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Monday, October 31, 2005

These, however, are the theories of men

In 1909, there were two major events celebrating Charles Darwin and his book, The Origin of Species. In addition, for Latter-day Saints, there was a third major event that year—the First Presidency issued a formal declaration of the Church's position on evolution.

The Origin of Species

A national Darwin celebration held in February 1909 was described as follows:

The one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species" were celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences on February twelfth at the American Museum of Natural History.  (The American Museum Journal, Vol. IX, No. 3, March 1909; as quoted on-line by Natural History Magazine.)

An international Darwin celebration was also held that year:

In June 1909, more than two hundred scientists representing 167 different countries gathered in Cambridge to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species.  The event was perhaps the most magnificent commemoration in the annals of science.  (Marsha Richmond, Oct. 21, 2005, as quoted on-line at Wayne State University.)

The Origin of Man

The 1909 First Presidency's 2,700 word statement on "The Origin of Man" is a formal declaration "of the position held by the Church upon this important subject."  (Improvement Era, Vol. 13, Nov. 1909, 75-81; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Man: His Origin and Destiny, 348-355.)  Regarding the question of man's body evolving from lower orders of life, the 1909 First Presidency said:  "These, however, are the theories of men"—easily and usually interpreted as anti-evolution.

The 1909 statement was excerpted in chapter 37 of the 2000-2001 study guide Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith which includes the anti-evolution sentence on page 336.  The 1909 statement was also reprinted in the Feb. 2002 Ensign in its entirety so that Church members might know "the Church's doctrinal position on ... evolution."  (Introductory paragraph, 26.)

Question

Does the statement "these, however, are the theories of men" constitute an authoritative pronouncement against evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body?

Elder Boyd K. Packer's answer

In 1988, Elder Boyd K. Packer answered the above question when he presented a paper at BYU "on the origin of man." [1] Three times in this paper, Elder Packer makes reference to the 1909 First Presidency statement, "The Origin of Man." [2] In addition, he included the text of the 1909 "Origin of Man" statement in an "Appendix." [3]

Twice in a section titled "Introduction," Elder Packer clearly states that his paper is "on the origin of man." [4] Twice more, in a section titled "The Law", Elder Packer clearly states that the paper is "on the origin of man." [5] In a section titled "Conscience," Elder Packer states the premise on which he has established his conviction on the origin of man  [6] and later in the same section again references "the origin of man." [7] In the section titled "The Sciences,"  Elder Packer expresses his conviction that a full knowledge of "the origin of man" will come in the future by revelation. [8]

In this paper, Elder Packer very clearly states that organic evolution as an explanation for the origin of man is not only a problem, it is "the problem" [9] Furthermore, he points out, many Church members are entirely unaware that fundamental doctrines "cannot co-exist" with the belief that man's body evolved from lower forms of animal life. [10] He warns members not to mortgage their testimonies "for an unproved theory" on how man's body was created and admonishes members to have faith "in the revelations" leaving man where the revelations have put him.  [11] He emphasizes a second time, "Do not mortgage your soul for unproved theories." [12]

It is Elder Packer's conviction that to the degree evolution asserts man to be the product of an evolutionary process "it is false!" [13] Theistic evolution, he says, "is equally false." [14] Elder Packer asserts that if the theory of evolution applies to man, "there was no Fall and therefore no need for an atonement." [15]

And finally, Elder Packer maintains that evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body is incompatible with "an understanding of the sealing authority," which he says (twice for emphasis), "cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts." [16]

There doesn't seem to be any room for misunderstanding here.  Elder Packer presented a paper about the origin of man.  A centerpiece of his paper was the 1909 First Presidency statement.  Regarding the question of man's body evolving from lower orders of life, Elder Packer quotes the 1909 First Presidency's statement that "these, however, are the theories of men." [17]

Apostles and doctrine

I am fully aware that Elder Packer's paper is not an "official declaration."  This is true of most material published by individual members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

