Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Man: His Origin and Destiny" quoted in General Conference

Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, apparently has no reservations about President Joseph Fielding Smith's book, Man: His Origin and Destiny. Elder Hales quoted the book in his keynote address at this month's 176 Annual General Conference (see "To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency," footnote 11, Ensign, May 2006, 4.)

Here is the full paragraph from President Smith's book (the words Elder Hales quoted are in bold):

"This being true, then does it not appear to you that it is a foolish and ridiculous notion that when God created this earth he had to begin with a speck of protoplasm, and take millions of years, if not billions, to bring conditions to pass by which his sons and daughters might obtain bodies made in his image? Why not the shorter route and transplant them from another earth as we are taught in the scriptures? Surely to any reasonable mind, the Lord would not have to start with an amoeba, pass through the stage of lower fish to higher fish to reptiles to apes and to man! When we stop to consider how perfect are the workings of God; how thorough he is and orderly, surely these theories flatten out and are without substance. Then we have this to think about. According to the revelations to Moses and Abraham, as given to us in the Pearl of Great Price in clearness, and also stated in the Bible, does it not seem rather out of harmony for a Latter-day Saint to believe that several billion years ago, according to our reckoning, there was a council held in heaven at which we shouted for joy because we were to have the opportunity of coming to the earth to receive bodies that we might become, through faithfulness, like unto our Father, God? At that time many of the great and noble spirits were chosen to become rulers. According to the theories of men, if we believe the revelation of that pre-existence, we had to wait, some say several billions of years, before that promise could be accomplished."

Elder Hales graduated from the University of Utah in 1954, the same year Man: His Origin and Destiny was published. It is unlikely that he is oblivious to the controversy among LDS evolutionists surrounding the book, just as it is unlikely that he didn't read this paragraph before quoting from it in general conference.

Elder Hales was serving as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve in 1976 when President Ezra Taft Benson mentioned in a speech at BYU certain allegations that had been made regarding Man: His Origin and Destiny:

"More recently one of our Church educators published what he purports to be a history of the Church's stand on the question of organic evolution. His thesis challenges the integrity of a prophet of God."

Apparently, Elder Hales agrees with President Benson's assessment that the book's author was "a prophet of God."

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Joseph F. Smith on Theory and Divine Revelation

[Note: The following editorial by Church President Joseph F. Smith was originally published in the April 1911 Improvement Era. The reader will note that this editorial is not even mentioned by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery in their book Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005), which claims to include "in full all known" authoritative LDS statements on evolution and the origin of man. — (This note was updated on 04/29/2006.)]

Our young people are diligent students. They reach out after truth and knowledge with commendable zeal, and in so doing they must necessarily adopt for temporary use many theories of men. As long, however, as they recognize them as scaffolding useful for research purposes, there can be no special harm in them. It is when these theories are settled upon as basic truth that trouble appears, and the searcher then stands in grave danger of being led hopelessly from the right way.

Recently there was some trouble of this kind in one of the leading Church schools — the training college of the Brigham Young University — where three of the professors advanced certain theories on evolution as applied to the origin of man, and certain opinions on "higher criticism," as conclusive and demonstrated truths. This was done although it is well known that evolution and the "higher criticism" — though perhaps containing many truths — are in conflict on some matters with the scriptures, including some modern revelation.

An investigation was instituted, founded on the charges of Superintendent H. H. Cummings of the Church schools, based on complaints from patrons of the school; and the General Church Board of Education appointed a committee to ascertain to what extent the teaching of unorthodox doctrines in the school by these instructors was based upon fact. The personnel of the committee was: Francis M. Lyman, Heber J. Grant, Hyrum M. Smith, Charles W. Penrose, George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, Horace H. Cummings, and Dr. George H. Brimhall.

