Death, Mortality, and the Fall

The association of the fallen state of humanity with the biblical story of expulsion from Eden has deep and varied Christian roots. While Original Sin might be a notion primarily associated with the theological traditions of Catholicism (and perhaps Eastern Orthodoxy as well), Protestants too view the redemptive work of Christ as the antidote to the problems of human sinfulness as embodied in Adam’s fall from grace. I have no idea the extent to which the problem of physical death figures into these Christian anthropologies (though I assume that the at least some connection between Adam and Eve’s transgression and our collective mortal nature is implicit in most if not all Christian traditions). But my sense is that the link between physical death and the Fall enjoys a unique theological focus and valency in Mormon thought.

It isn’t just an idiosyncrasy, either. Mormon scripture — particularly certain passages from the Book of Mormon — ascribes our mortality to our fallen nature, and our fallen nature to our first parents’ expulsion from God’s presence in the Garden. And there is also a nice conceptual symmetry involved, with Christ’s Atonement offsetting the effects of Adam’s estrangement from God. According to this model, through Adam, physical and spiritual death came upon humanity. Through Christ, those obstacles are overcome. Physical death — the separation of an independently existing spirit from a flesh-and-bones body — is overcome through Christ’s power to resurrect. Spiritual death — estrangement and separation from God — is overcome through the restorative power and grace of Christ’s atoning power. Plus, as Mormons we claim a distinctively positive, non-suspicious attitude toward bodies. We believe in an embodied, human-like God and that filling the measure of our creation — becoming God-like ourselves — necessitates the presence and possession of an immortal but unquestionably physical, tangible body of flesh-and-bones.

Analysis of Mormon relationships with and theologies of the body could fill dissertations. I’d like to limit the discussion here to one specific Mormon understanding of bodies and death, as it tends to generate particularly interesting consequences in terms of our relationship not only with traditional Christians but with science, modernity, and the wider world in general. My sense is that, when and where it is encountered, Mormon reticence toward biological evolution — particularly toward the evolutionary origins of human beings — is grounded less in literalist or fundamentalist understandings of creation stories (i.e. “it only took 6 days!” or some such) than in a particular understanding of the Fall. If I understand correctly, the logic is as follows:

—Adam’s Fall introduced death into the world.

—Evolutionary theory requires widespread and persistent death for millions of years into the past — indeed, makes death an inseparable part of life.

—Therefore, since there could be no death before Adam introduced it with the Fall, Evolutionary theory simply has it wrong.

Actually, that’s more like Mormon Evolution-Rejection lite. There is a more robust version of the preceding formula:

—Fall introduces death.

—Evolution=death before Adam.

—Christ’s Atoning sacrifice saves us from the consequences of the Fall.

—Therefore, Evolutionary theory removes Christ’s power to save by making death something that pre-exists the Fall.

In other words: Evolution=No Atonement.

It seems to me that this more robust theological proof rises out of a problem with Evolution-Rejection lite. Namely, the ability of Evolution-non-deniers to simply set aside the belief that the Fall first introduced death. Here’s a conversational version of what I have in mind:

Evo-Denier: It is a widely held, scripturally attested truth that there was no death before the Fall. Evolution claims otherwise. So evolution clearly contradicts this important truth.

Evo-Accepter: Well, granted that several well-placed and outspoken men have made that argument, but I guess I’m just comfortable, in the weight of overwhelming scientific evidence (e.g. fossils), setting aside that particular doctrine.

ED: Ah, but you can’t. You see, the Atonement saves us from the consequences of the Fall. If evolution is true, then the Atonement can’t save us from death. You’re not just setting aside the doctrine of the Fall; you’re setting aside the power of the Atonement and Resurrection.

Thus we have two distinctly Mormon and closely related theological arguments against human evolution, one grounded in the Fall, and one that presses the first into the service of an argument about the Atonement and Resurrection. In the interests of consumer protection, I should disclose that, while I personally find both arguments wholly unconvincing (about which more below), I find this line of reasoning much more compelling and interesting than, for example, a stubborn, from-my-cold-dead-hands attachment to a literal, 6-day reading of Genesis 1. That said, I offer 2 objections to this line of thinking.

1. This arises from a problem of definitions. Biology and Mormon theology define death in very different terms. When “death” carries a salvific or soteriological connotation it means the separation of the physical body from the spirit. Biology, on the other hand, defines death in, well, biological terms. This is actually far more complicated than it might appear at first glance. There is no perfect, clear definition of what constitutes biological life or death, but something like the presence of both metabolic and reproductive activities would be a good starting point. Death, meanwhile, in purely biological terms would probably mean something like the permanent cessation of metabolic processes along with the onset of decomposition. Furthermore, death is a reality and fact not just at the level of complex animal organisms, but also plants and even (perhaps especially) at the cellular level.

If the verses or authoritative statements about the relationship between death and the Fall carry the former (soteriological as opposed to biological) meaning, then they are not at all problematic for those who accept Evolutionary theory. They simply assert that no biological organism that was conjoined with a pre-existent spirit had ever been uncoupled from that spirit (at least in this world) before Adam and Eve experienced the cognitive, dietary, lifestyle, life-history, and ecological changes associated with expulsion from God’s presence. And, assuming that Adam and Even had, say, hair and fingernails, then we know with certainty that death existed on at least a cellular level (to say nothing of all that digested fruit which they freely ate…).

