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Mormonism, Adam and Eve, and Evolution

January 28, 2014
Creation

Organic evolution and how it might either conflict, or perhaps fit, within LDS doctrine is something I've pondered and studied over the past several years. Of course the creation/evolution debate has been raging ever since Darwin published "The Origin of Species", and LDS church leaders and LDS scientists have held various opinions over the years. Evolution is a subject that has unfortunately, and unnecessarily, turned many believing and religious people into sceptics, across many denominations. My purpose here is not to try to explain evolution, nor to convince anyone to join either side of the debate, but merely to explore from a doctrinal and scriptural standpoint how evolution could fit, if one chooses to accept it.

Whether or not you accept or reject the theory of evolution is entirely up to you, and there are many faithful Latter-day Saints today who are either side of that fence. We try to avoid argument, and even avoid discussing this matter in church for the most part. The simple reason is that we have no specific or detailed revelation from the Lord describing exactly how the creation took place, other than what is currently contained in Genesis, and the Pearl of Great Price. That fact alone perhaps ought to give us pause. I have no wish to try to get out ahead of the brethren on any given subject, nor to delve deeply into mysteries where we simply don't have clear revelation. If God has decided we are not to know the details yet, I can live with that. I am willing (reluctant, but willing) to wait.

What I am concerned about is that some people look at the science and evidence supporting evolution and decide to leave their faith because of it. That is where I think I can be of some help. There are some thoughts, ideas and scriptures we can examine that can perhaps help in our struggle to figure out how the science might fit with the doctrines. I'm not going to claim that I know either way for certain. I don't believe we have the complete picture yet. My current belief is that God used evolutionary means to create life on earth (including human life) but if God reveals some day that he worked by some other process, wonderful.

I'm also concerned that some members of the church operate under the assumption that evolution science is evil, and is a deception created by Satan to destroy our faith. For many years I felt that way myself. It wasn't until I started studying about the history of the debate within our own faith that I realized there are other ways to look at it.

Michael Ash wrote an article published in Dialogue which I think is a good place to start for members of the church who might be wondering about the history of the church's official position (or non-position) on evolution.70

Because of some strong anti-evolution statements that have come down from high-level authorities in the church, some church members have struggled with this subject over the years. Even today it's difficult to find people who embrace evolution as a possibility (at least where I live), most Latter-day Saints are fairly traditional in their views of the creation. But I also feel this is changing as time goes on. My own personal journey has been one of back and forth to both extremes.

As a teenager first gaining a testimony of the gospel, it seemed quite reasonable to me that God would have used processes of evolution to create life on earth. I can remember once on a church youth activity we toured a local science museum, and I expressed this opinion to my priest's quorum advisor. "No no, he said, that's not right." When I asked why it couldn't have happened this way, he just shook his head no, but didn't elaborate.

As a missionary and later a student at BYU, I read much of what Elder McConkie taught on the subject, as well as Elder Packer and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith—all strong anti-evolutionists. I understood then why my youth advisor would have taken such a stand, and I also became convinced of their view—that the theory of evolution was an clever deception crafted by Satan to destroy faith. Through my college years this was my belief.

However, I found that I also had a keen interest in the natural world. I had assumed I would hate my required freshman biology course, but instead I became intensely interested. I was awestruck by the mechanisms of cellular respiration, photosynthesis, and also the marvelous encoding and decoding processes that occur through the molecular machinery of DNA. To be able to examine and learn about life at the micro and molecular level was fascinating. I felt an increased awe and reverence for the divine Creator, as I studied and came to understand at even a rudimentary level how life is organized.

My major field during my undergraduate years was illustration, and for a time I was very serious about becoming a science illustrator. I went on to take some other biology and botany courses. I still have fond memories of my vascular plant morphology course, taught by a kind paleobotanist, who's office was packed with fossils. He was willing to put in some extra time with me (an art student), to help get me succeed in his upper-level course.

For my BFA senior project (in 1997) I completed an educational animation describing the structure and purpose of DNA. But all the while I was adamantly opposed to evolution. I didn't argue with professors or other class members who it was clear accepted evolution, but I wrote argumentative notes and questions throughout my biology and botany text books. I had many conversations with friends on the subject, but it was rare to find others who had a clear understanding of our doctrine (at least as it was taught by apostles like Elders McConkie and Smith).

Some other interesting things happened along the way. At BYU, as I mentioned I had some great science professors who were faithful members of the church and also strong proponents of evolution. Our ward was led by a wonderful bishop who also happened to be a genetics professor. He was of course well-versed in evolutionary theory and accepted it to a certain point, but did not believe that man was evolved from lower life forms. He and I became very close over the years.

My experiences with these men helped to crack open the door in my feelings, yet I still felt strongly that evolution was fundamentally contradicted by our doctrine—for reasons I will explore in a moment. At this point in my life I certainly was no expert on evolution, but I had a good grasp of the basics and I knew I loved science.

