The Meaning and Morals of Marriage

August 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

Terrence Deacon’s classic work, The Symbolic Species, is a very interesting synthesis of 1) Peircean semiotics, 2) a socio-anthropological account of morals and 3) a very traditional understanding of marriage.  It is thus quite surprising to me that this confluence of symbols, morals and marriage within a text as widely cited as Deacon’s has gone almost entirely unnoticed within the LDS community.  Starkly put, if ever there was a naturalistic and historical argument to be made for the sanctity of marriage, this is it.

Since my goal is primarily to explicate rather than appropriate Deacon’s ideas, the quote-to-exposition ratio in this post will be quite high. Before getting to those quotes, however, let me first summarize Deacon’s account, if only to provide a roadmap for what is to come:

All and only humans have been able to combine 1) cooperative hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity.  The means by which this unstable combination is maintained is marriage.  Marriage is a uniquely human practice that is totally different in kind from the pair-bonding found in other species.  By way of analogy, pair-bonding is to associative thought as marriage is to symbolic thought: While the former are concerned with the regularities that an individual can predict to hold between two objects (smoke and fire), the latter involve a collective assignment of meaning or prescription of status upon both A) an object with respect to many other objects and B) those many objects with respect to it.

Thus, while pair-bonding can be understood as a negotiation of child-rearing responsibilities between the male and female (and them alone), marriage involves the collective ascription by an entire community of not only these roles and responsibilities but also those toward an entire social network that crosses kinship lines.  Stated differently, in the same way that a change in the symbolic meaning of one sign also changes the symbolic meaning of and between 20 other signs, so too a change in the moral/marriage status of one person also changes the moral status of and relations between 20 other people. Deacon’s theory, to summarize, is not merely that symbolic thought closely parallels marriage relations; rather, it is the much stronger claim that the latter was the evolutionary origin and cause of the former.

It is absolutely worth pointing out that while Deacon insists that his is the original definition of marriage, there is nothing in his account that prescribes this model of marriage for us today.  I cannot emphasize this point enough, so I will reemphasize it again at the end of this post.  Indeed, I think that, historically speaking, libertarian ideals have been at least as great a threat to this original form of marriage as progressive or socialist ideals have been.  That said, let us now move on to the quotes (all bolding is mine)…

Deacon begins with the claim that marriage is not a contract that solely pertains to two people in isolation from the wider community.  Marriage was never a private choice for the simple reason that its primarily aim was the social allocation of reproductive roles and responsibilities across kinship lines:

[A]dult males and females are assigned (sometimes by their kin and sometimes by their own choosing, with the consent of the larger social group) to specific mates, often for life, and … this entails explicit exclusion of sexual access by other group members…. Marriages everywhere have reproductive rights and obligations as their central content, and so specify the reproductive status of the marriage partners within the parameters of the wider community, both family and nonfamily. Marriage is more than a reproductive arrangement, because it additionally establishes new rights and obligations for the larger kin groups to which marrying individuals belong.  (Pg. 385)

The all-too-human combination of 1) mixed-sex social groups, 2) male investment in child-rearing, and 3) monogamy is extremely rare in nature.  The reason for this, argues Deacon, is because such a combination is extremely unstable:

[C]ooperative, mixed-sex social groups, with significant male care and provisioning of offspring, and relatively stable patterns of reproductive exclusion, mostly in the form of monogamous relationships… is not found in exactly this pattern in any other species… This pattern of social-sexual organization is rare because it tends to undermine itself in the course of evolution. The combination of provisioning and social cooperation produces a highly volatile social structure that is highly susceptible to disintegration. (Pg. 388)

He then moves on to suggest that marriage cannot be reduced to a merely habitual kind of pair-bonding between two, private individuals.  It is not a prediction but a prescription of future interactions not only between these two people but within the larger community as well.  For these reasons, sexual access – which had always been intimately intertwined with reproduction and, consequently, marriage – is not morally neutral:

Sexual access and a corresponding obligation to provide resources are not just habits of behavior; they cannot be … just predictions of probable future behaviors. Sexual access is a prescription for future behaviors. No index or memory of past behaviors can represent this… The pair-bonding relationship in the human lineage is essentially a promise, or rather a set of promises that must be made public. These not only determine what behaviors are probable in the future, but more important, they implicitly determine which future behaviors are allowed and not allowed; that is, which are defined as cheating and may result in retaliation. (Pg. 399)

He then articulates the sharp moral difference between human adultery and non-human “promiscuity” – this difference being that only the former involves condemnation and punishment from the entire community for having violated a moral norm:

Though philandery, cuckoldry, and desertion are common consequences of reproductive competition in other species, adultery is more than this. It involves betrayal, and there can be no betrayal without prior explicit or tacit agreements. In nearly all societies, there are not only personal reprisals associated with sexual infidelity but also consequences imposed by the community. The prevention of cuckoldry is partially supported by the potential of punishment from the entire social group. In no other species is there such direct involvement by the larger community in the maintenance of sexual exclusivity between individuals. (Pg. 400)

Marriage, then, is not a private agreement or “contract between consenting adults” regarding the future distribution of sex and economic resources between them and them alone.  Rather, it is a means by which the larger community becomes socially and symbolically integrated:

As anthropologists have recognized for generations, marriage is not the same as mating, and not the same as a pair bond… [I]t is also not just a reciprocal set of promises between two individuals regarding sexual access and economics. As the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and many others have emphasized, it is also the establishment of alliances: promises and obligations that link a reproductive pair to the social groups of which they are a part, and often a set of promises and obligations between the kin groups from which they arise. Marriage contracts establish both vertical lineal symbolic relationships and horizontal affinal symbolic relationships. Marriage, in all its incredible variety, is the regulation of reproductive relationships by symbolic means, and it is essentially universal in human societies. It is preeminently a symbolic relationship, and owing to the lack of symbolic abilities, it is totally absent in the rest of the animal kingdom. (Pg. 400)

Language-use is universal and exclusive to human communities because symbolic thinking is universal and exclusive to them.  Symbolic thinking, in turn, is universal and exclusive to human communities because marriage is universal and exclusive to them.  No other species evolved marriage, symbols or language because they never (for whatever reason) combined 1) cooperative, group hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity:

Establishing such social-sexual relationships cannot be accomplished by indexical communication alone, that is, by systems of animal calls, postures, and display behaviors, no matter how sophisticated and complex… [W]ithout symbols that refer publicly and unambiguously to certain abstract social relationships and their future extension, including reciprocal obligations and prohibitions, hominids could not have taken advantage of the critical resource available to habitual hunters. The need to mark these reciprocally altruistic (and reciprocally selfish) relationships arose as an adaptation to the extreme evolutionary instability of the combination of group hunting/scavenging and male provisioning of mates and offspring. This was the question for which symbolization was the only viable answer.  (Pg. 401)

The pressure to combine social hunting with male provision explains why brains, tools and a reduced sexual dimorphism all evolved at the same time in our species.  None of these traits explain the other two, for all three lie causally downstream from a completely new and social reorganization structured around symbolic (albeit, originally non-linguistic) thought:

The near synchrony in human prehistory of the first increase in brain size, the first appearance of stone tools for hunting and butchery, and a considerable reduction in sexual dimorphism is not a coincidence. These changes are interdependent. All are symptoms of a fundamental restructuring of the hominid adaptation, which resulted in a significant change in feeding ecology, a radical change in social structure, and an unprecedented (indeed, revolutionary) change in representational abilities. The very first symbols ever thought, or acted out, or uttered on the face of the earth grew out of this socio-ecological dilemma, and so they may not have been very much like speech. (Pg. 401)

The symbolic thought that reorganized human communities was not linguistic, but ritual in nature.  Public rituals not only systematically transform the social roles and duties that flows that marriage is meant to create, but does so in a way that makes this transformation in each person’s ascribed status common knowledge:

Ritualized support is also essential to ensure that all members of a group understand the newly established contract and will behave accordingly… [D]emonstrating that these relationships exist and providing some way of marking them for future reference so that they can be invoked and enforced demand the explicit presentation of supportive indices, not just from reproductive partners but from all significant kin and group members. (Pg. 406)

The symbolic roles created through public rituals such as marriage are mutually defining as well as mutually prescribing.  In this way, people and the relationships between them were the first symbols from which all others (including spoken language) would later follow.  People rather than words were the original symbols:

The symbol construction that occurs in these ceremonies is not just a matter of demonstrating certain symbolic relationships, but actually involves the use of individuals and actions as symbol tokens. Social roles are redefined and individuals are explicitly assigned to [individuals]. A wife, a husband, a warrior, a father-in-law, an elder – all are symbolic roles, not reproductive roles, and as such are defined with respect to a complete system of alternative or complementary symbolic roles… As with all symbolic relationships, social roles are defined in the context of a logically complete system of potential transformations; and because of this, all members of a social group (as well as any potential others from the outside) are assigned an implicit symbolic relationship when any one member changes status. (Pg. 406)

This is not a social contract theory (although Deacon does use its language at times).  Social contract theories suggest that the planning and calculation of isolated individuals leads them to enter into social relations.  Deacon’s account is the exact opposite in that our social relations not only pass on the tools of thought and calculation, but are the genesis of such thought and calculation:

[T]he theory of symbolic origins I have outlined is not just a new twist on Rousseau’s “social contract” theory. It is not a theory of the origins of social behavior, but of the translation of social behavior into symbolic form. More important, it is not a scenario for how our intelligence triumphed over our reproductive competition, but rather how unique demands of reproductive competition and cooperation created the conditions that led to our unique form of intelligence. (Pg. 408)

Symbols are primarily and intrinsically social in nature; they are only secondarily and derivatively about the interactions of the isolated individual with the natural world.  This, to me, suggests that the metaphysics and morals that positivists are so willing to dismiss as “meaningless” actually have a deep social meaning that can never be reduced to that which the isolated lab technician could ever observe or calculate in his/her lab:

Though symbolic thinking can be entirely personal and private, symbolic reference itself is intrinsically social. Not only do we individually gain access to this powerful mode of representation through interactions with other members of the society into which we are born, but symbols themselves can be traced to a social origin. Our uniquely human minds are, in a very concrete sense, the products of an unusual reproductive challenge that only symbolic reference was able to address – a concrete internalization of an ancient and persisting social evolutionary predicament that is uniquely human. (Pg. 410)

