(by Dennis B. Horne)
President Joseph Fielding Smith’s famous book, Man: His Origin and Destiny, was published in 1954, by Deseret Book, and is now fairly rare. It is also hated by BYU (and all) evolutionists and is therefore one of the most demeaned and slandered books ever written by an apostle (up there with Mormon Doctrine). It was not written by assignment from the First Presidency (as such older books as Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith were), but is instead a privately written and published doctrinal book.
But that “unofficial” designation also covers almost every book ever written by any general authority in the Restored Church, from the Prophet Joseph Smith to President Russell M. Nelson. President Nelson’s superb gospel-explanation books are also unofficial private publications, the same as most of President Smith’s. People who think that status makes such volumes false or less-valuable or trite are fools.
Only a few books (like those mentioned above by Elder Talmage and 2 or 3 others) have been published by the Church. Such is really not of great import. The real issue is whether the doctrine in a particular book is true or not. On a side note we should notice, however, that two of President Smith’s book have been officially published by the Church. A two-volume hardback set (or four volume paperback) titled, Church History and Modern Revelation, subtitled: “Being a Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums 1949,” and also a special abridged one-volume edition of Doctrines of Salvation. Both of these were approved and published by the Church itself and contain instruction condemning evolution and teaching the true doctrine of the origin of man. Other blogs will explore these books more fully.
President Smith’s book Man: His Origin and Destiny is largely divided into two groupings (not exactly, but in the main): the teachings of science (as he understood them), and the teachings of the scriptures as he understood them. There are two beginning chapters that mix both; then twenty-one chapters that expound the scriptures; and five chapters that delve into the science of organic evolution.
Those displeased with Elder Smith’s book usually fixate on the evolution science chapters because that is the book’s weakness, and they simply can’t cope with President Smith’s knowledge of the revelations, ancient or modern, making up the other chapters. I have read many a critique of the supposedly “bad” science in the book (like Sterling McMurrin’s and Dr. Henry Eyring’s), but none of those critics have dared get near Brother Smith’s doctrinal mastery—except those critics that disbelieve in the Church and its scriptures. So they must stay away from the scriptural doctrine. I bring this up for a major reason.
In only three years (2024) this book will be 70 years old. This means that from the time he wrote it, whether he used good science or bad, old-earth or new-earth scientific arguments, much of it will now be obsolete and revised. He himself stated: “Let me call your attention to the fact that all down through the ages the teachings of science have had to be changed.” Brother Smith knew that the science he shared in his own book would one day, no matter how up-to-date in 1954, gradually be revised and become obsolete to some extent. No one today, or in 70 more years, should use President Smith’s book as a science text because the science of this year or decade isn’t the science of the 1950s and won’t be the science of future decades. Some matters might be less changed, others more. But President Smith knew and taught this over-riding principle and we must therefore apply it to his books where he dabbled in science. We must also apply that principle to Elder Widstoe’s and Talmage’s and Roberts’ books, wherein they engaged the science of their day. They are now also old and changed. So will BYU’s current biology textbooks be in coming decades. But the gospel of Jesus Christ will remain unchanged eternal truth, and this doctrine encompasses the creation and the fall. Where those doctrines conflict with evolution, the eternal truth prevails over the changing theories and tentative notions of science. Of course, each succeeding scientist thinks their pronouncements to be the latest and greatest, but vanity and pride are no substitute for revelation.
I say again: though the critics harp on the science in President Smith’s book, that is not the issue. The real issue is whether President Smith was doctrinally correct in his explanations of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the scriptures as they touch on matters that evolution (as taught today or in 70 years) touches on. And that is the great question of whether Adam was the product of evolution or was a son of God.
Sixteen years before President Smith wrote Man: His Origin and Destiny, President Heber J. Grant wrote him a letter that said: “I don't want to flatter you, Joseph, but I want you to know that I consider you the best posted man on the scriptures of the General Authorities of the Church that we have.” Others have said like things about him. Excluding dissidents, the faithful are largely in agreement that President Joseph Fielding Smith was about the most knowledgeable and best teacher and expounder of the scriptures that existed on planet earth during the 1900s. All one has to do is peruse the manuals assigned for use in Church classes for the second half of last century, and one quickly sees how ubiquitous and valuable Brother Smith’s books and teachings were. He was one of the greatest doctrinal teachers of the Restoration, period.
