Towards a Mormon Darwinism

Many theologians have become interested in the implications of Darwinism for Christianity and religion in general. Within our church the debates about evolution have often been centered on figuring out just what the church’s position on evolution actually is. It’s confused because there are abundant negative statements by general authorities, including church presidents, who believed that evolution has its roots in the devil himself. Darwinism in this view is completely incompatible with Mormonism. These debates, I believe, have distracted us from thinking deeply about the implications of Darwinism for our unique and powerful teachings. I’m sure these debates about evolution will continue. Too many people have invested too much time in defending one side or the other. However, Darwinism is winning and I believe the idea that a strict literalism is necessary for our theology is dangerous and mistaken. Christian thinkers and scholars are actively pursuing new theological insights which are informed by evolutionary biology and its implications. Wonderful things are appearing that are both insightful and meaningful. This, I think is an important and proactive approach, rather than retreating into the dark corners of the God of the Gaps, which seems to inform the fundamentalist (Christian, not FLDS) creationists. So as a thought experiment, whether you believe evolution is mistaken, or if you, like me, believe that evolution is true in its broad outlines, let’s try and work out what it would mean for our beliefs if it is true. So assume for the sake of argument that evolution is true. Humans evolved just like science says they did. The Earth is 4.5 odd Billion years old, life appeared 3.5 billion years ago, humans came out of ape-like ancestors like Lucy about 3.5 million years ago. Assume all this is true. Can we answer the following questions in new ways? Can we fit our stories, our beliefs, and our doctrine within this framework? Remember we are stipulating that Darwinism is true, so don’t argue about the truth of these things, only explore: IF they are true, how can we understand the following? Specifically,

Who were Adam and Eve?
What does it mean that they fell?
How do we understand the Fall?
What is the nature of the Natural Man?
What is the nature of Evil?
What does it mean that there was no death before the Fall?
How can we understand the Atonement?
Are there implications for the Resurrection?
What does it mean for understanding of a physical God?
What are the implications of God’s hand in Creation?
Can we still talk about McConkie’s three pillars Creation, Fall, Atonement? How can we understand these?

So got that? Assume evolution is true. Pick one, or more, of the above and explore how we can understand the topic in light of the assumption of evolution’s reality. No arguing about the truth of evolution. We are assuming it. We may find in this exercise that our deepest and most important doctrines are friendlier to the possibility evolution than we thought.

Comments

  1. I still love the way Aleksandr Men’ handled the first question in a children’s book I own. Adam and Eve were cast out of their prehuman society because they were the first to develop human consciousness. Fascinating recasting of purity and simplicity in the garden.

  2. “Assume evolution is true”..You let off your list: Why would God look like a Man?

  3. #2: that ‘left’ off. To believe in Evolution is to believe that Man is in the image of living on the Earth. He has teeth to eat, he has a nose for air, he has legs to walk.

  4. Openly affirming a long natural history for humans certainly complicates standard LDS rhetoric about Adam and Eve as parents of the human race. For example, here’s from LDS.org gospel topics, article “Creation”: “The scriptures also teach that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34). God created Adam and Eve in His own image and in the image of His Only Begotten (see Moses 2:26–27).”

    Which suggests a substantial rethinking of the doctrines clustered around Creation would be necessary should the Church ever openly affirm a long natural history for humans. And perhaps a rethinking of the Pearl of Great Price, too.

  5. I think we should be more flexible in our perspectives — specifically, I think we should embrace the miraculous.

    I have personally been present many times when miracles occurred for people in multiple religions. As a result, I am at the point of seeing no contradiction between Darwinism and Creationism. That is, each is completely true. I live in a world where contradictory things can be true.

    (If I’m looking at the sky and God tells me there is no sky, then I must understand that there is no sky.)

  6. Randall says:

    One question I’ve often considered is whether the evolution from amoeba to man is qualitatively or quantitatively lesser/greater than the evolution from man to god.

  7. Yes, Randall. And it gets really interesting when we think along the lines of Paul’s description of the body of Christ. There may yet be some wonderfully interesting metaphor to be found in Darwinism–as it relates to who and what God is and our relation to him.

  8. As to the questions above–

    It might work to think of the Fall as not so much of a change in Adam & Eve’s world, but rather their movement into a new world that was already plagued by death. This seems to fit what we learn in holy places–a little better. And if, for the sake of argument, the Garden was some kind of pre-mortal sphere then there’s no problem squaring Darwinism with our doctrine. (The real problem is squaring our doctrine with our doctrine.)

  9. Randall says:

    I have a friend who doesn’t approve of any usage of evolution except in referring to the biological differentiation of species. However, I think all things evolve…either in their nature or our belief of their nature.

    For example, the God of the Old Testament was feared for his jealousy vengeance. He evolved into the God of the New Testament with his compassion and higher law. He evolved into the God of our time who seems to live in a very large tent. So large that all who come unto Christ are accepted…and in which he could equally well be she.

  10. Genesis is foundational. Good book to discuss.

  11. Just ideas sprouting from my brain. Note: literalist interpretors of scripture might wish to pass on the following responses. But then, how many literalists would even be playing along with the intellectual exercise in this blog post to begin with?

    Who were Adam and Eve?

    The first humans (homo sapiens) with spirits begotten of our Heavenly Father, endowed with powers of moral choice and (later) discernment.

    What does it mean that they fell?

    Knowledge of Good and Evil came to them perhaps much the same way it comes to children reaching an age of accountability, perhaps through some other means? Probably not necessarily as simple as a literal test about which foods to eat, and which to avoid. “Food” may have wider interpretation.

    How do we understand the Fall?

    God’s separation from his children because he cannot withstand sin in his presence without serious negative effects on imperfect flesh?

    What is the nature of the Natural Man?

    Endowed with a conscience from on high through spirit; inheritor of Darwinian tendencies to ensure survival, perpetuation of the species.

    What is the nature of Evil?

    Conscious rebellion against God and the eternal laws He himself follows. Adam and Eve transgressed, and grew to understand their actions as against Gods will. Evil takes transgression one step further by including premeditation.

    What does it mean that there was no death before the Fall?

