Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ardis Parshall is wrong about Joseph Fielding Smith

On her blog at Keepapitchinin, Ardis Parshall claims that publication of Joseph Fielding Smith's 1954 book, Man, His Origin and Destiny, "ignored the First Presidency's injunction to leave such matters alone."

Let's be clear about this. Whatever else he may have done during six decades as an apostle, Joseph Fielding Smith did not disregard a First Presidency directive when he published Man: His Origin and Destiny. In fact, David O. McKay's First Presidency, in a signed statement published in the Improvement Era, said of him: "No man has ever been more loyal to the President of the Church." (July 1966, p.613.)

Yes, that's right. It was David O. McKay's published opinion that Joseph Fielding Smith had always been loyal to the Church President—every bit as loyal, in fact, as any other man had ever been. So who do we believe, Ardis or President McKay?

Let's analyze more closely what Ardis says:

"In 1930-1931, several church leaders, notably Joseph Fielding Smith (apostle, and son of the church president), B.H. Roberts (a Seventy, and philosopher/historian), and James E. Talmage (apostle, chemist, and geologist) engaged in an extended and often rancorous exchange of views in various Mormon publications, with Smith taking a fundamentalist, anti-evolutionary position and Roberts and Talmage advocating elements of the secular scientific theories. The public argument called forth a memorandum of the First Presidency addressed to all of the church's general authorities. This memorandum noted the detrimental effect of such disputations on the church and commanded:  ' Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.' "

And there you have it, folks. In one paragraph, Ardis gives us the injunction that was allegedly ignored and some background so we can understand it.

The paragraph contains minor inaccuracies, [1]  but more importantly, there are significant omissions. For example, Ardis doesn't say anything about the book that was the object and focus of the discussions. Leaving that book out of the above story is like leaving the Book of Mormon out of the Restoration story.

So here is some of the information I feel Ardis should have included. (A more detailed version of these events was posted here and here in 2004.)

The 1931 First Presidency memo (the one that Ardis quotes) closed the Church's lengthy and official evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted in 1928 by Elder B. H. Roberts, a Seventy. Neither the author nor his manuscript were sympathetic to evolution. [2]  Problems arose for the manual, however, because it tried to reconcile fossils with scripture by (a) bringing the conclusions of science into its gospel lessons, and (b) advancing a new theory about the creation. The 1931 First Presidency memo says:

“Elder Roberts quotes from the scripture and extensively from the conclusions reached by the leading scientists of the world, to show that the earth is older than the time given to its creation in Genesis indicates.”

In the manuscript, and in his presentation before the Twelve (which was taken from Chapter 31 of the manuscript) Roberts brought in the latest conclusions of scientists in the fields of Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology to support his theory.

Then, after two and a half years of discussion, the 1931 First Presidency memo said basically, Let's get back to work. Referring to the Roberts book, the First Presidency said the conclusions of Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology don't belong in a priesthood manual. Discussions about the manuscript are over. The book will not be published. [3]

To the extent that it applies to anything beyond the Roberts book, the 1931 First Presidency memo was a directive not to bring the conclusions of science into the gospel and use them to interpret scripture as Roberts had done. And clearly, Joseph Fielding Smith's book, Man, His Origin and Destiny, doesn't use science to interpret scripture. President Smith's book does the opposite. It is, therefore, in full compliance with the 1931 First Presidency directive.

All of which means Ardis Parshall is merely bringing trumped-up charges against Joseph Fielding Smith when she says:

"The controversy was renewed briefly in 1954 when Smith, the last survivor of the leaders so prominent in the earlier debates, published Man, His Origin and Destiny. This volume ignored the First Presidency's injunction to leave such matters alone."

A Pharisee named Gamaliel counseled moderation when criticizing the apostles "lest haply ye be found even to fight against God" (Acts 5:39). Oh that all of us would more often heed this wise counsel.

In conclusion, a bloggernacle that watches quietly while Ardis Parshall makes a good man look bad should also be willing to allow this lowly blogger to refute her ridiculous charges and clear his good name on that one point.


1.  Inaccuracies include:

The exchange of views began in October 1928 when, after the Roberts manuscript was submitted, a committee of five members of the Quorum of the Twelve was assigned to review it.

Joseph Fielding Smith was not "son of the church president" (Heber J. Grant), he was the son of a previous president (Joseph F. Smith);

This was primarily a private discussion and there was no rancor in either of the two items that were published. Therefore, calling it an "often rancorous exchange of views in various Mormon publications" is an exaggeration at best.

2.  Elder Roberts was not an evolutionist and his book does not promote evolution. On the contrary, his book plainly teaches that each "subdivision of life ... produces after its kind, whereas evolution in all its forms destroys that thought."

