1/16/2006

Elder Boyd K. Packer on Evolution

Elder Boyd K. Packer has commented on evolution on a number of occasions. Below I provide relevant excerpts from all of the talks that I am aware of where he makes reference to evolution either explicitly, or where it could reasonbly be inferred. Most of the talks were given in General Conference--a few were given at BYU. As an exception, I do not provide any text from "The Law and the Light," because the whole talk is dedicated to the topic. A link is provided instead.

For the most part, Elder Packer's talks really seem less to do with evolution than with morality. The recurring theme of his comments is that we are not merely animals, but children of God with divine potential and are governed by moral laws. Many of Elder Packer's statements are actually directed toward a certain philosophy, not science itself. Unfortunately, the average reader may not realize the distinction.

"The Law and the Light" deserves a post of its own, but for now a summary must suffice. This talk makes clear that Elder Packer views the application of evolution to humans as false, yet he also seems to reject the label of "creationist." He declares that he does not know how the creation (including that of man) was accomplished or how long it took. He also leaves the door open for the application of evolutionary theory to animals. Furthermore, he encourages scientific study.
"No Latter-day Saint should be hesitant to pursue any true science as a career, a hobby, or an interest, or to accept any truth established through those means of discovery. Nor need one become a scientist at the expense of being a Latter-day Saint of faith and spiritual maturity."
Again in this talk, discussion of evolution is overshadowed by the reaffirmation of basic gospel truths, especially the existence of conscience and moral law.

Excerpts from Elder Packer's talks are easily used as blunt instruments which may polarize rather than persuade. When given additional context and taken as a whole, I think they allow for more latitude than is initially apparent. If they are approached with an acceptance and belief in God, the Atonement, moral law, and accountability, the tension with science largely (though not entirely) dissolves. Instead of attacks on evolution the statements become testimonies of spritual and moral truths, and a caution against adopting a certain philosophy based on, but not actually a part of, science.

Elder Packer desires that "there be no “evolutionists” nor “creationists” nor any manner of “ists”; just seekers after truth" (4). Although disagreements are bound to occur, this statement suggests that discussion ought to proceed without insult to either intellect or testimony.


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

Excerpts:

1. Nov 1984, The Pattern of Our Parentage. (Note that in #4 Elder Packer appears to be more open to the evolution of animals.)

"No lesson is more manifest in nature than that all living things do as the Lord commanded in the Creation. They reproduce “after their own kind.” (See Moses 2:12, 24.) They follow the pattern of their parentage. Everyone knows that; every four-year-old knows that! A bird will not become an animal nor a fish. A mammal will not beget reptiles, nor “do men gather … figs of thistles.” (Matt. 7:16.)

In the countless billions of opportunities in the reproduction of living things, one kind does not beget another. If a species ever does cross, the offspring cannot reproduce. The pattern for all life is the pattern of the parentage.

This is demonstrated in so many obvious ways, even an ordinary mind should understand it. Surely no one with reverence for God could believe that His children evolved from slime or from reptiles. (Although one can easily imagine that those who accept the theory of evolution don’t show much enthusiasm for genealogical research!) The theory of evolution, and it is a theory, will have an entirely different dimension when the workings of God in creation are fully revealed.

Since every living thing follows the pattern of its parentage, are we to suppose that God had some other strange pattern in mind for His offspring? Surely we, His children, are not, in the language of science, a different species than He is?"

2. Nov 1986, Little Children

"This secular doctrine holds that man is not a child of God, but basically an animal, his behavior inescapably controlled by natural impulse, exempt from moral judgments and unaccountable for moral conduct. While many claim that this philosophy could not, in the end, lead mankind to relaxed moral behavior, something causes it! Is it accidental that the more widely such secular doctrines are believed, the more prevalent immoral behavior becomes?

They defend their philosophy with collected data and say, “It is now proven to be true. Look at all the evidence on our side.”

We in turn point to the sorry way in which mankind degrades procreation and the attendant suffering of both children and adults and say, “Look at all the evidence on our side.”

Secular doctrines have the advantage of convincing, tangible evidence. We seem to do better in gathering data on things that can be counted and measured. Doctrines which originate in the light, on the other hand, are more often supported by intangible impressions upon the spirit. We are left for the most part to rely on faith. But, in time, the consequences of following either will become visible enough."

3. May 1988, Atonement, Agency, Accountability

"We are taught in Genesis, in Moses, in Abraham, in the Book of Mormon, and in the endowment that man’s mortal body was made in the image of God in a separate creation. Had the Creation come in a different way, there could have been no Fall. If men were merely animals, then logic favors freedom without accountability.