    No spiritual death before Fall. Perhaps if God “breathes his spirit” into the bodies of an evolved species of animal, and if this act constitutes the origin of truly human individuals, we can see the “no death before the Fall” as true in the sense that Adam and Eve were the first embodied spirits to do so. Animals, plants, and pre-humans died, consistent with the operative process of evolution (natural selection)?

    How can we understand the Atonement?

    Probably too big a question to answer here, but the Atonement saves us from our failure to follow the eternal laws of God in all things. Has nothing to do with the Fall of Adam and Eve, except that they got the ball rolling by being first to have need of the Atonement to reconcile themselves with God; all of us are accountable for own sins.

    Are there implications for the Resurrection?

    Who knows? The Resurrection is a squirreley subject if taken to a literalist extreme. If God has a perfect(ed) physical body, I suppose we all must as well.

    What does it mean for understanding of a physical God?

    Who knows? The concept of God doing his work on other worlds without end it mind-blowing if you consider the nearly-infinite number of variables to consider in intelligently-designing an evolution of life from a single-celled organism to one that resembles God. And then do it on every planet under God’s control! Still, if a physical God is an indisputable point of doctrine, we must rely on something else. See below.

    What are the implications of God’s hand in Creation?

    If God’s power and knowledge are infinite and/or perfect (complete), we must trust that God didn’t just happen upon Earth, see that it was populated with many species of animals, plants, etc., and decide to throw some spirit children into the most advanced species on the planet just to see what would happen. From the stanpoint of faith, we can probably be safe, above all other considerations about the Creation and Fall, in positing that God did something to foster life on this planet (got it started, nurtured its path, etc.), and They probably have a good reason for it.

    Can we still talk about McConkie’s three pillars Creation, Fall, Atonement?

    McConkie’s ideas were his own. His understanding of theology and history are not the official position of the Church. They certainly aren’t the only way of thinking about foundational concepts such as creation, fall, and atonement. His dismissal of ideas inconsistent with his own hermeneutics is unfortunate in that it effectively closed for him and those who support his ideas to the possibility of other interpretations. In the end, the pillars are only metaphors, really, to help us understand the significance of key events/periods of our place in God’s plan for us. I don’t think evolution as opposed to literalist biblical creationism really changes the significance of the creation, fall, or atonement in any major ways.

  12. Evolution on several levels makes sense. if the world was “prepared” for us, how was it prepared? It makes a certain sense to start with the smallest building blocks and build up to the most complex. Without that structure underneath, I’m not sure that the earth could sustain the current complexity. Witness what happens when things get just slightly out of balance……
    The problem is, the questions. I personally believe as far as humanity goes, that Adam, genetically was probably the most perfect and that human genes have gone down hill from there. Look at the life spans before the flood. If that’s the case, how do we get from evolution on the planet to Adam and Eve? And no death? Without revelation, how do you reconcile the questions with Evolution? We can speculate, but that puts us in the same situation as those who speculated about “WHY” the blacks were not given the Priesthood for so many years. And some of THAT speculation took on the cloak of “doctrine”.
    We just don’t know.

  13. Rich Knapton says:

    Who were Adam and Eve??
    Since they were created from the dust of this earth I think we can assume they were created as all human creatures with parents. At some point they were gathered up and placed in the garden.

    What does it mean that they fell??
    It means the second death was instituted.

    How do we understand the Fall??
    It was a necessary precursor in order for us to be able to return to our father.

    What is the nature of the Natural Man??
    Natural man is he/she who behaves according to their natural instincts. What we need to do is base our behavior upon love.

    What is the nature of Evil??
    The active opposition to the laws of God.

    What does it mean that there was no death before the Fall??
    It means you don’t understand the purposes of the Fall. Hugh Nibley asked a good question. What does God mean by the term ‘man’? I think that man is he who must under go two deaths: physical and spiritual. Which death did Adam and Eve bring to the earth? The spiritual death. The other death came into being with the creation of universe..

    How can we understand the Atonement??
    That is the act by which we are saved from the death introduced by Adam and his sidekick.

    Are there implications for the Resurrection??
    Resurrection is salvation from the first death. It was this death which was a concomitant aspect of creation.

    What does it mean for understanding of a physical God??
    It would seem that since God has a physical body now he must have gone through a very similar process as that which we are undergoing.

    What are the implications of God’s hand in Creation??
    God is God by way of the creation and plan of salvation; not by way of Greek absolutism. He doesn’t have to be God by fulfilling the terms of Greek absolute thought. Therefore the fact that he has definition is not inconsistent with Him being God.

    Can we still talk about McConkie’s three pillars Creation, Fall, Atonement? How can we understand these?
    This is not a problem so long as we understand there were two creations and God did not reveal how either was created. As long as we understand that physical death was an aspect of creation and that the Fall introduced only the second death. Finally by Christ’s suffering and death we were offered salvation from both deaths.

    There, did I get it right? Is there a prize? Or, did Ijust do your Sunday School lesson for you?

    Rich

  14. What is the nature of the Natural Man?

    According to the theory of evolution by natural selection, humans are not the intended product of evolution, nor are we the pinnacle of nature’s creation. Accordingly, we are all in transition. We are slightly different than our parents, and our children are slightly different then us. We are “transitional” between our parents and our children.

    So the idea that God created man in his own image might be more of a metaphor. Maybe God evolves?

  15. I must admit that I gave up any literal interpretation of any old testament scripture quite a long time ago. All the stories are, to me, meaningful myths; their actual historicity being much much less important than whatever meaning we make of them and what we learn from them. If they are true, fine. If they aren’t, no surprise here. To discover that the events in Genesis occurred as they are recorded would be like watching a fascinating film and then seeing a little postscript in small letters that says “Based on a true story.” In my daily life, the actuality of these ancient events makes very little difference in how I behave, react, choose, and worship.

    With this point of view I find it rather easy to answer many of these questions.

    Who were Adam and Eve? They were part of an elaborate and meaningful creation story created early in the history of the Hebrews (or earlier?).

    What does it mean that they fell? As part of the story, they once lived with God, as children, innocent, and then they learned. The partook of opposition. They had trials. They struggled. They progressed.