Before concluding, I would like to point out several aspects of Deacon’s account that I think are worthy of deeper thought:

  1. Marriage is essentially about two things: reproduction and social integration across kinship lines.  The modern definition of marriage as a private contract between two individuals is a challenge to both of these claims.
  2. Marriage allowed men to go hunting as a group while mitigating the evolutionary threat of bringing home provisions for some other male’s offspring. The modern welfare state, by contrast, provides sustenance for all offspring, regardless of paternity.  It thus makes marriage expendable, thus closing off a major source of social integration.
  3. Perhaps the most potent challenge to this model of marriage was the invention of private property:
    • By making the home private property, the wife’s behavior (with other men) is no longer exposed to public regulation.
    • More importantly, by privatizing the home, the husband’s behavior towards his wife (and other women) is no longer exposed to public regulation.
    • Whereas previously, both men and women were (in some sense) both public property, privatizing the home in a way that grants nearly all property rights, income and social connections to the husband essentially turns his wife into his own private property.
  4. Marriage allowed men to leave the communal nest with the socially reinforced confidence that he and only he had sexual access to his wife. This confidence is challenged by two modern practices:
    • Mixed gender workplaces challenge this confidence simply by increasing the number of opportunities to violate it.
    • The division of labor also fragments and dissolves the shared community that would have provided this confidence, as both husband and wife become unequally integrated with different and (at best) partially overlapping communities.
    • Women have good reason to leave the private property of the home, but integration within a shared, church community would be much closer to Deacon’s model than integration within a separate, mixed-gender work environment.
  5. Since linguistic meaning was the evolutionary consequence of social status, this strongly suggests (to me) that traditional authority cannot be conflated with or reduced to any combination of words, claims, equations or empirical data that commonly constitute “expertise”.
  6. This model also strongly suggests a highly socialized analysis of truth/meaning as social relations that hold primarily between persons and only derivatively between an individual and the non-social, natural world.

In conclusion, it bears repeating that Deacon’s account is not a straightforward prescription of any definition of marriage within today’s society.  Deacon is a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley and I’m sure he would have strong objections to any person using his account to oppose SSM.  Indeed, my reading is that libertarian capitalism presents a greater threat to the sanctity of marriage than SSM probably does – not that the later isn’t also a threat.  Thus, while this is not a knock-down argument against SSM by any means, it is a compelling counter-argument to the modern definition of marriage that is very often presupposed by those who push for SSM.  Plainly put, the sanctity of marriage that Mormons defend is much closer to Deacon’s understanding of that institution than the modern, classical liberal understanding of it.



  1. Any evolutionary view will never suffice. Marriage is ordained of and from God to man and has nothing to do with nature.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — August 29, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

  2. Rob,
    I’m fully on board with that. I hope this post doesn’t come off as arguing against it.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2016 @ 3:51 pm

  3. I confess I always get nervous with Evolutionary Psychology theories like this. Again looking at the closest primates to humans – bonobos and chips we see a pretty big diversity in sexual stability and practice. Humans seem unique in some ways. The other problem is “betrayal” seems problematic when talking not only of non-humans but animals with far less social sophistication. i.e. non-primates, dolphins etc.

    None of this is to deny the point he makes about symbol. Just that I think the setting can be controversial (without reading the full text). But I agree the ubiquity of marriage is significant. I do wonder if one should investigate more closely species that pair for life (apparently 90% of birds for example off the top of my head – although there is cheating albeit at a relatively low rate) and what symbols are used. While they don’t have language many animals do have extensive semiotic systems relating to sexual dynamics.

    I do like his theory that the rise in the level of symbol use up to the point of language corresponds to decrease is sexual dimorphism. Recognizing the correlation isn’t causation but it still is interesting. I would not be at all surprised to find that language evolution was tied as much to sexual selection and any other environmental selection.

    The question of course is when sexual roles evolved. We know roughly that language evolved around 100,000 years ago. Much earlier or later and the timing just doesn’t appear to work. (Tomasio has some interesting work here with some echoes of Peircean semiotics although I don’t think he was directly influenced by Peirce)

    Comment by Clark — August 29, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

  4. Just to nitpick,

    1) Deacon sees his account as an alternative to evolutionary psychology. He most definitely rejects both Chomsky and Pinker. (Here’s a video where he explains his evolutionary account of language to get a bit of flavor.)

    2) His whole point is that non-humans do NOT have symbols at all and for this reason cannot “betray” anyone.

    3) He attributes all forms of non-human communication (which he deals with at length – notice that all my citations are around page 400) to a largely Skinnerian type of associative learning. (He calls such things “indexical” associations/meaning.) Yes, some primates are capable of very rudimentary symbolic thinking, but we must prime them for it in a very contrived manner (to learn symbols we must unlearn our indexical associations).

    4) I don’t think he directly addresses it, but I don’t think he believes that sexual roles “evolved” in any genetic sense. Rather, the fact that one sex spent the strong majority of her adult life either being pregnant or nursing, a hunting society pretty much requires “sexual roles” without any genetic programming (in the evolutionary psychological sense) ever becoming necessary.

    It wasn’t clear if you were denying all or any of the above, which is why I thought it helpful to clarify.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2016 @ 8:39 pm

  5. Why does he think it’s an alternative to evolutionary psychology rather than just a different evolutionary psychology theory?

    It seems pretty weird for a Peircean to say non-humans don’t have symbols. I’d probably disagree pretty strongly on that one.

    Thanks for clarifying those points though. I think his point about 4 makes some sense but it seems odd to neglect evolutionary aspects of the sexual dimorphism inherent in that model. (Such as the amount of muscle mass)

    Comment by Clark — August 29, 2016 @ 8:46 pm

  6. In other words, he greatly poo-poo’s gene-centrism. Dennett’s take on him is that if we divide evolutionary accounts up according to the romantics (Searle, Gould & Lewontin, and anybody else who seeks a “skyhook”) and the naturalists (Dawkins, Pinker, and anybody else who gets called a “darwinian fundamentalist”), Deacon is the most naturalistic romantic yet…..

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2016 @ 8:46 pm

  7. BTW – for non-human (and often non-animal) symbols one of the best books from a Peircean perspective is Frederik Stjernfelt’s Natural Propositions. While he pushes it farther than even many Peirceans take it, the book has been extremely well received. I was fortunate to be part of a reading club on it last year on Peirce-L with Stjernfelt participating.

    Comment by Clark — August 29, 2016 @ 8:47 pm

  8. Jeff, I think too m much gene centrism is a problem. I think people do appeal to genes when it’s not necessary and often in ways that seem inherently untestable as a practical matter. That said I think the inquiry can be useful if we keep a certain skeptical stance. It’s sometimes forgetting that skeptical stance that I think is problematic in evolutionary psychology. (With Pinker arguably falling prey at some times although arguably not at other times such as his work on war)

    Comment by Clark — August 29, 2016 @ 8:49 pm

  9. Re 5:

    Because his evolutionary account places most of the evolution outside of the brain. Thus, it’s more evolutionary anthropology than evolutionary psychology.

    I have no doubt that you would disagree with his reading of Pierce. Deacon is very strongly influenced by him, not an orthodox defender of him.

    With regard to sexual dimorphism, I think his claim, again, is that because so much evolutionary weight was being off-loaded into an inherited system of symbols, pre-programmed, genetic sexual differences became more expendable. Remember, his claim is that sexual dimorphism *decreased* with the advent of symbols.

    While the link I included above doesn’t directly unpack this book, you’ll definitely get a flavor for his argument. While he doesn’t say it in the book, in the video he says that with the creation of an inherited symbolic system, humans essentially domesticated themselves.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2016 @ 8:52 pm

  10. It seems like our difference regarding whether animals have symbols or not should have been somewhat predictable.

    Your view says that animals have symbols because such things are, before all else, about the natural world. Since animals obviously interact with the natural world in a very intelligent way, of course they have such symbols.

    I say that animals do not have them because symbols are, before all else, about socially enforced norms. Since animals do not engage in such socially enforced norms, they do not have symbols.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

  11. This is a very informative review as well. I’m guessing you’ll understand it better than I do.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 29, 2016 @ 9:08 pm

  12. I don’t think I’d say symbols are about the natural world but they can be. Their fundamental feature is a certain arbitrariness. That is they aren’t essentially indexes or icons. (i.e. point or resemble)

    BTW regarding the social I actually think most is social evolution once language develops again around 100,000 years ago. I don’t think that part is controversial. I’d just say that for sexual dimorphism to change that is real evolution even if driven by sexual selection.

    Comment by Clark — August 30, 2016 @ 7:41 am

  13. Relative to that review, what I’d say the interesting evolutionary change is that human brains became able to deal with mediation in a strong way. So I suspect I’m closer to Chomsky than Pinker. Where I differ from Chomsky is that I’m really skeptical there’s a single grammar developed in the brain all at once. I suspect different language parts develop in different parts of the brain. I think Pinker on brain damage that damages only parts of language use (say using nouns properly) is pretty persuasive there.

    Comment by Clark — August 30, 2016 @ 7:44 am

  14. Your number 2 was my strongest reaction. By this analysis, does the decline of hunting lead to a decline in marriage?

    Comment by Martin James — August 30, 2016 @ 9:56 am

  15. If by that you mean the decline of “leaving the house to go earn a living”, then maybe. But I don’t see any such decline.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2016 @ 10:03 am

  16. I should also add that (assuming my memory holds) there is quite a bit of data that independently suggests my suspicion in 2.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2016 @ 10:06 am

  17. I’m interested in the term “marriage” as a description of all the social forms of the social recognition of sexual and offspring relationships.
    Here are some examples: in which cases are only the women constrained in terms of sexual relations and which apply to both men and women? For example, if a society had different levels of status for females and male sexual relations with some females (or males or female outside the social group) were not subject to limit, does it make sense to use one word like “marriage” for all of these different symbolic relationships? Is there anything meaningful that connects these historical symbolic relationships with the symbolic relationship we call “marriage” today. For example, US law has the status “paternity” that symbolically represents some of the obligations of “marriage” but not many others such as sexual exclusivity. Under this analysis is “paternity” the correlate of marriage or is “marriage” the correlate of marriage?
    It seems to me that the very flexibility of symbolic relationships makes it problematic to use linguistic terms to refer to many different instantiations of social moral codes regarding reproduction and resources. Is there anything fundamental that connects these under the heading “marriage?”