Several years passed and in my professional life I migrated into web design, and then into website development and programming. I also began teaching website development courses at the Art Institute of Portland. I loved teaching, and developed some great relationships with the students there. I often had a desire to share the gospel with my students but I felt I should not push that while I was their teacher. But with certain students sometimes I would broach the subject if we were still friends and in contact after their graduation.

On one occasion I asked a particularly bright student if I might discuss religion with him, and he said yes, but also expressed that he was a staunch atheist. Over the course of several weeks we began an email conversation/debate on the subjects of religion and science. He had come to a point in his beliefs where he rejected all metaphysical phenomena. He would only accept empirical evidence and rational thought. Any spiritual manifestations were written off as unreal, mental delusion, and unreliable.

It was in the midst of these discussion where he pushed me hard on evolutionary theory, and I realized that although I had a good understanding and love for nature, I hadn't really studied evolution that carefully. Of course neither of us converted the other, but I came away from the encounter with a desire to really dig into evolution and see just how much evidence there really was.

For the next few years I read a number of books both for and against evolution, and came away from the experience with the feeling that the evidence in favor of evolution is virtually overwhelming. I'm not going to get into the specific arguments here, but my science reading led me to go back and re-examine our doctrine and the scriptures, and to study the church's stand on evolution.

Church Leaders Past Teachings

Let me here say that I have a great love and respect for Elder Bruce McConkie, President Joseph Fielding Smith, and other leaders who have taken a stand against evolution. They held very strong views and taught forcefully against evolution. Elder Smith even wrote an entire book on the subject.71 Of course, this is only one element in the broad scope of their teachings, both served in the church for decades in many capacities and both wrote volumes on many subjects.

I consider both McConkie and Smith to be great men of God. As a young missionary I discovered and enjoyed Elder McConkie's writings, and have read most of his books. He had a very direct and no-nonsense way of teaching that speaks to me, and he also was willing to jump into doctrinal areas that I was curious about. I know his works have been controversial, and that his publication "Mormon Doctrine" upset President McKay (the prophet and President of the church at the time) and other apostles who considered it to have numerous errors.72

But Elder McConkie has also moved me deeply. I know he sought above all else to live close to the Spirit and to do the will of God, as best as he could understand it. Joseph Fielding Smith was similar. I've never read a more powerful account of the atonement than when I read his chapter on that subject in Doctrines of Salvation.

What I read there about the Savior, affected me for days. I still remember the spiritual closeness I felt to Christ after reading it. Yet Smith also had some strange ideas. For example, he seemed to think that our sun was a celestial kingdom, an idea he pulled from a literal reading of the phrase "dwelling in everlasting burnings". I can't really go with him on that one.

Leaders are not infallible, and neither McConkie nor Smith were always correct on every subject, and that has caused them to become somewhat controversial figures. I think one should understand that their teaching and writing style was to be authoritative, and absolutely firm. That's who they were, full of faith and never showing a hint of uncertainty. I think it's the style they felt they had to use, as apostles (and partly it may have been the style of the time they were brought up in). I understand they were doing their best to inspire faith, and in my own case, they did. But I also allow space for even men of God to make mistakes.

When shown to be wrong—as with Elder McConkie's prediction about when blacks would receive the priesthood, he was quite willing to throw away his earlier statements.

Forget everything I have said, or what President Brigham Young said, or President George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and truth that has now come into the world.73

I love that in the church the only thing we are required to believe is truth. We are not required to believe or defend anything that is false. We have living prophets and God can always give us more knowledge. There was nothing more important than truth to Elder McConkie, and if he was shown to be wrong his response was to immediately throw out what he held to before, and embrace the revealed truth. Elder Packer has called him the most misunderstood of our modern prophets—which is really saying something when you consider Brigham Young or some of the other early church leaders.

In a similar vein, I don't know that I've received any clear revelation about evolution, nor does it concern me too much to me to pursue such revelation at the present time. If it turns out to be false, I'm perfectly okay with that. But I have encountered such a mountain of evidence in my studying that I've become convinced it is true, and felt I needed to look for space within our doctrine for it to fit. Because if both evolution and Mormonism are true, then they must fit together. If they do not, then obviously we have a big problem.

If evolution is a fact, then the biblical story as interpreted by Smith and McConkie (that Adam and all other living things were created six thousand years ago, and that there was no death among any living things prior to the fall of Adam) cannot be true. The two are mutually incompatible and can never be made to fit. So, with all due respect to these great apostles, we are forced to take another look at how certain scriptures have been interpreted by them, and what other ideas might be present.

I believe I've come to an intellectual place that either removes or accommodates some of these core blockers in the doctrine of our faith and also creates space for belief in evolutionary processes.

Evolution in the LDS Church Today

The church has no official position on the subject of evolution, except what is written in the First Presidency official statements.74 These essentially can be boiled down to:

  1. God created the earth and all things upon it
  2. Adam was the first man on the earth
  3. Adam and Eve, and all of us, are spirit children of God, created in his image.

