Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Russell M. Nelson and the Search for a Semi-Closeted Evolutionist Apostle

Russell M. Nelson and Lance B. Wickman were recently interviewed by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life about the LDS Church's role in American society.  Elder Nelson is a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Elder Wickman, an attorney, is Church general counsel and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

I appreciate the heads up from Aaron Brown at BCC who posted on Sunday morning about this interview.  Click here to read Aaron's article which quotes the entire evolution section of the interview.  Click here to read the complete interview transcript.

Pew Forum question about the Church's position on evolution

When the Pew Forum asked about the position of the Church on evolution, Elder Nelson said this:

"We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life....  Man has always been man.  Dogs have always been dogs.  Monkeys have always been monkeys."

Elder Nelson was speaking as a Church representative and he was well prepared to discuss this question—it is one he has discussed in his talks for many years.

The Church's current statement on evolution

Elder Nelson made an indirect reference to the Church's current doctrinal position statement on evolution (the 1909 First Presidency's statement on "The Origin of Man") when he mentioned doing open-heart surgery on lower forms of animal life:

"It's interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are.  We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being.  We owe a lot to those lower species.  But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible."

This parallels an excerpt from the 1909 statement:

"It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation.  These, however, are the theories of men."

Another similarity between Elder Nelson's answer and the 1909 statement is his reminder that "there are just some things that we [don't] know."  In like manner, the 1909 statement declares:

"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.  Some of these facts, however, are already known, and what has been made known it is our duty to receive and retain."  (Ensign, Feb 2002, p. 30.)

Some who criticize Elder Nelson's answer feel science has now discovered "the facts relating to the origin of Adam's race" (a rejection of the notion that "God alone can reveal them").

Elder Nelson's prior anti-evolution testimony

Speaking in March 1987, Elder Nelson bore this anti-evolution testimony:

"Through the ages, some ...  have deduced that, because of certain similarities between different forms of life, there has been a natural selection of the species, or organic evolution from one form to another....

"To me, such theories are unbelievable!...

"We are children of God, created by him and formed in his image.  Recently I studied the scriptures to find how many times they testify of the divine creation of man.  Looking up references that referred to create, form (or their derivatives), with either man, men, male, or female in the same verse, I found that there are at least fifty-five verses of scripture that attest to our divine creation....

"I believe all of those scriptures that pertain to the creation of man.  But the decision to believe is a spiritual one, not made solely by an understanding of things physical, for we read that  ' the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.'  (1 Cor.  2:14.)

"It is incumbent upon each informed and spiritually attuned person to help overcome such foolishness of men who would deny divine creation or think that man simply evolved.  By the Spirit, we perceive the truer and more believable wisdom of God.

"With great conviction, I add my testimony to that of my fellow Apostle Paul, who said, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? ' "  (Russell M.  Nelson, Ensign, Jan 1988, p. 64.)

Yes, according to Elder Nelson, the theory that man "was a development from lower orders of the animal creation" is foolishness and it is incumbent upon informed and spiritually attuned persons to help overcome such foolishness.  His word, not mine.

Evolution requires both death and time

The popular author Carl Sagan said it this way:

"The secrets of evolution are death and time—the deaths of enormous numbers of lifeforms that were imperfectly adapted to the environment; and [aeons of] time." (Cosmos [New York: Random House, 1980], p. 30.)

But, death and time are not merely the "secrets" of evolution, they are its essential ingredients.  The theory of evolution, therefore, is completely incompatible with the LDS doctrine of "no death before the fall."

Elder Nelson teaches "no death before the fall"

In his April 2000 general conference talk, Elder Nelson taught the LDS doctrine of "no death before the fall."

"The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God.  Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam....  Eventually,  ' the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.'  (A of F 1:10.) At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again.  It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new."  (Ensign, May 2000, p. 84.)

Let's look closer at this paragraph.

(a.)  "The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God."  To Latter-day Saints generally and to Elder Nelson specifically, "paradisiacal" means "terrestrial."  Elder Nelson made this clear in the April 1990 General Conference when he said:

"It is true that scriptures foretell the final days of the earth's temporal existence as a telestial sphere.  The earth will then be renewed and receive its paradisiacal, or terrestrial, glory.  (See A of F 1:10.)"  (Ensign, May 1990, p. 16.)

(b.)  "Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam."  The earth was changed when mortality and death came to the previously paradisiacal planet through the Fall of Adam.  What this clearly does not say is that the earth had been mortal for millions, perhaps billions, of years and that mortality and death came to only Adam and Eve and their posterity through the Fall.

