Is Evolution Real? Christians Should Embrace Darwin's Theories, Mormon College Professor Says

An evolutionary biologist who teaches at a college owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that Mormons should feel comfortable accepting the theory of evolution, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

Brigham Young University biologist Steven Peck gave the Eugene England Memorial Lecture at Utah Valley University, a publicly-funded school, on Thursday. At the address, he delved into the rift between science and religion.

Peck does not see science as undermining religion. "The Church has long been interested in education and truth and knowledge," Peck told Newsweek. "[BYU] itself is a reflection of that interest in gaining knowledge. And from my perspective, evolution is an important part of biology. It's the foundation of all of biology."

However, Peck noted, many Mormons may see evolution as a "problem." The church, which counts about 16 million people as members, has no official stance on evolution. But in a 2014 Pew survey, which found that 43 percent of Mormons believed that humans evolved in some way, the majority believed humans evolved due to God's design.

That number is low relative to some other religious groups. For comparison's sake, about two-thirds of all American adults, including two-thirds of those who identify as Catholics and Mainline Protestants, believed that humans had evolved in some way. About 38 percent of Evangelical Protestants believed humans evolved.

Brigham Young statue
A statue of Brigham Young, second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stands in the center of Salt Lake City with the Mormon Temple spires in the background 19 July 2001. GEORGE FREY/AFP/Getty Images

Even so, Peck hopes Mormon leadership stays away from promoting an official stance on evolution. If they were to come out against it, that could disrupt his teaching and research. That's happened before; between 1920 and 1970, evolution wasn't taught at BYU, Peck said.

"There are a lot of members of the church who aren't on board with evolution, who see it as a problem, who worry that it isn't in any way compatible with Mormonism," Peck said. But despite the potential for controversy, Peck said he hadn't received much negative feedback from Thursday's speech.

"I know it's going to reach people's ears who aren't in favor of this idea," Peck said. "But when students start to understand the beauty and power of evolution, when they think there is a conflict—when they think they have to make a choice between science and religion—they often decide against religion. And I think that's unfortunate, because I don't think the choice has to be made."