It's possible (and entirely permissible) to believe that bodies for Adam and Eve were created through a process of evolution over millions of years, but there are significant doctrinal concerns to overcome if you choose to accept that.

McConkie and other leaders in the church have characterized evolution as an evil deception.75 Well, if your belief in evolution leads you toward atheism, that is, that all of life started by complete random chance, and that God doesn't exist, then in my view that is an evil theory. I believe that version of evolution is the version that many church leaders had in mind when they taught against it, including President Benson.76 Satan loves that idea, and unfortunately that is the particular brand of evolution that is promoted quite heavily in the popular science literature, schools and colleges of our day.

It has done a huge amount of harm to faith in our society. The evolution-no-God theory has contributed a great deal to the secularization of young people, and it seems to me that atheism is growing, largely because of this brand of the theory. If you believe that life is an accident, and that there is nothing further after this life, that's going to color how you live your life and set your values in many ways. It's understandable to me that schools should not teach creationism, but neither should they teach atheism. Schools need to teach the mechanisms involved, the "how" as science has come to work it out, but they should also at least leave the door open to faith. It is wrong for teachers to slam it shut and claim there is no God, and that religionists are fools.

Popular evolution authors (like Richard Dawkins) often set up a straw-man battle between young-earth creationists and themselves. They create a very simplistic literal reading of the Genesis creation story and then proceed to blast it apart. This is pretty easy to do, but obviously is not fair to our faith. Granted, there are some vocal young-earth creationists out there, but typically we don't see many latter-day saints among them. There are also plenty of respected scientists who still hold to a personal belief in God.

Other church leaders, such as James E. Talmage (an apostle from 1911-1933, also a chemist and geologist) and B.H. Roberts (of the Seventy) took issue with the views of Joseph Fielding Smith.77 John A. Widtsoe (apostle from 1921-1952, and professor of agriculture) was also more friendly toward evolution, and taught that "the mystery of the creation of Adam and Eve has not yet been revealed."78 President Spencer W. Kimball taught, "we don't know exactly how [Adam and Eve's] coming into this world happened, and when we're able to understand it the Lord will tell us."79

I would say that over the past two decades or so, the church has become gradually more and more open to the idea of evolutionary processes in creation. I have noticed that in our official lesson manuals, (such as Preach My Gospel, the Gospel Principles manual, etc.) where there are lessons about the creation, those lessons are getting shorter and shorter. I take this as an acknowledgement by the leaders that there is much we simply do not know. As was written in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism under evolution, "the scriptures teach what happened, and why it happened, but they do not teach us how it happened".80

There are obvious reasons for this if you think about it. If God attempted to explain how he created life on earth and how he prepared our physical bodies, how many people would really follow the explanation? Wouldn't he first need to teach us about biology, genetics, chemistry and a host of other detailed life-science subjects? Perhaps he is revealing how he created the world, he's just taking a long time (from our perspective) to do it. And it requires that we learn something in all of those subjects if we really desire to know how it was done.

In another indication that the church is moving away from the Smith/McConkie view I might mention that evolutionary biology has been taught at BYU over the past several decades with the complete sanction of the First Presidency and Board of Trustees. Professors like Duane Jeffreys, William Evanson, Steven Peck and many others have taught courses and published books on the subject. During the 80s and 90s (while I was a student) there was pretty discernible divide between what was being taught in the science department vs. the religion department, but today the climate is much improved.

The publication of the BYU Library Packet on Evolution in 1992, which lays out the only authoritative statements from the First Presidency on the subject, went a long way toward improving conditions. This packet was created to help provide clear direction to the faculty about exactly how far the official position of the church goes. While these statements affirm that God created man, and that Adam was the first man, they do not stake out a definitive position that evolution is false. And they also strike a tone to the effect that we should let scientists deal in the field of science: "Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research..."81

And as William Jeffreys writes in his introduction to the BYU packet, beyond these authoritative statements, there are various opinions among the brethren:

When other items are distributed [by faculty to BYU students], they should be clearly separated and given as a supplement to this material and include a fair sampling of the diverse viewpoints among LDS leaders. For example, if one included statements by LDS apostles in a handout on evolution, the range of views would include some statements against evolution, some sympathetic to evolution and several shades of opinion in between. We want to avoid the implicationthat a greater sense of unanimity or resolution of this topic exists than is actually the case, and we are eager to avoid contention.

Geological Timescales

It has long been understood among Latter-day Saints that the geological timescales that science demands for the formation of earth aren't really a problem. Genesis does speak of the creation happening over a period of seven days, however we do not know what a "day" in this context is.

Most LDS scholars and scriptorians are in agreement that these seven days could be thought of more as distinct periods of time, not twenty-four hour periods. Even Elder McConkie teaches this idea.82 Besides, how much sense does it make to think of them as twenty-four hour days, when the sun wasn't even created until the third day? The earth might turn on its axis, but without the sun, or the moon, what use is the term "day"?

