4/30/2005

Jared's Reconciliation Notebook




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4/29/2005

Adam as God in Evolution

Having already established two possible versions of Adam worth accepting, Adam as symbolic myth and Adam as (first) prophet, it's become clear that some what even more. Saying that Adam was merely the first father of the faithful, similar to Abraham, doesn't seem to go far enough. We want him to to have had a real fall. A fall which is more meaningful than our fall into mortality. A fall which actually effects us and the world in some way.

The final version of Adam that we will consider can, in fact, accomplish this. Not only that, but prophets have actually taught this version of Adam in the past, something which cannot be said for the other two versions. The draw back, however, is that this version of Adam has long since fallen into disrepute. We are having a hard enough time as it is trying to get members to believe in one theory which many if not most church leaders reject (evolution). How could we ever get them to accept another with it (Adam-God doctrine)?

I will not attempt a full expose of the doctrine and its difficulties here, except as applied to evolution. For those who want to discuss the merits and demerits of the doctrine in general should go to my site here where I have launched a preemptive strike of sorts.

It was Hugh Nibley who first indirectly pointed to the possibility of this version of Adam as related to evolution: "One of our biggest stumbling blocks is not knowing how Adam relates to other beings, earthly and heavenly. That is the root of the Adam-God misunderstanding. (Until we care to look into the matter seriously, I will keep my opinions in a low profile.)" A tantalizing quote to say the least.

The main proponent of the A/G doctine by any account was Brigham Young. Though others did believe and teach the doctrine as well, Brigham had the clearest concepts regarding what this doctrine entailed. Brigham was, by all accounts, the origin of the doctrine in everybody else who believed it with one notable exception. Brigham Young claimed on numerous occasions to have recieved the doctrine from Joseph Smith. Joseph's plural wife, Helen Mar Whitney backed up this claim by Brigham. While some of Joseph's later teaching seem to point in the A/G direction, we have no record of him actually reaching the A/G in his teachings, so we will focus instead on Brigham's ideas.

It might be profitable to here look at Brigham's ideas concerning evolution since he seems to have maintained a very different view of the creation of man compared to the rest of us today.
"I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood.
"You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, 'If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago, our studies are all in vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain....'
"In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts—they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing...
"If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant... How long it [the 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 14:115-117

"How pleased we would be to place these thing before the people if they would receive them! How much unbelief exists in the mind of the Latter-Day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed unto them, and which God revealed to me--namely that Adam is our father and God--I do not know, I do not inquire, I care nothing about it. Our Father Adam helped to make this earth, it was created expressly for him, and after it was made he and his companions came here, He brought one of his wives with him, and she was Called Eve, because she was the first woman upon the earth. Our Father Adam is the man who stand at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or whoever will come upon the earth. I have been found fault with by the ministers of religion because I have said that they were ignorant. But I could not find any man on the earth who cold tell me this, although it is one of the simplest things in the world, until I met and talked with Joseph Smith.
[In clarifying certain remarks made by his brother, Joseph Young, the President said:] "My brother said that God is as we are. He did not mean those words to be literally understood. He meant simply, that in our organization we have all the properties in embryo in our bodies that our Father has in his , and that literally, morally, socially, by the spirit and by the flesh we are his children, Do you think that God, who holds the eternities in his hands and can do all things at his pleasure, is not capable of sending forth his own children, and forming this flesh for his own offspring? Where is the mystery in this? We say that Father Adam came here and helped to make the earth. Who is he? He is Michael: a great Prince, and it was said to him by Elohim, "Go ye and make an earth." What is the great mystery about it? He came and formed the earth. Geologists tell us that it was here millions of years ago. How do thy know? They know nothing about it but suppose it was here, what of it? Adam found it in a state of chaos, unorganized and incomplete. Philosophers, again, in talking of the development of the products of the Earth, for instance, in the vegetable kingdom, say the little fibers grew first, then the larger vegetation. When this preparatory stage was completed then came the various orders of the animal creation; and finally man appeared. No matter whether these notions are true or not, they are more or less speculative. Adam came here and got it up in a shape that would suit Him to commence business. What is the mystery about it? None that I have seen.
"Adam came here, and they brought his wife. "Well," says one, "why was Adam called Adam?" He was the first man on the earth, and its framer and maker. He, with the help of his brethren, brought it into existence. Then he said, "I want my children who are in the spirit world to come and live here. I once dwelt upon an earth something like this, in a mortal state. I was faithful, I received my crown and exaltation.. I have the privilege of extending my work, and to its increase there will be no end. I want my children that were born to me in the spirit world to come here and take tabernacles of flesh that their spirits may have a house, a tabernacle or a dwelling place as mine has, and where is the mystery?
"Now for mother Eve. The evil principle always has and always will exist. Well, a certain character came along, and said to Mother Eve, "The Lord has told you that you must not do so and so, for if you do you shall surely die. But I tell you that if you do not do this you will never know good from evil, your eyes will never be opened, and you may live on the earth forever and ever, and you will never know what the Gods know." The evil told the truth, what is the mystery about it? He is doing it today. He is telling one or two truths and mixing them with a thousand errors to get the people to swallow them. I do not blame Mother Eve, I would not have had her miss eating the forbidden fruit for any thing in the world. I would not give a groat it I could not understand light from darkness." Deseret News, June 18, 1873

I should note that the things which Brigham considered so speculative more than a century ago are no longer very speculative. Brigham Young was somewhat skeptical of evolution for a number of reasons: 1) the false theory of social darwinism which was being taught in relation to evolution was directly contrary to the United Order he was at that time trying to establish. 2) Darwin's book didn't come out until very late in his life and it doesn't appear that he ever gave the book a read through. 3) Brigham was like most religious people at the time and was very skeptical of theories which did not exactly conform to the revelations he considered true. Luckily for us, he wisely allowed the theory some elbow room just in case further investigation demonstrated its validity.

It should also be noted that when Apostle Orson Hyde in a general conference talk in October 1854 said: "The world was peopled before the days of Adam.When God said, Go forth and replenish the earth, it was to replenish the inhabitants of the human species, and make it as it was before," Brigham commented: "I do not wish to eradicate any items from the lecture Elder Hyde has given us this evening... We have had a splendid address from brother Hyde, for which I am grateful. I feel in my heart to bless the people all the time, and can say amen to brother Hyde's last remarks."

That said, we must confess that all of Brigham's ideas surrounding A/G can fit into our evolutionary model. We must deal with the preexistence and spirit birth and the fall. After that, I will attempt to present a version of the A/G theory which some may find acceptable.

We have already seen that accepting a literal spirit birth while up holding evolution is very difficult if not impossible. The same holds for BY's views. He believed Adam to be the father of us all, both spiritually and physically speaking. While it is not what BY believed it is still possible to "socialize" our spirit birth by saying that we were adopted by A/G in the preexistence.

With regards to the fall, some of BY's will also need to be modified. For one, the earth has always been fallen. If we take the second quote from BY seriously though, this does not present to big of a problem either. Where the problem does arise is in the fall of man, but this is also where the strength of this version of Adam comes into play. Adam already was our father when He fell, therefore His fall actually could affect us somehow. We need, however, to be more specific than "somehow". The fall introduced four things: 1) spiritual death, 2) physical death, 3) procreation and 4) knowledge.

