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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

FairMormon mistaken about death before the Fall

"Mormonism and science/Death before the Fall" is the title of a FairMormon Answers article that misrepresents the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In its article, FairMormon asks this (present tense) question:

"What does the Church teach on this subject?"

In its answer, FairMormon gives misleading information about: (1) The Gospel Principles manual, (2) Statements of Church leaders, (3) The LDS Bible Dictionary, and (4) Pre-Adamites and death before the Fall.


1. THE GOSPEL PRINCIPLES MANUAL

FairMormon claims the phrase, "no death before the Fall," doesn't refer to the whole world. As evidence, FairMormon points to a four word sentence found in the Gospel Principles manual:

"There was no death."

FairMormon explains that the above sentence refers only to the Garden of Eden, substantiating that claim with this assertion:

"There is no statement in the manual that there had been no death anywhere in the entire world."

The assertion is false. Death and mortality are inextricably linked, and the manual does in fact teach that the Fall brought mortality into the whole world, not just into the Garden:

"God prepared this earth as a home for His children. Adam and Eve were chosen to be the first people to live on the earth. Their part in our Father’s plan was to bring mortality into the world." (p.27.)

"When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden,... there was no death." (p.28; emphasis added.)

"Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world." (p.219.)

Gospel Principles has been the Church's basic manual for investigators and new members since 1978. The current edition was used for Priesthood and Relief Society instruction during 2010 and 2011. What this manual says about death before the Fall is what the Church teaches on that subject.


2. STATEMENTS OF CHURCH LEADERS

FairMormon claims:

"There has been a difference of opinion among Church leaders on the extent to which immortality affected God's creations before the Fall."

This FairMormon claim is misleading for the following reasons:

    2a. The 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have never unanimously approved publication of any document that teaches there was death on this earth before the Fall of Adam.

    2b. In 1972, the First Presidency published a Melchizedek Priesthood manual which states:

"The earth and all upon it were not subject to death until Adam fell.... It was through the fall of Adam that death came into the world." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions, pp.54 and 111.)

Since 1972, the First Presidency and Twelve have unanimously approved publication of several documents that teach no death on earth before the Fall. (Gospel Principles, for example, and see below.)

    2c. During the Church's entire 184 year history, only two of 97 apostles have openly suggested there was death on this earth before the Fall. James E. Talmage died in 1933 and John A. Widtsoe died in 1952.

We are not following God's servants when we summon dead prophets to contradict Living Prophets.

It is misleading to imply a public lack of unity among current members of the First Presidency and the Twelve regarding death before the Fall. Such a lack of unity simply does not exist.


3. THE LDS BIBLE DICTIONARY

A good place to look for what the Church teaches is between the covers of its standard works. A good example is the LDS Bible Dictionary. It may not be official doctrine, but members of the First Presidency and Twelve teach freely and often from the LDS Bible Dictionary in general conference talks and other Church magazine articles.

FairMormon, on the other hand, questions the validity of these words from the LDS Bible Dictionary entry for "Death":

Death: "Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth before the Fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the Fall (2 Ne. 2:22; Moses 6:48)."

    3a. The Church's official missionary guide, Preach My Gospel, sets forth doctrines that LDS missionaries are to study and teach, and it specifically endorses the LDS Bible Dictionary entry on "Death."

In Lesson 2: The Plan of Salvation, Preach My Gospel instructs missionaries to study the LDS Bible Dictionary entry for "Death" alongside several other references from the standard works. (p.52.)

    3b. The Church's official Guide to the Scriptures is a study aid that is now included in all non-English print editions of LDS Scripture and in all electronic editions (such as the Scriptures at LDS.org). Regarding death before the Fall, the Guide to the Scriptures says:

Death, Physical: "The Fall brought mortality and death to the earth (2 Ne. 2:22; Moses 6:48)."

    3c. In the April 2001 general conference (May 2001 Ensign), and again in the March 2002 Ensign, Russell M. Nelson recommended that members going to the temple for the first time read certain entries in the LDS Bible Dictionary, including these words from the entry for "Fall of Adam":

Fall of Adam and Eve: "Before the Fall, there were no sin, no death, and no children. With the eating of the 'forbidden fruit,' Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, and death became a part of life. Adam became the 'first flesh' upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam's Fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14:16-17)."

What the Church teaches about death before the fall can be found in the LDS Bible Dictionary and in the Guide to the Scriptures.


4. PRE-ADAMITES AND DEATH BEFORE THE FALL

In its article, FairMormon recounts several events related to a private 1931 discussion among Church leaders about pre-Adamites and death before the Fall.

FairMormon quotes a 1931 unpublished memo, a 1931 private letter, and a 1931 personal journal to show a lack of unity among Church leaders regarding pre-Adamites and death before the Fall. FairMormon further points to a 1931 speech in which James E. Talmage spoke of plant and animal fossils and said:

"These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation."

FairMormon correctly notes that this 1931 Talmage talk was published as a Church pamphlet.