In reality then, scientists really aim to destroy a straw man when they attack the idea of the earth being created in a week. Most of us never believed that anyway. We have no idea how long these seven periods of time were—no idea how long the process of the earth's formation took. Perhaps each period of time is akin to geological epochs, being hundreds of millions of years in length.

We do have the problem of a biblical timeline for humans on the earth, of approximately six thousand years. Our modern revelations are also in agreement with this timeline. Adam and Eve, according to the scriptures, lived on this earth roughly six thousand years ago, and this earth has a "temporal existence" of seven thousand years.83

One can think however of a process of earth's creation stretching over long geological epochs, hundreds of millions of years long, until the creation is "finished"—at which point the earth begins its temporal existence. It is now fully prepared for Adam and Eve, and all mankind, to make their arrival (I'll get to that). It would be at this point that we begin the story of the Garden of Eden, and the fall.

No Death Before the Fall

The main doctrinal problem with evolution is the concept that there was no death before the fall of Adam. Mormonism teaches that one of the consequences of the fall of Adam was that death came into the world. This truth is stated clearly in our current lesson manuals:

Their [Adam & Eve's] part in our Father's plan was to bring mortality into the world. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were not yet mortal. In this state,"they would have had no children"(2 Nephi 2:23). There was no death.84

And the current entry in our LDS Bible dictionary, under the heading "Fall of Adam and Eve" states clearly:

Before the Fall, there were no sin, no death, and no children. With the eating of the "forbidden fruit," Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, and death became a part of life. Adam became the "first flesh" upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam's Fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14:16–17).

But you can't have a world full of fossils going back hundreds of millions of years (including hominid fossils) if these living things did not die in order to become fossils. If life has evolved through various stages over a long process of time, where the strong survive and adaptations occur based on natural selection—this requires that organisms live and die over that long stretch of time.

However, there have been church leaders including both James E. Talmage, and B.H. Roberts who disagreed with the whole notion of "no death before the fall".85

That said, we cannot lightly toss this doctrinal point away. The idea that Adam brought death into the world is crucial to our understanding of what happened during, and because of the fall, and also leads up to the need for the atonement.

God told them they could freely eat of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of that tree God said, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die".86

Satan promised them that they would not die, but should be as the Gods. However,

Because Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Lord sent them out of the Garden of Eden into the world. Their physical condition changed as a result of their eating the forbidden fruit. As God had promised, they became mortal. They and their children would experience sickness, pain, and physical death.87

Note also that Paul teaches, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."88

There is similar language in the new Preach My Gospel (PMG) manual:

Adam and Eve were created in God's image, with bodies of flesh and bones. While Adam and Eve were in the garden, they were still in God's presence and could have lived forever. They lived in innocence, and God provided for their needs.

Adam and Eve became mortal—subject to physical death, or separation of the body and spirit. They could now experience disease and all types of suffering. They had moral agency or the ability to choose between good and evil. This made it possible for them to learn and progress. It also made it possible for them to make wrong choices and to sin. In addition, they could now have children, so the rest of God's spirit children could come to earth, obtain physical bodies, and be tested. Only in this way could God's children progress and become like Him.89

So any doctrinal theory that attempts to reconcile evolution with the creation as related in scripture must somehow account for this reality. Adam and Eve were immortal in the garden of Eden, and could not die until after the fall. In addition, they had no children, and in fact could not have children, until after the fall.

Most have assumed that Adam was either born in a normal mortal birth, or he was created in a special creation apart from all other things. Some members of the church, and undoubtedly many Christians believe that Adam and Eve were literally formed "of the dust of the ground"90 as adult human beings. That is, God took the raw elements and put them together to form human adults.

Brigham Young saw it differently:

You believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I

do not believe... I do not believe that portion of the Bible as the Christian world do. I never did, and I never want to. What is the reason I do not? Because I have come to understanding, and banished from my mind all the baby stories my mother taught me when I was a child. 91

Either he was born, a child, mortal and a product of evolutionary pathways, or he was created (as either a child or an adult) in an immortal condition and was not made mortal until after the fall. If the bodies of Adam and Eve were products of an evolutionary process, then how do we account for the idea of their Edenic immortal condition?

Notice the phrase in PMG above, that they were created in God's image, with bodies of flesh and bones. Normally we might say "flesh and blood" to describe a mortal body. The term "flesh and bones" is used in scripture to describe resurrected bodies, such as "The Father has a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man's..."92 and also "Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones..."93 Joseph Smith taught that resurrected beings do not have blood in their veins, but rather they have a substance of spirit: "all will be raised by the power of God, having spirit in their bodies, and not blood."94 President Howard W. Hunter taught:

The resurrection will again unite the spirit with the body, and the body becomes a spiritual body, one of flesh and bones but quickened by the spirit instead of blood. Thus, our bodies after the resurrection, quickened by the spirit, shall become immortal and never die. This is the meaning of the statements of Paul that "there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" and "that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." The natural body is flesh and blood, but quickened by the spirit instead of blood, it can and will enter the kingdom.95

