3/11/2005

Scriptures

Usually the most common reason given for rejecting evolution is that "The Bible says..." you fill in the rest. It is plain that the bible doesn't mention evolution or billions of years. How are we to accept and interpret the scriptures in this quest we are embarking on?

What are the scriptures? The word of God? I personally would hesitate to define them so. They certainly contain many of the words of God spoken to many of His servants, but the Words of Mormon are the words of Mormon. The book of Isaiah contains the words of Isaiah. The same can be said for the book of Moses and so on.

But isn't "all scripture ... given by inspiration of God?" No, it isn't. Joseph Smith changed that verse to "all scripture given by inspiration of God..." implying that some is, some isn't. Even when it is, I still would hesitate to call it absolutely perfect. The Book of Mormon, "the most correct of any book," has numerous warnings about the errors of men contained therein. Combine this with Brigham Young's statement that if the BoM were retranslated today it would be very different than we now have it.

Are the scriptures perfect? No, but the authors did the best they could with the knowledge and inspiration given them at the time. They were a particular message to a particular audience in a particular context. True, we can generalize the message a bit so as to apply the scriptures to ourselves, but caution must be taken.

In other words, now that we know a lot more, both about science and about eternal truth than they did back then we don't have to limit ourselves to their understanding of the world. The world is very old. The universe is very big. The earth is not the center. Species are not fixed. They didn't know these things, so what? This is the point of continual revelation, that our knowledge is always incomplete, that's why we always need more. Brigham Young said:
How long it [Earth] had been organized is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from them picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty or void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he gives revelation on the subject. JD 14:115-17
Here is John Taylor's views:
When we come to religious matters, we discover that, though men are naturally intelligent, they act like fools. They do not use their common judgment, reason, or intelligence. "Well," say they, "you know we are governed by the Bible." Now that is exactly what we do not know, and therefore I doubt it. "But our divines tell us we are." Oh, do they? Well, suppose somebody was to tell you the result of some scientific analysis; you would be very likely to say—"I believe you in part, but I would like to test it for myself. When I have done that I shall know it. Yet strange as it is, you are willing to take anybody's ipse dixit in relation to things of the most vital importance. In things pertaining to the immortal part of man, we act like the veriest babies or consummate fools, while in regard to the affairs of this life we act intelligently. Gospel Kingdom, 75

I believe that sometimes the scriptures are just plain wrong. They were written by men, we shouldn't be surprised by this. But care must be taken on a number of accounts.

  1. We do not have a free liscense to simply reject any part of scripture which we take to be wrong. Care must be taken. With regards to our current topic, evolution, we cannot simply throw out the idea that God created the world, this idea is too far ingrained both in scripture and in our doctrine. But to simply reject as wrong the idea that all animals were created in a couple of days of one another I don't think would be out of line. There simply isn't very much baggage that comes with such a move.
  2. I also feel it unwise to defend something that the author obviously did not intend to say. For example, there are a wide variety of books now sold in Christian book stores which attempt to reconcile Eisteinian astronomy as well as the big bang model with various Biblical statements. This is a lost cause. The majority of people in the Bible believed in a geocentric model of the universe. They really did believe that the Sun was going around the earth. So what? Why can't we simply say they were wrong? The same goes for recent attempts to show that the sea monsters described in Genesis ch. 1 were the dinosaurs. They weren't. As near as we can tell, the ancient knew nothing about dinosaurs.
  3. Even with these rules in place discrepencies will still arise. There will be passages where it is perfectly clear what the author meant, it being totally in conflict with what science has demonstrated. It may be a teaching which will be very difficult for most Mormons to simply reject as wrong. What should we do then? I don't think we can give a universal rule for how to deal with such cases. How each instance is handled will depend on the soundness of the scientific evidence and how essential the teaching is in Mormon doctrine. Remember, we should try to defend Mormon doctrine, not necessarily Mormon scripture.
  4. I must confess here and now that if evolution is true, and I strongly believe it to be, many doctrines which are held be most Mormons will need to be revised. Some may even need to be thrown out. Such was the idea of the universal flood, or the idea of the entire hemisphere teaming with Nephites and Lamanites. These "doctrines" simply cannot stand up to scrutiny and must be revised. Many other long held traditions may have to go by the board. This will bother some people a great deal, but is something we must learn to accept.

