My wife is taking online college courses from Brigham Young University and recently told me that they teach evolution theories. She wondered why the Church doesn’t teach it. Are there non LDS professors at the college teaching this doctrine, and if so why?
Thanks for the question. Some people don’t realize that the Church has a rather lengthy list of topics that it avoids teaching in Sunday meetings. This list includes items such as:
- Ancient Mesopotamian history
- Home auto repair
- Indo-European grammar
- Lathe operation
- Plot and story composition
- Gravitation and relativity
- Development of Western music from medieval times
- Arc welding
- Solid state electronics
- Current fashion trends
- Tooth enamel structure and composition
- Advanced crocheting techniques
- Quantum electrodynamics
- Plumbing basics
- Organic evolution
This is not an exhaustive list, but is reasonably representative of the types of things the Church avoids offering in a Sunday School class or over the pulpit. Some claim to have detected a pattern in the types of topics not offered at Church, but I won’t draw any firm conclusions. The list looks pretty random to me. But if you read it over and think about it, you might see some sort of rhyme or reason for how the Church approaches these things.
As for BYU: The school does indeed hire non-member professors, some of whom have been counted among the very best of BYU’s faculty. They teach all sorts of subjects, from biology to linguistics to physics to music. The word “doctrine” simply means “teaching”, so BYU’s professors (LDS or otherwise) teach the “doctrines” of whatever field they have been employed by BYU to teach in. For a linguistics professor, that doctrine would include semantic drift; for a music professor, it would include duple meter vs. triple meter; and for a biology professor, it would include organic evolution.
Now let’s dial down the light-hearted banter and talk a bit more seriously. For many of us, college is the first time that we are exposed to new ideas that we might not have dealt with while growing up. When we are children, our parents shelter us from thoughts and ideas that we might not be emotionally or intellectually prepared to encounter. This is their right, and they are acting in accordance with gospel values by using their own judgment and following the Spirit when it comes to raising children. Sometimes, with the best intentions and looking out for our best interest, our parents may shield us from certain terms and ideas that they don’t understand. Later, when as young adults in the real world we encounter these ideas and terms, we may in turn misunderstand them or find them frightening.
Such is the case with evolution. BYU is a well-respected and highly esteemed university, even outside the Church. The professors there must be able to discuss and teach issues that we might find controversial, so it should come as no surprise to find that they teach organic evolution. On the contrary: BYU students majoring in a scientific field would be at a severe disadvantage if they did not learn the basics of a widely accepted scientific theory in that field. It would be like an English major not taking classes in Shakespeare, or a professor refusing to teach Shakespeare because they objected to the content in his plays. So the professors at BYU, LDS or not, do have to teach the theory of evolution. Students who take these classes need to understand organic evolution, regardless of whether they personally believe the idea, if for no other reason than so that they can converse intelligently on the topic.
Why doesn’t the Church teach evolution during its Sunday classes? The best answer is: The Church doesn’t teach the theory of evolution because it’s not relevant to the gospel. Our Sunday services are designed to educate people, not on the theories of science, but on the ways of the Lord and how to feel and recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Hope I’ve been of some help.