(by Dennis B. Horne)
Note: see the introduction to post #52 on Robert J. Matthews for further explanation. The below excerpts of writings on evolution and the origin of man by (now deceased) BYU Religious Education Professor Joseph Fielding McConkie (eldest son of Elder Bruce R. McConkie):
Science, as it is generally understood, is decidedly neutral on all matters of interest to religion. Science knows neither justice nor mercy, good nor evil, right nor wrong. It claims neither the power to remit sins nor the authority to identify them. It knows nothing of faith, repentance, redemption, or life beyond the grave. It demands neither ritual nor righteousness. Religion, on the other hand, knows no neutrality. Individuals accept or reject true religion at the peril of their eternal life. Religion, which is a bond between God and man, professes to embrace both mercy and justice and to define both good and evil. The laws of science reject the notion of a resurrection, the inseparable union of body and spirit; religion claims God to be the source of both immortality and eternal life. The dogmas of science are in constant flux; the verities of religion remain everlastingly the same. Science favors no one cause over another; religion professes to bless the faithful and condemn the faithless.
Science is inherently neither antagonistic to religion nor supportive of it. It is simply a tool, a way to search for understanding and knowledge in a temporal world. Some use science to build faith, others to oppose it, and still others as a substitute for it. The decision of how it is to be used rests with those using it. Some scientists are men of faith; others are not. Those seeking confirmation of religious truths generally find it; those seeking to disprove spiritual truths enjoy equal success.
Using the scientific method we seek to understand the physical universe of which we are a part. It has proved itself a fit tool for doing so. It is not effective, however, in finding spiritual truths. If we would know the things of the Spirit, we must become conversant with the laws that govern spiritual things. The laws of science respond with the same consistency for evil men and their purposes as they do for the noble and righteous; but the powers of heaven are inseparably connected with righteousness (see D&C 121:36). "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:20-21). God is not subservient to the laws of the physical universe. Indeed, he created them. Thus he can answer prayers faster than the speed of light. The laws that govern in the celestial realm are far beyond those known to us in this temporal, telestial state in which we find ourselves.
How old is the earth?
It's difficult to say how old the earth is, but the question has little relevance to understanding the creation process. From the time God completed the creation of the earth and pronounced it "very good" (Moses 2:31) to the time that Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and introduced the Fall, time was not measured as it is now. In that Edenic state, there was no aging or decay: all things simply remained in the state they were in after they were created (see 2 Ne. 2:22; Moses 3:9). How can we measure that which does not exist?
The scriptures do tell us that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. It would be hard to argue that these were six days of twenty-four hours, given that it was not until the fourth day of creation that God created the sun and the moon and divided the day from the night (see Gen. 1:14-19; Moses 2:14-19). In fact, the account in Abraham speaks of the creative periods as times rather than as days (see Abr. 4:8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 5:2). It may be that the days of creation each consisted of whatever time was necessary to accomplish the assigned task, and when it was completed, that was "a day." Thus the term day is used to designate an unspecified period of time, as in the "day of affliction," the "day of probation," the "day of deliverance," the "day of visitation," and so forth.
In measures of time known to man, we do not know how long it took to create the earth or how long Adam and Eve chose to remain in their Edenic state. The revelations do specifically tell us the period of time during which the earth will be subject to the effects of Adam's fall, that is, death, decay, and corruption. This earth, the Prophet Joseph Smith was told, will have "seven thousand years of . . . continuance, or . . . temporal existence" (D&C 77:6; see also v. 12). A "temporal existence" is one in which there is death, one in which things are other than eternal.
How do you square the revelation that states that the earth has only seven thousand years of temporal existence with the dictums of science that tell us that things have been living and dying far longer than that?
The first issue here is whether we square the revelations of God with the theories of men, or test the theories of men against the revelations. That has a great deal to do with the kind of conclusion we come to. If we try to square religion with science, and this has been done plenty of times, we simply say that the language of the revelation doesn't mean what it says it means. On the other hand, if we are squaring science with revelation, we conclude that there hasn't been death on this earth as long as the theories of men tell us there has.
