Thursday, September 28, 2006

DMI and the position of the Church on evolution in 1992

Dave, on his blog at Dave's Mormon Inquiry, is quoting what he calls "the 1931 First Presidency statement on evolution." He claims it's "the most recent, and the most authoritative,... official LDS position on evolution."

The simple fact is, however, that there was no 1931 First Presidency statement on evolution.

In April 1931, the First Presidency wrote an internal memo (which, by the way, has never been published by the Church in any magazine or manual). This 1931 memo was distributed to the general authorities (there were only 26 of them at the time) in a private meeting. It was written in response to a proposed priesthood manual that had been submitted two and a half years earlier by one of those general authorities, Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy.

The 1931 memo doesn't even mention evolution because neither Elder Roberts nor his proposed priesthood manual were sympathetic to evolution.

In a previously published work, Roberts had said, "the claims of evolution ... are contrary to all experience so far as man's knowledge extends." This was not contradicted in his proposed manual, which affirmed that "each subdivision of life ... produces after its kind, whereas evolution in all its forms destroys that thought."

Problems arose for the proposed manual, however, because it attempted to reconcile fossils with scripture using a bizarre personal theory that was both unscientific and doctrinally unsupportable.

When asked by the Twelve to remove references to his theory, Roberts became uncooperative and the matter was referred to the First Presidency who ruled in April 1931 that further discussion of the Roberts manual with its unorthodox interpretations of "geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology" would lead only to "confusion, division, and misunderstanding." Accordingly, the manual was rejected and remained unpublished.

In 1992, permission was given by the First Presidency to use 60 of the 1931 memo's 3239 words in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism's article on Evolution. This should not be taken as an endorsement of the article's utterly false and misleading statement that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution."

A letter (quoted at Eyring-L) that has been sent out by the First Presidency seems to suggest an awareness of the major flaw in the Encyclopedia Evolution article. The letter quotes the EOM article, but it doesn't acknowledge the EOM as its source. More importantly, the letter deletes the language I've identified as being flawed.

Furthermore, I believe the intent of this letter is the opposite of what evolutionists ascribe to it. Evolutionists read "You may interpret scripture using your science," but I think the First Presidency is actually saying "Don't stretch the gospel to fit your scientific views."

Let me repeat for emphasis, the 1931 First Presidency memo was not about evolution — it doesn't even mention evolution. The memo was an internal announcement that discussions about the merits of the B. H. Roberts manuscript were closed — the manual would not be published.

The position of the Church on evolution in 1992

The LDS Church does not rely on physics professors (such as William Evenson who wrote the Encyclopedia Evolution article) and/or New York publishers (such as Macmillan Publishing who published the Encyclopedia) to announce its official position on anything. This fact was made clear in another internal document produced in 1992 by the BYU Board of Trustees.

Members of the BYU Board of Trustees in 1997 included the First Presidency, six members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and three additional General Officers of the Church. It seems safe to assume that the Board membership was similar five years earlier when the 1992 BYU Evolution Packet was approved.

The BYU Evolution Packet is not itself a source document for the official position on evolution, but it does identify the sources and reprints them.

In its Packet cover letter, the 1992 BYU Board of Trustees clearly state that the Packet contains all known statements issued by the First Presidency on science, evolution, and the origin of man. The Board then names all of them. 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." Sometimes overlooked is the fact that it also says we do not accept "human theory and mere speculations of men."

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 membership. 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.

Since 1909, Church Presidents and members of the Quorum of the Twelve have corroborated these official declarations by the First Presidency.

Note that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism Evolution article is not listed in the Packet cover letter as one of the statements "issued by the First Presidency" on science, evolution, and the origin of man. Because the 1931 First Presidency memo has never been formally issued by any First Presidency, neither the 1931 excerpt nor the Encyclopedia article is a difinitive source of official Church position.

The Packet cover letter emphasizes that "formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions." As such, the three statements listed above were identified by the 1992 BYU Board of Trustees as the documents that outline the official position of the LDS Church on science, evolution, and the origin of man.


Blogger Jared* said...

I hope that you've continued to check in on the DMI comments because I think you've had a half-decent defense.

9/28/2006 09:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Jared*, yes, I have continued to follow things at DMI and I very much appreciate what you guys have said there. It's obvious that we don't have to agree with each other in order to understand each other's position. I just wish some people would take the time (as you have) to consider the doctrinal evidence. ~Thanks

9/28/2006 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Thanks for the link to the FP letter, Gary. The fact that they basically quote the EOM article in their letter sort of undercuts your whole argument. Their counsel, that we "leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research," is the essence of neutrality.

The fact that my way of looking at the issue is in line with the modern statements authorized by LDS leaders (the 1992 EOM article, the 1992 BYU packet, the linked copy of the letter they apparently now send in response to evolution inquiries) strengthens my conviction that this is the right way to look at things. And I think your comments on the status of the EOM article, in light of the FP letter, should be revised. They do hold the text of the EOM article out as their public position on evolution, so your denial of that assertion seems puzzling.

But evolution is not a moral or a material issue vis-a-vis the Church. We aren't Evangelicals, thank God. If LDS leaders are okay with the idea that any view of evolution is acceptable to the Church, then I won't perpetuate an argument over it.

9/29/2006 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

This discussion has been continued here.

1/30/2007 04:43:00 AM  

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