The committee met with Professors Henry Peterson, Joseph Peterson and Ralph V. Chamberlain — all three eminent scholars, able instructors, and men of excellent character — and the investigation was held. The meeting and examination were characterized by the utmost cordiality and freedom on both sides. The professors frankly admitted that they held to and taught the theories of evolution as at present set forth in the text books, and also theories relating to the Bible known as "higher criticism," which they appeared to view as conclusive and demonstrated; so that when these ideas and enunciations were in conflict with the scripture, ancient and modern, it required the modification of the latter to come into harmony with the former, carrying the impression that all revelation combines a human element with the divine impression and should be subject to such modification.

The Church, on the contrary, holds to the definite authority of divine revelation which must be the standard; and that, as so-called "science" has changed from age to age in its deductions, and as divine revelation is truth, and must abide forever, views as to the lesser should conform to the positive statements of the greater; and, further, that in institutions founded by the Church for the teaching of theology, as well as other branches of education, its instructors must be in harmony in their teachings with its principles and doctrines.

There was no inclination to interfere with the freedom of thought and expression of the opinion of the professors, but the committee, after carefully weighing the matter, concluded that as teachers in a Church school they could not be given opportunity to inculcate theories that were out of harmony with the recognized doctrines of the Church, and hence that they be required to refrain from so doing.

The committe so reported to the trustees of the Brigham Young University. This body later held a meeting at which they unanimously resolved, "that no doctrine should be taught in the Brigham Young University not in harmony with the revealed word of God as interpreted and construed by the Presidency and Apostles of the Church; and that the power and authority of determining whether any professor or other instructor of the institution is out of harmony with the doctrines and attitude of the Church, be delegated to the presidency of the university."

The wisdom of the committee and board of trustees in their actions, as well as the justice and consistency thereof, will be conceded by every right thinking man. The standard of faith and belief for all Latter-day Saints must be the word of the Lord as set forth in the holy scriptures. Undeviatingly should this be the case in Church institutions of learning, founded and sustained — one may say expressly — for the purpose of creating faith in the minds of the young people.

There are so many demonstrated practical material truths, so many spiritual certainties, with which the youth of Zion should become familiar, that it appears a waste of time and means, and detrimental to faith and religion to enter too extensively into the undemonstrated theories of men on philosophies relating to the origin of life, or the methods adopted by an Alwise Creator in peopling the earth with the bodies of men, birds and beasts. Let us rather turn our abilities to the practical analysis of the soil, the study of the elements, the productions of the earth, the invention of useful machinery, the social welfare of the race, and its material amelioration; and for the rest cultivate an abiding faith in the revealed word of God and the saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which give joy in this world and in the world to come eternal life and salvation.

Philosophic theories of life have their place and use, but it is not in the classes of the Church schools, and particularly are they out of place here or anywhere else when they seek to supplant the revelations of God. The ordinary student cannot delve into these subjects deep enough to make them of any practical use to him, and a smattering of knowledge in this line only tends to upset his simple faith in the gospel, which is of more value to him in life than all the learning of the world without it.

The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth. "That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy," said the First Presidency in their Christmas greeting to the Saints, "but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept, nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good, common sense. But everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us, no matter where it may be found."

A good motto for young people to adopt, who are determined to delve into philosophic theories, is to search all things, but be careful to hold on only to that which is true. The truth persists, but the theories of philosophers change and are overthrown. What men use today as a scaffolding for scientific purposes from which to reach out into the unknown for truth, may be torn down tomorrow, having served its purpose; but faith is an eternal principle through which the humble believer may secure everlasting solace. It is the only way to find God.


[Note: The above editorial by Church President Joseph F. Smith was originally published in the April 1911 Improvement Era. The reader will note that this editorial is not even mentioned by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery in their book Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005), which claims to include "in full all known" authoritative LDS statements on evolution and the origin of man. — (This note was updated on 04/29/2006.)]

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Spencer W. Kimball and the watchmaker analogy

The watchmaker analogy (I've posted on this here) is often used as an argument for the existence of God or a creator.[1] A 1986 book by Richard Dawkins contrasts the difference between intelligent design and natural selection, and dubs the latter The Blind Watchmaker.[2] The watchmaker analogy goes to the heart of the current evolution debate.