However, it should be self-evident among Latter-day Saints that God has given apostles and prophets "for the edifying of the body of Christ," and that their ministry is to see that "we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."  (Eph. 4:16.)  The apostles and prophets teach and interpret doctrine.  Twice the Lord tells the elders of the Church to say "none other things" than that which the apostles and prophets teach (D&C 52:9, 36).  The Lord's house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to teach the doctrine, as President James E. Faust has explained:

"I strongly counsel all who have membership in this church to follow the teachings and counsel of those who now have the keys as prophets, seers, and revelators [the apostles and prophets].  They are the ones who will inspire us to deal with the vicissitudes of our time.  I plead with all not to try to selectively invoke gospel principles or scripture to wrongly justify spiritual disobedience, or to separate themselves from the responsibilities of covenants and ordinances contrary to the counsel of those who have the prophetic voice in the Church.  The scriptures and doctrines of the Church are not, as Peter warned,  'of any private interpretation.'  (2 Pet. 1:20.)"  (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 74; the bracketed words are mine.)

According to Boyd K. Packer, who is authorized to interpret doctrine, the 1909 First Presidency statement that "these, however, are the theories of men" does in fact constitute an authoritative pronouncement against evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body.  And it would be extremely presumptuous to suggest that President Packer has subsequently changed his mind on "this major issue." [18]

_____________________________

Notes

  1. Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990), 2; see also an on-line pdf, 1, but note that the page numbers in the book don't match those in the pdf.

  2. "The Law and the Light," 22-23, 27; on-line pdf, 12-13, 15.

  3. "The Law and the Light," 28-29; the on-line pdf does not include the Appendix.

  4. "The Law and the Light," 2; on-line pdf, 1.

  5. "The Law and the Light," 3; on-line pdf, 1 2.

  6. "The Law and the Light," 5; on-line pdf, 3.

  7. "The Law and the Light," 6; on-line pdf, 4.

  8. "The Law and the Light," 8; on-line pdf, 4.

  9. "The Law and the Light," 6; on-line pdf, 4; italics in the original.

  10. "The Law and the Light," 7; on-line pdf, 4.

  11. "The Law and the Light," 10; on-line pdf, 6; italics in the original.

  12. "The Law and the Light," 26; on-line pdf, 14.

  13. "The Law and the Light," 21; on-line pdf, 11.

  14. "The Law and the Light," 21; on-line pdf, 12.

  15. "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12.

  16. "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12; see also "The Chicks," and "After Their Own Kind" in Ensign, Nov. 1984, 66.

  17. "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12.

  18. "The Law and the Light," 23; on-line pdf, 13; compare President Packer as quoted in Ensign, Jan. 2005, 49.

34 Comments:

Blogger jeff g said...

Gary,

I'm not sure what the point of your posts are any more. Nobody doubts for a second that church leaders such as Packer don't believe in evolution and and spoken out on it on a number of occassions. It is also quite obvious to anybody who has ever been to institute or seminary that the church has officially reserved a significant element of doubt as to evolutions veracity.

However it seems just as obvious that despite these pronouncements, the church has not officially come out in direct opposition to evolution. I don't understand why you fight against this conclusion, for this "non-position" has saved a lot of faith in more than one Mormon scientist. To these people, evolution is clearly true, and an official position against it would only call into question the truth value and divine authority of ALL "official" statements.

I know you mean well, but you should understand that you are attacking more than a few people's faith in these posts of yours.

10/31/2005 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Gary,

It seems to me that Elder Packer's speech suffers from some of the same limitations as he attributes to Pres. McKay's letter, or that you attribute to Pres. Hinckley's involvement in the drafting of the EofM article.

Furthermore, while you seem to be elevating this speech to the status of prophetic and authoritative commentary, the cover letter to the BYU Packet, written and approved by the Board of Trustees, would place it in the catagory of "various opinions."

I agree with many of the principles Elder Packer defends in the speech, but I think he draws some false dichotomies and attacks some straw-men, something he is not immune to by virtue of his calling.

10/31/2005 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Welcome back, Gary!

I think you and I would agree on the following:

1) Apostles' sermons carry some degree of ecclesiastical authority.

2) The degree of authority is at least partially dependent on the context of the sermon.

My question for you is whether your personal epistomology is purely a function of authority, or whether other factors would affect the credibility of an apostle's words in your eyes.

