Saturday, March 01, 2014

No dispute between Smith and Roberts over evolution

Occasionally, someone will say there was a "dispute between LDS authorities Joseph Fielding Smith and Brigham H. Roberts over evolution." (Click here, for a current example.)

Did Smith and Roberts disagree over evolution? Let's look at what each said about evolution:

Joseph Fielding Smith

"Today the world ... has adopted and is promulgating in textbooks and schools the debasing doctrine that man is ... a natural development through countless ages from the lowest forms of physical life to his present form and intelligence. Such a doctrine is an insult to our Father in whose Image we were created. [It] is the doctrine of the devil." (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:143-149.)

Brigham H. Roberts

"The theory of evolution as advocated by many modern scientists lies stranded upon the shore of idle speculation.... If the hypothesis of evolution be true,... then it is evident that there has been no 'fall,'... and if there was no fall,... then the mission of Jesus Christ was a myth, the coinage of idle brains, and Jesus himself was either mistaken, or one of the many impostors that have arisen to mock mankind with the hope of eternal life. Such is the inevitable result of accepting the philosophy of evolution, after which all the world is now running—it is destructive of the grand, central truth of all revelation." (The Gospel and Man's Relationship to Deity, 7th edition, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1928, pp.265-267).


Joseph Fielding Smith did disagree with some things Roberts said in a 1928 manuscript, but not the part where Roberts said each "subdivision of life ... produces after its kind, whereas evolution in all its forms destroys that thought." (The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996, p.239.)

There was no dispute between Smith and Roberts over evolution.


Anonymous Left Field said...

Organisms that "reproduce after their kind" is in fact a fundamental requirement of natural selection. Without heritability of traits, natural selection simply wouldn't work. Whether he know it or not, Elder Roberts is drawing attention to a basic compatibility between scripture and evolution.

3/01/2014 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Left Field: Slow down! Moses 2:12, 24 teaches evolution? And even if that were true, how does it show disagreement between Smith and Roberts over evolution?

3/01/2014 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

I'm sure I didn't say either of those things. Please read again.

3/01/2014 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post manages to reveal the imprecision found in this statement, "...dispute between LDS authorities Joseph Fielding Smith and Brigham H. Roberts [was] over evolution...", while at the same time implying that the Smith-Roberts episode was hardly related to current debates on evolution--and nothing could be further from the truth.

Without question, the strongest doctrinal objection to current evolutionary theory among anti-evolutionists is the theory of no death before the fall. While this doctrine is very poorly supported in the standard works, it has been promulgated in a few instances by church leaders (and this blog's author has meticulously documented pretty much every one of these instances).

The Smith-Roberts episode was focused on the doctrinal acceptability of death before the fall (specifically as it related to pre-adamites), and no-death-before-the-fall is the most important doctrine related to evolution.

Here's how James Talmage summarized the affair in his journal:

...Involved in this question is that of the beginning of life upon the earth, and as to whether there was death either of animal or plant before the fall of Adam, on which proposition Elder Smith was very pronounced in denial and Elder Roberts equally forceful in the affirmative. As to whether Preadamite races existed upon the earth there has been much discussion among some of our people of late. The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning's assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Preadamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam's fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good.

So, while it is true that Smith and Roberts weren't arguing about evolution per-se, they were arguing about the most important doctrine that still relates to debates within the church regarding evolution today.

3/02/2014 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: May I just point out a few things you've overlooked and/or misstated:


Debates are formal discussions in a public meeting where opposing arguments are presented. There are not now, and there have never been, debates within "the Church" regarding evolution, particularly as it relates to the origin of man. Private discussions by individuals are "Alternate Voices" and they do NOT represent "the Church" (meaning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).


The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles represent "the Church" and they have never unanimously approved publication of any document that sanctions the idea of death on this earth before the Fall of Adam.


While Joseph Fielding Smith was Church President, and on many occasions since then, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have unanimously approved publication of documents that teach no death on this earth before the Fall of Adam.


It therefore remains true that (a) There was no dispute between Smith and Roberts over evolution, and (b) The creation was paradisiacal; death for all forms of life on this earth began when Adam fell. That may not be scientifically accurate, but it is according to the unanimous public voice of the current and most recent apostles and prophets.

You are welcome to stop by any time and tell us more about what James E. Talmage wrote in his journal 83 years ago.

3/02/2014 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger Steven Montgomery said...

Great point Gary. Kudo's.

I notice that all of the "alternate voices" are indeed from "left field." I wonder what else they can dredge up? :)

3/04/2014 07:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to tell you this, but Pres. Smith spoke in the mission home when I was about to leave on my mission. He very distinctly said that if evolution is what it took for the Lord to create all living things, that was how he did it.

3/06/2014 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(response to R. Gary's response to Anonymous, pt 1 of 2)

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my comment. I value your insight, the research you have done on this topic generally, and your personal perspective. Please forgive me if I come across as argumentative--I feel as strongly against the doctrine of NDBF for all living things as you do in support of it.

Here is my response, offered for your consideration:

1. A) According to the World English Dictionary, a debate is also defined as a "discussion or dispute". I'm not sure why you would try to enforce the more strict definition. From the context it seems clear that I'm referring to the second, more informal, meaning. To be clear, I was not asserting that "the Church" has debated evolution (debate in the formal, public sense).
B) I will not speak for James Talmage, but I made reference to "church" in lower case. Both the context and capitalization would support reference to the body of Latter-Day Saints rather than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proper. I feel a little silly trying to to defend this point, but I believe it is obvious that "the church" has debated and does now debate (as in "discuss and dispute") evolution and doctrinal implications. It occurs on this site on a regular basis.
C) I whole-heartedly agree with your assertion that "There are not now, and there have never been, debates within "the Church" regarding evolution, particularly as it relates to the origin of man". Although I did not originally make the counter-assertion, I do think it is fair to say that "there have been debates within 'the Church' on matters directly related to evolution." One commonly used/found definition of debate is "a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers". The Smith-Roberts episode was clearly a *debate* in this sense (Smith and Roberts each took opposing sides and each was given an opportunity to present arguments and respond to the other's arguments), it happened within "the Church" (I don't recollect exactly which members were involved, but it constituted at least the President and many of the twelve), and, death before the fall (or pre-Adamites) is intimately connected with evolution.