  16. I think Rich Knapton’s comments pretty well nailed it.

    If a religion denies gravity, then there is a real problem with its theology. Denying evolution is much like denying gravity. The evidence is overwhelming.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I think religion is out of its domain of authority when it makes propositions about physical origins. But, it does have authority over spiritual origins.

    Consequently, there must be a harmony between scientific evolution and spiritual origins. I think Rich’s reactions are quite excellent.

  17. I would submit that such an exercise is ultimately futile. It is interesting to note that even the phrase “intelligent design” has been lifted from evangelicals and found its way into conference talks (see section “Recognizing The Lord’s Hand” in Elder Callister’s talk).

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=48d776978ac17110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1

  18. If Adam and Eve were historical individuals created through an evolutionary process, what became of the descendants of the many other human beings on the earth who were not their children? What would it mean for a son or daughter of Adam and Eve to mate with one of them?

  19. No time for a reasonable response, but I will say that these questions can be answered in favor of evolution from our accepted canon and official statements without any difficulty. This reading, imho, highlights the real power of godliness we teach and informs a much broader definition of “The Atonement” (as a lengthy process, rather than a singular event) than generally is understood.

  20. TonyD #5

    (If I’m looking at the sky and God tells me there is no sky, then I must understand that there is no sky.)

    And if a boy in the oracle’s livingroom tells you there is no spoon….

    I’m not disagreeing with you. On the contrary, I accept that the miraculous exists. It reminds me constantly that my perception of reality is nothing more than a tool to navigate the physical world. I have a different tool for the spiritual world.

    Ask a chemist and a physicist how positive and negative charges work and you will get two incompatible explanations. But it doesn’t matter because each works in their own discipline.

  21. Those who believe in ID, haven’t gotten old yet. The parts start to wear out, the systems start to fail. A smart ID would have no moving parts. As an allegory of this, think of the recent show “The Andromeda Strain”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my life in it’s human body. But a Thinking Chrome Sphere, would be a better design.

  22. The other question, what about Joseph Smith’s declaration of where the Garden of Eden was? It seems to contradict claims of it being in another sphere, or that the narrative itself is purely allegorical.

  23. Who were Adam and Eve?
    They represent you, me, and everyone else.

    What does it mean that they fell?
    We all left a paradasiacal place in God’s presence and came to a world where we are subject to physical death and sin (spiritual death).

    What does it mean that there was no death before the Fall?
    If “the fall” means that we became subject to physical death and sin (spiritual death), then “no death before the fall” is a truism.

    How do we understand the Fall?
    We left God’s presence and came to a place where we can experience both joy and sadness, health and sickness, pleasure and pain, and will eventually die. By experiencing all of these things, we learn the difference between good and evil, and hopefully learn to choose the good.

    What is the nature of Evil?
    Maybe anything that causes sadness, sickness, pain, sin, and death (?)

    How can we understand the Atonement?
    As we learn the difference between good and evil, we inevitably experience pain, sadness, and ultimately death. Jesus did something for us that takes our pain, physical death, and sin (spiritual death), and makes it all okay in the end.

  24. Who were Adam and Eve?

    Ever since taking biblical Hebrew in college, I’ve always been struck by the fact that the Hebrew adam simply means “man” or “mankind,” and has caused me to read Genesis 1-3 a little differently. To some degree, as it appears to be the case as it is depicted in holy places, the story of Adam and Eve is allegorical, or it least a type, of the story of each and every spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Father. In addition, many biblical scholars view these opening chapters of Genesis not as a historical text, but as a temple text – something originally shared with me by Donald Parry in the same class.

    At the same time, my understanding of modern revelation (the post-fall stories, the gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman, the passing of the priesthood from Adam to his descendants, and other teachings from Joseph Smith and other modern prophets) tells me that Adam was also the proper name for a real person, the embodied Michael. As has been alluded to by others, this could fit into the Darwinian framework in a number of ways. In my view, imperfect as it may be, I see Adam and Eve as the first (though I guess it doesn’t have to be the first) creatures that had evolved sufficiently into the “image of God” for God to “breath life” into – ie, the first physical bodies that God deemed worthy for his spirit children, the ones with the “germ of deity” in them. Of course, that begs the question of what, if anything, is the eternal destiny of (the spirits of?) homo erectus or homo sapiens that existed prior to Adam, or that existed after Adam but not descended from Adam.

    Other questions: What of the life spans for earlier patriarchs in Genesis? How are “father of” and “son of” and “begat” to be understood as used in Genesis? These words appear to only mean “ancestor of” or “descendant of.” If this is understood, this could put the date of the man Adam and the woman Eve way, way back in time, not just to 4,000 BC.

    Last, I’ve always found this statement by WW Phelps (presumably originating from Joseph Smith) to be interesting: “And that eternity [presumably referring to Elohim's dominion], agreeable to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on this system almost two thousand five hundred and fifty-five million [2,555,000,000] years.” Not sure what to make of it.

  25. Playing with the ideas in my head, I find that I don’t have a big problem with imagining that God could have directed an evolutionary process in order to prepare the tabernacles of Adam and Eve. For me the key thing is that there’s a difference between animal spirits and divine spiritual offspring, and Adam and Even were clearly the first divine offspring spirits to obtain bodies on this earth. Any life that animated any precursor humanoid-tending bodies would have had to have been animal spirits. I have no problem with the idea that God’s spirit children have been inhabiting the earth for only 6,000 years but eons of evolution may have preceded them.

    The best book I’ve read on these issues is Earth: In the Beginning by Eric N. Skousen. I found it quite breathtaking how he went through the science of the earth’s creation and also wove in amazing theological ideas.

    Also, as a slight tangent, I must say that when I hear the term “Mormon Darwinism,” it makes me think that the whole plan of salvation is really just spiritual natural selection. As I wrote in Mormonism for Dummies, “In a kind of spiritual survival of the fittest — a process God would oversee with love and concern — only those who made enough progress in learning and obeying God’s will would eventually be resurrected as heavenly parents; the rest would be resurrected to lesser degrees of glory, according to their efforts, desires, and faith.”

    To put it more bluntly, the goal of natural selection is to see who is “worthy” to reproduce, and those who go to the highest celestial degree are the only ones who get to spiritually reproduce in the eternities.

