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Friday, March 17, 2006

Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (review - part one)

Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005; hereinafter cited as Mormonsim and Evolution) was released in January of 2006.  This book contains the documents found in the 1992 BYU Evolution Packet, including the packet's cover letter written by the BYU Board of Trustees and an edited version of the 1992 introduction to the packet written by William Evenson.

According to Mormonsim and Evolution's Preface, Evenson and Jeffery published the BYU Evolution Packet documents in book form to provide "for a wider audience beyond the University in the hope that other members of the Church will also have the foundation documents on evolution and the origin of man available as they study these topics."  (Mormonsim and Evolution, 7.)

This post will review Mormonsim and Evolution—the BYU Evolution Packet documents—but not the book's Appendix (twelve "related" documents) which will be reviewed in a subsequent post.  As the basis for this review, I'm using an article about the BYU Evolution Packet that I wrote eleven months ago and guest-posted at the Mormons and Evolution blog.

BYU Evolution Packet Examined

I will use the "pdf" page numbers because the pages in the document itself aren't numbered.  [Mormonsim and Evolution page numbers have been added in square brackets.]

Two statements in the BYU Evolution Packet (as downloaded from the sidebar) are false.  The first page (para. 5 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 3]) says the 1931 First Presidency addressed "evolution and the origin of man," and the last page (para. 3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 38]) claims "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution."  The 1931 discussions were not centered on theories of evolution or the origin of man (see ndbf.net).

What is meant by "published by the Church"?

It's been suggested here that placing the Encyclopedia Evolution article in the BYU Evolution Packet might constitute being published by the Church.  Three of the four items in the Packet were published by the Church—all three of them more than 80 years ago.

The question is whether the 1931 excerpt has ever been issued by the Church to the general membership of the Church.  And until it's been published in one of the Church's official magazines or in a Church published manual, the answer to this question will be "no."

The clout issue

It's also been suggested here that placing the Encyclopedia Evolution article in the BYU Evolution Packet gave "clout" to the article thereby undermining my thesis here that the article is fundamentally flawed.

I will discuss the clout question specifically, but I'll also address the relative position of the Encyclopedia Evolution article within the Packet in terms of its doctrinal authority.

The official introduction

We begin on pdf p.3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 10], which is where the official Packet begins and is the official introduction to the Packet.  This is a cover letter to the Packet written by the BYU Board of Trustees.  It describes the Packet's contents.  There are three main paragraphs.

The first paragraph says the Packet contains all known statements issued by the First Presidency on science, evolution, and the origin of man.  The known statements are listed.  There are three:

1.   "The Origin of Man" was issued in November 1909.  At 2,700 words, this is the predominant item in the Packet.

2.   "Words in Season" is a small 99 word excerpt from a First Presidency Christmas Message printed in the Deseret Evening News.  It says the Church is not hostile to "real science."  Less noticed is that it also says we do not accept "human theory and mere speculations of men,"  but do accept that which "increases faith in Deity."  The words "that which is demonstrated, we accept with joy" are thus taken out of context when applied to Darwin's theory of evolution.

3.   "Mormon View of Evolution" was issued in September 1925.  This is a 560 word condensed version of the 1909 "Origin of Man" statement.  In 1909, the First Presidency spoke to the Church membershop.  In 1925, the First Presidency spoke to the national media.  It is inappropriate, therefore, to read hidden doctrinal meaning into the editing that was done by the 1925 First Presidency.

The fact that the Encyclopedia Evolution article was excluded from this list diminishes the "clout" supposedly conferred upon it by the Packet.  We'll talk more about this later.

Evolution and the Origin of Man

In paragraph one of the cover letter, the Board of Trustees affirms that "there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing ... organic evolution as a process for development of biological species"  (para. 1, pdf p.3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 11]; emphasis added).

However, at the same time, the Board affirms the opposite regarding organic evolution as it applies to the origin of man, concluding "these documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man"  (para.1, pdf p.3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 10]; emphasis added).  Indeed, the cover letter itself is titled "Evolution and the Origin of Man."