How well I know that among learned men are those who look down at animals and stones to find the origin of man. They do not look inside themselves to find the spirit there. They train themselves to measure things by time, by thousands and by millions, and say these animals called men all came by chance. And this they are free to do, for agency is theirs.

But agency is ours as well. We look up, and in the universe we see the handiwork of God and measure things by epochs, by eons, by dispensations, by eternities. The many things we do not know we take on faith.

But this we know! It was all planned before the world was. Events from the Creation to the final, winding-up scene are not based on chance; they are based on choice! It was planned that way.

This we know! This simple truth! Had there been no Creation, no Fall, there should have been no need for any Atonement, neither a Redeemer to mediate for us. Then Christ need not have been."

4. Oct 1988, The Law and the Light, published in 1990 in Jacob through Words of Mormon: To Learn with Joy.

5. Nov 1990, Covenants

"Little do we realize what we have brought upon ourselves when we have allowed our children to be taught that man is only an advanced animal. We have compounded the mistake by neglecting to teach moral and spiritual values. Moral laws do not apply to animals for they have no agency. Where there is agency, where there is choice, moral laws must apply. We cannot, absolutely cannot, have it both ways.

When our youth are taught that they are but animals, they feel free, even compelled, to respond to every urge and impulse. We should not be so puzzled at what is happening to society. We have sown the wind, and now we inherit the whirlwind. The chickens, so the saying goes, are now coming home to roost."

6. March 1992, "The Fountain of Life," 18-Stake BYU fireside, published in Things of the Soul. (Note the similarity to #7.)

"The knowledge that we are the children of God is a refining, even an exalting truth. On the other hand, no idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak, more suffering and mischief, no idea has contributed more to the erosion of the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, but only advanced animals. There flows from that idea the not too subtle perception that we are compelled to yield to every carnal urge, are subject to physical but not to moral law.

The man-from-animal theory has been passed about enough to be pronounced true on the basis of general acceptance. Because it seems to offer logical explanations for some things, it is widely taught and generally accepted as the solution to the mystery of life.

I know there are two views on the subject. But it is one thing to measure this theory soley against intellectual or academic standards, quite another to measure it against moral or spiritual or doctrinal standards.

When the theory that man is the offspring of animals is planted in young minds, it should be accompanied by careful instruction to set it in isolation in the garden of the mind until faith is well rooted. Otherwise, seeds of doubt may spring up and choke out the seedling of faith, and the harvest will be bitter fruit and the giver will have served the wrong master."

7. May 1992, Our Moral Environment

"No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals, compelled to yield to every carnal urge."

8. November 1993, "The Great Plan of Happiness and Personal Revelation," CES fireside, published in Things of the Soul. (Note the similarity to #4.)

"We may safely study and learn about the theories and philosophies of men, but if they contradict the plan of redemption, the great plan of happieniess, do not "buy into" them as truth. If you do, you may be putting a mortgage on your testimony, on your knowledge of premortal life, on the creation of man, on the Fall and the Atonement, on you Redeemer, the Resurrection, and exaltation; for "every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13).

If you "buy into" the philosophies of men, you may have your testimony repossesed. Your respect for moral law may go with it, and you will end up with nothing."

25 Comments:

The most interesting talk to me by Pres. Packer (who is actually among my favorite GAs) was his one on homosexuality from about 8 years or so ago. (Too lazy to try and look it up) Anyway he makes quite a few appeals to biology in the talk, yet almost all the appeals are wrong. Further they are somewhat odd theologically, as I recall. (Going by memory now, so I beg forgiveness if I get his position wrong) As I recall he said homosexuality was wrong because it wasn't natural and that animals don't engage in homosexual acts. Yet many animals do engage in homosexual acts for various reasons. Further it seems like most Mormons see the natural man as problematic on the basis of Paul and Benjamin. So it always struck me as an odd appeal.

Ever since this talk though (and I should add, that despite the erroneous biology and appeal to nature, it wasn't a bad talk) I've often wondered what Pres. Packer's familiarity with biology consists of. 

Posted by clark

1/15/2006 07:25:00 PM  

Clark,

I've noticed that too. In fact there is an example in #7 above, just after the passage I quote. I guess it is just a case of using a bad example to make a point. The average listener probably doesn't know the difference.

Sometimes you have to look past the argument to the principle being defended. 