Which of the following could possibly lead you to question the veracity of an apostle's claim?

1) Another apostle made a contradictory claim in an equally authoritative context. What if the contradiction occurred in a more authoritative or less authoritative context? What if an apostle contradicts himself?

2) The claim is regarded as factually incorrect by virtually all informed people. For example, David O. McKay's claim that the sun is the center of the universe.

3) The claim includes demonstrably fallacious reasoning.

4) The Spirit witnesses that the claim is wrong.

I'm very interested to know how you would respond to the above situations, Gary.

Thanks for the blog!

10/31/2005 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous J. Stapley said...

Ironically, at the 1946 funeral of May Anderson, David O. McKay, quoted Darwin's book and likened the principle of Evolution to Eternal progression.

10/31/2005 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

J., and most scientists would understand such an analogy about as clearly as he understood science.

10/31/2005 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jeffrey, the reason you don't get the point of my post is that you are in denial. My point is simple and straightforward. It is that the church has, in fact, come out in direct opposition to evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body.

The 1909 First Presidency stated emphatically: "These, however, are the theories of men." Since then, the position of this Church on the subject of evolution has never changed, anonymous Improvement Era articles notwithstanding.

The "No Church Doctrine" doctrine was created ex nihilo by someone who has never been authorized to declare doctrine. President Packer, on the other hand, is an authorized witness that the pejorative nature of the 1909 First Presidency statement is real and that what it teaches is clearly true.

I'm sure we both mean well, but to be honest I think most Latter-day Saints would see you as the one who is attacking faith by openly criticizing the Church and its leaders.

10/31/2005 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared, the BYU Packet places high value on the 1909 First Presidency statement and President Packer is authorized to interpret such statements. You are free to disagree with President Packer, but you must also accept what that does to your credibility with Latter-day Saints.

10/31/2005 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

will, for the answer to your questions, please re-read the last four paragraphs of my post.

10/31/2005 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

J., I should have said "and most scientists would understand such an analogy about as clearly as he apparently understood science." My comment, of course, was a continuation of your sentence and my thought was also based on will's comment about the sun being the center of the universe.

10/31/2005 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger jeff g said...

Gary,

You misunderstand me. As I fully acknowledged, you have most of the church leaders on your side. I don't deny that.

What I am saying is that while you are clearly not fighting against the church, you are not following the church's example of not attacking the faith which many evolutionists struggle to keep in their leaders' statements. Evolution is clearly true to these people, and they are able to accept that many leaders have said things against evolution while hoping that these statements don't amount to an official position. This is how they keep this faith in their leaders.

The church has learned to respect this faith while you have not.

11/01/2005 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

Gary, I actually read your post quite carefully before commenting, and my questions had a point, which was that nobody (not even you) judges claims on the basis of authority alone.

The above point may be outside of the scope of this blog, which seems to focus not on the veracity of NDBF statements, but rather their authority. We agree that their authority is more than zero and less than binding, but we position ourselves differently on the continuum in-between. What are the implications of your position, or, as Elder Packer likes to ask, therefore what? Therefore ... we should believe NDBF? If that's the point you're trying to make, then we're back to the veracity question, which involves factors other than authority. If that isn't your point, then what is?

11/01/2005 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Gary,

I think it is unfortunate that the very fact that I see some things differently than Elder Packer is a strike against my credibility in the eyes of some Latter-day Saints.

I think it is best that I leave it at that.

Back to your thesis, Stephens and Meldrum write that when they requested an offical declaration of doctrine, they recieved the 1909 statement along with instruction that any elaboration was not the position of the Church. Assuming they have been accurate in their portrayal, this cuts somewhat against your thesis.

On the other hand, it is a private letter. If you intepret Elder Packer's words broadly, this means it is not an offical declaration of doctrine--in spite of the fact that it comes from the First Presidency as an offical declaration of doctrine.

True, it was not publically published so there is no obligation for you to incoporate it into your worldview. But neither do I see why it should automatically be disqualified either.

