Sunday, November 08, 2009

Diverse apostolic views on evolution

For more than 100 years, LDS apostles and prophets have spoken plainly against the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man.  But many LDS evolutionists feel everything said against evolution before 1970 was premature because most of the scientific evidence for evolution has come since then. [1]

Clearly, those who spoke against evolution before 1970 did not then understand today's science.  So for the sake of discussion, let's temporarily disallow everything said about evolution by apostles and prophets before 1970.  In that context, let's examine the claim that there are diverse viewpoints among the apostles on evolution.

A few years ago, William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery made this claim in their book Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements.  They said:

"If one included statements by LDS apostles in a handout on evolution, the range of views would include some statements against evolution, some sympathetic to evolution and several shades of opinion in between." [2]

First, the LDS Church has never published a statement by any LDS apostle sympathetic to human evolution.  Second, if we disallow pre-1970 statements in a handout on evolution, the range of views becomes very narrow:  There are no Church published statements sympathetic to evolution.

SteveP on diverse apostolic views

SteveP recently said my position is coherent "with the words of selected general authorities."  This makes it sound like there are diverse viewpoints among the authorities and only the words of "selected" authroities support my position.  But the fact is that in my adult lifetime, including my high school and mission years plus 40 years of marriage, all Church published statements about evolution by the apostles and prophets have been against evolution.  Not one apostle or prophet has been sympathetic to evolution.

In other words, SteveP, I am questioning your choice of the word "selected" because my position is consistent with ALL of the words of the apostles and prophets on evolution spoken during my entire adult lifetime.  For me, the coveted yet elusive diversity simply doesn't exist.



1.  In their 2001 book, Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum explain it this way;

"Many of the unofficial statements concerning evolution were products of their time. However, it is important to understand that scientific progress has been enormous in this area over the past thirty years. Even statements made as late as the 1960s and 1970s are dated in terms of the science they respond to in light of the recent explosion of new knowledge in biology and anthropology relative to the theory of evolution. The conclusions of scientists are now corroborated by vast amounts of molecular (DNA) data, which did not exist before 1970, and by a greatly expanded fossil record." (Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, Signature Books, 2001, p.11.)

"The techniques for rapidly sequencing DNA (discovering the sequence of the base units) were not developed until the early 1970s. Therefore, essentially all of what we know about animal interrelatedness at the molecular level has been discovered since 1970. It is important to remember that most of the books that have been written concerning the Mormon church and the theory of evolution were published before any of the molecular data, which are some of the most convincing supporting the theory of evolution, were available.

"The first gene was isolated from a bacterium in the summer of 1970, and no genes had yet been sequenced. We now have sequenced thousands in hundreds of species of plants and animals." (Ibid., pp.104-105.)

"No more powerful evidence exists for any scientific theory than that it clearly and precisely predicts the data obtained from future experiments and observations, especially in fields of science that do not yet exist." (Ibid., p.111.)

2.  William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, 2005, p.5.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"all Church published statements about evolution by the apostles and prophets have been against evolution. Not one apostle or prophet has been sympathetic to evolution."

Your second comment doesn't flow from your first. All published statements is a subset of all apostles and prophets views, not the other way around.

11/08/2009 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Anonymous, my bad. It should read, "Not one apostle or prophet has been sympathetic to evolution in public discourse." All of us, including apostles and prophets, are entitled to personal opinion. Thanks for the clarification.

But let me just add that personal opinions are not my guiding light, no matter whose personal opinion we're talking about. I go by what the Church publishes.

11/08/2009 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous steveP said...

I can do no better than to recommend the Evenson and Jeffery book above:


Look at the review by Mayor McCheese on the Amazon listing, it gives a short list of the statements made by presidents of the church while prophet contained within the book. Which book if you read, will see that there are many that are friendly or neutral on evolution and the book makes it clear that the despite GaryR's instance, there is no official position on evolution in the Church.

11/08/2009 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


SteveP, the review by Mayor McCheese is way too sugar-coated for my taste. What the book needs is Clorox.

Contrary to its title, Mormonism and Evolution fails to comprehensively provide "the" authoritative LDS statements on evolution. It provides some of them but also leaves some out. What's worse, statements are included that don't meet the book's own stated criteria for authoritative status. The result is that individuals who want the LDS Church to be neutral on evolution will be enthusiastic about this book. Those, however, who just want to know where the LDS Church stands on evolution should be wary of this book.

If you're interested, I posted a three part 6,800 word review of this book the year it was published (see here, and here, and here). Links to several related posts are found in those three articles.

11/08/2009 09:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember a time when there were no published statements by the church in favor of extending the priesthood to blacks. Just curious: what would you do if the church suddenly published a pro-evolution statement?

11/09/2009 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous, Have you never done an about face in order to follow the Living Prophet? I have. More than once. And I would gladly do it again.

11/09/2009 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

I personally doubt that a prophet of the church would ever come out and give a pro-evolution statement- as official doctrine.

That would be like coming out and openly supporting gay marriage.

The amount of evidence within the church doctrine of man being the offspring of Deity is so overwhelming that to say otherwise would be a big doctrinal change. Evolution is tolerated within the church outside of human evolution. No human evolution is supported by the church. Neither is the church neutral with the theory of mans evolution.

If man did not evolve, then why would other animals evolve? This is why I believe the Church is somewhat netral on "animal" evolution because it is kind of self evident in LDS doctrine that evolution did not happen. But, the church tries to be nice to those who believe in natural evolution realizing it doesn't have a whole lot to do with salvation.

