The Search for Harmony
Edited by Gene A. Sessions and Craig J. Oberg
Seers, Savants, and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface
Duane E. Jeffery
[p.155]Ever since his great Synthesis, Darwin’s name has been a source of discomfort to the religious world. Too sweeping to be fully fathomed, too revolutionary to be easily accepted, but too well documented to be ignored, his concepts of evolution1 by natural selection have been hotly debated for well over a century.2 I do not propose here to consider the validity of Darwin’s propositions but instead focus on a more immediate concern: What is the doctrine of the Mormon church on the subject of evolution? For statements on church doctrine, we are traditionally referred to the four standard works. But scripture is not of itself sufficient, and authoritative statements can originate from the president of the church.3 Also counselors in the First Presidency share with the president in governing the affairs and doctrines of the church.4 Statements by other authorities will be discussed only as needed for perspective, since they are not binding or fully authoritative.
The researcher faces an interesting problem: utterances on the subject in the nineteenth century are scattered and few. Compared with the output of other religious groups, Mormonism produced a tiny body of literature dealing directly with the matter of evolution.5 The most likely explanation appears to be that LDS doctrines central to the evolution issue were not well developed. They were still in a sufficient state of flux that no direct confrontation was [p.156]really possible or necessary. Simply put, the church had no defined basic doctrines directly under attack.
On some matters nineteenth-century Mormonism was clearly on the side of science. In no real way could the church have been classed as party to the literalistic views of more orthodox Christian groups. Indeed Mormonism was a theologic maverick to Christian orthodoxy. The differences were deep and profound, and on several issues Mormonism was much more closely aligned with the prevailing concepts of science.6
For all intents and purposes, the modern story of evolution began 24 November 1859, the date of the release of Darwin’s classic On the Origin of Species. The earlier announcement of the theory of evolution by natural selection presented as joint papers by Darwin and A. R. Wallace on the evening of 1 July 1858 to the Linnaean Society had caused little stir. Not so the 1859 publication. Public response was immediate and heated. The following five concepts are useful for comparing Mormonism to the doctrinal positions taken by science and prevailing Christian theology of the last century.
1. Belief in an ex nihilo creation. The Christian doctrine meant literally creation out of nothing. More recent attempts to cast it in the light of matter-energy conversions are distortions that betray the earlier meaning. The doctrine, of course, finds little place in contemporary science, which deals with conversions of matter and energy but is generally foreign to the idea of something coming from nothing.
It is difficult to find in Mormonism a philosophical doctrine that has been more consistently denounced. The concept is usually derived from Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” It is here that Joseph Smith chose to set the theologians straight: “Now I ask all the learned men who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation say, that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, and the reason is they are unlearned; they account it blasphemy to contradict the idea, they will call you a fool.—I know more than all the world put together, and the Holy Ghost within me comprehends more than all the world, and I will associate with it. The word create came from the word baurau; it does not mean so; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize [p.157]the world out of chaos; chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles that can never be destroyed. They may be organized and re-organized; but not destroyed.”7 This view of Smith has been affirmed ever since. Brigham Young continually preached it as did his contemporaries among Mormon church authorities.8
Creation ex nihilo also means that all things were created directly by God and therefore have contingent being.9 In this view only God had necessary being; all else depends (is contingent) on him for its existence and maintenance. This concept leads to a morass of theological difficulties, not the least of which are responsibility for evil and denial of the free agency of humanity.10 Mormonism, while it does not escape from some of these difficulties, begins from a different base. God is not the creator of matter—nor ultimately of humanity. According to Joseph Smith, “Element had an existence from the time [God] had …. it had no beginning, and can have no end.” He continued: “I must come to the resurrection of the dead, the soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine, I know better …. The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true, hence when I talk to these mourners; what have they lost, they are only separated from their bodies for a short season; their spirits existed co-equal with God, and they now exist in a place where they converse together, the same as we do on the earth. Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal, and yet have a beginning? Because if a spirit have a beginning it will have an end …. I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops, that God never did have power to create a spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself: intelligence exists upon a self existent principle, it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it.”11 Thus both matter and the basic identity of humanity share necessary existence with God. The doctrines have been taught continually by Smith’s successors.12
2. Belief that the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days, and is only about 6,000 years old. Not all Christian theologians were as extreme as John Lightfoot, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who insisted that the creation of the earth took place “on the [p.158]twenty-third of October, 4004 B.C., at nine o’clock in the morning.” Views of the earth’s age generally ranged from about 4,000 to 6,000 years before Jesus Christ.13 Science, of course, could not agree. Darwin in the first edition of Origin had opted for an age of several hundreds of millions of years. Even devoutly religious scientists who opposed him, such as the physicist Lord Kelvin, produced estimates for the earth’s age in the neighborhood of twenty million years. Estimates this small were painful to Darwin, since they seemed far too short for natural selection to have played the role he postulated for it. The age of the earth has since been pushed ever further back. Current estimates range from 4.5 to 5 billion years.
Mormon speakers have ranged widely on this subject. Statements from the presiding quorum kept the church non-committed but open to the possibility of a long age. There seems to have been no one who opted for twenty-four hour creation days, unless one wishes to so interpret Oliver Cowdery’s statement, published while he was assistant (associate) president of the church, that he believed the scriptures “are meant to be understood according to their literal reading, as those passages which teach us of the creation of the world” (emphasis his).14 Joseph Smith left no clear statement on the matter. On the Christmas day after Smith’s death, his associate W. W. Phelps wrote a letter to Smith’s brother William. Therein he refers among other things to the contributions of Smith and to the eventual triumph of truth and Mormonism. One of Smith’s accomplishments was the Book of Abraham, an incomplete text produced in conjunction with some Egyptian papyri. Phelps exulted: “Well, now, Brother William, when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been from of old, from eternity: and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand, five hundred and fifty-five millions of years: and to know at the same time, that deists, geologists, and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years;—it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated.”15
This reference has been cited many times in Mormon literature. Some have used it to indicate that the planet earth is 2.55 billion [p.159]years old. Others, taking careful note of the phrase in parentheses, insist that it has no such meaning, that it refers to a much larger physical system and has no bearing on the age of the earth. Phelps never clarified the statement. However, the context of Phelps rejoicing over the developing agreement between this statement and the efforts of geologists to establish long time spans gives support to those who interpret the statement as applying to the planet earth.