Spencer W. Kimball was President of the Church when he used the watchmaker analogy in a devotional address at Brigham Young University in September 1977.[3]

The following year, the talk containing President Kimball's watchmaker remarks was published as his September 1978 "First Presidency Message" in the Ensign.[4] And in 1979, it was again published as his July "First Presidency Message" in the Tambuli.[5] In all three articles, President Kimball strongly denies that the earth came into existence by chance, while affirming the divine origin of man. Here is what he said:

"The watchmaker in Switzerland, with materials at hand, made the watch that was found in the sand in a California desert. The people who found the watch had never been to Switzerland, nor seen the watchmaker, nor seen the watch made. The watchmaker still existed, no matter the extent of their ignorance or experience. If the watch had a tongue, it might even lie and say, ' There is no watchmaker.' That would not alter the truth....

"The Gods organized the earth of materials at hand, over which they had control and power. This truth is absolute. A million educated folk might speculate and determine in their minds that the earth came into being by chance. The truth remains. The earth was made by the Gods as was the watch by the watchmaker. Opinions do not change that.

"The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth. This is absolute. It cannot be disproved. A million brilliant minds might conjecture otherwise, but it is still true."

According to Edward Kimball in the recent biography, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005) President Kimball said little about the evolution in public and was noncommittal in family discussions. (p. 97.)

President Kimball's 1977, 1978, and 1979 use of the watchmaker analogy seems to have been overlooked in that assessment.


[1] According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, The watchmaker analogy is often used as a teleological argument (argument from design) in support of the view that the universe (or features of it) are the product of a conscious designer or designers. A teleological argument is an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, design and/or direction in nature. The word "teleological" is derived from the Greek word telos, meaning end or purpose. Teleology is the supposition that there is purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature.

[2] According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design is a 1986 book by Richard Dawkins in which he presents an explanation of, and argument for, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

      In his choice of the title for this book, Dawkins makes reference to the watchmaker analogy made famous by William Paley in his book Natural Theology. Paley, arguing over fifty years before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, held that the complexity of living organisms was evidence of the existence of a divine creator by drawing a parallel with the way in which the existence of a watch compels belief in a (human) watchmaker. Dawkins, contrasting the difference between human design, with its potential for planning, and the working of natural selection, therefore dubbed the latter The Blind Watchmaker.

[3] Spencer W. Kimball, "Absolute Truth," 1977 BYU Devotional Speeches of the Year, 6 Sept. 1977 [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978], p. 138.

[4] Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Absolute Truth," Ensign, Sept. 1978, p. 4.

[5] Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Absolute Truth," Tambuli, July 1979, p. 4; see also "Absolute Truth," Tambuli, June 1988, 19; and The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.1.

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The Watchmaker Analogy

[The following is excerpted from Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Paperback, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, pp. 211-216.]

Over the course of human history, most learned folks (and even more unlearned folks) have thought that design was evident in nature. Up until the time of Darwin, in fact, the argument that the world was designed was commonplace in both philosophy and science. But the intellectual soundness of the argument was poor, probably due to lack of competition from other ideas. The pre-Darwinian strength of the design argument reached its zenith in the writings of the nineteenth-century Anglican clergyman William Paley. An enthusiastic servant of his God, Paley brought a wide scientific scholarship to bear in his writings but, ironically, set himself up for refutation by overreaching.

The famous opening paragraph of Paley's Natural Theology shows the power of the argument and also contains some of the flaws that led to its later rejection:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that for any thing I knew to the contrary it had lain there for ever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should this answer not serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone — that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts and of their offices, all tending to one result: We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavor to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain.... We then find a series of wheels.... We take notice that the wheels are made of brass, in order to keep them from rust;... that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work, but in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed — it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood, the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.[1]

Compared with that of the Greeks, Paley's argument is much improved. Although in Natural Theology he gives many poor examples of design (akin to Diogenes and Socrates), he also frequently hits the nail on the head. Among other things, Paley writes about discrete systems, such as muscles, bones, and mammary glands, that he believes would cease to function if one of several components were missing. This is the essence of the design argument. However, it must be emphasized for the modern reader that, even at his best, Paley was talking about biological black boxes: systems larger than a cell. Paley's example of a watch, in contrast, is excellent because the watch was not a black box; its components and their roles were known.

