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Monday, May 14, 2012

Evolution, secularism, and Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life

Last night, as I drove around with two of my three rambunctious boys who watched church DVDs in the car while their mom had a moment to herself on Mother's Day, I was listening to "Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision as Used by Church Leaders". The talk was given Saturday, May 11th, at the 40th annual Sidney B. Sperry symposium by Mary Jane Woodger, who is a member of BYU's Church History and Doctrine department.

What a great talk it was! Practically every application of that scripture was considered, outlined, and summarized. Ms. Woodger reviewed many important statements by latter-day prophets on the vision.

I love Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life because everywhere you look, you can find an application for it. It's a painting for the mind and the soul and a guidepost on our way back to live eternally with our Father in Heaven.

My interest in Lehi's vision is amplified whenever a I see an article online that purports to shoot holes in the beliefs of those of us who believe in God.

A great example of a hubris-filled article, The Whys of Religion vs. Evolution, was written by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago professor of ecology and evolution. He has made part of his life's career debunking religion, particularly creationism and the alternate framework of Intelligent Design.

Professor Coyne's work is one of many fulfillments of Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life. That it mentions evolutionary "trees of life" is ironic given the symbolism in Lehi's vision of the true Tree of Life (Christ, the Creator).

As if he were standing in one of the windows of the great and spacious building, Professor Coyne confidently states:
“If you live in a society that is dysfunctional and unhealthy, where people are doing better than you, you need solace from somewhere. You get it from religion,” said Jerry Coyne. “The thing that blocks acceptance of evolution in America is religion.” Coyne's talk, sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, was part of its “Evolution Matters” lecture series.
Coyne further concludes:
Despite this evidence, many Americans refuse to believe in evolution because they hold tightly to religious beliefs, most of which are taught in childhood well before young people learn of evolution, Coyne said. Three-quarters of Americans profess an absolute belief in God, and 63 percent believe in angels. 
The problem with evolution from a religious point of view, Coyne said, is that it doesn’t just assail religious views of human origin, it also erodes the religious underpinnings of the idea that humans are somehow special, that our lives have purpose and meaning, and that we need to be moral. 
... 
The answer, Coyne said, is to address society’s ills so Americans live in a more secure and level society.
This is a prime example of Lehi's vision in reality.

Additionally, it closely parallels the account of an encounter Alma had with a man named Korihor, who also distributed secular teachings as "truth". We read in Alma 30:

 16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.
 17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.
 18 And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.
...
24 Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.
 25 Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents. [Today: "It's evolution!"]
...
 27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage...

While you read the rest of that story to find out what happened to Korihor (and Nehor and Sherem before him), I will go tend to my rambunctious boys.