9/08/2005

Thinking About the Fall, Part 1/2

One of the main theological objections to evolution is that it is incompatible with the Fall. Since the scriptures tie the Fall and the Atonement together, some believe that any implications that evolution may have for the Fall carry through to the Atonement, the heart of the gospel. I'm not sure that such must be the case, but I will leave that topic alone and focus on the Fall.


In discussing the Fall, a question we might ask up front is "what do we know and what don't we know?" The answer is not an easy one because it depends on the amount of weight given to any particular commentary. Some in the broader Christian community argue that everything in Genesis must be factually true, or else the whole Bible is unreliable. Some Latter-day Saints seem to buy into this reasoning, but strictly speaking such an argument is false when judged by the standard of Mormon theology. Elder Packer has said,
Now, about the Creation. What is said in the revelations about the Creation, though brief, is repeated in Genesis, in the Book of Mormon, in Moses, in Abraham, and in the endowment. We are told it is figurative insofar as the man and woman are concerned. ("The Law and the Light") [It pre-dates me, but apparently the last sentence is derived from previous wording in the endowment.]
It seems to me that the line between literal and figurative in Genesis has not been clearly drawn, but for the sake of discussion I think we can safely make a few judgments. Let's look at a few examples.

Adam and Eve: The scriptures consistently speak of Adam and Eve as actual people. Although it might be tempting to argue that the prophets who wrote the scriptures just assumed that Adam and Eve were real, such an argument becomes more difficult in the face of the teachings of modern prophets. Joseph Smith repeatedly taught that Adam was a real person, that he is Michael the archangel, and that in terms of priesthood, he stands at the head of the human family. Furthermore, Joseph Smith identifies Adam in vision (D&C 137). Joseph F. Smith also identified Adam and Eve in his vision of the spirit world (D&C 138:38-39). Although questions about whether the visions were intended to communicate factual information might be interesting, overall it seems that the historical reality of Adam and Eve is too ingrained in LDS scripture and theology to be easily removed. I am not aware of any General Authorities who have felt otherwise.

The Garden of Eden: Joseph Smith identified Missouri as the location of the Garden of Eden. This identification has not actually been canonized, nevertheless it would seem difficult to dispense with the historicity of the Garden of Eden without doing violence to Joseph Smith's prophetic status.

Eve Formed from Adam's Rib: At least three LDS authorities (Brigham Young, Specer W. Kimball, Bruce R. McConkie) have designated this part of the story as figurative. (For Kimball and McConkie, see "The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood," Ensign, March 1976 and "Christ and the Creation," Ensign, June 1982.) A number of prophetic commentators would also view Adam's creation from the dust as figurative.

The Tree of Life/Knowledge of Good and Evil: Opinions regarding the trees may vary, but at least Elder Bruce R. McConkie designated the trees and their fruit as figurative.
To Adam and Eve the command came: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Moses 3:16–17.) Again the account is speaking figuratively. What is meant by partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is that our first parents complied with whatever laws were involved so that their bodies would change from their state of paradisiacal immortality to a state of natural mortality. ("Christ and the Creation," Ensign, June 1982)


Other elements of the story such as the serpent, or Adam and Eve being naked, have not received as much attention and their status as either literal or figurative probably do not matter. Since the central objects of the story (ie. the trees and fruit) can be legitimately be viewed as figurative, I am inclined to view these other elements as figurative as well.

Accepting that Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden were historical realities, we still know almost nothing about what actually occured in the Garden and how Adam and Eve became mortal. This being the case, it strikes me as a little strange to say that evolution and the Fall cannot both be true.

[I should also point out that we know very little about how the Atonement actually works. Thus, when it is suggested that limiting the paradisiacal state of the earth to the Garden of Eden also limits the effects of the Atonment to that square acreage, I have to wonder whether the infinite Atonement is really limited by such technicalities.]

10 Comments:

I think that fair up to a point. It seems to me that the real issue is the nature of the fall and its universality. It is that question of universality that is the heart of the disagreement. (As I think Gary brings up rather well)

I think the issue of figurative features is fine. But I don't think they get to the heart of the issue unless one reads it purely as a type of our personal journey. However as you mentioned, that's hard, given that so much of our theology requires an actual Adam and Eve. So the question becomes (assuming as I think we must the universality for at least human children of God) how we deal with pre-Adamites.

And that's a real theological challenge. I don't think it as big as the evolutionist critics do. But I do agree it is problematic. 

Posted by Clark

9/07/2005 11:24:00 PM  

Clark,

Part 2 doesn't contain a reconciliation per se, but I'm going to list some ideas that might be helpful. They don't address your points directly, but they do have some connections. 

Posted by Jared

9/08/2005 06:59:00 AM  

Some of my related comments at:

http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=319#comment-6333

The fall is where Adam moves from a Terrestial state to a Telestial one and joins humanity which becomes humanity at that point, rather than what it was.

9/08/2005 10:56:00 AM  

Oh, that's definitely the view I favor Stephen. But I do have to acknowledge there being problems with it. 

Posted by Clark

9/08/2005 05:43:00 PM  

Most of the problems go away when you read the Book of Moses and the lands = worlds ... the scope of a "world" is a river valley or less.

Suddenly a lot of things make a lot of sense. 

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

9/08/2005 06:24:00 PM  

Have any of the commenters considered the Fall as a sort of literal falling from heaven -- ie a mini condescension of all the children of God that we all participate in? That way the fall of man is more literal than simply Adam and Eve falling... Just wondering. 

Posted by Geoff J

9/08/2005 07:42:00 PM  

Geoff,

Part 2  has some of what you describe. I like your wording. 

Posted by Jared

9/08/2005 08:07:00 PM  

Geoff, that's a common view. It is also coincidentally a very  common Jewish view. One day I ought write something up on this, as it is actually a place where Jewish and LDS thought match, although how we interpret it is different. (Yes that sounds contradictory, but the basic idea is whether to take the statements we'd agree upon allegorically, spiritually or literally) 

Posted by Clark

9/08/2005 09:52:00 PM  

While we don't know the details or the mechanics of how Adam and Eve were changed from immortal to mortal status, there ARE some things we know about the Fall:

1)Before the Fall there was "no death". Whether this applies only to the individuals in the Garden, or to the whole earth, is unknown, however, remember, Adam and Eve were not created in the Garden, they were created somewhere to the west of it, (Kansas maybe?), and then introduced there, so the limitation of the boundaries of the Garden may not be valid.

2) In their original state there was no blood flowing through their veins. Instead they were "quickened" by "spirit", whatever that means. This changed as a result of the Fall. There was also no sickness, disease, or carnivoracity prior to the Fall.

3) After the Fall, they were subject to all of the above. There is no evolutionary explanation for human or animal changing from an immortal state to a mortal one.

These details are not figurative, they are literal. So regardless of whether there was trees or a snake, the fact that a tangible change occured in their physical bodies seems problematic for evolutionists.

9/19/2005 07:00:00 AM  

Rob,

That Missouri constitutes "eastward" has always seemed a little strange to me--especially if you assume that the description applies to Pangea. It's like saying Las Vegas is eastward in the U.S.

Stephens and Meldrum suggest that this is also symbolism. (See here and here for some ideas.)

Regarding blood, I'm not sure what to think. I've discussed this a little bit before. I can't find anybody before Joseph Fielding Smith (beginning as an Apostle) who taught this. (I can't trace it past Man.) I wouldn't argue that it is not an official teaching, but it seems a little speculative to me.

9/19/2005 05:49:00 PM  

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