In this blog we will do our best to explain why certain ideas (not necessarily just religious ones) are irreconcilable in their current condition and must be modified. We ask that before people raise the cry of "Heretic!" they return the favor by explaining as best as they can why any particular revision we might be suggesting is simply too much to bear. Our object is to explore various attempts at reconciliation and try to find the most harmonious one out there, not to show that we are always right. It is not our goal make ourselves out to be lights unto the world or to revolutionize Mormonism. We wish to preserve it as much as possibly can be done, but an open and prayerful mind is essential in approaching this topic. These things should be kept in mind as we venture into such vaguely charted territory.

Summary:
When beliefs based on scriptural statements are at odds which should win out? This is a difficult question which has no suitable answer for all circumstances for both science and scripture fall short of absolute perfection. Though it makes many Mormons uncomfortable, some scriptural passage may have to be rejected to account for the truths of evolution.


15 Comments:

Jeff - Great site!! I have been waiting for years to discuss some of these issues in a thoughtful manner. I feel greatly hampered being a non-scientist. But - I would like to comment on the framing of the discussion.

It seems that there could be room for 2 basic issues:

(1) COULD (I don't know how to italicize or I would) the Theory of Evolution (TOE) account for the creation of man's body? I cannot even talk expertly on that issue. I feel that a "reasonable doubt" has been raised by Intelligent Designers, but I am only observing arguments on both sides as an outsider.

(2) If man's body could have been thus produced, DID it happen that way.

These are actually separate issues, as I see them. It seems that a Latter Day Saint evolutionist could accept a special creation for man, and harmonize all of his or her vital convictions. As Elder Packer said in his discourse, "The Law and The Light," have your way, so to speak, with the animals, but leave man where he is in the Revelations.

Such a position would, I realize, take the "fun" or the "guts" out of this site.

3/13/2005 07:03:00 PM  

Greg, the answer to 1) according to my understanding of evolution is yes, it could. Dennett said, "Much of the controversy and anxiety that has enveloped Darwin's idea ever since (it's articulation) can be understood as a series of failed campaigns in the struggle to contain Darwin's idea within some acceptably "safe" and merely partial revolution." This can be said of not just the IDers, but essentially all anti-Darwinians since the 19th century. "Perhaps," Dennett also says, "we could make a useful division: there are the parts of Darwin's idea that really are established beyond any reasonable doubt, and then there are the speculative extensions of the scientifically irrestible parts. Then-if we are lucky-perhaps the rock solid scientific facts would have no stunning implications about religion, or human nature, or the meaning of life, while the parts of Darwin's idea that get people all upset could be put into quarantine as highly controversial extensions of, or mere interpretations of, the scientifically irresistible parts. That would be reassuring. But alas, that is just about backwards."

We must keep in mind that the evidence for evolution is simply overwhelming, most of all for the species that are still alive today. Also, homo sapiens are obvious targets for the most attentive study in this field since it would have so many applications in medicine, psycology and other cultural studies.

Did it happen that way? People can always give whatever answer they personally believe, regardless of the evidence and what it says. But most people acquainted with said evidence are thoroughly convinced that it did. That's why we people focus on other areas of evolution to cast doubt on it. The origin of life, the origin of the eye and other irreduciblly complex organs which developed long before humans.

In the book Mormonism and Evolution: a Quest for Understanding (a title which obviously influenced this blog) the authors, staunch LDS, did not even try to say that evolution did not produce man. It's simply not a feasible alternative, and the most powerful evidence comes from genetics. We are we share %98.5 of our genetic makeup with chimpanzees. It is for this reason that Jared Diamond titled his award winning book on human evolution "The Third Chimpanzee."

To say do what we want with animals but leave human's alone is an understandable position. But man is an animal, or should I say an organism (there is no difference, it's just organism is a less emotionally charged word). Not only that, but as said before, the evidence for the evolution of the species homo sapien is as strong or stronger than any other animal, why in the world would we leave it alone? This looks an awful lot like a "stop that crow!" moment (see http://mormondoctrine.blogspot.com/2005/03/whats-wrong-with-being-wro_111048012437629957.html).

