Thursday, September 28, 2006

DMI and the position of the Church on evolution in 2006

Dave, on his blog at Dave's Mormon Inquiry, is quoting the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on Evolution as "the most recent, and the most authoritative,... official LDS position on evolution." He claims it is the "best statement of the official LDS position in 2006."

Forgotten is the Encyclopedia preface which stresses that "the role of the Encyclopedia [should not] be given more weight than it deserves." In fact, the editors "make it clear that those who have written and edited have only tried to explain their understanding of Church history, doctrines, and procedures; their statements and opinions remain their own."

The preface clearly states that the joint efforts of BYU and Macmillan Publishing "do not necessarily represent the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Preface)

Therefore, the question might be asked whether the LDS Church in its own publications and on its own web site has set forth a position on evolution.

A published case study

In preparation for writing their 2001 book, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum asked the Church for its official position on evolution. They did this because they wanted to print the Church's position in their book.

One of them conferred with his local ward bishop, who contacted the stake president, who contacted the area president. Word came back that the bishop would be authorized to request a declaration of doctrine from the First Presidency.

The bishop made this request.

Subsequently, the bishop received a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency who attached the November 1909 First Presidency statement and warned that anything said about it in the book would be personal opinion. Here is how Stephens and Meldrum tell the story:

"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." [1]

The position of the Church on evolution in 2001

Stephens and Meldrum were informed in 2001 that the Church's official position on evolution was to be found in the November 1909 First Presidency statement. Notice that this official statement of doctrine also forms the foundation of the BYU Evolution Packet, approved by the BYU Board of Trustees in 1992.

Has anything changed since 2001?

The official 1909 statement of doctrine has been reprinted by the Church twice during the past five years. The Church's 2000-2001 and 2002 reprints of the 1909 statement update its relevance and give it focus directly to the 21st century.

The formal 1909 First Presidency statement on "The Origin of Man" contains the Church's current and official doctrinal position on evolution. [2]  It is easily and usually interpreted as anti-evolutionary. In fact, Duane Jeffery himself has called it "anti-science" [3]  and "quite anti-evolutionary." [4]

Therefore, contrary to the claim made by Dave on his blog at Dave's Mormon Inquiry, the Church position on evolution is not neutral.


[1] Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001,p. 7.

[2] "In the early 1900s, questions concerning the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution became the subject of much public discussion. In the midst of these controversies, the First Presidency issued the following in 1909, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position on these matters." Ensign, Feb. 2002, p. 26; italics added.

[3] As quoted in William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005), p. 30.

[4] As quoted in Deseret Morning News, March 1, 2006, p. B3.


Blogger Dave said...

Well, that's certainly not the conclusion that Stephens and Meldrum came to. I guess their "quest for understanding" has a ways to go yet ...

9/29/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

This discussion has been continued here.

1/30/2007 04:44:00 AM  

<< Home