Cafeteria Correlation

Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne, 2008) relates Giberson’s journey from fundamentalist Christian student to still-believing but no longer fundamentalist physicist. Chapter 5 of the book critiques the sources of Young Earth Creationism (YEC), primarily George McCready Price’s The New Geology, published in 1923, and Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, published in 1961. As Price’s book is also a source for LDS YEC beliefs — which for some bizarre reason still seem to guide Correlation in approving statements made in LDS publications — the chapter seems particularly helpful for Latter-day Saints seeking to understand LDS views on science and evolution.

George McCready Price (1870-1963), a Canadian, was a “self-taught geologist with little education beyond high school” (p. 124). Price was a Seventh-Day Adventist who defended the Young Earth theories (a six-day creation and a geological record created by a global flood rather than lengthy geological processes) of Ellen G. White, the visionary founder of the Adventist movement. Price’s arguments made little sense to trained geologists, but “lay readers, unfamiliar with geology, often find Price’s argument convincing” (p. 126). His lay readers included William Jennings Bryan and Joseph Fielding Smith, who both used Price’s ideas to promote their anti-evolution views.

President Smith’s reliance on Price is evident in the acknowledgments section of his book Man, His Origin and Destiny, which lists Price’s The New Geology as well his 1924 book The Phantom of Organic Evolution. A longer discussion of the sources President Smith cited as support for his views is available in “The B. H. Roberts/Joseph Fielding Smith/James E. Talmage Affair,” Chapter 6 of The Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism (Signature, 1993). That essay also relates the views of James E. Talmage, the LDS apostle who also happened to be a trained geologist. Talmage was drawn into the discussion in 1931, when the Quorum of the Twelve was asked to mediate the disagreement between B. H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith over the publication of Roberts’ manuscript The Way, the Truth, the Life, in which Roberts accepted an ancient earth and pre-Adamites (a dated but descriptive term). As explained in the essay:

Talmage was particularly upset by Smith’s use of George McCready Price as an authority in geology. Price was professor of geology at a small parochial college in the midwest and author of many books purporting to vindicate orthodox Christian belief by exposing the weaknesses of scientific theory. After a quorum meeting in which Smith quoted extensively from Price’s The New Geology, Talmage decided to prepare himself more fully for a debate on the merits of this type of evidence. He wrote to his eldest son, Sterling, for an opinion of the book. Sterling was a professor of geology at the New Mexico School of Mines.

Like Giberson in Saving Darwin, Sterling Talmage critiqued the shortcomings of Price’s work. As noted in the essay, the elder Talmage then presented that critique to the Quorum of the Twelve in a later discussion again called to resolve the dispute between Roberts and Smith. Both the Twelve and the First Presidency ultimately declined to rule in favor of either side, essentially allowing the two to agree to disagree while avoiding further public discussion of the disagreement (so Roberts’ book was not published). Shortly thereafter, the elder Talmage stated his own views in a public address in the Tabernacle in August 1931 in a talk titled “The Earth and Man,” later published in pamphlet form (apparently with the approval of the First Presidency but over the objections of some of the Twelve, including Smith). Like Roberts, Talmage argued in favor of an ancient earth, the existence of pre-Adamites, and the occurrence of death before the Fall.

Ironically, it was Smith’s restatement of his conservative views in the 1954 book Man, His Origin and Destiny that became the default LDS position rejecting science and evolution, in part due to Elder McConkie’s vigorous championing of those views in Mormon Doctrine, first published in 1958. The vast majority of Latter-day Saints are entirely unaware of both the sources of Smith’s conservative views and of how controversial Smith’s views were among his fellow LDS leaders. [I’m not suggesting the rejection of science and evolution is the official LDS view, just that many Latter-day Saints accept it as the LDS view because of publications by Smith and McConkie — see Jeff Lindsay’s LDS Science page for helpful discussion and references.]

Three points in closing. First, the Giberson book is a friendly introduction to the science and evolution issue for an LDS reader and is highly recommended. Second, I find it odd Joseph Fielding Smith was so willing to accept the views of the Adventists James McCready Price and Ellen G. White while rejecting the views of LDS apostles and scientists like Talmage and Widtsoe. I think present-day apostles are more inclined to defer to their colleagues, especially on issues where that colleague has some expertise. Third, given the questionable sources that Smith relied on, why does LDS Correlation continue to defer to the views Smith and McConkie (channeling the views of Price and White) on these disputed issues, ignoring the views of LDS apostles like Talmage and Widtsoe? That seems like cafeteria correlation to me. [What’s worse than Correlation? Cafeteria Correlation.]

80 comments for “Cafeteria Correlation

  1. I really, really hope the next editions of the Sunday School manuals and (especially) the egregious CES manuals omit this stuff.

    I’m actually very worried about the eventual “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith”. If there’s a lesson/chapter on Origins of Man, I’m officially skipping class that day.

  2. I think the idea of correlation is good to introduce in schools that strictly teach either creationism or evolution. I realize that both contradict each other, but it might be helpful to have students be exposed to these ideas before going to college. Realizing that church and state are separate and that school still avoid evolution in some states, it is important to have tools that can help introduce the technological advances without necessarily negating religious beliefs. It makes things less black and white.

