Sunday, August 21, 2011

On the origin of physical and spiritual death

Over at LDS Science Review, Jared* asks: "What? If Adam was not real then I don't need the resurrection or forgiveness of sin? Nonsense. Death, sin, and separation from God exist independent of however we explain their origin."

His point of view completely disregards LDS teachings about Creation, Fall, and Atonement being three pillars of eternity, inseparably woven together. Here are links to a few examples of that teaching as found at LDS.org:

Alexander B. Morrison, here.

Bruce R. McConkie, here and here.

Book of Mormon Teacher Manual, here.

D. Todd Christofferson, here.

Russell M. Nelson, here, here, and here.

Boyd K. Packer, here and here.

Harold B. Lee, here.

Ezra Taft Benson, here.

Boyd K. Packer has also pointed out (in the same talk Jared* quotes in his post) that "fundamental doctrines on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement ... cannot co-exist with a belief that man evolved from lower forms of life." He further declared that "if the theory of evolution applies to man, there was no Fall and therefore no need for an atonement." ("The Law and the Light,” The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy, BYU Religious Studies Center, 1990, 7,22; emphasis added.)


Anonymous Stan said...

You have, in the past, commented how believing evolution is similar to drinking Pepsi. Wrong, but not that big a deal really. This post seems to contradict that sentiment. Do you believe evolutionists have relegated the fall and atonement into the same heap as say a Geocentric Universe or Alchemy?

8/21/2011 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Not at all, Stan. I believe LDS evolutionists are most often just trying to reconcile their scientific knowledge with the gospel.

8/21/2011 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger raedyohed said...

I'd argue that the operative words in Jared*'s statement are: "we explain." I don't think he means we have bad explanations. Rather I think he is intimating a few things rolled into one. First, that our understanding is incomplete. Second, that our understanding is changing. Third, that neither an incomplete nor a changing understanding alters the fact that whatever the origins of sin & death are, they are connected to and summarized by what we would call the Fall.

As our understanding of these origins changes, even in the slightest, yet death and sin are still here. To repeat President Packer: "We are told it is figurative." A mythic or figurative account still can provide one with a valid understanding of how and why we are here, even while we acknowledge that it does not represent a historical account.

From another perspective, consider the following logic: The atonement was necessary because of the Fall. Therefore, the Fall must be real or else the atonement isn't necessary. The atonement is necessary therefore the Fall is real. The Fall is real, therefore what we think about the Fall is accurate. This kind of reasoning doesn't hold up.

Better to say that we know something happened, which we call the Fall. We know it had to do with there being an earth with mortal life on it. We know it had to do with there being a human family subject to immorality. We don't understand it much outside of it's moral and religious implications. The atonement is real. It eradicates the effects of the Fall, namely moral corruption and physical death. Jesus Christ effected the atonement, and it is free to all.

The present state of things is independent of whether we can explain the state of things at present.

8/22/2011 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

raedyohed: Do you honestly believe that any of the Church leaders (as linked above from LDS.org) would go along with your explanations? More particularly, I think you're reading things into Jared*'s Packer quote that don't stack up my Packer quotes. In other words, I think I've already shown that Packer does NOT agree with you.

8/22/2011 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...


Although I did not address the "three pillars of eternity" in my post, my view does not leave them out. The universe exists, so there was a Creation, however accomplished. Our spirits left the presence of God to join with our bodies in a state where we are mortal and sin, so there is a Fall. And in order to be resurrected and receive forgiveness of sin so that we can return and live with God we need the Atonement. All the basic pieces are there.

8/22/2011 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared*: I see your point, but I still think your explanation differs from the one we get at LDS.org.

8/22/2011 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger raedyohed said...

Of course, no, I wouldn't impute my own views to any of the Bretheren. In fact, I'd guess that just about everyone I share my views with, scientist, prophet, or otherwise just rolls their eyes! But I'm confident in my own abilities to follow the spirit, study things out, and work through the details slowly and methodically.

On the other hand, I've often seen tenuous reasoning like the argument I presented earlier in influential LDS writings or speeches. This kind of makes me scratch my head. For obvious reasons, it's not helpful to think through complex questions by making unfounded assumptions. I think when we take into account those things we know for sure, those simple well founded claims about the creation, Adam, and the Fall, we are left with a lot more latitude than we often see taken in the personal and official statements of Church leaders. I think we can cautiously exercise this latitude and still come up with valid LDS views, despite apparent differences which may arise with more traditionally held ones.

I find little to no conflict with my own views in statements made by leaders in an official capacity. I should also say I find little to no direct support either. Rather, these statements act as a constraint on the formation of my views, as does scientific observation. I view both lenses as focal constraints. This is precisely the instruction we find at LDS.org in this excellent video done by the Church, found on the "We Lived with God" page in the "Our Heavenly Father's Plan" section at LDS.org: http://goo.gl/lL3So

8/23/2011 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read an article at (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700172937/Mormonism-allows-Huntsman-Romney-to-embrace-science-article-says.html) that portrays LDS church teachings about evolution in a much different way than is portrayed on NDBF.