    Comment by Martin James — August 30, 2016 @ 10:44 am

  18. “Is there anything meaningful that connects these historical symbolic relationships with the symbolic relationship we call “marriage” today.”

    Historical continuity is as good a connection as one could ever hope for. The fact that I don’t have any of the original cells that I was born with doesn’t mean that I’m not the same person.

    I should also point out another, VERY potent challenge to this traditional conception of marriage: the fact that most people do not marry into a family within the same community as their family. Our cosmopolitan way of life has made that two families of different kinship lines are only being integrated in a very shallow sense. Interestingly enough, urban areas are exactly those in which these cross-kinship relations might still have strength.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2016 @ 11:10 am

  19. Jeff while that’s the ideal of marriage in most communities there was no shortage of breakage from that especially amongst the poor. Even today while we’re more cosmopolitan our greater ability to travel and communicate means families separated by distance aren’t as separated as they were in say the 19th century.

    Comment by Clark — August 30, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

  20. I don’t disagree. Hopefully I’ve made it sufficiently clear that this “original” model that Deacon describes is not exactly like the institution that the church prescribes for us today. I do, however, think that Deacon’s account 1) is closer to that of the modern church than the contract model, and 2) really helps situate and understand the historical evolution of the institution.

    I also think that the plural marriage as practiced within the united order would have been VERY close to Deacon’s model, indeed (while he presupposes monogamy, for the most part, he understand that plural marriage has not been exceptionally rare either).

    Comment by Jeff G — August 30, 2016 @ 5:30 pm

  21. I just dont get what marriage has at all to do with the theory of evolution. Evolution doesnt produce marriage

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 1, 2016 @ 2:01 pm

  22. No worries.

    Evolution only played two roles here:

    1) He is attempting to describe the evolutionary forces that produced marriage – the first form of symbolic thought.
    2) He is attempting to describe the evolution of all other forms of symbolic thought from marriage.

    Obviously, you reject both of these claims. No biggie.

    That said, this particular model of what is and is not marriage is based in anthropological studies that do not require a belief in evolution. The model of marriage that he describes just is how most people have understood the term throughout most of human history.

    This anthropological model of marriage is centered around two other claims:

    3) Marriage has historically been about biological reproduction and child rearing.
    4) Marriage has historically been about social integration across kinship lines.

    Neither of these are all that tightly bound up with evolution, so I’m guessing that you could accept or reject them for other reasons. You might claim that God accepts both such claims, or you could say that either (or both) claim is merely “how the world has falsely understood marriage.” A rejection of evolution, however, is not sufficient to reject either of these claims. You would have to provide some other reason for why God rejects either claim.

    Or you could just dismiss all anthropological studies as irrelevant as well. If this is your position, then you probably have very little to gain from this post.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 1, 2016 @ 2:24 pm

  23. To add (2) is not evolution in the biological sense but more a kind of symbolic/social evolution in the more broad generic sense of the term.

    Comment by Clark — September 1, 2016 @ 8:02 pm

  24. I think a very strong argument could be made that marriage in human thought transcended from i teractions with God and his holy angels. Over time, “marriage” in various cultures came to mean a variety of things springing up various traditions associated with it. But, the argument that marriage comes from God and mans interaction with spirituality, not nature itself, is very strong. We have strong evidence that the first marriage of mankind was through God and was of a spiritual order, something nature cannot explain nor account for.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 2, 2016 @ 11:27 am

  25. I think this is just another way that evolutionary theory can fit nicely into a religious context. The story of Adam and Eve, their pairing, naming, symboling, cooperating, patriarching, etc. can all be interpreted as a powerful allegory about the transformation from beast to man.

    That said, I think that mankind is currently evolving at a much more rapid pace, given advances in technology which have radically transformed the environments in which the evolution takes place, i.e. birth control, ubiquitous prosperity, longer lifespans, the invention of inalienable rights, etc. These make the whole “cooperative hunting” and “male provision for offspring” less essential ingredients in the glues holding traditional marriage together, which is why you see new forms starting to tweak the the old forms.

    In an environment of equal rights, ubiquitous prosperity, and birth control, it is natural that the marriage would become more personal and less tribal, more focused on love than duty, etc.

    Given that traditional marriage was already “extremely unstable” in pre-modern societies, what gives Mormons the audacity to think that they should advocate to sustain traditional marriage model in such a radically new environment, an environment where, for all intents and purposes, their old model is simply obsolete.

    And nothing in religion prohibits us from abandoning traditional marriage if God suddenly decides He wants to do it, as He did with Joseph Smith. Right now, God doesn’t say that to President Monson, but not because traditional marriage is some kind of objectively perfect solution for modern society.

    Comment by Nate — September 5, 2016 @ 4:33 pm

  26. I think it undeniable evolution continues to happen although I’m skeptical the changes will have any short term significant effects. i.e. the next few hundred years.

    We’re helping to save those with a lot of illnesses including genetic ones to reproductive ages. Those of us with very bad vision would likely have been considered blind in ancient days and had a significantly reduced change of having offspring.

    However there are problems with all this. First the time period for evolution to have much of an effect. Second, the easing of boundaries such that there’s less relative in-breeding that might make a lot of traits better manifest. Finally I think people overestimate how significantly hereditary many traits are. That is things like better nutrition, health care, sanitation and so forth swamp a lot of the biological effects.

    Of course Jeff is primarily not talking of biological evolution but more what some call memetic evolution (or how signs/ideas are passed down and transformed).

    The reason to suspect marriage will be with us for a long time is to simply look at the studies. Among the educated and relatively well off marriage is if anything stronger than ever before. Yes it’s changed somewhat as women have careers and fewer children. (Although among the well off the number of children is creeping upwards again)

    Where marriage is failing tends to be among the poor. However the reasons there appear less tied to marriage as an idea than the structural situations they find themselves in.

    Comment by Clark — September 6, 2016 @ 10:25 am

  27. Nate,

    Your comment agree with me in that the traditional pillars of marriage are being undermined by the privatization of the home and capitalism in general, but then you merely assume that these traditional pillars are being replaced by some other practices that can hold the institution together. You merely assume that as duty decreases, some how love increases to compensate. I find little support for this claim. Indeed, it seems far more likely that the very same forces that compel us to view marriage in terms of mutual exchange between self-interested parties also compel us to view love in the exact same way.

    “Given that traditional marriage was already “extremely unstable” in pre-modern societies”

    I apologize if this is what I suggested. What was unstable was not marriage, but the combination of practices that marriage held together. In this sense, marriage was extremely robust precisely because it was not a dissolvable contract between private parties.

    “what gives Mormons the audacity to think…”

    Modern day revelation.

    “their old model is simply obsolete”

    Again, this seems like an assumption more than anything else.

    “nothing in religion prohibits us from abandoning traditional marriage if God suddenly decides He wants to do it”

    I fully agree, but until then, we have our orders. God can change His mind on anything, so I don’t know why history is supposed to be particularly relevant to marriage.


    I absolutely reject most of the gene centrism that the first half of you comment seems to presuppose. I get the feeling that Nate does too, so when he says that our social organization is evolving, I don’t think that genes are all that relevant.

    “Among the educated and relatively well off marriage is if anything stronger than ever before.”

    Compared to when? If we are comparing contemporary marriage with that of the 18th century, then I would probably agree. If we are talking about before the privatization of the home that I lament, then I would be very interested in seeing some evidence.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2016 @ 11:02 am

  28. Hi Jeff, I agree that we can’t be sure that modern marriage will work more effectively than traditional marriage has.

    But since your thesis seeks to prove that the nuts and bolts of traditional marriage are derivative of evolution, then it’s only natural that we would be open to see how marriage might further evolve when environments influencing that evolution change dramatically.

    Of course, there is a conflict here with your ideas about authority, which don’t mix with evolution. Did God command Adam to practice traditional marriage “just so” because He had already worked out the kinks among Neanderthals as they evolved over millions of years before Adam? The system was perfected by pre-Adamites, so now it is ready to be “authorised” by the priesthood?

    I don’t think you can have it both ways. Either God designs everything to be a specific way, and exercises religious authority to enforce it, threatening everyone who disobeys with hellfire, or He lets His creation evolve according to basic evolutionary principles. He wouldn’t revoke those principles just because He suddenly changes His mind about the direction evolution happens to be going.

    You might say God has a “higher law” for His saints, which includes this old-style marriage perfected by the pre-Adamites. That is more my view of authority. But then why does He try to enforce it on the Gentiles against the tide of the evolutionary forces He Himself put into place? Maybe He authorises His prophets to “kick against the pricks” of evolutionary change if they want to, and drag us all along with them.

    Comment by Nate — September 6, 2016 @ 11:42 am

  29. “your thesis seeks to prove that the nuts and bolts of traditional marriage are derivative of evolution”

    Not true. Like I was telling Rob, the point I’m most interested in has very little to do with evolution as such. Rather, I am much more concerned about what the baseline definition of marriage has been throughout the vast majority of human history. The focus on evolutionary forces was more oriented to explicating the tensions and contradictions that the institution serves to dissolve and integrate as well as situate the ways in which modern practices threaten the institution.

    “Either God designs everything to be a specific way, and exercises religious authority to enforce it, threatening everyone who disobeys with hellfire, or He lets His creation evolve according to basic evolutionary principles.”

    Why does it have to be one and only one of these two? This assumption seems drastically unsupported.

    “You might say God has a “higher law” for His saints, which includes this old-style marriage perfected by the pre-Adamites.”

    I should reemphasize that I am not arguing that Deacon’s model of marriage is necessarily and always God’s model of marriage. Quite frankily, I don’t care what pre-Adamites did, nor do I think that evolutionary arguments prove anything either way. They do, however, help us understand the ways in which modern practices clearly threaten such traditional institutions.