With regards to spiritual death, Brigham's views are rather murky. He doesn't seem to have believed that Adam sinned in eating the fruit. He continued to maintain that Adam transgressed a commandment but he strongly felt that it was intended by God and Adam that this would happen. This is not sin by anybodies definition. It seems that BY was slightly modifying his statements or perhaps his beliefs in order to better accord with scripture. What I am suggesting is that under BY's doctrine, Adam didn't really suffer a spiritual death in the same way that we do because He never actually sinned. He was separated from the "presence of God", but this should be clarified since He was God. Put another way, He was separated from the presence of the Gods in heaven, the same as we are at birth. It would seem, then, that Adam suffered the same spiritual death that babies do at birth and nothing more. (It should also be noted that this was the same spiritual death which Jesus also suffered.) This is interesting because it almost suggests that BY believed exactly what we have already said in previous posts, namely that spiritual death is almost entirely an individual process.

As to physical death, our response will be similar. While Adam came to earth an made Himself mortal, He didn't necessarily cause mortality in anyone other than Himself. The earth was already a fallen place and whenever it was that He came, there were already men and women living and dying in the world.

The same can be said for procreation, though there are further issues regarding procreation which must be addressed. In our posts on spirit birth and self-existing spirits Greg noted that we must account for the "continuation of lives" promises as found in section 132. We noted that Joseph never specified whether these would be spritual lives (in which case we can still adopt the "spiritual adoption" model) or physical. In fact, Nauvoo sources seem to indicate that Joseph believed that it would actually be a continuation of parenting physical children. Consider a few quotes:
"In teaching us the 'Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man', we could begin to see why we should 'love God supremely and our brother as ourselves' - He [Joseph] taught us that God was the great head of human procreation -was really and truly the Father of our spirits and our bodies." - Benjamin F. Johnson
"Now regarding Adam: He came here from another planet an immortalized being and brought his wife, Eve, with him, and by eating of the fruits of this earth became subject to death and decay and he became of the earth, earthly, was made mortal and subject to death." - Anson Call.
"A tenfold glory, that's the prize! Without it [Eternal Marriage] you're undone! But with it you will shine as bright as the bright shining sun. There you may shine like mighty Gods, creating worlds so fair, at least a world for every wife that you take with you there." - A satirical expose of Joseph's secret Nauvoo teachings printed in the Warsaw Message Feb. 7, 1844

In was because of this very doctrine that both Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball were preaching things which were very A/G-like only a couple of months after Joseph's death.

Here, I suspect, is the connection between what Joseph taught in Nauvoo and what Brigham taught in Salt Lake. Joseph believed that spirits are not created, they are co-eternal with God. He therefore believed that the "continuation of seeds" referred to physical birth. It was already clear well before Nauvoo that J.S. believed that Adam was a physical son of God. What B.Y. believed was that Adam was the God who had physical sons. The title of God was moved from Adam's father to Adam himself. Now did B.Y. do this or did J.S.? It is unclear, but it seems clear that Brigham strongly believed that either J.S. did it, or was definitely on his way to doing it himself. After all, which way helps God, whoever He is, continue His seeds more: coming to earth for a little bit and having one son named Adam or coming to earth for a long time and giving birth to many sons named Cain, Able, Seth, etc.?

With regards to the gaining knowledge part of the fall we can also see that Brigham's view would be different than most members'. Adam did not learn much of anything that He hadn't already learned elsewhere by partaking of the fruit. Brigham believed that a veil of forgetfulness had been drawn over Adam, but I would suggest that these statements, like those referring to spiritual death, refer to the symbolic Adam (meaning us) than to the Adam-God. We come here to learn, not God.

Why did Adam-God come here then? It depends on where we put Him. We could put Him as one of the Y-Chromosome Adam's. Remember, every single one of the most recent Y.A.'s male ancestors was also a Y.A. as well. Our Adam-God could have been anyone of those men. If such is the case then it would seem that Adam-God came here for one purpose, to procreate. As can be seen from our discussion, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

If we put Adam-God at about 6,000 years ago, as BY certainly would have, he could have come not only to procreate, but to teach, to bring the priesthood and do all the things which we attribute to Jesus in addition to his atonement. We would not, however, under this model be able to maintain that everybody is the descendant of God in the same way or to the same degree. This, as we have seen in other threads, can lead to rather unpleasant consequences.

There is a way out of this. It is not impossible for Adam-God to have fulfilled both roles. There is no contradiction in Him having come to earth twice. This does not necessarily mean that He had to fall twice by eathing the fruit. After all, according to Brigham, there was actually a third time when Adam-God came to earth to sire a child, namely Jesus. (For other questions regarding A/G's relationship to Jesus and the Atonement I would assume deal with those issues at my other site, for they have little to do with evolution as such.)

We can see that the Adam as God version has benefits as well. It is fully compatible with the "symbolic myth" and "(first) prophet" models. It establishes a closer connection with Adam, both physically and spiritually speaking. It also seems to establish a closer connection with God than we were left with in our discussion regarding spirit birth. It also seems to agree with Joseph's King Follett sermon to a large extent as well. It's just that some members are very uneasy with doctrinal renovations which must be made in their mind to accommodate such a doctrine.

Summary: While our previous versions of Adam were acceptable with evolution, they were never taught by any prophet. The version of Adam as God, however, has. While this version has its benefits, its doctrinal corralaries might simply be too much for most members.

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4/27/2005

An Ambiguous Ecclesiastical Constitution: The Authority of the President

In a previous post I mentioned that "the leading councils of the Church have the right to establish doctrine," but deliberately avoided specifics. This is because my main point was that we should not get too hung up on "doctrine" in thinking about factual matters subject to scientific investigation (such as evolution), as "doctrine" may primarily represent the community's need for bounds on official discourse, and may not correspond precisely with ontological reality.

Still, the issue of how the leading councils of the Church establish doctrine is an interesting and nontrivial one. A major textual resource---an ecclesiastical constitution, essentially---is Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which will be considered here in isolation. This section defines the leading councils and describes their relationships to one another. To put it gently, this section contains several subtleties, or complexities, or ambiguities. (No need to gratuitously unnerve anyone with the word "contradictions"!) This post examines one of these ambiguities: Does the President of the Church have ultimate authority?

The authority conferred upon the "President of the High Priesthood of the Church; Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church" (D&C 107:65-66) is extensive, as described in two passages.

The first description of the President's authority concerns the administration of ordinances. "From the same comes the administering of ordinances and blessings upon the church, by the laying on of the hands" (D&C 107:67). Perhaps this is the source of the notion that the President of the Church holds all the keys, usually described as the authority to direct how the priesthood is exercised---that is, when and by whom ordinances are performed. As indicated, he may delegate these keys to others.

The second description of the President's authority is more broad:
And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—--

Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church. (D&C 107:65-66)
It is a comprehensive description, in both scope of authority ("over the whole church") and access to divine power and knowledge ("all the gifts of God").

As it so happens, there are also two passages suggesting limitations on the President's authority.

The first "limitation" passage comes in a description of the First Presidency, before the office of President is even specifically mentioned. The First Presidency's decisions
must be by the unanimous voice of the same...

Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men. (D&C 107:27,29)
This seems to be a clear indication that the united voice of the First Presidency carries greater weight than the President acting alone.

The second limitation on the President's authority arises out of a discussion of a bishop's authority as a "judge in Israel," which includes authority "to sit in judgment upon transgressors" (see D&C 107:68-84). The "most difficult cases...shall be handed over and carried up unto the council of the church, before the Presidency of the High Priesthood" [that is, the First Presidency], who "shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors" (D&C 107:78-79). It is specifically noted that
There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church.