Posted by Jared

1/15/2006 09:13:00 PM  

I'll bet President Packer knows fundamental biology just fine. After all, he is an educated man and it doesn't take a PhD to understand the basics as taught in any freshman biology text. However, some false philosophy has crept into such basic textbooks, particularly those texts that teach that mankind is just the offspring of the lower orders. There is no scientific evidence for any such thing. None. It is just false philosophy that has crept into introductory biology texts because so many otherwise good scientists buy into one of the more prevalent "false philosophies of men."

Sure, animals engage in homosexual acts. But it is unnatural when they do it to. It doesn't help them procreate however pleasurable they may find it. And speaking scientifically and in strict accordance with evolutionary theory itself, if it doesn't help the species reproduce, it is either counter productive behavior, or at the very least nonproductive. It doesn't help promote a successful posterity for any species.

Some people have sex with animals. I imagine some animals do similar things. I've even had dogs try to copulate with my leg. What does that prove? It certainly does nothing to perpetuate the species. There is nothing "good" about it. It doesn't help strengthen families or increase civic virtues in society. It doesn't add to the cultural or economic life of the community. Such behavior is no better than or different from masturbation, another pointless albeit enjoyable although ultimately frustrating and lonely occupation.

Is it natural? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of natural. There can be no question but that sexual self-discipline is highly useful in any society. It prevents the spread of many social ills. Does homosexual behavior promote such sexual self-discipline? Does masturbation? Do dogs that hump your leg become better dogs thereby?

True evolution, the evolution of men into Gods and such organic evolution that helps animal species adjust to their environment over generations, is highly useful. It helps the species survive. That is not so in the case of any sexual behavior that fails to help perpetuate the race. Such behavior is anti-evolutionary and hence bad for the species, and in the case of man, sinful.

There is a God, and he has taught us better.

Posted by John W. Redelfs

1/16/2006 01:33:00 PM  

Jared:  Well, as you might guess, I feel you've left out some relevant material because without death before the fall, evolution would be impossible.

1. In the April 1988 General Conference, besides the paragraphs you've quoted in your #3, Elder Packer also said mortality could not have existed without the fall:

------------------- quote ----------------------- 
"The creation of their bodies in the image of God, as a separate creation, was crucial to the plan. Their subsequent fall was essential if the condition of mortality was to exist and the plan proceed." (Boyd K. Packer, "Atonement, Agency, Accountability," Ensign, May 1988, 70.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------

If mortality (death) didn't exist without the fall, then it clearly didn't exist before the fall.

Some speculate that the condition of mortality existed outside the garden prior to the fall. A person who holds that view might say, speaking of Adam and Eve, "Their subsequent fall was an essential step to their mortality." But those were not Elder Packer's words. He didn't say, "their mortality." He said, "the condition of mortality."

2. You missed the October 1988 General Conference entirely. In this talk, Elder Packer again identified the Fall as the point in time after which "all living things" experienced "mortal death":

------------------- quote -----------------------
"Since death is ever present with us, a knowledge of how essential it is to the plan of salvation is of immense, practical value. Every one of us should know how and why it came to be in the beginning.

"Mortal death came into the world at the Fall....

"It was as though a clock were set and a time given. Thereafter, all living things moved inexorably toward mortal death." (Boyd K. Packer, "Funerals—A Time for Reverence ," Ensign, Nov. 1988, 18;italics added.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------

"Thereafter" means "from a specified time onward; from then on." In other words, it didn't happen before the time specified. Some claim death came for Adam and Eve at the fall. But that isn't what Elder Packer said. He said death came in the beginning at the Fall and "thereafter all living things" died.


3. I disagree that Elder Packer is "more open to the evolution of animals" in his paper on "The Law and the Light"—for three very good reasons.

First, in this paper, he again (for the third time in 1988) identifies the Fall as that point in time after which "all living things" experienced "mortal or temporal death":

------------------- quote -----------------------
"The word fall describes well what transpired when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden. A transformation took place which made them 'a little lower than the angels.' (In the Hebrew text, the word “angel” is given as 'gods,' see Ps 8:5, Heb 2:7-9.) The bodies formed for mankind became temporal or physical bodies. The scriptures say “the life of all flesh is in the blood thereof” (Lev 17:11-13; Deut 12:23; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 199-200, 367 Kimball 5-6).