This is why it really doesn’t matter that the First Presidency didn’t assign President Smith to write his book Man: His Origin and Destiny (although he was prompted to by his fellow apostles) or that it wasn’t approved by the Church, or used as a text by the Institute program, and was a private publication. President Smith didn’t write a book of false doctrine and anyone who says he did is a liar and a deceiver. People who didn’t want to believe what it said and didn’t agree with its message would and will cling to the fact that it is a private individual’s book, as if that means anything. But it is still filled with scriptural truth, also known as eternal truth. So—the real question is whether or not President Smith taught true or false doctrine in his book. Some (various scientists, evolutionists, biologists and those under their influence) believe it false, everyone else views it as a marvelous treatment of gospel doctrine, prepared by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a mighty scriptorian. No one is forced to read the book or believe its teachings, but many have been blessed and enlightened by doing so—and have seen the fallacy of evolution explaining the origin of man.
Yet, we have those evolutionists who would try to manipulate the facts and seek to throw this book in the most negative light possible. Many of them have come from the ranks of BYU biologists, both in the past and today. President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of one of them and his attempt to sully President Smith’s work:
More recently, one of our Church educators published what he purports to be a history of the Church’s stand on the question of organic evolution. His thesis challenges the integrity of a prophet of God. He suggests that Joseph Fielding Smith published his work, Man: His Origin and Destiny, against the counsel of the First Presidency and his own Brethren. This writer’s interpretation is not only inaccurate, but it also runs counter to the testimony of Elder Mark E. Petersen, who wrote this foreword to Elder Smith’s book, a book I would encourage all to read. Elder Petersen said:
Some of us [members of the Council of the Twelve] urged [Elder Joseph Fielding Smith] to write a book on the creation of the world and the origin of man. . . . The present volume is the result. It is a most remarkable presentation of material from both sources [science and religion] under discussion. It will fill a great need in the Church and will be particularly invaluable to students who have become confused by the misapplication of information derived from scientific experimentation.
When one understands that the author to whom I alluded is an exponent of the theory of organic evolution, his motive in disparaging President Joseph Fielding Smith becomes apparent. To hold to a private opinion on such matters is one thing, but when one undertakes to publish his views to discredit the work of a prophet, it is a very serious matter.
It is also apparent to all who have the Spirit of God in them that Joseph Fielding Smith’s [doctrinal] writings will stand the test of time.
People can decide on their own about the current accuracy of the science in the book, but the core issue in play is really whether President Smith taught the gospel correctly and accurately in his book, concerning the creation and the fall. President Benson, along with members of the Quorum of the Twelve, thought he explained the gospel relating to the origin of man superbly. And they deeply resented those who slander the integrity of Church leaders who write these superb gospel explanation books, unofficial though they are. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has been likewise vilified over what he wrote about evolution in Mormon Doctrine. (Keep in mind that when one rejects the doctrine in Man: His Origin and Destiny about the creation and the fall, they also reject the same doctrine in all of President Smith’s other books, as well as his teachings on those doctrines in his general conference addresses, BYU Speeches, and CES addresses, or anywhere else he taught it. They are basically rejecting a significant portion of his over-all teachings to the Church, whether in the name of “unofficial” or not.
And this issue brings up another: once you start challenging the integrity of the apostles and prophets who have written and spoken strongly against the theory of evolution, where do you stop?—the list is so very long! They have to demean and reject the united teachings not only of Joseph Fielding Smith and his father Joseph F. Smith, but also those of many other apostles, including Brothers Talmage, Lee, McConkie, Romney, Petersen, Packer, Whitney, Nelson, Benson, Cowley, Ivins, Richards, G.A. Smith, Clawson (all apostles/prophets), and the list goes on.
Is setting themselves against all of these prophets, seers, and revelators, such a good idea for the editors of BYUSQ, the BYU biology department, and BYU’s NAMI?
Having reviewed one issue related to President Smith’s wonderful work, further history is in order. President Harold B. Lee wrote the below explanation regarding President Smith’s book to a confused church member:
I have a few moments to respond to your letter of recent date in which you express some concern about some contradictory information as to the position we should take with regard to the doctrine of evolution. This, as you know, has been long a bone of contention so serious that in the earlier years when Darwin’s theory first was enunciated, a number of professors at the Brigham Young University were released because of their unwillingness to teach the theory and then counter by delivering the true doctrines of the gospel.