Paley expresses the design argument so well that he even earns the respect of dedicated evolutionists. Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker takes its title from Paley's watch analogy but claims that evolution, rather than an intelligent agent, plays the role of the watchmaker:

Paley drives his point home with beautiful and reverent descriptions of the dissected machinery of life, beginning with the human eye.... Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of his day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong.... If [natural selection] can be said to play the role of the watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.... But one thing I shall not do is belittle the wonder of the living "watches" that so inspired Paley. On the contrary, I shall try to illustrate my feeling that here Paley could have gone even further.[2]

Dawkins's feeling toward Paley is that of a conqueror toward a worthy but defeated enemy. Magnanimous in victory, the Oxford scientist can afford to pay tribute to the cleric who shared Dawkins's own concern for complexity in nature. Certainly Dawkins is justified in considering Paley to be defeated; very few philosophers or scientists refer to him anymore. Those that do, like Dawkins, do so only to dismiss rather than engage his argument. Paley has been lumped in with earth-centered astronomy and the phlogiston theory of burning — another loser in science's struggle to explain the world.

But exactly where, we may ask, was Paley refuted? Who has answered his argument? How was the watch produced without an intelligent designer? It is surprising but true that the main argument of the discredited Paley has actually never been refuted. Neither Darwin nor Dawkins, neither science nor philosophy, has explained how an irreducibly complex system such as a watch might be produced without a designer. Instead Paley's argument has been sidetracked by attacks on its injudicious examples and off-the-point theological discussions. Paley, of course, is to blame for not framing his argument more tightly. But many of Paley's detractors are also to blame for refusing to engage his main point, playing dumb in order to reach a more palatable conclusion.

In Natural Theology Paley points to biological examples that, he argues, are systems of interacting components like a watch and therefore indicate a designer. Paley's examples are a mixed bag, ranging from the truly astonishing to the mildly interesting to the rather silly, from mechanical systems to instincts to mere shapes. Almost none of his examples has been specifically refuted by demonstrating that the features could arise without a designer, but because for many examples Paley appeals to no principle that would prevent incremental development, people have assumed since Darwin that such gradual development is possible....

Despite many of his misguided examples, Paley's famous first paragraph concerning the watch is exactly correct — no one would deny that if you found a watch you would immediately, and with certainty, conclude that it had been designed. The reason for the conclusion is just as Paley implied: the ordering of separate components to accomplish a function beyond that of the individual components. The function of the watch is to act as a timekeeping device. Its components are various gears, springs, chains, and the like that Paley lists....

Throughout his book Paley strays from the feature of the watch — a system of interacting components — that caused him to select it as an example in the first place. As is often the case for the rest of us, too, his argument would have been greatly improved if he had said less.

Because of his indiscretion, Paley's argument over the years has been turned into a straw man to knock down. Instead of dealing with the real complexity of a system (such as a retina or a watch), some defenders of Darwinism are satisfied with offering a story to account for peripheral features. As an analogy, a Darwinian "explanation" for a watch with a cover would start by assuming that a factory already was making a watch without a cover! And then the explanation would go on to show what an improvement a cover would be.

Poor Paley. His modern opponents feel justified in assuming enormously complex starting points (such as a watch or a retina) if they think they can then explain a simple improvement (such as a watch cover or curvature of the eye). No further arguments are made; no explanation is given for the real complexity, the irreducible complexity. The refutation of Paley's overreaching is asserted to be a refutation of Paley's main point, even by those who know better.


[1] Paley, W. Natural Theology, American Tract Society, New York, pp. 9-10.

[2] Dawkins, R. (1985) The Blind Watchmaker, W. W. Norton, London, p. 3.

[The above is excerpted from Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Paperback, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, pp. 211-216.]

