Professor’s Word on Evolution


    Stephen T. Nelson

    Associate Professor of Geochemistry

    I love political cartoons. In particular, I am a huge fan of Pat Bagley, the editorial cartoonist for the Salt Lake Tribune and a BYU alumnus. A good cartoon should provoke readers, even making them uncomfortable, and Dan McClellan (Jan. 25, 2006) certainly succeeded in that regard. I appreciate the editor’s note that appeared today (Jan. 27, 2006), reminding us that the cartoons only reflect the opinions of the artists and writers of the paper. Dan is certainly entitled to his opinion, but one or two items warrant further comment.

    First, the cartoon was factually flawed. Even if the quote “You cannot believe in evolution and at the same time accept the plan of Salvation” is accurate and correctly attributed [such a thing was more likely said by Joseph Fielding Smith, not his father Joseph F. Smith], it is irrelevant. The Board of Trustees wrote in 1992:

    “Although there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing the general matter of organic evolution as a process for development of biological species, these documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man.” (BYU Evolution Packet, 1992; emphasis added)

    This statement is hardly ambiguous. The implication that the teaching of evolution is in opposition to Church doctrine is false at face value. In 1957, President McKay wrote a private letter to an LDS geology professor at the University of Utah that strongly echoes the Board of Trustees’ position:

    “On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position.”

    President McKay later gave his permission to publish the letter, and the full text can be accessed by anyone who wishes to stroll over to the HBLL and read it (Dialogue 12:90-92). Only official statements by the First Presidency constitute official Church positions. Cartoons published in the Universe clearly do not meet this test.

    Finally, I would suggest that the cartoon was a little unfair to the many faithful LDS scientists here at BYU who teach and conduct research in evolution in relevant disciplines across campus. We should remember that they do this with resources and support provided by the tithe payers of the Church allocated to the University by the Board of Trustees.

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