11/09/2009 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

One other comment-

After viewing the extensive material on this site regarding the "official doctrine" on evolution, it is very clear that human evolution is not a doctrine that the church supports. This indirectly then disputes claims by others that "there is no official position on evolution in the Church".

It is beyond any doubt then that evolution is refuted by the church. It doesn't really matter what may or may not have been various apostles views (personal opinions) on the matter of evolution because that doesn't make it official. This is what is official-

"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 declared that Adam was “the first man of all men”..."

The reprint in the 2002 Ensign make sit clear that those word spoken are the "official doctrine" as it still stands today. Here-

"...the First Presidency issued the following in 1909, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position on these matters. A reprinting of this important First Presidency statement will be helpful as members of the Church study the Old Testament this year..."

It is clear- the church's official stance on evolution is at least this much- The body of Adam and Eve did not come about through an evolution of lower orders of the animal creation.

11/09/2009 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Rob Osborn, it's easy for the two of us to see why 76 percent of Mormons disagree with human evolution and why only 21 percent of Mormons even partly agree with the theory.

11/09/2009 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

It bothers me sometimes to see some of our good brothers discount so much of the creation account. I was reading back on some of the archived material you have put forth and I wonder why some seem so sure the church is "neutral" on human evolution. By almost every standard, LDS doctrine is a form of creationism philisophically speaking, and also a form of intelligent design scientifically speaking. It's really hard to imagine that there are LDS who believe in evolution- standard textbook evolution, to explain the origins of life and also the origins of humans through Darwinian evolution. It really boggles my mind.

The creation, fall and atonement are the three main tenets of LDS doctrine. There is no getting around the truth of an intelligent cause to the creation (intelligent design theory)of intelligent life on this planet. Regardless of whether or not one views ID as "science" or "junk science", LDS doctrine wholly supports it 100%. So, if the gospel is true, then ID is true, the creation is true, the fall is true and certainly also the atonement and resurrection are true.

11/09/2009 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Rob Osborn, human evolution is allowed by Intelligent Design.

Michael Behe, a leading proponant of Intelligent Design, said in his book, Darwin's Black Box: "For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it." (p.5.)

The apostles and prophets have never endorsed the idea that all organisms (including humans) share a common ancestor. For that reason, I doubt that "ID is true."

11/09/2009 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

R. Gary,

ID does not say whether or not micro-evolution is true or false. Neither does it say whether macr-evolution is false. ID theory pretty much only deals with the design element behind the complexity of life- that it had to have come from an intelligent cause. It supports LDS views on the creation perfectly. Besides that, no evolutionist will claim ID as a supportive theory of evolution.

11/10/2009 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Rob Osborn, not everyone believes what you just said. For example, Utah State Senator Chris Buttars thought he was promoting intelligent design until the Discovery Institute disowned him in June of 2005. The ID movement doesn't view itself as a home for fundamentalist biblical creationists. ID doesn't support LDS views on the creation.

11/10/2009 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

R. Gary,

Where do LDS beliefs fall then? It certainly must be somewhat "creationist" and somewhat "ID". ID claims this as their definitive theory-

"The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion." (The Intelligent Design Network)

Our Creator is the "intelligent cause" in ID theory.

11/10/2009 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

ID says "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection."

Notice that it's only "certain features" that involve an intelligent cause, whereas everything else came about by natural selection.

Scripture, on the other hand, declares that it was "God"—not some vague intelligent cause—but "God" who "created all things, both in heaven and in earth" (Mosiah 4:9).

"And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon." (2 Ne. 2:14.)

According to ID theory, most of the things in heaven and earth came about by undirected processes like natural selection. I've been listening to general conference for more than 50 years and I've never heard that taught. So I don't understand why anyone would link ID theory with LDS creation teachings.

The "intelligent cause" in ID theory is not God.

11/10/2009 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Very funny--even though Rob Osborn wants to be an expert on ID, it's clear that R. Gary has a much better grasp on what ID actually is.
All sorts of people have grabbed onto ID to try to use it to support their ideas. Those who write books about ID, etc. get most of their funding from people who think ID says man and chimps didn't evolve from a common ancestor. Oops.
R. Gary, I'm glad you understand what ID actually is, instead of trying to use it to support your views on the creation. It's a smart move, and it shows that you've done some research on ID.

11/12/2009 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Thanks, Tim. And I'm sorry your comment wasn't posted three days ago. For some reason, it got caught in moderation.

11/15/2009 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger cinepro said...

Interesting post.

So...has anyone come up with any pro-evolution (or even ambiguous-evolution) quotes yet?

11/16/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Kristopher said...

Brother Shapiro, thank you for your extensive labors in this much-needed endeavor. And nope, cinepro, no one has come up with any pro-evolution or ambiguous-evolution quotes yet...because there's not the abundance that critics would have members believe. It's curious how they latch onto some from the Roberts/Widtsoe/Talmage era, not realizing that in one very strong sense, if there was a debate, it was lost by virtue of President Joseph Fielding Smith's attaining the mantle of prophet. He "outranked" all of them.

Now, if one has faith issues, then not much can be done for it without deference to the Holy Ghost. But if we are to win this argument in the realm of LDS doctrine, that's a pretty easy thing to do when we realize that people are opposing scholars and Seventies or misappropriated apostles against presidents of the Church.

4/13/2010 02:28:00 PM  

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