I've argued elsewhere that the 1909 First Presidency statement gives clear counsel about the origin of man (see for example, here, here, here, and my discussion of its use in the 1980-81 Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide here).  The 1909 "anti-science language," as Duane Jeffery calls it (Mormonsim and Evolution, 30), clarifies the true origin of man.

Other commentators have stated that the 1909 statement does not "make clear" the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man, but the BYU Board of Trustees is here on record saying otherwise.

The 1909 Statement dominates the Packet

Let's pause and review the contents of the ten official pages.  There is the official introduction (a single page), the 1909 First Presidency statement (five pages), followed by the two paragraphs from the 1910 Christmas Message (part of a page).

Then there is the 1925 First Presidency statement (two pages quoted from the 1909 statement), and finally the Encyclopedia article (a single page).

In other words, all but three pages of the "official" BYU Evolution Packet either are the 1909 First Presidency statement, or are taken from it. Therefore, the 1909 First Presidency statement dominates the Packet and this adds meaning to its 2002 reprint.

A version of the packet for the general membership

Ten years after the Packet was created, the Church reprinted the entire 1909 First Presidency statement in its official magazine (see "The Origin of Man," Ensign, Feb. 2002, 26-30).

The Ensign magazine enjoys a distribution among Church members far beyond the BYU studentbody to whom the Evolution Packet was originally made available.  And the introductory paragraph in the Ensign says the statement "expresses the Church's doctrinal position on ... the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution."  (Ibid.; emphasis added).

This reprint is essentially a version of the Evolution Packet that has been issued to the general membership of the Church.

The Encyclopedia Evolution article

The second paragraph of the Board's cover letter (pdf p.3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 11] states that the Packet contains the Encyclopedia Evolution article.

This paragraph also states the current First Presidency authorized using the 1931 excerpt in the Encyclopedia article.

When asked about First Presidency involvement, William Evenson explained the article was reviewed and edited by Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency at the time.  He pointed out that he didn't have access to the First Presidency Minutes and said the excerpt was added by President Hinckley.

Is Gordon B. Hinckley coauthor of the article? No.

Macmillan Publishing Company does not wrongly identify its authors.  Many articles in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism carry the names of multiple authors.  When William Evenson put his name on the article as its sole author, he accepted full responsibility for its content.

And when President Gordon B. Hinckley desires the general membership of the Church to adopt his interpretation of something, he will put his name on an article and we will read it in a Church publication.

The issue of formality

Paragraph three of the Board's cover letter (pdf p.3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 11]) emphasizes that "formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions"  (emphasis added).  This helps us understand why the Encyclopedia Evolution article is not listed in the first paragraph.

Because the 1931 First Presidency minutes have never been formally issued by any First Presidency to the general membership of the Church, neither the 1931 excerpt nor the Encyclopedia article could be listed in the first paragraph as equal in authority to the three statements that have been so issued.

The unofficial two page introduction

Now, let's look at the two page introduction placed in the front of the Packet but identified as NOT part of the packet itself (pdf, pp.1-2 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 1-5]).  These pages appear to be originally taken from a newspaper article written by William Evenson (see pdf p.2).

In this introduction, Evenson says the 1931 First Presidency was addressing "the Church's stance toward scientific studies of evolution and the origin of man"  (pdf p.1 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 3]; emphasis added).  This parallels and echos the claim he made in his Encyclopedia Evolution article that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution"  (pdf p.12, para. 3 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 38]).

Both of these statements are completely and utterly false.  A complete explanation is given here.  A short summary follows.

The topic of the 1931 discussion

The 1931 First Presidency memo from which the excerpt is taken quotes Elder B. H. Roberts saying that

"the points questioned and the paper in defense of them [have] suspended the publication of my book — now in manuscript — 'The Truth, The Way, The Life'."