According to a revelation given to Joseph Smith, this is not some mystical or magical substance, for "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."96 Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

Our Father in heaven and our Savior and all those who have passed through the resurrection have physical bodies of flesh and bones, but their bodies are quickened by spirit and not by blood, hence they are spiritual bodies and not blood bodies. The immortal body is quickened by spirit, but the mortal body is quickened by blood.97

Continuing, Smith then quotes Doctrine and Covenants 88:28, (which speaks about the nature of bodies in the resurrection) and makes this claim:

From this we have the Lord's endorsement of a spiritual body being the body which has ceased to be a blood body. Now when Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he was not subject to death. There was no blood in his body and he could have remained there forever. This is true of all the other creations. This statement may not be very pleasing to our evolutionists, but it is true.98

This seems to be quite a leap to make, based solely on Doctrine and Covenants 88:28, which is speaking only of resurrected and glorified bodies, and makes no mention of Adam and Eve, let alone "all the other creations". He further taught that in partaking of the forbidden fruit, the fruit itself triggered a physical transformation upon their bodies, causing mortal blood to begin to flow within them:

Therefore, Adam partook of the forbidden fruit... And he became subject to death. The partaking of that fruit created blood in his body and that blood became the life-giving influence of mortality.99

Other leaders (including current apostles) have taught this idea over the years as well, and up until the 2013 edition of the scriptures, it was included in our LDS Bible dictionary under the heading "Fall of Adam". The new 2013 edition has been edited, and all references to the idea that their bodies were without blood, and that partaking of the fruit caused blood to form have been removed.

There was never any solid scriptural evidence for it, and no revelation that directly confirms it. The only scripture referenced in the old Bible dictionary entry was Moses 3:7, where it says that Adam became the "first flesh" on the earth (interpreted to mean first mortal).

One blogger researched the history of the blood theory and traced it back to Orson Pratt.100 It seems to have been an idea of Pratt's that got picked up and over the years, through repetition, had worked its way into our church traditions. Whereas Pratt, in 1857, used language such as "we may suppose", and "it was doubtless..." in describing his theory, showing that it was in fact speculation, other leaders (and the Bible dictionary) have used much more direct and certain language.

While the blood idea is no longer taught directly in manuals like PMG, the idea still lingers in such careful wording as "bodies with flesh and bones".

Why not consider the Tree of Life?

Another possibility I think worth exploring is to consider the tree of life as the source for the Edenic condition of immortality. We sometimes overlook the fact, and yet it is well documented in our scriptures, that there were in fact two trees in the garden of Eden. The trees were set up to work in opposition to each other. Consider this verse:

And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.101

We don't know very much about this original tree of life, but there is great evidence to indicate that it was certainly important. We can surmise from its name that partaking of this fruit granted to the individual life—that is: health, strength, even immortality. Alma taught that eating of the tree would cause one to live forever.102 But was one bite sufficient to grant immortality? Or did one (who was otherwise mortal) need to continually have access to this fruit to live forever?

We know that Adam and Eve were allowed to eat of this tree while in the garden, for the Lord said:

...Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.103

If Adam and Eve were created originally in an immortal condition, why did God provide the tree of life? It would seem to have little purpose if they were already immortal, and they never partook of it after the fall, for we know of the important teachings of Alma regarding the Lord placing cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way of the tree of life after they were driven from the garden.104 According to Alma they were prevented from partaking of this fruit so they would have time to repent before they gained immortality. If immortality were granted in their sinful condition, they would have "been forever miserable".105

If the Edenic immortality of Adam and Eve came about by their eating from the tree of life, then the only change that needed to occur in order for death to come up on them, was banishment from the garden and this tree—which is exactly what occurred. Perhaps partaking of the forbidden fruit did have some physical effects, I certainly wouldn't rule it out. But the scriptures make no mention of any physical transformation whereby mortal blood begins to flow in their veins.

They are simply banished, driven from the garden and access to the tree of life is strictly prohibited. If they were created originally with normal mortal bodies, and had been receiving their good health and immortality from this tree of life, that's all it would take to allow mortality to enter. Banishment from the tree of life would be a death sentence (although not an immediate one).

This could also help to explain why Adam and the early patriarchs lived for so long. Perhaps the effects of the tree of life took a long time to wear off. Perhaps these effects were even hereditary and were passed along for several generations?

The idea that God might cause a temporary change to come over the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve—causing them to be in an immortal condition while in the garden, is not so radical as it might appear. We have scriptural evidence that God caused physical changes in the bodies of other people on the earth, in a similar way, to suit his divine purposes. Consider John the Beloved, or the three Nephites. Our scriptures indicate that they are still living upon the earth, doing the work of God. They are not quite resurrected beings, but also no longer fully mortal. They cannot be killed by man, and presumably cannot feel physical pain, etc.. yet one day we are told, they will be changed and become resurrected.106

I have tried to establish from the scriptures that it was possible for Adam and Eve to have been created as mortal beings, but once placed in the Garden of Eden where they had access to the tree of life, they were then immortal. Thus we have a way to still look at their creation through an evolutionary lens, while being in complete agreement with our core doctrine that the fall of Adam and Eve brought death into the world. The existence of the tree of life gives us a convenient way to accept two story lines (Adam and Eve, and evolution) that are otherwise quite incompatible.

