The Logan LDS Institute of Religion has a secret: a small but well-stocked library. This library contains hundreds of LDS books spanning several decades and several topics, as well as several non-LDS general works such as Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". The library is a secret because the door is sort of located in an alcove so that if you don't already know it's there and aren't paying attention to your surroundings (which most people usually aren't), you'll miss it. It used to be fairly common knowledge, but around the time the Internet took off, students stopped coming to it in large numbers, and it no longer has a budget for new books.
It has been very helpful with my research on black people in the LDS Church. When I say "research", I don't mean anything new or groundbreaking, but just an effort to read and synthesize everything I can get my hands on about it. (The results of that effort, still and probably always in progress, are here.) In this little library I found "Mormonism and the Negro," "Black Saints in a White Church" (both of which I was surprised and impressed to see there, owing to their controversial subject matter, albeit for entirely different reasons), and "The Negro Pioneer". This latter book is really amazing because it relates many positive experiences of black people in the Church, experiences that most people aren't aware of and LDS apologists haven't taken advantage of. They really help to balance the record. But enough of that tangent for now.
I was there recently just looking around to see what interested me, when I stumbled across an intelligent design book. I rolled my eyes. As Jimmy Smits' character said in "West Wing", "I believe in a designer, and I'd like to think that he's intelligent", but that philosophy which goes by the name "intelligent design" is a load of nonsense. Hence my eye-rolling. But then right next to it I saw another book called "Evolution and Mormonism". I was a bit suspicious of this one as well because one of its authors is surnamed "Meldrum" (Rodney Meldrum and his ilk are infamous to LDS scholars for trying to support the Book of Mormon with psuedoscience), but looking it over I realized it was legit, and checked it out.
I checked it out to see if it had any insights that I hadn't considered before and could add to my own treatment of the subject. I already knew I wasn't a part of its target audience: Mormons who are ignorant about and probably skeptical of evolution. The authors - two scientists and one amateur to help them relate to normal people - contend that science and religion are compatible and that the truths from both can be synthesized. They spend some time hammering home this point, and inevitably I found it patronizing since I've already known it for years and heard it proposed dozens of times. The first time I heard that science answers the "how" while religion answers the "why", I was awed at how profound it sounded. Now I'm just like, "Well, DUH!!!"
Of course, almost anyone will claim they believe science and religion are compatible, but in practice too many of them - like the author of that intelligent design book - actually mean that religion trumps science and that conflicts must be resolved by discarding the latter. If you're going to take this approach, at least be honest about it and don't pretend you respect science.
The authors also reviewed several quotes and documents to demonstrate that evolution is not against LDS doctrine. Most of these same quotes and documents are used every time someone tries to demonstrate that evolution is not against LDS doctrine, since there are only so many to choose from, so that part was also tedious. They departed from most such works in presenting a broader overview and including several anti-evolution quotes. I didn't think that was necessary since those are more widely known and often erroneously considered to be a doctrinal stance. Writings like this only need to present the other side of the picture. But whatever, no harm done.
The discussion of scientific evidences was far more interesting. Of course, no amount of evidence is sufficient for those who have already determined not to let facts get in the way of their opinions, so the prior groundwork was necessary (and was patronizing and tedious only because I wasn't part of the target audience). Actually, most of this stuff was old news to me too, but I still find it interesting every time. I dropped the Wildlife Science major because I don't love science quite enough to do painstaking experiments and write dry stuffy papers about them for a living, but I don't regret learning about biology and stuff because it's fascinating on an amateur level. And I did learn a few new things, although I probably learned them years ago and forgot.
The most interesting part was a brief chapter right at the end which offered exactly what I had been hoping for - a new insight. This one was regarding how we can be created in God's image if evolution is random. It cited a relatively new hypothesis and some supporting studies and chaos theory (made famous by Jurassic Park) to suggest that genetic developments are constrained by mechanical necessities. In other words, regardless of which mutations happen, the structure and growth of organisms is limited by stuff like the environment and laws of physics, so humans couldn't just become any random shape. They explained it better than I do. That was written fifteen years ago, so I attempted to look up the current state of that hypothesis, which they admitted hadn't undergone much testing yet. Apparently it still hasn't, but the current state is summarized here on Wikipedia.
I don't believe anything is truly "random" anyway. Just because we can't predict where a tornado will strike doesn't mean it hits one place instead of another for no reason whatsoever. There must be factors controlling it that we just can't measure. The same must be true of mutations. There must be some factors that cause this gene to be mistranscribed instead of that one, right? Just like when you make a mistake while typing, it isn't random; it's because for a fraction of a second you weren't paying enough attention. And there must be a reason for that too. There is truth to the annoying Mormon cliché "Everything happens for a reason". It's annoying because in context they're usually implying that God micromanages every slightest event in the lives of every person on Earth in order to bring about His plan, which I don't believe for a moment because it makes free will a joke and makes God pathetically inflexible. But in this context the cliché is true.
So, while I had mixed feelings about the book because it wasn't really addressed to me, I recommend it to Mormons who are curious about science and religion and looking for a place to start. And to those in the Logan area, I also recommend visiting the institute library and seeing what it has to offer. Help bring it out of obscurity even if its glory days are forever behind it.
Shout out to my fans in Menlo Park, California and Kensington, Ohio. I have no idea who you are, but judging by how often you've visited my site, you either idolize me or work for the NSA. Thank you for your support.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.