Bringing up the question of cellular death is not hair-splitting either, as it gets directly to the larger question. If we’re inclined to think that death at the level of a complex organism is more significant in the grand scheme of things than the death of a single cell (or that human death is more significant than the death of fruit) it is precisely because we more ably conceive of complex, human organisms as having spirits (I recognize this is an oversimplification in a religion that claims Orson Pratt and Cleon Skousen as influential thinkers, but whatever…). Saying that the Fall introduced for humankind the insoluble problem of spirits severed from bodies is both good logical sense (since there is no mention of infusing a physical body with a spirit before the story of Adam’s own creation), and has nothing whatsoever to do with the claims that evolutionary theory makes about biological death.

2. Even if you set aside objection 1, I have a really hard time with the logic that makes evolution into a disavowal of the Atonement. That argument rests, as far as I can see, on one crucial yet wildly absurd axiomatic claim: that Christ has power over death only if death came about as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s choice. If death is merely an omnipresent, inescapable fact of life, of existence in the universe, then somehow Christ’s power over it means less than if it is a mere aberration, an unfortunate outcome of particular, contingent events, that is really the exception to the rule. Purveyors of this argument accuse those who do not ignore the fossil record or the basic facts of modern biology of sapping the power of the Atonement. In reality, their own argument saps its power by limiting its scope to the specific consequences of specific human choices. The Savior on whom I rely for exaltation does have power over something as universal and inescapable as death, even a death whose own power is not limited to the probationary period initiated by that fateful choice Adam and Eve made (and we all make) to transgress the boundaries of their innocent, static little paradise.

Although it seems like it, this post is not really about human evolution. It is an effort, using worn out anti-evolution arguments as a foil, to examine some of the central elements of Mormonism in light of the ever increasing and illuminating knowledge furnished by modern science. What do we mean by “death” when we assert that Christ’s power to resurrect means overcoming it? How do our biology and biological history — which determine so much of who and what we are — fit into the great plan of happiness, into our notions of divine heritage, of atonement, and of exaltation?


  1. Very interesting thoughts. Thanks for posting. I especially found your first objection to be interesting. I’ll have to chew on it a while.

    I’ve considered a potential way to harmonize the theory of evolution with the absence of death before the fall, but my thoughts are still half-baked on the issue. What if there was no death in the Garden of Eden before the fall, but that there was death (and evolution) happening outside the garden, i.e. in the “lone and dreary world”? That could account for the fossil record. To my knowledge, we don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden before eating the fruit; it could have been millions of years.

  2. Wonderful post. I could go on for pages and pages, but will attempt to stick to your focus.

    People talk about the “battle” between science and religion, but I think it misses the point. In the same way that I would not talk to a scientist about what principles I need to follow to improve my relationship with God, I would also not go to a religious authority to learn scientific principles. Throughout the millennia, when science wasn’t advanced enough in various areas, religious leaders interpreted various religious texts to answer some of the questions about the universe. At the end of the day, for the vast majority of SCIENTIFIC questions, science ultimately “won”.

    Example: early interpretations were that the earth was “flat”, had “corners”, etc. Ultimately, it was found to be round without any theological significance

    Example: Others felt that the earth “had” to be at the center of the universe, and used the Bible to support this. The “sun stood still”. Man was above all other creations and held a special space. Claims were made that theology rested on this being true. At the end of the day, most people today accept we’re on a speck of rock in a large universe. To me, this didn’t reduce the place of man in the universe, but fills me with even more wonderment at the magnificence of it all.

    With evolution, many statements were made about life, death, the creation of the earth, etc. based upon interpretations of the Bible and other scriptures. They were often based on earlier statements and rephrased. All of these were done before more information was obtained through science told us more about geology, biology, etc.

    My 2 cents: there are literally millions of points of data from completely different areas of science which suggest that the universe is billions of years old, that earth is billions of years old, that evolution is very likely how all life developed the way it did, etc. This obviously is different from 6000-year old earth pronouncements, or “no death” before Adam pronouncements. Either one needs to discount essentially everything in science over the past few decades, or one needs to look at one’s interpretation of religious texts in the context of science. Just like “the sun stood still” didn’t really mean the “sun stood still”, perhaps “no death before Adam” doesn’t really mean for every single living creature, but perhaps for the lineage of man descended from Adam.

    I have studied A LOT about biology, evolution, developmental anatomy, astronomy, physics, etc. We are told the earth will be flooded with knowledge in the last days. I have to believe that we are slowly learning more and more about HOW God did all this through science, and it is amazingly profound and wonderful. I also believe that scientists can’t tell me WHY God did all this, and for that I turn to religion.

    And someday, just like with a flat earth or a geocentric universe or even blacks and the priesthood, I predict that someday the religious leaders will say, “You know, as we’ve learned more about that, we were wrong.” But it still won’t change the fact that God loves us and we ultimately need to have faith in Christ and love each other, any more than finding out the earth wasn’t the center of the universe caused religion to collapse.

  3. Brad,

    Read it. Liked it and continue to see no real struggle with the concept of Evolution and Mormon Theology. Your 2 cents is quite well put and a concise summary of how I see it as well.