  3. Thanks, Steve. Maybe I should have just stopped with the title. “Cafeteria Correlation … discuss.”

  4. Those Institute manuals needed rewritten back in the 80’s. It’s embarrassing they are still in use. Not just the several appeals to pseudo-science often from ignorant Evangelical or Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalists but because they ignore all prophetic writings since the 70’s and ignore the abundant historical writings of the past 35 years and work on the Book of Mormon that took place after Pres. Benson’s challenge on the Book of Mormon. FARMS and the Maxwell institute, whatever you may think of them overall, have done a lot for the Book of Mormon and understanding. That the manuals haven’t kept up is disgraceful.

  5. #7:

    The Book of Mormon Institute Manual was significantly revised and expanded a couple of years ago. It’s not perfect, but it’s better, and is mostly filled with more recent prophetic writings (Elder Holland’s Christ and the New Covenant is pretty much reprinted in its text), and it does make references to FARMS/MI type stuff.

  6. One can understand why some traditional Protestant Christians like the idea of “Quick Creation”, since it depicts God as a magical emperor who can accomplish anything instantaneously, and therefore “more omnipotent” than a God who takes his time in creating things, letting them age and develop for an extended time, the way a farmer who raises olive trees has to invest years of both work and time into their development before they bear fruit. Yet we know from Jacob 5 that God has depicted himself in revelation as just that kind of creator, and that is how he depicts himself operating in the history of Israel and the Gentile nations.

    Furthermore, the most fundamental points taught by Joseph Smith about the creation of the earth were that (a) God created the earth from already existing matter which he organized and did not bring into existence from nothing (repudiating the traditional Christian dogma), (b) this creation was just one instance in a process that included innumerable earths, both before and after ours, and therefore innumerable lengths of time (see D&C 76 and Moses 1), including an earth on which God the Father once lived (King Follett Discourse), (c) the entirety of mankind existed as spirit children of God before the physical creation of the earth was begun (Abraham 3), and (d) at least “many of the noble and great ones” of those children participated, like Michael and Abraham, in the actual work of creation, meaning that it required craftsmanship and not a single declarative sentence.

    When you throw out ex nihilo creation of the earth by fiat as the beginning of time, as Joseph Smith did, what is the point of hanging onto the rest of the “Quick Creation” scenario? Once you are free from the constraint of each “day” of creation being 24 hours or 1,000 years, there is nothing that prevents each day from covering as much as a billion years. The idea that the earth was created in the neighborhood of Kolob, and that the Fall of Adam involved the earth being transported to a new location in orbit around Sol, is a fantasy with no firm basis in any scripture or statement of Joseph Smith. Joseph Fielding Smith’s hypothesis seems to be at odds with fundamental aspects of Joseph Smith’s explcit teachiing on the subject, let alone any aspect of science, from geology to astronomy to biology.

    The Quick Creation idea always seems to require that the literalness of an extreme reading of the Noah narrative also has to be adopted. Noah’s flood is relied on as the source of geological facts, while Quick Creation denies they are evidence about the creation. The Flood is given a heavy burden to bear because the God of the Quick Creation was unwilling to assume the burden of making the earth in the first instance to appear the way we observe it. This whole scenario makes God sound like someone who is acting in response to things as they happen, rather than someone who “knows the end from the beginning”.

    It should be kept in mind that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches don’t have a theological problem with the crockpot method of developing the earth, even while they assert ex nihilo creation at the beginning. Augustine in the 4th Century had no problem with an old earth and “days” being much longer than 24 hours. The Catholic Church has embraced the theory of the Big Bang as the scientific version of ex nihilo creation. Indeed, some of the resistance to the Big Bang at the start was the concern by some atheist scientists that it would be seen as supporting ex nihilo creation, and Steven Hawking’s new book tries to undermine the identity of the Big Bang with ex nihilo creation for the same reason.

    Since the Quick Creation is so tied into a Protestant version of ex nihilo creation, which is in turn tied into the creedal “3-in-1” version of the Trinity, it is a mystery to me why Joseph Fielding Smith was so anxious to embrace a version of Quick Creation and promote it among Mormons. Joseph Smith’s doctrinal theme about God was that of an “eternal round”, of our earth’s creation being just one cycle of an eternal process that had infinite roots in the past and infinite branches into the future. Just from the revelations received by Joseph Smith, even without consideration of science, there seems to be no Mormon reason to embrace Quick Creation.

    I can only surmise that Joseph Fielding Smith saw the question of creation as having only two possible answers, one the secular materialist scientific view of millions and billions of years in which evolution produced the diversity of life, and the other a scenario of God-directed creation being done in a microwave oven rather than a crockpot. But LDS scripture and authoritative teachings of Joseph Smith make it clear that the reality of creation involves vast streatches of time and space and matter, not the constricted Quick Creation view of time and space that (often) even denies the possibility of human life in other solar systems.

    I personally think that the Restoration view of a cosmos infinite in time, space, and intelligent inhabitants, and infinite potential for progression, fits much better with the scientific facts of the vast reach of time and space than the constricted views which Quick Creation demands must be embraced by Christians. I also think that the Quick Creation viewpoint is a product of the constricted view that the Bible is all that can be said about creation. The Book of Moses and Book of Abraham and King Follett Discourse and D&C 76 present an expanded view of creation that frees us from the narrow confines of a sectarian insistence that Genesis 1 and 2 are all that can be said on the subject. Restoration scripture provide a template that is not only consistent with known science, but also invites us to be open to the startling challenges to science presented by Dark Matter, Dark Energy, the anthropic coincidences in the constants that govern the cosmos that predispose the universe to be a home for life, and the way that modern information processing theory and experience, and our understanding that DNA is a chemical computer, makes the notion of random chance producing the first living cell an hypothesis that is contrary to the experience of anyone who has ever wrestled with the difficulty of forging a real, working computer program, let alone one that can direct a process of totally self-contained self-replication in the physical world. The cosmos that science shows us is eminently one in which the God of Joseph Smith can pursue his very long term project of eternal life for mankind.