And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;

And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.

Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (D&C 107:81-84)
Hence the President's authority does not extend to preventing judgment upon him by a council consisting of the other members of the First Presidency and twelve counselors chosen by them.

There is a sense among members of the Church of supreme authority vested in the President of the Church. In D&C 107 there is some language that might be invoked to support this idea, but there also seem to be clear limitations. Implications for the establishment of doctrine will be deferred to a later post, after other ambiguities in this constitutional document have been explored.

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Adam as (First) Prophet in Evolution

In our quest to find a version of Adam which can stand up to scientific scrutiny and at the same time be worth wanting, we have already considered two options. First, we investigated the possibility of Adam having been the first human and father of all, but we saw that this view simply cannot be maintained while endorsing evolution. Next, we considered Adam to be a symbolic myth and saw that this version could stand up to scientific scrutiny and was, to a large extent, worth wanting. From a Mormon perspective, however, this version may be a bit lacking since modern revelation has commited us to a historical Adam. Now we should try to give our Adam some historicity.

Perhaps Adam, while not being the father of us all physicallly, might have been the first father of the faithful, similar to Abraham. This version of Adam has numerous benefits as we shall see.

First of all, we get to speak of a real Adam, who actually existed. We can accept the stories, at least the post-garden ones, as more or less authentic. This Adam could have had children named Cain, Abel and Seth. This Adam could have gathered all of his posterity together near the end of his life to give them a blessing. This Adam could have possessed the priesthood which he could have passed on to his childre, and so on down to us. This Adam could have been baptized. Most of all, this Adam could have lived more or less 6,000 years ago, maybe even on the American continent. We must note, however, that the reason why we believe Adam was on the American continent had more to do with the location of the Garden of Eden as a place of paradise than with historical accuracy.

We should not get carried away though. I would be VERY hesitant to say that he actually past the age of 70, let alone 900. I would also be disinclined to treat the Garden story as historical for reasons we mentioned in my last post. This Adam was not responsible for the fall of mankind, let alone the entire earth. In other words, a separation must still exist between what we can term the historical Adam and the mythic Adam.

Could he have been the first prophet? It is not unnatural to want this since surely we must believe that Adam was the first something or another. I would not have a problem with my collegues accepting him as such, but I for one will refrain. This is not due to some desire of mine to emphasize my reterodoxy, but for other reasons.

For one, such a reading would force us to abandon one of the Mormon evolutionist's favorite quotes from Hyrum Smith: "There were prophets before Adam, but Joseph has the spirit of them all." Thus, if we are to accept this quote as having any validity at all, we must confess that not only were there people before Adam, but there were prophets as well.

The second reason for my rejection of Adam being the first prophet has to do with the context which such a scenario would require. Could we believe that after having ignored the other men around Adam, who differed from him in no essential manner, God suddenly breaks silence with Adam? While of course God had to speak to somebody first, I would suggest that God's influence which He exherted over people gradually over the years started to become inspiration which in turn became, further down the line, revelation. God, I propose would always give what these hominids were capable of and willing to recieve from Him.

The third reason why I believe that there were prophets before Adam would come from the vast amounts of evidence which suggest that men had gradually took upon themselves religious beliefs prior to Adam. Pascal Boyer noted,
Obviously, we all know taht it is slightly absurd to wonder who invented religion or when this happened, since what we call 'religion' is a composite reality... The question... only makes sense if you decide which parts of this composite reality are crucial to religion...
The time when human brains established more connections between different inference systems, as we know from hunting and toolmaking techniques, was also the period when they created visual representations of supernatural concepts. Cave paintings and other artifacts began to include evidence of totemic and anthropomorphic representations as well as chimeras...
So it would seem that we know when people 'invented' religion: when such representations could occur in people's minds and exert enough fascination to be painstakingly translated into material symbols.

Boyer dates this to about 100,000 to 50,000 years ago. (See Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained" and Steve Mithen's "Prehistory of the Mind" for more details.) It was in this context of religious beliefs having evolves over many thousands of years when Adam was able to become what I would call the first great prophet.

We should here make clear what differences existed between Adam and his peers. 1) We cannot maintain that Adam had a spirit while those before and contemporary with him did not. This breeds essentialism as we have seen. 2) Adam was not the first person to receive religion in a vacuum. Instead, it was due to the religiousity developing in his proto-culture which would have led him to become the first great prophet. 3) Adam was not the first person to receive the light of Christ, inspiration or even most form of revelation. (See here for more details.)

What I do believe set Adam apart from his peers, making him the first great prophet, was his receiving the fullness of the priesthood bestowed by the highest form of revelation, actual physical contact with the Lord. It was thus that Adam received, what we can anachronistically call, the Abrahamic Covenant. This made him the first father of many nations, made him the first father of the faithful and gave him the promise of an inumerable posterity. It was this event that sections 84 and 107 refer to.

This also makes the symbolic Adam more meaningful as well, for it is in the temple that we symbolically become the mythic Adam and Eve in order to receive the Abrahamic Covenant along with all the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is there that we too become, quite literally, mythic Adam and Eve's.

Summary: Considering Adam to have been the first great prophet has many advantages. It allows for a historical Adam, while also enriching our views of the mythic Adam as well. Surely this is an Adam worth wanting.

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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?

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4/25/2005

Adam as Symbolic Myth in Evolution

In my last post we saw that the doctrine of Adam and Eve being the first man and woman not only makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective, but is completely incompatible with it. There was no first man and woman, especially ones that lived a mere 6,000 years ago on the American continent.

There are, however, alternative roles which we can assign to Adam and Eve in Mormon theology without scrapping the whole thing. This post will deal with the second option: considering Adam and Eve to be a symbolic myth.

This is becoming a fairly popular step for educated Christians, but we should not consider it a new step. For millennia now philosophers have tried to uncover the symbolic "more real" meaning behind scriptural accounts while considering the literal version to be a bit crass. They insisted that those who take the stories at face value are not enlightened at best. Is that all we are doing now?

I don't think so. Those of old came to their conclusions in spite of evidence, whereas we are letting the evidence at hand take us where it will. It has been shown rather conclusively that there never was an Adam and Eve who were the first humans to walk the earth. We are not merely trying to look past this for a deeper meaning. We are trying to take stock of what is important in this particular story and seeing if we can salvage the most important parts, whatever they may be. We are not seeking a more spiritual meaning. We are seeking a more accurate meaning.

As we have mentioned before, the ceremonial usage of the Garden story has always made the symbolic myth version rather appealling. How many rituals do we participate in where we are explicitly named "Lehi and Sariah"? How often are we instructed to consider ourselves as if we were "Abraham and Sarah"? Never. We only use the story of Adam and Eve in our rituals for the very reason that their story is so symbolic. The symbolism of Adam and Eve is what gives the rituals meaning, not their historical content.

When this perspective is adopted, other things fall into place as well. The confusion of trying to figure out when the word "Adam" refers to the person or to "mankind" essentially vanishes. The context of the story, which seems extraordinarily removed from reality as we know it, no longer presents a problem. After all, how often do we have meaningful dialogues with serpents? The seemingly conflicting account which are scattered not only through out the Bible, but through modern revelation as well, is not so bothersome either.

We need no longer be disturbed by the obvious similarities between our Biblical account and the accounts which were written earlier by neighboring cultures. After all, the supposed author of the Genesis story grew up in the Egyptian religion. Should we be all that surprised that Moses' account resembles theirs?