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

David O. McKay and pre-Adamites

It was Monday afternoon, April 6, 1953. Elder Marion G. Romney, of the Quorum of the Twelve, had just finished speaking in the seventh and final session of general conference. He was handed a note from Church President David O. McKay that said:

"I congratulate you for your excellent contribution during the conference and express gratitude for your remarks as well as your fine spirit, and I assure you that I agreed heartily in every instance." [1]

According to this note, President McKay "agreed heartily" with the following comments about Adam and pre-Adamites:

"There were no pre-Adamic men in the line of Adam. The Lord said that Adam was the first man. (Moses 1:34, 3:7; D. & C. 84:16.) It is hard for me to get the idea of a man ahead of Adam, before the first man. The Lord also said that Adam was the first flesh (Moses 3:7) which, as I understand it, means the first mortal on the earth. I understand from a statement in the book of Moses, which was made by Enoch, that there was no death in the world before Adam. (Moses 6:48; see also 2 Nephi 2:22.)...

"I am not a scientist. I do not profess to know anything but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and the principles of his gospel. If, however, there are some things in the strata of the earth indicating there were men before Adam, they were not the ancestors of Adam.

"Adam was the son of God. He was our elder brother, not older than Jesus but he was our brother in the same sense that Jesus was our brother, and he ' fell ' to earth life. He did not come up through an unbroken line of organic evolution." [2]

President McKay's statement of agreement with the above is entirely consistent with what he and four of his associates had said on the same subject 23 years earlier. Five Apostles, including David O. McKay, had been assigned to review a 1928 manuscript written by B. H. Roberts. They reported to President Heber J. Grant in May 1930 as follows:

"We feel that the arguments as given contradict the accounts given in all our scriptures, and more especially in the temple ceremonies. As we understand it the term ' first flesh also,' does not have reference to Adam as being the first living creature of the creation on the earth, but that he, through the ' fall ' became the first ' flesh,' or mortal soul. The term ' flesh ' in reference to mortal existence is of common usage. We find it so used in the scriptures. Adam having partaken of the fruit became mortal and subject to death, which was not the condition until that time. We are taught in the Temple as well as in the scriptures that man was the last creation placed upon the earth, before death was introduced. Adam was the first to partake of the change and to become subject to the flesh....

"This entire chapter deals with the question of ' pre-Adamites.' This doctrine is not taught by the Church; it is not sustained in the scriptures. It can only be treated as an hypothesis, and the result will be uncertain, confusing, for after all is said it is speculation leading to endless controversy.... It appears to us that all which has been revealed is contrary to this teaching, especially that given in the Temple." [3]

David O. McKay believed, with the rest of the committee, that the book should not be published as written. In 1931, the First Presidency upheld the committee's decision (see here).

In a 1946 sermon, President McKay likened Darwin's theory of evolution to the concept of man's eventual resurrection from the dead.[4] It was a rhetorical comparison that President McKay used more than once during his ministry — in reality, of course, Darwin's theory is unrelated to the resurrection. Unfortunately, such remarks are sometimes cited as evidence that President McKay believed in biological evolution.[5]

Yet, President McKay never stated publicly that he believed in biological evolution.[6] On the contrary, as indicated by what he and four associates said in 1930, and by his April 1953 note to Elder Romney, David O. McKay did not believe in evolution as an explanation for the origin of Adam's physical body.

President McKay believed in the eternal progression of man. He believed, as does President Hinckley, in "a far more important and wonderful kind of evolution. It is the evolution of men and women as the sons and daughters of God, and of our marvelous potential for growth as children of our Creator." [7]


[1] As quoted in a letter written by Church President Harold B. Lee to a member in October 1973. This is actually an endorsement from two Prophets — David O. McKay was Church President when he wrote the note and Harold B. Lee was Church President when he quoted from the note in his letter.

[2] Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1953, p. 123; see also The Improvement Era, June 1953, p. 442. Nearly thirty years later, similar comments were made by President Marion G. Romney (then serving as Second Counselor in the First Presidency) in his "First Presidency Message: Records of Great Worth," Ensign, Sept. 1980, p. 5.

[3] Review Committee to President Grant, in The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition (Provo: BYU Studies, 1996), pp. 292-293, 297. Elder George Albert Smith was chairman of the committee, and Elders David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Stephen L. Richards, and Melvin J. Ballard were committee members.