3/14/2005 07:54:00 AM  

Jeff - thanks so much for taking the time to answer my comment. While I just read an ID blip attempting to discount the 98.5% commonality with chimps, I realize, after surveying the comments of yourself and others in other blogs over the past while, I can see that there is not going to be any concession, from a scientific viewpoint, towards a special creation for man.

Not having read "Mormons and Evolution," does it attempt a reconciliation with the apparent challenge to our understanding of basic doctrines, such as the Fall, and other issues, such as Adam and Eve historicity, that the evolution of man's body directly challenge, in that Book?

3/14/2005 08:43:00 PM  

I'm sorry, the name is actually Mormonism and Evolution, co-authored by Trent Stephens and somebody else (sorry). The book does not really try to offer any kind of rigorous reconciliation, but it does a great job at helping Mormons understand evolution as taught by science and the church official position. It has a good foreword by Duane Jeffrey as well. It is only about 200 pages or so and is easy reading (about a day or two).

It some future posts I will be quoting from it.

3/15/2005 09:09:00 AM  

Jeff - since I don't have the Book "Mormonism and Evolution," could you perhaps briefly explain what the authors say is the "church official position" on the origin of man's body? Thanks

3/16/2005 06:19:00 PM  

Greg, the book has an appendix with all of the official statements regarding evolution ever published by the 1st Pres. You can find most of the statements in the BYU packet link at our home page. There is one statement which the author find quite interesting.

"Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, throught the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles... whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God." Improvement Era 13:570 Message from the First Presidency

3/16/2005 11:55:00 PM  

In this particular forum, if we are disucssing the possiblity of man being formed thru evolution, does it matter whether that evolution takes place on its own, or with intellegent input.

If intellegent input is allowed then is that really Darwinian evolution?

Second question, if we are considering evolution in the formation of man are we also assuming that "life" itself started from the primordial soup and evolved from there?

3/17/2005 11:09:00 AM  

Hey Jeff - thanks for the Mormonism -Evolution quote. This proves to me that you can "think like a lawyer" and look for "doctrinal" openings with the best of them. As you know, this particular item is not in the BYU packet, and - I couldn't find it online. Could you please give me the date and Improvement Era page numbers? - Or - send me to a site?

Also, Don has brought up an excellent point, does your TOE for this site include the development of life from the primordial soup. And, a related question, is "life" for the TOE consist of entirely "organic" materials? Put another way, is man - including mind at what some would call spirit, entirely biological?

3/17/2005 01:07:00 PM  

Greg, the reference is Improvement Era vol. 13, (I'm sorry I don't have the year with me right now) page 570 (I'm not sure on the month either, but judging by the page number it is probably about may or june.)

3/17/2005 04:24:00 PM  

It's April 1910--I have a post based on it in the works.

3/17/2005 04:28:00 PM  

Jared - I was able to find the 1910 "excerpts from the Priesthood Quorum Table." Online, however, the Statement begins
* * * "These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, . . ."

So, this quote is from a larger context, apparently specifically referring to some scriptures. Do you have the full context? Do you know what the "Priesthood Quorums' Table" is?

Since the First Presidency gave a very detailed statement in 1909, I would like to see the context of this 1910 statement if you can direct me to it.

In the law, in legal opinions, we have "holdings" - which are precedents and "doctrinal," then we "dictum," statements that are supplementary. While "dictum" in one case can later become a "holding" in a later one, there is an important difference between the two concepts.

3/17/2005 08:45:00 PM  

Here is an excerpt from Duane Jeffery's article, "Seers, Savants, and Evolution." You can read the whole article here. This passage comes after discussion of Origin of Man. I can't blockquote here, so everything that follows is from the article:

"Such sentiments were certain to evoke questions from Church members, and it was equally certain that they had to be handled at the highest level of the Church, the President's Office. Once again, the Improvement Era was the platform of response, in an editorial that has, so far as we can find, not been further commented on to this day.75 Joseph F. Smith, as president of the Church, and Edward H. Anderson, were the editors. We quote it in toto, from the columns relegated to instructions to the priesthood:

Origin of Man.--"In just what manner did the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve come into existence on this earth?" This question comes from several High Priests' quorums.

Of course all are familiar with the statements in Genesis 1:26,27; 2:7; also in the Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price, 2 :27; and in the Book of Abraham 5:7. The latter statement reads: "And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man's spirit) and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul."