Also removed is the disturbing distance from which the authors are removed from those whom the story concerns. Nobody claims to have known this Adam person, at least nobody who wrote anything themselves. Nobody seemed to know where this Garden was either. The Genesis version of the garden occured more than 2,000 years after the fact! It is no wonder that the account seems more like myth and history. It had 2,000 years (again, at least) to be improved upon.

Thus such a version has it's up sides. We are no longer forced to answer the smart-aleck questions which young atheists try to stump believers with. We don't need to be side-tracked in reading the account by trying to provide a legitimate historical context. We can use the story as it was meant to be used, to describe us.

This is all well and good for non-LDS, but we have a unique problem. Our account of Adam goes well beyond Genesis 1-3. Doctine and Covenants traces priesthood through Adam. We speak of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Joseph Smith and Joseph F. Smith both saw Adam in vision. Are we willing to simply say that (the person, the places, the priesthood and the stories) are all myth too?

I'm not sure many Mormons will be comfortable with that. While this version of Adam stands up to scientific scrutiny, I'm not sure that it is worth wanting. Perhaps it would be better if we moved on to another version of Adam and see if we can find a better one.

Summary: Interpreting the story of Adam and Eve as a symbolic myth has become rather popular as of late. While this version of Adam does have its benefits, Mormons have commited themselves to a historical Adam in their modern revelations.

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BYU Evolution Packet Examined

[The following is a guest-post by Gary Shapiro.]

Two statements in the BYU Evolution Packet (as downloaded from the sidebar) are false. The first page (para. 5) says the 1931 First Presidency addressed "evolution and the origin of man," and the last page (para. 3) claims "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution." The discussions were not centered on theories of evolution or the origin of man.

           -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -

I will use the "pdf" page numbers because the pages in the document itself aren't numbered.


What is meant by "published by the Church"?

It's been suggested here that placing the Encyclopedia Evolution article in the BYU Evolution Packet might constitute being published by the Church. Three of the four items in the Packet were published by the Church—a long time ago.

The question is whether the 1931 excerpt has ever been issued by the Church to the general membership of the Church. And until it's been published in one of the Church's official magazines or in a Church published manual, the answer to this question will be "no."


The clout issue

It's also been suggested here that placing the Encyclopedia Evolution article in the BYU Evolution Packet gave "clout" to the article thereby undermining my thesis here that the article is fundamentally flawed.

I will discuss the clout question specifically, but I'll also address the relative position of the Encyclopedia Evolution article within the Packet in terms of its doctrinal authority.


The official introduction

We begin on pdf p.3, which is where the official Packet begins and is the official introduction to the Packet. This page describes the Packet's contents. There are three main paragraphs.

The first paragraph says the Packet contains all known statements issued by the First Presidency on science, evolution, and the origin of man. The known statements are listed. There are three:


1.   "The Origin of Man" was issued in November 1909. At 2,700 words, this is the predominant item in the Packet.

2.   "Words in Season" is a small 99 word excerpt from a First Presidency Christmas Message printed in the Deseret Evening News. It says the Church is not hostile to science.

3.   "Mormon View of Evolution" was issued in September 1925. This is a 560 word condensed version of the 1909 statement.

The fact that the Encyclopedia Evolution article was excluded from this list diminishes the "clout" supposedly conferred upon it by the Packet. We'll talk more about this later.


Evolution and the Origin of Man

Paragraph one affirms "there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing ... organic evolution as a process for development of biological species" (para. 1, pdf p.3; emphasis added).

But at the same time, it affirms the opposite regarding organic evolution as it applies to the origin of man, concluding "these documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man" (para.1, pdf p.3; emphasis added). Indeed, the page itself is titled "Evolution and the Origin of Man."

I've argued elsewhere on this site that the 1909 First Presidency statement gives clear counsel about the origin of man. See for example, here, here, and my discussion of its use in the 1980-81 Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide here.

Some commentators, on the other hand, argue that this statement does not "make clear" the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man. The Packet disagrees on that point.


An overview of Packet contents

Let's pause and review the contents of the ten official pages. There is the official introduction (a single page), the 1909 First Presidency statement (five pages), followed by the two paragraphs from the 1910 Christmas Message (part of a page).

Then there is the 1925 First Presidency statement (two pages quoted from the 1909 statement), and finally the Encyclopedia article (a single page).

In other words, all but three pages of the "official" BYU Evolution Packet either are the 1909 First Presidency statement, or are taken from it. Therefore, the 1909 First Presidency statement dominates the Packet and this adds meaning to its 2002 reprint.


A version for the general membership

Ten years after the Packet was created, the Church reprinted the entire 1909 First Presidency statement in its official magazine (see "The Origin of Man," Ensign, Feb. 2002, 26-30).

The Ensign magazine enjoys a much wider distribution among Church members than the BYU Evolution Packet. And the introductory paragraph in the Ensign says the statement "expresses the Church's doctrinal position on ... the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution." (Ibid.; emphasis added).

This reprint is essentially a version of the Evolution Packet that has been issued to the general membership of the Church.


The Encyclopedia Evolution article

The second paragraph states the Packet contains the Encyclopedia Evolution article.

This paragraph also states the current First Presidency authorized using the 1931 excerpt in the Encyclopedia article.

When asked about First Presidency involvement, William Evenson explained the article was reviewed and edited by Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency at the time. He pointed out that he didn't have access to the First Presidency Minutes and said the excerpt was added by President Hinckley.

Is Gordon B. Hinckley coauthor of the article?

Macmillan Publishing Company does not wrongly identify its authors. Many articles in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism carry the names of multiple authors. When William Evenson put his name on the article as its sole author, he accepted full responsibility for its content.

And when President Gordon B. Hinckley desires the general membership of the Church to adopt his interpretation of something, he will put his name on an article and we will read it in a Church publication.


The issue of formality

Paragraph three emphasizes that "formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions" (emphasis added). This helps us understand why the Encyclopedia Evolution article is not listed in the first paragraph.

Because the 1931 First Presidency minutes have never been formally issued by any First Presidency to the general membership of the Church, the excerpt could not be included in the first paragraph as equal in authority to the three statements that have been so issued.


The non-official two page introduction

Now, let's look at the two page introduction placed in the front of the Packet but identified as NOT part of it (pdf, pp.1-2).

These pages are from a newspaper article that was written by William Evenson, compiler of the Packet and author of the Encyclopedia Evolution article. (See pdf p.2.)


Completely and utterly false statements

In paragraph five, Evenson says the 1931 First Presidency was talking "about the Church's stance toward scientific studies of evolution and the origin of man" (pdf p.1; emphasis added). This parallels and echos the claim made in the Encyclopedia Evolution article that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution" (pdf p.12, para. 3).

Both of these statements are completely and utterly false. A complete explanation is given here. A short summary follows.


The topic of the 1931 discussion

The 1931 First Presidency memo from which the excerpt is taken quotes Elder B. H. Roberts saying that "the points questioned and the paper in defense of them [have] suspended the publication of my book — now in manuscript — 'The Truth, The Way, The Life'."

Elder Roberts wrote this book in 1927-1928 as a Melchizedek Priesthood study guide. Five members of the Quorum of the Twelve were assigned to review the manuscript. They found problems. But Elder Roberts was unwilling to make certain requested changes. Hence the increasing intensity of the discussions which continued for three and a half years until the First Presidency said on April 7, 1931:

"We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division, and misunderstanding if carried further."