Apparently the thing that confused you was that these who have contended have shown you a copy of a letter which was signed by President David O. McKay in which he disavowed the church having taken any official position on the subject of organic evolution. And, furthermore, that in that note to Professor William Lee Stokes, he declared that the book, Man, His Origin and Destiny was not published by the church and is not approved by the church.
There is a little bit of history that I should tell you about. One summer some years ago, I was assigned to deliver a day by day set of lessons to all the seminary teachers and some of
the institute teachers of the church, which proved to be a very demanding assignment. I went down each morning and met with all of these teachers. President Joseph Fielding Smith’s book had just come off the press and I assigned, as a part of the course, the reading of this book and writing a dissertation not less than 2500 words on the subject “What Your Appraisal Is of the Value of This Book to a High School Senior or a College Student.” This caused quite a consternation among the teachers, some of whom wanted to write a very critical analysis of the book and were fearful of doing so lest I would downgrade them in the course. This was not
at all my intent, it was merely to have them respond critically if they wished, and I so told President Smith that I was inviting criticism and he said that was all right.
Some of these brethren who were critical of the book came directly to President McKay and represented to him that I had used President Joseph Fielding Smith’s book as a text for my lectures at the BYU. He called President Ernest Wilkinson in to express his criticism that I had done so, and President Wilkinson told him that that was not true, that he, President Wilkinson, had sat in on most of the lectures that I had given and I did not use the book as a text, it was merely an assigned reading outside of the lessons.
It was undoubtedly the undue pressure of some of these dissidents, one of which was his own son, who was a professor at the University of Utah, that induced him to write this brief and to them a satisfying but to you a disturbing note, which poured water over their wheel and tended to lessen the influence of President Joseph Fielding Smith’s book.
When your letter came to our attention, President Marion G. Romney told me of a conference address which he had delivered at the April conference in 1953, where he spoke directly to this subject of the fall of Adam, or the fall of man, as it is spoken of, and then brought forth scriptures to support the position of the church with respect to the advent of man upon the earth, etc.
At the conclusion of his talk, President Romney said that President David O. McKay had congratulated him and had written a brief note, a copy of which I am attaching hereto, in which he congratulated President Romney and then said, “I congratulate you for your excellent contribution during the conference and express gratitude for your remarks as well as your
fine spirit, and I assure you that I agreed heartily in every instance.” President Romney thought if you had this statement from President David O. McKay, signed by himself, to counter this other statement which has been so confusing, that that should be sufficient for you to understand that President McKay had made this other statement probably because of a compromising position he had been in due to the circumstances as I have explained them.
I might add one further thought. Just after this book of President Joseph Fielding Smith’s was printed, I had a young student of science from the University of Utah who came from a
family who lived in my stake, come in with several books and wanted to argue against statements made in President Joseph Fielding Smith’s book. I said to him, “Now Brother ___.” (his name was Dr. ___.) “I haven’t had the opportunity of delving deeply into science, but I want to tell you an experience that Mark E. Petersen and I had when we organized the new Kansas
City Stake. In our interview we had a man who was considered as a bishop of one of the wards who was a teacher of anatomy in the Kansas City University, which was a dental school. Of course this made it necessary for us to examine very carefully his faith as contrasted with his teaching of the evolutionary theory which of course would be taught in connection with the subject of anatomy. After we had discussed this, I asked him if he had read Brother Smith’s book. He smiled and said, ‘’Yes, I have, and it was the most difficult book I have ever read.’ ‘’But,’ he said, ‘’I want to tell you that in my opinion this is the finest book that the church has ever produced for men who were teachers in the field of science. And I endorse what President Smith has said entirely.’ “
I said to this young Dr. ____, ‘”I wish you would write to this professor of science, who is much older and more experienced than you, in Kansas City, and have him respond to your questions.”