After Smith’s death one can find other beliefs by nineteenth-century Mormon authorities pertaining to the age of the earth. A prominent one, taught by certain apostles, was that the seven days of creation were each 1,000 years in duration, and the earth was therefore approximately 13,000 years old, calculating approximately 6,000 years since Adam’s fall. This concept received limited support from members of the First Presidency. Their statements generally carried the sentiment that the age of the earth was really not known and did not matter. Brigham Young thus commented:
“It was observed here just now that we differ from the Christian world in our religious faith and belief; and so we do very materially. I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood. Says the scientific man, ‘I do not see your religion to be true; I do not understand the law, light, rules, religion, or whatever you call it, which you say God has revealed; it is confusion to me, and if I submit to and embrace your views and theories I must reject the facts which science demonstrates to me. This is the position, and the line of demarcation has been plainly drawn by those who profess Christianity between the sciences and revealed religion. You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, ‘If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousands years ago, our studies are all in vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and [p.160]consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain; we must be what you call infidels, with the demonstrated truths of science in our possession; or, rejecting those truths, become enthusiasts in, what you call, Christianity.’
“In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts—they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways, we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he gives revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. This we know by what we have learned naturally.”16
3. Fixity or immutability of species; that all species were created originally in Eden by the Creator and do not change in any significant way. Theologians bought a bad deal when they adopted the notion of fixity of species. The irony of the matter is that the notion is not a religious one at all but an idea prematurely bought from science. The Genesis scriptures speak only of “kind.”17 Indeed no one worried much about it until about the seventeenth century when John Ray (1627-1705) and Carl Linné (Linnaeus) (1707-78) laid the foundations of modern taxonomy and systematics.
[p.161]Linné’s case is particularly instructive. Few people have ever so completely dominated the intellectual thought of their time. His gift and passion for cataloging organisms was unmatched and contagious; plants and animals were brought to him from all over the world for proper naming and classification. His passion was to name everything, to pigeonhole all living things into the neat compartments he attributed to the Genesis creations. He thus declared a fixity of species, unchangeable entities each descended from a specific Edenic stock, by whose analysis one caught a glimpse of the Creator at work. But the concept was an illusion, one which tragically escaped his control. For it caught the human fancy, and when in his maturity Linné realized that it was worthless, he was powerless to change its hold on the human mind. By then it had been seized on as a classic demonstration of the neatness of creation. Science, as self-correcting as it eventually is, finally grew openly beyond the strictures of Linné’s early concepts. Species obviously could change and did. The battle with theology was joined after Darwin proposed a mechanism (natural selection) for such change.
What position on species fixity was being articulated by the leaders of Mormonism up to and during this critical time? The subject hardly ever caught their attention. Casual statements that God and humankind are of the same species occur periodically, but beyond that the treatment is sketchy. Speaking on divine decrees, Joseph Smith commented: “The sea also has its bounds which it cannot pass. God has set many signs on the earth, as well as in the heavens; for instance, the oak of the forest, the fruit of the tree, the herb of the field—all bear a sign that seed hath been planted there; for it is a decree of the Lord that every tree, plant, and herb bearing seed should bring forth of its kind, and cannot come forth after any other law or principle.”18 No mention here of species at all, just the generic “kind,” and no definition of that. For all its looseness, however, a certain sentiment is evidenced which tends to favor some sort of fixity.
Eighteen years later in 1860 Brigham Young touched the subject. In a sermon launched upon the matter of death and the resurrection, he asserted: “The whole Scriptures plainly teach us that we are the children of that God who framed the world. Let us look round and see whether we can find a father and son in this [p.162]congregation. Do we see one an elephant, and the other a hen? No. Does a father that looks like a human being have a son like an ape, going on all fours? No; the son looks like his father. There is an endless variety of distinction in the few features that compose the human face, yet children have in their countenances and general expression of figure and temperament a greater or less likeness of their parents. You do not see brutes rising from human beings. Every species is true to its kind. The children of men are featured alike and walk erect.”19 As it is, this does not constitute a statement against the scientific version of changes in species. Modern evolution texts carry many statements concerning developmental canalization and genetic homeostasis which express these same concepts. But still Young’s words express a sentiment towards fixity.
These are virtually the only authoritative statements during the early Darwinian period. Although such comments take on the flavor of the theology of their day, a doctrine of species fixity was not of prime concern in the nineteenth-century LDS church.
4. Belief that life depends on an activating vital force which is immaterial and divine, the spirit or soul. While not strictly a product of the Darwinian revolution and in many ways antedating it, the question of the existence of a vital force became an important part of the discussion surrounding Darwinism. Particularly was this true in later years of the furor, when vitalism was offered in various forms as an alternative to the causalistic theories which were more in vogue.20
Mormon speakers on this matter glimpsed a view different from the usual Christian positions, but their tenets are poorly appreciated in the church today. In fact the general concept in the church today is essentially standard Christian.
A recent treatment outlines the basic positions of vitalism and mechanism: “Life, the subject matter of biology, is a phenomenon intimately connected with matter. Biology, therefore, must be concerned with the relationship between matter and the phenomenon we call life. Animate and Inanimate things have matter in common, and it is in their materiality that the two can best be compared. In this comparison, two theories, vitalism and mechanism, compete for the mastery. The vitalist sees in a living organism the convergence of two essentially different factors. For him matter is shaped and dominated by a life principle; unaided, matter could [p.163]never give rise to life. The mechanist, on the other hand, denies any joint action of two essentially different factors. He holds that matter is capable of giving rise to life by its own intrinsic forces. The mechanist considers matter to be ‘alive,’ the vitalist considers that something immaterial lives in and through matter.”21 To Mormons the divergence between the two approaches is seen in two basic issues: whether an outside force is necessary to make a body “alive,” and whether such an outside force is material. The popular nineteenth-century theological view of course was that life is due to a non-material force. Science, profiting from a long series of investigations on spontaneous generation dating primarily from Redi in the seventeenth century to Pasteur and Tyndall in the 1870s, became associated with mechanism (materialism). The reason for this latter association is not that either view has been rigorously proven. It is rather that the materialistic view allows experimentation whereas the vitalist view does not, since one is hard pressed to experiment with immaterial things.
Teachings of the church in the nineteenth century on the issues of spirit, life, vital force, and so on were in a state of flux. B. H. Roberts pointed out that Joseph Smith sometimes used the terms “intelligence,” “mind,” “spirit,” and “soul” interchangeably—”life” and even “light” could be added to the list as well.22 That Mormonism accepts the view that living things possess spirits is well known. Our spirit is said to be the result of spirit birth in a pre-mortal state. That “spirit,” “spirits,” and so on are material is likewise clear: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; … it is all matter” (D&C 131:7-8). This canonized statement has been the justification for a long series of missionary tracts and doctrinal assertions spelling out that Mormonism is a materialistic system. There can be no identification whatever with sentiments of immateriality. To early Mormons immateriality was virtually synonymous with atheism.