  4. Nice, bbell. I think it’s important to show (as our mutual agreement here demonstrates) that conflict over the issue of evolution and Mormon theology has less to do with what are typically described as conservative or liberal or orthodox or non-orthodox positions and instead with a particularly idiosyncratic reading certain passages of scripture and a willingness or unwillingness to set that reading aside on receiving further light.

  5. Thomas Parkin says:

    Harold Bloom says that the central principle of gnosticism is that the creation and the fall are a single event. (I view Mormonism as a basically gnostic religion, although we have a much more positive take on the creator, matter, and, I think, finding positive meanings in our suffering.) God created a fallen world.

    It is our individual Falls, including Adam’s, that are distinct events from the creation. The only necessary shift is in being able to see Eden as metaphorical. Seeing that Eden is only relevant to us as a metaphor, where is the problem? Viewing the story of the Fall as a myth allows us to incorporate it as part of our personal histories in a way that reading it as history does not. ~

  6. I think we have our own theology on the creation and our own nuanced view on evolution that is different from a fundy Christian view. I have spoken to very few LDS folks in my life that are young earth creationists. Those that are IMHO are buying into a theology that is not our own but somebody else’s.

    For me personally I do not care about the mechanics on how God created the earth and Man. What is important is that he did. We do not believe in “Ex Nihilo” but that he organized matter. Just for one example.

    So LDS scientists in my view can feel comfortable pursuing evolution as a field of study since I do not see a conflict

  7. Right, Thomas. In the first place, we are told explicitly that we are to identify ourselves individually and collectively with Adam and/or Eve. The word “Adam” in English texts is a translation of the Hebrew “adam” which means man (singular) or Man (collective, in obsolete gendered usage)—human or humanity. In other words, the story is told in such a way that the distinctions between the several possible referents for “adam”—man, a man, the man, man+woman, human, humans, humanity, an individual proper name—are far from textually clear. The narrative of the creation of an individual, that individual and his mate, those individuals and their progeny, and the human race all bleed together and become related to each other by metonymy.

    As an afterthought, but in response to your comment, Bloom has characterized Mormonism as combining key elements of gnosticism with a lack of suspicion about the body.

  8. Thomas Parkin says:

    It strikes me, on reading, Brad, that the fact of evolution forces me to personalize the Creation / Fall story in such a way that my religion is enhanced rather than detracted from. Interesting comment on the potential good that can come from believing the truth. *wry grin* ~

  9. Evo-Denier = ED.

    Another wry grin.

  10. We suggest “man” is unique among life forms for many, many reasons. Perhaps Christ’s atonement to overcome death is really only needed for “man” in order to achieve his highest state. In this case, it doesn’t really matter how many other organisms lived/died prior to Adam, or for how long.

  11. Brad, I appreciate your logic here. I find fewer evo-deniers in my personal circle of members that I know, but many still cling to “no death for anything before the fall”, mostly from a more literal reading of the garden accounts in latter day scripture.

    I have recently thought more about this in similar terms to how you describe “physical death” as not being the beginning of death in the world, but the beginning of the possibility of death for Adam and Eve on their expulsion from the garden. I’ve seen some define “all flesh” as referring to all life on earth, but I prefer to think of it in terms of Adam and Eve and their posterity, where spiritual pre-existent entities and their mortal physical bodies are first joined in this life, then separated again at death until reuniting at the resurrection. Recognizing a spiritual creation of the earth and all life in the earth does not mean that plants, animals, etc, had pre-existent spirits with the same potential as our spirits, in my reading of the accounts.

    I guess that I am advocating three different classifications of death; biological death for living organisms based on cessation of metabolic processes; physical death, a separation of the eternal spirit from the human body; and spiritual death or separation from God’s presence.

    Not to send this in an odd direction, but I think we can see the difference here perhaps in someone being brain dead and on life support as being physically dead, but not biologically dead until life support is removed.

  12. I have no trouble accepting evolution and LDS theology. The topic of death entering the world at the Fall in my opinion only applies to Adam and Eve (“in the day thou eatest thereof THOU shalt surely die” … not “everything shall suddenly become fallable”) Adam was told to dress and tend the garden, implying to me that failure to do so would result in plants dying or not producing, etc. And the spirit of man was not put into any creature until Adam, which to me leaves the door open to the creation process including the death of sub-human creatures/life forms. (Is that the right way to say it?). Once Adam became a living soul, that is, once he was combined, both body and spirit, THEN he was immortal until partaking of the fruit. Until then, many rounds of evolution may have taken place to get the resultant body of Adam. Ergo, I believe that yes, Adam did have a belly button. :)

  13. Brad,
    Has anyone ever talked to you about evolution negating the Atonement? That seems like a really specious argument (for the reasons you cite). I’m wondering if this is a bit of a straw man.

  14. I liked the post and like the analysis, but I think there is something else about the logic of the fall/atonement symmetry that might warrant further discussion.

    The way I read it, the Book of Mormon passages pin physical death on Adam and Eve and pin spiritual death on each of us. That is why we all get resurrected (not my fault I died) but not all of us will return to God (my fault I sinned). So tying the atonement and fall together is not claiming that the fall empowered Christ to bring about the resurrection. Rather, because Adam/Eve chose to bring death to the world, we get physical redemption from the atonement for free. The logic is clean and therefore attractive.