Evenson reversed his position

Both the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and the BYU Evolution Packet were published in 1992. Two years later, in 1994, the Roberts manuscript was published by BYU Studies. Thirteen BYU scholars were invited to prepare critical essays discussing and analyzing various aspects of the book.

One of those essays was written by William Evenson. And it appears he has now recognized that the opinions of B. H. Roberts were "not those of an evolutionist" and the discussions "were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms." (William E. Evenson, "Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution," in The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p. 645; emphasis added.)

Let's just repeat that for emphasis: The opinions of B. H. Roberts were "not those of an evolutionist" and the discussions "were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms." (Ibid.) This could appropriately be considered the major point of the present article.

This is a complete turn around from what he said two years earlier, both in the Encyclopedia Evolution article and in the BYU Evolution Packet.

In his 1994 essay, Evenson further acknowledges that the Roberts book "addresses three forms of evolutionary theory [and] finds all three ... to be inadequate." (Ibid.) Evenson now concedes that B. H. Roberts "rejects all [1930s evolutionary] theories as he understands them [and] puts forward his own theory" to reconcile the scriptures with the fossil record. (Ibid.)


Salvaging the Encyclopedia Evolution article

Earlier, Jared asked two questions here about salvaging the Encyclopedia Evolution article.

Question: "If you are correct, that the reference to evolution in the context of the 1931 statement was an error, would changing the text to read something like, 'when there was intense discussion on the issue of the history of life on earth...' satisfy you as accurate?"

Answer: No. The intense nature of the discussion began and ended with the question of whether or not the Church would or could publish The Truth, The Way, The Life, written by Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy.

Question: "How would such a correction change the meaning of the EM article?"

Answer: Doctrinally, The Truth, The Way, The Life by Elder B. H. Roberts remains where the First Presidency left it in 1931. Subsequent Church Presidents have not publicly addressed that issue. When applied to other subjects, however, the 1931 decision is of little value.


Quotation error not yet corrected

One last minor thing. Let's clear up what was mistakenly said here about the BYU Evolution Packet correcting the word "proclaims" to "declares."

Actually, "declares" is the wrong word and "proclaims" is the right word. The word is quoted wrong in the Encyclopedia article and the BYU Evolution Packet didn't fix it (pdf p.12).


Summary and review


1.   Neither the Encyclopedia Evolution article nor the BYU Evolution Packet has been issued by the Church to its general membership. In this sense, neither of these documents has been "published" by the Church.

The BYU Evolution Packet is an internal document and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism is privately published.

2.   The BYU Evolution Packet does not confer the same clout on the Encyclopedia Evolution article that it does on the other three items.

The Encyclopedia Evolution article is not a formal Church declaration of anything. It lacks formality and presents an inaccurate view of what the 1931 excerpt is all about.

3.   While avoiding the issue of organic evolution as a process for development of biological species, the BYU Evolution Packet makes clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man.

4.   The 1909 First Presidency statement, "The Origin of Man," is the predominant item in the BYU Evolution Packet. In 2002, the Church essentially issued a version of the Evolution Packet to the general membership of the Church by reprinting the 1909 statement in the Ensign.

5.   When William Evenson allowed Macmillan Publishing Company to identify him as the sole author of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article about Evolution, he accepted full responsibility for its content.

6.   Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions. The BYU Evolution Packet acknowledges that neither the 1931 First Presidency excerpt nor the Encyclopedia Evolution article fall into this category.

7.   In 1994, William Evenson reversed his position regarding the 1931 topic of discussion. This could appropriately be considered the major point of the present article.

Thank you for allowing me to present my views on this subject.

[This has been a guest-post by Gary Shapiro]

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4/21/2005

Adam as the 1st Man in Evolution

We now finally come to Mc Conkie's seventh, and most popular objection to evolution. He rejects evolution because it denies Adam his rightful place in the plan of salvation:

Father Adam was the mightiest and most intelligent spirit son of God, save Jesus (Jehovah) only, among all the pre-existent hosts destined to come to this earth... When the populating of the earth was to commence, Adam came to fill his foreordained mission and stand as the first man of all men. He was placed in the Garden of Eden, fell in due course from his state of immortality and innocence, and became the first mortal flesh on earth...
As a mortal man, Adam held the priesthood, had the fulness of the gospel, heard the voice of God and saw his face, received the ministration of angels, held the keys of the kingdom, enjoyed the gifts of the Spirit, was an intelligent and wise as any man (save Jesus only) who has ever lived... He and other men of his day enjoyed abundant spiritual endowments and possessed physical bodies superior to those of any men now on earth. Many, including Adam, lived nearly a thousand years on earth.

This is where many members are simply unwilling to continue with the evolutionists. This has a lot to do with their ideas about the fall as we have already seen. For Mormons, however, the issue runs deeper for Adam becomes a real character, not just a symbol, in most of their modern scriptures. Joseph went so far as to give him a location, Missouri, and a time, about 6,000 years ago.

This, however, is one of many versions of the historical Adam which are currently accepted by at least some faithful Mormons. Granted, some of these other versions are hardly popular in the Church, but I maintain that they are viable options.

1) Adam as first man
2) Adam as symbolic myth
3) Adam as (first) prophet
4) Adam as God

Each of these versions of Adam will recieve their own treatment in individual posts.

Adam as the First Man

The most popular version of Adam in the church by far is the maintains that Adam was the first man. All people are equally and completely descendants of him and his wife Eve. This couple entered mortality sometimes around 4,000 B.C.E. somewhere in Missouri. Thus, all lineages of man lead back to this couple who lived a mere 6,000 years ago on the American Continent.

Not just evolution, but science in general says that this couldn't be further from the truth. They too speak of a Y-Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, the most recent male and female ancestors, respectively, from which we have inherited our Y Chromosomes and Mitochondria.

Let us discuss Mitochondria Eve. Consider how each and every human living today (we will call this set E.t) was born of one and only one mother. Thus if we consider all of these mothers to be set E.t-1 it will invariably be smaller than E.t since nobody has more than one mother, but many mother have more than one child. Now consider the mothers of all those in E.t-1, we shall call it E.t-2. It too will be smaller by the same reasoning. If we continue back through time this way, we will come to the set E.0, which has only 1 member, Mitochondrial Eve, the closest female ancestor of all humans now living. All the mitochondrial cells in any human being today can be traced back to her mitochondrial cells.

The same logic can hold for our Y-Chromosome Adam as well. All of the Y-Chromosomes found in any living human being today can ultimately be traced back to Y-Chromosome Adam. We should also mention that these two individuals cannot both be the Adam and Eve of the Bible for one simple reason, they were not married.

They didn't even live in the same millennium as eachother. Since paternity is far less time and energy consuming than is maternity, the tendency in much of nature is for men (some more so than others) to have far more offspring than women. This is especially the case in polygamous societies and tribes. Thus the sets A.t, A.t-1... A.0 and so on will shrink far faster than the E.t, E.t-1... E.0 sets will.

A few more details about Mitochondrial Eve (and implicitly Y-Chromosome Adam). We know that she had more than 1 daughter which survived to reproduce. If she only had 1 then this daughter would be Mitochondrial Eve instead.

Second, and even more importantly, she had no clue that she was Mitochondrial Eve. Such a title can only be given in retrospect, almost necessarily thousands of years after the fact. She only become M.E. when all the other women who were contemporeous with her, as well as all their non-M.E.-descendants die off and all that remains is descendant of M.E. This will not happen for many, many generations after M.E.'s death.