[4] David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 49-50.

[5] An example of this is found in Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005), pp. 101-102.

[6] Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, in David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2005), state that President McKay "never made a public statement affirming his acceptance of biological evolution.... The closest he came ... was his address in 1946 [wherein he used] evolution as an argument in favor of resurrection [and] went so far as to borrow from Charles Darwin to make his point." (p. 46).

[7] Gordon B. Hinckley, "First Presidency Message: 'God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear'," Ensign, Oct. 1984, p. 5.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Harold B. Lee on pre-Adamites

Closely — but not directly — related to the question of evolution's place in LDS doctrine has been a limited but ongoing discussion about pre-Adamites. This discussion reached a high point between 1928 and 1931 when Church authorities considered the theory that human-like creatures may have lived and died on this earth for millions of years before the time of Adam.

The suggestion was that these pre-Adamites had all been destroyed by some cataclysmic event prior to the arrival of the first Genesis life forms. It was an attempt to reconcile scripture with pre-Adamic humanoid fossils.

The discussion resulted in an unpublished 1931 First Presidency memo stating that the Church had no doctrinal position on either side of the question.

Forty one years later — and six months after being ordained and set apart as the Church's eleventh Prophet — President Harold B. Lee made public his position on pre-Adamites:

I was somewhat sorrowed recently to hear someone, a sister who comes from a church family, ask, "What about the pre-Adamic people?" Here was someone who I thought was fully grounded in the faith.

I asked. "What about the pre-Adamic people?"

She replied, "Well, aren't there evidences that people preceded the Adamic period of the earth?"

I said, "Have you forgotten the scripture that says, 'And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also....' " (Moses 3:7.) I asked, "Do you believe that?"

She wondered about the creation because she had read the theories of the scientists, and the question that she was really asking was: How do you reconcile science with religion? The answer must be, If science is not true, you cannot reconcile truth with error. (Harold B. Lee, "First Presidency Message: Find the Answers in the Scriptures," Ensign, Dec. 1972, 2.)

A question about pre-Adamites is answered by saying, "If science is not true, you cannot reconcile truth with error." Of course this counsel is completely lost on LDS evolutionists who argue that the 1931 First Presidency said, in essence, "You are authorized to reconcile scripture with science by interpreting scripture according to science" when, in fact, the 1931 Presidency ruling was against just such an attempt. President Lee's 1972 remarks are more easily understood — he clearly disavows pre-Adamites while at the same time reaffirming the 1931 First Presidency counsel not to stretch the gospel to fit science.

A 1973 personal letter

"Letters [from Church leaders] to individuals are not the channel for announcing the policy of the Church." [1]  Having reemphasized that point, I reproduce below a letter written by Church President Harold B. Lee to a member in October 1973. [2] This letter gives valuable insight into several matters related to the above First Presidency Message excerpt.

I have a few moments to respond to your letter of recent date in which you express some concern about some contradictory information as to the position we should take with regard to the doctrine of evolution.

This, as you know, has been long a bone of contention so serious that in the earlier years when Darwin's theory first was enunciated, a number of professors at the Brigham Young University were released because of their unwillingness to teach the theory and then counter by delivering the true doctrines of the gospel.

Apparently the thing that confused you was that these who have contended have shown you a copy of a letter which was signed by President David O. McKay in which he disavowed the church having taken any official position on the subject of organic evolution. And, furthermore, that in that note to Professor William Lee Stokes, he declared that the book, Man, His Origin and Destiny was not published by the church and is not approved by the church.