FairMormon carefully establishes that only one man, the President of the Church, may proclaim one teaching, among two or more, as the settled teaching of the Church. On this point, FairMormon quotes Harold B. Lee who said:

"There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church.... If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer."

    4a. But FairMormon seems to have turned a blind eye to Harold B. Lee's own answer, while he himself was Church President, to the question of pre-Adamites:

"I was somewhat sorrowed recently to hear someone, a sister who comes from a church family, ask, 'What about the pre-Adamic people?' Here was someone who I thought was fully grounded in the faith.

"I asked. 'What about the pre-Adamic people?'

"She replied, 'Well, aren't there evidences that people preceded the Adamic period of the earth?'

"I said, 'Have you forgotten the scripture that says, "And I, the Lord God, formed man 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.) I asked, 'Do you believe that?'

"She wondered about the creation because she had read the theories of the scientists, and the question that she was really asking was: How do you reconcile science with religion? The answer must be, If science is not true, you cannot reconcile truth with error." (First Presidency Message, Ensign, Dec. 1972.)

    4b. FairMormon is careful to point out that it was "with the approval of the First Presidency," that the 1931 Talmage talk was published by the Church. But FairMormon doesn't even mention the Priesthood manual (see 2b above) that was written by a Church President and published by the First Presidency in 1972.

    4c. The 1931 First Presidency may have had questions about death before the Fall, but the 1972 First Presidency resolved those questions, and since then, everything members of the First Presidency and the Twelve have said about it in official LDS media has unanimously affirmed "no death on earth before the Fall."

    4d. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church series is a collection of gospel reference books established by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. As stated in the Introduction to the last three volumes, one purpose of this series is to help members answer questions about Church doctrine.

Our Church leaders are teaching us by example how to use this series: Nine speakers in the October 2013 General Conference quoted from Teachings of Presidents of the Church in their talks.

FairMormon chooses to avoid what three Church Presidents teach about death before the Fall, as found in Teachings of Presidents of the Church:

WILFORD WOODRUFF: "We acknowledge that through Adam all have died, that death through the fall must pass upon the whole human family, also upon the beasts of the field, the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air and all the works of God, as far as this earth is concerned." (p.81.)

HAROLD B. LEE: "Besides the Fall having had to do with Adam and Eve, causing a change to come over them, that change affected all human nature, all of the natural creations, all of the creation of animals, plants—all kinds of life were changed. The earth itself became subject to death.... How it took place no one can explain, and anyone who would attempt to make an explanation would be going far beyond anything the Lord has told us. But a change was wrought over the whole face of the creation, which up to that time had not been subject to death. From that time henceforth all in nature was in a state of gradual dissolution until mortal death was to come, after which there would be required a restoration in a resurrected state." (p.20.)

JOSEPH FIELDING SMITH: "Temporal and spiritual death [was] brought into the world by the fall of Adam." (p.51.)

"It was appointed ... that Adam our father should ... partake of the forbidden fruit and fall, thus bringing suffering and death into the world.... Had Adam and Eve not partaken, the great gift of mortality would not have come to them..... The fall of Adam brought to pass all of the vicissitudes of mortality. It brought pain, it brought sorrow, it brought death." (p.61.)

"Marriage [was] instituted on this earth before death came into it.... It naturally follows that the family organization was also intended to be eternal." (p.77.)


CONCLUSION

In its article about death before the Fall, FairMormon misrepresents or completely ignores the current Church publications quoted above and listed below:

    1. The LDS Bible Dictionary,

    2. The Guide to the Scriptures,

    3. The Gospel Principles manual,

    4. The missionary guide, Preach My Gospel,

    5. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff.

    6. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, and

    7. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith.

These books are not scripture, not even official doctrine. Yet each was approved and published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And in unison they teach "no death on earth before the Fall of Adam," which may not be what FairMormon wants you to believe, but it is what the LDS Church teaches.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

New manual affirms NDBF

The LDS Church has published a new manual, "Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual," which affirms that the Creation was deathless until after Adam's transgression:

"At the Creation, Adam, Eve, the earth, and all things on the earth were in a spiritual state. Even though Adam and Eve had physical bodies, they were not subject to death and could dwell in God’s presence forever. However, as part of Heavenly Father’s plan, all His creations would become temporal. In other words, they would become temporary and subject to death. Following the resurrection, they will return to a spiritual state—physical but also immortal." (p.123.)

"Temporal death [or] the death of the physical body ... is the separation of the spirit from the body [and] came because of Adam's transgression." (p.124.)

This new manual joins a growing list of official LDS publications that teach No Death Before the Fall.

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

No dispute between Smith and Roberts over evolution

Occasionally, someone will say there was a "dispute between LDS authorities Joseph Fielding Smith and Brigham H. Roberts over evolution." (Click here, for a current example.)