  7. Excellent post, and excellent comment by Raymond. Bookmarking this for future reference.

  8. Raymond, you’re half the reason I come to this website. Thanks for the info Dave.

  9. Alas, the present and recent membership of the Council of the Twelve does not suggest that further light and knowledge in scientific fields will be revealed soon.

  10. Raymond, I just want to say I disgree with you, but have no wish to engage you.
    But you have not answered the question of why the Church acts the way it does concerning it’s stand(s) on Evolution. Also IMO, you are much to untidy when you claim ‘this is clear’ or ‘this is history’, when it is not.

  11. Thanks David (8). I hadn’t realized they’d redone the Book of Mormon manual. However what explains the other manuals being the same as they were in the mid-70’s?

  12. Dave: I see at least two explanations for Joseph Fielding Smith’s use of non-LDS writings:

    1. Non-LDS writings were a primary information source for his research on the origin of man and he used those books to create new LDS thought on the subject.

    2. Some non-LDS writings seemed to him supportive of pre-existing LDS thought. Those books show there was non-LDS support for the LDS view.

    Having studied President Smith for decades, I lean toward the second explanation. Your post seems to lean toward the first. Why?

  13. Read through the Book of Mormon manual quickly. It’s definitely better than the manual I have. Tons better. But still pretty disappointing, even acknowledging it’s primarily focused on devotional use of the text. I think there are common problems some students have with the Book of Mormon. It would be very helpful to at least point out the range of meanings in some of the problematic texts (such as the destruction of the Nephites or Jaredites) that can avoid these problems while simultaneously saying there is no authoritative reading.

    While the text moved away from the Americas = Book of Mormon geography model (with maps obviously being influenced by FARMS) there are a few places (such as how all the Americas are Zion) where things will be very confusing to anyone not up on apologetics. And I honestly don’t think people should need to be up on apologetics. But they should realize the text is more open in meaning than a superficial reading might indicate.

    Still while the text is still pretty heavy with McConkie quotes (not something I really mind – I think he was a great theologian and most of the problematic texts aren’t in here) they also have a lot of Ashton, Holland and Oaks that are great.

  14. R. Gary:

    2. Some non-LDS writings seemed to him supportive of pre-existing LDS thought. Those books show there was non-LDS support for the LDS view.

    Except the existence of Talmadge and Roberts shows that it wasn’t LDS thought, it was his thought. Leaving aside the question of how inspired JFS’s views actually were, they were not sufficiently representative of the entire Church, or even of the brethren, to be called LDS thought.

  15. Nate W.: LDS thought goes back to 1830 and Joseph Smith. For only a few of the 181 years since, did Talmage and Widtsoe (only two of 97 apostles) openly question the long-standing LDS belief in a paradisiacal Creation with no death before Adam’s fall.

    Never has the LDS Church published an apostolic statement endorsing the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man. In terms of LDS thought on those two issues (ndbf and the origin of man), Joseph Fielding Smith has no significant opposition in LDS media; and none at all in the past 50 years.

  16. @ R.Gary:
    Well there plenty of opposition now. But are you saying the Church’s (GAs) stand is still that of Joseph Fielding Smith was right? Or, they just don’t know?

  17. R. Gary, thanks for your comments. I lean toward #2 because when supporting his views to the Twelve (as recounted in the linked account), Joseph Fielding Smith cited Price, not prior LDS leaders. And given that half the Twelve and all of the First Presidency supported the publication of Elder Talmage’s “The Earth and Man” talk, that suggests considerable support for the views Elder Talmage expressed in that talk, don’t you think?

    In that era, there seemed to be a willingness on the part of the leadership to achieve balance by allowing both sides of a disputed issue to be publicly presented — or at least to allow the other side to be presented after one gets pushed publicly. Nowadays, the rule is for nothing to be said when there is disagreement. I’m not sure which approach works better.

  18. Dave, your last comment contradicts the 1931 First Presidency memo:

    “Elder Roberts appeared before the Council of Twelve [and quoted] extensively from the conclusions reached by the leading scientists of the world….

    “Elder Smith appeared before the Council of Twelve [and quoted] extensively from the scripture, and from sermons of presiding men of the Church.”

    Those who supported publication of the 1931 Talmage speech were not voting on ndbf. They were, as you say, voting to achieve a public balance.

    Also, I believe you are correct that “nowadays, the rule is for nothing to be said when there is disagreement.” I’ve made chart that shows how the apostles have weighed in on both sides of the question, view it here:

  19. Excellent summary, Dave.

    You are correct, R.Gary, that the “LDS Church” has not published an apostolic (consensus) statement claiming organic evolution explains the origin of man, but, as you and I have discussed more than once in other threads, individual apostles certainly believed organic evolution explained the method of creation of the physical, mortal body of man – and the 1909 First Presidency statement on the origin of man leaves that conclusion open as a possibility.

    The exact quote is:

    “True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.”