How did human creation happen?

How did God create Adam and Eve? Did he simply speak and a body for man was "organized" from the elements? Did he transport their bodies from another populated world (which only serves to delay the question, how did man come to be on that world?) We have no official revealed answer, only theories and speculations—and we don't usually speak of these at church because church is not the right place or setting for airing our speculations.

An important scripture we should consider is this which contains the words of the Lord to Adam as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price:

Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;107

This scripture appears to make reference to the birth of Adam, and further—it indicates that blood was involved in that birth. I admit however, it might be interpreted (given verse 58) to mean that this was what Adam was to teach his children, and that it means to describe their births, not his own. But, the phrase "and so became of dust a living soul" has direct reference to Adam, as that is the language used in the Bible to describe how he was created.

I believe this verse of scripture is describing a process, the only process, by which the bodies of men and women are created. Our mortal birth is connected by powerful symbolism to our later spiritual birth and the very atonement of Christ. I think Adam and Eve must have passed through the same process.

Which of course begs the question, who were their mortal parents? This has not been revealed. Did they live on this world, or some other world? Were they part of another group of people, a pre-Edenic population that was destroyed?

As for me I believe the bodies of Adam and Eve were prepared over a long period of "human" evolution. I place the word human in quote marks, because I don't want to describe what came before Adam as fully human. Adam was the first man. I feel that our bodies were prepared over time, and at a certain point when God was satisfied with them he chose to now send the spirits of his own children into these mortal bodies.

Were the humans, these "pre-Adamites" (if they existed) children of God? From a biological point of view they might be labeled homosapiens, but they were not spirit children of God. They would have had spirits, but they were essentially animals. There are in the animal kingdom many levels of intelligence and many hierarchies of spirit. Dogs have a certain level of intelligence, as do all other animals. There is a ranking of the intelligences, some have more intelligence and some have less.108 But they are not God's spirit children. Still, they have a part to play, and they are as eternal as we are. They have a place in God's eternal plan.

There is however a problem with this idea, from an evolutionary standpoint. Scientists tell us that our species (homosapien) goes back at least 30,000 years according to the fossil record.109 Evolution is only really noticeable over huge spans of time. If you were to compare individuals separated by many millions, or even perhaps many thousands of years, differences would be apparent. But from a single generation to the next generation, very little significant difference takes place.

This would mean that any mortal parent of Adam would really be not very different in intelligence, or appearance, from Adam. This is a significant problem doctrinally, and it's one that I don't have an answer for, other than to speculate that at some point God decided to send the spirits of Adam and Eve into these bodies. As there is a gradual ranking or gradation of intelligences among the spirits, it follows that there must be a level of intelligence just below the spirit sons and daughters of God. At some point there was a demarcation. Science may not draw the line dividing the species, but doctrinally I think we must.

The Earth Shall Be Cursed for Thy Sake

The scriptures also speak of the earth being cursed at the fall. Previous to the fall, the earth brought forth flowers and fruits spontaneously. No effort was required. But after the fall, the earth would bring forth "noxious weeds", and Adam was to till the earth and eat his bread by the sweat of his brow.110

Part of our tenth Article of Faith states that we believe: "...the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory." This is generally understood to mean that the earth was once in a paradise condition (a terrestrial condition), and that the fall brought about a change, or curse, upon the earth itself.

Can such a doctrine fit with an evolutionary view? Assuming the earth was a paradise at the time Adam and Eve made their appearance, one could ask—was it always so? During the creative process (about which we really know very little) would the Lord have described the earth as a paradise? Or was there a process involved that brought the earth up to that terrestrial condition?

This may be a crude analogy, but speaking as someone who's attempted to create works of art myself as an oil painter, most artists don't create the finished product with the first few strokes of the brush. The creative process involves a step-by-step progress going from a rough chaotic state to a more polished and completed picture. Most often it's a process of refinement where a painting begins as simple shapes and indications of what might be, and proceeds to the final finished state with more complexity and detail.

Perhaps once the earth's creation process was completed (or as a part of its creation process), the earth went through some kind of transformation or cleansing to finally become a paradise for Adam and Eve, so that it could then fall. This would allow for the evidences of evolution we find. Another possibility is that the paradise condition refers only to the Garden of Eden on the earth, and that the rest of the earth was always in a lower Telestial condition as it is now.

Perhaps we should look more carefully at the language of the scriptural text:

And unto Adam, I, the Lord God, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying—Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.

Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.