    While socialists are quite open about their desire to destroy marriage (there’s nothing really to argue about there), what this post does is show how libertarians also threaten the institution by reducing it to a mere contract. This point is relevant since conservatives and liberatarians tends to blend with each other such that the former may not recognize the threat posed by the latter.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

  30. For the record, I’m a HUGE believer in Darwin (Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea has influenced by thought more than any other single book). I’m just not a huge defender of evolution.

    Evolution is useful to situate and understand various issues, but I have very strong reservations when it comes people (like Dennett) who use it to tell people what they ought or ought not do, believe or say.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

  31. “The focus on evolutionary forces was more oriented to explicating the tensions and contradictions that the institution serves to dissolve and integrate as well as situate the ways in which modern practices threaten the institution.”

    Are modern practices really threatening the institution, or are modern practices changing the “tensions and contradictions” which traditional marriage served to “dissolve and integrate?”

    I don’t think you can blame modern society for the decline of traditional marriage, when they are simply changing the baseline environment: promoting ubiquitous prosperity, longer lifespans, equal opportunity, etc. All these things are good things. If traditional marriage struggles within the new environment, it’s not the fault of the new environment. It’s up to traditional marriage to make a case for itself within the new environment, not to mourn the loss of the dark ages and say we should go back to that.

    I agree that evolution shouldn’t be used to tell us what we “ought” to do, believe or say. That is the role of authorities. But evolution DOES tell us what is inevitable: change. There is no stopping evolution, because it just happens, according to the various laws and forces underway in the universe. You don’t need to encourage it, and you can’t halt it. The best a religion can do is create a temporary monastic order dedicated to some kind of transcendent ideal within a constantly changing universe.

    Comment by Nate — September 6, 2016 @ 4:27 pm

  32. One small point. A contract is a contract in many ways because of the social ways contracts are enforced by a community. It seems more accurate to me to say contractual marriage is one way the social group supports and validates marriage. It also seems not to be the case that the benefits of marriage are freely negotiable under the “contract” model since the state also determines many aspects of the marriage contract.

    Comment by Martin James — September 6, 2016 @ 4:51 pm

  33. “Are modern practices really threatening the institution, or are modern practices changing the “tensions and contradictions” which traditional marriage served to “dissolve and integrate?””

    I presented several arguments for the former. The attempt at transforming all “threats” into mere “changes” that have benefits without costs is disingenuous, at best.

    “I don’t think you can blame modern society for the decline of traditional marriage, when they are simply changing the baseline environment: promoting ubiquitous prosperity, longer lifespans, equal opportunity, etc. All these things are good things.”

    You make it sound like all these things simply dropped out of heaven without any trade-offs or radical transformations in social organization. Lot’s of people had serious moral objections to these shifts in social practices and to ignore them is inexcusably whiggish. (Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation would be most relevant here.)

    “If traditional marriage struggles within the new environment, it’s not the fault of the new environment.”

    Why? How is your approach any different from Marx’s tendency to list all the (very real) downsides of capitalism while failing to mention any of its (equally real) benefits and then parade around like the burden of proof lay entirely with everybody else?

    “But evolution DOES tell us what is inevitable: change.”

    I don’t see how this is relevant to anything.

    If I read you right, your position seems to be “Yes, the institutions of marriage and family are failing, but that’s okay.” My post does not argue against this. Rather, it shows what purposes those institutions have traditionally served and how they are threatened by modern practices. Then, at other times, you seems to be saying “No, the institutions of marriage and family are not failing, they are merely changing in response to modern practices.” I think this is demonstrably false. The only way we could stand by this position is if we leave the difference between “failing” and “changing” very vague. The organization of society is quite obviously changing – and one of the major changes is the decline of marriage.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2016 @ 4:56 pm

  34. Martin,

    “A contract is a contract in many ways because of the social ways contracts are enforced by a community.”

    Okay, but there is a difference between the larger community merely “enforcing” a contract that is freely entered into and – to some degree – negotiated by the two people and them alone, and the active evaluation of and participation in and moral ascription of rights and duties by the moral community. Again, the irreconcilable difference between (premodern) ascription and (modern) achievement cannot by overstated. Marriage used to be the public ascription of moral status across two, otherwise unrelated kinship lines. The modern contract has exactly zero of this built into it.

    Remember, according to Deacon, the traditional marriage is either decided by the families or, at minimum, requires the approval of these families. The weddings in the OT are VERY much instances of this practice. Our modern weddings, by contrast, might involve prenuptial agreements and/or eloping at Vegas and as such have relatively little in common with this traditional practice. Indeed, weddings have become almost an optional formality – thus making social integration across kinship lines almost impossible.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

  35. A big part of what this post is aimed at is showing that modern feminism is the wrong solution tot he right problem:

    1) Communal living gave way to the privatization of the home.
    2) Commercial society brought the husband outside the home, leaving the wife isolated in it.
    3) Classical liberalism (and a strong definition of private property) made whatever happens within one’s home “nobody else’s business”.
    4) Urban life in major cities further dissolve social integration between kinship lines as all households become relatively anonymous to each other.

    Thus, whereas both husband and wife had been (in a manner of speaking) public property, the above practices transform the husband into a private citizen and his wife into his property. This is a state of affairs that is, quite obviously, VERY disadvantageous for women. They become, on the one hand, socially isolated from both social integration and moral regulation and, on the other, overly dependent upon the husbands’ income, property and legal/social connections. She has been left totally bereft of economic, moral and legal resources that she can call her own.

    Thus, modern feminism tries to liberate women and allow them to act like these “free” men as well. This, however, is not feminism so much as a more generalized male chauvinism: it empowers women by turning them into men. In this way, they compound the problems caused by (1)-(4):

    5) Husband and wife become unequally integrated within different, non-overlapping communities (clubs, groups, jobs, etc.).
    6) The workplace becomes mixed gender as women enter the work force.

    A better approach – from the standpoint of traditional marriage – would include:

    5*) The integration of husband and wife within one and the same moral community that is able to (to some degree) pierce through the shell of privacy that shields the home from moral evaluation.
    6*) A reinforcement of gender roles within this shared community such that a) duties, rights and boundaries are buttressed against the modern dissolution of all ascriptive roles, and b) wives regain their dignity as wives rather than being forced to decide between adopting the same lifestyles as males or becoming the property of males.

    The differences between (5)-(6) and (5*)-(6*) just is the tension between Ordain Women, on the one hand, and the church, on the other. One seeks to advance women’s interests at the expense of the family, while the other seeks to reintegrate women and the family in general within a larger moral community. One thinks that modernity (division of labor, commercial society, etc.) was great for men and can be for women as well, while the other is far more ambivalent about the virtues of modernity. One seeks to allow the woman to leave the home as the man had already done, while the other was never all that thrilled about men leaving the home to begin with. And so on.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2016 @ 5:43 pm

  36. Jeff G,
    The part that is missing for me is the explanation of how different moral communities interact in the modern situation and specifically, whether it is possible for traditional authority structures to coexist with modern structures. You have talked about how they compete and how modern structures are a change. What is your analysis of how tradition structures can exist in a blended modern/traditional system. For example, if there was a move away from private spheres in areas like marriage, but if there was a return to a traditional approach, the question immediately becomes which “public” gets to be the traditional authority. It seems to be wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too that you can get a return to traditional authority and also get to keep one’s version of traditional authority. For example, the church’s support of religious rights seems aimed at keeping a modern idea of what should be public versus what should be private. It is likely because they see that a return to traditional moral authority would leave them a loser without modern protection of minority authorities via the modern separation of the public and the private.

    Comment by Martin James — September 7, 2016 @ 8:42 am

  37. “specifically, whether it is possible for traditional authority structures to coexist with modern structures”

    This is an important question that I do not even try to answer. My posts are more about understanding, not prescribing change or even asking to what extent change is even possible.

    I do acknowledge that a full return to traditional authority (with fiefdoms, etc.) would be a radical change indeed. But this is definitely not something that I am advocating. The church has always strongly endorsed several modern institutions – the freedom of association being the most obvious – and I am fully on board with that.

    I do think that strong activity in the church goes a long ways in blending the two. Beyond that, I don’t have too much to say.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 9:30 am

  38. “I do think that strong activity in the church goes a long ways in blending the two. Beyond that, I don’t have too much to say.”
    Fair enough. The reason that I think it is an important question (and not just a way of avoiding or critiquing your perspective) is that I think the two moral systems involve two cognitive systems in terms of language, concepts and communication. My perspective is that the traditional side has limited its conceptual range in a way that avoids the traditional actually having to engage with the modern to survive, but it results in less ability to engage with moral situations usefully and a loss of relevance and usefulness. I’m not disputing that the communication process should create the values, I agree with you on that, it is that I think there is an ongoing process of how authority is communicating what strong activity means in different areas.
    I’m glad you recognize the complexity that happens when traditional authorities endorse modern ideas. You are an advocate of newer authorities being the most relevant but your understanding of authority is based on a traditional model. This is why you often think I’m ignoring your issue by asking questions that you don’t think are on point or take your perspective into account. From my perspective it is the ways the different perspectives come into conflict and how they affect each other that is required to understand (and participate in) a moral community.

    Comment by Martin James — September 7, 2016 @ 10:09 am

  39. Missing “not” in communicating process should not create the values. Dang…convicted by Freudian slip.

    Comment by Martin James — September 7, 2016 @ 10:12 am

  40. Just a nit. Evolution doesn’t necessarily entail change. Some things are quite well adapted and persist for millions of years. (Crocodiles being one of many examples)

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2016 @ 11:25 am

  41. “The only way we could stand by this position is if we leave the difference between “failing” and “changing” very vague.”

    I think the difference between failing and changing IS vague. Change means that some things fail, or some parts of some things fail, and they are replaced by other things, some of which will work, some of which won’t long term.

    But in my mind it’s ridiculous to imagine that traditional marriage wouldn’t or shouldn’t evolve, change, or fail in some way, when confronted with such deeply revolutionary transformations as birth control for example.