  26. Chris (25) – Very intersting thought on spiritual natural selection. I had never looked at it that way.

  27. I’ve always thought that evolution was a wonderful allegory to the transformation that’s been described by Christ and the scriptural prophets. Evolution is the result of propagation of the members of a population who can adapt to changing environments. King Benjamin talks about how we need to become “new creatures” through acting on the influence of the Holy Ghost, and Christ and the apostles talk about being “converted” into a different type of person who has the attributes of Christ, not the natural attributes of Homo Sapiens. So those of His children who can adapt through exposure to the Spirit will be changed and will evolve into a new and better creature. For a God who loves to use symbolism to teach us, I think this is one of the best ones.

  28. StillConfused says:

    I have no problem with evolution at all. How God chose to create the earth and the things on it is his business. Who am I to say that he would not have chosen evolution? He is a smart guy. He could have put things in place and let the natural consequences (evolution) occur. To me, I can see that easier than “poof” here we have bears, etc. To the extent this seems inconsistent with the Bible, I just remember that the Bibile is man’s way of explaining God’s laws.

  29. #22 Tim “The other question, what about Joseph Smith’s declaration of where the Garden of Eden was? It seems to contradict claims of it being in another sphere, or that the narrative itself is purely allegorical.”

    I believe that the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory written a long long time ago by desert tribesmen that made stories with morals to them. Most people bring up the fact that it has a talking snake in the story to point out that it was originally intended to be a fable.

    Obviously, if this is the case,then the concept of Adam-ondi-Ahman is not necessarily a literal place in Missouri, but an allegory as well. I have been to the place that Joseph Smith declared as Adam-ondi-Ahman and in my more believing days, really believed that literally Adam and Eve lived there 6,000 years ago as the first parents. That was when I was an emotional teenager and a bit naive. Now, I have a much more mature understanding.

    To say that our first parents came here 6,000 years ago is silly in of itself, because there is evidence that the city of Jericho in the Bible was founded 11,000 years ago.

    When people point out that there is no archaeological evidence for the BoM, but tons of evidence for the Bible, I remind them that there is no evidence for the stories in the Bible, just the setting for the Bible, and even that disproves the 6,000 year old earth.

    Anyways, going back to your question, it is my belief that Joseph Smith had an idea to try to make the religion as American as possible. All the other Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity)all have events that have taken place in the Middle East. Joseph Smith had Jesus visit America and placed the garden of Eden in Jackson county, Missouri during the time that people with him were in Missouri. It makes it sound like he was making it up as he went along, but when you realize that it is not literal, it is more allegorical you understand that Adam-ondi-Ahman is more of a spiritual plane and you can be anywhere on earth.

  30. Who were Adam and Eve?

    Short version: Characters in the Jewish creation myth who represent us all and came as close to expressing the concept of humans coming to this earth from a relatively simple/innocent pre-existence in the presence of God as it was possible to come within the constraints of the imaginable cosmos in the days in which this (divinely inspired) myth arose.

    Longer version: As the days of the viability of the (divinely inspired, but limited) Jewish creation myth began to draw to a close, due to the advance of the explanatory powers of more reliable ways of explaining observed phenomena, God called a new prophet to begin articulating a new (divinely inspired, less limited) vision of human origins, nature, and destiny. [Please forgive the exaggerated apparent self-congratulations of this paragraph needed to make my point as clearly as possible.]

    God can only get through using the words and symbols we understand. The general theory of relativity simply cannot be explained accurately to a second grader. Hints and very simplified models are all that are possible. The scriptures record some of the best attempts at dialogue between God and humans, but they’re still a second grade level reader.

    We can draw some intriguing parallels between the Genesis/Moses account of creation and the LDS understanding of the pre-existence, free choice to enter this life, its trials and purposes, etc. Maybe this can help us see the truths that God was trying to communicate to prophets. But to insist on specific answers to a list of questions that are rooted in a literalistic reading of (inspired) myth is to require of prophets (whether ancient or modern) an utterly impossible degree of depth and precision of understanding. If Adam and Eve are to be understood, it must be as characters in a myth from which we still draw meaning. And I find myself strangely able to recognize some of my own myths as at best partial accounts of the the ultimate truth and still be deeply inspired and guided by them.

  31. I haven’t commented here before, but being a molecular biologist, this topic is one that facinates me…and I do read this blog fairly often.

    Recently, I’ve read “The Language of God” by Francis Collins, who was the head of the Human Genome Project. He draws heavily on CS Lewis as well as his own experiences, and IMO puts forth good arguments as to how God and evolution enhance each other rather than being a ‘pick one or the other’ type of scenario. Obviously the uniquely LDS questions are not answered.

    There are parts of the book that are quite dry, but it was nice to see something written by a respected scientist to show how God and the theory of evolution can co-exist.

  32. Tim, one can easily read Joseph’s comments as talking about where A&E were driven out of Eden rather than Eden proper.

  33. What does it mean for understanding a physical God?

    The accounts such as Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and the Son don’t indicate that our heavenly Father is physically different from man, other than being intensely radiant. This could mean that the glory of such transcedent encounters overshadows the non-mammallian physical character of the Father of our spirits. Otherwise, it indicates a convergent evolution that would mean there is something about our bodies that is necessary and an inevitable outcome.

  34. KimM,

    I’ve heard that explanation before and find it very intriguing, yet in LDS theology how do we juxtapose that position with the idea of a literal Adam/Michael figure that helped with the creation? I suppose we could take it to mean that mankind-as-Adam helped Jehovah with the creation? Furthermore, do we take the position that Cain, Abel, and Seth are also allegorical figures?

  35. Here are my perspectives . . .

    Who were Adam and Eve?

    They are archetypes of humanity, and sometimes Adam, alone, is an archetype for humanity. “In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God.” (Moses 6: 9)

    What does it mean that they fell?

    Humanity (Adam) left the garden and fell when it emerged from innocence communally, attaining a degree of intelligence necessary to conceptualize pain and pleasure, joy and misery, and good and evil. Humanity (Adam) continues to leave the garden and fall as we emerge from innocence individually.

    How do we understand the Fall?

    It is an archetype of human exaltation to complexity sufficient for ethics and esthetics.

    What is the nature of the Natural Man?

