Does Evolution Preclude a Pre-Existence?

The nature of God, serves as a good spring board into one of the more difficult topics to reconcile; the pre-existence. Elder Mc Conkie's objections are as follows:

PRE-EXISTENCE. — Life did not originate on this earth; it was transplanted from other and older spheres. Men are the literal spirit children, spirit offspring, of the Eternal Father; they were born to him as his spirit progeny, as spirit entities having bodies made of a more pure and refined substance than that comprising these mortal tabernacles.
Further, every form of life had a spirit existence in that eternal world before it came to dwell naturally upon the face of the earth; and that prior existence, for all forms of life, was one in which the spirit entity had the exact form and likeness of its present temporal body. Animals, plants, fowls, fishes, all forms of life existed as spirit entities in pre-existence; their number, extent, variety, and form were known with exactitude before ever the foundations of this earth were laid. They were all destined to live in their time and season upon this particular globe. There was no chance whatever connected with the creative enterprises. All things were foreknown to that God who fathered man in his own image and who created all other forms of life for the benefit and blessing of man. Evolutionary speculation takes no account of any such revealed knowledge as this.
If all of this is true, then we are in for a very difficult time in our quest for reconciliation. But first let's put this statement is perspective. Blake Ostler said in his essay "The Idea of Preexistence in Mormon Thought":

Since 1960, a philosophy in contrast to traditional Mormon thought has gained some popularity in Mormon circles. Known as Mormon neo-orthodoxy, it emphasizes human contingency, the creation of humankind as conscious entities, and God's absoluteness and complete otherness. The most influential proponent of Mormon neo-orthodoxy was probably Apostle Bruce R. McConkie.

He considers Mc Conkie to have been one of the more influential in a long line of people who modified "the view that individual spirits existed without beginning... in favor of a concept of contingent preexistence more congenial to classical Christian absolutism."

In other words, when we speak of reconciling the preexistence with evolution we need to specify what version of the preexistence.

Joseph Smith did not distinguish between a time before which these spirits/intelligences were organized and a time after they were "born" as "spirit children"--in fact, the contemporary Mormon notion that God is the literal father of individual spirits through spirit birth would probably have been foreign to him. He taught that spirits were eternal and uncreated and used the terms "spirits" and "intelligences" synonymously.
Thus, the current idea of preexistence in the church was not Joseph's. How such a view became so wide spread is not an issue for the topic at hand, but it would be useful to review what Joseph did say about the preexistence.
The Book of Mormon foreshadowed a kind of preexistence by treating the Adamic myth as an expression of generic human experience. Book of Mormon prophet Alma explained the necessity of the Atonement by noting that "mankind" had fallen from God's presence and could "return" only through the Atonement (Al. 42:7, 14; see also 2 Ne. 2:21, 25; Al. 34:9; 41:9). The Book of Mormon inculcated (to borrow Orson Pratt's term) the belief that humanity existed in God's presence--at least, on a mythic level--prior to the Fall, and identified all humans with Adam in a corporate existence. If one were to identify a point from which the Mormon idea of preexistence developed, this description of humanity's fall from the presence of God would be, in my opinion, the best candidate.
Regarding the spiritual creation mentioned in the Book of Moses:
First, it should be noted that the term "spirit" was not clarified in Mormon usage until 1843 to mean "pure" or "refined" matter, and "to create" was not clarified until 1842 to mean to "organize" rather than creation out of nothing. Prior to this, Mormon use of these terms was similar to the Christian definition of creation ex nihilo... Further, the early nineteenth-century usage of the word "spiritual" often implied a conceptual or intellectual blueprint without connoting real (i.e., mind-independent) existence. Moses 3:7 indicated that the physical creation proceeded "according to [God's] word." That is, God formed the idea and spoke the command before the actions occurred. This is consistent with Smith's later redaction in the Book of Abraham. (See also Moses 6:61-63, which identifies God's plan of salvation as the spiritual likeness of temporal things).
As to the spiritual creation of Adam:
Adam did not exist until he was spiritually created in the Garden of Eden. The notion that everyone preexisted in the Garden of Eden in Adam is also reinforced by the Book of Moses' comment that Adam "is many" (1:34). This theme of identifying all humans in a corporate existence in Adam was adopted in the later temple endowment creation narrative... The notion that "man was also in the beginning with God" and that "every spirit of man was innocent from the beginning" was simply a confirmation that Adam was innocent when placed in the Garden of Eden prior to mortal existence. However, the identification of individuals with Adam was actualized in the revelation so that every individual human had the same moral qualities (i.e., innocence) as Adam prior to the Fall.
Then we come to the Book of Abraham:
The Book of Abraham speaks of intelligences/spirits being "organized before the world was" (v. 22). However, "organization" did not mean organization of spirit body through spiritual birth, but social organization of the spirits into a heavenly council of preexisting entities.
Well, which version of the preexistence is more correct? Which is more Mormon? Which agrees more with what we observe as to the earth's history? I would suggest the second.
The belief that humans necessarily exist provides philosophical justification for the idea that they may ultimately become like God. It stresses the positive aspects of human existence, rejects the dogma of original sin and salvation by grace alone, and emphasizes works and personal ability to do good. It accentuates freedom of the will, explains the existence of evil and the purpose of life, and, most importantly, asserts that God is a personal being conditioned by and related to the physical universe.
Clearly our ideas regarding the preexisence are nowhere near clear enough, or back up by enough revelation to be dogmatic about its proving anything, let alone a scientific theory backed by as much evidence as evolution.

To be continued....

In order to discuss the relationship between evolution and the Mormon belief in a preexistence, we much first try to understand that preexistence. The Mormon doctrine of preexistence has, by no means, been uniform over the years.


Ah, comments are working now!

Oh, well. I made a lengthy comment at my blog.

3/21/2005 09:06:00 PM  



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