4/27/2005

Literary Issues and Evolution

Mythology

Creation and flood stories are found in almost all cultures, as are stories regarding first parents. What is there to explain these stories in the context of the restored gospel and the discussion we are having regarding evolution?

It seems to me that there are at least two ways to look at the situation (there are likely many others). 1) There is one original story (or event) from which originated all others; 2) these stories were conceived and developed independently of others and are similar because of the issues that they attempt to explain.

Which of the two possibilities is more likely? There is indeed “strangeness” in the stories that may move us to think twice about the likelihood of the story being original and based on a true event. However, the likelihood of multiple origins for very similar stories is unlikely, especially since many cultures (if culture is not an anachronistic term in the pre-language time-frame) may have originated prior to the development of language and communication.

So how do we reconcile the strangeness, yet relative consistency of the creation, flood, and first parent stories and the simplest explanation that they originate with a single story, with the apparent reality of human existence prior to language development and in the context of the physical evidences of evolution and lack of evidence for a world-wide flood?

Brother Nibley, in a series of articles about the Atonement from 1990 in the Ensign, discusses this issue to a degree. (Please refer to the August 1990 issue of the Ensign for the entire article).

Here follows a main point, using the Atonement as an example:

As to the resemblances (of stories of different religions) that have
beguiled the scholars, one hundred years ago President Joseph F. Smith gave the
most rational and still the most acceptable explanation for them. To quote
him:

“Undoubtedly the knowledge of this law and of other rites and
ceremonies was carried by the posterity of Adam into all lands, and continued
with them, more or less pure, to the flood, and through Noah, who was a
‘preacher of righteousness,’ to those who succeeded him, spreading out into all
nations and countries. … What wonder, then, that we should find relics of
Christianity, so to speak, among the heathens and nations who know not Christ,
and whose histories date back beyond the days of Moses, and even beyond the
flood, independent of and apart from the records of the Bible.”

The scholars of his time, he notes, took the position that “
‘Christianity’ sprang from the heathen, it being found that they have many rites
similar to those recorded in the Bible, &c.” This jumping to conclusions was
premature, to say the least, “for if the heathen have doctrines and ceremonies
resembling … those … in the Scriptures, it only proves … that these are the
traditions of the fathers handed down, … and that they will cleave to the
children to the latest generation, though they may wander into darkness and
perversion, until but a slight resemblance to their origin, which was divine,
can be seen.”


(Please see to entire article and series for further thoughts on this issue).

I see this issue as one that we must deal with in our attempts to reconcile the physical evidences with the literary evidences and perceived doctrines we hold to be true.


Summary: There are literary evidences of common roots for stories regarding the creation, first parents, and the flood. With the backdrop of overwhelming evidences of evolution, how are we to account for these literary issues pointing us to a single origin followed by distortion and apostasy?

4 Comments:

Mike,
I hope you don't mind, but I went into your post and put in the "shorten post" tags. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

4/27/2005 10:22:00 AM  

Mike, there was a Sunstone article by BYU prof Duane Jeffery on the flood in which he cited arguments for independent origins of different flood stories. It was available online in the last few months; you still might be able to find it.
 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

4/28/2005 04:10:00 AM  

To counter the argument, nearly every culture tells its girls Cinderella stories. Should this suggest a common Eve/Cinderella from whence all Cinderella stories are told? Or is it more likely that these stories co-evolved just like the crustacean, insect and mammalian eye did, each independently solving the same problem? Also, the creation stories across cultures are not very similar in respect to key things like the pre-existence, the purpose of creation, the timeline of creation, the relationship of humans to the divine or the mechanism of creation. In other words, their differences are often greater than their similarities. 

Posted by John Welch

5/04/2005 07:10:00 PM  

I was thinking the same thing about the spread of religious/gospel principles. If we do adopt Adam as being the first prophet, many may want to claim that all similar religious doctrines scattered through out the world originate with him. While I might be willing to attribute these things to the same source, I would call that source inspiration, not Adam. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/04/2005 07:36:00 PM  

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