Did Smith and Roberts disagree over evolution? Let's look at what each said about evolution:


Joseph Fielding Smith

"Today the world ... has adopted and is promulgating in textbooks and schools the debasing doctrine that man is ... a natural development through countless ages from the lowest forms of physical life to his present form and intelligence. Such a doctrine is an insult to our Father in whose Image we were created. [It] is the doctrine of the devil." (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:143-149.)


Brigham H. Roberts

"The theory of evolution as advocated by many modern scientists lies stranded upon the shore of idle speculation.... If the hypothesis of evolution be true,... then it is evident that there has been no 'fall,'... and if there was no fall,... then the mission of Jesus Christ was a myth, the coinage of idle brains, and Jesus himself was either mistaken, or one of the many impostors that have arisen to mock mankind with the hope of eternal life. Such is the inevitable result of accepting the philosophy of evolution, after which all the world is now running—it is destructive of the grand, central truth of all revelation." (The Gospel and Man's Relationship to Deity, 7th edition, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1928, pp.265-267).


Conclusion

Joseph Fielding Smith did disagree with some things Roberts said in a 1928 manuscript, but not the part where Roberts said each "subdivision of life ... produces after its kind, whereas evolution in all its forms destroys that thought." (The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996, p.239.)

There was no dispute between Smith and Roberts over evolution.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Our LDS blogs are all "Alternate Voices"

At the age of 29, Dallin H. Oaks was hired as professor of law at the University of Chicago, a position he held for 10 years. At age 36, he joined the editorial board of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a position he held for two years.

Later, he was president of BYU for nine years before being appointed to the Utah Supreme Court. At the age of 51, he was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

In his April 1989 general conference address, he noted some of the differences between (a) those who "have been called and given divine authority" to teach about the Church and its doctrine, and (b) those who "speak on these subjects without calling or authority." I believe his own previous experience at Dialogue provided a valuable backdrop for this talk about "Alternate Voices."

This talk is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, perhaps more so. Therefore, I invite you to read it again. Click this link or simply scroll through the talk inside the window below:

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mormons believe global Flood story

Recently, I noticed a couple of blog discussions about the great Flood — here and here. Was it local or global? Was it figurative or literal? As I thought about these discussions, I wondered: What do Mormons generally believe? Is there an official answer?

There are a lot of things about which Mormons don't agree. In fact, we pretty much believe what we want about most things. Sometimes we even disagree with our Church about its teachings, but seeking support from others for our disagreements with the Church, especially while doing Church work such as teaching fellow members, is discouraged.

Along with others of his associates, M. Russell Ballard has asked Church members to create and use blogs to help promote a correct understanding of the Church. He has also cautioned:

"We cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches.... All conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time....

"Discussions focused on questioning, debating, and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God." (Ensign, July 2008.)

What Mormons officially believe is that which has been approved by the First Presidency and Twelve and distributed to members in print or electronic form by the Church. It comes packaged in a wide range of magazines, manuals, and handbooks. An excellent example is The Guide to the Scriptures, a study aid that is now included in all non-English print editions of LDS Scripture and in all electronic editions (such as the Scriptures at LDS.org).

In an effort to dispel misconceptions that may exist at this time regarding what Mormons believe about the Flood, an official article from The Guide to the Scriptures has been downloaded to the window below from the Church web site at LDS.org:

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My conclusion? Mormons (officially) believe that the earth was completely covered with water. And Mormons (generally) believe what the Church teaches.


For more information, see "The Flood and the Tower of Babel" at LDS.org. The author's credentials are listed here and here.

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

New Gospel Topic on Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

There is a new Gospel Topic at LDS.org titled, "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies." It deals primarily with DNA science and population genetics as these relate to the Book of Mormon.

Over at LDS Science Review, Jared* sees this new article as something of a breakthrough for evolutionists because it discusses some of the same principles and processes that are used to explain evolution. In fact, according the title of Jared's post, the new article means the Church is now teaching evolution.

Meanwhile, at Mormanity, Jeff Lindsay notes that "for some of us who love science and our faith, the new statement ... comes as a pleasant surprise." He believes the new Topic article is significant because it is scientifically oriented.

I think both of these bloggers are reading more into the article than it contains: It neither promotes science nor teaches evolution. Perhaps the following excerpt from the article has been overlooked:

"The conclusions of genetics, like those of any science, are tentative, and much work remains to be done to fully understand the origins of the native populations of the Americas. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples, and even if their genetic profile were known, there are sound scientific reasons that it might remain undetected. For these same reasons, arguments that some defenders of the Book of Mormon make based on DNA studies are also speculative. In short, DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon." (Topic article, paragraph 3.)

The article says to me that DNA questions about the Book of Mormon cannot be answered conclusively by science. And while some research appears to challenge the Book of Mormon, other research draws more favorable conclusions. The article appears to be an effort to balance the public record on this issue.

In a larger sense, the article says to me that the conclusions of science are tentative and whether one supports or opposes a particular theory, scientific arguments on both sides are speculative.

I like how Hugh Nibley said it: "The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow." (Maxwell Institute.)

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