What Did Nibley Think of Evolution?

Many Church members—even some who profess an interest in Mormon thought—resist discussion of evolution. Early in his career, Hugh Nibley discussed the subject in his classes; then, for a period of time, he decided “it was a waste of time;” and finally, he recognized that the alleged evolutionary origin of humanity is “a subject that is impossible to avoid,” and was willing to weigh in on the matter. He expressed his view in Before Adam, an address to the BYU community delivered in 1980 (also available in CWHN, Vol. 1, Ch. 4). While he commendably took scientific findings much more seriously than material published by the Church, in the end his view does not stand up in the face of currently available data.

Nibley deserves credit, first of all, for recognizing the need for a reconciliation between scientific data and scriptural accounts. He urges us to get beyond the “nursery tales” and “Sunday-school recitals” that many take away from Biblical stories, but he also disparages those who “fall into adolescent disillusionment” under the influence of their “emancipated teachers.” When it comes to getting beyond these default options, he declares that “We have drawn back from that assignment, preferring to save a lot of trouble and take sides with the traditional schools.”

Nibley is not kind to these “traditional schools.” “…we have been the spectators of a foolish contest between equally vain and bigoted rivals, in which it is a moot question which side heaps the most contempt on God’s creatures.” In the same vein, on the surface it would seem to be a moot question which of these “rivals”—“apostate religion” or “an always inadequate science”—receives more contempt from Nibley. With these, “…the issue is never the merits of the evidence but always the jealous rivalry of the contestants to see which would be the official light unto the world.”

In fact, however, his bark is worse than his bite; his sarcastic dismissals seem to be a rhetorical stance adopted out of concern over theories “that turned some of our best students away from the gospel,” and perhaps also an effort to assure his audience of his bona fides before taking a step or two beyond traditional doctrine. “Am I willing to stake my eternal salvation on their highly conflicting opinions?” No, Professor Nibley, we are persuaded you are not. But we can see past the red meat your audience demands to the way you have voted with your feet: your summaries of worldly learning, copious references, and ultimately your attempt at accomodating what you accept as stubborn facts all constitute a high compliment, betraying the time and thought—and therefore serious respect—you have accorded the scholars and scientists, and some of us are grateful.

Whether or not his mockery of the would-be official luminaries is merely rhetorical, it’s not, of course, as though Nibley himself is without an official light: “This means that Joseph Smith is the only entry.” Relying primarily on his ‘grown-up’ interpretation of the Book of Abraham, but sensitive to the facts uncovered by geology and paleontology, Nibley parses the account as a description of the creative enterprise more or less in line with scientific realism. He makes as much as possible of available resources offered by the text, emphasizing changes in perspective, the earth and waters being “prepared” to “bring forth” life, the waiting and watching to see that things “obeyed.” He paints an interesting picture “entailing careful planning based on vast experience, long consultations, models, tests, and even trial runs for a complicated system requiring a vast scale of participation by the creatures concerned.”

Predictably and perhaps necessarily, his congeniality towards science begins to wane as he approaches man, and he is ultimately at a loss to provide a clear-cut solution to the Adam problem (though he does in the end throw a desperate “Hail Mary,” mentioned below). He vacillates, on the one hand seeming to need and want the theoretical space afforded by eight “roles” and four “senses” of “Adam,” and acknowledging the existence of “100,000-year-old villages;” but in the end he chooses the other hand, and denies the authority of archaeology and anthropology to say anything about us. Regarding “creatures that looked like men long, long ago,”
…their world is not our world. They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared.…That gap between the record keeper and all the other creatures we know anything about is so unimaginably enormous and yet so neat and abrupt that we can only be dealing with another sort of being, a quantum leap from one world to another. Here is something not derivative from anything that has gone before on the local scene, even though they all share the same atoms.
By thus positing an unbridgeable gap in time and type, when it comes to man he makes a decisive break with evolution.

