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Monday, June 25, 2007

LDS Evolution View

"Mormon View of Evolution" was issued in 1925 by Heber J. Grant's First Presidency.  It is an abbreviated copy of "The Origin of Man," issued in 1909 by Joseph F. Smith's First Presidency.  The position of the LDS Church on evolution is set forth in these two formal declarations of doctrine.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy was recently interviewed by Reuters and some of his comments were discussed on another blog.  Among other things, Elder Christofferson said in the interview that he couldn't think of a doctrinal statement by the Church on evolution.

Notice that he didn't say whether the Church actually has a doctrinal statement on evolution.  His comment speaks to the matter of what he can think of, not what exists.

The remainder of this article will show that the original 1909 First Presidency statement on "The Origin of Man" is (1) about evolution, (2) official, (3) doctrinal, and (4) definitive.

The 1909 statement is (1) about evolution.

     1-a.  The 1925 statement clearly establishes that the 1909 statement is about evolution.  Because the 1925 statement is actually an abridged version of the 1909 statement, it firmly establishes by its title, "Mormon View of Evolution," that both statements do in fact express the Church's view on evolution.  Because the 1909 statement is titled "The Origin of Man," it is also clear that the subject is human evolution.

     1-b.  This was confirmed in 1992 by the First Presidency and several members of the Quorum of the Twelve when, as members of the BYU Board of Trustees, they approved the BYU Evolution Packet in these words:

"This packet contains, as far as could be found, all statements issued by the First Presidency ... on the subject of evolution and the origin of man....  The earliest ... was issued during the administration of President Joseph F. Smith in 1909....  The second ... was issued during the administration of President Heber J. Grant in 1925.  Although there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing the general matter of organic evolution as a process for development of [other] biological species, these documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the [evolution of, or] origin of man....

"Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions."

     1-c.  The 1909 First Presidency statement was reprinted by the Church in its February 2002 Ensign magazine as the Church's doctrinal position on evolution:

"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.)

A note elsewhere in the same magazine says:

"Find ... the Church's official teachings on the creation of mankind and evolution ... on p. 26."  (Ensign, Feb. 2002, p. 80.)

     1-d.  The Church's Gospel Topic web page about "Creation" again says the 1909 statement contains the Church's doctrinal position on evolution:

"In 1909, amid controversy and questions about the Creation and the theory of evolution, the First Presidency issued this article, which expresses the Church's doctrinal position."

The 1909 statement is (2) official.

     2-a.  The 1992 First Presidency said the 1909 statement is official.  In 1992, the First Presidency and several members of the Quorum of the Twelve, as members of the BYU Board of Trustees, said "Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions."

Specifically, they said the 1909 and 1925 statements "make clear the official position of the Church regarding the [evolution of, or] origin of man"  (see 1-b).

     2-b.  The February 2002 Ensign says the 1909 statement is official (see the note at the back of the Ensign as quoted in 1-c).

The 1909 statement is (3) doctrinal.

     3-a.  In its introduction to the February 2002 reprint of the 1909 statement, the Ensign says it "expresses the Church's doctrinal position [on] evolution" (see 1-c).

     3-b.  In its introduction to the 1909 statement, the Church's Gospel Topic web page on "Creation" also says it "expresses the Church's doctrinal position [on] evolution" (see 1-d).

     3-c.  Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith says the 1909 statement was a "doctrinal exposition" (see p. ix).

     3-d.  The Church's history page for President Joseph F. Smith also says the 1909 statement was a "doctrinal exposition."

The 1909 statement is (4) definitive.

     4-a.  One meaning of definitive is "precisely defined or explicit."  In this sense, some claim the 1909 statement may not be definitive.  Even so, the statement is sufficiently clear.  Here's why:

The apostles have the keys as prophets, seers, and revelators.  With the senior apostle at their head, they are charged with making the Church's doctrine understandable to all (see 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20, 4:12-14; D&C 1:14, 52:9, 36).

A living apostle, President Boyd K. Packer, has stated explicitly and with precision that the 1909 statement constitutes an authoritative pronouncement against human evolution (see here) and he continues to denounce "those who equate humankind with animals" (address given at the BYU Women's Conference, May 5, 2006, p. 5).

Equally as important is the fact that no apostle has ever disagreed with President Packer's conclusion.

     4-b.  Another meaning of definitive is "authoritative."  In this sense, the 1909 statement is clearly definitive because, as the First Presidency and several Apostles said in 1992, "Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions" and the 1909 and 1925 statements "make clear" position of the Church regarding man's origin (see 1-b).

