The Age of the Earth in Evolution

Having overcome one of Mc Conkie's more powerful objections to evolution, let us now continue on to the eighth of his ten objections. Mc Conkie argues that the creation period, as revealed in scripture, could not have been millions of years. But what is really important, he maintains, is that the scriptures specifically say that the earth will have a 7,000 years probation:
Evolutionary theories assume that hundreds of millions of years were involved, first in the creation of the earth as a habitable globe, and again in the evolution of spontaneously generated, single celled forms of life into the complex and multitudinous forms of life now found on its face. We have rather specific scriptural indications that the creative period was of relatively short duration. The record says: "It was after the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob" (one day on which planet is equal to a thousand years of our time); "for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning."
However, for our present purposes, it is sufficient to know that the time element since mortal life began on earth is specifically and pointedly made known. We are now nearing the end of the 6th thousand years of this earth's "continuance, or its temporal existence," and the millennial era will commence "in the beginning of the seventh thousand years." That is, we are approaching the end of the 6th of the periods of one thousand years each, all of which periods have occurred since the fall, since the earth became temporal, since it gained its telestial status, since it became the natural earth that we know, since death and mortality entered the scene. Thus the period during which birth, and life, and death have been occurring on this earth is less than 6,000 years.

His first objection here hardly needs mention. The verse which he quotes from Abraham is the only one in all of scripture that says that a day to the Lord is as a thousand years to us as applied to the creation. But if we go to the Abrahamic account of the creation, it doesn't say days at all. Instead he speaks of seven "times", an intentionally vague term. I think Mc Conkie knows that this objection is weak to say the least.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which was partially intended to correct and amplify Mc Conkie's Mormon Doctrine, has a great article on creation which should be appropriate here:
The Abrahamic account is distinctive among creation accounts... It describes a structured cosmos, with many stars, one above another, with their different periods and orders of government. Within this context Abraham also learns about eternally existing spirits, one above the other in intelligence, all the way up to "the Lord thy God," who is "more intelligent than they all"... Thereafter, "the Lord said: Let us go down," whereupon the Gods "organized and formed the heavens and the earth". A significant feature of this revealed account is that both the space and the materials for the earth explicitly existed before its creation...
In light of the doctrine of the eternal nature of matter, the word traditionally translated as "created" becomes "organized." The phrase "without form and void" (Hebrew tohu wa-bohu) is rendered, quite properly, "empty and desolate" and describes the condition of the earth after it was organized, not before.
The term "day" (Hebrew yom) for the seven "days" of creation is given as "time," a permissible alternative in both Hebrew and English; and it is explicitly pointed out that the "time" in which Adam should die if he partook of the forbidden fruit "was after the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob...
On the basis of the above passage, which clearly excludes the possibility of earthly twenty-four-hour days being the "days" or "times" of creation, some Latter-day Saint commentators have argued for one-thousand-year periods as the "times" of creation as well as the "time" of Adam's earthly life after the fall; others have argued for indefinite periods of time, as long as it would take to accomplish the work involved. Abraham's account does contain the interesting passage, in connection with the "organizing" of the lights in the "expanse" of heaven, "The Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed". Abraham's account actually includes twelve different "labors" of the Gods, divided up among the "days" in the manner of Genesis. The later temple account of creation gives an abbreviated version of those labors, divided up differently among the seven days while retaining the same order, suggesting that it may not be significant which labor is assigned to which day.
Abraham connects the seemingly differing accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 within the context of the Council in Heaven. Abraham's seven-day account proceeds through the work of the first five creative times and part of the sixth as the physical creation of the earth and its preparation to support life before life was actually placed upon it. Thus, during the third time, "the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass…and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed". And during the fifth time, the Gods "prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature,…and every winged fowl after their kind". Similarly, on the sixth time "the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind…. And the Gods saw they would obey". Then upon the sixth time, the Gods again took counsel among themselves and determined to form man, and to give them dominion over the plants and animals that should come upon the earth. "And the Gods said among themselves: On the seventh time we will end our work, which we have counseled; and we will rest…. And thus were their decisions at the time that they counseled among themselves". The account paralleling Genesis 2 then follows smoothly as an account of the actual placing of life upon the earth: "And the Gods came down and formed these the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were formed in the day that the Gods formed the earth and the heavens, according to all that which they had said concerning every plant of the field before it was in the earth".

Am I the only one who sees the stunning similarities in what we have been proposing. The eternal spirits, the "planning session" as the spiritual creation, the gradual difference in intelligences, the long periods of undefined time and so on.

Getting back on topic, I don't think that Elder Mc Conkie honestly believes that the creation had to have taken 7,000 years. Prophets before him considered millions of years a possibility and I suspect he did too. "The scriptures do not say how old the earth is, and the Church has taken no official stand on this question. Nor does the Church consider it to be a central issue for salvation." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

The second part of his objection, is not as easy to dismiss. I know that Steve thinks that the idea of the earth having a 7,000 mortal "life" or "probation" is a Mc Conkian invention, but I simply must disagree with this. D&C 77 clearly says that the seven seals on the book in revelation represent
"the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence... The first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh... In the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth... the preparing of the way before the time of his coming."