In making his case, Nibley positions himself above the fray, occupying the high ground cleared by Joseph’s sweeping revelations, and adopting the strategy of triangulation long before anyone ever heard of Dick Morris. Seeking a solution beyond those proferred by the equally inadequate jealous rivals, the idiosyncratic picture Nibley ends up with has important affinities to the position staked out by B. H. Roberts in his (until recently) unpublished manuscript The Truth, The Way, The Life. (One wonders if Nibley arrived at his views independently, or if perhaps he had access to this embargoed work of Elder Roberts.) Knowingly or unknowingly following in Elder Roberts’ footsteps, Nibley’s synthesis valiantly attempts to thread the needle–accepting more than is customary (for a Mormon) from science, while taking more seriously than is customary (for a scientist) the scriptural accounts. In conceding the reality of death before the fall and the existence of “a lot of creatures running about long ago who looked like men,” he risks alienting the Priests; in ultimately rejecting an evolutionary origin of mankind, he finds himself hopelessly at odds with the Scientists. His intriguing and dramatic finale, a bold coup de gras, is almost literally deus ex machina: a not-so-subtle hint at a resort to private acceptance of some form of the Adam-God doctrine in order to resolve the problem of Adam, whereby he manages to simultaneously offend both Priest and Scientist in equal measure—a situation probably inevitable in any attempted reconciliation anyway. (Nibley here provides a roadmap for getting away with this sort of thing with an academically unwashed audience of faith: first, let the impression fall as gently and subtly as possible, like the dews of heaven, that you know a hell of a lot more than they do; and second, make as explicit as possible—and as bombastically as occasion allows—your unalloyed allegiance to the Restoration, by roundly condemning its detractors while overtly wrapping yourself in the ægis of Joseph’s revelations. Must be fun to throw lightning bolts from that rhetorical Olympus.)

I like this piece of Nibley’s, for its willingness to take on the subject, its erudition, and its engaging, bold, almost flamboyant style; but I think it fails on scientific grounds, right where it matters most: the origin of man. It is not at all clear that the gaps in man’s nature and descent that he requires are there; on the contrary, everything seems to point to us being an elaboration of anatomy and culture possessed by ancient and different ancestors. (The modern genetic evidence seems particularly definitive regarding historically contingent descent of the physical body; see this post for a specific example.) Nibley seems tolerant of evolution of the animal kingdom, but is unwilling to take it all the way to man. (I suspect that if President McKay accepted evolution, as often alleged, it was only in this limited sense that does not ‘give away the store.’) The necessity of this gap is a legacy of the fundamental Mormon doctrine of an anthropomorphic, procreating God, whose consequences for the expected nature of exaltation will not easily be relinquished.


Good summary of the article.

Of course science will never be fully satisfied with the answer Nibley gives. The idea clearly seems to be that evolution is undeniable as a principle but that Adam didn't come from it. Rather the implication is that Adam was a much higher being that showed up on the scene from somewhere other than this planet. It is not necessarily Adam-God as Brigham described it but could very well be something very literally like the temple account we have of Adam's (and Eve's) arival here.

This will not satisfy non-LDS scientists because it requires a supernatural colonizer. It makes many of the faithful unhappy to imagine that the children of Adam and Eve really did interbreed with the people already here.

But I guess it works for me until I learn something more or better... 

Posted by Geoff J

8/14/2005 09:41:00 PM  

I think Geoff nails it. However where Nibley makes some important comments is in the following:

1. Acknowledging pre-Adamites. Perhaps he hedges things a bit between the relationship between Adamites and pre-Adamites. But that's a pretty big step.

2. Recognizing that scripture isn't universal propositions given without a viewpoint. (A tendency literalists tend towards) Rather he takes the human viewpoint of the scriptural authors quite seriously.

3. He acknowledges the science and that the science had to be adopted.

8/14/2005 10:43:00 PM  

Geoff,  just to clarify, Nibley did not accept the idea of an extraterrestrial arriving to interbreed with pre-Adamites: "They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared."

I think the interbreeding idea has a potential severe weakness. I suspect that for it to not conflict with genetic data, the divine genetic contribution would have to be vanishingly small (perhaps the same problem as with the vanishing Nephite genetic contribution). If God didn't contribute anything significant biologically, what would be the point of his procreative intervention? 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 08:24:00 AM  

Clark,  thanks for explicitly pointing out what are indeed significant contributions. I hope my appreciation for Nibley's attempt came through. Would that at least this much might have been accepted by the Church in the 25 years since he gave this talk. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 08:28:00 AM  


Just because Nibley stopped short of admitting he accepted the colonizer model in this particular essay does not mean he did not actually accept it. He mentions colonizers and Lord Raglan and the diffusionists in all sorts of places. It seems pretty clear to me that he favored the idea of Adam as the colonizer and the he felt the ancient texts supported it.