(c.)  "At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again.  It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new."  The words "changed once again" refer back to earth's first change from a paradisiacal, or terrestrial, deathless state to its present temporal, or telestial, mortal state.  Here he is clearly saying that earth will be changed back to its previous paradisiacal, or terrestrial, deathless state.  "It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new" is another way of saying that, before the Fall of Adam, the earth was paradisiacal and new and it will be "returned" [the act of bringing something back to a previous condition] to that same terrestrial, deathless state that existed before the Fall of Adam.

In 1991, Elder Nelson wrote another article in which he taught that the creation was paradisiacal (not subject to death).

"In the beginning, God created the earth and all that was upon it.  He created man in His own image, male and female created He them.  (See Gen.  1:27; Gen.  5:2; D&C 20:18; Moses 2:27; Moses 6:9.) Adam and Eve were first created with bodies of flesh and spirit, without blood, and were unable to die or beget children.  Thus, we might describe this as a paradisiacal creation, one that initially equipped Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden, which was in a state of everlasting paradise.  (See Moses 4:28–29.)"  (Ensign, Aug.  1991, p. 6.)

Two years later, Elder Nelson used the pulpit in general conference to again teach that the creation was paradisiacal (not subject to death).

"Adam and Eve were the first people to live upon the earth.  They were different from the plant and animal life that had been created previously.  Adam and Eve were children of God.  Their bodies of flesh and bone were made in the express image of God's.  In that state of innocence, they were not yet mortal.  They could have had no children, were not subject to death, and could have lived in Eden's garden forever.  Thus, we might speak of the Creation in terms of a paradisiacal creation."  (Ensign, Nov.  1993, p. 33.)

In the April 2001 general conference, Elder Nelson said:

"I like to recommend ...  short explanatory paragraphs in the Bible Dictionary, listed under ...  'Fall of Adam' (page 670, paragraphs 1–2)."  (Ensign, May 2001, p. 32.)

The following year, Elder Nelson wrote:

"I recommend ...  selected paragraphs under ...  Fall of Adam (page 670, paragraphs 1–2) ...  in the Bible Dictionary."  (Ensign, Mar.  2002, p. 17.)

Here is part of what the Bible Dictionary says about the Fall of Adam:

"Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood.  There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations.  With the eating of the  ' forbidden fruit,'  Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life.  Adam became the  ' first flesh '  upon the earth (Moses 3: 7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal.  After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal."  (Bible Dictionary, "Fall of Adam," paragraph 1.)

There are no semi-closeted evolutionist apostles

BCC's Aaron Brown feels LDS evolutionts probably "have a  ' testimony '  of evolution that is born entirely of scientific study, rather than of a favorite General Authority quote."  Yet he wonders what the Brethren as a group really think about evolution and asks whether anyone can imagine "a group of semi-closeted evolutionists" leading the Church.

I've tried to imagine a "semi-closeted evolutionist" apostle, in a position to influence nearly 13 million Mormons.  I've tried to imagine how he would feel about a fellow apostle speaking out against evolution as Elder Nelson has so often done.  I am confident that such an evolutionist apostle would be worried—worried about millions of people being misled by his fellow apostle.

Yet, according to the interview, Elder Wickman is confident that no one in the First Presidency or the Twelve is worried about evolution.  In other words, no one in the First Presidency or the Twelve is a "semi-closeted evolutionist."  Not one of them gets heartburn over Elder Nelson's constant output of anti-evolutionary teachings.

Furthermore, they don't even worry about people who believe in evolution.  Why?  Earlier in the interview, Elder Wickman explained:

"The prophet Joseph Smith was once asked how it was that he was able to  ' govern his people,'  as the reporter put it.  Joseph responded that he taught correct principles and let them govern themselves."

I thought of the Dover Board of Education and Kansas State Board of Education when I read what Elder Nelson added:

"Our business is to teach a better way of life, to teach the principles and the doctrines of the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is our mission....  We do want correct principles.

We would say to ...  the board of education people,  ' You do your business and we won't try to tell you how to do your business.  And when it comes to matters of faith and religion, we'll do the teaching and hope you'll give us a listening ear.' "

For me, that pretty much sums it up.  When it comes to matters of faith and religion, the apostles and prophets do the teaching and we give a listening ear.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently had a conversation with some people going through medical school. Evolution is clearly taught, but they both (without any prompting) began discussing how -- knowing what they know about how organisms work, evolution (from a complete macro sense) is unrealistic. With his vast experience in medicine, it makes sense to me, Elder Nelson would also feel this way.

5/23/2007 11:58:00 PM  

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