.
.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

FAIR claims Church has no official position on evolution

Last month, FAIR Blog's Mike Parker said twice in the same thread that "the Church has no official position on evolution" (click here).  He also said "the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are the BYU board of trustees" (click here).  (What's FAIR?  Click here.)

Correction  re:  BYU Board of Trustees

The First Presidency and some of the Apostles are members of the BYU Board of Trustees.

If you visit the BYU Academic Catalogs page and follow the links to "Administration" information, you can find out who was serving on the BYU Board of Trustees during any of the years from 1997 to the present.  During those years, the Board has always been chaired by the First Presidency, with three to six Apostles and two or three other general Church officers as members.

Correction  re:  Church position on evolution

Actually, the Church does have an official position on evolution.

It isn't clear whether FAIR is denying the existence of an official position, or whether FAIR is interpreting the official position to mean the Church doesn't have one.

In either case, FAIR is wrong.  We will discuss both cases.

The existence of an official position

In its 1992 evolution packet cover letter (see PDF p.3), the BYU Board of Trustees identified three statements that have been issued by the First Presidency on science, evolution, and the origin of man:

November 1909, "The Origin of Man" (2,700 words).

December 1910, "Words in Season" (99 words).

September 1925, "Mormon View of Evolution" (560 words).

In that same letter, the Trustees emphasized that "formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions" and that the three named statements "make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man."

In this discussion we will focus on the 1909 statement, which by itself establishes that the Church has an official position on evolution.  We will show that the 1909 statement is about evolution, is official, doctrinal, and definitive, and we will show that it is, in fact, the Church's current position on evolution.

About evolution

1.  "The Origin of Man," issued in 1909, and its 1925 abridgement, "Mormon View of Evolution," demonstrate by their titles alone that both statements are about human evolution.

2.  This was confirmed in 1992 by the First Presidency and 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 biological species, these documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man....

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

3.  The 1909 First Presidency statement was reprinted in the 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.)

4.  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."

Official

5.  The 1992 First Presidency said the 1909 statement is official.  In 1992, the First Presidency and members 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 origin of man":  (see number 2, above).

6.  The February 2002 Ensign says the 1909 statement is official:

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

Doctrinal

7.  In its introduction to the February 2002 reprint of the 1909 statement, the Ensign says the statement "expresses the Church's doctrinal position [on] evolution" (see number 3, above).

8.  In its introduction to the 1909 statement, the Church's Gospel Topic web page on "Creation" also says the statement "expresses the Church's doctrinal position [on] evolution" (see number 4, above).

9.  Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith says the 1909 statement is a "doctrinal exposition" (see p. ix).

10.  The Church's internet history page for President Joseph F. Smith also says the 1909 statement is a "doctrinal exposition."

Definitive

11.  The First Presidency and members of the Twelve said in 1992 that

"Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions [and the 1909 and 1925 statements] make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man."  (See number 2, above.)

Current

12.  The Church's 2000-2001 and 2002 reprints of the 1909 statement bring it forward to the 21st century and establish it as the Church's current position on evolution.

Interpretations of doctrine

Who can tell us the meaning of the official position of the Church on evolution?  FAIR seems to be saying it means "the Church has no official position on evolution."

It should be self-evident among Latter-day Saints that God has given apostles and prophets "for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12) and that their ministry is to see that "we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine."  (Eph. 4:14.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley stated in general conference that the apostles and prophets are called to teach and interpret doctrine:

"The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, called and ordained to hold the keys of the priesthood, have the authority and responsibility to govern the Church, to administer its ordinances, to expound its doctrine, and to establish and maintain its practices."  (Ensign, May 1994, p.54; emphasis added; see also Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, pp.77 & 84.)

Twice the Lord tells the elders of the Church to say "none other things" than that which the apostles and prophets teach.  (D&C 52:9, 36.)  The Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains that apostles and prophets are appointed to interpret doctrine:

"The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles ... are sustained by Church members as  ' prophets, seers, and revelators.'  Their writings and addresses ... are cited frequently as guides for living and for authoritative interpretation of doctrine."  (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1281.)

A living apostle

President Boyd K. Packer, has stated that the 1909 statement constitutes an authoritative pronouncement against human evolution.  Recently he again denounced "those who equate humankind with animals" (address given at the BYU Women's Conference, May 5, 2006, p. 5).

"How well I know," he says today, "that among learned men are those who look down at animals and stones to find the origin of man."  (Ensign, Mar 2008, p.19; see also the Church's new Web site about Jesus Christ.)

Conclusion

Yes, the Church does indeed have an official position on evolution.  It is the 1909 First Presidency statement on "The Origin of Man" from which came, in 1925, "Mormon View of Evolution."

The official 1909 statement declares that "all men were created in the beginning after the image of God" and that Adam, "the first man of all men," was not the offspring of "lower orders" of animal life.

This reading of the 1909 statement is what the Church currently teaches and it has never been contradicted by any member of the First Presidency or the Twelve in any Church publication.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So BYU and other Church sponsored educational institutions are teaching error? Why does the First Presidency permit them to continue in this?

4/18/2008 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Rene Krywult said...

I feel that you and FAIR are talking past each other. FAIR talks, as you say, about an "official position on evolution", while you are quoting an "official position on human evolution". Big difference.