    Thus, the published statement says that Adam didn’t start as “anything less than a man” – but it then adds the important disclaimer “or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man”. Thus, the most strict reading of the published statement says that Adam might have started life in an embryonic state that, nonetheless, was not “anything less than a man”.

    I think that is one of the points of this post (that both options were held as reasonable for apostles to believe), and it’s borderline disingenuous not to accept that general conclusion. There is a huge difference theologically between the creation of “man” and the creation of the “physical body of man” – and too few people make that distinction in these types of discussions.

  20. @ Ray: An embryo is not a man, unless you go back to old thinking it is a tiny, tiny man that just gets bigger and bigger over 9 months. Embryo is a term of Science. If the Church chooses to use the term, it has to use it as Science does. Or just say Adam was made from the dust of the earth.

  21. Bob, I quoted directly from the 1909 statement. If you want to see how the term “embryo” is used in it, please read it.

    I have no idea what your objection to my comment means, in practical terms relative to this article.

  22. I find the absence of an LDS apostolic statement on evolution a blessing. We are therefore free as individual members to think for ourselves, to study, to do research, to philosophize and, yes, even to disagree with one another over all kinds of things. LDS scholars go out into the world every year and do great things in science and medicine, most of them, I suspect, unencumbered by authoritarian baggage. I don’t lie awake at night worrying about whether someone will lose their testimony because of evolution. I know many people who have left the church. Significantly, not one has left because of evolution.

  23. Anyone know who first came up with the interpretation of the fall as entailing death not just for men but for all creatures? i.e. Gary’s No Death Before the Fall interpretation? I did some searching last night and I couldn’t find anything from Joseph Smith. The earliest I could find was Orson Pratt and after that it appeared to become more common with people like Wilford Woodruff in the Utah period. It’d be an interesting paper for someone to delve into the history of this reading.

    I think R. Gary would agree that even if this was a common reading by many authorities it’s hardly the only way to read the scriptural passages in question. Even many of those adopting a no death before the fall view typically adopted a view of catastrophe theory in which there was death prior to the garden and quite a bit of life. So it was more a “short period of no death” theory rather than an absolute no death before the fall theory.

  24. Not to turn this into yet an other debate about no death before the fall – a discussion I’m just not interested in having again. I do have one question for R. Gary. Does his view of no death before the fall match up with the more extreme young earth views where there wasn’t even death for plants? If so, what counts as alive and what does he think the animals ate? (Or does he think eating wasn’t necessary) I ask because Genesis talks about seeds and lots of animals eat seeds which seems to demand some concept of death.

    The way the more radical Young Earthers deal with this is attempt to claim that there was only light grazing and thus all animals were radically different from now. Even among Young Earth Creationists though this was a minority view. I’m curious as to how R. Gary sees this amongst what he perceives as “the Mormon view”

  25. I’ve always been curious as to what level ndbf pertained. Does it pertain to individual cells? One-celled organisms? Unfortunately, the LDS ndbf-types never provide the level of detail one would hope for.

  26. Ray: yes, you have asserted before, but never brought forth any evidence, that

    “individual apostles certainly believed organic evolution explained the method of creation of the physical, mortal body of man.” (comment #29)

    You have quoted 81 words from an official statement that contains 2,700 words. You’ve removed that paragraph from its rightful context in at least three ways:

    1. There is nothing in the surrounding text to support your interpretation.

    2. There is nothing in what was said by any member of the 1909 First Presidency on previous or subsequent occasions that supports your interpretation.

    3. There has been nothing published by the Church from any other member of the First Presidency or the Twelve that supports your interpretation.

    Nevertheless, I’ll be the first to defend your absolute right to interpret those 81 words as you see fit, as long as it’s clear that no member of the First Presidency or Twelve is on record in any LDS media supporting your interpretation or your claim that

    “the 1909 First Presidency statement on the origin of man leaves that conclusion open as a possibility.” (comment #29)

    A number of them have said otherwise.

    This is not to be taken as any kind of challenge to your comment. I simply wish to add my point of view to the discussion. I hope I can respect your interpretation without accepting it.


    Dan: Although the Church has never published an apostolic statement endorsing the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man, there have been, and continue to be, dozens of LDS apostolic statements against that idea. There are plenty of LDS apostolic statements on human evolution.


    Clark: The tenth article of faith has been authoritatively and repeatedly interpreted to teach the return of earth to it’s pre-fall state without death. This teaching takes ndbf back to Joseph Smith.


    Clark and Tim: Teachings about ndbf are found in many past and present LDS publications. Please compare my blog with (a yec group).

  27. R. Gary, as I just said, “the LDS ndbf-types never provide the level of detail one would hope for.” Thanks for confirming that description of LDS ndbf-types. It wasn’t a complex question, and I don’t imagine the answer to the question could be complex.

  28. To answer the original question of the post, Dave, I think that the answer is that there are a lot of folks for whom this really matters, including several higher-ups in the Church/CES. To a lot of others, it’s just not of sufficient importance to pick fights over.

    As far as I am concerned, there is as much evidence for NDBF, YEC, etc., as there are for Quakers on the Moon. They are also just about as important to LDS doctrine. While I would rather these things not be taught, I think that enough people believe in them that it would make any amendments painful. It may just be better to toss it down the memory hole bit by bit, and wait for the generations to pass.

    Of course that’s just my opinion.

