Evolution in Paradise

Continuing down Mc Conkie's list of ten objections to evolution, we now come to #3 (and people thought we would run out of stuff to talk about after a week or two;).) the theory denies that the earth was created in a paradisiacal state.

This earth, when first it rolled forth from the Creator's hand, was in a paradisiacal or terrestrial state. This condition, which does not now prevail, will be restored when the earth is "renewed" (made new again) and receives its paradisiacal glory.
In its primeval, edenic state all of the earth's surface was in one place; thorns, thistles, briars and noxious weeds had not yet begun to grow on it; rather, all plant and animal life was desirable, congenial, and designed to provide for man (earth's crowning inhabitant) a fruitful, peaceful garden in which to dwell. It was not a condition attained by progressive, creative evolvement from less propitious situations; it was creation in its glory, beauty, and perfection; hence, the Lord God pronounced it "very good." The fall to present conditions was to come later.

Here is where Mc Conkie really digs in his heals, even the ID movement isn't willing to assert the things he does. The evidence against the earth being in any kind of state which resembles what he describes simply isn't there. The land hasn't all been in one place for a really... long... time. And at no time can we consider the entire earth to have been an eden of any sort.

The issues surrounding the earth's "plan of salvation" will be dealt with in my next post. Here I will limit myself to what seems to be his main problem; namely that instead of the earth being created good and afterwords we defiled it, evolution asserts that the earth was created not so good and we are still trying to improve upon it. Indeed, it would probably be best to describe the earth's creation as not yet completed.

Briefly, I must mention the land being in one place. This comes from a verse in Genesis which says in the days of Peleg the earth (land) was divided. This could mean any number of things. In D&C it says the earth will return to being one as it was in the days of Peleg. Again, it can mean any number of things, and as far as I know, no more revelation has been given on the subject. Given what we know about plate techtonics and the like, I would suggest that Mc Conkie's view, which He inherited from his Father in law, Joseph Fielding Smith, is simply incorrect. I would interpret the separation of the land as referring to political or social division of some kind.

But back to what I take to be his main objection which cuts to the very heart of evolution, whether biological or algorithmic. Darwin suggested, and this is what made his idea so revolutionary and dangerous at once, that complexity, design and diversity need not come from above. Before him, we had a neat pyramid around which essentially all religious sects interpreted their understanding of the world.
  1. God
  2. Mind
  3. Design
  4. Order
  5. Chaos
  6. Nothing
It would be better to refer to this as a chandelier instead of a pyramid, since all thing are based on and depend on God. What Darwin did, is turn it into a pyramid: give Chaos time and we will get Order. Give Order time and we will get Design. Design gives us Mind, and Mind, we can speculate, just might give us God. I mean this quite literally as did Truman Madsen in his lectures "Timeless Questions: Gospel Insights." It is not to be interpreted as some sort of psychological yearning for something more.

I answer, so what? What's wrong with that? After all, that
chandelier is already quite different in Mormon understanding. For one, there is no such thing as "nothing." Nothing does not exist, by very definition. God himself cannot create anything, even chaos, out of nothing. Second, intelligence, we are told, is eternal, as eternal as God. Where exactly does this fit in? If I had to put it anywhere it would be Mind, but I am not comfortable restricting it so much.

From there, we can see other problems not unique to Mormonism. What, exactly is the difference between chaos and order? Order and Design? These have vague boundaries at best. In other words, holding too strongly to the
chandelier is a bit like building our house upon the sand, don't expect it to stand up to the rains.

The desire stems from two problems: 1) reading the scriptures too literally and 2) trying to use the account of the garden of eden as a form of theodicy. With regards to (1), all prophets have taught that at least some of the garden story is allegory. The fact that we use it is our ceremonies should be an obvious tip off that we should be more concerned with symbolism that history.

As to (2), which I think is what Elder Mc Conkie issue is all about, the attempt to show that evil derives from man is misplaced in the Mormon context. Evil always has existed, just as agents have always existed. We don't have to believe that God created the world as a perfect paradise and then man messed it up. We believe that God is limited enough by self-existed intelligences, elements and laws to not require it all being Adam's fault.

We cannot accept that the entire earth was recently (within the past 10,000 years) in a paradisiacal state and accept evolution. Some general authorities have suggested that the paradise was limited to the local garden of eden. Others have suggested that it was in a terrestrial state and we shouldn't look for evidence here in this telestial world. There are other suggestions which I will cover later, but that the world earth was a paradise that Adam recently cursed is simply untenable.

Summary: Darwin not only showed that design and minds can be derived from chaos and order, but that it did. This is in direct conflict with the notion that the entire earth was once a paradise. While other imterpretations are open and should be investigated, that the entire earth was once a death-less paradise must be rejected if we are to accept evolution.


...all prophets have taught that at least some of the garden story is allegory. The fact that we use it is our ceremonies should be an obvious tip off that we should be more concerned with symbolism that history.

I think this is a crucial point. While on the surface it would appear to do violence to some of our modern scripture, I think my favored "harmonization" (sorry I'm so slow in developing and presenting it here) would involve making the Garden of Eden story completely allegorical.

3/24/2005 05:51:00 AM  

Jeffrey said:
"We cannot accept that the entire earth was recently (within the past 10,000 years) in a paradisiacal state and accept evolution."

Are you willing to discuss objection #8 in concert with #3, as they are related somewhat, or do you want to wait? :)

3/24/2005 06:59:00 AM  

I intentionally left my attempts at reconciliation in this post very vague because his following objections are so closely related. I tried to address what I think he was trying to get at without involving the other subjects. It was he that separated the topics, not me.