"After the transformation caused by the Fall, bodies of flesh and bone and blood (unlike our spirit bodies), would not endure forever. Somehow the ingredient blood carried with it a limit to life. It was as though a clock were set and a time given. Thereafter, all living things moved inexorably toward mortal or temporal death." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990, 12; italics in the original).
------------------ end quote ---------------------

Second, although he says we "may safely study the adaptation of living things to the environment" (Ibid., 10), near the end of the paper, he also says,

------------------- quote -----------------------
"What application the evolutionary theory has to animals gives me no concern. That is another question entirely, one to be pursued by science. But remember, the scriptures speak of the spirit in animals and other living things, and of each multiplying after its own kind (D&C 77:2; 2 Nephi 2:22; Moses 3:9; Abr 4:11-12, 24)." (Ibid., 21.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------

It's the word "but" that some don't see. But remember what the scriptures say about animals and see 2 Nephi 2:22! Elder Packer believes verse 22 refers to animals!

------------------- quote -----------------------
"And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end." (2 Nephi 2:22.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------

And finally, the phrase "after its own kind" ties this paper neatly back to "The Pattern of Our Parentage" (Ensign, Nov. 1984, 67), thereby throwing a good deal of doubt on the supposition that his position in your #4 is substantially different from his position in your #1.

 

Posted by Gary

1/16/2006 08:02:00 PM  

Gary,

Thanks for your contribution. I was focusing on the more direct statements or allusions, but your indirect approach is noted.

1/16/2006 08:43:00 PM  

Jared,

By definition, an allusion  is an "indirect reference." So I'm not sure what a direct allusion would be. Be that as it may, I honestly believed evolution to be reasonbly inferred from the excerpts in my comment. I didn't intentionally misread your post. I'm sorry if that is how it came across.
 

Posted by Gary

1/16/2006 11:34:00 PM  

Elder Packer seems to be saying that acceptance of evolution will lead to complete moral breakdown---that people will be "compelled, to respond to every urge and impulse." This is manifestly false! Do all evolutionary biologists around the country, for example, go around acting like complete savages, raping, killing, what have you? Of course not!

Now it might be that acceptance of evolution leads some to question religious authority---particularly when said authorities undermine their own credibility by being unwilling to address solid evidence for common descent of man's physical body, and by using manifestly overwrought hyperbole about the consequences of this idea. This questioning may therefore lead some to some different conclusions on moral specifics, but to say there will be no  morality or no functioning society is simply wrong.  

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

1/17/2006 04:20:00 AM  

John,

There is a God, and he has taught us better. 

Nobody is disputing that here. But it does go to the issue of whether such things have a natural biological basis. In the case of bonobos , various sexual activities serve a social function. Appeals to nature are risky because there is a counter example for almost any proposition.

There is no scientific evidence for any such thing. None.

Are you saying there is no evidence that God wasn't involved or that there is no evidence for common descent. If the latter, I do dispute that--but not today.

Gary,

No need to apologize. On second reading I see your April 1988 statement as closer to what I was going for. What I meant before is that I think many people could listen to a few paragraphs about the Fall and not even think about evolution. I doubt such would be the case with most of the examples I provided.

Christian,

Perhaps a distinction could be drawn between what evolution actually entails versus it's effect on people. It is manifestly true that most people know very little about it. "Survival of the fittest" is about the best you will get out of many people. Their misunderstanding could lead to breakdown of behavior--especially among teenagers I would think. You also bring up those who might reject religion.

Unfortunately many people don't realize that evolution has little to do with what ought to be. 

Posted by Jared

1/17/2006 07:37:00 AM  

You guys are so kind. By preaching against evolution, it is self evident BKP is a false prophet and a half. He has certainly exceeded his commission by claiming authority on subjects beyond repentance. This is worst than his boys self pleasure obsession a generation ago that the church has since fortunately walked away from. And how many were made to feel poorly about themselves and lost faith over that non-issue? JC had to put up w/ at least one false prophet, JS several. I guess our time is no different.

1/18/2006 01:18:00 PM  

Sorry Steve, you may wish  the Church would walk away from Boyd K. Packer, but that's not likely — LDS.ORG, the main Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, currently  states:

------------------- quote -----------------------
"A boy should be taught about the power of creation within his body and that the Lord intended that this power should be used exclusively in marriage. He should be cautioned against sexual self-stimulation (masturbation). The Church has printed an excellent pamphlet, To Young Men Only (PBAP0210). This pamphlet is a reprint of an address given by Elder Boyd K. Packer in the priesthood session of the October 1976 general conference and can help fathers counsel their sons regarding their growth and physical maturation." (LDS.ORG -> Home and Family -> Building a Strong Family, "Teaching about Procreation and Chastity ;" emphasis added.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------

Go ahead, Steve, click the link.
 

Posted by Gary

1/18/2006 09:48:00 PM  

If the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus, then Elder Packer seems quite qualified.

1/19/2006 06:44:00 PM  

Boyd Packer needs to relax.