I further get the idea that Nibley leaned toward the idea that a Celestial Adam (not the Father, BTW) arrived as a patriarch bringing with him the intelligence (and mission) to cause a quantum leap in civilization. He seemed to believe that it was Adam that first introduced writing and record keeping (along with the gospel and direct connection with Heaven). So I don't know about the genetic contribution, but I get the feeling that Nibley felt that Adam's contribution as the great patriarch of civilized, record keeping humanity was crucial to setting the stage  for the spirits waiting to have a place to come and be tested (aka "us").

Posted by Geoff J

8/15/2005 09:46:00 AM  

I agree that Nibley seems to go for some form of colonizer (as did B. H. Roberts); just not an interbreeding one. Another similarity with B. H. Roberts is that for Nibley pre-Adamites belonged to long-ago, previous epochs that have nothing to do with the present Adamic era. That is, the pre-Adamites were extinct long before Adam appeared on the scene. I think this disconnect between hominids and modern man is refuted by genetic data.  

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 10:46:00 AM  

I think it pretty clear that Nibley pretty well bought into most of Young's theology. Although probably with some significant changes. (I tend to see him as a fairly strong platonist, for instance)

The colonization model can be expanded to include the significance of the fall where the fall was literally taking on a mortal nature. i.e. becoming like the life of the telestial world. Once you accept that then I think most of the problems go away. i.e. exactly what *genetic* difference there was isn't clear. (Although if you read the pre-Noah ages literally there may have been some differences)

I should add that while Nibley was always very open to science, when he read about science - mainly through popularizations - he tended to get it quite wrong and fundamentally misunderstand it. I've long wondered whether his reading of science books ought be considered a type of his reading in general. (i.e. a-contextual readings) But perhaps that's a bit unfair.

I do think that his most important point was in his, "does it matter" analysis. 

Posted by Clark

8/15/2005 10:46:00 AM  

Just a brief note - the colonizer model was pretty ubiquitous in the early 20th century in Utah. It was widely taught and accepted. It was still reasonably strong when I was a kid, although by then the fractures due to the double-whammy of science and the new literalism of figures like McConkie were making it much less popular.

8/15/2005 10:48:00 AM  

Ok, I'm with you now. It may very well be that Nibley assumed a break between "them" and "us" even to the end (though I suspect he may have adjusted his thoughts on that in the 20+ years after this article was written). Since the evidence now seems to refute that idea, the next logical step is interbreeding. As Clark mentions, there are any number of ways to look at the lack of genetic differences appearing at the time we assume Adam arrived (including the idea that the Fall made Adam somewhat genetically indistinguishable from his neighbors). I think that as I mentioned in my first comment, though, that these suggestions will be objectionable to both poles in the debate. But they work pretty well for a moderate like me... 

Posted by Geoff J

8/15/2005 11:04:00 AM  

Wow! All three of my favorite topics together at last: evolution, Brigham and Nibley.

I agree with most of what all of you have said, although I'm not sure that Nibley's didn't accept a notion of interbreeding. He seems to interpret the "sons of god"/"daughters of men" distinction as being the sons of Adam versus the daughters of other hominids, if I'm not mistaken.

I think he did accept some form of Adam-God though likely not the one which Brigham or myself accept. I suspect that it was something like Clark's 2-Adam theory or something like that. Nibley was far too influenced by and impressed with Brigham to not have absorbed some of those ideas. His refusal to offer his opinions concerning the doctrine would also seem to indicate some partiality to it.

I agree with Clark that Nibley's few of science, especially that of evolution, was usually wide of the mark. He frequently misreads certain phrases do to his unfamiliarity with the subject and the classic confusion between evolution in general and Darwinian Natural Selection. He, like many creationists do today, took some statements by some scientists which expressed doubt in the power of natural selection as a mechanism and tried to use these to cast doubt upon evolution in general. He was also a little too caught up with a rather out dated form of social darwinism.

"I've long wondered whether his reading of science books ought be considered a type of his reading in general. (i.e. a-contextual readings) But perhaps that's a bit unfair."

That's a great question. People are always accusing him of misusing his sources, both ancient and relatively modern, in order to back his preconceived ideas. I think that this was probably more the case when he spoke on science or social phenomena, but I would imagine that his acquaintance with and use of ancient sources would be a little better. Of course, I wouldn't really know.


Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

8/15/2005 12:34:00 PM  

Good point Jeffrey. I forgot about some of Nibley's asides on the Enoch legends. That was in his book on the Jaredites, wasn't it? 

Posted by Clark

8/15/2005 12:37:00 PM  


I think he made similar comments in lots of places. I know it shows upa few times in the tape/CD series of his written and live lectures.


I was wondering where you wee on this conversation! Thanks for the backup on the idea that Nibley probably bought the interbreeding concept. I thought he did and could't remember why -- your example is good evidence of it. I think he steered clear of coming out and openly saying it (among other things, like his apparent idea of a Celestial Adam) because of the political ramifications of saying such things in public.  

Posted by Geoff J

8/15/2005 12:54:00 PM  

Clark, If you are talking about the sons/daughters thing that is straight from Before Adam. Toward the end he asks a lot of questions which he doens't answer, but lots of them seem to imply a belief in extra-Adamite "others". 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

8/15/2005 12:56:00 PM  

Jeffrey is right; it may be other places too, but there is a section in "Before Adam" that raises many questions, as Jeffrey describes, associated with the place I mentioned that referred to the eight roles and four senses of "Adam." However, he never makes use of any possibilities raised by these questions in any specific proposal related to pre-Adamites. I would lump this in with what I described in the post as his "vacillation," where he seems to have a fleeting urge to open some theoretical space to enable taking the reconciliation farther than he did. He seems to have an open mind and be far from settled on a specific scenario; nevertheless, in the end he utters the declarative sentence "They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared."  

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 01:20:00 PM  

I interpret that phrase as applying to the popular notions of cave-men and the like. I think what he really wants to convey is "Further work is needed, so let's stop being stupid in our definitions of scripture." Just as you say. Similar to Clark, I see his treatment of scripture as being far more important, accurate and influential than his science, which really is pretty bad.

I have a list of some quotes which he used as notes for a lecture he gave which is basically aimed at attacking evolution. He relies a lot upon the equivocation I mentioned above and is especially concerned about an evolutionary view of mankind. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

8/15/2005 01:33:00 PM  

Jeffrey, the issue isn't pre-Adamites or extra-Adamites but intermarriage. That's caught up in the ledgeds of the nephilim or Watchers. I don't see anything about that at the end of Before Adam.

Nibley does make the interesting assertion that to be human is to keep records. i.e. tying it to a written record. I don't think it works the way he talks about it. But clearly he's alluding to the law of adoption and may be making some stronger claims regarding neoPlatonism or hermeticism.

8/15/2005 02:30:00 PM  

Here's one of Nibley's relevant chapters.

8/15/2005 02:32:00 PM  

Just to add - Nibley ties these more with apostates from the covenant. But I think one can see other hints in there as well.

8/15/2005 02:34:00 PM  

The Watchers are mentioned in "Before Adam," but Clark is right that the context emphasizes those in the covenant being sons of God. The passage is not  about pre-Adamites, but about the "multitudes of Adam's children born before Cain and Abel" (some of whom left the covenant and therefore were no longer sons of God), and immortal characters from other worlds who come to visit them.

It is understandable that someone would want to make the Watchers, sons of God, etc. issues connect with pre-Adamites here---it's an interesting idea worth exploring---but Nibley himself makes no such connection here, IMHO. His barrage of questions seems more aimed at opening our minds to transits between worlds, and between immortality and mortality, as having possible relevance to how Adam got here. That is, I think he's trying to crack the door open in a roundabout way for Adam/God and colonizer sorts of ideas by referring to related ideas in other scriptural and apocryphal contexts, rather than outlining a specific scenario involving pre-Adamites (though I admit that he's sufficiently ambiguous that one can probably see what one wishes to see there).

Here is the extended quote, starting on p. 78 in the print version, so that each may judge for herself (for all you women lurking out there). The long list of questions is in the last paragraph (which frankly starts to sound a little unhinged... Between talk of giants and Cain, I half expected him to say, What about Bigfoot?)

