Students do not need to choose between science and religion, a professor said Thursday.
Trent Stephens, professor of anatomy at Idaho State University, spoke to more than 75 students in the Sunburst Lounge about evolution and Mormonism. Stephens, a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lectured about reconciling the two issues of religion and evolution.
“Science, like any aspect of evolution, is irreligious,” Stephens said. “Science doesn’t have a stand on religious issues which deal with the spirit.”
The lecture, orientated specifically to the question of Mormonism, Stephens said, consisted of the church’s position, DNA evidence and the difference between the spirit and body.
Stephens’ lecture was based on the concepts of his book, “Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest For Understanding,” which he co-authored with three other individuals. Stephens said he wrote the book because students continually approached him with questions about how to reconcile the differences of evolutionary biology and the Mormon faith.
“About 10 years ago, I had a non-traditional student come to me,” Stephens said. “After we finished talking, [the student] said, ‘What you really need to do is write a book about this.’ That’s what launched this project, it was an attempt to have a book available to students that addressed these issues.”
Stephens said the official position of the church was addressed by formally requesting information from church offices. The church officials sent a statement from the “Encyclopedia of Mormonism,” Stephens said, and the key part of the statement received claimed “… man to be the direct and literal offspring of Deity …” However, this did not settle questions, Stephens said, but created more about what physical form Adam and Eve came in and why.
Stephens said, under a statement from the “Priesthood Quorum’s Table,” the natural human form came about in one of three ways: Evolution, transplantation or born on earth in mortality.
Stephens said Latter-day Saints students face a difficult situation when confronted with the teachings of the church and the teachings of biology. However, students do not have to reject one to accept the other, Stephens said.
The spirit and body, Stephens said, are two different aspects. Evolutionary biology has nothing to do with the human spirit, Stephens said, but only the physical body.
“The physical body is another issue, that’s where the debate centers,” Stephens said. “We’re dealing with the body, not the spirit.”
Stephens discussed different statements made by past Latter-day Saints and church prophets about the theories of the human body and evolution.
Human DNA evidence disproves the theory of transplantation because there are no alien genetic inconsistencies with other forms of DNA here on earth, Stephens said. DNA evidence has been used to understand the origin of other mysteries or crimes that have occurred, Stephens said, therefore showing the acceptability of DNA as an indicator of human origin.
“Using this exact same DNA evidence that we use to connect missing children to parents or to convict felons,” Stephens said, “we can also demonstrate the differences between human and chimpanzees in DNA, [which] is only twice that between two humans – and this certainly doesn’t indicate that we are some alien source.”
Stephens asked what makes humans different from a mouse or chimpanzee. In the past, Stephens said, genes were thought to be the defining factor of what makes humans different from other species.
“We have yet to identify a human gene that is unique to us,” Stephens said.
The fossil record and DNA evidence provides evidence for human evolution, Stephen said; however, this does not mean that individuals should reject the religious story of creation.
“They do suggest that we need to reconsider the interpretation of that story,” Stephen said. “There is a huge difference in what the story says and what we think it says.”
Stephens gave numerous examples on how biblical Adam and Eve were not immortal and everything in the Garden of Eden did not remain in a static state, therefore supporting the theory of evolution.
“I’ve told many of my students that I am glad that I don’t live in the 17th century,” Stephens said. “If I did there would be a contest by the inquisition as to whether I would be burned at the stake by the religionists or the scientists – I prefer making both people upset.”
Reconciliation between science and religion comes in the form of natural laws created by God, Stephens said, and the natural laws consist of evolution. The conflict arises in the interpretation of Mormon scriptures and/or the interpretations of scientific data, Stephens said.
Students were given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the lecture. One student asked about the denial of the fossil record by some Latter-day Saints and the theory that fossils were transplanted here. In response, Stephens said the idea that the entire fossil record being transplanted on earth is preposterous.
In response to the lecture, Keaton Walker, a sophomore majoring in environmental studies, thought the lecture was beneficial to the students because it offered individuals the knowledge to reconcile differences between biology and religion.
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