    Perhaps your well-reasoned objection #1 already covers this ground; Adam and Eve brought about separation of spirits with their bodies, so we all get our bodies and spirits reunited. However, if Adam and Eve are purely metaphorical it gets trickier for me to understand the Book of Mormon passages? If they are metaphors, then who is our physical death scapegoat that justifies universal resurrection? After all, we all chose mortality, so does that make us culpable? I suppose God could just give it to us (inheritance for being good in preexistence?), but that doesn’t seem to be the message in the Book of Mormon.

  15. John C.,
    Yes, it was taught to me as correct doctrine by no less than 3 BYU RelEd instructors (including in a course called “Doctrines of the Gospel”). It is also a common argument made by NDBF types around the ‘nacle. Of recent vintage, see here.

  16. John C., I can’t speak for Brad, but I have heard a version of this argument, on several occasions in Gospel Doctrine classes and elsewhere. Usually the argument stands on McConkie’s “Three Pillars” concept – the Creation, Fall and Atonement. By that argument, evolution negates the existence of a Fall (since physical death would have necessarily existed before Adam and Eve), and if there is no Fall, then there is no need for an Atonement. I think that is roughly the argument that Brad lays out for his hypothetical ED. I agree that it is a specious argument for the reasons Brad and others have explained in the OP and comments.

  17. Wow. I guess you learn something new every day. I have another question: what does this do to the souls of animals?

  18. I have wondered what sorts of bodies Adam and Eve (and perhaps all life) had before the fall. We consider it a Terestrial world-what does that mean for their bodies? Was it not possible for there to be death with those kinds of bodies? They did eat-which implies death and cellular death-

    Do we know anything about teretrial bodies?-other than that they cannot reproduce…. yet the tree had fruit which is a form of reproduction.

    how is that for rambling?

  19. It is also a common argument made by NDBF types around the ‘nacle. Of recent vintage, see here.

    Brad, I believe you’re aware of other instances, but the one you linked to isn’t a good example of NDBF types. That dude was just a troll who just put those arguments out there for giggles in an attempt to show that the Church’s foundations are false…

  20. how is that for rambling?
    I’d say better than average. ;)

  21. That dude was just a troll who just put those arguments out there for giggles in an attempt to show that the Church’s foundations are false…

    Well, that’s a suspicion I carry toward anyone who makes such arguments publicly, so perhaps the distinction is lost on me…

  22. Woohoo! I’m better than average.. ;)

  23. Please. An answer to my question.

  24. Well, that’s a suspicion I carry toward anyone who makes such arguments publicly, so perhaps the distinction is lost on me…

    Not me. I have a strong testimony of the existence of very sincere, genuine, well-meaning people who are just very, very confused about this issue, and honestly see it as a threat to the very core of their long-held beliefs.

  25. Cynthia L. says:

    John C., I’ve been taught that. All the seminary classes in our building met together for a special presentation. (The only other time I remember that happening was when the Stake President came to speak.)

    The guy talked about the 3 Pillars, then read a scripture prophesying an anti-Christ who would undermine a pillar. Then he showed a timeline of significant events of history, including Fall 6000 yrs ago, Jesus’ birth, and Darwin’s birth. There was supposedly some kind of symmetry with the date of Darwin and the “meridian of time” that was supposed to “prove” that Darwin was an anti-Christ.

    He also showed us some hokey fake photo purporting to be a fossil of human footprint alongside a dino footprint. Awesomeness.

    Anyway the main thesis of the whole presentation was that Darwin’s great “sin” was denying the Atonement by denying the creation which denies the Fall. Fall and atonement were treated inseparably, but with Fall as uber-literal Genesis version.

  26. I don’t have a problem of ideas about the mechanics of “how” the earth was formed as it probably far surpasses our understanding of the physical universe and potential to comprehend. If a guided iterative process was used, i.e. “Evolution” I have no problem with it.

    That said, man is in a whole different category both in creation and role than any other creation of God. Our theology states that Man was “placed” in the Garden of Eden by not Michael and Jehovah, but Elohim and Jehovah. Big difference.

    So, I guess I’m saying I really don’t have a problem of evolution in the physical world and truly think that’s how the world was created to ensure a self-contained environment. However, Man was not part of the iterative process. Indeed, we were created in God’s image and place here outside of that process. So….. Death was in the physical world but not of the lineage of man.

  27. I have a strong testimony of the existence of very sincere, genuine, well-meaning people who are just very, very confused about this issue, and honestly see it as a threat to the very core of their long-held beliefs.

    And I have a strong testimony that their sincere professions of long-held beliefs are typically indistinguishable from trollish arguments for giggles trying to caricature Mormonism and make it appear to be comprised of head-in-the-sand, outlandish dogma.

  28. Souls of animals: I’m not really sure exactly what the souls of animals means. I know we’re taught that they have souls, and my personal opinion is that they do. I also suspect that we’ll have animals in the next life, although I also don’t know the details of what that means.

    I also feel that animals certainly died before Adam, if we take his chronological existence to be 6000 years ago. There are fossils supposedly in the rocks that Adam used in an altar from a religious source. From scientific sources, we also have fossils, chronologies, oil, pollen in ice cores tens of thousands of years old, etc.