Elder Roberts wrote this book in 1927-1928 as a Melchizedek Priesthood study guide.  Five members of the Quorum of the Twelve were assigned to review the manuscript.  They found problems.  But Elder Roberts was unwilling to make certain requested changes.  Hence the increasing intensity of the discussions which continued for three and a half years until the First Presidency said on April 7, 1931:

"We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division, and misunderstanding if carried further."

Evenson reversed his position

Both the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and the BYU Evolution Packet were published in 1992.  Two years later, in 1994, the Roberts manuscript (at issue in 1931) was published by BYU Studies.  Thirteen BYU scholars were invited to prepare critical essays discussing and analyzing various aspects of the book.

One of those essays was written by William Evenson.  In his 1994 essay, Evenson acknowledged that the opinions of B. H. Roberts were "not those of an evolutionist" and that the 1931 discussions "were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms."  (William E. Evenson, "Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution," in The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p. 645; emphasis added.)

Let's just repeat that for emphasis:  The opinions of B. H. Roberts were "not those of an evolutionist" and the discussions "were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms."  (Ibid.)  This could appropriately be considered the major point of the present article.

This is a complete turn around from what he said two years earlier, both in the Encyclopedia Evolution article and in the BYU Evolution Packet.

In his 1994 essay, Evenson further acknowledged that the Roberts book "addresses three forms of evolutionary theory [and] finds all three ... to be inadequate."  (Ibid.)  Evenson concedes in the essay that B. H. Roberts "rejects all [1930s evolutionary] theories as he understands them [and] puts forward his own theory" to reconcile the scriptures with the fossil record.  (Ibid.)

Salvaging the Encyclopedia Evolution article

Earlier, Jared asked two questions here about salvaging the Encyclopedia Evolution article.

Question: "If you are correct, that the reference to evolution in the context of the 1931 statement was an error, would changing the text to read something like, 'when there was intense discussion on the issue of the history of life on earth...' satisfy you as accurate?"

Answer: No.  The intense nature of the 1928-1931 discussions began and ended with the question of whether or not the Church would or could publish The Truth, The Way, The Life, written by Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy.

Question: "How would such a correction change the meaning of the EM article?"

Answer: Doctrinally, The Truth, The Way, The Life by Elder B. H. Roberts remains where the First Presidency left it in 1931.  Subsequent Church Presidents have not publicly addressed that issue.  When applied to other subjects, however, the 1931 decision is either unrelated or outdated—it was never related to organic evolution and it no longer applies to death before the fall (see ndbf.net).

Quotation error not yet corrected

One last minor thing.  Let's clear up what was mistakenly said here about the BYU Evolution Packet correcting the word "proclaims" to "declares."

Actually, "declares" is the wrong word and "proclaims" is the correct word.  It is quoted wrong in the Encyclopedia article and the BYU Evolution Packet didn't fix it (pdf p.12 [Mormonsim and Evolution, 37]).

Summary and review

1.   Neither the Encyclopedia Evolution article nor the BYU Evolution Packet has been issued by the Church to its general membership.  In this sense, neither of these documents has been "published" by the Church.

The BYU Evolution Packet is an internal document and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism is privately published.

2.   The BYU Evolution Packet does not confer clout on the Encyclopedia Evolution article (which is not a formal Church declaration and presents an inaccurate view of what the 1931 excerpt is all about).  The 1931 First Presidency discussed and rejected a specific attempt by Elder B. H. Roberts to interpret scripture according to his view of science (see here for details) and the 1931 excerpt means simply that similar attempts should not be made.

3.   While avoiding the issue of organic evolution as a process for development of biological species, the BYU Evolution Packet makes clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man.

4.   The 1909 First Presidency statement, "The Origin of Man," is the predominant item in the BYU Evolution Packet.  In 2002, the Church essentially issued a version of the Evolution Packet to the general membership of the Church by reprinting the 1909 statement in the Ensign.

5.   When William Evenson allowed Macmillan Publishing Company to identify him as the sole author of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article about Evolution, he accepted full responsibility for its content.