Beyond this, the thinking becomes less clear. Brigham Young in an 1856 discourse described spirit or life as a property of matter itself. Speaking of “natural, true philosophy” and developing the idea that the processes associated with death are a manifestation of inherent life in matter, he continued: “What is commonly called death does not destroy the body, it only causes a separation of spirit [p.164]and body, but the principle of life, inherent in the native elements, of which the body is composed, still continues with the particles of that body and causes it to decay, to dissolve itself into the elements of which it was composed, and all of which continue to have life. When the spirit given to man leaves the body, the tabernacle begins to decompose, is that death? No, death only separates the spirit and body, and a principle of life still operates in the untenanted tabernacle, but in a different way, and producing different effects from those observed while it was tenanted by the spirit. There is not a particle of element which is not filled with life, and all space is filled with element; there is no such thing as empty space, though some philosophers contend that there is.
“Life in various proportions, combinations, conditions, etc., fills all matter. Is there life in a tree when it ceases to put forth leaves? You see it standing upright, and when it ceases to bear leaves and fruit you say it is dead, but that is a mistake. It still has life, but that life operates upon the tree in another way, and continues to operate until it resolves it to the native elements. It is life in another condition that begins to operate upon man, upon animal, upon vegetation, and upon minerals when we see the change termed dissolution. There is life in the material of the fleshly tabernacle, independent of the spirit given of God to undergo this probation. There is life in all matter, throughout the vast extent of all the eternities; it is in the rock, the sand, the dust, in water, air, the gases, and, in short, in every description and organization of matter, w[h]ether it be solid, liquid, or gasesous, particle operating with particle.”23
Elsewhere Young repeatedly referred to “organization” as a key in determining differences in life quality.24 Taken with the concepts above, such teachings resemble those of the mechanists-materialists. To the mechanist life is an expression of a unique combination or organization of matter. At this most fundamental level, differences between science and Mormonism as taught by Young are reduced to mere semantics. The points of agreement are profound. Young’s entire philosophy, to be sure, ranges far beyond matters that are in the realm of science, but at the fundamental level, at the point of contact, they are in essential agreement.
5. Special creation of humanity; that God literally molded Adam’s body from the dust of the ground and blew into it the breath of life, the spirit. [p.165]Here we venture into the hottest point of discussion. In The Origin Darwin marshalled one powerful argument after another for the evolution of plant and animal species from earlier forms. Only one sentence, on the penultimate page, was directed to humankind: “Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” Though Darwin was not yet ready to tackle this problem, others were not so retiring. The issue was quickly joined. Huxley and others insisted that the human body was related to, and derived from, other life forms; theologians of the day insisted with equal vehemence that the body was the result of a special creative act, independently developed from the dust of the ground by the shaping hand of the Creator, and activated by “the breath of life.” Mormons accept as part of their canon the same scripture-text utilized by orthodox theologians, Genesis 2:7 in the King James rendition. The Book of Abraham, first published in the Times and Seasons in 1842 and canonized in 1880, expresses the same thought (compare 5:7). The Book of Moses, proclaimed as a revealed restoration of the Genesis text in 1830 and canonized in 1880, is the most explicit of the three: “And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also” (3:7). A literal reading of the passage lends credence to special creation. The fascinating point, however, is that with the possible exception of Apostle Orson Pratt, no Mormon leader seems to have taken the full passage literally.25 The intense scriptural literalism with which some current writers try to paint LDS presidents falls apart on this and related passages.
No president or member of the First Presidency has ever accepted the idea of special creation of the human body or of anything else for that matter. An examination of Joseph Smith’s teachings reveals an idea, never expressed in detail, that humans came via an act of natural procreation. That sentiment runs generally through the teachings of his successors.26 Smith’s clearest statement on the matter is: “Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way.”27
Under Brigham Young’s administration more specific teachings were developed. Beginning in 1852, the same year that plural [p.166]marriage was acknowledged, Young served public notice of a distinctive Mormon doctrine: that Adam and Eve were resurrected beings, exalted to Godhood from a mortality on another and older sphere. They had produced the spirits of all men and women and had then come to this earth, degraded their “celestial” bodies so that they could produce the bodies of Abel, Cain, Seth, and so on.28 In short, Adam in Young’s view occupied essentially the same place that modern church members reserve for Elohim; Elohim was regarded as the Grandfather in Heaven, rather than the Father. We need not concern ourselves here with the details of the doctrine, only that Adam was purported to have had a resurrected body and to have begun the family of humankind by direct sexual union and procreation.
The response of church members to the doctrine is of importance to us. With most the concept does not seem to have been well received. Indeed Young’s public sermons on the matter began to skirt the issue, referring to it continually but obliquely. In private he and his colleagues taught it affirmatively. With rare exceptions the writings and sermons of Mormons in general avoided the entire issue or couched it in vague terms.
There was one notable exception: Apostle Orson Pratt. On this matter at least, he seems to have accepted the scriptures literally and could not reconcile them with Young’s doctrine. Beginning in 1853 he published a periodical entitled The Seer and in its pages promulgated a doctrine that sounded like special creation. Articles from The Seer were republished in England in the pages of the LDS Millennial Star, a situation not pleasing to the church presidency. As early as January 1855, Young requested the editor of the Star to refrain from any further publication of material from The Seer, citing “erroneous doctrine” as the reason.29
Five years later Pratt brought the matter into the open in a dramatic sermon during the regular Sunday morning worship service in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 29 January 1860. Confessing the errors of his ways, Pratt sued for reconciliation. A few months later a “carefully revised” version of his speech was published in the Deseret News followed by a formal statement from the First Presidency, listing explicit errors in Pratt’s writings.30 The first item cited was Pratt’s teaching that Adam had been formed “out of the ground.” The refutation states that with regard to Adam “it is deemed wisest to let [p.167]the subject remain without further explanation at present, for it is written that we are to receive ‘line upon line,’ according to our faith and capacities, and the circumstances attending our progress.”
Where in the early days of debates between science and theology did Mormonism find its closest affinities? On the doctrine of ex nihilo creation Mormonism was clearly allied with science. The matter of the earth’s age was an open one, the fixity of species was virtually ignored, the issue of materialism and vital forces was in a state of flux but showed fundamental agreements with science. Only on the subject of special creation could Mormonism be tied to orthodox Christianity, and even that was tenuous. Darwin’s book was published 24 November 1859. Less than a year later Pratt again pleaded special creation, but he was refuted by the First Presidency.
