Evolution and Mormonism

EDWARD J. LARSON. Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. New York: The Modern Library, 2004.

TRENT D. STEPHENS and D. JEFFREY MELDRUM with FORREST B. PETERSON. Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001.

The unifying biological concept of evolution, and particularly its implications for human origins, is of widespread interest among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because questions of human biology and origins make contact with our sense of who we are and our relationships to one another, to other species, and to God. These two books provide a valuable foundation for exploring evolution: What is this scientific framework, within which all of modern biology is now viewed? How did it develop, and what are its relationships to other or supporting bodies of scientific knowledge and facts? What is the official position of the LDS Church with respect to these ideas? What of unofficial views of LDS leaders? Can evolution be reconciled with faith in a satisfying way?

Larson’s book, Evolution, written by a prize-winning scholar with extensive publications in evolution-related intellectual and social history, gives valuable historical perspective for addressing these questions. This Modern Library edition, compact as is usual for this series, covers more than two hundred years of history in 286 pages of main text. It is a treasure of historical information, giving an excellent overview of the development of the ideas of evolution and natural selection and pointing the reader to sources for further information where desired. This book, like Larson’s previous books, is gracefully written. It maintains scholarly integrity while flowing smoothly from Cuvier’s pioneering precursor work in the late eighteenth century up to present-day issues. Larson does excellent work in clearly connecting important developments in this history to their earlier roots. Furthermore, he is especially strong in weaving in personal histories and interesting biographical details of the scientists who figure in his history. Besides its readability, Larson’s book can be recommended for its evenhandedness. The book is not a brief for or against evolution or any variant theory.

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