Friday, April 23, 2021

Refuting and Correcting BYU’s False Doctrine on the Origin of Man #7 - Examining the 2016 New Era Article on Evolution

(by Dennis B. Horne)

            From the October 2016 New Era statement: “The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.”

            This statement should be read carefully and with due caution, since it could erroneously be understood to contradict other approved doctrinal teachings found in a Church Educational System manual.[1] One issue relates to the common but careless or intermingled uses of the crucial phrases “theory of evolution” versus “origin of man.” A letter from the Office of the First Presidency (of David O. McKay) noted this wording distinction (one that is easily manipulated, especially by biologists, but that I have tried to recognize herein). The letter, from a secretary to the First Presidency, said: “I have been directed to say that the enclosed statement published in the Improvement Era over the Signature of President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors express the position of the Church upon the subject of the ‘origin of man.’ I have also been directed to say that the Church has made no official statement on the subject of evolution. It is a scientific theory and is subject to and is undergoing modification from time to time. Scientific people seem to differ in their interpretation and views of the theory. . . . The authorities of the Church rely upon the revelations of the Lord for information about the creation of man. I have also been directed to say that the book to which you refer in your letter (Man, His Origin and Destiny by Joseph F[ielding] Smith) expresses the views of the author, for which he assumes full responsibility. The book was not published, approved, or authorized by the Church, nor did the author intend that it be.”[2]

            This explanation captures the important difference between the “theory of evolution” on the one hand and the “origin of man” on the other; distinctions that the New Era piece misses or avoids. It also delineates the source church authorities rely on for information on the origin of man—as does another letter, from President McKay’s secretary: “I have been directed to say that the Church has issued no official statement on this subject [evolution]. It is a theory, and it is subject to and undergoing modification from time to time, at least in the differing interpretations of scientific people. Under these circumstances, any conflict which may seem to exist between the scientific theory and the truth of revealed religion should be dealt with by suspending judgement as long as may be necessary to arrive at the facts and a complete understanding of the truth. While the theory is subject to controversy and differences of opinion in the scientific world, the authorities of the Church rely upon the revelations of the Lord for information about the creation of man.”[3] This item also distinguishes between the theory of evolution and the origin of man in relation to the position of the Church, points out where the authorities of the Church get their information on the origin of man, and gives a recommendation of what to personally do with the conflict now. (Readers may determine for themselves whether the BYU biologists innocently intermix these terms, or whether they do so manipulatively for their agenda, in the below quotations from them.)

            Continuing, several senior church leaders have in fact, taught that it has been revealed how the bodies of Adam and Eve were created. Passages of scripture declare the same doctrine. Moses 6:22 states: “And this is the genealogy of the sons of Adam, who was the son of God, with whom God, himself, conversed.” A footnote conveniently takes us to the second, from Luke 3:38: “Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.” Further, “even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam” (Abraham 1:3). And, “For the firstborn [Adam] holds the right of the presidency [under Christ] over this priesthood” (D&C 68:17). Four scriptural references teaching the same doctrine—that Adam was the son and firstborn of God (into immortality). I am unable to fathom how the author and vetters of the October 2016 New Era piece missed these scriptures; or, if they were aware of them, perhaps it was an issue of interpretation or caution. Could they have quoted President Nelson instead of or in addition to Elder Holland? President Nelson’s teachings are clearer and more detailed than Elder Holland’s, and he is now the prophet of the Lord.

            Elder Bruce R. McConkie encountered this doctrinal issue himself (regarding Luke 3:38 and the other like passages), as he prepared his Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (vol. 1), writing: “Adam, which was the son of God. This statement, found also in Moses 6:22, has a deep and profound significance and also means what it says. Father Adam came, as indicated, to this sphere, gaining an immortal body, because death had not yet entered the world. (2 Ne. 2:22.) Jesus, on the other hand, was the Only Begotten in the flesh, meaning into a world of mortality where death already reigned.”[4] This comment does not contain a great deal of detail, although discerning readers will realize what is being taught.

            It seems that Elder McConkie, who was one of the greatest expounders of the scriptures of our dispensation, did not always hold himself to quite the same restraint he showed in his New Testament commentary. For instance, in 1979 he contributed a chapter (along with a number of other apostles and general authorities) for a book titled Woman, in which he plainly but sensitively taught how Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, but also cautioned that some with limited spiritual understanding would not believe:


            How did Adam and Eve gain their temporal bodies? Our revelations record Deity's words in this way: "And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Moses 2:26.) Man on earth—Adam and Eve and all their descendants—was to be created in the image of God; he was to be in his image spiritually and temporally, with power to convert the image into a reality by becoming like him. Then the scripture says: "And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them." (Moses 2:27.) Also: "And I, the Lord God, formed men 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." (Moses 3:7.)

            For those whose limited spiritual understanding precludes a recitation of all the facts, the revealed account, in figurative language, speaks of Eve being created from Adam's rib. (Moses 3:21-25.) A more express scripture, however, speaks of "Adam, who was the son of God, with whom God, himself, conversed." (Moses 6:22. Italics added.) In a formal doctrinal pronouncement, the First Presidency of the Church (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) said that “all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner,” and that the first of our race began life as the human germ or embryo that becomes a man. (See Improvement Era, November 1909, p. 80.)