Third, and closely related, is the fact that there was nothing special about M.E. other than the fact that her progeny survive. That is the only thing that set her apart from her contemporaries. She was not the first woman in any aspect. She was not much stronger, faster, more beautiful or more clever than any other woman of her day. This derives from the fact that she was no more of a mutant than anybody else. Remember, evolution maintains that we are all mutants, just like M.E.

Therefore, M.E., or Y.A. by the same logic, is not a very special title. Suppose a virus were to wipe out even 50% of the world's population. Surely a new woman in the distant past would then retroactively inherit the title M.E. The events that determine who will be M.E. or Y.A. do not take place until many generations after such people have come and gone.

Well then, who was the first human? There was none. Remember, we have rejected essentialism. There was no point when anybody could say that a particular person was human while its parents were not. Similar to the crowning of M.E. speciation can only be declared many generations after the fact. Thus, there never was an Adam and Eve in the "first man and woman" sense.

While the Genographic Project currently underway will surely refine these numbers, we can give dates to M.E. and Y.A. as Jared has already done. Mitochondrial Eve lived in Africa about 160,000 years ago. Y-Chromosome Adam lived, very probably in Africa as well, about 60,000 years ago.

There is no evidence which points to there every having been a first man or woman in the popular sense. There is no evidence which points to a universally common ancestor living a mere 6,000 years ago, least of all in the American continent. This version of Adam and Eve must be rejected if we are to accept evolution.

Summary: The most popular reasons for rejecting evolution have to do with Adam and Eve. There are, however, numerous versions of Adam and Eve worth believing in. The most popular one, which maintains that they were the first man and woman, goes directly against all the evidence gathered by science and must, therefore, be rejected.

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On Doctrine

Greg is one of our frequent commenters, a thoughtful lawyer with an intense interest in what constitutes "doctrine," and what its significance is. His insightful questions and comments often irrupt into threads on various doctrinal concepts related to evolution. One of my comments in response became so long, I decided to promote it to a post in order to provide a place for more focused discussion of this question. This appears somewhat midstream in a series of exchanges across several threads, but I don't know that I can easily find or summarize what has gone before. Hence I simply begin here by meeting Greg on his own turf, trying an analogy with the law. (For more competent discussions along these lines by a real lawyer, explore the posts by Nate Oman at Times and Seasons.) Greg, eat your heart out!

I recognize that the leading councils of the Church have the right to establish doctrine, but I also believe that what is "official," or "canonized," or bound in leather at any given time is not pristine, perfected, glistening and crystalline Truth, but only a community's best collective judgment and perception of it, based on many complex factors I will not get into. I don't dispute that there has to be some sort of order, some mechanism for settling things (at least provisionally) for a community to cohere. I suspect, however, that the fact that it does not always represent the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth is historically demonstrable.

Where does this leave me, operationally, with notions of keys and authority and doctrine? Trying to play in your pond, here is my analogy with the law.

The Supreme Court settles "doctrine" and creates precedents that other courts must respect, for the sake of order. But this does not mean these are immune to refinement or utterly irreversible. There are law schools and think tanks where discussions rage and new ideas form. Either vertically, "up the chain of command" through appellate proceedings; or horizontally, through direct influence by way of law review articles, amicus briefs, or informal consultations, such discussions may end up influencing extensions, revisions, and (rarely) reversals by the Supreme Court of their own "doctrine."

Now, to "cash out" the analogy's application to the Church: the leading councils are like the Supreme Court. Their settled positions are accepted for the purposes of official Church discourse (and, for behavioral standards, Church membership). This means that in Sacrament Meeting talks, Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society discussions, and other "official" venues, I stick to the accepted positions (similar to courts respecting established precedent). But we know historically that "settled" on a time scale of years may still be "provisional" on longer time scales of decades and centuries. Moreover, experience with the real world sometimes suggests that Doctrine is not equivalent to Truth. Hence around the dinner table, and at other unofficial venues formal (e.g. magazines) and otherwise (e.g. blogs), discussion proceeds, in analogy to law schools, think tanks, etc. Some of the results of such discussions influence doctrine through vertical channels, either directly via private discussions between leaders at different levels of the hierarchy, or (probably more often in the Church) through promotion of leaders carrying their private views into office. There is probably some horizontal influence as well (though not as much as in the case of law reviews and amicus briefs in the legal setting), through consideration of the work of trusted and faithful scholars (I'll avoid the radioactive word "intellectuals" here).

A glaring omission here is the role of revelation. I don't know if any of the classical muses were associated with jurisprudence, but perhaps the notion of "revelation" might be accommodated in the legal analogy by creative legal genius divining a "right to privacy" from whole cloth, or deriving Brown v. Board of Education from a footnote in a case on the interstate commerce of milk (as I recall Nate Oman's description). Even with this omission, however, I think the description above captures something of the workaday realities of doctrinal "evolution." (My apologies for the pun---or, maybe not!)


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4/19/2005

The Natural Man in Evolution

Part of Mc Conkie's seventh objection is rather complex issue which is difficult to address though easy enough to state (most objections to evolution are this way, which is what makes lawyers such good proponents for IDC). He rejects evolution because it posits that we came from "lower" animals instead of from "higher" beings:

It is vain to belittle Adam and attempt to place him but a step ahead of some lower form of creature. Revelation speaks to the contrary. And, of course, the reasoning that concerns us here is: No Adam, no fall; no fall, no atonement; no atonement, no true religion, no purpose in life.

What makes this objection so surprising is that he hardly gives it any merit whatsoever. He only briefly mentions it in passing while discussing his thoughts concerning Adam. This is in stark contrast to his father in law
whose main reason for rejecting evolution was Darwin's "strange inversion of reasoning" that suggested that we came from the creatures below rather than the higher beings above. Joseph Fielding Smith simply could not conceal his utter contempt for such an idea:
This idea that everything commenced from a small beginning, from the scum upon the surface of the sea, and has gradually developed until all forms of life... is a falsehood absolutely... It is true that all life does come from the same source, but that is not the scum of the sea, a jellyfish or a pollywog... This false theory, which prevails in the world so extensively, is one that is debasing and not ennobling nor uplifting... Do you think that Adam, this great and important prince, the archangel before the presence of God, was a half-breed monkey?

In other words, we are too good to have come from monkeys. Nevertheless, the same people who cling most tenaciously to this doctrine of man's enobled nature are the first ones to lament at how we are but the dust of the earth, indeed, we are even lower than the dust because at least the dust obeys God. To say that we came from the dust of the earth, fine, but to claim that there was a gradual progression from the dust which culminated in us is somehow blasfemous. Am I the only one who sees an inconsistency in this?

Combine this with the doctrine of man's utter depravity before God. We are "born in iniquity and shaped in sin," and this is why the "natural man is an enemy to God." Well, which is it? Are we too good to come from animals or below even the dirt? Brigham Young noted this inconsistency in our beliefs concerning the nature of man:
"It is... universally received by professors of religion as a Scriptural doctrine that man is naturally opposed to God. This is not so. Paul says, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, 'But the natural man receiveth not the things of God,' but I say it is the unnatural 'man that receiveth not the things of God.'... The natural man is of God."

It was with this quote in mind that a round table discussion regarding The nature of man in Mormonism was held in the Winter 1968 issue of Dialogue. The details of the discussion need not concern us here, only that we realize that appeals to our being too good probably are not as solid as many sometimes think.