The LDS Church does have a doctrinal statement on evolution.

Whether or not at any given moment an individual Church member or leader can think of it, the LDS Church does have a doctrinal statement on evolution.  It is the 1909 First Presidency statement on "The Origin of Man" from which came, in 1925, "Mormon View of Evolution."

The 1909 statement is about evolution.  It is official, doctrinal, and definitive.  And I seriously doubt Elder Christofferson was challenging its authority with his candid, extemporaneous comment about not being able to think of a doctrinal statement by the Church on evolution.

5 Comments:

Blogger NoCoolName_Tom said...

While some have certainly "looked beyond the mark" in reading Elder Christofferson's remarks, I think the most telling aspect of what he said was that he, as you pointed out, couldn't think of any statements regarding the Church's doctrinal view of evolution.

Perhaps the thing to take note of and ponder is not whether Elder Christofferson was somehow expressing finality on the discussion (he wasn't), but the amazing idea that a General Authority of the Church might not be familiar with the 1909 statement. To me, at least, I draw two conclusions: either A) Elder Christofferson is somehow unaware of the 1909 statement and was thus unable to bring it to mind when speaking on the matter, or B) Elder Christofferson personally doesn't view it as a doctrinal statement.

The validity of the 1909 statement shouldn't be in question. It was issued by the First Presidency and its contents have been subsequently reviewed, reissued, and discussed (and dissected) many times. The question is, if either A or B is true for Elder Christofferson, then are they true for more General Authorities? And if they are true for more General Authorities, what does that mean about how Church leadership approaches the evolution question in our day?

Some may have taken his comments further than just asking these questions. I think they are fascinating questions.

6/28/2007 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term "evolution" can certainly mean a lot of things. It is possible, in Elder Christofferson's answer, he might have been thinking in terms of what is going on in the ID vs. evolution controversy or something similar. I am certain, if you asked him about the doctrinal position of Man's Origin, he would have had a difference answer. At least I hope so.

6/30/2007 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous richard sherlock said...

Gary, I would like to have some serious discussion about John a widtsoe's 1948 Era article in which I think he plainly admits that the evidence of "human like " beings living and dying before the coming of Adam cannot be denied. He was not then or ever an evolutionist in the darwinian sense. But I think it cannot be denied that in a church publication he admits death before the fall R. Sherlock

7/10/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Professor Sherlock,

You are correct about Elder Widtsoe's 1948 Era article. He did say, "No one can safely deny that [pre-Adamite] manlike beings did at one time roam over the earth."

"The evolutionist," he pointed out, "has seen in these manlike beings a confirmation of his view.  They have become to him intermediate forms between man as he now is and the lower animals."

But Elder Widtsoe disagrees with that conclusion.  "Such an assumption," he said, "is but adding theory to theory, inference to inference."

The closing words of Elder Widtsoe's 1948 article are:

-------------- quote --------------
    "The mystery of the 'creation' of Adam and Eve has not yet been revealed.

    "But we do know, and this is the present answer to the pre-Adamite discussion, that we and the whole human race are descendants of Adam and Eve.  Our earthly genealogies are traced back to these our first parents, and stop there.

    "In the present state of knowledge, scientific or revealed directly, it is folly to worry about pre-Adamites.  Speculation about them, whether such people ever lived, what they did, what became of them, or their relation to the children of Adam, leads nowhere.  It only confuses the mind.  Latter-day Saints accept all discovered facts, but hold theories in abeyance.  Latter-day Saints are content to know that much is yet to be learned; they wait, therefore, patiently, for the larger day of knowledge, without disturbing the equanimity of their lives." (Emphasis added.)
-------------- end quote --------------

Those being the last words of the article, what is it about the article that you would like to discuss?


P.S. I looked up the word equanimity.  It means "the quality of being calm and even-tempered; composure."

7/10/2007 09:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your response Gary. Widtsoe was not and evolutionist and I can't find anyplace that he ever thought that human beings came from lower life forms. But he did believe that there were living and dying beings before Adam. Though he was really right in saying that this is mystery we shouldn't be concerned about. Also the 1931 affair was about pre-adamites and in the document the First Pres. did refuse to take a stand on that issue. You are right. Contrary to some authors the issues were not organic evolution ( Roberts was fuzzy about that). But to say, esp. in light of Widtsoe's article that the Church is committed to no death before before the fall is a bit much. Also, have you seen my article on intelligent design last year in FARMS? Richard Sherlock

7/11/2007 01:06:00 PM  

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