6.   Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions.  The BYU Evolution Packet acknowledges that neither the 1931 First Presidency excerpt nor the Encyclopedia Evolution article fall into this category.

7.   In 1994, William Evenson reversed his position regarding the 1931 topic of discussion.  This could appropriately be considered the major point of the present article.

[Adapted from an April 2005 guest-post at the Mormons and Evolution blog.]

13 Comments:

Anonymous Gary said...

The meaning of the 1931 statement

Much more could be said, and will be said, about Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery. The book's Appendix (twelve "related" documents) will be reviewed in a subsequent post.

The meaning of the 1931 First Presidency statement, however, deserves one more comment at this time.

The 1931 First Presidency decided not to publish the Roberts manuscript. Fifty one years later, in 1982, the First Presidency considered once more the possibility of the Church publishing The Truth, The Way, The Life by B. H. Roberts. Again, however, the decision was not to publish. Historian James B. Allen tells us:

-------------------- quote --------------------
The [1982] First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve had reviewed the 1931 decision and were impressed with the wisdom of the admonition given then that the Church's mission was "to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave Geology, Biology, Archeology 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." (James B. Allen, "The Story of The Truth, The Way, The Life," as published in The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p. 715.)
------------------ end quote ------------------

The 1931 First Presidency did not say Church leaders should refrain from contradicting the conclusions of science and did not say the Church or its leaders must be neutral on evolution, but did seem to say it is not advisable to stretch the gospel to make it conform to scientific theories. The 1910 First Presidency Christmas message included in the BYU Evolution Packet makes a similar statement.

Neither the 1931 First Presidency nor the 1982 First Presidency was saying: "Let science interpret scripture." Indeed, both First Presidencies (1931 and 1982) declined Church publication of a specific attempt to reconcile science with scripture (the B. H. Roberts book). The meaning of the 1931 excerpt, therefore (confirmed in 1982 by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, as noted above), is to not attempt such reconciliations of science with scripture.

Books like Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001) represent the very type of reconciliation rejected in 1931 and 1982 by the First Presidency. It is ironic, therefore, that Stephens and Meldrum appeal to the 1931 First Presidency statement as justification for publishing their book (see pages xix, 10, 11, 13, and 57).

In the meantime, as has now been demonstrated dozens of times on this blog, Church leaders continue to warn members about false and dangerous theories. In January 2005, 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 "Strengthening the Family: Created in the Image of God, Male and Female," Ensign, Jan. 2005, 49; emphasis added.)

In light of this 2005 Ensign article, President Packer's 1988 paper on the origin of man takes on renewed significance.

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3/17/2006 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

I personally commend you for your work on this post. It is too bad that everyone who believes in evolution will reject the prophets official position.

3/17/2006 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Gary, so what exactly do you make of the fact that the Church (reportedly) distributed copies of the "BYU Evolution Packet" to all CES instructors? Or even of the prior fact that they allowed an evolution course to be added to the BYU Biology curriculum in the first place?

3/17/2006 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Thanks, Rob, for your generous comment.

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3/17/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Dave,

The BYU Evolution Packet contains, as far as could be found, all statements issued by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the subject of evolution and the origin of man. These materials will provide CES instructors a firm foundation for study and teaching in a context of faith in the restored gospel.

Yes, evolution is taught as part of the science curriculum. But it's not taught in university Religion classes, nor is it taught in Seminary classes, Institute classes, Priesthood and Relief Society classes, or Sunday School classes.

.

3/17/2006 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Thank you for providing this.

3/17/2006 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary,
While it's true that evolution is not taught in priesthood, relief society, BYU religion courses, etc., it is also true that math isn't taught in these forums. Nor, for that matter, is the history of WWII or accounting. I don't think the lack of teaching evolution in such settings is evidence either of the Church's agreement or disagreement with evolution, but rather a recognition that Sunday School isn't the forum (and most Sunday School teachers don't have the necessary knowledge) for teaching evolutionary biology.