8/23/2011 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

raedyohed: Your efforts to merge your science with Mormonism are admirable. But only those who hold the keys, the apostles and prophets, speak for the Church. And when their teachings are published at LDS.org, all Mormons can reliably accept what they say. Even eminent scientists, like the one in your linked video, do NOT represent God on matters such as the plan of salvation and interpretations of scripture.


Anonymous: More importantly, Huntsman and Romney portray LDS teachings about evolution in a much different way than is portrayed at LDS.org.

8/23/2011 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger raedyohed said...

R. Gary - Absolutely, you are right about keys and speaking for the Church, and following the prophets and apostles. I try my best to learn from their teachings by casting a wide net. In other words I am not a official-ness stickler. To me if a prophet said it, even in a private commentary, I should go learn from it, and use prayer and spiritual impressions to account for it somehow in my own views of the world. I use basically the same model in the secular arena.

On the other hand there is something to be said for differentiating between a broad personal study and the narrower message being staked out by the Church as a cohesive organization. To that effect, the inclusion of Dr. Lewis' interview in the core portion of the site which provides the overview of our beliefs is a lot like a General Authority quoting someone like, say, Newton in a conference talk. I'd take the inclusion of this interview pretty seriously as an official endorsement of the "two lenses" approach. The Church is the one putting it out there and promulgating it, even if it was Dr. Lewis who did the talking. There isn't plausible deniability there. They interviewed him. He said it. They edited it. They put it on their site. That makes it part of the official LDS.org message.

8/23/2011 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

raedyohed: In the April 1985 general priesthood meeting, Peter Vidmar was invited to speak to the young men of the Church. His recent Olympic gold medal combined with his general conference talk had an impact for good on countless young men including my own sons. But his talk has never been viewed as a source of Church doctrine.

The fact that Dr. Lewis is a believing scientist will have an impact for good on countless Mormons (and non-Mormons) all over the world. But his interview will never be viewed as a source of Church doctrine.

Gordon B. Hinckley, who invited Vidmar to speak in conference, also carefully explained over and over that only those who hold the keys, the apostles and prophets, expound the Church's doctrine. When an apostle quotes Lewis in a Church published article, the quoted part of what Lewis said will then be LDS doctrine.

8/23/2011 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger scholar3141 said...

In addition to the video clip by John Lewis, posted in a VERY prominent spot on the Church's website under "Our Heavenly Father's Plan", there are other indications that the LDS Church is taking an open-minded approach to scientific matters.

For example, formerly the Church provided, in its "Study Guide" section (select "lds.org", then "Menu" then "Study/Study by Topic"), included an article on either the Origin of Man or Evolution (I can't recall which), linking to the 2002 Ensign article that reprinted the 1909 statement. There is no such article present now. At the present time, the only one of the 200+ topics listed that is remotely related to anything scientific is a page on the Creation. This page has only a very short one-paragraph statement. It is followed by links to 7 articles, some by general authorities, others not. None of the these articles mention evolution or discusses "no death before the fall", etc. The only reference to anything scientific is that in three of these articles, the days of creation are described unspecified periods of time; "an age, an eon, a division of eternity".

9/11/2011 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

scholar3141: As I said three weeks ago, when the Church publishes the words of an apostle quoting John Lewis, I'll view that part of what Lewis said as LDS doctrine.

Regarding the LDS.org Creation topic, you seem to have missed this: "Sons and Daughters of the Eternal Father", is a chapter in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith that is listed with the other articles. At the beginning of this chapter is a section "From the Life of Joseph F. Smith" which introduces the November 1909 statement you mentioned. The chapter goes on to quote these significant words from Joseph F. Smith's 1909 First Presidency 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. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was 'the first man of all men' (Moses 1:34)."

Apparently you also breezed to lightly over the listing of "The Creation", in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual. It says "The Lord has revealed only that portion of eternal truth that our mortal minds can understand and that we need to know to gain salvation." For the past six years, I've blogged about the Creation with dozens of LDS members who believe in evolution. They all seem to think a greater understanding of the Creation than has come to us through apostles and prophets is now available through modern science. But the current revision of this manual was published in 2001 and we're left with "that portion of eternal truth that our mortal minds can understand." Why doesn't the manual suggest the obvious? Why doesn't the manual refer Church members to science for answers to questions about the Creation?

By the way, it turns out that Creation isn't the only topic page that is related to science. The LDS.org Fall of Adam topic is also helpful when discussing "no death before the fall", etc. Here we find an article "The Choice That Began Mortality" which contains this significant quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith: "When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they did not have to die. They could have been there to this day. They could have continued on for countless ages. There was no death then." That's right. There simply was no death when Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden.

Speaking about the creation of Adam and Eve, Atonement, Agency, Accountability (found on the Fall of Adam page) says this: "The creation of their bodies in the image of God, as a separate creation, was crucial to the plan. Their subsequent fall was essential if the condition of mortality was to exist and the plan proceed." That's not difficult to understand. If mortality (including death) didn't exist without the fall, then it clearly didn't exist before the fall.

Another topic worth looking at is Death, Physical which says "The Fall of Adam brought physical death into the world (see Moses 6:48)." The Fall of Adam can't bring death into the world if death was already in the world.