In 1882 church president John Taylor published Mediation and Atonement in which he made the strongest statement by any president favoring the fixity of species,31 thus inching the church toward the orthodox theologians’ position. But during the following year his first counselor, George Q. Cannon, twice reaffirmed the sentiment of Brigham Young that the creation periods were “periods of time” and that Joseph Smith had anticipated science on the matter of the earth’s age. Happy that science was bolstering the prophet, Cannon summarized: “Geologists have declared it, and religious people are adopting it; and so the world is progressing.”32 But Cannon was eclectic in his beliefs. Acceptance of an old earth was not to be taken as an acceptance of Darwinism—at least as far as it applied to humankind. In an editorial in 1883, he made it clear that he regarded belief in “Darwin’s theories concerning the origin of man” as evidence of spiritual apostasy.33 This sentiment is not surprising, since Cannon had often expressed himself in similar vein before being called to the First Presidency34 and was a firm believer in Young’s Adamic doctrines.35
The general feeling of the church in the latter 1800s, however, was that science would continue to demonstrate the validity of Mormon positions. Indeed a heady flirtation with science affixed itself on the church. Church hierarchy seems to have rejoiced at the goodwill generated by James E. Talmage’s reception in scientific circles, his participation and membership in esteemed societies, and his trips to England and Russia. In 1896 Talmage became holder of [p.168]Mormonism’s first real doctorate degree. He was joined in this distinction in 1899 by John A. Widtsoe and Joseph F. Merrill. All three of these physical scientists later became prominent apostles and articulate spokesmen in the church.
Davis Bitton has rightly focused on the turn of the century as a period critical in Mormonism when the prevailing optimism toward science and reason began to erode.36 But this cooling must not be overstated. The antagonism of recent times towards science can be seen more correctly as a product of only the last couple of decades.
In the early years of the century, the Improvement Era regularly ran articles by Talmage, Widtsoe, Frederick Pack, and others extolling areas of agreement between science and Mormon theology. These articles show a degree of caution and sensitivity toward evolution that is commendable. The distinction between evolution per se and Darwinism was periodically noted, a point which many later writers seem to have missed. The then recent rediscovery of Mendel’s paper and principles of genetics and the question of their compatibility with Darwinism were watched with interest. But the concept that science and Mormonism were a basic unity formed the dominant theme.
The year 1909 marked the fiftieth anniversary of publication of The Origin of the Species. Debates on the “current status of Darwinism” abounded in scientific and lay literature alike. In Mormonism the question was not ignored. The YMMIA manual for the year (Widtsoe’s Joseph Smith as Scientist37) reaffirmed ideas taught by Brigham Young and others that the earth was very old and that the creative days were indefinite periods. The manual evoked a series of questions on the matter, which were discussed in a special column of the Improvement Era. The managing editor, Edward H. Anderson, defended the manual. He contended that the verses of D&C 77:12, cited by questioners in support of a young-earth theory, did not apply to the subject and turned the column over to Widtsoe for further discussion. Widtsoe proceeded to dismiss the twenty-four-hour-day view, the 1,000-year-day concept, the D&C 77 argument, and the theory attributed to Joseph Smith that the earth had been formed of fragments of others worlds.38 The following month’s issue published as its lead article an essay by Apostle Charles W. Penrose entitled, [p.169]”The Age and Destiny of the Earth,” which also argued for an old earth of indefinite age.39
In November 1909 the first formal statement on evolution from the First Presidency was published. It was signed by Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund.40 Entitled “The Origin of Man,” it is cited by some individuals as “the official pronouncement against evolution.” A more honest appraisal of the text, its background, and meaning to later presidents indicates that such a judgment is inaccurate. The document is carefully worded. Its message is an affirmation that we are spirit children of divine parentage, are in the image of God both in body and spirit, and that we are all descendants of a common ancestor, Adam. Lengthy scriptural passages are cited in affirmation of humankind’s divine spiritual pedigree. Three paragraphs are relevant to discussion of the origin of physical bodies: “Adam, our great progenitor, ‘the first man,’ was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and like Christ he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a ‘living soul.’ The doctrine of the pre-existence,—revealed so plainly, particularly in latter days, pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man’s origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. It teaches that all men existed in the spirit before any man existed in the flesh, and that all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.
“It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.
“True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain [p.170]stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.”41
The anti-evolutionary sentiment is evident though guarded. The likelihood that the article constitutes an authoritative pronouncement against evolution as a possibility for the origin of the human body was strengthened by a statement in the 1910 manual for the priests of the Aaronic priesthood: “descent has not been from a lower form of life, but from the highest Form of Life; in other words, man is, in the most literal sense, a child of God. This is not only true of the spirit of man, but of his body also. There never was a time, probably, in all the eternities of the past, when there were not men or children of God. This world is only one of many worlds which have been created by the Father through His Only Begotten.”42
But the statement continues in a markedly less definitive vein: “Adam, then, was probably not the first mortal man in the universe, but he was likely the first for this earth.” And two pages later the tone of indefiniteness is further continued as a matter of reasoning: “One of the important points about this topic is to learn, if possible, how Adam obtained his body of flesh and bones. There would seem to be but one natural and reasonable explanation, and that is, that Adam obtained his body in the same way Christ obtained his—and just as all men obtain theirs—namely, by being born of woman. ‘The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.’ (Doc. & Cov., 130:22). Then what is more natural than to conclude that the offspring of such Beings would have bodies of flesh and bones? Like begets like.”43
Such sentiments further evoked questions from church members, which were again answered by an editorial in the Improvement Era. Joseph F. Smith, as president of the church, and Edward H. Anderson, were the editors: “Origin of Man.—’In just what manner did the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve come into existence on this earth?’ This question comes from several High Priests’ quorums.
“Of course, all are familiar with the statements in Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7; also in the Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price, 2:27; and in the Book of Abraham 5:7. The latter statement reads: ‘And [p.171]the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit) and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.’
“These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, until the Lord shall see fit to give more light on the subject. Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. For helpful discussion of the subject, see Improvement Era, Vol. XI, August 1908, No. 10, page 778, article, ‘Creation and Growth of Adam’; also article by the First Presidency, ‘Origin of Man,’ Vol. XI, No. 1, page 75, 1909.”
The August 1908 article was a response to a question raised about an earlier article. The author of the two pieces, William Halls, had contended that Adam could not have been created full-grown but must have gone through a natural childhood and adolescence. When pushed for documentation by Era readers who felt that such a view was incompatible with scriptural literalism, he answered in the article that he could not document it but that “When a passage of scripture taken literally contradicts a fundamental, natural law, I take it as allegorical; and in the absence of divine authority, put a construction on it that seems to harmonize with my experience and reason.”
Thus ended the matter as far as Joseph F. Smith was concerned: the editorial listed three options, and it is evident that not one of them agrees with a literal interpretation of Moses 3:7 or other such creation passages. The Improvement Era continued to publish articles on science and the gospel (mostly articles by Frederick Pack, a University of Utah geology professor) until April 1911. A few months before, the touchy matter of academic freedom in the church school system had reared its head, specifically the propriety of teaching “the theories of evolution as at present set forth in the text books, and also theories relating to the Bible known as ‘higher criticism.'” President Smith in a special editorial44 reported to the church on the matter. He indicated that “it is well known that [p.172]evolution and the ‘higher criticism’—though perhaps containing many truths—are in conflict on some matters with the scriptures, including some modern revelation.” He concluded: “it appears a waste of time and means, and detrimental to faith and religion to enter too extensively into the undemonstrated theories of men on philosophies relating to the origin of life, or the methods adopted by an All-wise Creator in peopling the earth with the bodies of men, birds, and beasts. Let us rather turn our abilities to the practical analysis of the soil.”
