BYU Studies, Evolution, and Faith: Some Clarification (Updated!)

We recently put forth an open call for abstracts for a special issue of BYU Studies dedicated to biological evolution, LDS faith, and practice. I am the guest editor overseeing the non-scientific submissions and as such, would like to emphasize a few things from the call that seem to be getting overlooked. Update: Please note, we have extended the abstract submission deadline from February 1 to March 1

First, while this issue includes science, note that the suggested topics lean heavily to the historical, scriptural, interpretive, and theological.

  • interpretations and contexts of Genesis (including Moses and Abraham), 2 Nephi 2:22, Doctrine & Covenants 77:6–7, 101:32-34, and related passages;
  • hermeneutical and exegetical history;
  • Latter-day Saint intellectual history within American contexts (e.g., the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy);
  • historical, contextual, and intellectual factors influencing Latter-day Saint interpretations of scripture and interpretive assumptions;
  • religious and scientific epistemologies;
  • the historical Adam and Eve;
  • the nature of science;
  • misconceptions about evolution (e.g., “the Second Law of Thermodynamics disproves evolution”);
  • approaches to evolutionary pedagogy;
  • how evidence of evolution does not necessarily threaten a gospel perspective;
  • methods for reconciliation.

Many of the problems around evolution are not scientific in nature, and thus require approaches and expertise appropriate to the problem. You shouldn’t consult a biologist on the genre or authorial intent of Genesis, any more than you would consult a painter about the intricacies of Constitutional law or an accountant about 16th-century Polish art history. But often in the US (and in LDS circles), we assume that science is the primary issue, and we focus there entirely. That misunderstanding is why the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate went nowhere, and why throwing MORE science at young-earth creationists goes nowhere.

The Church has no position on evolution. We do not seek to dictate one, but rather, to host productive discussion and ideas from a variety of specialities, to provide the best information and understandings possible. So please, those of you with expertise in history- and philosophy-of-science, in Hebrew Bible, ancient Near East or history of exegesis, in 19th and 20th century intellectual and religious history, we especially need and want your submissions (as well as science)!

Second, note that we are shaping this special issue in a way to be very accessible to non-specialists, to undergraduates without any particular training. Articles will be relatively short (c. 5000 words) and translate across two barriers; that is, they will make technical knowledge available to the non-specialist, and they will bring some of the vast history writing, thought, proposals, and knowledge on this topic generated by our theological cousins INTO an LDS circle. So specialist>layperson, non-LDS>LDS.

Whether details of Genesis 1, overblown perceptions of “warfare” between science and religion, evolutionary ideas before Darwin, President McKay’s acceptance of evolution, introspection of our inherited interpretive assumptions, how prophetic knowledge works, the genre of the temple, how to make sense of evolution and the fall, the origins of modern creationism, etc. there is vast amounts of good and useful material out there which has not made its way into the general LDS consciousness, and we are trying to change that.

We seek truth, whether found among Christians, Jews, Muslims, or atheists; scientists, historians, theologians, or poets. By study and also by faith. Out of the best books. However hard the wrestle, we believe it will be worth it. But we can’t publish what we don’t receive, so help us make this as good as it can be. If you have questions, or would like to contribute but aren’t sure how, feel free to reach out to one of us.


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4 thoughts on “BYU Studies, Evolution, and Faith: Some Clarification (Updated!)

  1. Twenty years ago, exhausted from trying to explain the complexities of evolution to LDS folks who were exposed to Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce McConkie, I decided to ask serious LDS scientists, many of whom were members of the National Academy of Sciences, to write an essay on their personal resolution of science and religion. Originally the resulting volume was to be published as a BYU Studies book, but Walsh changed his mind and wanted only to publish the several papers I assembled in occasional BYU Studies. This was not my idea and Sheri Dew and Deseret Book published the entire volume and it sold out in a year or so, if I remember correctly. The results were gratifying and as recently as two weeks ago, a Montana Ph. D. biologist acknowledged that my book kept him in the Church, an echo of a number of such comments I have received over the years. I notice that Walsh, unhappy with this success, has decided to ignore my volume in his recent work even though the book answered the question of evolution for a number of LDS folks and has been a conversion tool for others.

    This history is for your benefit in your new non-scientific approach in addressing the question again. I hope you are successful. Good luck!


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