Clearly, as has been said over and over in the Bloggernacle, different people are of different minds. But the BYU packet is mandatorily disseminated in certain BYU religion classes--my Pearl of Great Price teacher gave it to us, grudgingly and commenting on how he disagreed with it. But he was required to give it to us, which suggests to me that it isn't just some internal CES memo.

sdb

3/17/2006 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Gary,

I tried to comment earlier but I think blogger was having problems.

You probably saw my recent post on Trent Stephens.

I don't disagree with some of your technical arguments, as you know, but what does it say about the EofM article when the First Presidency is apparently sending it to inquirers of Church doctrine? Or do you think they don't know about its flaws?

3/17/2006 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Eric, it's nice to be appreciated.

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3/17/2006 01:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Anonymous,

If the First Presidency of the Church were to issue a formal statement about math, the history of WWII, or accounting it would become appropriate to discuss the First Presidency's statement on those subjects in priesthood, relief society, BYU religion courses, etc. and whatever the First Presidency said would be the Church's position on that subject.

If you look at the current national debate about evolutionary biology, the subject is, in fact, being discussed and even debated in the classrooms of many religions around the world. On the other hand, the LDS First Presidency has officially said "these, however, are the theories of men," which makes teaching evolutionary biology in LDS Church meetings and religion classes inappropriate even for those who think they do have the necessary knowledge.

As pointed out above, the Church's 2002 Ensign reprint of the 1909 First Presidency statement is essentially a version of the BYU Evolution Packet that has been issued to the general membership of the Church. And you're correct, "it isn't just some internal CES memo."

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3/17/2006 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

I agree Jared, I think Gary's made some good points of criticism regarding the EoM article. However his attempts to discount it when it is sent to people by the 1st Presidency when they inquire on it means that it clearly does reflect the theological view of the 1st Presidency even if there are some erroneous historical claims in it.

I tend to agree with Gary that Dr. Evenson's book is perhaps a tad biased. But I also think that Gary's efforts at discounting neutrality fall a little flat.

3/17/2006 02:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Jared,

Blogger.com was giving me fits this morning also. I almost gave up on getting this article posted.

Let me repeat what I said above: Neither the 1931 First Presidency nor the 1982 First Presidency was saying: "Let science interpret scripture." Indeed, both First Presidencies (1931 and 1982) declined Church publication of a specific attempt to reconcile science with scripture (the B. H. Roberts book). The meaning of the 1931 excerpt, therefore (confirmed in 1982 by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, as noted above), is to not attempt such reconciliations of science with scripture.

I believe this is the intended message being sent by the current First Presidency's office when the 1931 excerpt is sent out. For example, according to the account in their book, when Stephens and Meldrum wanted to have the church's current position on evolution, one of them conferred with his local ward bishop who subsequently received a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency with the requested information, about which Stephens and Meldrum state:

-------------------- 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. This is consistent with the meaning of the 1931 statement as I understand it and would explain why the 1931 excerpt was sent to them. And once again, I find it ironic that Stephens and Meldrum appeal to the 1931 First Presidency statement as justification for publishing their book when it's true meaning is the opposite.

As to whether or not members of the current First Presidency are aware of the flaws in the Encyclopedia Evolution article, a letter that is being sent out seems to suggest that they are.

The letter quotes the Encyclopedia article without mentioning it and deletes the flawed language. I believe the intent of this letter is the opposite of what evolutionists ascribe to it. Evolutionists see "You may interpret scripture using your science," where the First Presidency is actually saying "Don't stretch the gospel to fit your scientific views."

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3/17/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mary A said...

Evolutionists see "You may interpret scripture using your science," where the First Presidency is actually saying "Don't stretch the gospel to fit your scientific views."

This statement that you made reflects my own views. I appreciate very much your blog posts. They are interesting and bring out points that I think are important. I thank you for the research and the effort you put into them.

3/19/2006 09:04:00 AM  

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