Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (review - part two, Appendix Document A)

"Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved [is] not fully answered in the revealed word of God." This April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table comment was not written by the First Presidency and doesn't even represent the thinking of Church President Joseph F. Smith, yet it is included in the 2005 book, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, along with "other authoritative materials" [1] as Appendix "Document A" and is titled:

"First Presidency Instructions to the Priesthood: 'Origin of Man,' 1910." [2]

The comment itself is accurately quoted, but the title was created by the book's authors.

The Era and the First Presidency, 1901-1918

When the Improvement Era was born in November 1897, Joseph F. Smith was its first editor. He continued in that position after becoming Church President in October 1901. In the meantime, Edward H. Anderson had been the magazine's associate editor since June 1899. President Smith and Brother Anderson worked together as editors of the Era until President Smith's death in November 1918. [3]

The Editor's Table

Until 1929, when the Young Woman's Journal and the Improvement Era merged, the Era published a monthly "Editor's Table" column. During the administration of Joseph F. Smith as Church President, there were 655 articles published in the Editor's Table. The majority of these were short, anonymous comments with titles like "Around the Earth in Nine and One-Half Minutes" (Aug. 1903), a comment about completion of the Pacific telegraph cable on July 4th, 1903.

Among the 655 titles there were 195 articles published over the name of Joseph F. Smith. Twenty of these were First Presidency statements to which were added also the names of his Counselors. Much of the book Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F. Smith comes from his Editor's Table articles. Four notable titles, originally published in the Editor's Table, are:

"The Origin of Man," (First Presidency, Nov. 1909, pp. 75-81.)

"Home Evening," (First Presidency, June 1915, pp. 733-734.)

"The Father and The Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and The Twelve," (Aug. 1916, pp. 934-942.)

"Vision of the Redemption of the Dead," (Joseph F. Smith, Dec. 1918, pp. 166-170; see also D&C 138.)

The Priesthood Quorums' Table

For 15 months, beginning in November 1907, there was also a monthly column titled "Seventy's Council Table" with Elder B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of Seventy, identified as its author. Through this column, the First Council communicated with local (stake) Seventies quorums.

In February 1909, the scope of the Seventy's Council Table was expanded to include all priesthood quorums (Aaronic Priesthood, Elders, and High Priests, in addition to the Seventies) and its name was changed to "Priesthood Quorums' Table."

With this change, a committee was appointed by the First Presidency, "The General Committee on Priesthood Outlines." Elder Rudger Clawson of the Quorum of the Twelve was the committee's first chairman. The committee was asked to provide a uniform course of study for the quorums.

It was through the Priesthood Quorums' Table that the General Committee communicated with the local quorums. The Priesthood Quorums' Table was not, as claimed in Mormonism and Evolution, "the Presidency's official monthly column of instructions to priesthood quorums." [4]

Assisting Elder Clawson on the original committee were Elder David O. McKay of the Twelve, Bishops Charles W. Nibley, Orrin P. Miller, and David A. Smith, of the Presiding Bishopric, along with Edward H. Anderson, Nephi Anderson, Stephen L. Richards, Sylvester D. Bradford, John M. Mills, Joseph B. Keeler, David O. Willey, Jr., Charles C. Richards, Henry H. Blood, Joseph J. Cannon, and P. Joseph Jensen.

There were 343 articles published in this monthly priesthood column before President Joseph F. Smith's death in 1918. A number of the comments were attributed to the General Committee. Three of these were published over the names of David O. Mckay, Chairman, and David A. Smith, Secretary. (See Feb. 1911, June 1911, and Nov. 1911.)

Occasionally individual authors were identified. Some of these included Heber J. Grant, Rudger Clawson, David O. McKay, Levi Edgar Young, Seymour B. Young, B. H. Roberts, and P. Joseph Jensen, along with various ward bishops and stake high councilors who contributed without even being members of the General Committee.

A large percentage of the articles were published anonymously, from which we might reasonably conclude that they were likely written by members of the General Committee, whose column it was.