2. You are assuming that I've overlooked this fact, and that is incorrect. I fail to see how this relates to my original comment, though. Regardless, the First Presidency did publish "The Earth and Man", and that directly states that there was death on the earth for living things before the Fall of Adam. Granted, this viewpoint hasn't seen the same support, but it certainly exists.

3. You are assuming that I've overlooked your arguments on this point, and this is incorrect. I likewise fail to see how this relates to my original comment.

3/09/2014 09:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(pt 2 of 2)

4. "It therefore remains true that (a) There was no dispute between Smith and Roberts over evolution". Indeed, I acknowledged as much in the first sentence of my comment. My point was that the episode has strong, direct implications for "the church's" (lowercase) discussion of evolution. Your original post completely neglects that strong association. Hence, while you accuse other blog authors of mis-representing the Smith-Roberts episode, you yourself proceed to misrepresent it to an even greater degree in this post (at least read on its own).

"[It therefore remains true that] ... death for all forms of life on this earth began when Adam fell." I don't believe this statement follows from #2 and #3. Please refer me to the list of documents that are *explicitly* unanimously approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve, that are *clearly intended to be binding on the church*, that make the direct assertion: "death *for all forms of life* on this earth began with Adam's fall". Until they make it official, it's not official. You may believe there is enough consensus and support to establish it as official, but that is your opinion, because it is certainly not explicit, only implied.

"That may not be scientifically accurate," The scientific evidence that death occurred on this planet before ~7000 years ago (and for many years before) is overwhelming: varves with fossils in them, insects preserved in amber, evolutionary histories embedded within genomes of closely related species and on and on. I realize there are some creationist explanations for these things, but the scientific data is very clear about death on this planet for a very long period of time.

"but it is according to the unanimous public voice of the current and most recent apostles and prophets."
Please assemble a list of Brethren who have clearly stated or written that "Adam's fall brought death to all living things" in any kind of official setting. It is a *very* short list. Why? Because I believe it is not an official doctrine of the church, even while some Brethren espouse it. As I see it, a doctrine that even a *majority* of the Brethren refuse to preach publicly is no doctrine at all--just an opinion.

"You are welcome to stop by any time and tell us more about what James E. Talmage wrote in his journal 83 years ago." The thrust of my argument was that the Smith-Roberts episode was directly about the key doctrinal objection to evolution. I supported this assertion with a primary source--the words of James Talmage as he penned them in his journal directly after the event in question. I'm still scratching my head wondering why you would mock my use of a primary source to defend my key point. How does that engender your condescension?

3/09/2014 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave C said...

It is time for LDS theistic evolutionists to admit that their brand of evolution is a big step away from orthodox evolution. I think that they want to be seen as being in the evolutionist camp yet they embrace principles of evolution so far removed from neo-darwinian views. I don't agree with Mr. Dawkins on many things, but I do agree with him that common descent presupposes no creator, no guidance, no direction in the creation of humankind. Thus LDS theistic evolutionists are neither fully in the orthodox LDS or orthodox evolutionary camp, although they try to claim the belonging to both camps. They are neither here nor there yet claim to be everywhere at the same time. Kind of weird, really.

3/09/2014 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: Unauthorized questioning by Church members of doctrines related to the origin of man does not mean "the church" is in disarray; it only means some members of the Church are out of harmony with it. The Lord's authorized servants, meaning members of the First Presidency and the Twelve, have never, collectively or individually, endorsed in official LDS media the idea that evolution explains the origin of man.

Now, as you point out, there was some discussion among Church leaders in 1931 about death on this earth before the fall of Adam. But that was, as I pointed out, 83 years ago.

Today things are different. The change came when Joseph Fielding Smith became Church President. In 1972, his book, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions, was published by the First Presidency and used as the Melchizedek Priesthood Course of Study for the period September 1972 through August 1973.

It is inconceivable that the First Presidency would publish that which it had not approved. Therefore, the conclusion is inescapable that the Church's 1972 First Presidency approved the following teachings found in that book:

-------------- quote --------------
"The earth and all upon it were not subject to death until Adam fell.... It was through the fall of Adam that death came into the world." (Selections, p.54, 111.)
-------------- end quote --------------

The 1931 First Presidency may have had questions about death before the fall of Adam, but the 1972 First Presidency resolved those questions and, for the past 42 years, what members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have said in official LDS media has unanimously affirmed NDBF.

You may claim they are all wrong. You may say they've all been misled. But know this. Millions of Mormons carry the LDS Bible to Church with them every Sunday. And I seriously doubt that even a tiny minority of them would stand up in Church and argue against NDBF if it were taught in a Church meeting out of the LDS Bible Dictionary.

I do not claim NDBF is official doctrine. However, although the question was left open in 1931, today's apostles and prophets teach NDBF matter-of-factly, as if it were official doctrine, in spite of the fact that there has been no official pronouncement declaring it to be such.

As a further response to your most recent comments (parts 1 & 2), I am actually still satisfied with my own earlier response (here).

3/10/2014 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Dave C: Great comment. Thanks.

3/10/2014 01:44:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: Have you looked at my 2012 document, NDBF in LDS media?

3/10/2014 10:30:00 AM  

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