  29. R. Gary, I have a real hard time seeing AoF 10 as indicating anything about NDBF let alone being sufficient to impute the doctrine to Joseph Smith.

    My question wasn’t whether there were people in the 19th century who believed it. (Indeed I mentioned a couple) I am curious about the origin of the theology. I tried to find the earliest source and the earliest I could personally find was Orson Pratt. I couldn’t find anything in the pre-Utah period explicitly offering that interpretation of either Genesis, 2 Ne 2, AoF 10 or the like. (Honestly before you mentioned AoF 10 I’ve never even heard that as an exegesis of that – do you have a reference to a 19th century figure so using AoF 10?)

    The other question I have is whether no death before the fall was just for humans, for all animals, for plants or for all living things. As I mentioned even among Young Earth Creationists among protestants there don’t appear to be many who take the more extreme position of including plants. (There’s actually textually problems for including animals as well, going by Genesis) Pratt certainly sees it as all the animal kingdom. (See for example JD 1:329) I couldn’t find much that deals with the plant issue or exactly what they mean by animals.

    So I’m curious as to what you, as the main expounder of the NDBF position I’ve encountered, what you think the “no death” entails and for whom.

  30. I did find this at R. Gary’s blog about death. He doesn’t appear to have an answer but it appears that he, at least, thinks plants didn’t die either. He appears to see the intrinsic logical problems with this but says:

    There must be some process by which celestial plants can provide food for celestial animals and the celestial children of God without the plants themselves dying in the sense we think of dying.

  31. The theory of evolution is hard to wrap your head around. Modern biology is unintuitive, like modern math and physics. Light, for instance, exhibits properties of both a particle and a wave. It isn’t a wave that acts like a particle sometimes, or the other way around. It acts like both but is neither.

    There is a reason that we don’t have people selling books and DVDs that set the soft-headed, over-educated physicists straight who are making this much more complicated than it needs to be: most of us don’t care. It isn’t our story! We can leave the mystery to those that enjoy mind-bending puzzles; and though I don’t understand it myself, I would not get any more use out of the headlights of my car if I did.

    But when it comes to our creation, our instinct is to reach for something we can wrap our head around, not a theory which requires us to accept that chance and the need to survive are sufficient to explain the complexity, beauty, and abilities of a human being. So it does not surprise or bother me that most General Authorities have leaned toward a more straight-forward approach to the creation of man. That was my first inclination too.

    Like others have said above, the theory of evolution seems to fit the theology of Joseph Smith pretty well. (If nothing else, like polygamy and the history of God, it makes us all squirm and think!) The Book of Abraham, for instance, calls the stages of creation “times” instead of “days”.

    But there is one issue which doesn’t come up in these science-vs-Joseph-F-Smith discussions that has always bothered me. Right in our scriptures (Moses 6 and D&C 107, which are very much ours) are references to the patriarchs living a very long time. And that doesn’t square with the idea that we are the result of evolution at all. What gives? (There is a double meaning in that.)

  32. Clark,

    What is your take on the death of animals and plants after the 2nd coming, when supposedly there will be no death again. But we’ll supposedly still eat and drink, thus killing grapes to make wine, and seeds, etc. Do you accept the idea of NDA2C (No Death After 2nd Coming (?)) and what do you think it looks like?

    @anyone apparently the NDBF people are labelled as new-earthers, and the DBF people are called old-earthers, but why can’t one be an old-earther and a NDBF believer? or did I miss understand some of the labels here?

  33. Jax:

    The reason one believes in an old earth is that it is consistent with geological evidence. A foundational principle of geology is superposition–that rocks found in the same stratum were laid down at approximately the same time, and that the rocks are older on the bottom layer than on the top. When I say rocks, that includes fossils. If there were an old earth but no death before the fall, you would still have to believe that all the fossil-containing strata were laid down in the last 6000 years, bu with the added twist that the pre-life strata formed several orders of magnitude (several million times more, but too lazy to do the math) more slowly than they did after the fall.

  34. Nate, I understand the geology behind the old earth argument. I believe in an old earth, but also no death before the fall… anyone have any reason that the fossils weren’t part of the unorganized matter that was used to create the earth? Or that fossils couldn’t have been ‘organized’ during creation? I don’t see why believing the structure of the earth has been around for period of time MUCH longer than 6000 years doesn’t means that death had to occur on it.

    Am I an anomaly then? who believes in an old earth and NDBF? or is it a more common combination than is represented here?

  35. Henry Eyring (senior) talks about the “unorganized matter” theory–and he shuts it down pretty quickly. It doesn’t match up with–at all–basic geology. And why would fossils be “organized” during creation? Why would they exist if they’re not the remains of once-living things?

    There are certainly those who believe in an old earth and creationism, and I’m sure there are those who believe in an old earth and NDBF. Just don’t go to BYU expecting to find any teaching in the science departments. Or any YEC or Intelligent Design types either.

  36. Jax:

    Help me understand what you mean by old earth. What I mean by old earth is that the Earth was formed over 4.5 billion years ago out of molten elements. (The earth is still in the process of cooling from its liquid form–that’s why there are molten layers underneath the crust of the earth.) As the surface cooled, natural processes such as the motion of water and wind or the eruption of volcanoes laid down layer upon layer of material in a gradual process over billions of years.