"The fifth chapter of Genesis begins with a very important episode—the formal establishment of Adam's family organization. It begins with a book, a book of remembrance or genealogy, entitled "The Book of the Generations of Adam." It begins, "In the day the Gods set apart [bara—we are being very literal here] Adam in the likeness of the Gods [bi-dmuth elohim] he made him. Male and female he set them apart, and gave them a blessing, and gave them their names as Adam, in the day he set them apart." (See Genesis 5:1-3.) Next comes Seth in the proper line of Adam, and the patriarchal line follows. The preceding chapter tells of the division into Cainites and Sethites, and it is significant that the line of Cain is omitted from the genealogy of Adam. The book of Moses tells of multitudes of Adam's children born before Cain and Abel (Moses 5:12, 16). They had followed Satan by choice and were disqualified as sons of God. We read in Moses: "And unto thy brethren have I . . . given commandment, that they . . . should choose me, their Father. . . . But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father." (Moses 7:33, 37.) Those who accepted the covenant were called sons of God and also the sons of Adam: "And this is the genealogy of the sons of Adam, who was the son of God." (Moses 6:22.) Only those qualify as Bene-Adam who are still in the covenant. Bene-Adam, however, is the normal Jewish word for human beings. The Septuagint considers Adam a proper noun from Genesis 2:16 on; the Vulgate from 2:19 on; Adam appears for the first time as a proper noun in the standard Hebrew Bible only after Genesis 4:25. In that text twenty-two of the twenty-seven occurrences of the name are accompanied by the article: "the man." They are not proper names. In Genesis, E. Lussier concludes that Adam has four senses:

1. "Man," a particular man, the first man (sixteen times).
2. The first husband (nine times).
3. Generic, "mankind" (two times).
4. As a proper name—once! fn

So we might well ask: What about those people who lived before Cain and Abel? What about those who disappeared from sight? What about those who were not even warned of the Flood? What about those many, many who visited the earth as resurrected beings? What about the Watchers? What about the sons of God who should not marry the daughters of men, and vice versa? And what about the giants they begot when they did marry? What about the comings and goings of Enoch's day between the worlds? What about his own status as "a wild man, . . . a strange thing in the land"? (Moses 6:38.) Who were his people, living in a distant land of righteousness, who never appear on the scene? What about the Three Nephites, whose condition so puzzles Moroni, until he is told that they are neither mortal nor immortal? (Mormon 8:10-11.) What about the creatures we do not see around us? What about the Cainites? What about the nations among whom Noah will have surviving progeny?" 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 04:44:00 PM  

Clark,  his conclusion 'pre-Adamites don't matter' is predicated on his unbridgeable gap between them and us. Our origin matters because it is tied up with our destiny; if pre-Adamites are part of our origin, then contra Nibley, they do  matter. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 04:51:00 PM  

Nibley does say not to "deny them a place in God's affection or even a right to exaltation." 

Posted by Jared

8/15/2005 05:23:00 PM  

Yes, I wonder how he means this. Perhaps it's in the sense that all  animals that fill the measure of their creation are allowed to procreate in eternity. On the surface this would seem to require essentialism and eternalism along the lines of B. H. Roberts (and a literal interpration of the temple creation account, which Nibley would probably be inclined to). 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/15/2005 06:55:00 PM  

Much of Nibley's hesitancy with regards to natural selection and "Darwinism" is likely due to spiritual and social ramifications of the social application of "survival of the fittest." Coined by Spencer to apply to social Darwinism, this idea contrasted with Nibley's conviction that "Work we must, but the lunch is free." I think that he had less problem with evolution as a scientific principle than as a sociologic principle.

I think as important as the actual topic of Before Adam, is the fact that he had such a broad mind that he was able to read, understand and speak so well on so many topics. It seems that religious faculty have become somewhat narrowed and focused so as to not be able to comment intelligently on topics outside of religion. Thoughts?


Posted by Mike Wilson

8/16/2005 12:25:00 PM  

I agree with Mike. My suspicion, although it is only that, is that Nibley had deep philosophical issues with the idea of chance and survival of the fittest inherent in evolution. I think some of his asides slamming Dewey are kind of interesting in this regards. I really ought break out some of my Nibley books and write a sister article to this one. Great post Christian.

8/16/2005 02:44:00 PM  

I am a non-scientist who is now trying very hard to make sense of my religion with the limited brain power at my disposal. This topic is one that troubles me a great deal, so I am very interested in all of your comments. Nibley’s essay was referred to me a while ago as the answer to some of my questions about evolution, but I found it quite unsatisfying for reasons more eloquently expressed by Christian. I will greatly appreciate any insights any of you can share with me.