    The natural man is an archetype of humanity in a state of pain, misery and evil.

    What is the nature of Evil?

    Evil is incongruence between and among our anatomical desires, individual wills, communal laws and environmental laws.

    What does it mean that there was no death before the Fall?

    While pre-humans experienced pain, misery and death, they did not conceptualize them as we do. Their corresponding tragedies were realized only in the minds of the gods.

    How can we understand the Atonement?

    The atonement is the eternal communally-participatory work of Christ to reconcile between and among conflicting anatomical desires, individual wills, communal laws and environmental laws.

    Are there implications for the Resurrection?

    The resurrection produces “spiritual bodies”, with full reconciliation between individual wills and anatomical desires. Our spirits, still empowered by our bodies, will become empowered over our bodies. This is part of the atonement.

    What does it mean for understanding of a physical God?

    A god has a spiritual body with a far greater reconciliation between her anatomical desires and her individual will. Such a being is not supernatural, but the result of both biological and technological evolution: God first found himself in the midst of spirits and matter, and thereafter sought to reorganize it according toward congruence with our desires — in other words, God first evolved passively and biologically before evolving actively and technologically.

    What are the implications of God’s hand in Creation?

    God interacts selectively with his creation, leveraging the natural laws in which he found himself while attempting to expedite the organization of gods like himself for purposes beyond our current anatomical capacity to imagine. God is (among other things) an engineer: working within his knowledge of the possible (science) to discover and create a world more congruent with our desires.

    Can we still talk about McConkie’s three pillars Creation, Fall, Atonement? How can we understand these?

    Sure, and we don’t need anything immaterial or supernatural to do so.

  36. I am an inactive member who left years ago due to not being able to reconcile my literalist view of the gospel with so much evidence to the contrary. My question is, why are these types of discussion never to be found in Gospel Doctrine class? To my knowledge, A&E have never been presented in the church as allegorical but always as historical fact. Is this just a matter of milk before meat? Do we really think teaching A&E to adults as fact is a necessary step? I miss the church, but I always felt like a peccary among beavers…

  37. Susan,

    In my church experience, the Adam and Eve narrative have long been treated by the Church as allegorical, at least the Garden portion of it (the serpent, the fruit, Adam’s rib) etc. I think Spencer W. Kimball even conceded this fact. Problem is, nothing has been revealed as to what actually happened, so we are left to conjecture as we are are doing here with this post. But I remember even my seminary teacher instructing us that much of this narrative is figurative, not literal.

  38. Susan (#36)–

    I agree that the idea of a strictly allegorical Adam and Eve would not be warmly accepted in many gospel doctrine classes. Some people might find this a compelling reason to quit attending gospel doctrine class; some others might find this a compelling reason to keep attending and contributing.

    Salt Lake Tribune humor columnist Robert Kirby once told of how he briefly considered apostatizing from the church. But after one maddening High Priest Quorum lesson, he realized that his work there was not yet done. (You can read his anecdote here.)

    Best of luck.

  39. Who were Adam and Eve?

    This is easy. If you read the Genesis story as the emergence of humanity from hunter-gatherer to farmer…

    The Garden is the delight of nature where everything is free for the picking. No work, just living. A delight.

    Adam was cursed to till the ground. He was the first farmer. Eve, because of increased nutrition, cursed to be the farmer’s wife and to bear his many children.

    We are descended from farmers, but have some nomad in us, some hunter-gatherer. But farming is the curse of Adam. It is not some BIG DEAL.

    Eve, as a smart woman, wanted a smarter man. By sexual selection she brought intelligence into the world. She chose to eat the smart fruit.

    This is a most wonderful allegory.

  40. One more thing. In a life in equilibrium with nature, nothing changes. One individual dies, one is born, but there is a continuity and an interchangeability. You can say that there is no death.

    Existentially, death only occurs as a result of intelligence. Smart beings can kill all the mammoths, or all the giant ground sloths. This is real death. It occurs because of the selection of intelligence.

    Or all the Jews or Armenians. Or girl babies.

    Women are responsible for that. Blame them.

  41. “Assume Evolution is true” Then all of your questions would be about things outside of Evolution, and would be dismissed as meaningless. There is no God, Adam, or Christ, in Evolution.

  42. On the contrary, God is an evolutionist. Darwin discovered His rules.

    This universe and God are not readily understandable.

    We believe in the ultimate evolution, the evolution of Gods, which is something I really like about Mormonism. We are Gods in evolution. Not yet, but becoming.

    God is not yet the God he will become, according to some.

    You can even think that the 1/3 of the host of heaven were the blind alley of some eternal evolutionary scheme.

    Go figure.

  43. Oh, yes. Straight is the gate and narrow the way. This is survival of the fittest on an eternal scale. There are always losses. We just hope that we are not the ones who get eaten by the lions.

    In Mormonism it is quite literal. If you make the gate and the way you get to REPRODUCE for eternity. If this is not evolution, pray tell me what is?

  44. #42,43: You, as others, are using evolution as a verb. Evolution is a noun. Anatomy is a noun. There is no God, Adam, or Christ in Anatomy.
    Mormon Gods evolving, is another post.

  45. The creation story was given to us by God to help us understand the state we are in here on earth. Adam and Eve represent all of mankind. We all go through an innocent state where we do not know good from evil and cannot sin. We eventually gain a knowledge of the difference between good and evil and yet we still sin and fall short of perfection and the glory of God. This separates us from God. Christ and his atonement make it possible to overcome this fallen state and become exalted.

    If you view the creation story as a divinely inspired allegory of all human existence, it simply does not matter if it was an actual historical event or not.. The mechanics of God’s creation are also unimportant.

    That’s how I explain believing in Elder McConkie’s “3 pillars” and still accepting evolution. I believe God created mankind, but how he did this is unclear even in the scriptures. I believe we are all in a self imposed fallen state because we all sin and partake of our own “forbidden fruits.” I believe Christ’s Atonement is the only way to overcome this fallen state.

  46. The creation story can also be seen as an explanation of what makes humans different (evolved) from the rest of the animal kingdom. We are the only species that has evolved in intelligence enough to understand and be accountable for right and wrong (the tree of knowledge of good and evil). We are also the only species that I know of that wears clothes and covers it’s genitalia in order to restrain itself sexually (the fig leaves).