A companion editorial from Smith was aimed at the youth of the church and appeared in The Juvenile Instructor.45 Though more general in its approach, it makes a finer distinction between the president’s personal feelings and the church position. His private views seem to be embodied in the following passage: “They [students] are not old enough or learned enough to discriminate, or put proper limitations upon a theory which we believe is more or less a fallacy. In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussion in our Church schools, we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false. We think that while it is a hypothesis, on both sides of which the most eminent scientific men of the world are arrayed, that it is folly to take up its discussion in our institutions of learning, and we cannot see wherein such discussions are likely to promote the faith of our young people.” He then clearly spelled out the church position on the matter: “The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world, and much of the talk therefore about the philosophy of Mormonism is altogether misleading.” Here Smith let the matter rest.
Two years later in a conference address in Arizona, Smith delivered himself of one further comment: “Man was born of woman; Christ, the Savior, was born of woman and God, the Father, was born of woman. Adam, our earthly parent, was also born of woman into this world, the same as Jesus and you and I.”46 This statement is consistent with all three of the 1910 options. Clarification of further questions such as when, how, and of whom can only be answered by extensive and tenuous proof-texting. Smith, one of the most scripturally committed of all LDS presidents, remained consistent with his predecessors, leaving the matter open and unresolved.
[p.173]No further authoritative statements were made until 1925 during the administration of Heber J. Grant. That was the year of the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Young John Scopes, charged with teaching evolution forbidden by state law, was the defendant, but the trial became a classic confrontation between theology and science. Correspondents from around the world converged on the town for the great showdown.47 During the post-trial period, the document ‘”Mormon’ View of Evolution” appeared, published over the signature of the First Presidency—Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley.48 This document consists of several paragraphs with only a few minor word changes from the 1909 statement. The anti-evolution paragraphs quoted above are absent. The statement affirms the spiritual pedigree of humanity and the common descent of all people from an ancestor named Adam, who had taken upon himself “an appropriate body.” As with the 1909 document, this text uses the word evolution or its derivatives only once, affirming that humankind formed in the image of God “is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.” Seen against the theological ferment and rhetoric of the day, this is an amazingly temperate document.
The next episode involving evolution occurred in 1930 but was kept within the closed circle of the church leaders. The relatively young apostle, Joseph Fielding Smith, delivered a lecture to the genealogical conference on 5 April. In his enthusiastic style, he spoke of the creation of humankind, acknowledging that “The Lord has not seen fit to tell us definitely just how Adam came for we are not ready to receive that truth.” But he also spelled out clearly a disbelief in “pre-Adamites,” peoples of any sort upon the earth before Adam. He affirmed that “the doctrine of ‘pre-Adamites’ is not a doctrine of the Church, and is not advocated nor countenanced in the Church.” Then he went further: “There was no death in the earth before the fall of Adam … . All life in the sea, the air, on the earth, was without death. Animals were not dying. Things were not changing as we find them changing in this mortal existence, for mortality had not come.”49
Shortly after publication of the speech, B. H. Roberts challenged the legitimacy of the remarks in a letter to the First Presidency. Both Roberts and Smith were given opportunity to present their [p.174]positions, orally and in writing, to the Twelve and First Presidency. Roberts developed his ideas from scripture, science, and the sermons of Apostle Orson Hyde and President Brigham Young. Smith used scripture and the teachings of Orson Pratt and the anti-evolution language of the 1909 statement of the First Presidency. Finally convinced that continued discussion would be fruitless, the First Presidency issued a seven-page directive to all general authorities, reviewing the entire discussion and then stating: “The statement made by Elder Smith that the existence of pre-Adamites is not a doctrine of the Church is true. It is just as true that the statement: ‘There were not pre-Adamites upon the earth’ is not a doctrine of the Church. Neither side of the controversy has been accepted as a doctrine at all. Both parties make the scripture and the statements of men who have been prominent in the affairs of the Church the basis of their contention; neither has produced definite proof in support of his views … . Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.”50
In addition to this written directive, the First Presidency called a special meeting of all general authorities the day after general conference to discuss the matter. Apostle James E. Talmage records the following account of the meeting: “Involved in this question is that of the beginning of life upon the earth, and as to whether there was death either of animal or plant before the fall of Adam, on which proposition Elder Smith was very pronounced in denial and Elder Roberts equally forceful in the affirmative. As to whether Pre-adamite races existed upon the earth there has been much discussion among some of our people of late. The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning’s assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Pre-adamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam’s fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I [p.175]think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good.”51
The two contestants, Roberts and Smith, were thus directed to drop the matter. Publication of a major manuscript already written by Roberts dealing with the subject was as a result proscribed.
But this proscription left the public record with only one side of the story, Smith’s speech, which in many ways is an avowal of the position of nineteenth-century Christian theologians. Not everyone in the governing quorums of the church was content with such a situation. On Sunday, 9 August 1931, Apostle Talmage took the stand in the Salt Lake Tabernacle worship service and there delivered his address, “The Earth and Man.”52 In light of the restrictions proposed by the First Presidency, Talmage’s position was carefully worded. Affirming his belief in the ultimate synthesis of God’s word in both the rocks and the scriptures, Talmage promulgated a clear message of sensitivity to and reception of science and the scientific method.
From certain quarters in the Twelve, opposition developed to the speech’s publication. The subject was a matter of consideration in at least four meetings of the Twelve and First Presidency. Eventually the First Presidency directed Talmage to send it to the “Church News.” They also instructed him to have it published as a separate pamphlet to be available upon request. Both publications were released to the public 21 November 1931.53
The resulting stalemate continued for over two decades. Cognizant of the fact that writings and expressions of general authorities, no matter how intended, tend to become canonized by elements within the church community, the First Presidency continued the proscription against publication of the Roberts manuscript. In 1933 both Roberts and Talmage died. Their philosophical legacy was continued by apostles Widtsoe and Merrill. In the ensuing years, Apostle Smith also completed a book-length manuscript, which outlined his objections to evolution. The record indicates that his manuscript was subjected to the same publication injunction as that of Roberts.54 Widtsoe and Merrill also continued to resist what they saw as Smith’s overly-literalistic interpretation. Their deaths in 1952 marked the end of an era.