    For thousands of years, God made our lives hell by giving us bodies screaming with sexual desire, but saddled with the constant threat of children. Now that we have wrested that power from His hands, the balance has shifted in a fundamental way. But if mankind drifts away from traditional marriage, God has no one but Himself to blame, for He was the one that set up the irreconcilable sexual paradoxes in human nature. He forced our hand. When the science for taking control of our sexuality was revealed, there was no question that we would embrace it. God assured Himself of that by setting in motion the forces that would naturally gravitate to such a change.

    If God’s authorised prophets are loathe to contemplate such changes, that is their prerogative. But God’s actions speak louder than His words. Evolution is also a revelation of His will, or a revelation of the dynamics He set into play when He created the whole thing.

    Comment by Nate — September 7, 2016 @ 11:30 am

  42. Still not sure what or how Darwinian evolution has to do with a covenant institution that God brought to man (marriage). Im obviously not a fan of the theory of evolution to begin with but nevertheless I am still trying to figure out how a theory of how life came to be by purely natural means (without God) is associated with holy covenants that come from God (marriage). All evidence from within church doctrine states that marriage came directly from heaven by God and not so ething man invented or came up with over eons of time. Since Adam and Eve, our society lives shorter lives, we have more disease, more genetic negative mutations, and all holiness of covenants like marriage have lost most of their original meaning. In the beginning marriage was a holy covenant and ordinance of the high priesthood. We have de-evolved over time to where marriage is in large part not a holy ordinance or covenant with God nor performed by his ministration. Movements like feminism is a sign we have continued to de-evolve into a destructive pattern.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 7, 2016 @ 11:46 am

  43. Martin,

    “I think the two moral systems involve two cognitive systems in terms of language, concepts and communication.”

    I agree. The main point of my posts is to help people become ideologically bi-lingual. Of course the real problem is that, unlike languages, ideologies claim to be uniquely true. The degree to which accepting one ideology as true morally tolerates even the instrumental appeal to a different ideology is a very open question.

    “You are an advocate of newer authorities being the most relevant but your understanding of authority is based on a traditional model.”

    To some extent, yes. More than anything, I am resisting the modern tendency to condemn all and every case of ascriptive status as illegitimate and evil. Not only is this claim historically false, but it is totally at odds with priesthood authority. I don’t want to endorse all traditional authority, but we cannot fully endorse modern authority either.


    Again, you’re making some pretty extremely and almost totally unsupported claims.

    “But if mankind drifts away from traditional marriage, God has no one but Himself to blame”

    So the institution of marriage does just fine for millennia, and as soon as it starts to go south in the last couple centuries, it’s all of a sudden God’s fault? I don’t buy it.

    “If God’s authorised prophets are loathe to contemplate such changes, that is their prerogative.”

    It is their prerogative that they were ordained to. That fact that it’s their prerogative is exactly why we should pay attention rather than dismiss them.

    “Evolution is also a revelation of His will”

    I find very little support for the claim that all evolution within a fallen world of reproduction and death (variation and selection) is a manifestation of God’s will.

    I’m also still unclear on whether you think marriage is and ought to die, or is and ought to evolve. There are (at minimum) four separate claims here: two descriptive and two prescriptive. Most importantly, I don’t see how either of these prescriptive claims finds any moral justification. The fact that we can expect to see X happen is no grounds at all for the prescriptive claim that we ought to do any thing at all.


    As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t. Again, my aim was to provide a larger understanding, not to justify or prescribe any course of action. If anything, Nate is making the argument that you seem to be objecting to…. but I’m objecting to it as well.

    “Movements like feminism is a sign we have continued to de-evolve into a destructive pattern.”

    I’m not arguing for or against this. Rather, my model was meant to show the conditions under which feminism makes sense. The commercial revolution and the privatization of the home created a situation that was intolerable for women. Feminism is a modern solution to this problem that empowers women at the expense of the family. The church is a more traditional solution that tries to empower women through the family. There is nothing in this that prescribes one solution rather than the other. (Perhaps this lack of prescription is what bothers you, in that I bring coherence to feminism without taking a clear and unambiguous stance against it.)

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

  44. Im completely against feminism. You cannot have a discussion with Feminists as they feel all men should be subject to them and without voice.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 7, 2016 @ 2:05 pm

  45. BTW,
    The worst of all is the new mormon feminist movement. Goes completely against our religion. Its no wonder the church has set out to quell the ordain womens movement as it seeks to destroy Gods kingdom from within.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 7, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

  46. Feminism is very diverse. To the point that I frequently find the term very unhelpful and often misleading. There certainly are feminists I’m deeply sympathetic to. I roll my eyes at the Ordain Women type crowd both because I think they create a ridiculous indefensible caricature of Mormon theology to attack but also because they frequently don’t admit the problems with their own “solutions.” But they’re hardly characteristic of the wide range of feminists.

    Blaming God for the decline of marriage (if it is declining) seems odd to me.

    As for God’s will, I’m not quite sure what people mean. Presumably this fallen world as a testing ground is God’s will which entails the laws within it including natural selection are as well. I’m not sure we can separate God’s particular willing of a state of affairs from his purposes and context for that state of affairs. i.e. I’m not sure we end up saying a whole lot about God’s will unless we clarify how we’re using it.

    Regarding how marriage has to change. I agree it’s inconceivable it shouldn’t change given how different our life is today from people in subsistent cultures like hunter/gatherers or early farmers. The roles and needs created by our modern technology as well as our capabilities are just radically different.

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

  47. I figured as much.

    While it probably won’t matter much to you, there are many, mutually inconsistent forms of feminism, some of which are very much compatible with the church. The modern versions that I address are, I agree, very much in conflict with the church.

    A major turning point in the history that I have been describing was the French revolution. The philosophes and other enlightenment figures proclaimed their independence with “The Declaration of the Rights of Men.” This was meant to be universal in nature (this is how enlightenment thought was first exported at the end of the Napoleonic sword), but when women sought to claim the same rights that the men were proclaiming for themselves, they were actively silenced by the revolutionaries. In other words, these modern intellectuals and moneyed bourgeoisie sought to free men and men alone from traditional roles, obligations and ascribed status, but not women.

    This was the modern invention of feminism – most clearly seen in the work of Mary Wollstonecraft’s “The Declaration of the Rights of Women” (in explicit reference to the revolutionary publication mentioned above). These modern feminists wanted for women to also be free from traditional roles, obligations and ascribed status *just like the men* had achieved for themselves.

    There was, however, no unity or consistency within this movement (indeed, calling it a single movement is somewhat misleading). Some, like Wollstonecraft, wanted to women to become modern in exactly the same sense as men had. Other women objected to this, since it only placed men and their lifestyles above those of women by telling the latter that they could and should be more like the former. (This, I suggested earlier, is not feminism, but a women-led male chauvinism.)

    Thus, on the one hand there were the modern feminists that emphasized the similarities between men and women so as to allow the latter to live more like the former. These feminists were, indeed, at odds with much of what the church teaches today. On the other hand, there were also many, much more traditional feminists who emphasized the differences between men and women, arguing that since their duty as women was to raise and educate the new generation of children, they themselves should have access to the best education and intellectual refinement available. These traditional feminists, it seems to me, were VERY much in line with what the church teaches today.

    It is for reasons and distinctions such as this, that I think modernity is more the problem than feminism as such.

    (Edit: I should also phrase the differences between these two types of feminism in terms of commercial society. Within a subsistence economy, both men and women have roughly the same access to land, shelter and food, all these being part of the home/household. With the commercial revolution, property and subsistence became external to the home. It was this that allowed men to gain exclusive access to property, income and legal/social connections.

    This situation of absolute and asymmetrical dependence thus called for a type of feminism that was half-way between the modern and traditional types that I describe above. In this “middle way” the wife should be trained for a career – in order to avoid absolute dependence upon the husband – while not actually having a career – in order to focus on child rearing. I think this middle ground is also very compatible with what the church teaches, but its easy to see how modern feminists would take issue with it. In other words, this “middle way” is actually a more brass tacks and practical version of the traditional version.)

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 2:34 pm

  48. 47 was meant for Rob.


    I agree with pretty much everything you say. The whole point of continuing revelation is that of course our institutions should change, BUT it is not “evolution” or “contemporary thinking” that is to direct such changes. We do not decide to abandon marriage, and evolution does not tell us to abandon it. Only God tells us, through his prophets, if and when we should alter such practices.

    I think this is what Rob is trying to get at, and where Nate’s appeal to evolution falls short.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

  49. Jeff I don’t think that “middle ground” works for various reasons – not the least of which being children grow up.

    Again though there’s such diversity in the movement. While I (obviously) have differences with some of the writers at say BCC again many of the movement I think highlight real problems and often have good solutions.

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

  50. “Jeff I don’t think that “middle ground” works for various reasons – not the least of which being children grow up.”

    Well, of course, but having a career that works around being a mother isn’t really being all that career oriented, is it?

    While the idea of balancing a career with raising 2 kids sounds plausible, albeit very difficult, I don’t think that any church leaders have presupposed, let alone suggested, that LDS families ought to limit themselves to 2 kids.

    Throughout pretty much the entire 19th century the church presupposed a subsistence lifestyle in which each family produced their own subsistence with the help of many children. (The LDS inclination toward large families is yet another way in which most doctrine is geared towards a subsistence economy.) Thus, women tended to be pregnant approximately 8-10 times in addition to nursing and then raising those children that survived past the nursing stage.

    In other words, the idea that “children grow up” is a VERY modern one indeed, especially within LDS circles.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

  51. Jeff, I think it depends upon what one means by being career oriented. There’s part time work. There’s taking time off (for both men & women). I guess I’m just saying there’s a much wider range of choices than I think you’re addressing.

    Regarding number of children, I think the current teaching is that it’s to be prayerfully considered between the couple and heavenly father.

    The reason I’m being picky here is because of course many couples find themselves with unique situations. Many can’t have children. Some struggle to have one or two children. There are also health concerns and other such matters.

    What’s important is leaving the choices open to people. A particular problem I’ve seen in Utah is the perception that because family is important women who do work for whatever reason aren’t treated the same as male workers. That just seems wrong for a slew of reasons.

    I recognize that’s somewhat orthogonal to your issue about marriages, but I think they are importantly related.