    What does Christ’s atonement have to do with animals souls? I don’t know. My hypothesis is that it either covers them too, or perhaps an atonement is only necessary for man, as we are perhaps the only species that can “sin”. If animals can’t “sin”, then there are by definition “perfect” like Christ, and therefore don’t need an atonement per se. Maybe.

  29. However, Man was not part of the iterative process. Indeed, we were created in God’s image and place here outside of that process. So….. Death was in the physical world but not of the lineage of man.

    Why should the creation story of man require a less inflexibly literalist reading/interpretation than the 6 days part? Must man also have been literally molded out of dirt? The notion that evolution does not include the evolution of human beings stands in every bit as stark a contradiction to modern biology, anthropology, archaeology, genetics, etc., as the belief that all non-aquatic biological life forms were preserved from a global inundation aboard a large wooden boat along with the earth’s sole surviving family.

  30. Mike S. I’ve always assumed that animals are innocents and thus are covered in the atonement like Christ… Here’s a fun quote:

    The tenth President of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, has also expressed concern for animal welfare. In 1928, as an apostle, he stated in a general conference of the Church: “So we see that the Lord intends to save, not only the earth and the heavens, not only man who dwells upon the earth, but all things which he has created. The animals, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, as well as man, are to be recreated, or renewed, through the resurrection, for they too are living souls.” (Conference Report, October 1928, p. 100.)

  31. Wonderful post, Brad. Chalk me up as another who finds no dissonance between evolution and my faith in the Atonement. Fascinating points of thought in your summary, and the post as a whole.

  32. I believe that man WAS a part of the iterative process. There is far too much buried in our DNA and anatomy to be otherwise (far too much to go into here). We are extremely closely interrelated to all life on the earth.

    My thoughts on man:
    – We were either created here or created somewhere else “transported” here. Scientifically, we are part of the earth. And scripturally, we are also created from the dust of “this earth”. So I think Adam being created somewhere else and “poofed” to the Garden makes little sense.

    – If created here, Adam was either spontaneously organized from dust, or else born. We don’t know what “created” means. The example we have from everything the LDS believe about God, even to Christ himself, is that the way to organize a body is by being “born” – ie. Adam had a navel.

    – If born, I would assume that God/Eloheim is the father. The question is then who is the mother? Either “Heavenly Mother” came down and birthed Adam, or Adam was born of someone on the earth. My own theory is that life progressed to the point where the earth was ready to support man, and there was a hominid close enough to be Adam’s mother to start things off, but I realize that may be hard for many to swallow.

    At this point, Adam is essentially perfect and immortal (like Christ, having Eloheim as a father). If he remained sinless, he would have not died, again like Christ. He therefore had to voluntarily sin, the same way Christ had to voluntarily die.

    So, my questions for which I’d be interested to see what people think:
    1) Was Adam created/born on earth, or was he created somewhere else and “transported” here?
    2) Was Adam spontaneously formed, or was he born?
    3) If born, who was his mother (assuming God was his father, much like Christ)?

  33. Mike you would assume Elohim was the father? really? um isn’t that kinda the thing that makes Jesus special with the whole power to overcome death because he’s the son of God?

    huh that’s never occured to me that anyone else could actually be the literal, physical son of God other than Jesus.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    Once when I was walking out of an endowment session, a friend of mine asked me with a wink where the animal skins came from if there had been no death before the Fall. I had thought of the cellular death required by hair, fingernails and eating of the fruit of the orchard of the Garden, as you mention in the OP, but I had never thought about the provenance of the animal skins used to clothe Adam and Eve. I suppose God could have really quickly slaughtered something and cured the skins for use as clothing, but the impression I get from the story is that they were simply already available.

  35. Latter-day Guy says:

    I always thought that in the endowment mythology, it would make sense if instruction to Adam and Eve regarding sacrifice was something of a hands-on lesson––explaining the coats of skins, and perhaps suggesting what kinds of skins they might be.

  36. Kev, I believe Steve Evans wrote a beautiful piece a few years back talking about how the sacrifice of the animals was likely a teaching time for A & E and that they witnessed through the killing animals and wearing their hides what exactly death meant… And how we carry our own remembrances with our g’s to this day. I shall go in search of a link.

  37. Indeed:

    One of the more beautiful takes on this, imho.

  38. 36,
    Tracy–you must be recalling a post that J. Max Wilson wrote as a response / addendum to Steve at M*.

    In that post, J. Max wrote:

    Consider that the coats that they were given were made of skins. We presume that these were the skins of animals. While one could envision the Lord creating animal-skin clothing miraculously through the priesthood command of atomic or subatomic particles, I suspect that the Lord used this as an opportunity to education Adam and Eve in the meaning of death and the meaning of the atonement, as well as to introduce technology.

    Until now, Adam and Eve had no comprehension of what death actually was. As a consequence of their sin, the world was now subject to death. And among the first deaths, if not the first, may have been the animals that the Lord himself killed in order to use their skins to make clothing for Adam and Eve. At some point previous to their leaving the Garden, the Lord would have to teach Adam and Eve how to make sacrifices by the shedding of blood. This could have been done in conjunction with the creation of clothing.

  39. That’s exactly what I was doing- I was amalgamating them together in my mind. I like them both, actually, and ironically.