[p.176]Smith began an open exposition of his views on 22 April 1953 in a speech at Brigham Young University entitled “The Origin of Man.”55 His June 1953 Mutual Improvement Association conference address continued the same theme: scriptural literalism on scientific matters coupled with a disregard for scientific data.56 A rapid though minor updating of his book manuscript followed, and by mid-1954 it was made available to the public under the title Man: His Origin and Destiny.57
The work marked a milestone. For the first time Mormonism had a book openly antagonistic to much of science.58 The long-standing concern of past church presidents was realized: the book was hailed by many as an authoritative church statement which locked Mormonism into direct confrontation with science and sparked a wave of religious fundamentalism showing little sign of abatement. Others, mindful of the embarrassment which other Christian churches had suffered on issues of science and fearful of the consequences for their own church if the new stance was widely adopted, openly expressed consternation. Church president David O. McKay abhorred controversy. The difference in philosophy between the book’s author and himself could hardly have been more disparate within the church framework. But in his public capacity McKay reacted cautiously.
Smith vigorously presented his basic thesis to seminary and Institute teachers gathered at Brigham Young University on 28 June 1954.59 Exactly nine days later, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., second counselor in the First Presidency, delivered (by invitation) his speech, “When are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” His message was clear and hard-hitting; it has no peer in Mormon literature. Emphasizing that only the president of the church may declare doctrine, interpret scripture, “or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church,” he proceeded to examine the scriptural affirmation that whatever holders of the priesthood speak “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture.” He acknowledged that the scripture applied with special force to general authorities but that “They must act and teach subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church … . Sometimes in the past they have spoken ‘out of turn,’ so to speak … .
[p.177]”There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet …. [E]ven the President of the Church, himself, may not always be ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ when he addresses the people. This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where subsequent Presidents of the Church and the people themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’
“How shall the Church know …? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members … and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.”
In his final paragraphs he moved from trying to define what is scripture to identifying what is not scripture. When anyone other than the president of the church attempts to proclaim any new doctrine, unless acting specifically under the president’s direction, the church may know that the utterances are not scripture. “When any man, except the President of the Church,” Clark concluded, “undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ unless he is acting under the authority of the President.”
McKay himself avoided any direct public statement on the matter. His closest approach to public commentary came from his beginning-of-the-school-year speech to Brigham Young University faculty, 17 September 1954.60 He discussed various categories of knowledge and touched briefly on science and religion. He averred that it is a “stern fact of life” that all living things obey fixed laws of nature and divine commands. He referred to the creation of humankind thus: “When the Creator ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,’ (and never mind when it was), ‘and man became a living soul’ God gave him the power of choice.” In his closing sentence, he moved to “bless you [the faculty] with wisdom to know the truth as it is given by revealed word in the authorized books of the Church, bless you with the power to discern between truth and errors as given by individuals.”
This public response by the First Presidency did not satisfy [p.178]the members. Over the years inquiries were made about the doctrinal soundness of Smith’s book and similar teachings. The response from the First Presidency has been consistent: an avowal that the church has taken no official position on evolution and related subjects, that it has made no official statement on the subject, that the book in question is neither “authorized” by the church nor “published” by the church, that it “is not approved by the church,” and that it contains only the author’s personal views. On occasion the inquirer has been sent two documents, the 1909 First Presidency statement and Talmage’s 1931 speech, with the admonition that the matter should be dealt with by “suspending judgment as long as may be necessary” until the complete truth is perceived.61
Here the matter rests as far as authoritative statements are concerned. There has been no further official response. The 1931 First Presidency’s observation that these matters do not relate to “salvation” is astute as well as practical. Darwin perceived that his views bore no necessary antagonism to religion,62 and a nineteenth-century commentator phrased the same sentiment in the following way: “Evolution, if rightly understood, has no theological or antitheological influence whatever. What is evolution? It is not an entity. It is a mode of creation. It leaves the whole field of Christian faith where and as it found it. Its believers and advocates may be theists, pantheists, or atheists. The causes of these radically different religious views cannot be sought in the one theory. They are to be found elsewhere.”63
At the same time there can be no denying the fact that the polemics of the theology-biology debate have polarized people into opposite camps. This opposition is detrimental to the cause of both camps. Mormonism is committed to the concept of a lawful, loving, orderly Deity to whom capriciousness and deceit are anathema. The concept that God works through universal law, that he is obedient to law, is fundamental. This gives Mormonism a basis for synthesis of the two camps that exists in few, if any, other western religions.
Teachers in the church cannot be honest in their teachings if they present only one point of view as the position of the church. Rather we must insist on greater honesty and scholarship in our gospel discussions. Perhaps the sentiments of Apostle John Taylor are relevant: “I do not want to be frightened about hell-fire, [p.179]pitch-forks, and serpents, nor to be scared to death with hobgoblins and ghosts, nor anything of the kind that is got up to scare the ignorant; but I want truth, intelligence, and something that will bear investigation. I want to probe things to the bottom and to find out the truth if there is any way to find it out.”64
And further: “[O]ur religion … embraces every principle of truth and intelligence pertaining to us as moral, intellectual, mortal and immortal beings, pertaining to this world and the world that is to come. We are open to truth of every kind, no matter whence it comes, where it originates, or who believes in it … . A man in search of truth has no peculiar system to sustain, no peculiar dogma to defend or theory to uphold; he embraces all truth, and that truth, like the sun in the firmament, shines forth and spreads its effulgent rays over all creation, and if men will divest themselves of bias and prejudice, and prayerfully and conscientiously search after truth, they will find it wherever they turn their attention.”65
[p.179]1. By “evolution,” I refer only to the general concept that living things as we know them today have over a long period of time been developed by differentiation from a single or several primordial entities, i.e. descent by modification. Other tighter or more specialized definitions do not generally apply here. I will be content with just the very general concept portrayed by Darwin in his closing sentence to The Origin of Species (2d and all subsequent editions): “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that … from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
2. Cf. I. M. Lerner, “The Concept of Natural Selection: A Centennial View,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103 (1959): 173-82; reprinted in W. M. Laetsch, ed., The Biological Perspective (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1969). An excellent statement of what natural selection is and is not is Th. Dobzhansky, “Creative Evolution,” Diogenes 60 (1967): 62-74. Materials pertinent to the current level of acceptance of the main body of evolutionary concepts are: H. J. Muller, “Biologists’ Statement on Teaching Evolution,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 23 (1967): 3940, and S. Tax, ed., Evolution After Darwin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), which encompasses in three volumes the proceedings of the Darwin Centennial Celebration (symposium) at the University of Chicago in 1959. A rather [p.180]critical but factually reliable appraisal of the current status of evolutionary knowledge, particularly as it applies to invertebrate animals, is G. A. Kerkut, Implications of Evolution (New York: Pergamon Press, 1960). Review of this work by J. T. Bonner, American Scientist 49 (1961): 240-44, and Th. Dobzhansky, Science 133 (1961): 752, will also prove valuable. The review by W. Bullock, J. Am. Sci. Affil. 16 (1964): 125-26 will be of particular interest to those interested in religious correlations.
