesting plants and escaping predators easier. Some chose flight, so their wings carry them through the sky, although at great energy cost to the animal. Some chose to slide across the Earth, soaking up all the warmth they can from it, so they received a body best able to utilize their lifestyle. All life chose it's path, adapted to that path, and was blessed with traits to help it on the path. This gradual process of choice led to the rich abundance of life on our lovely planet, and God values all of His Creations. Even though all life sprang from the dust of the Earth, the dirt has been allowed to choose it's own path. God does not force His will on anything.
Point #3 - Dominion: Genesis specifically says that God gave Man dominion over the Earth. Dominion implies both an authority to make decisions for and a responsibility to care for someone or some thing (much as fathers have dominion over their home, which dominion must NEVER be unrighteous dominion, see D&C 121:36-37, 41-43). The question one might ask is why...
(Option 3A) We are God's children, and thus we deserve the right to inherit power over the Earth and all the animals in it. We were made by a separate process (we certainly have no connection to all those filthy, stupid animals!), and thus we have a right to do whatever we want with them. God only cares about us, His kids, anyway, and Jesus only died to save us Humans, so someone might as well put those poor creatures to profitable use before they die and disappear into the nothingness we shall never have to know. It must stink to be them.
(Option 3B) God crafted our bodies through the same process and from the same dirt that He used to craft the animals. Our physical bodies were all made from the dust of the same Earth, and we all share the same Earth. The dominion we've been given carries both a power and a responsibility. Since the plants, animals, and even the Earth itself are automatically saved and exalted by the atonement of Jesus Christ, but Mankind is here to be tested, command was given that Humans have a right to take the life of plants and animals and make use of the materials of the Earth so they can live, grow, and advance. Besides, the Humans' eternal advancement brings blessings to the Earth and all her inhabitants, as well. In short, we Humans were given dominion because all products of Creation's sacred power must be cared for, and, since we are benefiting from this Creation quite directly, that responsibility was given to us. We WILL be held accountable for how we exercised that power and fulfilled that responsibility. After all, who would give greater power to a child who misused and abused their toys, as opposed to a child who appreciated and respected their toys? Power must always come from obedience to law, not the abuse of law.
Point #4 - Line Upon Line: We are taught that faith and eternal life are not gained all at once, but "line upon line", see Isaiah 28:9-10, D&C 98:12, and, most of all, 2 Nephi 28:30, which reads: "For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have." Discuss.
(Option 4A) Well, God made light and then plants (because they need light to grow) and then animals (because they need light to see) and then us (because we need light and eat everything), and most of the plants and animals are smaller than we are, so they are kinda little... Uh... Who reads Isaiah anyway?!
(Option 4B) All Creation grew through a process of gradual change, "here a little and there a little" as it were, and those creatures which refused to continue advancing inevitably went extinct. The same holds true for our eternal progression. If we stagnate and refuse to grow, our souls are slowly hunted into extinction by the predators of superstition and false traditions. It is only in constantly striving toward the light, as incomplete as it may be for us now, that we gain ever-more light and eventually may become the bright, pure beings God wants us to choose to become. All things operate by the same laws, whether physical or spiritual, it is the same.
Point #5 - Tradition: Many ancient traditions have built up around the religions of the world, and I think many people today see that some traditions are harmful (in fact, that is the #1 reason I hear from atheists for their becoming an atheist)...
(Option 5A) Traditions are nearly as immutable as scripture itself. If someone said something 1,500 years ago, and people haven't forgotten it, then it must be true. God wouldn't let us remember false teachings, right? Besides, traditions are what define religions, and we all have family members who would nigh disown us if we didn't keep to the "family religious traditions" and isn't deferring to our parent's wants more important than seeking truth? God will just sort it all out someday, so why bother trying to figure it out for yourself anyway? He'll understand if we happen to reject His words because they didn't match our traditions or meet our demands, right?
(Option 5B) Traditions can be good or bad depending on what they are, but they are never the same as the sacred Word of God, i.e. the scriptures and the power by which they were given. We must be bound to seek and embrace ALL truth. This is true if we are someone living in 33 AD who hears a preacher called Jesus of Nazareth teaching things that go against the pharisaic traditions of our day (and, if we choose to follow this Jesus, we may be hunted, beaten, imprisoned, killed, and TOTALLY ostracized from both family and friends). This is also true if we live in the modern day when embracing true religion may mean leaving the association of some friends and family members. Our charge to honor our parents does not mean to let them decide everything for us. Even God, our Eternal Father, does not allow His power to be used for this, so why would parents think their lesser powers allows such? It does not, and it never will. Everyone is accountable for their own choices and their own progress on the eternal quest for truth. The further one gets on that quest, the better off they will be in the eternities. Truth is and always will be more important than ANY man-made traditions, no matter how old or how some people might cling to them.
Conclusion: This probably goes without saying, but if you chose mostly A, you probably embrace "Popcorn" Creationism. If you chose mostly B, you are more likely to be open to Evolutionary Creationism. I think it's blatantly obvious that I stand firmly in the camp of the Evolutionary Creationists. I see just as much, if not FAR more, in the scriptures to support Evolutionary Creationism than I do for "Popcorn" Creationism. Furthermore, I fear that the growing chasm between truth and religious tradition threatens the eternal welfare of too many in our younger generations. I fear that, by the time most religious people act to solve this problem, it will be too late to change the course the traditions have set for us, a course that leads almost inexorably over a raging spiritual waterfall set to destroy all who stray within it's grasp.