    And I think seeing an animal die in normal life-expectancy would not be the same as having the Lord purposefully sacrifice and shed the blood of an innocent animal in order to cover your body (sins)- and then to cook and consume the flesh… I would imagine they would be internalized very differently.

  40. Science says Cro-Magnon and Neandertal men existed 30,000 to 50,000++ years ago. For those of you who think Adam was a ‘special’ creation, did these other men come before or after Adam?

  41. I am perfectly comfortable with “Adam” being Homo erectus erectus.

  42. It’s okay Tracy. I confuse Steve for J. Max all the time myself.

  43. Hence the irony. :)

  44. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Having just returned from the temple, where I got to be the witness Eve (for the first time in over a decade) and therefore actually paid attention to the whole ceremony, I’ve read the post and thread with great interest, and feel compelled to make just one point:

    None of these theories/arguments can account for Robot Crow.

  45. Kathy, FTW!

  46. #43: Does that mean Cro-Magnon and Neandertal men existed after Adam for you?

  47. Personally, I like the newer version with a Robot Chicken instead.

  48. Bob, are you a troll looking for a fight?

    No. It means I see no problem with evolution. I see no problem with the australopithecines -> Homo habilus -> homo erectus -> Neanderthal, to Homo sapiens. Cro-Magnon man is non-specific, and a general term used for early humans. At some point in there we were born. Where precisely? I don’t know, but I can call that Eden.

  49. #33 Britt

    I actually would assume that Elohim was Adam’s father. It would explain why Adam was in a state where he couldn’t die, just like Christ. The big difference, however, is that Christ stayed perfect His whole life and could therefore act as our Savior through the atonement. Adam chose to sin and was therefore NOT perfect, thus losing that ability. In my opinion, that is the big deal of the “apple”. Adam gave up “immortality” voluntarily to “start” mankind through the Fall, whereas Christ gave up “mortality” voluntarily through his death in order to save us all.

  50. #48:

    I too see no problem with evolution. Life developed. Hominids developed. Eventually, there was one that was “close enough” to where things needed to be. Through this hominid and Elohim, Adam was born. The place was called Eden. With an immortal father, Adam, like Christ, had the potential to be immortal as well. He stayed immortal for as long as it took for the few hominids around to die out (which according to the mitochondrial eve theories could have numbered around 100 – not many) However, Adam sinned voluntarily and fell. He lost his immortal potential.

    In this theory:
    – There is a place for australopithecines, Homo, Neandertal, etc. There is a place for evolution.
    – We truly are God’s children, and have a spark of divinity
    – From our “earthly” mother, we have all of the junk in our chromosomes that matches the other hominids and animals on earth
    – Adam was created from the “dust of this earth”
    – Adam truly couldn’t die until he sinned.
    – “Death” (defined as related to MAN) wasn’t in the world until Adam fell
    – If Michael and Jehovah created the earth as nearly “co-creators”, if they both had the most important roles in the plan, etc., it also makes sense that they could have both been sired in mortality by the same being – just with different roles to achieve

  51. #48: Tracy, Not looking for a fight__looking for some light. Sorry you saw it that way.

  52. According to the Biblical story, God created the earth and placed Adam & Eve in the Garden. After A & E partook of the fruit, the earth became mortal. Evolution is an explanation of how the mortal earth was created. So, when was evolution introduced? Answer: After the Fall. Thus there is no conflict with the Fall of Adam and evolution. People who think evolution was involved with the creation-process before the Fall are messing up the time-line of the creation.

    If you’d like to read more details of this download my essay from here. It is a pdf file.

  53. Oh. Thanks, Allen.

  54. Aaron Brown says:

    Brad, I’m struck by how frequently LDS defenders of evolution — myself included — stay mired in observations about which hierarchical mucky-muck said what over the last 100 years, and what it all supposedly means, without grappling seriously with the substantive theological concerns that often preoccupy LDS anti-evolutionists. This post is a refreshing attempt to address this deficit in our collective conversation, and a good one.

    But, you might have settled this controversy more quickly and decisively had you just linked to this:


  55. This is impressive. An original post plus 51 comments all on the first day and so far no complaints from me. Keep it up, guys. Oh, and Ronan’s wry grin ED, that’s good. I like it.

  56. Mike, I’ve never heard that before, is that a common belief?

    oh and Kathy…awesome, the set up…everything

  57. Lots of people take lots of things too literally, imo.

    Got nothing else today.

  58. The logic in the original post reminds me of the theorem that women are evil which goes as follows: since women require both time and money we can write women = (time) x (money). We know that time is money, or time = money which allows us to substitute and write women = (money)^2. As is well known, money is the root of all evil or money = square root of evil. A last substitution gives women = (square root of evil)^2 = evil. Therefore women = evil. QED.

    I’m sure a similar proof applies to evolution, but I haven’t found it yet :)

  59. #52: Allen

    I read your essay. I suppose it has as good of a chance of being true as anything else, as we don’t really know much from a couple of pages from a religious text.

    From what I understand, you propose that there was a separate “immortal” earth. Plants and animals and Adam and Eve spontaneously appeared there. Adam ate an “apple” there. That somehow started evolution on a different “mortal” earth that took billions of years. When evolution on the different “mortal” earth was to the right point, the spirits of at least Adam and Eve jumped from their bodies on an “immortal” earth to hominid bodies on a “mortal” earth.