3. First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, et. al.), Deseret News, 2 Aug. 1913; also in James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 4:284-86; H. B. Lee, Improvement Era 73 (1970): 63-65; Ensign 3 (Jan. 1973): 104-108.
4. The best statement on the intimacies of this relationship is Joseph F. Smith’s pledge to the church upon assuming its presidency, 10 Nov. 1901, Conference Reports, 82; also in Clark, Messages of First Presidency, 4:4-6.
5. An introduction to non-LDS literature can be gained from A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (1869; New York: Dover Publications, 1960), and B. J. Loewenberg, Darwinism Comes to America, 1859-1900 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969).
6. Cf. O. K. White, Jr., “Mormonism—A Nineteenth-Century Heresy,” Journal of Religious Thought 26 (1969): 44-55. That Brigham Young perceived these deep distinctions is evident: “We differ from the Christian world in our religious faith and belief; and so we do very materially. I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood,” Journal of Discourses, 14:115 (hereafter JD).
7. Times and Seasons 5 (1844): 615 (hereafter T&S). An expanded and variant version of this statement appears in B. H. Roberts, History of the Church, 6:308-309 (hereafter HC). The same quote is given in Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1958), 350-52. Though Smith cites the Times and Seasons as his source, he actually gives the HC account.
9. A good discussion of creation ex nihilo as it applies to Mormon thought is found in O. K. White, “The Social-Psychological Basis of Mormon New-Orthodoxy,” M.S. thesis, University of Utah, 1967, 87ff; also “The Transformation of Mormon Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5 (1970): 9-24. White maintains that Mormon authors consistently miss the deeper or even essential meanings of the doctrine, that of necessary versus contingent being. Cf. Truman Madsen, Instructor 99 (1964): 96-99, and ibid., 236f. For the most detailed treatment available in Mormon literature on the subject, see S. M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon [p.181]Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965).
11. T&S 5 (1844): 615. An expanded version is in HC 6:310-11. It is Roberts who equates the term “co-equal” with “co-eternal.” Once again Joseph Fielding Smith follows Roberts’s version (352-54). Cf. also Joseph Smith, T&S 3 (1842): 745. Any errors are in the original.
13. Suggestions were made occasionally that the “days” were periods of indefinite length, but such views were lost in the melee; see J. C. Greene, Darwin and the Modern World View (New York: Mentor Books, 1963), 18-19.
17. There is no legitimate discussion of the word “kind” (Hebrew=min) in biological terms in Mormon literature. For a beginning discussion, not LDS, see A. J. Jones, “A General Analysis of the Biblical ‘Kind’ (Min),” Creation Research Society Quarterly 9 (1972): 53-57; and “Boundaries of the Min: An Analysis of the Mosaic Lists of Clean and Unclean Animals,” ibid. 9 (1972): 114-23. Most current writers consider “kind” to represent a biological grouping at approximately the Family level in the taxonomic hierarchy; few indeed are those who still try to equate it with “species.”
18. From Wilford Woodruff’s notes in HC 4:554 from a speech delivered 20 March 1842; see also Roberts’s qualifying comments on the notes (556), which must be kept in mind regarding all such speech texts. We have not been able to locate any earlier published accounts.
20. See G. G. Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1949), 124-29, 263-79. Simpson, usually pictured as quite insensitive to religious viewpoints, develops some concepts of the limitations and implications of materialism that have considerable interest to Mormons.
22. Roberts, Comprehensive History, 2:392. A close friend of Joseph Smith, Benjamin F. Johnson, makes the “light-life-spirit” equation in his 1903 [p.182]letter to Elder George F. Gibbs, 5, typescript, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. There is no satisfactory synthesis of the subject, and it is doubtful that one could be produced. Andrus’s imaginative treatment is as wide-ranging as any available and should be consulted for its references; see H. L. Andrus, God, Man, and the Universe (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 144-92. Roberts’s brief discussion is valuable (Comprehensive History, 2:381-42, especially 399-401).
25. In H. B. Lee, “Find the Answers in the Scriptures,” Ensign 2 (Dec. 1972): 2-3, there does appear a passage which seems to imply acceptance of the literal interpretation of Moses 3:7. Correspondence which I am not at liberty to release, however, indicates that this should not be construed as a pronouncement of any particular interpretation or doctrinal position.
28. I am aware of the intense arguments and deeply held opinions revolving around this doctrine and the current propensity to deny that it was ever taught. There can be no justification for denying its historical reality; it is too well documented and was taught by Young from 1852 until his death in 1877. See R. Turner, “The Position of Adam in Latter-day Saint Scripture and Theology,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1953. A more recent and thorough account is O. Kraut, Michael/Adam (, n.p.). Both sources discuss reactions of church members to the doctrine, which include problems with scriptural reconciliation. Those who attempt to prove that Young taught only doctrine that is currently orthodox are driven to considerable freedom in interpreting and even doctoring his sermons; for example, J. A. Widtsoe, comp., Discourses of Brigham Young, (1925), 159. These errors are compounded and further promulgated by Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions (1966), 5:121-28, excerpted in the 1972-1973 Melchizedek Priesthood manual, 20-22. Compare, for example, the quote from JD 9:148 in its original form and as printed by Widtsoe, by Smith (124), and in the priesthood manual (22).
I do not contend that Young’s concepts concerning Adam are an accurate representation of the concepts of other LDS presidents or that they are to be accepted as church doctrine. That to Young, Adam was a resurrected being is clear: “The mystery in this, as with miracles, or anything else, is only to those who are ignorant. Father Adam came here, and then they brought his wife. ‘Well,’ says one, ‘Why was Adam called Adam’? He was the first man on the earth, and its framer and maker. He, with the help of his [p.183]brethren, brought it into existence. Then he said, ‘I want my children who are in the spirit world to come and live here. I once dwelt upon an earth something like this, in a mortal state, I was faithful, I received my crown and exaltation. I have the privilege of extending my work, and to its increase there will be no end. I want my children that were born to me in the spirit world to come here and take tabernacles of flesh, that their spirits may have a house, a tabernacle or a dwelling place as mine has, and where is the mystery?” (Deseret News, 18 June 1873, reporting a speech of 8 June 1873).
Later presidents did not share this view. A request for more information on the subject from Bishop Joseph H. Eldredge of Myron, Utah, to President Heber J. Grant was answered: “If what is meant is that Adam has passed on to celestial glory through a resurrection before he came here, and that afterwards he was appointed to this earth to die again, the second time becoming mortal, then it is not scriptural or according to the truth … . Adam had not passed through the resurrection.” The letter, signed by President Grant and dated 26 February 1931, is published in Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 5:289-90. Such differences in viewpoint should serve as a caution to all who are tempted to teach any given doctrine about Adam as “the church view.”
