The current event that brought forth the comments of President Ivins at this conference was the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, a huge publicity stunt that was intended to force evolution into public schools and start getting rid of God. A brief summary is found in Wikipedia
The Scopes Trial, formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was an American legal case in July 1925 in which a high school teacher, John T. Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which had made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he incriminated himself deliberately so the case could have a defendant.
Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 (equivalent to $1,500 in 2019), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The trial served its purpose of drawing intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to Dayton to cover the big-name lawyers who had agreed to represent each side. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow, the famed defense attorney, spoke for Scopes. The trial publicized the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy, which set Modernists, who said evolution was not inconsistent with religion, against Fundamentalists, who said the Word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. The case was thus seen both as a theological contest and as a trial on whether modern science should be taught in schools.
The question most discussed in the present controversy is that phase which deals with the origin and destiny of man. Whence came man, and whither goeth he?
Without reference to the many theories which have existed upon this question, and which still exist, I desire to refer briefly to the one which is today greatly disturbing the minds of the people. Was man created by the decree of God, our Father, and placed upon the earth in his present form, or is he the creature of some natural process of development, which has in the course of the aeons which have passed brought him to where he is?
The suggestion of Darwin, the great scientist, that man, by a process of natural selection and gradual development, may have evolved from a lower order of animal life to what he now is, although he did not declare this a fact, but only a theory, has resulted in much discussion, and too often in bitter controversy.
Closely allied to the Darwinian theory, but still quite different is the theory of evolution, which is being so widely discussed, and I sometimes think so generally misunderstood today.
Evolution is the process of evolving, or becoming developed. An unfolding or growth, from a latent state, or from a pre-arranged plan.
Naturally many, many people are asking, “What is the attitude of the Church on this important question, as it applies to the existence of man?” Let me answer briefly.
The foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests upon faith in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
We believe that God is an existent, living personality, and that man was created in his image. “In the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.”
We believe that Jesus Christ was, and is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, immaculately conceived and born of the Virgin Mary. That through the atonement wrought out by him all men are redeemed from the penalty of death, pronounced upon our father Adam, through the resurrection from the grave, which he made possible, and that by obedience to the divine principles of right living which he taught, mankind may be redeemed from personal sin, and brought back into the presence of the Father, to enjoy the fellowship and association of the Son.
We believe that the Holy Ghost is the agency through which the will of the Father is communicated to his children, here upon earth. That it takes of the things of the Father, and manifests them unto man. It bears record of the Father and the Son, is our comfort in sorrow and distress, our strength in weakness, and our guide when in doubt. It is the Spirit of the Lord, the light which lighteth everything that cometh into the world, and with which all men are endowed in a greater or less degree. It is the spirit of knowledge, by which man became a responsible agent, knowing good from evil, thus becoming answerable for the deeds done while here in probation, an account of which all men must render when they stand before the bar of God to be judged according to their works.
These doctrines are as old as the revealed will of the Lord to the inhabitants of the earth. It is, always has been, and will continue to be the doctrine of the Church. From it the Church has never receded, it never can recede; it is fundamental, and our faith in it makes us fundamentalists.
Unlike the sectarian Christian denominations of the world, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes and teaches that birth into this life is not the beginning of the existence of man, nor is death the end of it, but that the spirits of all men existed in a pre-mortal state, before coming to this earth to be clothed upon with mortality. That after death they return to the spirit world to await the resurrection, when they will come forth from the grave, with glorified, immortal bodies, to receive the glory and exaltation to which their works while in mortality entitle them.
We believe that the earth is constantly undergoing changes which will eventually restore it to its paradisiacal glory, and make it a fit abode for glorified man.
We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
If, then, to have our faces constantly toward the future, if to be forward looking, forward moving men and women, if to believe that great stores of knowledge, hidden treasures of knowledge, are yet to be revealed by men who have the spirit of the pioneer, which impels them to reach out into new and unknown fields of endeavor, whether it be in science, sociology, or exploration, if this, I say, is modernism, and if these changes which have come, and which are to come in the future, through the exercise of the intelligence of man, which is the intelligence of God, and which is based upon demonstrated truth, and not theory, is evolution, then are we evolutionists.
If, however, to be in harmony with modern thought we must renounce our faith in a living, personal God, the Creator of heaven and earth, not only the earth upon which we dwell, but the universe of which we form so small a part, that he holds dominion over it, shapes the destiny of its inhabitants, and controls the laws by which it is governed; if we are to deny the knowledge which has come to us by direct revelation from heaven that Jesus Christ is the only begotten of the Father; if we are to deny the truth which has been revealed which teaches that man was created in the image of God, was so in the beginning and will always remain so, while he goes on in intelligent development forever; if to be in harmony we are to renounce a single doctrine of revealed truth which has come to us, we unhesitatingly separate ourselves from modern thought and theory, and confidently await the time when revealed truth, whether it be the result of scientific research or the revealed word of the Lord, will vindicate our faith in his word, which through his mercy has come to us in this, the greatest of all dispensations of the world's history.
The earth and all that is upon it, the sea and all that is in it did not come into existence by chance. Man is not the accidental product of chance. We admit the changes which have come, and believe that others of mighty import are before us, but in it all the Church sees not a thing of chance, but a definite plan, being shaped and moulded by a master mind, for the accomplishment of a divine purpose.