By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground—for thou shalt surely die—for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return.111

This is one of the only two scriptures we have in our standard works where the Lord describes the curse that will be on the earth as a consequence of Adam's transgression. Some have understood this to mean that the entire earth fell from a terrestrial state, to a lower and Telestial state. In this Telestial world where find ourselves, animals hunt and eat one another instead of lying about casually and non-threateningly.

In this condition, weeds and thorns and thistles began to grow as they naturally (and aggressively) do, and it takes much effort to keep away the obnoxious plants in order to grow something like a decent fruit or vegetable—not that I've ever actually done this myself, I am a terrible gardener. But I can certainly testify of the reverse. I have a sure witness that If one never pays attention to one's lawn other than to mow occasionally, it does not become lush, green, and beautiful on its own!

Anyway, it occurs to me that the scripture could be read and understood somewhat differently. We don't actually have an account of the cursing taking place. There is no scripture that says "And so then the Lord cursed the earth, and the whole earth was changed..."—we only have him saying he will do it. But is that really what he said?

The words are: "cursed shall be the ground for thy sake..." This could be understood to simply be a description of what the earth is like outside of the Garden of Eden. Maybe the curse was already on the ground, and God is simply describing why it is cursed.

Perhaps he is saying, in effect: "Once you leave the Garden of Eden you're going to find that the world out there is different... things are more difficult. It's not going to be so easy to get food, and you're going to need to work for it, and that's a good thing for you. I made it this way for you."

Incidentally, in the Book of Genesis chapter 3:17, the wording is slightly different. It says "cursed is the ground for thy sake". The wording is present-tense. One could infer that the Lord is at that moment placing a curse upon the ground, or he could also simply be describing what is. Perhaps it was made that way.

And why would he take the trouble of making it any other way? God knew they were going to do this, it was always part of his plan for them. In fact it's the whole purpose he created the earth in the first place.

Continuing along in Moses 4, do we find any hint that the earth is changed in some way? Not that I can see. Adam names his wife Eve and the Lord makes them coats of skins112 (another interesting subject for another time). Then they are driven out of the garden and the Lord blocks their access to the tree of life.113

Moses 4:29 reads, "Therefore I, the Lord God, will send him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken." He didn't till the ground in the Garden of Eden, but he was to leave and then begin to till it.

The fifth chapter of Moses picks right up and says that after Adam had been driven out of the garden he began to till the earth. No mention is made of any change occurring to the earth. It would appear to me that the garden was the beautiful terrestrial environment, while beyond that was the lower Telestial world.

So in summary, I don't see a lot of scriptural evidence for a great change coming upon the earth at the time of the transgression of Adam and Eve. Or at least, I don't see the necessity of reading the scripture in that way. It would seem more true to the scriptural account to view the Garden as the more blessed terrestrial place, planted within a Telestial world. This also allows one to hold to the scientific perspective that the earth has been in this condition for hundreds of millions of years.

As mentioned I'm not prepared (or qualified) to present all the various examples and evidence in favor of evolution, but many books written by scientists and other experts, including LDS scientists, already exist for that purpose. I've included a list of some of these resources at the end of this chapter. Rather I hope through this examination of scripture and doctrine I've helped to make some room for those who choose to believe the scientific narrative of evolution while also choosing to believe in the Latter-day Saint doctrines of creation and the fall. Ultimately if both of these narratives are true, then they must be able to fit together. If they cannot fit then one of them is false.

There are still several questions of course, but some of these new insights seem obvious to me now, although they did not occur until I began searching the scriptures having decided that evolution must be correct. If members approach scripture without any room for evolution in mind, simply accepting what has been previously taught by certain church leaders of the past who asserted their own personal views, it can be difficult to see the possibilities.

For many, many reasons I believe the scriptures. I have had too many spiritual experiences to deny my faith in God, his prophets, and the message of the restoration. I believe life has a divine purpose. I believe that God has all power, and that the creation of life is grand, overwhelming, and astonishing. His work is truly more majestic than we have the ability to comprehend.

Additional Readings

I would recommend these resources to anyone who wants to learn more about this subject:

Books

Evenson, William E., and Duane E. Jeffery. Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005. — A compilation of the authoritative 1st Presidency statements from the Church

Stephens, Trent D., D. Jeffrey Meldrum, and Forrest B. Peterson. Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001. — Written by LDS scientists, very good history of the controversy and an overview of evidence for evolution.

Stutz, Howard C. Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture. Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2011.

Salisbury, Frank B. The Case for Divine Design. Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2006. — Dr. Salisbury is a retired botany professor, former department chair of Plant Physiology at Utah State University and an active LDS member.

Peck, Steven L. Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist. Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, 2015. — Dr. Peck is currently a BYU professor of Biology.

Collins, Francis S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence of Belief. New York, NY.: Free Press, 2006. — Dr. Collins is a geneticist, and was the leader of the Human Genome Project which successfully sequenced the complete human genome in 2000. He is a Christian.