I am satisfied that LDS.org Topics do not neglect "no death before the fall." Thank you for stopping by and I hope you'll visit again soon.

9/11/2011 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger scholar3141 said...

But why do we have to insist that the Fall of Adam was a literal historical event that occurred 4000 BC? Why not view prehuman fossils as preparatory to "real" human beings? Or why not view the Fall as something that occurred many years ago, say when the earth was spiritually created? All such ideas require some adjustment in thinking, but this is hardly the first time we have made such adjustments. Or why not simply acknowledge that we do not know the answer?

Besides, what choice do we have? Most scientists would say that any technical basis for reasonable doubt of the earth's antiquity died off many years ago. I might also point out that some others who argue that only a young-earth worldview is consistent with LDS doctrine do so to criticize the Church. Here is one example:
(see the second "review" listed, which is written by the author himself).

9/11/2011 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

scholar3141: Sorry. I can't answer any of those questions. But please know that you're welcome to reconcile evolution with Mormonism using any method that works for you. The apostles and prophets as published by the Church are good enough for me, no matter what science thinks.

9/11/2011 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger scholar3141 said...

"No matter what science thinks": Is it really that simple? Can we really set aside modern science in these discussions?

Science is the combined efforts of many thousands worldwide to analyze the world that God presumably has created around us, ranging from the earth itself to the universe around us. Can we really ignore God's creation?

You may have read about a new supernova that was discovered two or three weeks ago. It is now so bright that it can be seen even with a good set of binoculars. You might try looking for it yourself -- it's near the Big Dipper (although wait a few days until the full moon is below the horizon at sunset). See Internet for details.

Type Ia supernovas occur in a well-defined process, governed by well-understood laws of physics. Careful measurements of light, radiation and spectra from this supernova, taken by thousands of telescopes around the world, so far completely agree with the patterns predicted by theory. This supernova occurred in the Pinwheel Galaxy, which is 21 million light-years away. That means that this explosion occurred 21 million years ago.

In other words, this supernova observation (and thousands more like it) strongly confirms that our present understanding of the laws of physics is largely correct, AND that these laws have not changed appreciably for at least 21 millions years (or more).

So how can we dismiss similar measurements of rocks on earth, based on the same laws, which indicate that they are millions of years old?

That is the stark choice that we have: accept some flexibility on doctrinal points, or else assert that God created stars and rocks to look old, but they really aren't. Surely there is a better approach than doggedly sticking to some point of doctrine (which may not have been intended to be so inflexibly interepreted), and utterly dismissing modern science.

9/12/2011 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

scholar3141: Yes, it is true that the apostles and prophets as published by the Church are good enough for me, no matter what science thinks. But let me enlarge on that just a little.

In 1890, James E. Talmage wrote: "No one realizes more fully than does the mind trained to scientific method how much we do not know."

More recently, Marion G. Romney echoed a similar sentiment: "All man has learned and accomplished, together with all that he will yet learn and accomplish in mortality, is as a drop in the ocean compared to the knowledge and works of God."

Consider the story about six blind men inspecting an elephant. Each one examines a part of the elephant — a leg, the trunk, the tail, a side, or a tusk. And each one comes to a different conclusion: The elephant is like a tree, a hose, a rope, a wall, and so forth. Each of them has partial knowledge of the elephant.

So it is with us. Our understanding of truth is partial because our vision is limited by mortality. There are some things that cannot be fully understood by mortals: "Man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend." But when He comes in His glory, mortality will cease and the Lord will reveal "all things."

Lowell L. Bennion, for many years director of the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, said it this way:

-------------- quote --------------
"There is a great difference between a truth and our understanding of that truth.... God is what He is. But what God is and my conception of what God is are two different things. My knowledge of God is partial and limited, and so is yours."
-------------- end quote --------------

If each of the six blind men insists that the other five are wrong, a more complete understanding of the elephant is beyond reach for all of them, even as a group. However, by discussing their individual experiences in an atmosphere of tolerance and trust, the blind men will be able to gain a more complete and accurate mental picture of the elephant.

Every mortal discovers a measure of truth. Each one of us has discovered some parts of — different parts of — the complete picture. And God, who comprehends the whole picture, has revealed important parts of it to His apostles and prophets.

Occasionally something seems obvious — the tree, the hose, the rope, the wall — yet also appears to contradict a revealed truth. What should we do? Here's a thought.

We are all working on the same cosmic puzzle and nobody has an advance copy of the completed picture. Someday, when all of the pieces are finally on the table, we will see how they all work together. Personally, I'm convinced that the pieces perceived by mortal men will eventually fit even though right now some of them don't seem to agree with revealed truth — but the final picture will be very different from what any of us now expect.

For me, the revealed pieces drawn from scripture and the prophets form the core of the puzzle and my approach is to fit all other pieces together outward from there. Sometimes I become a bit testy about keeping a revealed piece in play. But I am always excited when we can discuss our differing views in an atmosphere of tolerance and trust — as friends.

Again, I appreciate your visit.

9/12/2011 12:28:00 PM  

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