    Regarding the 19th century it’s interesting since of course most women didn’t have that many children in polygamous relationships. Also Brigham Young’s teaching was the men were to be farmers and women were to do the more intellectual jobs. He was a big proponent of women working.

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

  52. “I guess I’m just saying there’s a much wider range of choices than I think you’re addressing.”

    I absolutely agree that there are options open.

    But again, I think these options have to be situated in a traditional vs modern context. The traditional values (especially of Aristotle) would say that a career must be understood in terms of “moderation”. But moderation is the exactly opposite of what the market is build around. Moderation makes perfect sense in a society structured according to inherited status and guilds, but it utterly contrary to a free market that is build around the maximization of profits/utility/etc.

    Thus, the availability of part-time jobs, etc. for wives and mothers is actually a very traditional approach to the issue. By “career oriented” I meant, by contrast, a life plan that is aimed at the maximization of upward mobility within a social hierarchy defined by profits and expertise. In this sense, the family only weighs down the upward mobility of the individual, and it is this concern for female individuals at the expense of families that places modern feminism in tension with the church’s teachings.

    With this understanding of career orientation in mind, I think that, on the one hand, the church is somewhat ambivalent – more ambivalent than we want to admit – about men being career oriented (think of Nibley’s criticisms), but, on the other hand, it is far less ambiguous in its condemnation of career orientation in women.

    To be sure, there are exceptions (infertile couples, etc.), but the generalization above are the norms to which such people are exceptions.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 3:43 pm

  53. I also have to say that, while I wish more people would contribute to the conversation, I am very pleased with the cordial tone of this discussion. Almost every ‘nacle discussion I’ve been in regarding feminism and the family has quickly descended into name calling, hurt feelings and overly pitched rhetoric on both sides of the issue.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

  54. BTW – his famous saying on this which has been oft quote is:

    “We think [the sisters] ought to have the privilege to study [various] branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers . . . and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large. In following these things they but answer the design of their creation.”

    While this is still couched in somewhat sexist culture (talking about “useful” for instance) it’s hard to exaggerate how progressive this was regarding gender roles. To say that women should as a career study law, medicine or become book keepers is pretty significant.

    It’s more with the cultural changes of the post-war era that we see the shift. I’m more saying that as our culture/economy shifts again (as it has significantly since the 60’s) these will shift again.

    As for the idea of “children grow up” I’m admittedly a bit confused there. Of course children in subsistent living were put to work very young, were not expected to become educated and so forth. However again, if you look at the demographics of 19th century Mormonism the number of children per woman was less than contemporary women. (The first wife was about on part with monogamists but the fertility was lower for the rest)

    I do of course agree that the amount of training children require for social adulthood has significantly changed in the 20th century. That in turn leads to marriage effects. You start to see this at the end of the 19th century as more education is necessary for better jobs. The role of mothers changes significantly to include strong educator factors. And obviously the changes accelerate first in the post-war era and then again significantly in the 80’s and 90’s. I suspect economic factors of training for good jobs are a significant part of that. Looking at the economic success of those without college degrees in the current economy it’s not surprising this remains a big factor.

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

  55. Jeff (52) could you clarify if you mean upward mobility in terms of social status or upward mobility in terms of economic achievement? It seems those are very, very different.

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2016 @ 3:47 pm

  56. While I totally disagree with the claim that polygamy had anything to do with “sexual selection” (again, I’m very dismissive of gene centrism), seeing polygamy as a pathway toward female development is a very interesting approach.

    “Jeff (52) could you clarify if you mean upward mobility in terms of social status or upward mobility in terms of economic achievement?”

    I don’t think there is that big a difference. I simply means “promotion” within the modern social hierarchy. Career orientation is seeking to get as many and as big of promotions as possible for the individual. Of course, defenders of careerism will insist that a promotion for the father or mother just is a promotion for the children as well, but

    1) This inherited status contradicts the ideology of maximizing individual mobility, and
    2) The benefits which parents are taught by the church to contribute to their families have very little to do with the career advancement of the parents or the children.

    If we must choose between FHE and dedicating our Monday nights to maximizing profits, the church’s teachings are pretty clear… especially when it comes to mothers.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

  57. “I find very little support for the claim that all evolution within a fallen world of reproduction and death (variation and selection) is a manifestation of God’s will.”

    I think this is really sad. To look at the great pantheon of creation, whose beauty and variety is a direct result of natural selection, and dismiss it all as “fallen.” If your God is only the God of the General Handbook of Instructions, and some other god is the god of the wonders of evolution, then I would pick the god of evolution over the God of the Handbook any day. Who wouldn’t?

    But most people look at the wonders of creation and see them as a revelation of God’s will, along with the Handbook, which is merely a small, insipid little creation compared with the glories of nature. But God gives us weak things, unlearned and despised things, and that’s fine, I accept that. It’s our little authorised monastic order. But how can you argue that the grand evolutionary array and the swelling chorus of creation are somehow not of God?

    In my mind, one simply can’t deny that it is of God. That is the answer to Job, and it is such a powerful answer that Job can do nothing but put his hand over his mouth, even though that answer is full of violence, unfairness, paradox, and pain.

    “I’m also still unclear on whether you think marriage is and ought to die, or is and ought to evolve.”

    I’m against all “oughts” in this case. I’m saying that evolution exists, that it is of God, that human society is evolving (or devolving) at an extraordinary pace, and that it is folly to try and put our old wine in the new bottles. If God wants our little Mormon church to live monastically according to the old rules, that’s fine. But that’s not a prescription of society’s ills, which ills are the growing pains of many complicated evolutionary (and devolutionary) phenomenon that the Mormon solution can’t hope to alleviate for the Gentiles at large.

    God works parochially, with little authorised institutions like ours, and that is undeniable. But it is a parochial error to try to impose our pathetic little perspectives on God’s grander glories. We have our place, and we need to come down where we ought to be.

    Comment by Nate — September 7, 2016 @ 4:33 pm

  58. For somebody who claims to be against all oughts, you dish out an awful lot of condemnation and praise.

    Obviously, your position centers around whether values are built into nature or not and the nature of the fall. Consider three different positions:

    1) The entire process of evolution is God’s will and the world is fallen in some other, very generic sense.
    2) Since the world is fallen, none of the process of evolution is God’s will.
    3) Since the world is fallen, we can never be too sure (without the help of continuing revelation) which parts of evolution are of God and which parts are not.

    Your position seems to be (1), in which case we can’t help but wonder in what sense the world is fallen? All scripture posits a stark difference between how this fallen world actually is now and the way that the non-fallen world is supposed to be/was before the fall/will be in the paradisaical future/celestial kingdom. Your position not only seems to deny this difference, but also seems to have little use for authoritative revelation since we can all just read God’s will off of evolutionary trajectories. In other words, it’s not very Mormon at all.

    On the other hand, you try to dismiss my position as (2), but this quite obviously misinterprets what I’m saying. My position is actually (3). Moral legislation is NOT built into our non-fallen world, nor is it based in our human responses to evolving nature. Evolution is entirely beside the point of what we ought to do, since only authoritative revelation can give us such direction.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 7, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

  59. I have had many a debate with feminists over these issues over the years and I have still not been swayed to believe their cause is just for a myriad of reasons. the breakdown of traditional families and traditional marriage is being fueled by many worldly philosophies regarding the central roles of gender. I am a traditionalist in the view, along with our church, that it is the husband who is to be the main provider for his household. In general, this means that males will train more than females in regards to educating themselves in matters relating to earning money by labor for the support of their families. In general, it is the man who is better equipped physically for the task of labor in the workforce and as such, in general, should make more money in support of his duty to his maintenance for his household. For instance- me and my wife recently worked on selling our house which required an unrelenting task over 3 months to renovate the house inside. At one point about halfway through my wife, in amazement asked -“how do you just keep on going and going and going, doesnt it hurt your arms?” I replied that its just natural for me to work hard, its part of my creation and duty to my family. She then told me that she was greatful to me for my ability to work hard. I told her I couldnt do it without her at my side and greatful for her in making our home a place for family and rest after a hard days work. We both understood that we are very different in our physical capacities and gender roles but that together it works in concert to create the ideal formula for raising families and finding true joy. My greatest pride as a man is my ability to work hard make a living for my family. Sadly, this traditional view is being replaced in the name of “equality” fueled in large part by feminists, LGBT activists, left wing politics, etc. These movements and ideals are replacing the traditional family and will be potentially the very cause of the destruction of our entire civilization.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 7, 2016 @ 10:01 pm

  60. “For somebody who claims to be against all oughts, you dish out an awful lot of condemnation and praise.”

    Haha, that’s my one weakness, I struggle with being tolerant towards intolerance. But there is a place for intolerance in the world just like there is a place for everything else.

    I think you’ve correctly defined our differences by referring to the 1,2,3 of a fallen world. I personally don’t know how someone can contemplate the extraordinary glories of evolution and see them as somehow “fallen.” I find that to be an extremely parochial mindset. There is nothing wrong with parochialism. But it must be understood to be “local.” And Mormonism IS local, in the sense that it is supposed to be “peculiar” “few upon the face of the earth” “a stumblingblock, a rock of offence.” The story of the Fall is often interpreted by Mormons as being a story that explains the dull theological mechanics of life on eart, same as any myth. But the temple says that the story is really about the individual, “consider yourselves as Adam and Eve.” The Fall is our Fall, not from some kind of literal, ancient garden where death never existed, but a personal Fall from our own garden of innocence. It’s fundamentally our personal redemption, not the redemption of mankind into some sort of euphoric dreamland where there is no “opposition in all things.” Scientists say that the laws governing evolution are universal, and would be found on any planet or place in the universe. The Book of Mormon says the same regarding oppositions in all things.

    It grates on me that Mormons treat their myths like the ancient Greeks did, as explanations for the banal facts of the world around them, but that’s my trial to bear. God doesn’t seem to care that Mormons hate evolution. Maybe it’s not so important for Mormons to love evolution. They are doing their thing, and God seems to be satisfied enough with the fruits the bear. But at the same time, I can’t deny the fruits and wonders of science and all that it has brought to bear on the world, which from all I can see, was exactly as described by the Enlightenment, the light of God filling the mind of mankind.