Three articles, including two by the entire First Presidency, were published over the name of Joseph F. Smith. These were:

"The new Movement Among the Priesthood Quorums," an article by the First Presidency introducing the General Committee and the Priesthood Quorums' Table column to Era readers, (Mar. 1909).

"Enrollment and Ordination," a letter from the First Presidency addressed "to stake presidents and bishops" (June 1916).

"Advice to the Saints," excerpts from President Joseph F. Smith's closing address at the October 1916 General Conference, (Nov. 1916.)

As stated above, the Priesthood Quorums' Table was the medium of communication between the General Committee and the local quorums. When the April 1910 "Origin of Man" comment and the June 1916 "Enrollment and Ordination" comment are viewed side by side, it becomes clear which of the two was First Presidency instructions to the priesthood and which was not.

Once again, among 343 comments published in the Priesthood Quorums' Table during the administration of President Joseph F. Smith, there are just two that carried the names of all three members of the First Presidency and only one other article that was clearly identified as having been written by President Smith.

Anonymous comments

What is never said anywhere in the Era is that articles or comments published without an author identified should be attributed to the First Presidency. A total of 998 articles (655 in the Editor's Table and 343 in the Priesthood Quorums' Table) were published during Joseph F. Smith's administration. The majority of these 998 articles are unsigned, anonymous comments.

It is completely unreasonable and illogical to conclude that all of these anonymous comments were written by the First Presidency. Remember that 22 of the 998 articles are clearly identified as First Presidency statements. It is equally inappropriate to suggest that the anonymous articles were written by President Joseph F. Smith. Keep in mind that 176 of the 998 articles clearly bear his name.

"It may be well to remind our readers," said President Joseph F. Smith, "that the Era is not responsible for the individual views or opinions expressed by contributors to its columns." (Editor's Table, Dec. 1915.) This would be one very good reason why First Presidency statements and articles written by the Church President were always properly identified.

In the case of the April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table, none of its five comments has an author identified. All are anonymous, all are unsigned, and not one of them qualifies as First Presidency instructions to the priesthood.

BYU and the Priesthood Quorums' Table in April 1910

Coincidentally, at BYU in April 1910, three instructors were teaching "theories on evolution as applied to the origin of man" along the lines of the April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table statement that "the mortal bodies of man [may have] evolved in natural processes to present perfection."

Upon investigation, it was discovered that whenever such ideas were found to be in conflict with scripture, "it required the modification of the latter to come into harmony with the former." One year later, in April 1911, President Joseph F. Smith announced in the Editor's Table that it had been decided such ideas would no longer be taught at BYU by these instructors because:

"teachers in a Church school ... could not be given opportunity to inculcate theories that were out of harmony with the recognized doctrines of the Church, and hence that they be required to refrain from so doing."

As stated in Mormonism and Evolution, the early months "of 1910 and the 1910-11 school year were years of considerable controversy at Brigham Young University, centering around ... ' higher criticism' ... and evolution." [5] Ultimately, the years "1910 and 1911 [resulted] in the non-retention of three [BYU] faculty members." [6] Eventually, other faculty members also left BYU rather than change their teachings. [7]

The April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table comment versus President Joseph F. Smith's views

The 1910-1911 evolution controversy at BYU strongly suggests that the April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table comment does not represent the thinking of President Joseph F. Smith.

But in addition to the BYU affair, there are direct statements regarding the question of whether the mortal bodies of man evolved. The First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose) stated very clearly in 1912 that the question of the origin of Adam's physical body is, in fact, answered in the revealed word of God, offering Luke 3:38 as a scriptural answer to the question:

"Our father Adam — that is, our earthly father — the progenitor of the race of man, stands at the head, being 'Michael the Archangel, the Ancient of Days ',... he was not fashioned from earth like an adobe, but begotten by his Father in Heaven.

"Adam is called in the Bible 'the son of God.' (Luke 3:38.)" [8]

This is in complete harmony with the official declaration of doctrine that was signed by all members of the 1909 First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) and published in the November 1909 Improvement Era:

"He [Adam] took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a ' living soul ' [and] all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.

"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." [9]

In a speech delivered Dec 7, 1913 at Mesa, Arizona and published in the Deseret Evening News, Dec. 27, 1913, President Joseph F. Smith said, "Adam, our earthly parent, was also born of woman into this world, the same as Jesus and you and I."