            Christ is universally attested in the scriptures to be the Only Begotten. At this point, as we consider the “creation” of Adam, and lest there be any misunderstanding, we must remember that Adam was created in immortality, but that Christ came to earth as a mortal; thus our Lord is the Only Begotten in the flesh, meaning into this mortal sphere of existence. Adam came to earth to dwell in immortality until the fall changed his status to that of mortality.

              Those who have ears to hear will understand these things. All of us, however, must know and believe that when Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, there was no death. They were immortal. Unless some change occurred they would live forever, retaining all the bloom, beauty, and freshness of youth. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and our early brethren preached many sermons on this.[5]


            In the mid-1950s, one of the leading gospel scholars at BYU, Dr. Sydney B. Sperry, asked President Joseph Fielding Smith how Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden. The exchange went like this:


Bro. Sperry: Bro. Smith, relative to Adam’s condition before the Fall, the fact that he had no blood in his veins would rather suggest therefore, that his father and mother were individuals, shall we say resurrected individuals, meaning God, let’s say. Now, we’ve got a strange situation here, we’ve got an individual, in the case of Adam, who would have lived forever. I think that Dr. Talmage attached the name “unmortal” to that state.

Pres. Smith: He did, but he took it away again.

Bro. Sperry: Would you care to comment on his parentage and his state there. I know it’s a difficult thing to do, but go as far as you can.

Pres. Smith: Bro. Sperry, I can’t go very far because all of that has been withheld. Now I don’t believe the Lord took the soil [clay] and molded it in the form of a man and then put a spirit in it. As to his father and his mother and Adam being born—I’m going to be very cautious, and not get myself in trouble in regard to that.”


            After some more Q&A, the subject returned to Adam, with a new questioner:


Bro. Bennett: The book of Moses concerning the creation of man uses the expression, “In the image of His own body, male and female created He them.” What explanation could you give on the male and female?

Pres. Smith: Well, we sing so frequently in our General Conferences and stake conferences and throughout, the words to “O My Father.” If we don’t have a [Heavenly] mother, we did not have a [Heavenly] father. That’s logical. We don’t read in the scriptures much about mothers anyway, but we certainly had to have one, and we had a [Heavenly] mother. I might say something more—that the laws of God are eternal. I don’t want to get into any difficulty now—and mortality is not different from immortality [regarding mothers]. We marry for time and eternity, don’t we? Why? To have a continuation of the seeds forever. Now there’s the answer—to have a continuation of the seeds forever. They are natural principles, that’s all. So, according to what has been revealed to us, we know that if we had a [Heavenly] father, we had a [Heavenly] mother, and we are to be like them, and then that passage you refer to is evidence enough in itself; for we’re created in the image of God—male and female. . . . Is that answer enough, Bro. Bennett?[6]


            Surely something like these scriptures and explanations would have been more insightful to church members, young or old, than the puzzling wording in the New Era article indicating that the manner in which Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden has not been revealed when it has.

            The New Era item also stated: “God directed the creation of Adam and Eve and placed their spirits in their bodies. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who were created in God’s image. There were no spirit children of Heavenly Father on the earth before Adam and Eve were created. In addition, ‘for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family.’ They fell from that state, and this Fall was an essential part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us to become like Him.” The quoted reference is from a General Conference talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, which needs repeating so that full and accurate context can be given:


            In our increasingly secular society, it is as uncommon as it is unfashionable to speak of Adam and Eve or the Garden of Eden or of a “fortunate fall” into mortality. Nevertheless, the simple truth is that we cannot fully comprehend the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ and we will not adequately appreciate the unique purpose of His birth or His death—in other words, there is no way to truly celebrate Christmas or Easter—without understanding that there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.

            I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family, and that through a sequence of choices they transgressed a commandment of God which required that they leave their garden setting but which allowed them to have children before facing physical death. (Emphasis added.)


            Notice that Elder Holland is teaching the doctrine that Adam and Eve were not mortal in the Garden of Eden, but instead existed in a “paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family.” Obviously, this doctrine destroys the theistic theory of evolution, which would have God directing evolutionary processes to eventually create Adam and Eve from the animal kingdom. There is no provision in any brand of the theory of evolution for the creation or natural selection of Edenic paradisiacal immortality. The wording, that there were no spirit children of God on the earth before Adam and Eve, is also very significant and true. For evolution to be true it would have to mean that Adam and Eve’s parents were animals—advanced apes or some kind of prehistoric man-like creature?—that had animal spirits but not human spirits born to our heavenly parents.

            The prophets have often recommended that when we study the scriptures we should not take one passage out of context and rely on it for doctrinal determination in important matters. Other scripture passages bearing on the same subjects should be studied as well so that a fuller and more well-rounded understanding can emerge. For example, there are the above quoted scriptural passages that directly state that Adam was a son of God; it is good sound stable doctrine.