11/01/2005 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

It seems to me that if Gary takes Elder Packer's use of the 1909 statement as evidence against evolution we are left with the old problem that the brethren given statements in letters quoting the 1909 statement as evidence for neutrality. I'm at a loss of how to take the contradiction, beyond suspecting that letters from the First Presidency trump Gary's views.

11/01/2005 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Clark, I'm curious about the First Presidency letters you mention, quoting the 1909 statement "as evidence for neutrality." There are very few First Presidency letters floating around that talk about evolution at all and even fewer that quote the 1909 statement. Are you by chance referring to this one you quoted two months ago in a comment on another blog?

-------------- quote --------------
The position of the Church on the origin of man was published by the First Presidency in 1909 and stated again by a different First Presidency in 1925:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity....  Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes.

The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again (D&C 101:32-33). In 1931, the First Presidency said

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church....
-------------- end quote --------------

I don't see the contradiction. I think the above letter is in complete harmony with everything in my current post. I agree that we shouldn't blindly see harmony where it doesn't exist, but I think the opposite is also true—I don't think we should imagine disagreement where it doesn't exist.

To me, this letter clearly counsels against interpreting the doctrines of the Church according to scientific research. It says not to attempt reconciliation of the named scientific fields with the gospel.

What this letter does not say is that Church leaders should refrain from contradicting the conclusions of science. It does not say the Church or its leaders must be neutral on evolution. Church leaders freely warn members about false and dangerous theories. Just ten months ago in January, for example, the Church published another such warning: "No idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals." (President Boyd K. Packer, as quoted in Ensign, Jan. 2005, 49; emphasis added.) This not-so-neutral statement is in complete harmony with the above letter and my current post. So where is the contradiction? What is being trumped?

11/02/2005 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared, I think it's hard to say just what exactly Stephens and Meldrum received and from whom. As preparation for writing their book, they wanted to have the church's current position on evolution and so, according to the account in their book, one of them conferred with his local ward bishop who subsequently received a letter with the requested information.

-------------- quote --------------
We sought this clarification so that it would not be necessary for readers to do so individually. In response, the bishop received a letter ... and a copy of the complete text of the official statement issued in 1909 on "The Origin of Man." ... The secretary to the First Presidency concluded his letter to the bishop by emphasizing that any attempt to interpret or elaborate upon the 1909 statement must be considered personal opinion and not the position of the church. (Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001, 7.)
>-------------- end quote --------------

It seems to me that the secretary, having been informed of their project, was giving them a warning about attempting to interpret or elaborate on the 1909 statement in their book. It is highly doubtful that the secretary's warning was intended for anyone other than Stephens and Meldrum.

President Packer on the other hand, as one of the Apostles, has "the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church." (Ensign, Sep. 2005, 17.) Therefore, just as with the First Presidency letter quoted above, I don't see any contradiction.

11/02/2005 01:23:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Will, we do agree that the authority of most Church doctrine is more than zero and less than binding. But "less than binding" doesn't by any stretch of the imagination mean "false."

Just as I have in the past so I will in the future avoid interpreting the doctrines of the Church according to scientific research. I will avoid any attempt to reconcile scientific theory with the gospel. I will not question the intelligence and inspiration of apostles and prophets just because they don't accept certain evolution facts.

The doctrine of no death before the fall is found throughout today's Church published literature. My web site and this blog leave no doubt about that fact. And while you don't have to "believe NDBF" if you don't want to, at the same time you can't teach death before the fall as Church doctrine because it clearly isn't.

11/02/2005 02:00:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jeffrey, just ten months ago in January, the Church published something that doesn't square with your comment: "No idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals." (President Boyd K. Packer, as quoted in Ensign, Jan. 2005, 49; emphasis added.) This leaves me wondering why you think the Church has so much respect for your faith.

11/02/2005 02:11:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Jeff can speak for himself, but I doubt that he thinks (nor do I) that we are only advanced animals. Futhermore, many people of other denominations who accept evolution do not think such a thing. That is a philosophical view that, while easily arrived at based only on the scientific evidence, is nevertheless a philosophical view. (Even with that philosophical view, many remain honorable people.)