Now if we want to reinterpret these verses or simply dismiss them, fine. But let's not think that Joseph didn't mean what he clearly intended in these verses. In fact, the section summary says "this earth has a temporal existence of 7,000 years."

Now if we are going to reinterpret these verses, I would prefer to say that each "thousand years" simply follows the biblical pattern of simply meaning "a long, undefined time." It is when we start taking numbers such as these too literally that we start making prediction of when the second coming will be, sometimes down to the specific day or time. I personally feel that this interpretation is best regardless of what science has to say on any given issue. Too many people have made too big of fools out of themselves by assigning dates for the second coming based on numbers found in scripture, Mormon not excluded.

But I wouldn't consider us out of the woods yet. Surely the prophets have officially stated that the second coming is relatively soon. If we reject this, then how much more is it to simply say that there is no millennium or second coming to look forward to. Many may actually like this interpretation, but most, I suspect, will not.

It is still possible to simply count more or less 6,000 years since the advent of Adam until the second coming. This works especially well if Adam was the first Prophet, Priest and King with the fullness of the Priesthood and Gospel, or was God himself. The prophecy could, and probably should, mean that Christ will come once the Gospel has been on the earth for about 6,000 years (again do not take the numbers too literally). After all, why in the world would the Lord count the time when there was nobody around on the earth?

This is the difference between Mc Conkie's interpretation and ours: he starts counting from the time death began on the earth (something which the scriptures do not say); we start counting from the advent of Adam. I feel that our interpretation is not only more consistent with the intent of the verse, but is more harmonious with evolution as well.

Summary: Mc Conkie's eighth objection centers around the time which the Lord has alotted for the earth. While the age of the earth has not been specified, the 7,000 year temporal existence must be dealt with. If we start the 7,000 years not with the beginning of death on the earth, but at Adam's advent, we are safe.



Very well done and thought out but, once again, I think in some ways you end up building up McConkie somewhat just by bringing attention to his arguments (to a new generation) that would otherwise fall on the ash heap of other false prophetic teachings to be forgotten. You're so much brighter and more intellectually honest than McConkie that his pathetic arguments gain some shine just by the attention you bring to them. I suggest you just present your positions in a standalone fashion rather than rebut McConkie. If he were still alive, I might feel otherwise, but the young people don't even know about the guy. In one or two more generations he'll be completely forgotten. When there are 30 million and more of us, and we know that time will come somewhat soon, it won’t matter anyway because we’ll be a completely different church w/ little to no doctrinal emphasis. You can’t manage a rigid common belief system with a multicultural multinational organization that big. McConkieism is an anachronism; let him RIP.

To clarify my take on section 77, I believe I referred to the literal 7000 year probation as “McConkieism of sorts”, not an invention by McConkie himself. I agree, in all likelihood JS meant a literal 7000 years, I just don’t buy that interpretation when I read the whole section. And JS got other interpretations wrong, like the American Indians largely being descended from BofM peoples as if the BofM excluded multiple human entries into the Americas. Perhaps this stuff is easier for me because as a physical scientist, I’m trained to separate the result from the interpretation (of the result).

Regarding “Surely the prophets have officially stated that the second coming is relatively soon.”, past prophets, yes, but current prophets certainly aren’t acting this way. And actions speak louder than words. As I commented elsewhere, the LDS church doesn't even seriously try to spread the gospel in the most populous areas of the world. We put up ridiculous non-scriptural roadblocks like the WofW in the way of entrance into the Kingdom. How could the second coming be close when we aren’t seriously trying to do as commanded to spread the word in urgent preparation for it? The present non-urgent caretaker mode of our GAs is very telling. All kind of reminds me of the irony of getting lectured about sexual self control by old men who don’t have to deal with a young healthy male’s libido. And don’t tell me they were all virgins when they got married. 

Posted by Steve (FSF)

5/04/2005 04:59:00 PM  

Thanks for the compliments Steve. I see your point now, and I agree to a large extent. Kind of the "ignore it til it goes away" policy, eh?

This line of thought is probably most apparent in the 7,000 year doctrine, which you don't really here in the church too often anymore (thank goodness in my opinion). But it is still being taught, especially in the CES program. While I acknowledge that resurrecting obnoxious doctrines might have a negative effect (from yours and my point of view), I feel that just having the resources available online for anybody who really feels like they should address the issue is a benefit which out weighs the negatives.

I'm sure by now you have seen that I have no problems simply saying that any given idea is wrong, but many are not so willing. It would be nice if they had a response on their own terms, if only to keep them from rejecting well established science such as evolution. This is what I am trying to do, make evolution as unrepulsive to as many members as possible and I feel that resurrecting obnoxious quotes is simply part of the process. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/04/2005 05:30:00 PM  



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