Are we less than the dust of the earth? No, not literally. But when placed in comparison with the nature of God himself, our nature is quite lowly as the dust of the ground. But we believe that there is a continuum between the two natures, there is no unbridgable gap between the two. "As man now is God once was, as God is now, man may become." If our nature can be bridged to God, why can it not be bridged to dust as well?

Regardless of whether we can up from below or down from above, our natures are still what they are. The whole point of the plan of salvation when applied to self-existent spirits is that we are trying to become sons and daughters of God in a fuller sense. This is done, as we have noted, by accepting the gospel and the "articles of adoption" as Joseph called them.

One more thing we must discuss regarding this issue. That is progress. Some, including JFSII, have thought that evolution was synonymous with progression, but such is not the case. Evolution in its purest form does adopt any form of progression. Evolution does not work or progress toward any "end." Whatever survives is whatever survives be it viruses, bacteria, trees or humans. Therefore, there is no such thing as devolution.

This does not mean, however, that evolutionists don't acknowledge a continuous spectrum of intelligence. They acknowledge that man has become more and more intelligent thus enabling him to survive better, but this is not considered "progress" from an evolutionary standpoint. Intelligence is but one trick among many which organisms use to survive. The only progress recognized by evolution is surviving long enough to reproduce. Thus, appeals to "progress" don't mean very much in an evolutionary context. We will discuss these ideas as applied to the creation later.

Summary: Evolution is often dispised by many due to its saying that we came from lower life forms instead of from higher beings. Saying what our nature derives from, however, has little to do with what our natures currently are. Such an objection misses the point of evolution and the plan of salvation.

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Christian's Reconciliation Notebook

The subject addressed by this blog involves ongoing, multipart discussions. This post, linked permanently on the sidebar and updated as appropriate, serves as a roadmap to my contributions.

A reconciliation of Mormonism with evolution would require an appreciation of the issues at stake for believers.
  • A Place at the Table: There must be assurance that evolution does not preclude God's existence.
  • A Redeeming Place at the Table: There must be assurance that evolution does not preclude God's miraculous intervention in the world, and his ability to give us life beyond this world.

A reconciliation of Mormonism with evolution would require coming to grips with our understanding of Church doctrine---what the very notion of "doctrine" is, what it isn't, and how various doctrines touch on evolution.
  • On Doctrine: For purposes of communal coherence, the leading councils of the Church have the right to establish doctrine that defines standards of behavior and the boundaries of official discourse; but what is "official," or "canonized," or bound in leather at any given time is not pristine, perfected, glistening and crystalline Truth, but only a community's best collective contemporary judgment and perception of it.
  • An Ambiguous Ecclesiastical Constitution: The Authority of the President: D&C 107 describes the authority of the President of the Church as comprehensive, but not unlimited.
  • A Rollback of the Classical Mormon Perspective on Humanity's Origin and Destiny?: Some statements by President Hinckley suggest he may be open to the idea that God is only the designer of Adam's physical body, and not its literal father, as the traditional Mormon perspective would have it.

In making a reconciliation with evolution, what should Mormons think of arguments from design? What should their attitude be towards the teaching in public schools of so-called Intelligent Design?
  • Do all things denote there is a God? Is Alma’s teleological argument consistent with Joseph Smith’s mature views on the nature of God, and also with the ancient Hebrew worldview from which Nephite culture sprang?
  • Two Classes of Argument from Design, Which Both Fail: Problems with the view of ‘God as First Cause’ are largely avoided by Joseph’s mature anthropomorphic view of God; but the resulting perspective of ‘God as Engineer’ does not make for a good teleological argument either, because of known examples of ‘specialness amidst randomness’ and ‘specialness from randomness.’
  • Response to God and science: Because the role of God in creation is not testable, it does not belong in scientific theories; hence if Intelligent Design is taught at all it ought not be in science class, but in other areas of the curriculum, or in other venues.

What attempts at reconciling Mormonism with evolution have been made in the past?
  • What Did Nibley Think of Evolution? Nibley goes further than most Mormons in taking the findings of science seriously in thinking about the meaning of scriptural creation accounts, but in the end his engaging and bold approach fails on scientific grounds, right where it matters most: the origin of man.

How are ideas related to reconciliation of Mormonism with evolution received among our readers? Informal polls (collected here) provide feedback that, while less than statistically representative of Church membership, is nevertheless interesting.

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4/17/2005

A Redeeming Place at the Table

Why is the connection between evolution and God's existence so emotionally charged? In a previous post I argued that evolution is unpalatable to some believers because it seems to remove what is, for some, a primary evidence of God's existence: "the testimony of His creations." I pointed out that this is the zeroth-order answer the Church offers to outsiders in answer to the question, How can I know God exists? At the risk of pedantically elaborating the obvious, in this post and a subsequent one I will discuss two reasons why debates about evolution---and perceived implications for the existence of God---take on a stature much larger than our insignificant intramural Mormon debate, and rise to the level of culture war.

A reconciliation between believers and evolution must give God a place at the table, but it cannot be just any place: It must be a powerful one. Consider the following from Joseph Fielding Smith (with shouting subject heading provided by editor Bruce R. McConkie):
DILEMMA OF THE THEISTIC EVOLUTIONISTS. It is true that the school of evolutionists is divided into the two great classes, the Theistic and the Atheistic branches.

But the Theistic evolutionist is a weak-kneed and unbelieving religionist, who is constantly apologizing for the miracles of the scriptures, and who does not believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ. (DS 1:142-143)
Does this summary judgment represent a devastating, dead-on double tap, or an ineffective would-be marksman's display of scattershot non-sequiturs? The whirlwind transition from evolution to miracles to the atonement may seem abrupt, but there is a connecting thread: authority, which derives from authorship. Following logically from God's authorship of creation is his control and dominion over creation, with attendant ability to intervene miraculously on our behalf. The power of the words Peace, be still to calm our souls derives from the fact that they were first uttered to Galilean winds and waves stilled in response to the Creator's fiat. This is the authority we rely upon to prosper, heal, and ultimately resurrect us.

The emotional depth of this dependence is on vivid display in the heart-wrenching account, in last week's Priesthood/Relief Society lesson, of the death of David O. McKay's very young son. So deep is President McKay's need that in a move tantamount to a denial of death's reality, he appropriates the scriptural conceptualization of Lazarus, a leap possible only because of his faith in the Creator's power: "‘He is not dead but sleepeth’ was never more applicable to any soul, for he truly went to sleep. He did not die."

Evolution is problematic in this connection because it raises the possibility that God's connection to creation is merely pseudepigraphic (a false attribution of authorship, in order to lend undeserved credibility). The skeptic's take on the connection between God and creation, mentioned in the previous post---that gods were invented to explain forces of nature beyond humanity's comprehension---then takes on a more ominous, personal, and taunting cast. Having invented the gods to explain forces of nature, says the skeptic, propitiations to the gods are first offered as a hedge against the arbitrary destructive force of what we still (even in legal insurance contracts) call Acts of God, and in hopes of being favored with bounteous hunts and harvests. As time goes by, the expectations from divine power are elaborated to individual healing, peace, and immortality---concepts missing from the earliest Biblical views, which focused on the temporal corporate prosperity of God's people. The skeptic likens such expectations to a patient remaining addicted to painkillers long after recovery from surgery is complete: Even after the forces of nature that motivated the invention of gods are understood scientifically, the habit of reliance upon a powerful God ready and willing to save you is hard to break.

Instinctively recoiling from this line of argument, some believers prefer that God's authorship of creation be complete, exclusive, and undisputed, in order that his power to save may also be considered reliably undisputed. In order to overcome this tendency, those interested in making evolution acceptable to such believers will need to provide demonstrations of God's power other than the generation of biodiversity.

