002: Trent Stephens – Evolution, Science, and Faith

In this episode, Sarah Collett interviews LDS Scholar Trent Stephens, professor of anatomy and embryology at Idaho State University. Prof. Stephens has received many awards and accolades in the world of academia for his investigative research into the developmental origins of vertebrate form, and the mechanism of the drug thalidomide in causing birth defects. He has published more than eighty scientific papers and books, including several leading textbooks for anatomy and physiology.

Trent Stephens has also published works relevant to his areas of expertise within Mormon Studies, including Who Are The Children of Lehi?, and Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, both of which he co-authored with Dr. D. Jeffrey Meldrum. In this interview, Prof. Stephens tells us his backstory and love of science that has captured him since childhood. He discusses his early attempts to refute the Theory of Evolution and how this led him to ultimately accept it as scientific fact. Trent provides a crash course in human genetics and evolution, and shares with us how he reconciles his knowledge of science with his relationship to God as a Mormon, and even provides some of his own speculative theories of how literal interpretations of scripture and creation narratives fit into the scientific worldview.

Thanks again to Sarah Collett and Trent Stephens for providing us with this wonderful episode of A Thoughtful Faith.

Links:

Evolution and Mormonism
Who Are The Children of Lehi?
Trent Stephens’ Amazon Page
Mormon Scholars Testify: Trent Stephens

Comments

comments

8 Comments

  1. Jessica Bischoff

    Thanks so much to Bro. Stephens and Sarah for this interview. I read Evolution and Mormonism a couple years ago when evolution wasn’t such an obvious reality for me. I appreciated the arguments given in the book FOR evolution based on the wording of the offical statements of the Church. Mormonism and evolution do not seem contradictory anymore to me.

    It was good to hear more of Bro. Stephens story here and how the book came to be. Also, while I can’t grasp on to your belief that the scriptures are literal, Bro. Stephens, thanks for your perspective and new way of thinking about things. Great podcast!

  2. Jason

    I really enjoyed the topic and treatment in this podcast. I’ve stashed this podcast in my “listen to again later” folder.

    I have a question for Trent if he sees this:

    You say you treat the scriptures completely literally. I agree that many who read the scriptures are selective in what they interpret literally and what they ignore or say is simply an allegory or something. My question is, how can you really take the scriptures literally at all or can you clarify more what you mean?

    There are so many examples, that to me, appear as the opinions of men (possibly colored by God’s influence) and can’t be taken as the literal mind and will of God. Trying to take the scriptures literally causes me much frustration with the Church and doubting religion generally. It is only as I accept their imperfection in what they claim to be and try and see the common connecting patterns that I can get any value from them at all. If I read them as stories meant to convey a point rather than as documentaries of real events then I can accept the need to study them frequently. Is this something I am just completely misunderstanding?

    1. Trent Stephens

      Jason,

      I am sorry that it has taken me so long to reply. When I say I take the Bible literally I mean that, for example, Noah was a real person, not a myth (the same with the other Bible characters). I believe that Noah gathered all available animals and loaded them in the Ark. I believe that for him that was ALL the animals. I do not, however, believe that there were kangaroos in the Ark. I believe that the who earth was flooded – as far as Noah could tell. In most places you only have to be swept out to sea about twelve miles for “the whole Earth to be covered with water.” I would be happy to discuss this at more length. My e-mail is trentstephens1@cableone.net.

  3. Molskinner

    Trent mentioned there be no scriptures that justify the immortality of Adam and Eve before eating the fruit. These two came to mind immediately as ones I know members have used to justify their stance. Any thoughts?

    2 Nephi 2:22-23
    22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
    23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

    Alma 12:23
    23 And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die.

    I get them if I do not take them literally but all in a spiritual sense.. Death = not with God or fallen.

    Interesting podcast! Thank you!

    1. Trent Stephens

      Molskinner,

      Thank you for your comments and sorry for the delay in responding. Alma 12:23 is the very basis of my point. This scripture states that if Adam had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Life he would not have died. This scripture suggests that the tree was his source of immortality. If Adam were inherently immortal, why would there have been a tree in the garden that imparted immortality? This scripture suggests that Adam was not inherently immortal. If you read before and after 2 Nephi 2:22-23 it becomes clear that “all things” in verse 22 refers only to Adam and Eve. Later verses refer back to “all things” by saying “they” would not have known good and evil, etc. Later verses make it clear to me that “all things” was referring to the condition of Adam and Eve. Another way to put this may be like our saying “things would not have changed.” Furthermore, if you think of this verse logically, “all things” could not possibly have referred to the fruit of the trees, which Adam and Eve were told to eat. It is not possible to eat fruit and have it remain unchanged or in the same state as it was created. Speaking of fruit, it is also clear that the presence of fruit meant that the trees were reproducing. This suggests that the idea of no reproduction before the fall was also limited to Adam and Eve, not the rest of creation. All this can be discussed from a literal view of the scriptures without dismissing the reality of the story.

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