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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The First Presidency on the Origin of Man

He believed the Church had a clear "neutral" position on evolution. He found out otherwise.

In 2001, Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum (authors of Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding) received a copy of the 1909 Origin of Man statement from Church headquarters. They were informed that it represents the official position of the Church on evolution (details here).

In 2002, the 1909 Origin of Man statement was published in its entirety in the February issue of the Ensign. Follow these links to download the complete magazine in PDF format or view the article in HTML format.

A 2007 Update

A few days ago, I received an email message from a reader. I asked his permission to post it because I believe it strongly reinforces what Stephens and Meldrum found out six years ago regarding the Church's position on evolution. Here is what he said:

Feb 11, 2007

I was corresponding with a former pupil of Prof. Duane Jeffery's, who teaches at BYU. During the course of our correspondence, he had asked me many, many times to write to the First Presidency and ask them what the position of the "origin of man" or "evolution" is. I didn't do it for a while, but finally decided to. I wrote a very short question, put my name and address, but did not include anything about me being a member of the Church. I wrote "What is the Church's position on the origin of man?"

The person I was corresponding with mentioned I would get a copy of the evolution entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism back in the mail. He was wrong.

About a month after sending the letter (via USPS), my Bishop called me in his office and took out a letter from the First Presidency. He did not let me hold or see the letter, but read some of it to me. Included in the letter was instructions to my Bishop to print a copy of the Feb 2002 Ensign article which has Joseph F. Smith's entire 1909 Improvement Era editorial. The Bishop had made a copy of the Ensign article and handed it to me. My Bishop was really concerned about me. The letter advised him to mention members should take questions first to their local leaders. Needless to say, I was very apologetic to my Bishop. I was VERY embarrassed.

First, I was really impressed the Church actually took the time, looked me up and found my ward, then spent time to write my Bishop.

I actually already knew about this article, and had a text copy of it. It is also in the Old Testament Institute manual. This person I was corresponding with was having a hard time believing the Church would have re-printed it because he believed the Church had a clear "neutral" position on evolution. He told me that the Ensign re-print was probably done by mistake and/or the First Presidency never knew about it.

I know a person that worked for Church magazines and she said a big mistake like that would *never* happen. When little mistakes happen (very rarely) they correct it. It is taken very seriously. Even after giving him her response, he was still not convinced. It was after that I started realizing what a slippery slope he was on.

Name Withheld

I've noticed that some LDS bloggers, including DMI Dave, have misunderstandings similar to those of the above mentioned BYU instructor. But my reader discovered for himself that the 1909 First Presidency statement is the current position of the Church on the Origin of Man, not the evolution entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

8 Comments:

Blogger Jared* said...

Thanks for the case report. It's worth pointing out that, as you know, some people have apparently received the EM article. (Stephens and Meldrum got both.) Thus, this person's correspondant wasn't totally off base in his/her prediction.

2/14/2007 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

Jared*,

It's good to hear from you.

You may have information that the rest of us don't have. But a careful reading of the Stephens and Meldrum book reveals that they did not "receive" the Encyclopedia of Mormonism evolution article:

-------------------- quote --------------------
"The Encyclopedia of Mormonism is not presented as 'official ' church doctrine (see the editor's preface). However, our inquiries to the First Presidency concerning evolution (and we assume the same would be true for inquiries from anyone else through the appropriate channels) were answered with a copy of the 1909 statement on "The Origin of Man" from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Thus this statement is as close to an 'official ' position as there is at present. Under the heading ' Evolution' in that book, the following entry is found ..." (Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, p. 9.)
------------------ end quote ------------------

Here we have Stephens and Meldrum, in print, stating clearly that the 1909 statement "is as close to an 'official ' position as there is at present."

And notice how carefully the text then moves from the official 1909 statement to the unofficial encyclopedia article on evolution.

2/14/2007 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

About eleven years ago, President Thomas S. Monson apparently quoted the 1931 First Presidency (but not the Encyclopedia of Mormonism) when he answered a request for the Church's position on evolution. Published comments by President Monson argue strongly that his use of the 1931 excerpt in the quoted letter is compatible with his motto for youth: "My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it."

2/14/2007 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

It's a little bit confusing, but on pg. 56 they write:

"However, in our experience, a formal solicitation for the official position of the church on the topic evoked a reference to the 1909 statement and to entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism."

Also, as I've previously posted, Trent Stephens said a similar thing in at presentation at a FAIR conference.

The details are unclear, but it looks like both documents were at least mentioned in the letter. I'm not making any argument about priority.

2/14/2007 09:32:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

Jared*,

If you don't mind, I'll give a more complete version of what Stephens and Meldrum said:

-------------------- quote --------------------
"However, in our experience, a formal solicitation for the official position of the church on the topic evoked a reference to the 1909 statement and to entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. It is important to remember that this initial First Presidency statement, which remains the official pronouncement today, 'declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity.' ... Other inquiries have been answered with only an abbreviated version of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism's entry on ' Evolution.' " (pp. 56-57.)
------------------ end quote ------------------

Let's consider the phrase "this initial ... statement."

The word "initial" clearly refers to the 1909 statement, not the 1992 Encyclopedia evolution article. And the phrase clearly does not refer to both 1909 and 1992 because if it did, they would have used the plural words "these" and "statements."

The word "this" refers to what they received as described in the preceding sentence: "the 1909 statement and ... entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism." The word "this" is singular and the 1909 statement is printed in the Encyclopedia. They received exactly what page 9 states: "a copy of the 1909 statement ... from the Encyclopedia."

Page 56 cannot be viewed as a statement that they also received the Encyclopedia evolution article. Page 56 says it was "other inquiries" that were answered "with ... an abbreviated version" (not a xeroxed copy) of the Encyclopedia evolution article. And the Monson letter, which fits that description, doesn't even mention the Encyclopedia.

I'll concede that Stephens and Meldrum may have received a copy of the Encyclopedia evolution article from the First Presidency as your post suggests but they did not make that claim in the book Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding.

2/14/2007 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Gary, thanks for the link to DMI. It's probably a good idea to put such a link in every post -- to give someone who stumbles upon your site a link to a discussion of evolution and Mormonism from a different perspective than the one you take.

It appears that maybe Meldrum and Stephens were sent a copy of the 1909 statement pulled directly from the EOM appendix because that was the handiest source of that 1909 statement prior to it being reprinted in the 2002 Ensign.

2/16/2007 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Gary,

1. I agree with you that they don't explicitly state that they recieved the EM article, and that pg. 9 does not even imply it.

2. I still think pg. 56 is consistent with also receiving the EM article because it states that they received a reference to the 1909 statement and to "entries"
(plural) in the EM. Stephens's talk suggests that this is the case. (However, keeping the different statements straight can be difficult, particularly since the 1909 statement is also in the EM, so perhaps the transcript is wrong.)

3. However, they clearly give priority to the 1909 statement. On pg. 56, I read "this initial" as refering only to the 1909 statement (not to the unspecified other entries) because of its priority.

I think it is confusing, and if they really did receive other entries in the EM, then it is poorly worded and I wish they had been more clear. Utlimately, I don't really have a dog in that fight.

But either way--I think we both agree--that Stephens and Meldrum clearly give priority to the 1909 statement. The only reason I brought it up was to make the point that it was not unreasonable to expect the evolution EM article in the First Presidency's response.

2/16/2007 09:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine that each member of the FP employs several people to answer this kind of stuff. The main point being, "Don't bother us with this stuff." As to the evolution question, it's just the opinion of a file clerk who's job it is to search databases and send out form letters.

2/25/2007 07:36:00 PM  

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