A few weeks later this young man came back in a humble spirit and said, ‘”Well I need nothing more to quiet my concerns, when a man of his experience can say what he said, that’s enough for me.” “Now if I were you, Brother ____, I would not be discouraged. This is a contention which has gone on and will continue to the end of time I suppose, and until the scientists get nearer and nearer to the doctrines of the Church, there will still be contention, but remember this, that truth can never be composed with the errors of men. Just know that the gospel is true and that these are the theories of men which you as a student must learn if you want to pass the courses you are taking.
With kindest personal regards and trusting this letter will be
sufficient to set the matter right in your mind I am,
Very sincerely yours, Harold B. Lee.
Here is Elder Mark E. Petersen’s entire Foreword to President Smith’s book:
Conflicting attitudes expressed concerning science and religion have confused many people. Especially has this been true in the class room where hypotheses have been set forth erroneously as facts and where deductions made from those theories have been regarded as established truth.
Many of the followers of Darwin, for instance, carried his views to the extreme of materialistic atheism, declaring not only that creation occurred without the aid of any Intelligent Creator, but that as a matter of fact, no such Being even exists.
Both science and religion have suffered as a result. The greatest damage, however, has been among students who have lost their faith in God through accepting these man-made theories as facts.
But time changes things. Whereas for years atheistic deductions were made from scientific research, now true scientists, armed with what they term "the new knowledge," are revising their "hasty first conclusions" as Sir James Jeans expressed it, and have discovered "evidence of a designing or controlling power that has something in common with our individual minds."
The present day attitude of top scientists was expressed recently by Dr. Joseph W. Barker, president and chairman of the Research Corporation of America, and formerly dean of the engineering school at Columbia University, in an address at Ripon University. He explained there that scientists of the nineteenth century were misled by certain of their observations, and as a result came to conclusions which were definitely atheistic.
"But now," said Dr. Barker, "even the most pragmatic materialist, in the face of present day scientific knowledge, is led to the inevitable conclusion that the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork."
Dr. Barker's concluding remarks to the students were: "As the children of Israel foreswore the worship of the golden calf and returned to the faith of Jehovah, so have we foresworn the crass mechanistic materialism and returned to that faith in God of which the Psalmist of old sang. The Earth is the Lord's and all that therein is."
Knowing the great need to provide Latter-day Saint students of science with material which would help them to preserve their faith and coordinate in their minds the pure truth of both science and revelation, some of us have hoped for a book which could make the facts readily available to them.
Many have recognized in President Joseph Fielding Smith of the Council of the Twelve the profound student of scripture which he is, but not so many were acquainted with the fact that he also is a deep student of science, widely read in various phases of the subject.
Recognizing his possession of this superb knowledge of both science and religion, some of us urged him to write a book on the creation of the world and the origin of man, setting forth both the up-to-date views of science, and the facts provided through revelation.
The present volume is the result. It is a most remarkable presentation of material from both sources under discussion. It will fill a great need in the Church, and will be particularly invaluable to students who have become confused by the misapplication of information derived from scientific experimentation.
It will be an outstanding addition to a list of this author's books which already have stabilized the faith of countless thousands the world around. -Mark E. Petersen
At President Smith’s funeral, President N. Eldon Tanner: “As a young man I remember his series of ‘Questions and Answers’ appearing in the Era, and reading some of his twenty-four books, notable among which are Essentials in Church History, Man—His Origin and Destiny, The Progress of Man, Answers to Gospel Questions, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and The Way to Perfection, from which I taught many priesthood lessons. He has always been a great influence in my life.” Either President Tanner is right, and President Smith’s book is valuable enough to be read and taught from, or the BYUSQ people are right and he was a fool, too inept to understand President Smith was wrong and the scientists were right.
Dong a search of the Church’s website shows that Man: His Origin and Destiny has been quoted scores of times in many church manuals and talks given by the Brethren. One lesson in a manual about Church presidents listed it as one of many books written by President Smith. It commented on his strength of gospel scholarship and noted that he learned much of what he knew from his father, President Joseph F. Smith. He and his father believed alike on the doctrines of the creation and the fall. The fact is that his doctrine is the church’s doctrine. His teachings on the subject have been approved by church authorities and correlation many many times.