It appears to me that to reconcile Mormon doctrine with what science tells us about the history of the earth and human beings, I have to believe something like the following:

1. The earth is billions of years ago.
2. Beings who are human beings by any normal definition of that term have roamed the earth for more than a hundred thousand years. I don’t know how much we really know about these ancient humans, but it appears to me that we know that they inhabited every continent, lived in societies, made tools etc. tens of thousands of years ago. These pre-Adamites were the result of an evolutionary process extending over hundreds of millions of years.
3. Adam and Eve arrived here in Missouri by some means approximately 6,000 years ago. The date is uncertain, but there does not seem to be room in our scriptures for this date to be off by tens of thousands of years.
4. Adam and Eve were different from the pre-Adamites because they were spirit children of God. Their spirits may or may not have inhabited bodies that are genetically identical to the “pre-Adamites” but they were special because they are children of God in a sense that the pre-Adamites then on the earth were not.
5. All human beings currently on the earth are descendants of Adam and Eve and are spirit children of God in the same sense that Adam and Eve were.
6. The pre-Adamites either mysteriously vanished shortly after the arrival of Adam and Eve, or there was extensive interbreeding such that there are no pure bred pre-Adamites left on the earth. Presumably this interbreeding happened quickly such that there have been no non-Adamic humans on the earth for a real long time.

To be honest, this strains credulity, but I think any reconciliation of Mormonism and science forces me into accepting something like the foregoing. Have I understood this correctly or am I missing something? Is there a better reconciliation? If you think I am completely out to lunch, by all means let me know. This is of more than mere academic interest to me.

Posted by gary

8/16/2005 03:26:00 PM  


We may need to dub you gary #2 or something, since it would be easy to confuse you with another Gary who has posted here.

I think that the scenario you lay out is certainly one way to look at it. I can't comment extensively now, but my general advice is to not make any swift judgments. I think I am making progress in my own thoughts on the topic, but it takes time and pondering. 

Posted by Jared

8/16/2005 05:18:00 PM  

Mike,  I too am appreciative of Nibley’s willingness to dig into this stuff. There seems to be a general sense of ‘all that will be revealed later.’ This may be true, but assuming so too quickly leads to complacency in both willingness to obtain knowledge by either study or revelation. Because the focus of the leaders is on the growth and health of the Church, I suspect they won’t seek revelation on these matters unless there comes a point where it’s causing trouble for more than just a handful of members.  

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/16/2005 07:33:00 PM  

gary,  I too think these are consequential matters. This is one of the very few places where claims of the Church make contact with the ‘real world,’ so careful consideration is warranted.

To see what we’ve come up with so far you can peruse our Reconciliation Notebooks linked on the sidebar. Jeffrey has by far gone the furthest and the fastest in working out some possibilities; Jared and I are plugging along more slowly.

Thanks for your interest, and stop by regularly. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/16/2005 07:37:00 PM  

BTW - in the spirit of Christian's post, I've taken an other of Nibley's articles to comment on . I'm more interested at getting at some of Nibley's underlying presuppositions. But it's an interesting paper in its own right. I'll have a few follow up posts on this particular paper. 

Posted by Clark

8/17/2005 01:10:00 PM  

To: srmarsh@adrr.com

All human beings currently on the earth are descendants of Adam and Eve  in exactly the same way that they are all children of Abraham . Take that as a preface to my comments.

Now, a couple of points.

First, Nibley changed his mind regularly and explored topics over and over again from different views. His views on the Watchers and the children of men are a great example of this.

Were the "Sons of God and the daughters of men" eternal beings or angels of some sort who fell, holders of the priesthood who mingled with others, literal sons of Adam who married the children of the mud (pre-adamites) or some other group?

I've always found Noah's grandson who divided the land with the gentiles an interesting one ... Noah's people ran into others and divided the land fairly quickly it seems.

Anyway, back to the point (or points). Humanity seems to have been around for a long time, but at a level of nest building and tool use not that different from other primates. Suddenly, there is an explosion. Hafted tools, agriculture and more.

If there is a real fall, then Adam becomes "one of us" and branches out, which is the model Nibley liked, most of the time.

That most of the time is an important point, as Nibley was exploring and re configuring what he thought over and over again.

So, second point, take all of the above in the context of Nibley never having a last word other than we need to repent and seek God.

In which regards, it is interesting that God told the early brethren "preach nothing but repentance to this generation."  