So, I have no reason to disagree with Elder Packer over whether we are only animals. Interestingly, your citation for Elder Packer's quote comes from a commentary article regarding the Proclamation, a document that says that we are God's spiritual offspring but leaves any physical relationship unstated. I have no reason to disagree that we are the offspring of God. (Not that I would necessarily reject a physical relationship.) These things can co-exist with evolution in my mind.

I have no argument with the 1909 statement being the position of the Church. But do you find it curious that an article in a newspaper in Nebraska stating that the Church opposes embryonic-stem cell research ellicited a
href="http://www.lds.org/newsroom/mistakes/0,15331,3885-1-21582,00.html">correction
, but the recent spate of Salt Lake Tribune articles stating that the Church does not have a position on evolution brought nothing in the way of comment?

11/02/2005 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

I don't know why that link didn't format right, but here it is again.

11/02/2005 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger jeff g said...

Gary,

I could not have provided a better example of irresponsible statements by authorities which leads to a questioning of the authoritativeness of such statements. Evolution says absolutely nothing about the nature of the "family" nor how we should approach it. Evolutionary psychology does help us understand many of the problems which may arise in the family, but no responsible scholar views these "findings" as excuses for any form of immoral behavior. Packer's statement is totally wrong on almost every account. Either we view that statement as his own misinformed opinion, or we can treat it as being a misinformed official statement. Which would you prefer?

11/02/2005 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger jeff g said...

It should also be noted that if Packer's comments have any amount of truth in them, the reason for "evolution" causing so many familial problems would be due exclusively to a misunderstanding of evolution. Who is to blame for such rampant misunderstanding, the evolutionists or those who insist that it not be taught?

In other words, Packer is contributing to the problem which he laments. So are you.

11/02/2005 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jeffrey, thank you for making your feelings on this perfectly clear. You have expressed yourself forcefully. I have no doubt that you have been honest in so doing. Thank you again.

11/02/2005 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger jeff g said...

Sorry if I sounded a bit harsh. Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate your efforts. However, I just though that you should know that your efforts might not always have the results you intend.

As always, no harm meant. Good to see you are still posting.

P.S. I know that such would fall outside the intend of your blog, but I think that a lot of us would love to hear what your position is regarding all that evidence for evolution. Maybe you could put it up as a guest post a M&E or something.

11/02/2005 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

Gary: What this letter does not say is that Church leaders should refrain from contradicting the conclusions of science.

So when it says, "Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church..." it doesn't really mean it?

11/02/2005 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Clark, it means don't use the named sciences as a measure for gospel truth. A number of apostles and at least three Church Presidents since 1931 have openly contradicted the conclusions of science. Therefore, it obviously does not mean that Church leaders should refrain from doing so because they've done that all along.

11/02/2005 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared, unfortunately, I must disagree with you on several points in your most recent comment.

(1)  You seem to be suggesting that fundamental doctrines (such as the Fall and the Atonement) can co-exist with a belief that man's physical body evolved from lower forms of animal life as long as we are more than just advanced animals. In other words, the origin of man's physical body isn't important if we acknowledge that man's physical body houses his spirit body. You say, "I have no reason to disagree with Elder Packer over whether we are only animals." Aren't you are agreeing with his words but avoiding his intended meaning? If we take President Packer in context, if what he has said elsewhere and over and over on this subject can be accepted as an indication of his meaning here, I seriously doubt you agree with him.

(2)  I think you misinterpret the Ensign article. The article quotes the Prophet Joseph Smith about the physical creation of man, "Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another." It was after his physical creation that Adam walked, talked and conversed with God in the Garden of Eden. Then the article quotes President Packer, "We differ, by virtue of our creation, from all other living things." Living things are physical things. President Packer and the Prophet Joseph Smith, as quoted in this article, are both talking about the physical creation. Yes, the article is about "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." That being the case, the Church apparently feels the Proclamation does cover man's physical relationship to God.

(3)  In your comment, you profess to not "necessarily" reject man's physical relationship to God. But can you accept that man's physical body "is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation." (James E. Talmage, "The Earth and Man," 1931, 13-14; emphasis added.) This, by the way, is in complete harmony with Boyd K. Packer's statement that evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body is incompatible with "an understanding of the sealing authority," which he says (twice for emphasis), "cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts."