There is a little bit of history that I should tell you about. One summer some years ago, I was assigned to deliver a day by day set of lessons to all the seminary students [teachers?] and some of the institute teachers of the church, which proved to be a very demanding assignment. I went down each morning and met with all of these teachers. President Joseph Fielding Smith's book had just come off the press and I assigned as a part of the course, the reading of this book and writing a dissertation not less than 2500 words on the subject "What Your Appraisal Is of the Value of This Book to a High School Senior or a College Student." This caused quite a consternation among the teachers, some of whom wanted to write a very critical analysis of the book and were fearful of doing so lest I would downgrade them in the course. This was not at all my intent, it was merely to have them respond critically if they wished, and I so told President Smith that I was inviting criticism and he said that was alright. [sic]

Some of these brethren who were critical of the book came directly to President McKay and represented to him that I had used President Joseph Fielding Smith's book as a text for my lectures at the BYU. He called President Ernest Wilkinson in to express his criticism that I had done so, and President Wilkinson told him that that was not true, that he, President Wilkinson, had sat in on most of the lectures that I had given and I did not use the book as a text, it was merely an assigned reading outside of the lessons.

It was undoubtedly the undue pressure of some of these dissidents, one of which was his own son, who was a professor at the University of Utah, that induced him to write this brief and to them a satisfying but to you a disturbing note, which poured water over their wheel and tended to lessen the influence of President Joseph Fielding Smith's book.

When your letter came to our attention, President Marion G. Romney told me of a conference address which he had delivered at the April conference in 1953, where he spoke directly to this subject of the fall of Adam, or the fall of man, as it is spoken of, and then brought forth scriptures to support the position of the church with respect to the advent of man upon the earth, etc.

At the conclusion of his talk, President Romney said that President David O. McKay had congratulated him and had written a brief note, a copy of which I am attaching hereto, in which he congratulated President Romney and then said, "I congratulate you for your excellent contribution during the conference and express gratitude for your remarks as well as your fine spirit, and I assure you that I agreed heartily in every instance." President Romney thought if you had this statement from President David O. McKay, signed by himself, to counter this other statement which has been so confusing, that that should be sufficient for you to understand that President McKay had made this other statement probably because of a compromising position he had been in due to the circumstances as I have explained them.

I might add one further thought. Just after this book of President Joseph Fielding Smith's was printed, I had a young student of science from the University of Utah who came from a family who lived in my stake, come in with several books and wanted to argue against statements made in President [Joseph] Fielding Smith's book. I said to him, "Now Brother ___." (his name was Dr. ___.) "I haven't had the opportunity of delving deeply into science, but I want to tell you an experience that Mark E. Petersen and I had when we organized the new Kansas City Stake. In our interview we had a man who was considered as a bishop of one of the wards who was a teacher of anatomy in the Kansas City University, which was a dental school. Of course this made it necessary for us to examine very carefully his faith as contrasted with his teaching of the evolutionary theory which of course would be taught in connection with the subject of anatomy. After we had discussed this, I asked him if he had read Brother Smith's book. He smiled and said, 'Yes, I have, and it was the most difficult book I have ever read. But,' he said, 'I want to tell you that in my opinion this is the finest book that the church has ever produced for men who were teachers in the field of science. And I endorse what President Smith has said entirely so.' "

I said to this young Dr. ____, "I wish you would write to this professor of science, who is much older and more experienced than you, in Kansas City, and have him respond to your questions."

A few weeks later this young man came back in a humble spirit and said, "Well I need nothing more to quiet my concerns, when a man of his experience can say what he said, that's enough for me."

Now if I were you, Brother ____, I would not be discouraged. This is a contention which has gone on and will continue to the end of time I suppose, and until the scientists get nearer and nearer to the doctrines of the Church, there will still be contention, but remember this, that truth can never be composed with the errors of men. Just know that the gospel is true and that these are the theories of men which you as a student must learn if you want to pass the courses you are taking.

With kindest personal regards and trusting this letter will be sufficient to set the matter right in your mind I am, Very sincerely yours, Harold B. Lee.

According to this 1973 letter, President Lee's position on issues related to evolution had remained constant since at least 1954.

This letter also provides some interesting background about the No Death Before the Fall instructions President Lee gave to Seminary and Institute teachers in 1954 — instructions that have since been distributed (in 2002) by the current First Presidency (Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust) to all adult members in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee.


[1] See 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. 23; emphasis in original; also available online, pdf p. 13.

[2] See The Origin of Man & Organic Evolution, as downloaded 9/4/2004 from BYU-Idaho.

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