Friday, March 14, 2008

Times and Seasons puzzled by President Packer on evolution

On Monday of this week, Marc Bohn at Times and Seasons didn't seem too sure about how to take President Boyd K. Packer's recent comments on evolution.  So, he attached several statements by past Church leaders about Mormons and Evolution.

Several commenters who think the Church should be neutral or affirmative toward evolution were enthusiastic about Marc's post.  A couple of Marc's commenters seemed not to understand that President Packer himself is neither affirmative or neutral about evolution, especially when it comes the evolution of man.[1]

In an apparent effort to show that President Packer is out of harmony with the First Presidency's 1909 statement on "The Origin of Man," Marc used the specious argument that a certain April 1910 Improvement Era paragraph was "edited by the First Presidency." [2]

The Evenson assertion Marc quoted that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution" is completely and utterly false.[3]

The short quote from the William Lee Stokes letter is unrelated to the matter being considered (the position of the Church on evolution) because Church policy is not announced in private letters, which means the Stokes letter does not establish the non-position of the Church on anything.[4]

The leave-science-to-science meaning Marc attaches to the 1931 quote about geology and biology etc. is simply off the mark.[5]

By the way, one of the less important problems with Marc's article is the fact that William E. Evenson did NOT write the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on the Origin of Man.

Well, I'm leaving later this morning for a very long road trip.  I'll have my computer with me and hope to have internet access along the way, but please forgive me if comments don't get through moderation right way for the next ten days.


1.  Over the years, President Packer has consistently denounced "those who equate humankind with animals," explaining that " ' Children are an heritage of the Lord '  (Psalms 127:3).  Each is a child of God.  He is not a monkey; neither were his ancestors."  ("Children of God,"  BYU Women's Conference, May 5, 2006, p.5.)

In earlier comments about evolution, President Packer has clearly stated his opinion that organic evolution as an explanation for the origin of man is not only a problem, it is "the problem" ("The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990, p.6, italics in the original.)

He has pointed out that "fundamental doctrines" (i.e. the Creation, Fall, and Atonement) "cannot co-exist" with the belief that man's body evolved from lower forms of animal life.  (Ibid., p.7.)  He has declared that if the theory of evolution applies to man, "there was no Fall and therefore no need for an atonement, nor a gospel of redemption, nor a redeemer."  (Ibid., p.22.)

President Packer has warned members not to mortgage their testimonies "for an unproved theory" on how man's body was created and admonishes members to have faith "in the revelations" leaving man where the revelations have put him.  (Ibid., p.10.)  He has warned, "Do not mortgage your soul for unproved theories." (Ibid., p.26.)

President Packer has said that man is not the product of evolution.  This idea, he has said, "is false!"  (Ibid., p.21.)  And, he has also said, theistic evolution "is equally false."  (Ibid.)

President Packer has explained that evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body is incompatible with "an understanding of the sealing authority," which (he said twice for emphasis) "cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts."  (Ibid., p.22; italics in the original.)

2.  This was discussed here in 2006 in a lengthy review of the April 1910 Era comment as published in William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005).

3.  A lengthy discussion of this is found here.  A short summary follows.

The 1931 First Presidency memo from which the excerpt is taken quotes Elder B. H. Roberts saying that

"the points questioned and the paper in defense of them [have] suspended the publication of my book — now in manuscript — ' The Truth, The Way, The Life'."

Elder Roberts wrote the book in 1927-1928 as a Melchizedek Priesthood study guide.  Five members of the Quorum of the Twelve were assigned to review the manuscript.  They found problems.  But Elder Roberts was unwilling to make certain requested changes.  Hence the increasing intensity of the discussions which continued for three and a half years until the First Presidency said on April 7, 1931:

"We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division, and misunderstanding if carried further."

The erroneous sentence Marc quoted was written by William E. Evenson and published in 1992.  Two years later, in 1994, the Roberts book (at issue in 1931) was finally published.  As part of that publication project, BYU Studies invited thirteen BYU scholars to prepare critical essays discussing and analyzing various aspects of the book.

One of those essays was written by William Evenson.  In his 1994 essay, Evenson acknowledged that the opinions of B. H. Roberts were "not those of an evolutionist" and that the 1931 discussions "were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms."  (William E. Evenson, "Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution," in The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p.645; emphasis added.)

Let me repeat that for emphasis:  The opinions of B. H. Roberts were "not those of an evolutionist" and the discussions "were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms."  (Ibid.)  Evenson thus reversed his position from two years earlier about the topic of the 1931 discussions.