(4)  A newspaper article published in Nebraska falsely stated "According to Mormon belief, life does not begin until a human embryo attaches to the mother's uterus after about 14 days." Your comment suggests that had the Church not corrected this on its "Comments on the News" web page, the Nebraska newspaper would have been stating official Church doctrine. By extension, your comment suggests that Latter-day Saints can believe literally any source that pontificates on Mormon doctrine unless the Church's "Comments on the News" web page specifically says otherwise. That would be an interesting approach to learning doctrine—read the newspaper. You're not really serious about this, are you?

I appreciate your comment, Jared. I just don't happen to agree with what you say.

11/02/2005 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Gary,

Any answer I give here will be insufficient. I will not be able to fully convey my thinking. Nevertheless, here's a quick shot at it.

Let's clear #4 out of the way. I was not making such a ridiculous argument. I was pointing out the curiosity that the Church (or at least the PR dept) felt the need to correct a Nebraskan newspaper but remained silent on at least two Tribune articles at their front door. Was the silence PR expediency? Who knows.

Speaking of silence, we turn to the topic of man's physical relationship to God. I understand the reasoning behind it, and I also know that many General Authorities have believed it. But I also know that it has been curiously passed over in important documents like the Proclamation and all creation accounts, and that we also have a number of statements from Apostles and Prophets saying, 'we don't know how man was created.' I don't think my uncertainty on this matter is purely of my own manufacturing, nor do I maintain it just to support evolution; I was cautious about it before I ever incoporated evolution into my thinking.

I am not in a position to say it is or is not the case. But whatever the case, our bodies have marks of evolution. If we are physically descended from God then it has been obscured by these marks (which, IMO, may be the physical reality behind the Fall), which means that evolution is still worth talking about in the human context even if it is not the whole story. If we are not physically descended from God, then I have a harder time seeing what the fuss is about. Our spiritual relationship and our future potential and destiny is the same either way.

As for sealing not admitting beasts, I would not argue otherwise. One popular theistic evolution scenario is that Adam was the first Homo sapien to be spiritually a son of God. I know Elder Packer objects to this scenario on other grounds, but my point here is that even if it were true, why couldn't the sealing line end at Adam, and he be sealed to God? Even now, sealings don't always follow ancestoral lines, so as far as its relevance to the truth or falsity of evolution it is a non-issue in my mind.

11/03/2005 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Gary,

This is your blog, so you are entitled to the last word. If your response does not ask questions of me, I'll drop this line of conversation. We might otherwise go on forever trying to have the last word.

11/03/2005 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as a sidenote, Kent Jackson of the BYU Rel. department notes on p. 116-117 of the current FARMS Review that "All, or
perhaps virtually all, BYU life science professors both believe in and teach evolution, and they do so without fear of the repercussions that Beck wants her readers to believe would come from the university and
the church."

11/04/2005 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Re sidenote: That's nice to know. But it doesn't really change anything I've said on this blog, now does it.

11/04/2005 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jeffrey,

I will outline my position regarding "all that evidence for evolution." I do so not to open a debate on the subject, but merely to state my personal position as you've requested.

I will start by stating my opinion that what the scientific data prove about human origins depends entirely on what one chooses to imagine or believe about human origins in the first place because it is from that point of view that the evidence will be interpreted. This helps me understand how scientific evidence can be convincingly supportive of evolution for those who approach the evidence with an evolutionary point of view. But, as Jared pointed out yesterday (see above), a number of Apostles and Prophets have said we "don't know" how man was created—and, in fact, Elder Packer himself made that very point in the paper I've discussed on this post: "It is my conviction that a full knowledge of the origin of man must await further discovery, further revelation." (See footnote 8, above.)