How does Latter-day Saint theology respond to the discrepancy between science and religion about the time period in which there has been both life and death on the earth? Neither the scriptures nor the prophets have felt any particular need to respond to this matter. We are trusted to find answers to such questions on our own. In that process some have done better than others. Of particular importance in seeking to resolve this issue is the assumption underlying the conclusions of science that all life forms evolved on the earth and that conditions have been essentially uniform. Our theology rejects both assumptions outright. By revelation we have been told that all things were created spiritually first and thus all life forms came from another sphere (see Moses 3:5). Further, the newly created earth was governed by an Edenic, or paradisiacal, law, that is, a law that would equate with a terrestrial order. By contrast, our present earth is governed by telestial law, which is vastly different. For a theologian the question is, How can data gathered on a telestial earth answer questions about existence on a terrestrial earth? We do not study grapes to draw conclusions about pumpkins, nor do we study the moon to learn about life forms on the sun. Why then would we study a telestial earth to draw conclusions about creation in a terrestrial world?
It might also be observed that priesthood powers are not circumscribed by natural law. By the authority of the priesthood, water can be turned into vintage wine in an instant. Yet experts claim that years are necessary. Again, contrary to the observable and documentable laws of nature, broken bones can be healed instantly, and those who have been dead for thousands of years can come forth to reclaim their bodies in a state of immortality. Such happenings do not make good science, but they make marvelous religion.
Is the theory of evolution compatible with the doctrine of the Fall?
No. We can tug, twist, contort, and sell our birthright, but we cannot overcome the irreconcilable differences between the theory of organic evolution and the doctrine of the Fall. Some have argued for a form of theistic evolution—that is, a God-inspired evolution—in which lower forms of life progressed over great periods of time to the point that God could take the spirit of the man Adam and place it in an animal and declare it to be the first man. The argument is at odds both with scripture and with an official declaration of the First Presidency on the origin of man. The scriptures of the Restoration declare Adam to be "the son of God" (Moses 6:22) and the "firstborn" of all earth's inhabitants (Abr. 1:3). They further state that he and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God's body. In the book of Moses we read: "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God" (Moses 6:8-9; emphasis added). Let the idea not be lost that the physical body of God is being spoken of here. This plain declaration is sustained by the Book of Mormon, which teaches that the premortal Christ would take upon himself "the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth" (Mosiah 7:27; emphasis added). Similarly, the official statement of the First Presidency is that "Adam, our progenitor, `the first man,' was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and like Christ he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a `living soul.' The doctrine of the pre-existence,—revealed so plainly, particularly in latter days, pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man's origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. It teaches that all men existed in the spirit before any man existed in the flesh, and that all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner" (Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:205; emphasis added). Be it Adam, Christ, or any other human being, the process of birth is the same. The First Presidency continues, "Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes" (ibid., 4:206).
Evolution is the notion that lower forms of life can, through the course of generations, genetically improve themselves. For that to happen, both birth and death would have to exist. By contrast, Father Lehi teaches us that if there had been no Fall, "all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children," he tells us. Thus, he testifies, "Adam fell that men might be" (2 Ne. 2:22-23, 25). Enoch, teaching the same thing, said: "Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe" (Moses 6:48).
The gospel of Jesus Christ rests on the union of three doctrines—the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. They have been aptly called the three pillars of eternity. No meaningful understanding of the gospel can be had independent of an understanding of the interrelationship of these three doctrines. Unless we understand how things were created—that is, the original state or nature of things in prefallen earth—we cannot understand what they fell from or what the redemption seeks to return them to. Latter-day Saint theology recognizes God as the Creator. Thus the labor of creation must be godlike. God does not do shoddy work. Having completed the work of creation, he declared it "very good" (Moses 2:31). All created things were in a paradisiacal state—a state in which there was no corruption, no aging, decay, pain, sickness, or death. It is this state to which the atonement of Christ seeks to return us, and it was from this state that Adam fell. This is a matter of devolving, not evolving. Well might we ask, Did Christ redeem us from our present condition to take us back to a more primitive one, one in which living organisms are fighting with and destroying each other? We could hardly consider that a state of glory, yet the promise of the scriptures is that the earth is to be renewed and receive again "its paradisiacal glory" (Article of Faith 10).
Some have argued that the paradisiacal glory of which we speak was confined to the Garden of Eden while evolutionary processes were taking place through the rest of the earth. The great difficulty with this idea is that it confines the effects of the Atonement to forty acres (or whatever size the Garden of Eden was). The plain testimony of scripture is that the entire earth and all created things were affected by the Fall and thus recipients of the blessings of the Atonement. "Every corruptible thing, both of man, or of the beasts of the field, or of the fowls of the heavens, or of the fish of the sea, that dwells upon all the face of the earth, shall be consumed" when the earth makes its transition back to its Edenic state. At that time "all things shall become new," and the "knowledge and glory" of God will fill the earth (D&C 101:24-25). "And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease," and there will be "no death," for individuals will, at the appropriate time, be "changed in the twinkling of an eye, and shall be caught up" to an even more glorious rest (D&C 101:26, 29, 31).
