Loyal to the Word NOTE: In this excellent address, Elder Widtsoe discusses the difference between microevolution, which is observable variations within basic kinds of animals, and macroevolution, which is the fantasy that all life evolved from a single-celled organism, is related to each other, and that man is descended from lower forms of life. In this address Elder Widtsoe rejects macroevolution. Elder Widtsoe goes on here to point out what most every evolutionist is unwilling to admit - that while microevolution is observable and unanimously accepted, macroevolution must be accepted as a matter of belief. Though Elder Widtsoe did not use the terms “microevolution” or “macroevolution” in this somewhat archaic address, the ideas carried within those terms is clearly the exact distinction he is was intending to make.

 

 

To What Extent Should the Doctrine of Evolution Be Accepted?

The answer to the above question depends on the meaning assigned to the word evolution. Among people generally, as well as lay a group of scientists who should know better, the word is used with unpardonable looseness. Especially should the difference between the law of evolution and the theory or theories of evolution be stressed whenever the word is used.

In its widest meaning evolution refers to the unceasing changes within our universe. Nothing is static; all things change. Stars explode in space; mountains rise and are worn down; men are not the same today as yesterday. Even the regularities of nature, such as the succession of the seasons or of night and day, cause continuous changes upon earth. Everywhere, a process of upbuilding or degradation is in evidence. The face of nature has been achieved by continuous small and slow degrees. This has been observed by man from the beginning, and must be accepted by all thinking people. Darwin knew it no better than the peoples of antiquity. The law of change, an undeniable fact of human experience, is the essence of the law of evolution (H. F. Osborn, From the Greeks to Darwin).

The great champion and amplifier of the doctrine of evolution, the philosopher Herbert Spencer, defined the law of evolution by saying, in substance, that whatever moves from the indefinite to the definite, is evolving; while that which moves from the definite to the indefinite, is dissolution or the opposite of evolution. Nebulae passing into stars are evolving; stars broken into cosmic dust are dissolving (Herbert Spencer, First Principles). When simple units are used to build up more complex structures we have evolution. When any structure is broken down into constituent elements, we have its opposite, dissolution. Evolution in this sense is the same as progression or growth.

From this point of view the law of evolution, representing eternal change upward, becomes a basic, universal law, by which nature in her many moods may in part be explained.

Indeed, it has been one of the most useful means of interpreting the phenomena of the universe. The first and most notable deduction from the law of evolution is that, in the words of Spencer, "We can no longer contemplate the visible creation as having a definite beginning or end, or as being isolated" (Herbert Spencer, First Principles). That is, existence is eternal.

The noisy babble about evolution, often disgraceful to both sides since Darwin wrote Origin of Species, has been confined almost wholly to speculations or guesses concerning the cause, methods and consequences of the law of evolution. The law itself has not been challenged. It is so with every well-established, natural phenomenon. Inferences are set up to explain observed facts. Such hypotheses or theories, which are often helpful, become dangerous when confused with the facts themselves. There are now many theories of evolution, all subject to the normal scrutiny to which all theories should be subjected; and until their probability is demonstrated, it is well to remain wary of them.

The foremost and best-known theory of evolution is that all living things on earth, whether fish, insect, bird, beast, or man, are of the same pedigree. All creation, it declares, has come from a common stock, from a cell formed in the distant past. Man and beast have the same ancestry. In support of this theory numerous well-established observations are presented. These may be grouped into five classes:

First, the fossil remains of prehistoric life on earth show that in the oldest rocks are remains of the simplest forms of life; and as the rocks become younger, more complex or more advanced life forms seem to appear. The scale of life appears to ascend from amoeba to man, as the age of the particular part of the earth's crust diminishes.

Second, each group of living things has much the same bodily organization. In the case of mammals, all, including man, have similar skeletons, muscular arrangements, nervous systems, sense organizations, etc. In some species the organs are merely rudimentary -- but they are there.

Third, the embryos of man and higher animals, in the earlier stages, are identical, as far as the microscope can reveal. This is held to mean that embryonic development summarizes or recapitulates the stages of man's development through the ages of the past.

Fourth, all organic creatures may be so grouped, according to structure and chemical nature, as to show gradually increasing relationships from the lowest to the highest forms of life. Similarities in blood composition are held to indicate nearness of kinship. The blood of the great apes is very similar to the blood of man.

Fifth, it has been possible, within historic times, to domesticate many animals, often with real changes in bodily form, as the various breeds of cattle, sheep, or dogs. Besides, isolated animals, as on the islands of the sea, have become unique forms differing from those on connected continents.

These facts, so claim the proponents of the theory of evolution, all point to the common origin, and an advancing existence, of all animal forms on earth. To many minds these observations, upon which in the main the theory of evolution rests, are sufficient proof of the correctness of the theory of evolution. It is indeed an easy way of explaining the endless variety of life. All life has grown out of a common root. The ease of explaining the origins and differences among life forms has won much support for the theory of evolution (Sir Arthur Keith, Concerning Man's Origin, and Darwinism and What It Implies; H. H. Newman, Evolution Yesterday and Today).

Yet, at the best the doctrine of the common origin of all life is only an inference of science. After these many years of searching, its truth has not been demonstrated. To many competent minds it is but a working hypothesis of temporary value.

            Many weaknesses in the theory of evolution are recognized by its adherents. Two are especially notable.

