Monday, October 31, 2005

These, however, are the theories of men

In 1909, there were two major events celebrating Charles Darwin and his book, The Origin of Species. In addition, for Latter-day Saints, there was a third major event that year—the First Presidency issued a formal declaration of the Church's position on evolution.

The Origin of Species

A national Darwin celebration held in February 1909 was described as follows:

The one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species" were celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences on February twelfth at the American Museum of Natural History.  (The American Museum Journal, Vol. IX, No. 3, March 1909; as quoted on-line by Natural History Magazine.)

An international Darwin celebration was also held that year:

In June 1909, more than two hundred scientists representing 167 different countries gathered in Cambridge to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species.  The event was perhaps the most magnificent commemoration in the annals of science.  (Marsha Richmond, Oct. 21, 2005, as quoted on-line at Wayne State University.)

The Origin of Man

The 1909 First Presidency's 2,700 word statement on "The Origin of Man" is a formal declaration "of the position held by the Church upon this important subject."  (Improvement Era, Vol. 13, Nov. 1909, 75-81; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Man: His Origin and Destiny, 348-355.)  Regarding the question of man's body evolving from lower orders of life, the 1909 First Presidency said:  "These, however, are the theories of men"—easily and usually interpreted as anti-evolution.

The 1909 statement was excerpted in chapter 37 of the 2000-2001 study guide Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith which includes the anti-evolution sentence on page 336.  The 1909 statement was also reprinted in the Feb. 2002 Ensign in its entirety so that Church members might know "the Church's doctrinal position on ... evolution."  (Introductory paragraph, 26.)


Does the statement "these, however, are the theories of men" constitute an authoritative pronouncement against evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body?

Elder Boyd K. Packer's answer

In 1988, Elder Boyd K. Packer answered the above question when he presented a paper at BYU "on the origin of man." [1] Three times in this paper, Elder Packer makes reference to the 1909 First Presidency statement, "The Origin of Man." [2] In addition, he included the text of the 1909 "Origin of Man" statement in an "Appendix." [3]

Twice in a section titled "Introduction," Elder Packer clearly states that his paper is "on the origin of man." [4] Twice more, in a section titled "The Law", Elder Packer clearly states that the paper is "on the origin of man." [5] In a section titled "Conscience," Elder Packer states the premise on which he has established his conviction on the origin of man  [6] and later in the same section again references "the origin of man." [7] In the section titled "The Sciences,"  Elder Packer expresses his conviction that a full knowledge of "the origin of man" will come in the future by revelation. [8]

In this paper, Elder Packer very clearly states that organic evolution as an explanation for the origin of man is not only a problem, it is "the problem" [9] Furthermore, he points out, many Church members are entirely unaware that fundamental doctrines "cannot co-exist" with the belief that man's body evolved from lower forms of animal life. [10] He warns 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.  [11] He emphasizes a second time, "Do not mortgage your soul for unproved theories." [12]

It is Elder Packer's conviction that to the degree evolution asserts man to be the product of an evolutionary process "it is false!" [13] Theistic evolution, he says, "is equally false." [14] Elder Packer asserts that if the theory of evolution applies to man, "there was no Fall and therefore no need for an atonement." [15]

And finally, Elder Packer maintains that evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body is incompatible with "an understanding of the sealing authority," which he says (twice for emphasis), "cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts." [16]

There doesn't seem to be any room for misunderstanding here.  Elder Packer presented a paper about the origin of man.  A centerpiece of his paper was the 1909 First Presidency statement.  Regarding the question of man's body evolving from lower orders of life, Elder Packer quotes the 1909 First Presidency's statement that "these, however, are the theories of men." [17]

Apostles and doctrine

I am fully aware that Elder Packer's paper is not an "official declaration."  This is true of most material published by individual members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

However, it should be self-evident among Latter-day Saints that God has given apostles and prophets "for the edifying of the body of Christ," 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, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."  (Eph. 4:16.)  The apostles and prophets teach and interpret doctrine.  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 Lord's house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to teach the doctrine, as President James E. Faust has explained:

"I strongly counsel all who have membership in this church to follow the teachings and counsel of those who now have the keys as prophets, seers, and revelators [the apostles and prophets].  They are the ones who will inspire us to deal with the vicissitudes of our time.  I plead with all not to try to selectively invoke gospel principles or scripture to wrongly justify spiritual disobedience, or to separate themselves from the responsibilities of covenants and ordinances contrary to the counsel of those who have the prophetic voice in the Church.  The scriptures and doctrines of the Church are not, as Peter warned,  'of any private interpretation.'  (2 Pet. 1:20.)"  (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 74; the bracketed words are mine.)

According to Boyd K. Packer, who is authorized to interpret doctrine, the 1909 First Presidency statement that "these, however, are the theories of men" does in fact constitute an authoritative pronouncement against evolution as a possibility for the origin of man's body.  And it would be extremely presumptuous to suggest that President Packer has subsequently changed his mind on "this major issue." [18]



  1. Boyd K. Packer, "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), 2; see also an on-line pdf, 1, but note that the page numbers in the book don't match those in the pdf.

  2. "The Law and the Light," 22-23, 27; on-line pdf, 12-13, 15.

  3. "The Law and the Light," 28-29; the on-line pdf does not include the Appendix.

  4. "The Law and the Light," 2; on-line pdf, 1.

  5. "The Law and the Light," 3; on-line pdf, 1 2.

  6. "The Law and the Light," 5; on-line pdf, 3.

  7. "The Law and the Light," 6; on-line pdf, 4.

  8. "The Law and the Light," 8; on-line pdf, 4.

  9. "The Law and the Light," 6; on-line pdf, 4; italics in the original.

  10. "The Law and the Light," 7; on-line pdf, 4.

  11. "The Law and the Light," 10; on-line pdf, 6; italics in the original.

  12. "The Law and the Light," 26; on-line pdf, 14.

  13. "The Law and the Light," 21; on-line pdf, 11.

  14. "The Law and the Light," 21; on-line pdf, 12.

  15. "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12.

  16. "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12; see also "The Chicks," and "After Their Own Kind" in Ensign, Nov. 1984, 66.

  17. "The Law and the Light," 22; on-line pdf, 12.

  18. "The Law and the Light," 23; on-line pdf, 13; compare President Packer as quoted in Ensign, Jan. 2005, 49.

(read more...)