Most rhetorical studies of evolution/religion debates have addressed the media version of the debates that pits fundamentalist religion against science. Yet, most of the rhetorical studies in this area have not been nuanced enough to appreciate the complexity of the rhetoric resulting from this rich area of discourse. This study provides a rhetorical analysis of the evolution rhetoric in one particular religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and focuses on the discourse of two prominent leaders in the LDS Church, B.H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith. In the LDS Church there is a clear distinction among members (Mormons) between official and unofficial discourse, and discerning the distinction between official and unofficial discourse revolves around the rhetorical concept of ethos. The ethos of a Mormon rhetor in intra-Mormon evolution discourse depends on an audience's perception of the concordance between written or canonized revelation, the words of living oracles, and priesthood position. However, citing more scriptures and prophets, or possessing a higher priesthood position does not automatically make a rhetor's argument supreme in the LDS Church. A rhetorical analysis of the Roberts/Smith debate demonstrates that rhetoric in the LDS Church is not judged solely by the rhetor's position of authority or by the rhetor's citation of authority (e.g., canonized scripture or modern prophets); rather, the rhetor's rhetoric is judged, at least to a degree, on its own merits. Ethos provides one approach or window into the rhetoric of evolution discourse, but uncovers many other possible approaches. More rhetorical studies of the evolution debates taking place in the LDS Church and in other specific religious settings will likely reveal much more about the way that ethos and other elements of rhetoric inform the seemingly endless evolution/religion discussion.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Laird, Kurt Wilford, "Mormon Rhetoric and the Theory of Organic Evolution" (2008). Theses and Dissertations. 1400.
evolution, rhetoric, Roberts, Smith, Mormon, LDS, ethos, discourse, debates, Darwin