            The same principle applies to church magazine articles, especially those on controversial subjects that are unattributed. Other articles containing information and teachings about the same subject should be studied in conjunction with this one. We have the “Origin of Man” and “Mormon View of Evolution” articles from Church magazines, as well as their much later reprints to compare with. We also have the doctrinal declarations about the creation of Adam and Adam’s fall from President Nelson and other apostles.

            All of this doctrine together is much more convincing that the Church definitely has a doctrine of how Adam and Eve were created, that they were created immortal and fell into mortality, and that there was no death or procreation before the fall—that such began after the fall. Or, like the evolutionists, we simply toss out all the scriptures and prophetic teachings about Adam and Eve and go with evolution instead—we are the descendants of an amoeba from the depths of time; somehow God guided the amoeba to split into a worm that split into something else until a million or billion years later something genetically drifted and naturally selected into a prehistoric ape-man that was Adam’s dad instead of God.

            As previously stated, there is no official church position on this shifting scientific theory, but there is an official position on the creation of man (Adam and Eve), and that position does not allow for macro-evolution to have any involvement at all. It does however indicate that God our heavenly Father and also our heavenly Mother were full participants and gave birth to Adam and Eve on this earth.

            The fact that BYU biologists don’t explain some of these matters to new or continuing students is to me unethical and smacks of sophistry.

            The Church Board of Education (meaning the First Presidency and most of the Twelve and some other general church officers) have formally approved, on several occasions over the decades, a doctrinal document meant for teaching purposes in the Seminaries and Institutes. It is called Basic Doctrines, and it states: “Adam was the first man created on the earth. God created Adam and Eve in His own image. All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26–27).” It further states:


            Jesus Christ created the heavens and the earth under the direction of the Father. The earth was not created from nothing; it was organized from existing matter. Jesus Christ has created worlds without number (see D&C 76:22–24).

            The Creation of the earth was essential to God’s plan. It provided a place where we could gain a physical body, be tested and tried, and develop divine attributes.

            We are to use the earth’s resources with wisdom, judgment, and thanksgiving (see D&C 78:19).

            Adam was the first man created on the earth. God created Adam and Eve in His own image. All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26–27).

            In the Garden of Eden, God commanded Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; the consequence of doing so would be spiritual and physical death. Spiritual death is separation from God. Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the mortal body. Because Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command, they were cast out from His presence and became mortal. Adam and Eve’s transgression and the resultant changes they experienced, including spiritual and physical death, are called the Fall.

            As a result of the Fall, Adam and Eve and their posterity could experience joy and sorrow, know good and evil, and have children (see 2 Nephi 2:25). As descendants of Adam and Eve, we inherit a fallen condition during mortality. We are separated from the presence of the Lord and subject to physical death. We are also tested by the difficulties of life and the temptations of the adversary. (See Mosiah 3:19.)

            The Fall is an integral part of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. It has a twofold direction—downward yet forward. In addition to introducing physical and spiritual death, it gave us the opportunity to be born on the earth and to learn and progress.


            No mention of or room for evolution in this document, just the settled and formally approved doctrines of the church regarding the origin of man/Adam and Eve.


[1] This manual contains writings of President Joseph Fielding Smith that strongly condemn the promotion of theistic evolution: “Of course, I think those people who hold to the view that man has come up through all these ages from the scum of the sea through billions of years do not believe in Adam. Honestly I do not know how they can, and I am going to show you that they do not. There are some who attempt to do it but they are inconsistentabsolutely inconsistent, because that doctrine is so incompatible, so utterly out of harmony, with the revelations of the Lord that a man just cannot believe in both.

                “… I say most emphatically, you cannot believe in this theory of the origin of man, and at the same time accept the plan of salvation as set forth by the Lord our God. You must choose the one and reject the other, for they are in direct conflict and there is a gulf separating them which is so great that it cannot be bridged, no matter how much one may try to do so.”

[2] Letter from A. Hamer Reiser, Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency, to Mr. Robert C. Stones, April 21, 1960; copy in possession of the author. Past BYU religion professor Joseph Fielding McConkie agreed with this distinction, and explained: “In telling the story of the Creation, for instance, teachers are commonly challenged with the question, ‘Does the Church have an official position on the theory of evolution?’ The answer is no, it does not. On the other hand, and this is certainly very important in such a discussion, the Church does have an official position on the doctrine of the origin of man. The way questions are framed is very important. On the one hand, the Church is not in the business of evaluating scientific theories; on the other, it is in the business of teaching that all humankind are the offspring of divine parents and thus not the product of an evolutionary process.” (As quoted in Answers, 212-13.) I have tried to emphasize this same point throughout this piece.

[3] Letter, Claire Middlemiss, Secretary to President David O. McKay, to Mr. Pertti Felin, May 8, 1964. Copy in author’s possession.

[4] As quoted in Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft; 1966), 3 vols., 1:95.

[5] As quoted in Bruce R. McConkie, “Eve and the Fall,” in Woman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 60.

[6] Joseph Fielding Smith, “The Fundamentals of the Gospel,” August 25, 1954, Brigham Young University; question and answer discussion period, 11-12; copy in possession of the author. In his remarks, President Smith also made this statement: “They would have had no children. Now don’t anyone ask me why they couldn’t have children—I don’t know” (3-4).

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