Time will not permit a presentation of the many evidences which exist in support of this doctrine of the pre-existence and future destiny of man. I ask your indulgence, however, while I refer to a few of the outstanding facts in relation to it.
The life, ministry and teachings of the Redeemer of the World are sufficient, alone, definitely to settle the existing controversy. We know that there are those who do not regard the written word, as it is contained in the scripture as satisfactory proof, but to us it should be conclusive.
We concede to all men the right to believe as they choose, but to members of the Church we appeal to remain steadfast in their faith in the revealed word of the Lord.
There is one thing which characterizes his word which has always appealed to me. It never comes to us as an hypothesis, but always as a definite fact. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And God said let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.
There is nothing hypothetical in this, nothing which admits of various interpretations, if we are to define words in their real meaning. It is a definite abstract statement of fact. The exact process by which this was accomplished we do not know, nor is it essential that we know it, the fact is sufficient, and it will never be disproved by scientific research or otherwise, because it is the truth.
That Christ lived in mortality is admitted by all people who are familiar with the history of his time, whether they are believers or not. That he was condemned and crucified on Calvary is not denied, and that after his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead he appeared to his disciples, and to many of the Saints with his glorified body is testified to by those who saw and communed with him.
Christ frequently declared that he was with the Father before he came to earth, and took upon him mortality, and that he returned to the Father after his work among men had been accomplished. That he revealed himself to the people of the world before his earthly existence, is plainly declared in the scripture, as the following will show.
Soon after the confusion of tongues, at the time of the building of the Tower of Babel, Jared, a prophet of the Lord, led a colony of people from the old world to the new. The brother of this man Jared had gone out to plead with the Lord in behalf of his people, when the word of the Lord came to him, as follows:
“Believest thou the words which I shall speak? And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence: Therefore I show myself unto you.
“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. In me shall all mankind have light, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and daughters. Seest thou that ye are created after my own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. Behold, this body which ye now see is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear to thee to be in the spirit, will I appear unto men in the flesh.”
At a later date Samuel, a Lamanite, prophesied to the Nephites that Christ would be born at a certain date, and would appear to the people of this continent, and that he was the Redeemer of the World. Unbelievers, as has always been the case, were bitterly opposed to this doctrine, and declaring that the date fixed by Samuel had passed, set a day when all who professed faith in his teachings should be put to death. In this crisis Nephi cried unto the Lord in behalf of those who were believers, with the following result:
“And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord, and behold the voice of the Lord came unto him saying:
“Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for, behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world; that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
“Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will both of the Father and the Son. And behold the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.”
It was the voice of Christ, the Redeemer of the world, proclaiming to man in mortality his coming and the following day the babe of Bethlehem was born.
What evidence, my brethren and sisters, do we require more conclusive than this, of the ante-mortal existence of the Redeemer of the world?
Of all created things man alone is endowed with reason, which is the glory and intelligence of God. Of man alone the Creator has said: The man has become as one of us, knowing good and evil.
It is by the exercise and application of this endowment that man goes forward, and will continue to go forward, forever. By the application of the intelligence of man, which is the intelligence of God, conditions are changed, and may become either better or worse. Remove the application of this intelligence and we have no knowledge of anything in nature which has gone forward, but we do know that the highest degree of perfection reached by man in development, when bereft of it, may rapidly retrograde, whether it applies to things of nature, individuals, communities or nations, and even where the intelligence of man has been applied to its fullest extent, but without the sure word of prophecy, without the supporting power of the Creator, our Father and God, chaos has resulted and it will continue to result, for it is the eternal decree of God that man whom he has placed here upon earth, shall recognize him, otherwise he cannot go on in eternal progression.
My knowledge of geology, which is limited, was obtained through study of that subject from books written by J. Dorman Steele whose works on science were probably more generally used in my school days than any other. In conclusion I wish to read briefly from his Fourteen Weeks in Geology, the following:
“We have traced in the dim light of the past the history of our earth and its inhabitants. Everywhere we have found a divine hand shaping and moulding to accomplish a divine ideal. Was man created by God's fiat, or by some intermediate process of secondary causes? Alas for the impotence of science, and the scope of our finite intelligence. Primeval man shows no sign of development from the higher tribes of animals. No fossil yet found is a link between him and the monkey. No ape ever made any improvement on the condition in which he was born. Man, on the other hand never stays where he starts. he continually progresses/ In the beginning God/ We can add nothing to the old Hebrew declaration. The study of science ought never to lead one astray from this great fundamental thought. God has assuredly never written anything in nature contradictory of himself. Science and religion are alike his offspring, both will ultimately vindicate him and his attributes. Forgetting then the rancor and bitterness of the past in he joy of newly found truth, they will clasp hand and together cast the crowns of their triumphs, the triumphs of science and Christianity, at the feet of their common author, and God will be proclaimed Lord of all.”
My brethren and sisters, may these fundamental truths remain fixed in your minds, let nothing lead you away from them. Listen to the word of prophecy, as it comes to you through these men who sit before you this afternoon and I promise that you will never be led astray. No development of science will ever contradict the revealed word of the Lord, which has come to us. For the moment theories may appear to be in conflict with his revealed word, but demonstrated truth will always be in harmony with it, for he is the author of all truth. (Conference Report, October 1925, 19-28.)