Now, concerning the creation of Adam, the following paragraph from the 1909 statement is relevant:

"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. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was "the first man of all men" (Moses 1: 34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; and whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to
the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father."

There are several interesting things in this:

First of all, we are bound to believe that Adam was the first man, and man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.

Second, not only Adam, but ALL MEN are created as human beings in the likeness of our heavenly Father. Thus, the idea that the first man was created through birth is not at variance with this First Presidency statement, as long as it is not claimed that Adam was not born a man.

This secon point is also strengthened by a statement in the 1910 Improvement Era, in the regular column of the First Presidency called "Priesthood Quorums' table":

"Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God"

Don't mistake me, this is NOT an official statement of doctrine! Nevertheless, how could the First Presidency make such a blunder, if one year before that it was perfectly clear that the mortal bodies of man did NOT evolve in a natural process? Especially, since this column was written to explain how the 1909 statement should be understood?

4/18/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

.

Anonymous:

Regarding BYU and evolution, Mike Parker asked a similar question in his FAIR Blog post last month, and I've been working on a post that will address that issue.

.

Rene Krywult:

Actually, I do make a careful distinction between evolution and human evolution, both here and in my comments last month on the FAIR Blog. And that's something FAIR has (to date) failed to do in its Wiki evolution.article, and it's also something Mike Parker didn't do last month in his blog article.

Regarding the April 1910 anonymous Improvement Era comment, there is no evidence that it was published with First Presidency approval and there is substantial evidence that it was not (click here).

As I explained above, the apostles and prophets are those to whom we should look to understand the 1909 statement.

4/18/2008 09:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary,

I think we ought to recognize that the David O Mckay to Stokes letter was one of a long line to letters from prophets from McKay on that were sent to the BYU biology department stating the same thing i.e. the Church has no position. Stokes was the only one given permission to publish his. The others were allowed to be put on file in the BYU library. Thus it was not only one letter it was many and they were not exactly private. also have you read Nels Nelson's Science and Mormonism. It is plainly supportive of Darwin. And I have specific evidence from the archives that Joseph F Smith authorized church funds to be used to publish it
Richard Sherlock

4/30/2008 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Richard,

I think we ought to recognize that "formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions," therefore the David O. McKay to Stokes letter and any number of letters like it cannot possibly establish an official Church position (or non position) contrary to the formal 1909 First Presidency statement as currently interpreted by apostles and prophets.

Also, we ought to recognize that even Church published lesson manuals don't establish official Church positions, so what difference would it make if Church funds were used to help produce a privately published book written by Nels Nelson?

Not all Church members oppose evolution, but the Church is officially opposed to the idea of human evolution.

5/01/2008 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger Jsn said...

Adam is the first man. As I read it, THAT is the official position and THAT is the only hard-line the church has taken on this topic.

11/26/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jsn, the Church doesn't use university professors quoting privately published books to make the Church's official position known to its members.

The 1992 First Presidency with members 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" and the 1909 and 1925 statements "make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man." The February 2002 Ensign also says the 1909 statement contains "the Church's official teachings on the creation of mankind and evolution."

There are no Church published statements from any member of the First Presidency or the Twelve that say otherwise.

On the other hand, of course, you are certainly entitled to your opinion.

11/26/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Rene's point about the distinction between evolution and human evolution; however, I think this should be further clarified. The articles presented in the BYU evolution packet refer to evolution and the origin of man. Evolution is a biological process, not an event. The origin of man is, or was, an event. Some have used evolution (a process) to explain how the origin of man (an event) came about. The statements from the First Presidency contained in the packet clearly state that it is the position of the Church that the origin of man did not come about through the process of evolution. These statements do not, however, provide any opinion as to whether evolution is a correct principal of biology.

Richard's reference to the McKay letters brings up a similar point. In the letters I've read, President McKay refers to evolution (again a process) and not to the origin of man. He clearly states that the Church has no official position on evolution. He does not say that the Church has no position on the origin of man.

Regarding R. Gary's response, if the previous statements from the First Presidency, in fact, provide a Church position on evolution, why would President McKay ever disagree with an official Church position? Was he privately saying that an official Chruch position is wrong? I find that impossible to believe. In no way would I ever think that the President of the Church is wrong and that I know better than he about what is and what is not the Church's official position on any subject.

DB

1/24/2009 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DB:

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your thoughts on this!

I guess I'm just reading too much into what the Church itself has published about its own official position on evolution.

Regarding David O. McKay, he did send a letter to William Lee Stokes in 1957 which says: "On the subject of evolution the Church has officially taken no position. The book ' Man, His Origin and Destiny ' was not published by the Church, and is not approved by the Church. The book contains expressions of the author's views for which he alone is responsible."

You ask why President McKay would disagree with an official Church position. Just a few weeks before his own death in 1973, Church President Harold B. Lee (who had served closely with McKay as a fellow Apostle for nearly thirty years) privately answered an identical question. Lee said:

"It was undoubtedly the undue pressure of some ... dissidents, one of which was his own son, who was a professor at the University of Utah, that induced him to write this brief and to them a satisfying but to you a disturbing note, which poured water over their wheel and tended to lessen the influence of President Joseph Fielding Smith's book." President Lee also mentioned President McKay's handwritten note endorsing President Romney's No Death Before the Fall teachings in the April 1953 General Conference.

Well anyway, thanks again DB for your comment!

1/25/2009 02:27:00 PM  

<< Home