    If that is your understanding of old earth, then there are some problems with believing with NDBF. First, if fossils were leftover material from a previous world and were thrown into the mix when the earth was originally formed, the fossils would have melted in the magma. If you reject the theory that the earth was initially molten, there’s still the problem (besides the one that volcanoes exist) that fossils are not spread randomly–they occur in sedimentary layers, and similar fossils are found in the same strata but are not similar to fossils in other strata. (For example, I won’t find a trilobite in the same strata that I will find a dinosaur fossil in.) If fossils were part of an event prior to creation, but God allowed natural processes to form the earth, then he would have had to sprinkle certain fossils in certain places at certain times for some mysterious purpose. Also, radiometric dating suggests that the fossils are just as old as the strata they were laid down in and that they were formed by the minerals in their strata.

    I suppose there is another option: If by creating the world from unorganized matter you mean that God took a world that had life on it, moving and shaking for 4.5 billion years or so, and then either (a) wiped out all life on it, put it in its current position, and put almost identical life back on it about 6,000-12,000 years ago, or (b) all of the sudden made all plants and animals deathless during the time that he put Adam and Eve in the garden until the fall, then I think that would be a way to reconcile an old earth with NDBF. However, I think that this is probably stretching the meanings of creation and no death before the fall past their acceptable limits.

    Again, this is just my musing based on my understanding of the concept of “old earth.” If you understand it to mean something different, then this critique may be totally inapplicable.

  37. Tim,

    I’ve never gone to BYU.

    Do you have any links or references for Sr. Eyring? I would love to read what a renown scientist has to say about it.

    Is there a reason they couldn’t be the remains of once-living things, from a once planet – then the matter was used to build Earth, with the remains of once living things placed in our geology? I have reason to think this is, but no reason to think it isn’t as yet. Nobody ever gives talks about it. I’m just saying that with a belief that this world wasn’t always a part of THIS world, that many of the geological research might not apply to this world at all. But maybe I’m nuts :)

  38. Jax,

    It’s in his Reflections of a Scientist. I don’t have it available right now, so I can’t give you a page number.

    I think Nate W. gives a pretty good response on why it would not work.

  39. Jax no real 19th century Mormons believed in Young Earth Creationism. Those who wrote about it tended to believe in a variation of catastrophe theories. That is they thought life had been going on before Adam but that there were regular destructions and repopulations. They might have adopted a no death before the fall but still thought that before the garden was made that there was life and death going on in this earth. There were variations of this model. Some thought that this world was made out of parts of other earths and that evidence of life were from these other worlds. Others thought that Adam was closer to what happened in the traditional reading of Noah as a global flood that wiped out all life.

    The problem is that all these models can easily be falsified via the record of the earth itself (fossils, rock layers, evidence of human habitation etc.) As I said I don’t want to get into that debate here for a variety of reasons. Frankly the debate is pretty tedious and those on the other side basically just discount all the scientific evidence. Which makes discussion pretty impossible.

    As for what happens at the “end of days” I simply don’t know. Once again the traditional model is that this world gets turned into a Celestial Kingdom with no death. But is that no death for everything or just for humans or perhaps higher animals? Or is it that it’ll look like this earth but it’s just symbolically the same planet? It’s hard for me to say and what GA writings I find on it appear all to be them reading the same scriptures I do and figure things out.

  40. No death before fall…

    2 Nephi 2:22
    And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

    I’m not hanging my testimony one way or another on it as I think no scientist or prophet can authoritatively say they have fulfilled D&C 101:32-34:
    Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things–
    Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof-
    Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.

    If the Lord has not come yet to reveal all things, especially those hidden things of the earth and how it was made, then we really can’t answer the questions on creation conclusively.

    I guess I’m the only one crazy enough to think there is a way for me to eat my McConkie mashed potatoes while enjoying my unbleached, whole wheat Widtsoe dinner roll.

  41. chris: In connection with D&C 101:32-34 and ndbf, there’s something I’d like to ask all participants on this thread.

    Suppose it’s your birthday and you walk into the kitchen after work. You see a beautiful cake on the table. You see eggshells in the trash and some flour on the floor.

    It looks like your wife made you a birthday cake. And based on the evidence at hand, that conclusion is reasonable. But it will probably seem a lot less reasonable after you (1) listen to a voice message left earlier that day by your son reminding his mother of her promise to bring a batch of his favorite cookies to school for sharing time, and (2) find a credit card payment dated that day to Cakes Unusual.

    The problem with the first conclusion was incomplete evidence. And that’s why I like this part of your comment:

    “If the Lord has not come yet to reveal all things, especially those hidden things of the earth and how it was made, then we really can’t answer the questions on creation conclusively.”

    I think you raise a valid theological issue. When it comes to ndbf, does science really have all the evidence?

  42. Enough to state with 100% confidence that there was life and death on this earth over 10,000 years ago…

    Come on, R. Gary. Science isn’t your strong suit, which is why you generally keep to repeating the words of general authorities who agree with or/and who you think agree with you, and why you generally stay away from the so-called scientific arguments against evolution. That’s probably a smart move on your part.

  43. R. Gray: Science does not care about or think about NDBF. You may ponder on it if you like. But Science will just keep on getting more imformation for itself, and completing it’s search for evidence. And the gap between you and Science will continue to grow.

  44. R. Gary:

    The problem is that there are only two conclusions that could be drawn from the scientific evidence that we have–either there was life and death on this planet long before 10,000 years ago, or God is actively trying to deceive us. Ether 3:12 says that the second option cannot be correct…

  45. .