    Comment by Nate — September 8, 2016 @ 2:09 am

  61. Funny thing about Darwinian evolution is that whether it is proven true or false, the validity of the theory itself hasnt actually contributed to any scientific breakthroughs or inventions. So, in essence, its a fanciful theory to explain origins but it hasnt advanced science or technology one bit.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 8, 2016 @ 7:33 am

  62. Rob, you said “My greatest pride as a man is my ability to work hard make a living for my family.”
    One reason for the decline of traditional values is the substitution of machines for people in work. This applied first to physical labor where physical strength and stamina was replaced by machines. It is happening next in repetitive mental tasks and very likely it will apply more and more to all tasks. Already paid labor only represents 3.5 hours of the average day for adults and leisure over 5 hours.
    Manhood as you are thinking of it, however valued and dignified, is less and less relevant to the lives of people. I think feminism is a reaction to that much more than it is a driver of it.
    Men still control much of the economic system and allocate more time to paid labor than women do, but the differences among men are much greater than the differences between the averages for men and women.
    There is a big difference between traditional families and traditional families doing traditional things. Putting so much emphasis on traditional activities risks traditional families becoming irrelevant because they aren’t adapting to new economics and activities.
    In my opinion, traditional families can only be protected by adapting those values to activities (economic, political and social) that will exist in the future.
    Playing the piano and violin or swinging a hammer or digging a ditch are not necessary to have a traditional family.

    Comment by Martin James — September 8, 2016 @ 7:35 am

  63. Rob, I’m staggered that you don’t think evolution isn’t tied to scientific breakthroughs or inventions. At minimum all domesticated animals and plants are inventions due to evolution. But beyond that most non-GMO plant selection is done by irradiating thousands of plants and looking for desired evolution that is increased by the increased radiation.

    For scientific breakthroughs it’s very hard to see that most microbiology makes any sense without evolution. When looking at the adaptations of microbes you’re always talking evolution.

    Unless one significantly redefines what breakthrough or invention means it’s hard to take that seriously.

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 8:32 am

  64. Nate, I’m really skeptical Mormons hate evolution. I think most of the polls are misleading due to having to account for our bodies being in the image of God. I think that’s easy to explain but the nature of the questions tends to distort things. (As do other questions that clearly assume a Protestant way of thinking that makes Mormon answers not fit easily into the categories they provide)

    None of this is to deny many Mormons have embraced Evangelical views of evolution. They have. But I think the issue is far more complicated than it appears at first glance. (Add in that the general public is typically pretty ignorant of what evolution is and one could question the entire line of questioning – it’s kind like asking people about multiple dimensions in physics)

    But I almost certainly will regret making these comments. I don’t want to get drug down into a discussion of evolution. Also clearly Jeff is interested in how ideas change and not biological evolution.

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 8:41 am

  65. Well Clark, Jeff sidelined one of my blog posts in a long debate with Howard over “authority,” which I was perfectly happy for, because, why not? I love tangents, but I don’t know about Jeff.

    So what’s so easy to explain about “bodies being in the image of God?” That to me seems impossible to reconcile, if we are adhering to the LDS conception of God as a bearded homo-erectus, albeit with no blood coursing through His veins.

    People like myself who DO believe in evolution can only do so after having learned to compartmentalise secular and religious beliefs without needing to resolve contradictions. Or, if I’m perfectly honest, I don’t personally feel the need to believe in a God of flesh and bone. If that’s how God manifest Himself to Joseph Smith, fine. That’s how the alien manifested himself to Jodi Foster in Contact too. Whatever works.

    Comment by Nate — September 8, 2016 @ 9:36 am

  66. 1. Assume there are numerous universes (i.e. something like Brane Theory in Superstring Theory) In each universe there a millions or potentially hundreds of millions of worlds capable of life. (In other words if there aren’t enough earth like worlds presumably God could ensure there are enough for the numbers to work)

    2. In each planet intervene enough to ensure that RNA develops. (Ignore the question of the origin of RNA since God could seed them without it being detectable although I doubt that’s necessary)

    3. As life develops he makes just enough intervention to ensure complex life develops.

    4. As complex life develops intervene just enough (volcanoes, asteroids, disease, etc.) for the desired life forms to develop.

    5. There’s already lots of evolutionary incentives towards human like bodies. i.e. advantages of bipedal morphology, etc.

    6. At a certain point in the hundreds of millions of planets you have something close enough to a human form. It might differ in various ways, but we want a fallen body so the fact it differs is a feature not a bug.

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 11:01 am

  67. Clark, I spe ified Darwinian evolution as a theory of origins which it entails. Before Darwin came along we already knew about adaptation and varriation of species. Darwin just went one step further to propse that those adaptations and varriations over time could produce a new species and even so far that these small changes could explain the very origins of life from non-life substance. Thus it is true that his theory on the origin of species through proposed evolution hasnt done nothing to advance what we already knew.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 8, 2016 @ 11:06 am

  68. Clark, why is it that evolutionists just suppose that if you have millions of chances then it becomes probable that the improbable can come into being? Whatever one thinks the reality is that its so far a know scientific fact that only intelligent systems of life can come from an intelligent process or design preceding it. Never, not even once, has it been shown that a complex design that embodies real intelligence can originate from a nonintelligent process. So if you believe in God, why not just get rid of all the millions of chances and do it right the first time? Is it because this would admit one to the belief that the theory of Intelligent Design actually has merit?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 8, 2016 @ 11:17 am

  69. By all means, treadjack away! The scope of this post was so big (evolution, marriage, economics, linguistics, rituals, feminism) that it would be difficult to be truly and completely off topic.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2016 @ 11:24 am

  70. Because it’s not that improbable.

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 11:33 am

  71. Let’s see if I can’t catch up…

    Rob (59):

    “I am a traditionalist in the view, along with our church, that it is the husband who is to be the main provider for his household.”

    The problem is that this isn’t a very traditional view. It is true that in traditional society the husband worked outside the house while the wife worked inside… but within a subsistence economy, there is just as much providing to be done inside the house as outside it. The idea that leaving the house is equivalent to providing only makes sense within the context of commercial society (the last 400 years or so) where people produce for the purpose of trading (for wages, other goods, etc.) rather than producing for your own consumption. In other words, the traditional view was that the woman provided just as much (often more) for the family, but without leaving the communal home to do so. The modern, non-feminist view, is that men go out and earn money, money is used to purchase the vast majority of what the family consumes, while the woman doesn’t make money. In a way of live where money doesn’t really play that important of a role, this whole picture falls apart.

    (Edit: Women provided in hunter gatherer societies, herding societies, agricultural societies (peasants), cottage industry societies. To say that men and men alone provide in traditional societies simply isn’t right.)

    Nate (60):

    “But the temple says that the story is really about the individual, “consider yourselves as Adam and Eve.””

    It also calls the world “lone and dreary”.

    “It grates on me that Mormons treat their myths like the ancient Greeks did, as explanations for the banal facts of the world around them”

    Okay, but you seem perfectly fine with modern myths such as evolution, free markets, etc. I don’t see how Mormons or Greeks were doing anything other than what we are taught to do today. Since the past is passed, and totally inaccessible to us, any and all history is merely an attempt at organizing our futures, whether is involves a paradisaical garden or a Cambrian explosion.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with your conflating God with evolution is that one had a definite purpose and end point in mind, while the other totally rejects all such questions as meaningless.

    Rob (61):

    “Funny thing about Darwinian evolution is that whether it is proven true or false, the validity of the theory itself hasnt actually contributed to any scientific breakthroughs or inventions.”

    While I don’t totally agree, I think there is far more truth to this that academics like to admit. While Darwin does unify biology into a coherent whole, coherence is not itself a break through. It is forging myths like Nate said above. In the end, at least 90% of biological research can get along just fine without Darwin, even if it won’t have the overarching coherence anymore.

    Clark (63):

    “At minimum all domesticated animals and plants are inventions due to evolution.”

    But we were domesticating such things long before Darwin came along, and we could continue to domesticate them if we dropped Darwin. A rejection of Darwin allows us to retain a great deal of evolution – it just denies that natural (not artificial) selection can and has accomplished the enormous number of things that we attribute to it.

    Nate (65):

    ““bodies being in the image of God?” That to me seems impossible to reconcile” …I don’t personally feel the need to believe in a God of flesh and bone.”

    What prophet has taught you any of these things? I was going to say that your view tends toward pantheism or deism…. but then you seem to explicitly come out as a believer of such. It is this kind of free wheeling rejection of revelation that inspires my attacks on human reason.

    Rob (68):

    Imagine taking a multiple choice test where you get to choosing as many options as you want and the wrong answers erase themselves. Such a test would be rather easy to ace. But this is exactly the test that natural selection is taking. It produces a huge number of possible answers, and then the wrong answers simply do not reproduce and are thus not found in the biological record.

    Again, I not saying that you ought to believe in Darwin if God tells you not to…. but don’t try to reinforce God’s commandment with some of the wishy-washy, creationist reasoning. There’s no reason why God’s rejection of evolution should make any more sense to us than the evolutionists’ arguments for it. Whether it’s the human reasoning of biologists or the human reasoning of creationists, either way we shouldn’t place too much faith in it.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

  72. My beliefs are not a rejection of revelation. God told Joseph Smith that He revealed a hell of fire and brimstone to the ancients so that it would be “express upon their minds” but not that it was literally true. So if God Himself admits that His revelations are not necessarily literally true, then what obligation does He give us that we to take them literally? I accept them, as they are, as coming from the mouth of God to His servant Joseph Smith. I accept that Joseph Smith saw God as a being of flesh and bone. Does that mean God is a being of flesh and bone? Why should it necessarily mean that?

    You’re the one who is always reducing this down to authority. What matters is not what God says, but who has the authority to say it. I agree that Joseph Smith had the divine authority to expound upon how he interpreted the nature of God. But that is not the same thing as dictating objective truths about the nature of reality. Authority cannot be subject to mere banal fact. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Comment by Nate — September 8, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

  73. Jeff,
    More chances means nothing in the scenerio of creating intelligence from scrap. Its like saying it is possible to randomly flip a coin heads side up a million times in a row. Even if a billion people were doint it the odds of it hapoening never lift off of “a zeros chance”.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 8, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

  74. Rob (67) the question of the origin of life versus the origin of the species seems different. Speciation has been seen in human time scales (and even laboratory time scales) so I don’t think that’s controversial in the least. The reason I started with RNA was to avoid the questions of the origin of life which just don’t matter for the thought experiment.