30. Deseret News, 25 July 1860, 162-63. The First Presidency’s statement was reprinted as part of the 1865 refutation also, cf. n50. The “revised” version of Pratt’s sermon may also be found in JD 7:371-76.
33. Juvenile Instructor 18 (15 June 1883): 191. President Cannon appears to have addressed essentially the same theme in his Founder’s Day speech at Brigham Young Academy in 1896. The best account I have been able to locate of this speech quotes Cannon only “in substance,” however, so it is impossible to determine his exact statements. The basic stance, however, is anti-evolutionary, at least with respect to human origins; cf. Daily Enquirer (Provo, Utah), 16 Oct. 1896, 1.
40. Improvement Era 13 (Nov. 1909): 75-81; also in Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:199-206. Actually this statement is the work of a special committee appointed for its production. James E. Talmage, not yet one of the general authorities, records meeting with the committee to consider the document; cf. James E. Talmage Journal, 12:91-92, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library.
41. When this statement was reprinted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Man: His Origin and Destiny (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954), the phrase “primal parent of our race” was changed to read “primal parent of the race” (354). And it continues to be quoted thus incorrectly in other Mormon works. To some students this represents an alteration in meaning. Whether it would have been so interpreted by the 1909 First Presidency, however, is moot.
42. Divine Mission of the Savior, “Course of Study for the … Priests (2d year), prepared and issued under the direction of the general authorities of the Church” (1910), 35. The statement to this point was reprinted in the “Church News” section, Deseret News, 19 Sept. 1936, 8, and is often quoted as though complete in itself.
43. Ibid., 37. The manual at this point cites three statements, one each from Brigham Young (JD 1:50); Parley P. Pratt (Key to Theology); and Orson Pratt (JD 21:201). No attempt is made in the manual to capture the complete thought of these statements, particularly the sermons of President Young and Orson Pratt which reveal fundamental differences in concept. It must also be remembered that major sentiments in both these sermons were severely compromised by statements of subsequent presidencies.
44. Improvement Era 14 (Apr. 1911): 548-51. Further details of the case are found in R. V. Chamberlin, Life and Philosophy of W. H. Chamberlin (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1925), 140f. In this rather trying incident, three BYU faculty members, Henry Peterson, Joseph Peterson, and Ralph V. Chamberlin, were fired or resigned under pressure.
48. Improvement Era 28 (Sept. 1925): 1090-91. The sympathy of LDS people for the general religious position in the 1925 Scopes episode is reflected in the remarks of various speakers, both general authorities and otherwise, during the October General Conference of 1925. Of the First Presidency, however, Charles W. Nibley made no reference to the matter; President Heber J. Grant went no further than to recall favorable impressions [p.185]of William Jennings Bryan, the chief religious spokesman (and prosecutor) at the Scopes trial, who died shortly after the trial. Anthony W. Ivins, first counselor, addressed the topic of evolution directly and at some length, articulating a middle-of-the-road position, with too many hypothetical statements and qualifiers to be easily categorized (LDS General Conference Reports, Oct. 1925, 19-28).
52. J. E. Talmage, “The Earth and Man,” “Church News” section of Deseret News, 21 Nov. 1931, 7-8. In pamphlet form it was “published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (16 pp.). The speech was republished various times, including by Brigham Young University Extension Publications by the Instructor 100 (Dec. 1965): 474-77, and 101 (Jan. 1966): 9-11, 15.
53. Elder Talmage discusses the matter in his journal: “Many of our students have inferred from Elder Smith’s address that the Church refuses to recognize the findings of science if there be a word in scriptural record in our interpretation of which we find even a seeming conflict with scientific discoveries or deductions, and that therefore the ‘policy’ of the Church is in effect opposed to scientific research.
“In speaking at the Tabernacle on August 9 last, I had not forgotten that, in the pronouncement of the First Presidency mentioned under date of April 7 last, it was advised and really required that the General Authorities of the Church refrain from discussing in public, that is preaching, the debatable subject of the existence of human kind upon the earth prior to the beginning of Adamic history as recorded in scripture; but, I had been present at a consultation in the course of which the First Presidency had commented somewhat favorably upon the suggestion that sometime, somewhere, something should be said by one or more of us to make plain that the Church does not refuse to recognize the discoveries and demonstrations of science, especially in relation to the subject at issue. President Anthony W. Ivins, of the First Presidency, presided at the Tabernacle meeting, and three members of the Council of the Twelve were present—Elders George F. Richards, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Richard R. Lyman. Of course, Elder Smith, and in fact all of us, recognize that my address was in some important respects opposed to his published remarks, but the other brethren named, including President Ivins, expressed their tentative approval of what I had said.
“I am very grateful that my address has come under a very thorough consideration, and I may say investigation, by the First Presidency and the [p.186]Council of the Twelve. The discussions throughout as relating to the matter have been forceful but in every respect friendly, and the majority of the Twelve have been in favor of the publication of the address from the time they first took it under consideration. I have hoped and fervently prayed that the brethren would be rightly guided in reaching a decision, and, as the Lord knows my heart, I have had no personal desire for triumph or victory in the matter, but have hoped that the address would be published or suppressed as would be for the best. The issue is now closed; the address is in print” (Talmage Journal, 21 Nov. 1931; see comments under 9 Aug., 5, 16, and 17 Nov. 1931).
54. Roberts’s manuscript, “The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology,” consists of nearly 600 manuscript pages. Roberts considered it “the most important work that I have yet contributed to the Church, the six-volumed Comprehensive History of the Church not omitted” (letter of 9 Feb. 1931 to the First Presidency). Though it is in many critical ways contrapositive to the theology championed by Elder Smith, it does not advocate acceptance of evolution per se.
58. As far as I am aware, the first book in Mormonism that can really be said to be directed to a discussion of science and religion is Scientific Aspects of Mormonism by Nels L. Nelson (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). Others followed sporadically over the years, by Widtsoe, Nelson, Pack, and Merrill. All of these exhibit a deep recognition of the validity of scientific knowledge. Man: His Origin and Destiny is a clear break with that long tradition, opting as it does for schism rather than synthesis.
61. I have photostatic copies in my files of several of these inquiries and responses and know of additional oral discussions of the matter. Before his death President McKay gave formal permission for the publication of at least one of the written responses.
62. As it is expressed in the conclusion to Origin: “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one.” Though Darwin, once a candidate for the ministry, came to feel that the entire question of rational evidence for design and/or the existence of God was “insoluble,” he was clear that religious commitment was a matter separate and distinct from belief or disbelief in either evolution or natural selection.