    Tim: You’re right about me. Geology and paleontology are not my specialties. However, if you are trying to reconcile death before the fall with the teachings of the LDS Church, I’m not your problem. Here’s your problem:

    No death before the fall is advocated in several Church manuals that were approved by the First Presidency, including Gospel Principles, Preach My Gospel, True to the Faith, and the Wilford Woodruff and Harold B. Lee Teachings of Presidents of the Church manuals. In addition, Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson have both consistently taught ndbf in general conference and in other Church settings.

    I don’t believe all of the above Church sources are wrong. I prefer to believe that science just doesn’t have all of the evidence.


    Bob: Yes, it’s true. The gap between science and my view will continue to grow. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the gap between science and what the LDS Church teaches continues to grow. But that’s understandable and even tolerable because science doesn’t yet have all of the evidence.


    Nate W.: Applying your logic to my analogy, the problem is that there are only two conclusions that can be drawn from the cake on the table, the eggshells in the trash, and the flour on the floor. Either your wife made a birthday cake or she is actively trying to deceive you. But when all of the evidence is in, it becomes obvious that she didn’t bake the cake and she isn’t trying to deceive anybody.

  46. The gap will grow…but that’s understandable and even tolerable because science doesn’t yet have all of the evidence. So you expect the gap to grow before finally being closed by science? I can’t think of an example of this occurring can you? What evidence do you think science is missing? Wouldn’t new revelation that brings the teachings into line with science more likely?

  47. R. Gary:

    Applying your logic to my analogy, the problem is that there are only two conclusions that can be drawn from the cake on the table, the eggshells in the trash, and the flour on the floor.

    On the contrary, I can think of many explanations that fit the available data. Cakes can be acquired from many sources, and eggs and flour are used to make several other things besides cakes.

    If you can give me a theory explaining the fossil record that is not one of the two options that I mentioned earlier, then your analogy would be apt.

  48. .

    Howard: D&C 101:32-34 tells us that science doesn’t yet have all the evidence. As chris (#50) pointed out,

    “If the Lord has not come yet to reveal all things, especially those hidden things of the earth and how it was made, then we really can’t answer the questions on creation conclusively.”


    Nate W.: I believe you require more than “a theory explaining the fossil record.” You require a theory that’s approved by you. It doesn’t matter that other explanations exist. If you don’t believe they’re plausible, you deny their very existence. Then you use the fact that no other theories exist as proof that your theory is correct. Your argument is circular.

  49. R. Gary in 50 chris wrote: I think no scientist or prophet can authoritatively say they have fulfilled D&C 101:32-34…If the Lord has not come yet to reveal all things, especially those hidden things of the earth and how it was made, then we really can’t answer the questions on creation conclusively. This does not support your argument nor does D&C 101:32-34

    Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things— Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof— Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.

    Please answer my questions in 57.

  50. That’s deflection, R. Gary. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether any theory you come up with passes the smell test. So now, a theory, please…

  51. Howard, I don’t think R. Gary expects the “gap to be closed by science” as you stated, but by the Lord when HE returns.

    Nate W, the “God is decieving us” theory at least allows us to accept scripture at face value, where as assuming life and death before the fall destroys those scriptural and apostolic teachings. So I’d choose the theory that I was being ‘deceived’ if those are my only two options. I don’t know if they are the only options, can’t think of any myself. But that is the point, NOBODY has enough information to KNOW what happened scientifically. God knows though, and so we trust more in His knowledge and His Apostolic spokesmen than we do in science. My theory is He knows more than you, I, or anyone about the subject, and is therefore the best person to trust.

  52. R. Gary wrote:

    “No death before the fall is advocated in several Church manuals that were approved by the First Presidency, including Gospel Principles, Preach My Gospel, True to the Faith, and the Wilford Woodruff and Harold B. Lee Teachings of Presidents of the Church manuals. In addition, Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson have both consistently taught ndbf in general conference and in other Church settings.”

    I don’t think the problem is science, I think it is more epistemological in nature. Are the above sources completely authoritative doctrinally? Has every publication “approved” by the first Presidency been perfect? I can’t make the case that because one or more of the Brethren mentions it in General Conf. that it is automatically true.

  53. Jax,

    Do you really want to call God a liar?

    The scriptures aren’t always meant to be taken literally, and our modern-day prophets aren’t perfect. I’d rather accept the imperfections of man (and scriptures) than say that God deceives us.

  54. Jax,

    Did God tell you that the opinions of the Brethren are completely reliable when they come in conflict with science?

    Isn’t it better to assume that the writers of scripture and the Brethren wrote/spoke in good faith from their understanding of the universe rather than for us to attack or discredit established scientific theories?

  55. Jax wrote; I don’t think R. Gary expects the “gap to be closed by science”…but by the Lord Well Jax that would be refreshing but in 59 he falsely claims D&C 101 “tells us that science doesn’t yet have all the evidence” so what is the implication of that if he isn’t expecting science to close the gap?

  56. Howard,

    Yes, science doesn’t have all the evidence. Of that I don’t think you disagree. It has some facts and lots of good theories that COULD be the correct answers. I think R. Gary (not me) means that the LORD will provide the evidence, and not science. You correctly said that science has no examples of closing such a gap (not to my knowledge anyway). So why not trust more in the knowledge of one who we know KNOWS what happened at creation – the Creator – than we do in the limited knowledge of the created?