1/21/2006 07:25:00 PM  

I'll skip the tangent Steve EM goes down. I'd just suggest that some people have an undue fixation with Church and sex issues and I don't think it's Pres. Packer.

I am interesting in John Redelf's comments (sorry I didn't return to the post earlier this week - I suspect John might never see this) My question is that when animals engage in homosexual acts and John says it is unnatural, exactly what does he mean by natural? Aren't animals typically the paradigmatic example of what is or isn't natural? It seems like John means something unusual by natural.
 

Posted by clark

1/21/2006 08:48:00 PM  

Administrative Note: Additional comments continued discussion of the Church's teachings on self-stimulation. Since the comments were off-topic and the discussion is over, they have been removed.

1/29/2006 08:31:00 PM  

Christian wrote the following as part of one of the deleted comments:

Back to evolution. As my first comment on this thread indicates, I don't agree with Elder Packer on evolution, and I agree that being mistaken on well-supported evidence tends to undermine confidence; but as a matter of strict logic I would not say that being wrong about A necessarily implies one is also wrong about X, Y, and Z.

1/29/2006 08:36:00 PM  

Well admin, it’s your site and you’re free to do as you see fit. I will note, however, that all the comments you deleted, while tangential, always came back to topic and you reveal your bias by leaving Gary's comment up but not my counter rebuttal.

1/30/2006 02:00:00 PM  

Steve,

I was responsible for the deletion of comments. It was not my intention to paint you as the loser, nor were your comments the sole factor in my decision. I simply thought that since the discussion seemed to be over, the off-topic comments could be removed. It is not our/my intention to exercise a heavy editorial hand.

I left Gary's comment so that both sides of the issue would be represented--since I did not remove your initial comment. You feel that letting his comment stand is unfair.

In the interest of fairness, let me summarize your rebuttal and you may correct or add to it as you feel necessary:

In the experience of you and your family, bishops don't specifically ask about it like they used to, and overall there seems to be much less discussion/emphasis on it than there used to be. Furthermore, you feel it is a private matter.

1/30/2006 03:28:00 PM  

Jared,

Thanks. I’d say my key point was Jesus warned us of false prophets. How many things can a modern apostle mislead us on before one concludes he is a false prophet to be ignored? That threshold will vary greatly among different well meaning people. I find BKP’s shamefully using evolution as a Boogey Man as contemptuous, and he exceeded my threshold long ago. Another anti-evolutionist, JFSII, lost me as a youth when I found he completely missed the point of the parable of the laborers. But I respect those who can parse between the inspired and false teachings of such leaders.

On the tangential self pleasure issue, in a nut shell I said the church has moved on from BKP, based on my experience that none of my kids have ever been asked about it by Bishops, SPs or MPs. Moreover, I note the current “Strength of Youth” booklet omits the subject. This is opposed to me, even as an adult, having to deal with a disrespectful MP asking me in a first meeting if I was a wanking homo! I see that as an abandonment of BKP’s obsession over a generally harmless, healthy and private activity. Gary, Christian and I’m sure others do not. I hope we can agree to disagree.

1/31/2006 08:31:00 AM  

I think you left out the most important part of Elder Packer's talk in The Law and the Light, in which he states he knows the truth through personal revelation! If the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve knows that the theory of organic evolution is false through personal revelation, shouldn't that tell you something?  

Posted by S

2/24/2006 09:22:00 AM  

It tells me he’s either a fraud or delusional. Either way that makes him a false prophet, IMHO.

2/27/2006 02:08:00 PM  

S,

You will think I'm splitting hairs, but that's not what he said. He said he knows the scriptures are true. I think that is an important difference. 

Posted by Jared

3/01/2006 04:41:00 PM  

I've stumbled on this discussion obviously a little late. I just wanted to point out as far as President Packer is concerned that God qualifies those whom He calls and has said He will never let one of his prophets lead His people astray.
Perhaps some serious personal reflection and prayer would be useful in determining wether or not someone is a false prophet. My sister-in-law's mother hated Pres Packer for quite awhile until she decided to do some of the personal reflecting stated above. She has since changed her mind about him. I'm not saying everyone will have the same result, but it really is a good idea to go through that channel before declaring someone a false prophet. 

Posted by MRansom

3/30/2006 02:03:00 PM  

so you like my link for the law and the light, well if you need any other articles online I can put them on. 

Posted by moleff

6/06/2006 09:39:00 PM  

hi

6/06/2006 09:44:00 PM  

hi

6/06/2006 09:45:00 PM  

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