Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Refuting and Correcting BYU’s False Doctrine on the Origin of Man #6 - Examining The 1910 Improvement Era editorial

(by Dennis B. Horne)


            An April 1910 Improvement Era editorial is often used by theistic evolutionists to give support to their evolution-gospel harmonization attempts. The editorial, after referencing the three main scriptural accounts found in the standard works (the books of Genesis, Moses, and Abraham), reads: “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.” The author of this editorial didn’t seem to know his scriptures very well.

            Only the year before (as this Improvement Era source notes) the First Presidency had already specifically given more light on the subject and indicated what “the revealed word” taught, in their declaration on “The Origin of Man,” (partially quoted below). Since then, other prophets and apostles have also shed more light on these scriptures—meaning we have access to more knowledge than just the figurative scriptural expressions describing the creation of Adam. That is, unless someone needs to use the first mentioned Improvement Era option for support of theistic evolution. These may be “questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God” but they are doctrines better answered in the revealed word than the first two options account for, and they are better clarified by many authoritative scripture expounders. None of the three options account for the doctrine of the Fall of Adam and Eve, and therefore do not harmonize with many scriptures.

            As far as the authorship of this editorial goes, it is unsigned and therefore only carries such doctrinal weight as any church-sponsored magazine item of that era, which is not a lot. Some have pointed out that President Joseph F. Smith was the editor of the Improvement Era and therefore argue that he wrote the editorial. For the following reasons it is highly unlikely that President Smith wrote or approved of the editorial. It is much more likely to have been written by someone else, such as Edward H. Anderson.

 1) In his general conference talk of October 1902, President Joseph F. Smith told the Church: “I desire to remind you too, that the brethren have done me the honor also of electing me to be the editor of the Improvement Era, the organ of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement association, Elder Edward H. Anderson being actively in charge.” (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, October 1902, 86.) While absolute surety eludes us, such a general understanding of active editorial oversight leans strongly toward someone else writing the editorial. Further, President Smith would have seen that it contradicts the earlier First Presidency document that he and his counselors signed and published as the formal position of the Church; why publish speculative or opposing views? Further, in that day, the President of the Church was kept very busy with clerical work not done by today’s church presidents, and likely would not have had time to read and approve everything in the Era.

 2) President Smith did not believe the theory of evolution and warned members against it. Besides signing and giving to the Church the doctrinal exposition of “The Origin of Man,” he wrote a letter to his BYU-attending son that said, “For my sake, my son, as well as your own, eschew the [BYU professors’] evolution and all such things.” In another editorial he wrote: “Some of our teachers are anxious to explain how much of the theory of evolution, in their judgment, is true, and what is false, but that only leaves their students in an unsettled frame of mind. They are not old enough and learned enough to discriminate, or put proper limitations upon a theory which we believe is more or less a fallacy.”[i]

 3) President Smith, as Trustee-in-trust (President), formally published to the Church a book written by Elder Orson F. Whitney titled The Love and the Light: An Idyl of the Westland, that ripped into evolution, higher criticism, and other false educational philosophies that were hurting members’ faith and causing doubt. The book is virtually unknown in the Church today because it was a volume of poetry no longer in style.

 4) President Joseph F. Smith’s responsibility as President of the Church was to correct any false or misleading doctrine taught in general conference. In the October 1917 general conference his son, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith energetically denounced evolution as explanation for the origin of man, and his father did not correct him—obviously because he agreed with him. The plain fact is, President Smith knew the scriptures much better than the editorial writer did.

             Of course, none of these arguments will sway evolutionists of any stripe or brand, but at least there is further information to ponder for regular Latter-day Saints who have not yet been brainwashed by false scientific theories.


[i] Wilkinson, ed., Brigham Young University, 1:429.

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