William E. Evenson has confirmed that Roberts, in his book, "addresses three forms of evolutionary theory with which he was familiar from science: materialistic or mechanical evolution, agnostic evolution, and theistic (or purposeful or creative) evolution. He finds all three approaches to be inadequate and rejects all current theories as he understands them. Instead he puts forward his own theory of evolution, which he calls 'developmental theism.' "

Evenson concludes that "Roberts's opinions are not those of an evolutionist. The differences of opinion between Roberts and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith on the subject of evolution were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms. Rather, the central point of concern was whether death occurred on earth before the fall of Adam." (William E. Evenson, "Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution," a review of chapters 3-5, 9-10, 12, 21, 23-25, 29-32, in B. H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996, p.645.)

3.  More than sixty years after his death, the Roberts book was published posthumously.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ardis Parshall is right about no death before the fall

Last week, I had an interesting encounter with Ardis Parshall on her blog Keepapitchinin. There was some disagreement but not much discussion as she responded to my comments mostly with name calling. However, there was one pair of comments that I'd like to discuss further.

Gary (comment 22): "In terms of alignment with what the Church teaches, [evolution] has a problem, because all fossils are dead; and the Church's Bible Dictionary, Guide to the Scriptures, True to the Faith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, and Gospel Principles 2009 (to name a few) all teach no death before the fall of Adam."

Ardis (comment 29): "The Church has no official position. I will continue to fight for that until a unified quorum or quorums announce otherwise. Beyond that, Gary and you and everybody else can believe what you want, with my cheerful blessing. I just won't let it go unchallenged that because this or that individual religious authority, in this or that random publication that may have been sponsored by the Church and happens to include some incidental statement relative to the matter, such statement constitutes a revelation that is binding upon me or anyone else. It isn't."

Notice how Ardis sidestepped the issue by marginalizing the six books I named. But these are not random publications. They are current LDS publications. All six were produced at the request of and under the direction of the First Presidency.

Every copy of the LDS Bible has bound in with it the LDS Bible Dictionary (English) or Guide to the Scriptures (Spanish); and all electronic editions of the LDS Scriptures have them both. True to the Faith was written and published for all youth, young single adults, and new members. The other books are given to all adult members as gospel reference and for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society class discussion.

I believe these publications do show "what the Church teaches" about death before the fall. Ardis argued against that by saying the Church has no official position, it isn't a revelation, and it isn't binding.

Ardis Parshall is right. No death before the fall is not binding, or a revelation, or the official position of the Church.

But her arguments misrepresent my comment. I've never even heard the claim made that no death before the fall is binding, or a revelation, or the official position of the Church. And I've certainly never made such a claim myself.

I've said simply that it's "what the Church teaches."

Okay. So here are some of those statements that are "incidental" from publications that are "random." Read them and decide for yourself what the Church teaches.

LDS Bible Dictionary

"Before the fall,... there was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the 'forbidden fruit,' Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered,... and death became a part of life. Adam became the 'first flesh' upon the earth, meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam's fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind." ("Fall of Adam.")

"Adam is spoken of as the 'first flesh' upon the earth, meaning he was the first mortal on the earth, all things being created in a nonmortal condition, and becoming mortal through the fall of Adam." ("Flesh.")

"There was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the fall (2 Ne. 2:22; Moses 6:48)." ("Death.")

Guide to the Scriptures

"The Fall brought mortality and death to the earth (2 Ne. 2:22; Moses 6:48)." ("Death, Physical.")

True to the Faith

"The Fall of Adam brought physical death into the world (see Moses 6:48)." ("Death, Physical.")

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff

"We acknowledge that through Adam all have died, that death through the fall must pass upon the whole human family, also upon the beasts of the field, the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air and all the works of God, as far as this earth is concerned." (Chapter 8.)

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee

"Besides the Fall having had to do with Adam and Eve, causing a change to come over them, that change affected all human nature, all of the natural creations, all of the creation of animals, plants—all kinds of life were changed. The earth itself became subject to death.... How it took place no one can explain, and anyone who would attempt to make an explanation would be going far beyond anything the Lord has told us. But a change was wrought over the whole face of the creation, which up to that time had not been subject to death. From that time henceforth all in nature was in a state of gradual dissolution until mortal death was to come, after which there would be required a restoration in a resurrected state." (Chapter 3.)

Gospel Principles (2009 edition)

"Jesus Christ created this world and everything in it" (p.23). "When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden,... there was no death" (p.28). "Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world" (p.219). "Their part in our Father's plan was to bring mortality into the world" (p.27).

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Gospel Principles (2009): "There was no death."

The Church's basic doctrine manual, Gospel Principles, reaffirms that Adam's fall brought mortality and death into the world. The 2009 edition of Gospel Principles teaches:

"Jesus Christ created this world and everything in it" (p.23). "When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden,... there was no death" (p.28). "Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world" (p.219). "Their part in our Father's plan was to bring mortality into the world" (p.27).

Originally written in 1978 for investigators and new members, the 2009 edition will be used for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society second and third Sunday instruction during 2010 and 2011. The manual is also an approved resource for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society first Sunday lessons.

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