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4/11/2005

Evolution and the Atonement

Mc Conkie's sixth objection is where he really wants to lay down the gauntlet. If you accept evolution, you must reject Christ. I have already posted my thoughts on the subject, but since they apparently were not clear enough, perhaps I can elaborate here.

Our Lord's atoning sacrifice is the cornerstone on which the whole gospel of salvation rests. For this atonement to come to pass, two things were necessary: 1. Christ had to come into the world as the literal Son of an immortal, personal Father, a Father who had life in himself and from whom his offspring in mortality would inherit power over death. 2. The fall of Adam had to introduce temporal and spiritual death into the world, for the atonement in its very nature was designed to ransom all things that fell from the effects of that fall. All forms of life are ransomed from the temporal effects of the fall in that they are resurrected and become immortal.
Now if Adam did not fall and bring death into the world, there would be no need for the atoning sacrifice of Christ. If there were no atonement to ransom fallen beings and creatures from the effects of the fall, there would be no resurrection, no immortality, no salvation, no eternal life; and if all these things should vanish away, we could discard God himself and our faith would be vain.

I imagine that to anybody who has been following my posts, my response will be fairly predictable.

This is where I accused Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. Mc Conkie of trying to score easy wins against evolution. For instance, consider Elder Smith's ultimatum:
If, therefore, there was no fall, there was no need of an atonement, hence the coming into the world of the Son of God as the Savior of the world is a contradiction, a thing impossible. Are you prepared to believe such a thing as that?

Clearly JSFII and BRM had their reasons for rejecting evolution. I have been trying to address them in every post so far. But statements like these can hardly be considered shining examples of calm reasoning. They intentionally present a dichotomy (which we are assuming must be false) so as to push their intended and obviously biased audience away from evolution. It is because of statements like these, I have noted, "that these people now feel obligated to act like idiots in the rest of the worlds opinion by denying carbon dating, fossil records, the age of the earth and so on. And all this through no great fault of their own."

That said, let's briefly address the objection. We saw that there are versions of the fall that preserve the necessary doctrines without the popularized stories of the Garden. We all came here from an immortal, spiritual paradise in God's presence to this "lone and dreary" world. We all sin. We all die. Thus regardless of whether there was an actual Adam or not (a topic which I have not yet addressed) we all still need salvation. "We believe that mankind will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression."

We still need to be saved from the effects of the fall, but the fall that we need to be saved from is our fall, not Adam's. As I also mentioned earlier, this problem results from JSFII's and BRM's using the Garden story as a form of theodicy. Adam did not introduce sin. It has always existed, even in the spirit world. Adam did not introduce death, it has always been part of life here on earth. But we were all introduced to both death and a significantly greater degree of sin upon our fall from heaven to come here.

Summary: Some have unfortunately declared any attempt at reconciliation between evolution and the gospel to be a lost cause. This, they think, is due to evolutions rejection of the Garden story and consequently the Atonement. Such fears, however, are without foundation.

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Adam and Eve: When and Where?

Earlier I discussed some of the issues surrounding how Adam and Eve were created, and listed two tentative suggestions for reconciliation with science. Here I will discuss some of the issues involved in placing Adam and Eve in time and geography. Up front I want to point out that I am not a geneticist, archeologist, or anthropologist. My understanding of the issues involved come primarily from writings for non-expert audiences.

The LDS Model:

The traditional LDS placement of Adam and Eve is straightforward. Using Biblical chronology and other supportive scriptures, Adam and Eve became mortal around 6,000 years ago. Scriptural statements place the future (and by implication the past) site of Adam-ondi-ahman in Missouri. A number of personal accounts state that Joseph Smith identifed Jackson county as the site of the Garden of Eden, and identified some stones as part of an altar that Adam built after leaving the garden. Some presume that Noah was responsible for transfering the human race to the Eastern Hemisphere.

The Scientific Models:

One of the components of evolutionary theory is the concept of common descent--that all living organisms descend from previously living organisms and that ultimately, all living organisms share common ancestors. For humans this means that our physical bodies share common ancestry with other primates. Long ago it was recognized that the closest living relative, with which we share a common ancestor, is the chimpanzee. This hypothesis is supported by both anatomical, archeological, and genetic evidence. Since chimpanzees are only known to have lived in Africa, the origination of humans was hypothesized to have taken place there.

Accumulating evidence has continued to support Africa as the place of human origins. The oldest hominid (including Homo sapiens) remains are found there. Genetic diversity in humans is greatest in Africa and less diverse outside of Africa, which suggests that populations throughout the rest of the world are descended from a subset of early African populations.

The relatedness of hominid species is still under debate. As I understand it, the current dominant model of human development and expansion is called "Out of Africa 2." In this model, modern humans developed in Africa after other hominids had migrated to Asia and Europe. Modern humans eventually moved out of Africa and replaced other hominids who became extinct. The other main model is called the "Multiregional" model. In this model, early hominids moved out of Africa to colonize Asia and Europe as described above, but modern humans arose gradually through genetic mixing of these populations. Other models contain a mixture of these two models. One recent paper, based on genetic evidence, argues for genetic mixing with several major migrations, including three from Africa.

Below is a rough, brief timeline of significant events in hominid evolution:

>1 million years ago: First hominids leave Africa
200,000 years ago: First anatomical Homo sapiens in Africa
~160,000 years ago: "Mitochondrial Eve"
~60,000 years ago: "Y-chromosome Adam"
40-50,000 years ago: Development of culture (more sophisticated tools, art, ceremonial burial of dead)
15-30,000 years ago: Colonization of North America
10,000 years ago: Development of Agriculture
3-4,000 years ago: Development of written language

Placing Adam and Eve in light of current scientific understanding and without additional revelation is highly problematic. The qualities associated with Adam and Eve in the scriptures include intelligence, writing, and agriculture. Further, the LDS model places Adam and Eve in North America around 6,000 years ago. This timing is reasonably consistent with agriculture and writing, but is inconsistent with genetic or geneological ancestry to all living humans. Placing Adam and Eve in a position of genetic or geneological ancestry is inconsistent with writing and agriculture, as well as with placement in North America. The concepts of "mitochondrial Eve" and "Y-chromosome Adam" are not helpful here because, in spite of their naming, they do not refer to the biblical persons. That this is true is evident from the different times that these two individuals lived.

With scientific debate still surrounding how early hominids relate to each other it seems premature to pose any scenario that accounts for Adam and Eve, much less their placement in North America. Such a proposal would also require revelatory clarification on the timing and geography of Adam and Eve, and whether the identification of stones derived from Adam's altar was a matter of speculation or literal truth. (Duane Jeffery recently pointed out the problem these stones pose for a worldwide flood scenario.) Until information is more forthcoming, on both sides, it seems best not to force a reconciliation. Speculation is all we can do right now.

Further Reading
There are a number of explanations of human development and migration available on the internet. I will list just a few here.
Origins of Modern Humans: Multiregional or Out of Africa, by Donald Johanson
Alan Templeton, Out of Africa again and again
Becoming Human
Out of Africa, EvoWiki
Human mtDNA Migrations

There are a number of books that likely give good general explanations of current scientific thought. Since science moves, sometimes quickly, it is important to seek out information that is as fresh as possible. It is also important to read from multiple sources in order to not mistake one person's opinion for generally accepted conclusions. This advice applies to all scientific fields.

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