Elder Boyd K. Packer observed that if the theory of evolution applies to man, there was no fall and therefore no need for an atonement, nor a gospel of redemption, nor a redeemer (see "The Law and the Light," 15). The matter is really quite simple. Because Adam was the son of divine parents, he had an immortal body without blood. The Fall caused blood to enter his veins. It was a blood fall that required a blood atonement. One cannot tamper with the story of the Fall without tampering with the story of the Atonement. If it was not Adam who introduced blood and its companion death through his transgression, then we had better find out who did and when it happened so that the necessary corrections can be made in the plan of salvation.
In a further attempt to harmonize evolution with the gospel, some have separated man from the evolutionary process. They concede that man is the creation of God but maintain that the earth and all other life forms were created by evolution. Yet we know that all life forms were represented in Eden and like Adam and Eve were subjects of the Fall. Because of Adam they too will die and because of Christ they too will have claim upon immortality and eternal life. On the matter of the resurrection of animals Joseph Smith said: "Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you the revelations are not true" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 291). To argue for the existence of life forms that were not subject to Adam's fall is to argue at the same time that they are not redeemed through Christ's atonement. Such an argument places God in the awkward position of creating that which he does not have the power to save.
What do the revelations of the Restoration teach us about the origin of man and the creation of the earth that go beyond the biblical account?
Speaking of what we learn in the revelations of the Restoration about the origin of man, the First Presidency has used the expression "a wonderful flood of light" ("Origin of Man," 80). Consider the following:
The elements are eternal. The traditional Christian world holds the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, meaning creation out of nothing. Joseph Smith announced to us that "the elements are eternal" (D&C 93:33) and explained that "there is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter" (D&C 131:7-8). Exploring the meaning of the Hebrew word translated "create" in the book of Genesis, Joseph Smith told us that that word "does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Elements had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end" (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 350-52).
The notion that man was created out of nothing is a hallmark of the Apostasy. Such a notion sustains the idea that God has neither body nor parts and that he is our Father and we are his children only in a figurative sense. The effect of such a doctrine is to distance us from God and from an understanding of his nature. The view you have of the Creation reflects the view you have of the Creator. How are we to feel close to a formless essence that created us from nothing? By contrast, we naturally feel close to a loving Father who created us from his own bone and sinew and who once embraced us.
"I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh," the Lord declared (Moses 6:51). All living things were born first as spirits and then took upon them a physical tabernacle. Having recounted the story of creation, the book of Moses explains how things took place: "For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth," we are told. "In heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air" (Moses 3:5). This means that all life forms existed first in a spirit realm where they were schooled and trained for the experiences of mortality. Thus we understand why we call God our Father in Heaven. He was literally that, the Father of our spirits, and when we read that we were created in his image and likeness, we know it to be literally so. As it is with man, so it is with all things. "That which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created" (D&C 77:2).
Spirit children of our Father were involved in the creation of the earth. We first learn this doctrine in the book of Abraham. Here we are told that from among the noble and great ones were those who sat in council to lay the plans for the creation of this earth. Of these the text says, "We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these [their kindred spirits] may dwell" (Abr. 3:24). At the conclusion of that great council, those thus involved, who were called Gods, said, "We will do everything that we have said, and organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient." And so it was that "they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth" (Abr. 4:31, 1).
As first created in their physical form, no living thing was subject to death. Consider what we are taught in Moses 3:7. This passage announces that God created "man from the dust of the ground," a metaphor for the normal birth process and understood as such by prophets in both the Old and New Worlds. Enoch, for example, used this metaphor in the same manner as Moses did (see Moses 6:59), and Jacob said, "All flesh is of the dust" (Jacob 2:21). Similarly, speaking to his people, King Benjamin said, "Ye were created of the dust of the earth" (Mosiah 2:25), and Moroni said, "Man was created of the dust of the earth" (Morm. 9:17).
Moses 3:7 then tells us that God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Again the reference is to "the spirit and the body" (D&C 88:15). Continuing, the text declares, "The first flesh upon the earth, the first man also" (Moses 3:7). Flesh means mortality (see LDS Bible Dictionary, 675); thus we understand that Adam was both the first of all of God's creations to be subject to death—he having introduced death by partaking of the fruit—and that there were no pre-Adamites, because he was the "first man." "Nevertheless, all things were before created [that is, as spirits]; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word" (Moses 3:7). In this passage the word "spiritually" means that which is not subject to death. All the revelations of the Restoration use the word in this manner (see Alma 11:45; D&C 88:27-28).