President Smith gave a number of addresses in his lifetime that repeat and echo and reaffirm the doctrines in his book, including in general conference. One of them was on April 22, 1953 as a BYU Devotional Address (Speech) titled, “The Origin of Man.” In this, he reviewed the scriptures and statements of church presidents and the First Presidency at some length, teaching the doctrine of the origin of Adam. All of this refuted evolution as the source of Adam and Eve or anyone. Listen to or read President Smith’s doctrine in his October 1967 general conference talk, “Adam’s Role in Bringing us Mortality.”
Then only two months later, Elder Harold B. Lee invited President Smith to lecture before the Seminary and Institute teachers meeting for their summer instruction from the Brethren that year (see Pres. Lee’s explanation above). His address was also entitled, “Man: His Origin and Destiny” (June 25, 1954) and was given at BYU. His book Man: His Origin and Destiny was an assigned supplementary reading for the class taught by Elder Lee.
In President Smith’s lecture to the CES men, he taught:
In Moses we read: “And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul” (Moses 3:9). Now, He is speaking about the spiritual creation. The trees and vegetation were created spiritually and then placed on the earth to become living souls, just as man was.
In the 19th verse of the same chapter we read: “And out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and commanded that they should come unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and they were also living souls; for I, God, breathed into them the breath of life, and commanded that whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof.”
So here we find that the animals and the plants and vegetation became living souls and were created spiritually before they were naturally upon the earth. These are very significant expressions, and I am stressing them as evidence that contradicts and confutes the theory of organic evolution.
Now, what do the proponents of this theory teach? They teach that man has evolved and come to what he is by accident. Some of them have said man is an accident. All life is “an accident” upon the earth, Sir James Jeans said, a “by-product.” We are just a by-product, something that happened and likely could not happen anywhere else in the universe, just a by-product—people who are sons and daughters of God! . . .
Now, there is the word of the Lord. Do we believe the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, in the Pearl of Great Price, in the Book of Mormon, in the Bible, or are we to discard all that because some men are “educated beyond their intelligence”? That is what J. Golden Kimball said of them, and that is what they are—educated beyond their intelligence. . . .
Evolution teaches production and development of all things by chance, development from the smallest germ to a man created in the image of God, requiring several million years for that development. Moreover, this process would, if true, produce on other earths passing through similar conditions beings of the most hideous and dreadful nature imaginable, and by chance only would any develop in the form of God. There could be no intelligence in a Supreme Being who had, each time an earth is formed, to leave everything to chance, hoping that in some great period of time, from an amoeba, creatures would be developed fit to possess an eternal spirit in His image. I want you to get that. The idea for us, sons and daughters of God, is to be led astray by these theories of men into thinking that things began way back in that far-distant time by some germ suddenly appearing. Conditions today are far more favorable to spontaneous life than they were, according to the teachings of science, millions of years ago. Have not men struggled and done everything they knew how to do to find spontaneous life? And in searching for it they have always been defeated. They have never found life coming only from antecedent life. God is the author of life, and that is one secret He has not revealed to man. It is absolutely ridiculous to think that in this universe, created by God, every time a new earth comes to take the place of one that has gone on, it has to start with the hope that some germ will appear spontaneously. . . .
So taught the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the church educators of his day (1954). After President Smith finished his lecture and departed, other days of instruction ensued, and class members were invited to submit questions to Elder Lee anonymously for him to answer before the class. One question and answer included the following:
Question: Is there any evidence that scientists are becoming less aggressive in teaching their theories of organic evolution and opposition to the creation of man as we have it in the Bible?
Answer: I think the only thing we could comment there is that the scientists are less sure of their earlier “evidences,” so called. I think you all read in Life magazine and elsewhere some while ago the exposé of the Piltdown Man, which for a long time has been held up as one of the evidences of prehistoric man. That and some other findings, I think, have caused scientists to change some of their earlier views. I noticed that some of you were prone to criticize Brother Smith’s book [Man: His Origin and Destiny], [and also] Price, and Howarth as being somewhat antiquated, but you didn’t criticize Dr. Fleischman, and you didn’t criticize Dr. Fleming. They are pretty recent and pretty bold in declaring their opposition to some of these evolutionary theories. Now, just have that in mind. Weigh carefully all of these and hold fast to that which is good.
(As we have seen, Elder Lee despised evolution as much as President Smith did, but used somewhat less stringent and harsh language to convey that dislike. What Elder Lee said about the views of scientists in his day has changed and is different today.)