4.  It is ironic that Marc's article is anchored to President Packer's recent comments about evolution, yet he neglects to tell his readers what President Packer has published about the Stokes letter:

"Letters to individuals are not the channel for announcing the policy of the Church.  For several important reasons, this letter itself is not a declaration of the position of the Church, as some have interpreted it to be.  Do not anchor your position on this major issue to that one sentence!  It is in conflict with the two official declarations [1909 and 1925], each signed by all members of the First Presidency.  Remember the revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants,  ' Every decision made by ... [the First Presidency] must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member ... must be agreed to its decisions.... Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men'  (D&C 107:27, 29). ("The Law and the Light," op. cit., p.23; italics in the original.)

The Church has never published a statement such as Marc quotes from the Stokes letter.

5.  President Thomas S. Monson has a very different understanding of the statement as was discussed here.  And four months ago, President Monson emphasized again that "My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it."  ("Guideposts for Life's Journey," pdf p.4.)


Blogger S.Faux said...

I appreciate your blog and your convictions. You have every right to your positions. I hope I do too. My Bishop and Stake President very well know my stances on evolution as scientific fact. As a life scientist I have never felt constrained by the Church to pursue that field of inquiry.

Scientists (the vast majority) regard evolution to be as factual as gravity. Scientists do not believe in evolution in order to slam religion. They believe in evolution because it is readily apparent in the organism, in fossils, and in the DNA. There is NO scientific way to discount evolution. The data demand it.

My perspective is that the Church would be harmed if it took a hard stand on evolution, just as it would if it denied gravity.

Fortunately, one's standing with God (as I understand Church doctrine) does NOT depend upon what one thinks about Darwin.

Even so, best wishes in your intellectual analysis. You are a deep thinker, and I appreciate your thoughts, despite our disagreements.

3/14/2008 08:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom D said...

I look forward to the eventual day when faithful evolutionist and faithful non-evolutionist followers of Christ will together enjoy the blessings of salvation and exaltation (as well as finally finding out the details of God's creation). Because I agree that one's standing with God doesn't depend upon what one thinks of Darwin, I am always amazed at the incredible amount of time that wasted on trying to prove a Church position of neutrality or negation. It's such a non-issue.

3/14/2008 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Tom D:  I strongly agree with you that a person's standing in the Church doesn't depend on what he or she thinks of Darwinian evolution.  In fact, 16 months ago I stated my convictions about this in my article on "Politics, Pepsi, and Evolution."  Thanks for stopping by.

3/15/2008 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger richard Sherlock said...

Richard Sherlock

I think the essence of Darwinism, random variations and natural selection is wrong, and deeply hostile to faith. But I fail to see any argument for why no death before the fall is so important and why we must hold that descent from lower life forms is not a plausible way in which our bodies were created. I know that I was not created that way because I and all of us had a pre-existence. Furthermore, why is NBDF so crucial when in 1931 the presidency said it was not. Also lets remember that Pres. Packer is a General Authority, not an authority in general. When I was in a student stake at the U of U our stake president Oscar McConkie said in Stake Conference that he always reminded his brother Bruce of that.

3/20/2008 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Chase Tingey said...

Why can't God use time and experience to get to a certain point of exalting his offspring? Or, why can't I experience the groveling nature of a caveman like existence for experience? After which to be recycled to higher and higher form...all for experience.
If God has "numberless creations" (which, by the way, is a divine investiture of authority phrase anyway) then he had to have a first. John Taylor said it was our God's 12th. And since the Gods are expanding and learning (see Brigham's numerous statements from the pulpit)why does he have to start at level "omniscient"?
Do we think that God's offspring is going to be given the keys to the 747 jet entitled, "knowledge" that the gods drive? (They don't drive the same jet either...the jets are all one degree more or less powerful then their predecessor's or posterity's).Upon our first exalted state (if it will be our first) do we think we are given equal knowledge as the gods before us without going through and experiencing what they went through? What happened to the fun of experimenting and the joy of learning through painstaking analysis and trial and error? God and the gods before him are no different.
Remember the way in which Brigham said God was omniscient and omnipresent? It was by and through his angels returning and reporting to him.

7/02/2008 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Chase Tingey: You've outlined an interesting collection of beliefs about God and the universe and I believe your speculative ideas are worth thinking about. But I've had an insatiable appetite for the gospel since the 1960's and I'm quite sure your point of view didn't come from any Sunday School manual, Melchizedek Priesthood study guide, Improvement Era or Ensign magazine, Seminary or Institute manual, or any other Church publication during the past 50 years. So as long as we both understand that it's not what the Church teaches, I applaud your thoughts.

7/03/2008 05:57:00 AM  

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