    In fact, I have found more meaning in the creation story since I accepted evolution than I ever did before.

  47. Fwiw, evolution is the only way that the Bible, especially the OT, makes sense to me.

  48. As I said in #44, Evolution is not a creation story. Science will not let Religion turn it into one. At it’s core, Evolution is plan less. Change comes not by plan, ID, or a god. Chance comes by accident or response to environmental conditions.

  49. To Susan #36:
    While it can hardly be denied that typical church-approved manuals, etc. reflect a fairly literal reading of Genesis, I find it interesting that we almost universally reject the plain meaning of the scriptures that Eve and Adam did something really sinful in partaking of the fruit, i.e. choosing to leave God’s presence in order to learn from challenging experience. I think this odd view is unconsciously influence by our understanding of the pre-existence and the plan of salvation. Also, the current temple ceremony, in recounting the story of creation, says that the story is only figurative so far as the man and the woman (Adam and Eve) are concerned and encourages us all to consider our selves as Adam and Eve.

    To MattG #34
    Thank you for taking this allegorical/mythic view seriously. I like your suggestion of understanding Michael/Adam’s role in creation as a hint that we may all have helped to some degree.

    It’s an interesting question: Given that I don’t want to treat it literally, but still want to insist that there is some valuable truth there, how can I possibly argue for one symbolic/allegorical understanding over another? Just throw something out there in such beautiful prose that it sounds compelling? Find hints or parallels in more central revealed doctrine? Reflect on the role that believing it does, in fact, play in the lives and world views of the Saints? Cultivate an understanding and see what fruit it bears? “Follow the Prophet” by seeing whether it “tastes good?” Try to imagine whether a particular understanding would “lead us unto Christ?”

    Open to suggestions.

    As far as Cain, Abel, and Seth are concerned, I guess I see them as archetypes of important ways of being human and reacting to our situation, sort of like Alyosha, Ivan, and Dmitri. Possibly a fertile area to mine.

    Cheers, and thanks for the stimulating discussion.

  50. Re #48.

    Science does not claim to be a “creation story”. Science can only answer “what happened” and “how it happened” questions – it does not try to answer “why it happened” questions. Science does not try, and is incapable of answering, what force puts all of existence in motion. What appears to happen by random chance can still have purpose to God.

    So there still is, and always will be, plenty of room for God in science. I never once felt my religious beliefs threatened by science. However, my understanding of those beliefs change almost daily from what I learn from both the spirit and from science.

  51. #50: “plenty of room for God in science” I disagree. What I hear you say: there is room in Religion for Science. Here, we agree.
    “(Science) does not try to answer “why it happened” questions.” I agree.
    All I am trying to say is many Mormon say they believe in Evolution. Believing in Baptism, does not make you a Baptist. Putting ‘evolving’ into your creation story, does not mean you a believer in Evolution. If you go to school to study Anatomy, you will not get classes on the soul or “in God’s image”.

  52. Observer says:

    Chris Bigelow #25: I think equating the plan of salvation and the ultimate reward of exaltation to a divine game of survival of the fittest is dangerous to the extreme in that it denies the operative power that actually qualifies one for such blessings: God’s grace. Grace counters natural selection by erasing consequences of our actions, desires, or lack of faith, and giving rewards where we have not merited them. You may try to argue that those who reach the celestial kingdom are those who were “fittest” for accessing that grace, but grace just doesn’t work that way. There’s nothing we can DO to merit it, and to demand it from God is presumptuousness in the extreme. I guess what I’m trying to say is that equating the plan of salvation to a game of survival essentially claims that one can, through one’s intellect and actions, succeed where others not so endowed with intelligence or so calculated in their actions, did not. We have to understand that if grace is the gatekeeper, God’s plan is certainly NOT Darwinism. We keep commandments and strive throughout our lives because we have HOPE that God will extend grace to us and allow us to receive the blessings spoken of by prophets; in no way are we in the process of meriting those blessings by our actions.

  53. Chris P. says:

    Who were Adam and Eve?

    I agree that a lot of the Old Testament should never be taken literally, and I believe a lot of the story of Adam and Eve probably did not happen as it is written in a literal sense. I think that like #24 mentioned; “I see Adam and Eve as the first… creatures that had evolved sufficiently into the “image of God” for God to “breath life” into – ie, the first physical bodies that God deemed worthy for his spirit children,” Adam and Eve were real individuals that had a spirit. But the story found in Genesis is for our benefit in understanding the fall, and the Plan of Salvation, not a historical event.

    What does it mean that they fell?

    I believe that Adam and Eve falling is a metaphor helping us to understand that we left the presence of our Father in Heaven by choice, knowing that we were entering a place full of hardships, and turmoil. And helping us to understand that it is necessary for us to leave our Fathers presence in order for us to progress, grow, learn, and slowly become more like God.

    What does it mean that there was no death before the Fall?

    Of course there was a physical death. All things die and decay. But how I have always taken this statement is that there is no spiritual death before the fall. Or in other words there would need to be a human that had a spirit child of our Heavenly Father in order for them to transgress and become spiritually dead.

  54. Thank you Bob, you seem to be one who understands what is really at stake in a discussion like this. I do not understand how we can throw out Adam and Eve and still have a need for a savior. What would that savior save us from? If you say our sins, at what point did sin come into the world? At what point did God give laws for us to keep, with penalties attached for not keeping them? If not in the garden, then where? Where is recorded so I can read about it?

    I am not saying that we have to maintain a very literalistic point of view of Geniuses to be active in the Church, but I am saying we in the Church are stuck with a very literalistic understanding of Adam and Eve. We would have to rewrite our history/scriptures to accept some of the statements made here.

    Of course all of the above is just my opinion, not worth any more than, maybe two cents. :)

  55. Observer – Thank you for that! I do not know if you are a member of the LDS church or not, if so, you are a unique member. But what you said is very welcomed to this member of the Church.

