Deseret News recently carried an article titled “No definitive LDS stance on evolution, study finds” The article describes the findings of two Mormon scientists who have recently published a book titled Mormonism and Evolution: the Authoritative LDS Statements.
The Deseret News report was centered on a lecture that was given the day after the Utah legislators struck down a bill that would have required science curriculum to stress that evolution is a theory and is not empirically proven. The article states:
“Despite characterizations by some Latter-day Saints that their theology eschews the theory of evolution, two LDS scientists say their church has no definitive position on whether humans evolved from earlier life forms.
“William Evenson and Duane Jeffery told dozens of people gathered at Utah Valley State College on Tuesday that what definitely has evolved over time is the position taken by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the issue.
“They came to that conclusion after dissecting the history of statements made by past LDS leaders…”
This is interesting to me because in November of 1909 the First Presidency of the Mormon Church (then comprised of Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund) released an official statement that addressed this issue: “The Origin of Man.” The Statement begins,
“Inquiries arise from time to time respecting the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon questions which, though not vital from a doctrinal standpoint, are closely connected with the fundamental principles of salvation. The latest inquiry of this kind that has reached us is in relation to the origin of man. It is believed that a statement of the position held by the Church upon this important subject will be timely and productive of good.”
Note that while the issue is not doctrinally “vital,” it is nevertheless “connected with the fundamental principles of salvation.”
The Statement continues,
“In presenting the statement that follows we are not conscious of putting forth anything essentially new; neither is it our desire so to do. Truth is what we wish to present, and truth-eternal truth-is fundamentally old. A restatement of the original attitude of the Church relative to this matter is all that will be attempted here. To tell the truth as God has revealed it, and commend it to the acceptance of those who need to conform their opinions thereto, is the sole purpose of this presentation.”
So the First Presidency set forth a statement of “eternal truth…as God has revealed it” so that it could be accepted by “those who need to conform their opinions” to the position of God and the LDS Church.
The position statement that follows basically argues against scientific evolution based on the fact that, according to Mormonism, men are created in God’s bodily image and therefore could not have evolved from a lower life form/a non-human body. Of course, the Statement makes clear that Mormonism does not discount evolution altogether, for it says,
“Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and eons, of evolving into a God.”
In September of 1925 a new First Presidency (Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins and Charles W. Nibley) reiterated the Church’s position when they issued a condensed version of “The Origin of Man” titled “‘Mormon’ View of Evolution.” So far so good.
But in 1931, amidst continuing debate, this same First Presidency altered their “official” position. Deseret News reports:
“In the following years [after 1925], LDS apostles, including B.H. Roberts and James E. Talmage, wrote about the issue and presented their findings to the First Presidency with a leaning toward scientific theory, while junior apostle Joseph Fielding Smith vehemently opposed their views in his own writings and presentations to the First Presidency… Much of their disagreement came over whether ‘pre-Adamites’ walked the Earth before God created Adam, and whether death of any species had occurred prior to Adam. The debate became so heated that on April 7, 1931, the First Presidency called all the general authorities together and distributed a seven-page memo that ‘said straight out the church has no position on pre-Adamites or death before the fall of Adam,’ [Duane] Jeffery said.”
According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the First Presidency minutes from that 1931 meeting state:
“Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.”
An earlier First Presidency said this issue was “connected with the fundamental principles of salvation” and it was therefore important to state the LDS Church’s position “as God has revealed it” so that people could basically conform their thinking to God’s truth. Just a few years later a new First Presidency says it doesn’t matter anymore.
I would think this would be an easy thing for the LDS Church to put to rest once and for all. Indeed, it should have been settled in 1909 with the official statement from the First Presidency. According to the LDS Student Manual Teachings of the Living Prophets,
“…the First Presidency form the highest council of the Church and are the final authority on all matters” (page 23).
“…what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed…” (page 25).
I don’t know why the Prophets of the Church haven’t sought or received a more recent clarifying revelation on this since there seems to be so much confusion surrounding the issue. The fact that former First Presidencies have made official statements on the topic several times establishes the weightiness of the ideas connected to evolution and creation.
Though he has claimed no revelation, the current living Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has given his authoritative opinion on the matter, which should bring comfort to wondering Latter-day Saints:
“‘What the church requires is only belief “that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race.'” President Hinckley added that scientists can speculate on the rest, and recalled his own study of anthropology and geology, saying, ‘Studied all about it. Didn’t worry me then. Doesn’t worry me now.'”
Whew. I’m glad that’s settled.