(by Dennis B. Horne)
This inspired writing sets forth the official position of the Church
on the origin of man and therefore impinges on the evolutionary fantasies
of biologists and their fellow travelers.
As might be expected it arouses great animosity among intellectuals
whose testimonies are more ethereal than real.
—Elder Bruce R. McConkie
The explanatory material provided below is taken from my biography of Elder Orson F. Whitney, chapter 17, with some further comment and links to the document:
The next day, Elder Whitney received perhaps his most important doctrinal writing assignment from the Prophet: “President Smith commissioned me to prepare an article on ‘The Origin of Man,’ for the Liahona and Elders Journal.” Whitney moved forward as requested: “Took the 8:15 am train for Salt Lake . . . and after lunch at home worked with Frances [his secretary] on the article for the First Presidency ‘The Origin of Man.’ ” Over the next several days, he finished up: “Completed my article on Man’s Origin and listened with others at President’s Office. J[ames]. E. Talmage now reading on ‘The Great Apostasy.’ ” Elder Whitney’s task had been mentally taxing: “Ensign Stake Conference. Attended the morning meeting in the Assembly Hall. . . . In the afternoon, at the Tabernacle, I was the only speaker. My theme, the Book of Life. Had good freedom, though somewhat fatigued from a hard week’s work on my literary task—The Origin of Man.”
Then it was time for the Prophet to hear it: “Today I read to the First Presidency the article on the Origin of Man. They were pleased with it, and Pres. Smith thanked me. It will be read again to the Twelve (with the Presidency) and some of our Church school brethren.” President Smith wanted the piece given thorough review: “Read to the Presidency and others my article, ‘The Origin of Man.’ ” And three days later, “Worked on History and read ms of revised article ‘Origin of Man’ to Dr. Talmage, Dr. Widstoe, and President Brimhall.” On October 14, the First Presidency put some finishing touches on it. President Anthon H. Lund recorded: “The [First] Presidency read the article on the origin of Man written by Orson F. Whitney. It was much improved from the original. As it will go out under our names the Presidency made a few changes.” A week later, the document went before the Twelve also: “Our meeting at the Temple lasted five hours. The statement as to our position on the Origin of Man was read and sanctioned by the Twelve.”
This document was signed by the First Presidency and published in the November 1909 Improvement Era. Although Elder Whitney wrote it, its status of formal approval by the Twelve and the First Presidency places their weighty authority upon it, and Elder Whitney becomes but one name among all his Brethren to approve it. The document has stood as the foundational statement of the doctrine of the Church for over a hundred years. It has been discounted, marginalized, misinterpreted, and attacked by those in and out of the Church who disagree with it, but remains safely above the fray as the approved position of the Church on the origin of man. Perhaps the most pointed and powerful portion of the document states:
It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.
True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.
Man, by searching, cannot find out God. Never, unaided, will he discover the truth about the beginning of human life. The Lord must reveal Himself, or remain unrevealed; and the same is true of the facts relating to the origin of Adam's race—God alone can reveal them. Some of these facts, however, are already known, and what has been made known it is our duty to receive and retain.
The document was reprinted in the Ensign in 2002. It is suggested that those desiring a close familiarity with the content of this statement read it thoroughly and decide for themselves what it says, rather than let a BYU biologist or evolutionist do your thinking and interpreting for you. Links to this document are found below.
Readers should also review “‘Mormon’ View of Evolution,” which is a second doctrinal exposition by the First Presidency of Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley. It is like unto and quotes from “The Origin of Man” statement.
 OFWJ, September 2, 1909.
 OFWJ, September 14, 1909.
 OFWJ, September 16, 17, and 18, 1909. The Talmage reference is to him reading his new book, The Great Apostasy, to a committee of the Brethren to approve it before publication.
 OFWJ, September 19, 1909.
 OFWJ, September 20, 1909.
 OFWJ, September 27, 1909.
 OFWJ, September 30, 1909. This was not the only occasion for John A. Widstoe to give his thoughts on the document. On October 23rd he wrote a letter to Whitney, stating: “However, let me say that I have read your article on ‘The Origin of Man’ that you sent me a few days ago. It is undoubtedly an excellent statement of the scriptural view of the origin of man. To me, it is perfectly satisfactory. It is well written, comprehensive and complete. Of course, it does not in any sense deal with the law of evolution or the theory of animal descent as believed in by many evolutionists. . . . As for the article that you have prepared, I cannot understand how any person who understands the Gospel can take issue with it in any way. It certainly would be a good thing to publish. Undoubtedly the comment will be made upon it that it does not after all answer the questions propounded by the evolutionist. I take it that you have not attempted to do this, except in an indirect way” (Correspondence, John A. Widstoe to Orson F. Whitney, October 23, 1909; Church History Library Archives).
 AHLJ, October 14, 1909.
 AHLJ, October 20, 1909. Whitney’s diary does not mention this reading.
 Several authoritative commentators have noted disputations about the declaration; see Packer, “The Law and the Light,” in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., eds., The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through Words of Mormon, To Learn With Joy, 1-31, esp. 22-23; Horne, Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings, 258; Horne, Determining Doctrine, 187-94; and Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Doctrinal Contributions of Joseph F. Smith,” in Joseph F. Smith: Reflections on the Man and His Times, 21-23.
 Clark, Messages of the First Presidency 4:205 (200-06). Some have speculated that in preparing this statement, Whitney drew upon his own material from an earlier article he had written entitled, “Man’s Origin and Destiny” (see The Contributor, Vol. 3, No. 9 [June, 1882]. If so, this was and is common practice among speakers and authors—to reuse, revise, or refine their own former material. Elder Whitney himself was staunchly anti-evolution, firmly believing mankind (Adam and Eve) to be the offspring of Diety, with no animal descent involved.