    From my prospect evolution is just like gravity: a fact about features of the universe. If you do nothing evolution happens. What God does within that universe seems a different question. My point is just that using only evolution and minor intervention there’s no problem creating a species akin to humans. Whether there was some key moment that made us truly human seems a different issue.

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

  75. Jeff (71) understanding evolution and molecular biology revolutionized how we select for traits though. That’s the difference in technology. (Much like we traveled along roads before the invention of the car)

    At what point with molecular biology we’re still using evolution is perhaps blurry. But I think the idea of inheritance as tied to reproductive success explains much of biology and is part of biological technology. (Especially in the microbiology arena)

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 2:24 pm

  76. Nate,

    I’m not accusing you or rejecting all revelation altogether. You are, however, rejecting:

    1) The need for revelation to sort the fallen from the non-fallen in this world.
    2) Specific revelations about the nature of God (embodied) and the world (fallen).

    Your appeal to D&C 19 is also not only weak, but essentially gives yourself carte blanche to reject any and all revelation that you simply do not like as “non-literal”.

    Each one of these three is a move away from trusting prophets.

    “But that is not the same thing as dictating objective truths about the nature of reality.”

    The scriptures don’t care about objective truth, nor do they have any regard for any distinction between literal/figurative. They care about absolute truth in the sense that we cannot legitimately question or doubt it…. but that is VERY different from objective truth.


    You’re relying far too heavily on human reasoning. You’re appealing to numbers and probabilities, neither of which have any grounding in revelation. As such, I think we are all safe in ignoring them.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

  77. Clark,

    Okay, but I just don’t think that Darwin plays any where near as big a role as people like to think. Evolutionists like to claim that a creation-science department would have to essentially throw out 95% of all the content found in biological science textbooks. I think that the number is actually much closer to 5%.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

  78. Jeff, again I think it depends upon what one means by that. In physics we could perhaps separate out the classical physics of optics, from thermodynamics, from Newtonian mechanics, from gravity and so forth. While in practice we combine them in theory they are somewhat orthogonal in terms of proof or evidence. (Using proof loosely)

    In biology I don’t think there are such clean lines. Once you have the idea of DNA, RNA, mixing of DNA/RNA, and random mutations you have evolution. It’s just that evolution could be discovered independent of those. Yet both in terms of history but also as an explanation of most biological change it’s the explanation.

    A good comparison might be explaining planetary motion without Newton’s laws of motion or gravity. Of course people could and did do that. But once you start doing technical spaceships and so forth you pretty well require all of them. The fact that you could talk about orbits prior to that is largely irrelevant.

    Comment by Clark — September 8, 2016 @ 3:08 pm

  79. I’m still not seeing what a creation-science department (imagine it taught by an army of Elder Russel M. Nelson’s) will be missing out on. They can teach about mutation, differential replication and all sorts of other things. After all, creationists don’t deny evolution, they just deny that it is unbounded by higher, purpose laden boundaries as Darwinists do.

    If all we give up on is “macro-evolution”, what exactly are we losing – other than the secular mythology?

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2016 @ 3:32 pm

  80. Jeff, I admire you being able to carry on four conversations at once.

    If the scriptures are not about objective truths, then why do you object to my non-objective belief in the corporeal nature of God? I DO believe God showed Himself to Joseph Smith corporeally. I have no reason to doubt his claim “I knew it, I knew God knew it, and I could not deny it.”

    I’m only saying that this vision was not necessarily a factual statement about objective realities. It might have been about non-objective spiritual realities, realities which, when it all comes down to it, are much more important than whether something is literal or not.

    This is not carte blanche to believe whatever we want willy nilly. The revelation of God’s corporeality says something important about God, and about His condescension, His love, His desire to communicate, maybe even some kind of vision of our future self. But it doesn’t necessarily say anything objective about God’s literal nature.

    Comment by Nate — September 8, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

  81. “If the scriptures are not about objective truths, then why do you object to my non-objective belief in the corporeal nature of God?”

    Because I reject objective truth while staunchly defending absolute truth. You reject both when you cast doubt upon or actively reject the revealed word as found in D&C 130.

    “The revelation of God’s corporeality says something important about God, and about His condescension, His love, His desire to communicate, maybe even some kind of vision of our future self. But it doesn’t necessarily say anything objective about God’s literal nature.”

    Let’s be honest, you’re making most of that up.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2016 @ 4:14 pm

  82. Clark #74,

    Its a lot of conjecture to assume evolution, or life, just springs up in the universe out of nothing. Even the known simplest of lifeforms are beyond comprehension and very complex. I dont see it that way. I like evidence and the evidence says that life came from life preceding it.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 8, 2016 @ 7:08 pm

  83. “Let’s be honest, you’re making most of that up.”

    Maybe, but that’s only because no one can know for sure what sort of objective reality a revelation reveals about the nature of the universe. The only thing one can be sure of, is what Joseph Smith said, “I knew that I had seen a vision, I knew it, I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.”

    That is the ONLY thing there at the end of the day: it was a vision. Even Joseph Smith danced around what exactly the objective reality of that vision was by presenting several different versions of it.

    When individual Mormons receive a confirmation of the First Vision, it comes as their own personal revelation, but these personal revelations are simply confirmations. Confirmation of what objective realities? There were no objective realities to confirm from the vision in the first place. A confirming revelation is a “call” pure and simple. It says, “I am here” “come follow me” or “this happened” and Mormons interpret it how they interpret it, which is to say, literally and objectively. But they need not interpret it objectively. It is enough to see a light shining in the darkness and follow it. One is not compelled to explain objectively exactly what that light says and why its important that it say just that. It is a light, that’s all, and light cleaveth to light. Mormons build up a wonderfully materialistically conceptualised universe to get excited about, but that has nothing to do about who God really is. Mormonism says more about Mormons than it says about God. The important thing, as you always remind us, is authority. God, whoever He is, gave these set of prophets authority.

    Comment by Nate — September 9, 2016 @ 1:41 am

  84. Rob (82), again you’ll note that I didn’t deal with the origin of life. I was very intentional in that. I’d add that the origin of life has nothing to do with evolution just as the origin of the universe has nothing to do with thermodynamics proper. (At least that we can see)

    Jeff (77) I think that’s semantics. I’d say that as soon as you teach those things you’re teaching evolution. The whole “macro/micro” division between evolution is of course misleading. I also disagree with your portrayal of creationists. Formal Intelligence Design does what you suggest – basically keeps the entire history of evolution and just disputes the mechanism. Most creationists will say they embrace this form of ID but then actually believe something closer to traditional evolution which is none of the history of evolution could happen.

    While I know playing the semantics card makes it appear non-important in this case I think it’s hugely important. What’s usually going on is various types of equivocation and bait and switch tactics. So in one context they’ll say they accept certain things that in an other context they’ll deny.

    Comment by Clark — September 9, 2016 @ 8:06 am

  85. Nate that’s a fair point about the First Vision but not other appearances. Also the line of reasoning your raise could be applied to all experience. We can always play the Matrix card and say everything you’re experiencing right now may just be a simulation. At a certain point we have to ask, what do the phenomena appear as and do we have evidence suggesting they are something other than they appear.

    That is I think there’s a burden of proof argument to be made here.

    Comment by Clark — September 9, 2016 @ 8:09 am

  86. Clark,
    I could strongly argue that the origin and formation of life and evolution are absolutely connected. Almost every biology class deals with the two synonymously. But, I guess its beside the point of the post mostly so who cares. I am curious though why it seems you subscribe to Intelligent Design theory but seem a staunch evolutionist also?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 9, 2016 @ 9:31 am

  87. If the debate really is a matter of semantics, then I take that as a strong confirmation of my claim that Darwinian evolution isn’t all that necessary to most of the biological sciences.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 9, 2016 @ 10:07 am

  88. Rob, I don’t subscribe to Intelligence Design at all. I find it much more acceptable than Creationism though since at least the Behe form accepts the history of the world and evolution’s part in it. He just disagrees with the mechanism of evolution. However I find those who make the statistical arguments against evolution just miss out fundamentally how failures get neglected. That is they calculate the probabilities incorrectly.

    Jeff, my point about semantics is to show how it is necessary. The point about semantics is to note that those who argue it isn’t necessary are unduly narrowing the meaning of evolution semantically. So if you use the normal semantic range of evolution then it is important.

    Comment by Clark — September 9, 2016 @ 12:12 pm

  89. The probabilities? Science have been trying for over a hundred years to scheme up a scenerio to explain life from solely springing up from nonintelligent matter. what exactly would a probability look like at this point?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 9, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

  90. Science doesn’t know how life formed. The theory of evolution explains change of life forms.

    Comment by Clark — September 11, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

  91. “nothing in religion prohibits us from abandoning traditional marriage if God suddenly decides He wants to do it”

    Don’t Mormons understand the plan of salvation? Do we have to end every other meeting make the point that we should all have received by revelation directly from God if we weren’t sleeping walking through this mortal probation.

    Newsflash, we’re not traditional (apostate) Christians who believe God is formless without substance.

    He has a body. We are his children. In the temple we witness his work, the work of eternities. Seriously, what do you think this body is for? Doing cool skateboard tricks?

    Adam and Eve fell so we could receive our bodies through a never-ending chain of procreation. Our Father in Heaven’s only begotten Son made it possible for our fallen bodies to be exalted like God’s.

    Our eternal inheritance is to become Heavenly patents after the pattern of our own creation. That’s the part we don’t dwell on because frankly we’ve got our work cut out for us getting to the exalted part.

    And yet, all the people in our church confused about the Eternal nature of marriage make me think we could use a little more Brigham and a little less McConkie.

    (Not that I don’t look too them both…)

    Comment by GSO — October 8, 2016 @ 6:13 am

  92. *parents

    Comment by GSO — October 8, 2016 @ 6:14 am

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