Sometimes I look at the title of what I am about to write and think, “Yeah, I’m just asking for it this time.” Evolution might not be the biggest hot-button issues among Mormons (Diet Coke and Sunday football vie for that title), but you can certainly get folks worked up about it if you want to.
I’ve probably stated the question incorrectly, because some Mormons believe in evolution to some extent or another, and some hold to the notion that the Creation took place in six (very busy) 24-hour periods. I personally think that the latter group has a screw loose, but I would never say that publicly.
The “official” relationship between the LDS Church and science has always been an interesting one, and perhaps atypical of the relationship between science and Christianity at large. You start with the concept of continuing revelation, which is fundamental to Mormon theology, and add to it Joseph Smith’s declaration that “All truth belongs to Mormonism,” meaning that we accept truth regardless of its source, and you end up with a religion that is very accommodating of scientific discoveries. For the LDS Church, evolution and creationism are not necessarily exclusive of one another.
The Church does not take an official position on the role of natural selection and adaptation, although you can probably dig out all kinds of things said one way or the other by Church leaders over the past 180 years. (There was a recent shot taken at the Big Bang theory at General Conference that got plenty of laughs.) What the Church does stand by is that the earth and all that is in it was created by Jesus Christ under the direction and authority of our Father in Heaven. That creation took place over 6 “creative periods,” although the length of those creative periods is not defined. We believe that Man (using the capital “M” which includes women, so ladies, no need to pick up the torches and pitchforks) in His image. That is about as much as has been revealed to us, and anything beyond that is speculation.
Mormons typically have not gone to the same lengths to argue away evidence of natural selection that fundamental Christians have. I haven’t heard anyone say that dinosaur bones are part of some conspiracy, or that they were placed in the earth by Satan to just confuse us (I did, however, hear one erstwhile Mormon creationist say that God put them there to test our faith. Kind of a celestial practical joke). However, there has been talk by Church leaders and members that appears to be unsupportable by any good science (such as discussions of Earth being only 6,000 years old, a notion which I think has to be put aside as speculation given all of the evidence piled against it). I attribute that to the limited scientific knowledge of the speakers and the lack of any specific revelation on the timing or process of the Creation. Where there are gaps in revealed truth, we are left to scratch our heads and figure things out as best we can. Sometimes we stumble across the right answers. Sometimes we miss the mark. Sometimes we just talk crazy.
Like anyone else, I can speculate plenty, and I have theories about the Creation that probably are just as boneheaded as anyone else’s. In my mind, God is omnipotent, and part of being omnipotent is being the perfect scientist. and I wouldn’t begrudge him a bit if He utilized natural laws when creating the universe. I think that the story of the Creation has both literal and figurative aspects, and that if we get too caught up in reading everything as strictly literal, we paint ourselves into uncomfortable theological corners.
I don’t know the extent to which natural selection played a role in creation (although anyone who has seen me at the beach is forced to concede that evolution might just have a point). I have read enough to accept that it played some part, but also enough to know that the theory is hardly perfect or all-encompassing. However, I do not believe that in order for us to accept God’s role in the Creation we have to reject scientific evidence, nor vice versa. All science is tentative, and therefore it is likely that both Christianity and science will refine their views on this subject as time progresses. It would be the supreme conceit for either side to suggest that they know for certain how the universe was created, and I am content to wait until we have enough light on the matter to see clearly.