    Several points:

    1) Doesn’t this seem like convoluted logic to get around an assumption that NOTHING died on the earth before the fall of Adam? Perhaps, like many other scriptures touching on science quoted above, it has just been misinterpreted over the years. If we just make the assumption that no MAN died on the earth until after the fall, then we don’t need the convoluted logic of spirits jumping around.

    2) While they are not necessarily the same as man, many teach and feel that animals have spirits. There are literally trillions and trillions of organisms on the earth is we include everything from protozoa up through plants and animals. Did all of these spirits also “jump ship” with Adam? If not, what happened to the spirits of the plants and animals on the “immortal” earth that were living with him (he obviously ate an apple so we know they were there)? Were there mortal spirits and immortal spirits, different on the two different earths?

    3) You already accept that life on this earth evolved to the point where hominids were essentially to a “human” form. Wouldn’t it also be possible that God created Adam using the same pattern that every other organism on the earth was created as in #50 above? This would make Adam immortal (ie. no death) because he, like Christ, had an immortal father. Once Adam chose to sin, he lost this potential and became mortal, the Fall occurred, and the human race was started with Adam at the head. In this case, there are no parallel earths, no spirits jumping around, etc. yet it still goes along with scripture.

  60. #56: Britt

    Not a common belief. In fact, I haven’t heard it anywhere. It just is the best way I’ve thought of to reconcile the truths we read in scripture with the truths we get from science without jumping through any convoluted twists of logic.

  61. So mike what do you do with all the only begotten son scriptures?

  62. Choose to not eat fruit = no children = disobey God = transgression.

    Choose to eat fruit = disobey God = transgression.

    How can we call a no-win situation, one in which it is IMPOSSIBLE to obey God, a human transgression?

    God is therefore the transgressor, as he FORCES the transgression. God is the one who should be punished!

  63. Rich are you assuming God had no plan to get to having children?

  64. Britt,
    What Mike S has outlined has similarities to what Brigham Young seems to have believed, at least in terms of the relationship between God and Adam. I won’t get into the details of it here (and you’re likely to find really poor, overly simplistic renderings of BY’s thought on these questions if you search for it on the internet) but the only begotten thing is resolved either a) by making Jesus the only begotten mortal child of God or b) by making Adam (as opposed to Adam’s father) into the father (in the flesh) of Jesus.

    Here’s one to wrinkle your noodle, though: 19th century Mormons, across the board, seem to have believed that Jehovah was not the premortal Jesus but the Father. These, mind you, were Mormons who participated in the endowment drama.

  65. Britt – it goes back to definitions again. We are all “begotten” in a way if we accept that God is the father of our spirits. Adam and Christ were the only 2 beings we know who were on this earth who had essentially immortal potential, so they could be physically “begotten” of the father in that sense. And Christ was the only sinless one with immortal potential, so he could be the only Begotten Son. There could be emphasis there to point us all to Christ, as at the end of the day, He is the only one that can save us according to the atonement, not Adam.

  66. “Adam and Christ were the only 2 beings we know who were on this earth who had essentially immortal potential”

    Er, under this logic, what about Eve?

    Britt, it’s also worth noting that AFAIK, next to nobody believes this today, so while Mike S is entitled to his opinion, you’re under no obligation to be convinced by him.

  67. Cynthia, I was just a little fascinated-not remotely persuaded…it’s just quite a backbend to do in the name of keeping evolution. I’d rather just say “I don’t know”…and keep learning.

  68. I don’t know that it’s that much of a backbend. Not my particular cup of tea, but, I think, a nicely thought out approach to really, really complicated questions.

  69. That’s a tough one for me Brad, he obviously sees it differently

  70. #66: Cynthia L
    I actually did think about Eve. My first inclination is that she was created the same way as Adam, but there’s the whole Adam’s rib thing. I don’t know what to make of that.

    I also agree 100% that britt, or anyone else, has absolutely NO obligation to be convinced by me. As I said, it’s just a theory, with no way to prove it or disprove it any more or less than any other theory out there. For me, at least, it requires the least amount of mental gymnastics and parallel earths.

  71. /threadjack/ Who is listed as Presiding when a Mission President is visiting a branch? Sorry for the interruption but I don’t have anyone else to ask.

    Your regularly scheduled programming will now resume.

  72. #67: Britt

    I do agree it might be a “backbend” in the name of keeping evolution, but for me, it’s less of a backbend than keeping an old mindset and attempting to twist increasingly great amounts of evidence that perhaps our old way of thinking was wrong.

    For a similarity: People first thought the earth was the center of the universe. The “sun stood still”. Man was God’s greatest creation and need to be at the center. Etc. Millennia of interpretations handed down and expanded on.

    As more and more information became available showing that the planets’ movements couldn’t be purely spheres around the earth, little tiny spheres inside spheres were proposed, again to hang on to the traditional interpretation of what the Bible said. The proposed theories got more and more complex. Finally, the weight of the scientific evidence was such that the models finally fell apart. People accepted that the earth orbited a fairly small star in a large galaxy in an enormous universe.