  56. Observer says:

    Ha! I’m certainly LDS, and I find it strange that despite many scriptural references and conference addresses that focus on the mercy of the Atonement as the ultimate and overriding factor in the plan of salvation, people still seem to think that their actions will get them to merit heaven. I’m not so sure grace comes once in a lifetime and will be forever with the recipient, regardless of future behavior, but I do believe that we constantly should strive to be “in God’s good graces”. The experience of grace, therefore, is one of unexpected thanksgiving to a certain extent, not one of the spoiled, expectant child.

  57. Observer, I also got a little chuckle out of that one

  58. Observer says:

    OK, so Steve Evans’ comment (#57) got me thinking again about Chris’ comment (#25). Chris: were you being ironic or satirical? If so, I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on it at first. Nevertheless, I have to say that the mindset you proffered in talking about survival of the fittest in a theological sense is consistent with how many LDS view the afterlife’s rewards for spiritual “evolution” during one’s lifetime. I do think it a dangerous, presumptuous thought for those that take works seriously and pay only lip service to grace. These are the same people, I’ve found, who proclaim the concept of “binding” God to our wills and desires by righteous behavior and promises.

    BTW, my comment in #52 wasn’t entirely clear that I support the scientific theory of evolution, and was not trying to advocate a creationist or literalist interpretation of A&E.

    Cheers.

  59. I see the atonement as the salvation from the human condition of ignorance, lack of love and mortality. As I said in my earlier post(39), that Adam’s curse was to become a farmer and Eve, a farmer’s wife. In other words, he became us. In this, our fallen state.

    Jesus points us away and gives us the opportunity not to be “us”, ignorant, unloving and mortal.

    How does there not being a literal Adam and Eve affect this equation? What the allegorical Adam shows us is that our lives are limited and not necessarily pleasant. What a loving savior shows us and leads us to, is an abundant life. He also underscores the need for sacrifice and loss in this life.

    As for evolution in eternity? I was discussing this with my dearly beloved. She pointed out that as I stated it, eternal evolution is only one cycle, a single generation, of survival and breeding of the fittest in the celestial kingdom.

    It became obvious that this might be what evolution becomes in an infinite universe with no death. We each become a generation in a grand evolution but without death because there is no need in a place of infinite time and space and resources.

    Hmmm.

    As for there being no God in Anatomy, I was thinking of Jesus’ statement from the Gospel of Thomas: “Pick up a rock and I am there.” No Jesus under rocks?

  60. Observer says:

    I’m wondering what people reading this post think about the literal man Adam, as spoken of by JS. It would seem, based on numerous mentions of Adam in scripture and in sermons and other writings by JS that he regarded him as an historical figure whose place in history from a dispensational stance is terribly significant to LDS doctrine. Anyone, anyone?

  61. #60 – Observer, I for one accept evolution as the probable creative process of Adam’s and Eve’s bodies, but I also accept the literal existence of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.

  62. We can certainly accept a theological Adam and Eve. Just like David and Solomon or the Exodus out of Egypt. No hard and fast, irreproachable proof from archeology.

    If there were a real “first man” then all we men would generally have his Y chromosome. We do not. There are many different Y chromosomes.

    The first rule of theology is that there can be no physical proof otherwise there need be no faith. If there were a real Adam and Eve you could never physically prove it, by the first rule.

    We can have long conversations with the theological Adam and Eve. In fact, we should.

  63. Chris P. says:

    The only way I have ever been able to comprehend Adam and Eve is that they were not the first humans, but they were the first with a spirit son or daughter inhabiting the physical body.

    To me this keeps my theological beliefs that Adam and Eve were real, and that they believed in the True and Living God, and worshiped Him. But also works in, to me, perfectly the theory of Evolution.

    There are a lot of metaphors in the story of Adam and Eve: The Serpent, the Tree of life, Flaming Sword and Cheribum. I think those things are for our understanding of Gods plan and the fall. Why not the entire garden be a metaphor, and still believe that Adam and Eve were real and had a spirit child of our Heavenly Father. To me, that takes nothing away from my theological belief’s.

  64. Observer says:

    Chris P. (#63): If A&E were not the first humans, what of the descendants of the non-spirit-inspired humans, and their relationship with God? If BobW’s assertion that

    If there were a real “first man” then all we men would generally have his Y chromosome. We do not.

    is correct, how do we account for our theological assertion that all of us are spirit children of our Heavenly Parents? After A&E, did God start inserting spirits in all humans on the earth? And if so, and we are not all of the family of Adam, what does that do to our theology of eternal families, everyone related to each other somehow? BTW, let’s not claim that the Flood wiped out all of the non-spirit-inspired humans so that only Noah and his family were left. If the creation myth is allegorical, then surely the flood is, at least in the sense that it didn’t cover the entire planet with water.

  65. Observer says:

    I don’t have answers, btw. Only questions. Sorry. I tend to believe that A&E were literal first human beings (homo sapiens) endowed with spirits fathered by HF during a premortal existence, and that all other evolved life forms, even A&E’s physical parents, were slightly different specially. IMO, too much of our theology rides on Adam as a literal person for us to dismiss every part of the creation myth as allegorical.

  66. Chris P. says:

    Can we not assume, though, that Adam and Eve may have been born just like any of us were, by other humans, and were chosen in the Pre Mortal Life to be the first Spirit Children to have a body. If so then I would imagine that others soon after may have been chosen to have a spirit but were born as Adam and Eve may have been. Thus, eventually all humans would have a spirit child of our Heavenly Father.

    I don’t clame to know these things, and have infinite proof on them. These are just beliefs that make sense to me. I have a hard time seeing Adam coming from dirt and Eve coming from his rib in a literal sense. Rather, I can imagine that God had a plan that as part of the evolution process, eventually there would be a point where Humans were evolved enough to inherit a Spirit Child of our Heavenly Father.

  67. If it is of any comfort to the above posters, When I study Anthropology 40 years ago, this was a core inside debate. The famous Dr Leakey, was leading the search for the “first man”, as he believed in A&E, and a special Creation, and was out to prove it. He was heavily funded by the Religionists, who wanted him to be right. Even those who disagreed, liked the ‘gold’ he was bring to the field, and gave him space.

  68. This why I like ‘Grace’. I have about 15 version of ‘ Amazing Grace’ I just put one on, sit back, listen…. no books, no debates. It’s a closed system, all that is needed is my soul and my CD.