Journals and Online Resources

BYU Board of Trustees. "Evolution and the Origin of Man," BYU Library Packet on Evolution (1992) http://nelsonlab.byu.edu/Portals/27/docs/BYU_Evolution_Packet_only.pdf Accessed Sep 9, 2016

Dialogue Journal Topic Page: Evolution.
https://www.dialoguejournal.com/topic-pages-evolution/ Accessed Sep 9, 2016 — Dialogue is an independent academic journal.

Knoll, Benjamin. "So Just What do Mormons think of Evolution?"

https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/01/07/so-just-what-do-mormons-think-about-evolution/ Accessed Sep 9, 2016. — Knoll is a political science professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. This is a snapshot of the current opinion and thinking among members of the church.

Dan Wotherspoon interviews James McLachlan, Duane Jeffery, and Steven Peck in 2011 (Audio file), "Mormonism and Evolution", posted to MormonMatters blog. http://www.mormonmatters.org/2011/08/23/48-mormonism-and-evolution/
Accessed Sep 9, 2016.

Halvorson, Taylor. "Teaching Faith and Science to Children". Deseret News, Salt Lake City, 2016. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865648373/Teaching-faith-and-science-to-children.html, Accessed Sep 9, 2016.

 

Notes

70. Ash, Michael. "The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution". Published in Dialog, A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol 35:4. Accessed at http://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V35N04_33.pdf on Sep 2, 2016

71. Smith's book "Man, His Origin and Destiny" is controversial. He expressed strong opinions that went beyond the official church positions. See Prince & Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. Chapter 3. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_views_on_evolution#Man.2C_His_Origin_and_Destiny

72. Prince & Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. Chapter 3 (Evolution).

73. McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrines of the Restoration, p. 165

74. See BYU Board of Trustees. "Evolution and the Origin of Man," BYU Library Packet on Evolution (1992). See also Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, compiled by William E. Evanson and Duane E. Jeffrey, Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, 2005.

75. McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine Salt Lake City, Utah. Bookcraft (1966, 2d ed.) p. 256.

76. Benson, Ezra Taft A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-Day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon Salt Lake City, Utah. Deseret Book, 1988 p. 6.

77. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_views_on_evolution#Roberts.E2.80.93Smith.E2.80.93Talmage_dispute

78. Improvement Era 51:305, See also Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day. Salt Lake City, UT. Bookcraft, 1943. p. 159

79. Kimball, Spencer W. "The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood," Ensign, March 1976, pp. 70–72.

80. Evanson, William E. "Evolution", Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Accessed Aug 27, 2016 at http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Evolution This article was written under the direction of the First Presidency. It is also included in the BYU Packet (see additional resources at the end of this chapter).

81. BYU Library Packet on Evolution (1992).

82. McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrines of the Restoration, p. 181

83. See Doctrine and Covenants 77:6, Doctrine and Covenants 88:108-110, and Doctrine and Covenants 84:14-16

84. Gospel Principles, Chapter 6

85. See "Death before the fall" on the FairMormon wiki, http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_science/Death_before_the_Fall, there's also a statement there by Elder McConkie about the reliability (and fallibility) of the study aids such as the Bible dictionary in declaring doctrine.

86. Gospel Principles, chp. 6

87. Gospel Principles, chp. 6

88. 1 Corinthians 15:22

89. See PMG, under "Agency and Fall of Adam and Eve", p. 49

90. Genesis 2:7

91. Journal of Discourses, 2:6, President Brigham Young, 23 October 1853, Salt Lake City, UT.

92. Doctrine and Covenants 130:22

93. Doctrine and Covenants 129:1

94. Smith, Joseph, and Joseph Fielding Smith. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1976. p. 199-200

95. Hunter, Howard W. Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1997. p. 16

96. Doctrine and Covenants 131:7

97. Smith, Joseph Fielding, and Bruce R. McConkie. Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954. Vol 1. p. 77

98. Ibid. p. 77

99. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [25 Jan. 1955], 2. See also Doctrines of the Gospel, Student Manual, https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrines-of-the-gospel-student-manual/chapter-8-the-fall?lang=eng Retrieved Aug 21, 2016.

100. See "No Blood Before The Fall? Where'd THAT come from?", Accessed August 23, 2016 at http://improvementera.com/2011/03/no-blood-before-the-fall-whered-that-come-from/#footnote_6_866. See also Pratt, Orson. The Seer 1853, 1:5, p. 70

101. 2 Nephi 2:15

102. Alma 12:23

103. Genesis 2:16-17

104. Alma 12:21-27 and Alma 42:2-6

105. Alma 12:26

106. 3 Nephi 28:13-32

107. Moses 6:58-59

108. Abraham 3:19

109. Zimmer, Carl. "Neanderthals Leave Their Mark on Us", NY Times, Jan 29, 2014.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/science/neanderthals-leave-their-mark-on-us.html?hp&_r=0 Accessed Sep 9, 2016.

110. Moses 4:25

111. Moses 4:23-25

112. Moses 4:26-27

113. Moses 4:28-31

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