These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, until the Lord shall see fit to give more light on the subject. Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. For helpful discussion of the subject, see Improvement Era, Vol. XI, August 1908, No. 10, page 778, article, "Creation and Growth of Adam"; also article by the First Presidency, "Origin of Man," Vol. XIII, No. 1, page 75, 1909.

For clarification, the August 1908 article referred to was a response to a question raised about an even earlier article; the author of the two pieces, William Halls, had contended that Adam could not have been created full-grown, but must have gone through a natural childhood and adolescence. When pushed for documentation by Era readers who felt that such a view was incompatible with scriptural literalism, he answered, in the article cited by the editorial, that he could not document it, but that "When a passage of scripture taken literally contradicts a fundamental, natural law, I take it as allegorical; and in the absence of divine authority, put a construction on it that seems to harmonize with my experience and reason."

So ended the matter, apparently, so far as Joseph F. Smith was concerned: the editorial listed three options, and it is evident that not one of them agrees with a literal interpretation of Moses 3:7 or other such creation passages."

3/18/2005 06:54:00 AM  

Jared - thanks again for the site and the research - I am getting far more information on this subject here than anywhere else.

Notice that these items were not included in the BYU Packet. One good reason I can think of, is that the specific issue in the 1910 and 1908 articles seems to be concerned less with Adam's "lineage" (family history might be a more contemporary term, especially when thinking about Adam's "Temple Work") - then with the specific processes by which his body was created.

The scriptures referred to here by the "seers and savants" exclude critical ones used in the 1909 Statement, such as Ether 3:15. As far as I know, no defender of traditional Mormon Doctrine, such as Elder McConkie or Pres Joseph Fielding Smith, has ever taken Mos 3:7 literally. We have always had to use "common sense" to fill in that blank.

While some of the comments about Adam's body "evolving through natural processes under God's direction" could be seen as an "opening" for a TOE creation, I think it is better limited to the most proximate issue described in Mos: 3:7, thus as a "procedural" rather than a "family history" question. Especially in light of both earlier (1909) and later (1931) statements signed by the full presidency and specifically addressing the "family history" issue. i.e. "We can all agree that . . . Adam was the primal parent of our race."

Personally, I would interpret the above statement of Adam's body developing naturally as describing the process by which, for example, my daughter just produced my youngest grandson. It fits, and, is more "on point" than as a "family history" referrence, in my opinion.

Thanks again for your outstanding work. By the way, was it you or Clark that went and read the 1977 Conference talk by Pres. Kimball that I sited? I finally reread the whole thing, and it is just amazing. You may not believe the doctrines set forth, but it is possibly a "one of a kind" exposition in the late 20th Century in an official setting by a President of the Church. It gives me chills (not very scientific),and smacks more of science fiction than religion, which is one thing I love about the Church.

3/18/2005 11:07:00 AM  

Greg, it was me that went and read Pres. Kimball's 1977 talk. It is indeed thrilling doctrine, with a degree of specificity that is unheard of these days. Refreshing! One would hope and expect prophets to have enough "access" to eternal truth to be able to speak so straightforwardly, but we rarely get it.

But it's not clear to me that the doctrine's exciting appeal equates with truth. We could invent all sorts of ideas that appeal to our deepest longings, but as Pres. Monson said in a conference not long ago, wishing doesn't make it so. As a check against getting carried away by our longings, I for one would like to understand whether and how ideas like those of Brigham Young (quoted by Pres. Kimball) might fit with what has been empirically observed in biology, paleontology, etc.

If the 1910 statement is not in the BYU packet, my guess at the reason is that (if memory serves) it's not signed, and that we therefore cannot be sure Joseph F. Smith was the author. He may have been an "editor," but given how busy he must have been, this may have been essentially in name only; perhaps an advisory capacity that was intermittent at best. I doubt he was writing and "editing" day-to-day.

You equate the "evolved in natural processes" option in the 1910 statement with normal gestation instead of evolution; but this doesn't make sense, because natural gestation is plainly mentioned separately as the third option.

3/20/2005 06:09:00 PM  

Christian - clear thinking again - the third option does cover "natural gestation." I thus retreat to my "holding vs. dictum" legal analogy.

3/28/2005 10:21:00 PM  

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