The claim is made in Mormonism and Evolution that the informal April 1910 comment provides "additional insights about the intent" of the First Presidency's formal November 1909 position statement. [10] According to Mormonism and Evolution, the First Presidency's 1909 "anti-science language" [11] is clarified by the April 1910 comment.

The Mormonism and Evolution view of the April 1910 comment contradicts what President Smith said in 1913 and what the First Presidency said in 1912. It also contradicts President Joseph F. Smith's 1911 Editor's Table article about evolution being taught at BYU "although it is well known that evolution [is] in conflict on some matters with the scriptures, including some modern revelation."


In documents that bear his name, President Joseph F. Smith enunciated a consistent position on the origin of man. He clearly believed that whether the mortal bodies of man evolved is a question that is answered in scripture. According to President Joseph F. Smith, Adam was physically "the son of God" (Luke 3:38). The formal First Presidency declaration of doctrine issued in 1909 by President Joseph F. Smith and his Counselors stands today as the official LDS position on "The Origin of Man." [12]

The anonymous comment about the 'Origin of Man' found in the April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table does not represent the thinking of President Joseph F. Smith. And for several obvious reasons outlined above, it cannot be viewed as First Presidency instructions to the priesthood. The April 1910 Priesthood Quorums' Table comment does not belong in Mormonism and Evolution's Appendix collection of "other authoritative materials."


[1] William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005), p. 39; hereinafter cited as Mormonism and Evolution.

[2] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 40.

[3] After the death of President Joseph F. Smith in November 1918, it became the pattern that the Church President also served as editor of the Era, with the help of an associate editor. The March 1936 issue lists Heber J. Grant and John A. Widtsoe as editors. Ten years later, in March 1946, the editors were George Albert Smith and John A. Widtsoe. In March 1956, the editors were David O. McKay and Richard L. Evans. And the last issue of the Improvement Era, published in December 1970, listed Joseph Fielding Smith and Richard L. Evens as editors.

[4] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 42.

[5] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 27.

[6] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 45.

[7] See Gary James Bergera, "The 1911 Evolution Controversy at Brigham Young University," in The Search for Harmony, Salt Lake: Signature Books, 1993, 23-41.

[8] As quoted by Joseph Fielding Smith in Man: His Origin and Destiny, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954, p. 345; see also James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols., [1965-75] 4:265-267.

[9] As quoted in Mormonism and Evolution, p. 23. Reprinted also in Chapter 37 of the 2000-2001 Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society study guide, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, pp. 335-336, and in the Feb. 2002 issue of the Ensign, p. 30.

[10] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 29.

[11] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 30. This is an apparent reference to the paragraphs associated with note 9, above.

[12] The 2000-2001 and 2002 reprints of the 1909 statement are recent affirmations of "the Church's doctrinal position on ... evolution" (Introductory paragraph, Ensign, Feb. 2002, 26).

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Monday, May 08, 2006

1980-81 Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide, Lesson 6: The Divine Origin of Man

This Melchizedek Priesthood lesson was produced under the First Presidency's sponsorship. Based on the introductory portrait of and message from the First Presidency, it appears also to have been approved for publication directly by the First Presidency as a body.

Therefore, the comments of various Church leaders including President John Taylor, President Joseph Fielding Smith, and Elder Bruce R. McConkie found in this lesson are at least as authoritative as the talk "The Earth and Man" by Elder James E. Talmage, which is quoted in its entirety by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery in their book, Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005, pp. 71-94).

This lesson meets two of the three conditions outlined by Evenson and Jeffery, any one of which supposedly qualifies a document to be in their Appendix. (See Mormonism and Evolution, p. 8.)

There are nine images in this post, all taken from the 1980-81 Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide.

Title Page
Portrait of 1979 First Presidency, page vi.
First Presidency Message, page vii.
Lesson 6, page 35.
Lesson 6, page 36.
Lesson 6, page 37.
Lesson 6, page 38.
Lesson 6, page 39.
Lesson 6, page 40.

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