I can state categorically that no scientist has ever made a trip back in time to actually observe the earth as it was millions or billions of years ago. You can't even observe the earth as it was yesterday without some kind of recording (a photograph for example) and the very next day that recording is only evidence (granted, sometimes strong evidence) for what really happened the day before. In the same way, "all that evidence for evolution" is just that—evidence. I like Hugh Nibley's description of this problem:

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My own children, long before they could read, write, or count, could tell you exactly how things were upon the earth millions and millions of years ago. But did the little scholars really know? "What is our knowledge of the past and how do we obtain it?" asks the eminent archaeologist Stuart Piggott, and answers: "The past no longer exists for us, even the past of yesterday.... This means that we can never have direct knowledge of the past. We have only information or evidence from which we can construct a picture." The fossil or potsherd or photograph that I hold in my hand may be called a fact—it is direct evidence, an immediate experience; but my interpretation of it is not a fact, it is entirely a picture of my own construction. I cannot experience ten thousand or forty million years—I can only imagine, and the fact that my picture is based on facts does not make it a fact, even when I think the evidence is so clear and unequivocal as to allow no other interpretation. (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 1, ch. 2, 25-27.)
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Neither scientifically nor doctrinally does scientific evidence prove anything about the origin of man. (1) Scientifically, nobody has direct knowledge about the origin of man. All of the scientific evidence that does exist is subject to interpretion and the interpretation itself is not fact. (2) Doctrinally, scientific evidence does not and cannot prove anything about the origin of man. In the 1909 First Presidency declaration of Church doctrine regarding man's effort to discover human origins, there is an important and often overlooked warning:

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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. ("The Origin of Man," Ensign, Feb. 2002, 30.)
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It might be tempting to say the 1909 First Presidency spoke prematurely because they didn't have access then to all the evidence that is available today. But in saying this, one would be admitting that science has advanced—or changed—a lot in the past 100 years. I believe it is possible, even likely, that significant advances—changes—will occur in science during the next century.

On the other hand, unchanging truth comes from God, who is "the same, yesterday, today, and forever." (2 Ne. 2:4; 27:23; 29:9; Alma 31:17; Morm. 9:9; Moro. 10:19; D&C 20:12; 35:1.)

Unchanging truth is found in "the scriptures and the words of modern prophets." (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, May 1993, 14.)

"And if it [unchanging truth] were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow." (Of All Things!: Classic Quotations from Hugh Nibley, comp. Gary P. Gillum, 1993, 245.)

My position regarding "all that evidence for evolution" was well summarized by Elder John A. Widtsoe, who said: "As far as the data of science or the speculations of philosophers go, no light is shed upon the origin of life on earth" (see here). Elder Widtsoe then concluded that "Life was placed upon earth by God, through His power. That doctrine satisfies the inmost need of man. In time, that doctrine will be confirmed by the accumulation of human knowledge. The method by which life was brought upon earth is not known by anyone" (see here).

This is merely a statement of where I stand on the question you asked. It is not an invitation to further debate.

11/04/2005 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger jeff g said...

Thanks for that. Now I don't want to debate you on these matters, if only out of respect for your wishes. I would, however, like you to perhaps respond to a question which I'm sure many would ask you in response to such: How does the position you outline differ from that of merely picking and choosing the evidence one will accept? The "picking and choosing" method is a little too cheap and easy I think most would agree, but is it what you are advocating.

With an answer to this question I don't expect to persue this line of inquiry any more.

11/05/2005 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jeffrey,

It's not about "picking and choosing." It's about seeing the same evidence through different eyes, from a different perspective. A diagram that assumes only one possible conclusion would look like this:

      Perspective → evidence → Conclusion.

However, if different points of view about human origins are allowed, the same evidence can lead to different conclusions. A diagram that allows multiple conclusions looks like this:

      Perspective1 → evidence → Conclusion1.
      Perspective2 → evidence → Conclusion2.

It's the same evidence in both cases—all of it—but because of a different initial perspective, the same evidence leads to different conclusions. I hope that helps answer your question.

11/05/2005 03:29:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

By the way, Elder Packer, in the paper I've discussed on this post, talked about drawing different conclusions from the same evidence:

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The many similarities between the human body and the physical bodies of animals do not, in my mind, confirm a common ancestor. Not at all! It confirms the sovereignty of physical laws.
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And pointing out that genomic evidence came after the above statement doesn't change the stated principle—it only takes the discussion to a different level. The principle remains.

11/05/2005 03:46:00 AM  

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