3/24/2005 10:29:00 AM  

It seems to me that while part of it must be allegory part seems to be historic as well. I think our religion requires a historic Adam. Clearly Joseph believed in a historic Adam. Further there appears to be a fall tied to a historic event that makes it possible for the rest of us. Although to be truthful the whole garden story is hard to figure out except as a teaching ritual. Why would God do it that way?

It's one of those things I anxiously await further light and truth on. If I ever get the chance to meet and angel it'll definitely be up there as one of my first question. (The second obviously being a qualitative approach to reconciling GR and QM)

3/24/2005 05:53:00 PM  

I agree with Clark here. It seems to me that if you throw out a historical Adam, you are lighting a short fuse that goes straight to Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling. As to the Garden of Eden, I don't have strong opinions yet since it is so hard, if not impossible to separate the figurative from the literal.

3/24/2005 06:15:00 PM  

Just to add, Brigham's willingness to interpret the garden story radically differently than a literal reading ought inform how we treat it. (He also explictly said much was figurative - more than is stated currently in ritual. His Lecture at the Veil is quite interesting.) Of course we consider Brigham's own treatment to be flawed with various apologetic responses of how to deal with Brigham. Orson Pratt's criticisms of Brigham have won the day since the end of federal persecution. But I do think Brigham's views offer a fair bit of latitude in how to interpret the text, given the fact he was the second most important prophet of the restoration and basically put together most of the endowment.

3/24/2005 06:40:00 PM  

Clark, Jared, I agree that Joseph believed in a literal Adam. It might be that this constitutes a "short fuse"---indeed I feel rather swayed in that direction, as those who've read enough of my comments (mostly elsewhere) know. But it might not necessarily constitute a "short fuse." Jettisoning a historical Adam would certainly require some reevaluation of the nature of some of what we currently regard as Joseph's prophetic experiences, but it might not be impossible. We explain away Zelph, Kinderhook plates, etc., and perhaps we could with historical Adam too.

We often think of Joseph as "loosening" our commitment to the Bible---revisions, as far as translated correctly, and so forth. Ironically, however, his changes to Genesis have the effect of strengthening the literalness of the garden story, and thus raise the stakes. Before his changes, the generic meaning of Adam as "man" allowed it to be read in a very metaphorical way.

In this connection, I'm surprised by the rather cavalier attitude Brigham Young takes toward the Genesis account in a quote on Clark's evolution page (also quoted by Jeffrey here too, I believe). How could he do so, given Joseph's Moses material?

3/24/2005 06:44:00 PM  

Clark said:

"But I do think Brigham's views offer a fair bit of latitude in how to interpret the text, given the fact he was the second most important prophet of the restoration and basically put together most of the endowment."

I am probably less familiar with BY's "Adam interpretive history" than anyone here. I am only aware of his basic A/G outlook; that the theory was official "renounced" during Pres. Kimball's administration, and that, in my view, it is contrary to scripture and what I see taught in the endowment.

As others have or will point out, the fundamental "historicity" of Adam also can be a "short fuse" to the doctrine of the Atonement(i.e., "as in Adam all die . . .") The reality of his existence seems foundational to me in all 4 Standard Works. For example, I view him as a central figure in the history of the Priesthood, for example.

We know that BY made a mistake when he attempted to alter the relationship between Adam, God, and ourselves. Having seen what mainstream Christian intellectuals have done to make an allegory of much of what we consider to be essential, historically, in the life of Jesus pertaining to the Atonement, I believe we should be careful with Adam.

Adam is not Zelph.

3/24/2005 07:42:00 PM  

A few things regarding Adam:
I intentionally left him completely out of my post for that will be dealt with later. While you are interpreting my intention of totally allegorizing Adam, I have not looked that far ahead yet.

Regarding BY's Adam/God doctrine I would not be so anxious to dismiss it. It is very inspiring and I personally cannot make sense out of the endowment without it.

I can see why denying Adam would be a short fuse, though I do not necessarily agree with it (I understand most Mormons are not as liberal as I when granting fallibility to prophets). I do not, however, see why a historical Adam is absolutely necessary.

3/24/2005 08:50:00 PM  

On the dividing of the earth in the days of Peleg, it seems to me that the Tower of Babel came at that time, and the division of the earth would be into languages. I see no sign in historical earth of a geological division.


3/24/2005 10:08:00 PM  

Recall that Brigham put together the endowment. So I'd be careful about suggesting contradictions too much. Between Brigham's views and scripture, yes. And indeed the Pratt/Young debate can be seen as over the literalness of Genesis.

However the endowment is basically about people being Adam, Jesus, and God in an expression of eternal progression. Brigham seems to have taken those steps rather literally. i.e. the stories are figurative but simultaneously what they point towards is taken quite literally. The traditional modern LDS view is to take Genesis literally but take the endowment far more allegorically. So it is the reverse of Young.

3/25/2005 12:09:00 PM  

I was just looking over the post again and thought I would make a couple of points.

First is the concept of "good" in the creation accounts. Some interpret the term "good" to support that everything was in a paradisiacal state. They equate good with at least a terrestrial condition, I guess. But I don't see why it must be that way. An equally legitimate interpretation is that things were going according to plan. One author has stated that God doesn't do shoddy work. I think this tells us more about the author's views than it tells us anything about God and his methods.

Second, I've done a computer search and I can't find any references to Peleg after the Old Testament. D&C 133:24 does say, "And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided." The context seems geographical here, and the similar language easily leads one to match it to the verses in Genesis referring to Peleg, but there is no explicit connection and I think the two can be reasonably separated. (ie. one is geographical, the other is not.)

3/25/2005 04:24:00 PM  

I should also point out that this objection from Mc Conkie follows directly from his concept of God. If God is all-powerful, why in the world would He create something so imperfect as opposed to a paradise? It is implications like these that caused me to warn against exaggerated notions of omnipotence.

3/26/2005 01:29:00 PM  



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