Thinking About the Fall, Part 2/2

Given how little we know about how the Fall of Adam and Eve actually occurred, it is difficult for me to see why it must necessarily be incompatible with evolution. My belief is that the conflict is only apparent, and that more information about the Fall will help resolve the conflict. I do not claim to know what that further information is, but I have a few ideas that might be worth thinking about. (Some of these ideas have been brought up by others here and are not totally unique to me.)

Modularity and Timelessness: Our scriptures make clear that the power of the Atonement was operational before Jesus came to earth. Men and women were forgiven of their sins and sanctified in spite of the fact that the Atonement had not actually occurred yet. At least in regard to forgiveness of sin, it seems that the timing of the Atonement was not important. Time does not seem to matter to God. Is it therefore possible that conditions on earth preceding Adam and Eve operated as though the Fall had already occurred? Furthermore, is it possible that Adam and Eve performed a vicarious work for us in the garden, as our representatives, making the events in the Garden of Eden largely ceremonial in nature? So Adam and Eve represented us in getting us into mortality, and Jesus represented us in getting us out.

Pre-Mortal Symbolism: The story of Adam and Eve can be generalized to all of us. In fact we are encouraged to follow their example. Yet many elements of the story seem restricted to Adam and Eve. Jeff has suggested that we think of the story of Adam and Eve in terms of the pre-mortal world (pre-existence). Thinking along these lines reveals some striking similarities between Adam and Eve, and the rest of us. Common elements include:

Living in the presence of God
Not subject to pain or disease
Desire to gain knowledge and experience
Unable to have children
choosing to progress by entering mortality and leaving the presence of God
Confronting temptation by Satan
Receiving a coat of skin (ie. body)

Could it be that Moses taught about our pre-mortal existence by the means of allegory? If this is the case, it leads to some interesting questions. For example, is it possible that the reason we wanted to come to earth was because Lucifer introduced us to the concept of mortal life, thus sowing discontent with our pre-mortal existence (ie. teaching us that we were naked) and unwittingly fulfilling God's plan?

Multi-Step Process: When we talk of the Fall, we usually think in terms of a specific event that occurred on a specific (but unknown) day. The way the story is given to us encourages this kind of thinking. Perhaps the Fall was a multi-step process that began in the spirit world and culminated with Adam and Eve in the garden. An analogy might be cross-country travel. We think of Adam and Eve as taking off in New York City and landing in Los Angeles. Perhaps it was more like traveling by car with stops and detours along the way. Thus, the Fall was responsible for the mortality of all life forms on earth, but the part of the Fall that initiated mortality for most (if not all) of the earth happened back in Missouri (to be clever)--not the end of the trip in Los Angeles.


I think that some of the ideas I have outlined above are useful, even within the traditional LDS paradigm of the Fall. Such ideas do not dispense with the importance of the Fall--they merely adjust our way of thinking about it. (Revelation does do that from time to time.) The ultimate truth may or may not resemble my suggestions, but until we are given further light by revelation, it seems a little hasty to conclude that evolution and the Fall are ultimately incompatible with one another.

It appears that Robert Millet rejects much (or all) of evolution, but I think that the sentiment expressed here is well-put.
In regard to the Fall, it should be sufficient for us to know that Adam and Eve and all forms of life are required to partake of the fruits of mortality before we can partake of the fruits of immortality in the Resurrection. Further, men and women cannot partake of the fruit of the tree of life--that is, gain eternal life--while they remain in their sins; mortal man simply cannot inherit immortal glory. It is as though the Lord places cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way of celestial glory so that we may surely understand that no unclean thing can enter his presence. Repentance and redemption always and forevermore precede exaltation. (Power of the Word: Saving Doctrines from the Book of Mormon p. 66)



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.]