  69. Our scriptures clearly teach that the fall came through transgression of God’s commandment. They were cast out of the garden as a result of disobedience to a commandment, they did not just decide to leave. How can this be reconciled with a belief that the Adam and Eve story is the story of them or us voluntarily leaving the presence of God in the pre-existence and coming to a mortal sphere?

  70. Scientists have yet to find an ape like ancestor that we evolved from. Lucy and all the others though primates like us are not us and considered by most scientists as bipeds not related to Homo Sapiens. They are still unsure where we came from and why we became self-aware. You are misrepresenting Darwin’s theory with the old we came from a monkey routine.

    There is plenty of room for theology and science to come together if we eliminate the misinformation on both side. God doesn’t wake up every morning and cause the Sun to come up. He created the mechanism of rotation for it to appear that way. I would start with God organized and put into place the natural laws to govern creation and sustain it.

  71. I vote for #70

  72. Chris P. says:

    #69 – First off, we are here on Earth, (our mortal life) because we chose to come here. We chose to leave Gods presence, because we knew that it was the only way that we could progress and become like him. We are hear to learn and grow, and a lot of those learning oportunities come through our mistakes. Yes, in the Adam and Eve story God threw them out of the garden, but they also chose to partake of the fruit. To me this is a perfect example of how we can make choices, but have no control over the consiquences. Like when we, ourselves transgress.

  73. #70: Your first sentence is just not true.

  74. #73 Please enlighten us with the name of the group of bipeds we evolved from and the author of the theory.

    I once heard a scientist on the Discovery Channel say that “sometimes it looks like modern man rode to earth on a comet.” I don’t suppose he meant that literally but was expressing how little we really know about how this world with us on it was created.

  75. #74:The family Hominidae. a subset of Mammals. Author=DNA
    Homo Sapiens, Is a term Science uses to relate Man to the other animals.

  76. #65 states:

    IMO, too much of our theology rides on Adam as a literal person for us to dismiss every part of the creation myth as allegorical.

    If, in fact, the story of A&E is purely allegorical, how is it so impossible (or scary) to believe that much of the rest of our “theology” is also allegorical? I took each of our children aside as they reached the age of 8 and told them the facts about Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, etc. And I initiated them into the “higher law” that allowed THEM to assist in the festivities to, in effect, become part of Santa Claus etc, with the injunction that none of them was EVER to tell any other child that there was no Santa Claus because, in truth, the existence of Santa Claus was metaphorical, and while not entirely factual, was still true. Are we afraid that our theology may not be factual? What if it weren’t factual, but still true?

  77. Am I the only one on this blog who has experienced contradictory miracles? God works in ways that are best for those involved. He is able to reconcile – or not – contradictory truths. All this analysis is just making simple truths more complicated.

    And don’t underestimate God’s “golden rule”. My impression is that, spiritually, it justifies many actions that would otherwise be seen as inappropriate and “evil”.

  78. #75 You are correct. The code for all carbon based life on this planet is indeed the four letters that compose DNA, ‘c’, ‘g’,’t’ and ‘a’.

    I those terms we are relate to the Hominidae family, the flat worm and every other lifeform. It just depends on how the code is written.

    Author=Heavenly Father

  79. #78:”Author=Heavenly Father”. I am open to that, and so is Science, who begins it’s book with Chapter #2.

  80. The last known evolutionary step that has been discovered in man was in the brain about 5,800 years ago

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9258970/

    To me, this correlates well with the approximate time of Adam.

    I’ve made sense of it all by thinking of Adam as being the first spiritual son of God. With his progeny carrying on the same physical and spiritual aspects that made him so, be that brain chemistry or something else, I don’t know.

    So, to me, there is no problem reconciling evolution with creation.

    I look in particular to the Pearl of Great Price, which in my reading of it describes the planning phase of the earth. It clearly to me shows a foreknowledge of how things would turn out, and a final declaration that the plan was good.
    In my simplistic view, this means that Intelligent Design isn’t even needed to make the plan work, since the very laws of physics could be framed in such a way to make evolution happen the way it needed to happen for the plan to be fulfilled.

  81. Gary,

    Re: Comment #69–

    I find these verses from section 93 interesting:

    38 Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.
    39 And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

    These verses almost make it sound as if we were in need of some kind of redemption before we came here. And then, upon our arrival into this sphere we again start out innocent and begin a new process of fouling ourselves.

    I don’t have the guts (yet) to hold fast to this idea–there may be other better interpretations–but I do think it’s something to consider.

  82. #80: You are free to believe God moved Texas to Canada. You are free to believe in Adam and Eve. You are not free to call one Geography and the other Evolution. These are hardwired Sciences that are not opened to your definitions.
    There was not a big change in Man’s mind 5,800 years ago. Only, perhaps, it STOPPED changing 5,800 years ago. But Cultured Man was around before 6,000 BC.

  83. Chris P. says:

    #82 – Bob: The author of this blog, Steve, has a site located at ‘sciencebysteve.net’. He talks a lot on evolution, and religion. You should check it out.

  84. #83: ” Nothing he says should ever be taken seriously by anyone, anywhere, at anytime.”

  85. What I find so interesting is not that any specific view on the questions I posed can be readily embraced, but there are so many ways the tension between evolution and our faith can be eased; and how easily possibilities come to mind. In exploring these tensions new ways of thinking about creation can be explored and we can open ways that science and faith can be allowed to be fully integrated. Too often I find we water down faith or science in our attempts to reconcile these two ways of knowing. I feel both can be fully embraced. We don’t need to choose. Now, we might not have everything neatly tied in a bow, but that’s ok. In fact, the attempts to tie things up in a bow suggest we may not understand how deep the problems run. Plus it’s OK to live without answers to everything. The fact is both evolution and faith are necessary ways of understanding the world. We are going to have to come to terms with that. I see here some great ways to start.

    #84 So true.

    #70 Some of the best evidence of evolution come from the hominid line. See the book: The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans by G. J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, and Richard Milner, for detailed forensic reconstructions from fossils of these twenty-two different species thought to be on our direct line or dead-end sister species. What’s been found will astonish you. It does me.

  86. #85: And you didn’t misspell a word; I honor you, and understand you.

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