    But theology didn’t fall apart. People just accepted that their traditional interpretations of religious texts to describe science were wrong. The church still grew. Imagine if some church somewhere still clung to the old interpretation today, and said that the sun revolved around the earth and we were all being deluded by the scientists. It would be so outlandish that people would ignore their true message of the atonement, etc. because of that.

    Similarly, don’t focus on evolution. There is evidence from biology to geology to astronomy to climatology to everything that suggests (very strongly) that things died before 6000 years ago, that the earth is billions of years old, that all plants and animals and us are deeply interconnected at the most fundamental level, etc. We can either ignore all of this evidence and cling to our traditional interpretations, or perhaps step back and say that we were maybe wrong. Maybe we need to reinterpret things in light of the marvelous scientific truths that have been revealed in the past century.

    I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I’m at least willing to consider that and look for a way of interpreting the Bible and other texts that actually fits into what we now know.

  73. nr,
    The MP.

  74. Choose to not eat fruit = no children = disobey God = transgression.

    For Adam, yes. But not for Eve.

    I don’t buy the idea that procreation wasn’t possible in the garden. It’s a really popular idea in contemporary LDS thought because it removes a great deal of the discomfort surrounding Eve’s choice and even casts her as a hero, thereby enabling us to distance ourselves from the Eve=Evil rhetoric that abounded in Christianity for centuries. But I don’t think it’s true.

  75. Thanks!

  76. 73. Brad

    I think you’re right, Brad, if the branch is not in a Stake, but I’m not sure your right if the Branch is in a Stake.

  77. Several comments have said that Adam was immortal, as was Christ, because his father was God.That was something I hadn’t heard before. I understand that God was the father of our spirits, but I’m wondering what evidence there is to confirm that God was the father of Adam’s physical body?

  78. I thought Adam would be immortal if he kept eating from the tree of life?

    I thought because their bodies were terestrial they would not be able to have children…that applies eternally the other way-but it may not apply in the past…huh-in the future telestial bodies won’t be able to have children-what is the difference between terestrial bodies before and after resurection?

  79. 76: ops…
    “your” should be “you’re”

  80. britt, how about:

    We like to try to understand some things that simply aren’t understandable to us. (and I am included in that “we”)

    If our own modern prophets aren’t infallible, I have no problem believing ancient prophets also weren’t infallible – so I have no problem not taking every verse of scripture that proposes a scientific explanation as God’s literal answer. I like many figurative interpretations of these verses, since I just can’t accept some of them literally – but I still want to find meaning in them. I understand that meaning might not have been the author’s original meaning, and I’m fine with that. I just don’t proport to be claiming divine authority for my figurative meanings.

  81. “purport” – *sigh*

  82. Allen:

    There isn’t really any evidence or source – it’s mostly a hypothesis. It follows from how Adam was created – he was either spontaneously created, or he was born. Every single other person we have record of was actually born. Christ was born. We teach that God is the father of our spirits. I wold therefore assume that Adam was also born and not just “poofed” into existence as a fully formed person. If he was born, however, you necessarily need a father and a mother. Adam’s father was therefore either God, or someone else. God makes the most sense to me.

    It is very consistent, however. If you assume that God was literally Adam’s father:
    1) We are truly God’s creations and offspring – literally
    2) Like Christ, Adam couldn’t die – therefore there was no “death” in the world after Adam was created
    3) Someone would stay in this state unless he/she voluntarily did something to change that. In the case of Christ, he stayed perfect yet still gave up his life to make the Atonement possible for us. In the case of Adam/Eve, he chose to sin, giving up immortality to allow the plan to go forward.
    4) Adam was born on the earth – or “from the dust of the earth”

  83. I understand Ray, some theories are just harder for me to fathom than others…that’s pretty normal I think. It’s not like there is one right way to guess how things began.

  84. Brigham Young referred to the biblical creation accounts as “baby stories” which, as he saw it, were designed to cover up more than they revealed — to protect fragile human minds from the scandalous truth: that Adam was born in the same way that everyone else is.

  85. I appreciate this discussion as well. I have thought the same thing as Brad posits here with regard to Adam and Eve not necessarily bringing about the fallen nature of the earth, but that it was already made in this condition. I don’t think however that it is necessary to have God (Elohim) as the physical father of Adam for this idea to make sense. He could have been taken wholly from the natural world and brought into the Garden. IMO, he could have had a transfigured mortal body (a la John & the 3 Nephites) whilst in the garden, and was returned to the lone and dreary world after he and Eve made their choice. This would also allow them to endure God’s presence like other mortals had.

  86. Reread Moses and the creation in Geneisi. There is no conflict with evolution or the Fall.

  87. All good discussion, really, but it seems to me that one major point is missing in all of this. Namely, that the idea of evolution is a theory that attempts to explain the evidence that we have so far. I’m not saying that there isn’t good evidence or that the idea of evolution is wrong, I’m just saying that as a scientific theory, the idea of evolution will continue to change as new discoveries are made.

    And, on the scriptural side, we have pretty limited information that seems to focus more on the _why_ behind the creation and fall than the _how_.

    In the end, trying to reconcile a sliver of scriptural information with a moving (albeit slowly) target, seems like a difficult thing to do.

    I think several comments have already alluded to these ideas but they’re helpful for me when trying to merge the scientific and the spiritual.

  88. Loving this post, and wondering why I hadn’t thought about this stuff sooner.

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