This world will know seven thousand years of temporal history (see also pages 156-57). D&C 88, our great revelation on resurrection, delineates the seven angels who will sound their trump, each calling for the revelation of the secret acts of men during each of the seven thousand years of the earth's temporal history. To argue for a longer time is to suggest ages for which God has forgotten to call for accountability (see D&C 88:108-10).
"In the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man" (D&C 77:12). This transition will embrace all corruptible things, including man, beasts of the field, fowls of the heavens, and fish of the sea, and was described even in ancient revelation as a new heaven and a new earth (see D&C 101:24; Isa. 65:17). That all forms of life are subject to the affects of the Fall and thus are rightful heirs of the blessings of Christ's redemption affirms that they, like man, are not the product of an evolutionary process.
At the end of the Millennium the earth and all that inhabit it will be changed from a paradisiacal, or terrestrial, state to a celestial state. The earth, the revelations tell us, is a living thing, which means that it too was among those things that were created as a spirit before it was clothed in a physical tabernacle. Thus it will yet die, be resurrected, obtain a celestial glory, and become the home of all who once resided on it who also obtain that glory (see D&C 88:25-26). Describing the transition from its paradisiacal to its exalted state, the Lord said: "The end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth. For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; and not one hair, neither mote [small particle], shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand" (D&C 29:23-25). After inquiring what the "sea of glass" was spoken of by John the Revelator in Rev. 4:6, Joseph Smith was told: "It is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state" (D&C 77:1). He was further told that "this earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ's" (D&C 130:9). . . .
Great effort has been expended to find and sustain harmony between science and religion. Such efforts are born of an allegiance to science, not faith in Christ. They are a way of saying that if something can be demonstrated by science, we can safely exercise faith in it. Thus we find doctrines or principles that cannot be sustained by the laws of science being brought into accord with them.
In fact, true science and true religion are incompatible by their very definition. Science centers in demonstrable facts; true religion centers in faith in the unseen. The laws of science cannot be used to sustain existence of a personal God. Precious few scientists believe in such a God, and those who do, do so as men of faith, not as scientists. The great doctrines of our faith are not scientifically defensible. We cannot prove the doctrine of a corporeal resurrection with scientific principles. Science does not admit to the possibility of immortality. Science does not attempt to prove the fatherhood of God or that in a future state we may be equal with him in power, might, and dominion. Science provides no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was literally the Son of God and that in and through his atoning sacrifice we may obtain victory over all the effects of Adam's fall. Indeed, it does not sustain the idea that there ever was an Adam or that he and all of God's creations fell from a higher state to the world of corruption in which we now live. Surely we should give thanks to God for the countless blessings that come to us through science, but we should not confuse those blessings with the plan of salvation.
Also at issue is the inseparable relationship among the doctrines of the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. A proper understanding of the Creation is essential to an understanding of the Fall, which in turn is essential to a proper understanding of the Atonement. One cannot truly understand any of these principles without a correct understanding of the others.
From Genesis to Revelation no story in scripture has been the source of more theological mischief than the story of Eden. It is the prime example of scriptural misuse and abuse. The errors that have come from the perversions of this story have given birth in turn to a thousand more. In no story have the figurative and the literal been so thoroughly confused, and in no other story has the absence of "plain and precious" parts caused more to stumble. In the mystery of Eden we have a classic case study of the dangers and difficulties with which uninspired scriptural exegesis is fraught, and the manner in which the scriptures remain a sealed book to all save those who know that same Spirit by which they were originally given. . . .
Indeed the story of Eden has remained a mystery. Too often the picture that is painted is that of Adam, bent and bowed in his new world of thorns and thistles, with the weak and gullible Eve dutifully following behind. Revealed religion exults in the Fall and rejoices in the blessings that flow from it (2 Ne. 2:25). The Adam we see is one who "blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters." (Moses 5:10-12.)
In the story of man's earthly origin we find the rich blend of figurative and literal that is so typical of the Bible, of the teachings of Christ, and of our daily experience-this that the story might unfold according to the faith and wisdom that we bring to it. Like all scriptural texts, its interpretation becomes a measure of our maturity and our spiritual integrity. Such is the mystery of Eden. (The Man Adam, 34-35)