Question: What is the Church's stance on the theory of organic evolution?

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Question: What is the Church's stance on the theory of organic evolution?

The Church has no official position on evolution, and each member is entitled to his or her own personal views on the subject

In the evolution debate, difficulties have arisen when readers assume that statements by certain leaders represent an official position beyond that expressed by the First Presidency as a body. As expressed by David H. Bailey, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and author of numerous articles on the relationship between Mormonism and science,

The LDS Church has a great scientific tradition, including notable, respected researchers in virtually every field of modern science. Indeed, our motto is “The glory of God is intelligence.” Why not just acknowledge that science and religion address two very different sets of questions, and that the methodology in one arena cannot settle controversies in the other?[1]

More recently, the Church's official magazine for youth, the New Era said this in 2016:

The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.

Before we were born on earth, we were spirit children of heavenly parents, with bodies in their image. God directed the creation of Adam and Eve and placed their spirits in their bodies. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who were created in God’s image. There were no spirit children of Heavenly Father on the earth before Adam and Eve were created. In addition, “for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family.” They fell from that state, and this Fall was an essential part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us to become like Him. (See Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Apr. 2015 general conference.)

For further reference, see “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 78; Ensign, Feb. 2002, 29. See also Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. (1992), “Evolution,” 2:478. ” [2]

Harold B. Lee's plea may be the wisest stance:

Perhaps if we had the full story of the creation of the earth and man told to us in great detail, it would be more of a mystery than the simple few statements that we have contained in the Bible, because of our lack of ability to comprehend. Therefore, for reasons best known to the Lord, He has kept us in darkness. Wait until the Lord speaks, or wait until that day when He shall come, and when we shall be among the privileged either to come up out of our graves and be caught up into the clouds of heaven or shall be living upon the earth likewise to be so translated before Him. Then we shall know all things pertaining to this earth, how it was made, and all things that now as children we are groping for and trying to understand.

Let's reserve judgment as to the facts concerning the Creation until we know these things for sure.[3]

The Church's response: Official statements regarding organic evolution

Some general authorities and lay members have considered evolution to be at variance with scriptural teaching

Despite the fact that the Church has no official position on evolution beyond those expressed by the First Presidency (above), some general authorities and lay members have considered evolution to be at variance with scriptural teaching. This view is well summarized by Elder Bruce R. McConkie's statement, "There is no harmony between the truths of revealed religion and the theories of organic evolution."[4] Other authors, including Joseph Fielding Smith, held similar views.

Other Church authorities and members have seen much of value in evolutionary theory, even if they have not endorsed every aspect of it. Examples include James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe, and LDS chemist Henry Eyring.

Gordon B. Hinckley:

What the church requires is only belief 'that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race.' Scientists can speculate on the rest.[5]

Notes

  1. David H. Bailey, Latter-day Creationism–A guest post by David H. Bailey!, Mormon Organon (Oct. 28, 2008)
  2. "What does the Church believe about evolution?," New Era (October 2016).
  3. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 29. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 256. GL direct link (read quote in context).
  5. Gordon B. Hinckley in 2002; cited in Elaine Jarvik, "Beliefs on Darwin's evolution vary from religion to religion," Deseret Morning News (19 January 2006).