First, many reported similarities are far-fetched and not well enough established to be acceptable as the foundation of a world-sweeping theory. It is surprising how many such cases have been found. (Douglas Dewar, Man a Special Creation; Sir Ambrose Fleming, Evolution or Creation; E. C. Wren, Evolution, Fact or Fiction) Moreover, many actual similarities may be interpreted in more than one way. The theory of a common origin is only one of several possible explanations of the mass of biological facts.

Second the theory fails utterly to explain the emotional, reasoning, and religious nature of man which distinguishes him so completely from the lower animals. One defender of the theory declares that the brains of man and monkey are identical anatomically, but that the larger size of the human brain accounts for the higher intelligence of man. This suggestion falls to the ground in face of well-known facts such as that the ant shows greater intelligence than the cow. Many notable advocates of the theory, such as Darwin and Huxley, have stood helpless before the mental emotional, and moral supremacy of man over the ape, the animal most like man in body. Conscience is peculiar to man. Evil, sin, goodness, truth, love, sacrifice, hope, and religion separate man from the highest animal by a gulf not yet bridged by any scientific theory.

The doctrine of the common origin of life on earth is but a scientific theory, and should be viewed as such. Clear thinkers will distinguish between the general law of change or evolution accepted by all, and the special theories of evolution which, like all scientific theories, are subject to variation with the increase of knowledge. Honest thinkers will not attempt to confuse law and theory in the minds of laymen. The man, learned or unlearned, who declares the doctrine of the common origin of life on earth to be demonstrated beyond doubt, has yet to master the philosophy of science. The failure to differentiate between facts and inferences is the most grievous and the most common sin of scientists.

This is the trend of thought in the best scientific circles. In the words of Professor Punnett of Cambridge University, scientists "still hold by the theory of evolution, regarding the world of living things as dynamic, and not a static concern." But the interpretation of Darwinism has changed greatly. The theory of evolution "is released today from the necessity of finding a use for everything merely because it exists." More interesting, the glib talk about changing species is subdued. "Species are once more sharply marked off things with hard outlines, and we are faced once more with the problem of their origin as such. The idea of yesterday has become the illusion of today; today's idea may become the illusion of tomorrow" (Punnett, "Forty Years of Evolution Theory," in Background to Modern Science). That is the spirit of science. By slow degrees, among many changes, accepting, rejecting, striving, it may in the distant future reach the correct understanding of final causes.

The majority of the advocates of the theory that all life came from one stock believe that the primeval cell originated by the chance assembling under favorable conditions of the constituent elements of cellular substance. That means that life is only an accidental intruder into the universe. The immediate logical weakness of this view is that if life on earth began by the fortuitous assembling of inorganic materials in a slimy, primitive pool, other equally favorable pools for the generation of life may have existed, thus providing more than one origin of life.

Those who insist that all life on earth has come from one source are almost obliged to rule God out of the picture; for, if a Supreme Being is allowed to create a living cell in the beginning, He may at will create other life at different periods of time. Even believers in God who accept the theory of evolution as a final explanation of the origin of life forms, are inclined to insist that the theory represents Gods only method of creation. Nearly always, those who so believe refuse to admit that any other process may also be in operation. They would limit God to one method of operation. Fettering God, or unbelief in Him, or making Him merely a universal super-force, have been usual companions of the theory of evolution (W. W. Keen, I Believe in God and Evolution).

Latter-day Saints accept every scientific fact, but rate theories based upon the facts as human explanations of the facts, likely to change as new facts appear. They do not deny that an evolutionary process, a reflection of the gospel law of progression, may be one of the methods of the Lord's labor in the universe. That does not mean, however, that the Almighty cannot perform other acts of will for the promotion of His plan, as, for example, the special creation of man. God is a purposeful Being; whatever is on earth or in heaven has been designed for the accomplishment of the divine purpose -- the welfare of man. The spirit of man, itself intelligent, purposeful, is an eternal pre-existent being. He reaches beyond the confines of earth. He was with God before the earth was made. The theory of evolution does not explain the external man.

Any theory that leaves out God as a personal, purposeful Being, and accepts chance as a first cause cannot be accepted by Latter-day Saints. The evidence for God is yet greater than for the chance creation of the earth and its inhabitants. Mind and thought shape a work of art from the marble block. More marvelous than any human work of art is man. However he may have risen to his present high estate, it has been by the operation of mind and thought. That man and the whole of creation came by chance is unthinkable. It is equally unthinkable that if man came into being by the will and power of God, the divine creative power is limited to one process dimly sensed by mortal man. The great law of evolution may have many forms of expression, far beyond man's present comprehension.

In fact, the whole squabble about evolution centers upon two questions. Did life on earth come by chance or by divine will? If by divine will, is God limited to one process? These questions are as old as history. The ancients asked them; and those who come after us will ask them.

Here, then, is the answer to the question at the head of this chapter: The law of evolution or change may be accepted fully. It is an established fact so far as human power can determine. It is nothing more or less than the gospel law of progression or its opposite. Joseph Smith taught that men could rise towards Godhood only "by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace; from exaltation to exaltation." Modern revelation also says, "For I, the Lord God, created all things of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth" (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 3:5), and further that each creation "remaineth in the sphere in which I, God created it" (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 3:9) This last statement suggests limitations placed upon development under the general law of progressive change. The theory of evolution which may contain partial truth, should be looked upon as one of the changing hypotheses of science, man's explanation of a multitude of observed facts. It would be folly to make it the foundation of a life's philosophy. Latter-day Saints build upon something more secure -- the operation of God's will, free and untrammelled, among the realities of the Universe.

 

(John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era], 159-164.)

 

 
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