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

8/18/2005 05:04:00 AM  

Stephen, I agree that the fact that this article may only be a snapshot in his evolving thinking is important to remember. I think a bias towards tentativeness is also (usually) admirable. Unfortunately I'm not familiar enough with Nibley's body of work to know if there are other sources where he treats the subject at length. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

8/18/2005 08:02:00 AM  

Some of the themes he hits over and over again -- such as the Watchers/Sons of God -- from many different directions.

Some, like pre-adamic life, he did not discuss much because all it did was set off hostile and ignorant responses and he had a lot of other things to explore.

As to evolution, he felt that the classic model was flawed (which is a general consensus) and did not update himself much more, though he acknowledged something was happening (which is the general consensus).

His general attitude (at least as far as I can tell, I did not have any in depth discussions with him, just passing ones and a lot of reading and some time with Don Norton) was that there were obviously pre-adamic men of some sort, it was sinful to deny them their place before God, the original evolutionists (including their baggage) were on to something, but they didn't have it right, and there were more important things to focus on.

If you put the fall of Adam closer to ten thousand years ago, with the indo-european post flood diffusion (and a localized flood that was), etc. you do get a remarkable change in what humanity was. If you compare the first two hundred thousand years to the last ten thousand, there is a dramatic difference. 70,000 years to make a small change in the way flint is chipped. Can you imagine 70,000 years between automobile models?


Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

8/19/2005 05:50:00 AM  

Some of the themes he hits over and over again -- such as the Watchers/Sons of God -- from many different directions.

Some, like pre-adamic life, he did not discuss much because all it did was set off hostile and ignorant responses and he had a lot of other things to explore.

As to evolution, he felt that the classic model was flawed (which is a general consensus) and did not update himself much more, though he acknowledged something was happening (which is the general consensus).

His general attitude (at least as far as I can tell, I did not have any in depth discussions with him, just passing ones and a lot of reading and some time with Don Norton) was that there were obviously pre-adamic men of some sort, it was sinful to deny them their place before God, the original evolutionists (including their baggage) were on to something, but they didn't have it right, and there were more important things to focus on.

If you put the fall of Adam closer to ten thousand years ago, with the indo-european post flood diffusion (and a localized flood that was), etc. you do get a remarkable change in what humanity was. If you compare the first two hundred thousand years to the last ten thousand, there is a dramatic difference. 70,000 years to make a small change in the way flint is chipped. Can you imagine 70,000 years between automobile models?


Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

8/19/2005 05:51:00 AM  

He pretty much slams evolution continually in the essay I'm dealing with. I think he's wrong (on many points)

I should add that Nibley seemed to have some beliefs that he clearly didn't want public. Ask him about A/G for instance and you'd get an answer along the lines of "you don't really expect me to answer that, do you?"

8/25/2005 02:05:00 PM  

Good summary Stephen -- that is just what I gather from Nibley's writings as well. I suspect his "slams" on evolution were mostly in opposition to the idea that Adam was a lower form of life. I think, as has been said here, that he believed that Adam was divine in some sense and that as such both he and Eve were the highest forms of men the planet has seen (with the exception of Jesus). 

Posted by Geoff J

8/30/2005 08:24:00 PM  

Just came to this after a long summer. Good comments.

My thinking on Adam and Pre-Adamites has actually evolved over the summer. ;-)

As I pondered the development of Nephite society, and how Nephites and Lamanites must have absorbed other groups into their own, and how Paul speaks of the adoption into Israel and a son of Abraham, I pondered whether there might have been a cultural adoption of pre-Adamites into the family of Adam?

We read in Book of Moses where Adam had many children prior to Cain and Abel. Are these literal children, or are they culturally adopted by Adam as the first man?

Second, even though Adam and Eve have these children, Eve glories in Cain as being a child raised up in the Lord. Does this have to do with the gospel of Christ not being taught fully until the angel appears to Adam at the altar, or is it because the other "children" are pre-Adamites? 

Posted by Gerald Smith

9/21/2005 08:02:00 AM  


Just to add to your comment, it also seems strange that Adam and Eve's children would so readily disbelieve. For Pete's sake, under a traditional reading they are the only  people around. Why should they not believe Adam and Eve? It seems to me that there must have been a persuasive alternative. 

Posted by Jared

9/21/2005 08:17:00 AM  



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