    Suleiman, by your standard anyone can believe anything and call it good gospel. The things they don’t like they dismiss by saying GA’s aren’t and scripture is no better. They call the rest of us fools for believing the words of prophets and trust more in science than in faith. Your standards, which I reject, easily lead to the rejection of every gospel subject (atonement, resurrection, afterlife) because it holds that noone is a sufficient authority to speak on anything.

    Tim, I don’t call God a liar. “deceive” was not my word, it was Nate W’s word. I don’t think he is “deceiving” us. I think we don’t know the answers that make the explanations easy and acceptable. I think we DO know enough not to trust in human intelligence above the intelligence of divinity. Unless you side with Suleiman that no GA or scripture is authoritative enough to give us answers, then God has said, through prophets and scripture, that their was NDBF.

  57. @Jax: If I had a broken leg, I would have more trust in Science ( my doctor) to fix it than prayer. There is more evidence that Science can fix broken legs than that God will.

  58. Jax wrote; Yes, science doesn’t have all the evidence. Of that I don’t think you disagree. No I don’t disagree with this but it isn’t the only conclusion one can draw from D&C 101:32-34 it’s equally possible and I think far more likely that the Lord will reveal things that bring current beliefs into line with the fossil record.

  59. Howard: It says the Lord shall reveal “things of the earth, by which it was made.” To me that means things like the fossil record, not gospel things currently taught by apostles and prophets.

  60. Is it too hard to believe we probably have a lot if it wrong, but that evolution is the best possible explanation scientifically?

    If you want to strain so hard to squeeze every doctrine of the gospel and make it consistent with science you’re in trouble. Even scientists have to simply make assumptions and balance two theories in their hands without being able to make them conclusively consistent.

    Why battle revealed knowledge against discovered knowledge? I think those who insist conclusively there could never be any death before the fall are just as wrong as though he insist on certainty that the earth is X years old.

    Why? Because it’s absolutely certain that when a man dies he doesn’t live again, let alone appear inside of rooms with shut doors or descend out of heaven, etc. Need we go on? Do we have to echo the prophets of old and point to all the miracles that have happened from the Red Sea to the healing of the sick to the raising of the dead to simply say we can’t square our science with our faith? So why are we trying to square every aspect of our faith with science?

    I quoted DC101 above simply to show that the Lord has not revealed it and he specifically says he won’t reveal it until he comes again. We have the answer — and the answer is we need to wait and get on with the weightier matters of the gospel and stop bickering about things which are beyond our stewardship. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn of the earth and things under the earth, but just suggesting we don’t presume we’ll ever find it all out until the Lord comes again as that is precisely what he said.

    I’ll just reiterate that often science seems to disagree with itself and often the gospel seems to disagree with itself. We can get upset and search for a unified theory of everything or we can do what we all know we have to do and take some things on faith.

  61. Maybe God is trying to reveal “things of the earth, by which it was made.”__through Science? Maybe we can learn to ‘know’ these things from ‘not know’ through Science also?

  62. Chris, I think you’re on the right track. Said a different way (if I understand you):

    Let science do its thing. There’s a great deal to learn from science and through that process. There are many benefits — practical as well as intellectual — that come from the study of science in all its arenas.

    But let us not close our minds where there are apparent discrepancies. Let us not lose the faith we have because there are some things we cannot square. In time, those things will sort themselves out when it is required for our salvation. Until then, we can live with the apparent disconnect and say, “Here’s the best science has to offer, the explanation that makes the most sense based on the physcial evidence presently extant and based on the best thinking that’s been done. And here’s the best understanding I have about what the Lord has taught on the matter. And when it’s most important for me to bridge the gap, God will help me do that. Until that time, I can live in faith on this matter while I continue to accept things that are more important in this moment and about which I have a clearer understanding.”

  63. I see the Garden of Eden narrative as a symbolic representation of the “Fall” from the presence of God to mortality on earth. I don’t take it literally.

    I have no problem whatsoever beleiving that there was no death on earth prior to that type of “Fall”, since that type of “Fall” is what I understand to have necessitated the creation of the Earth in the first place. So, no death before the Fall – then the creation of the Earth – then Adam and Eve choosing to “follow Lucifer” to earth, leave God’s presence and introduce both death and children to mortality. That fits ALL the scriptures of which I’m aware just fine, and all I had to do was accept what used to be taught explicitly in the temple itself – that the depiction of the creation of the man and the woman was figurative and not literal.

    I don’t know if that view is correct or not, but all it takes to open up all kinds of possibilities that can harmonize our scriptures just fine is letting go of a view of Eden as literal and historical.

    (and I know, R.Gary, that you don’t like that approach, since you are a literalist in this regard – but that’s how I see it right now, subject to futher light and knowledge in the future)

  64. I like current light and knowledge from living apostles. I don’t agree with all of what every apostle says, but I like light and knowledge in pretty much any form and from any source.

    I also think there’s plenty of good to be gained from a literal interpretation of the Eden narrative. I just don’t interpret it that way. The temple statement and (carefully selected) apostolic quotes work for me; (carefully selected) apostolic quotes work for you. I’m totally cool with that.

  65. Actually, I don’t see why there had to be all the controversy back when Joseph Fielding Smith wrote (Man, His Origin & Destiny). Why didn’t they just ask the Prophet to ask God how old the earth was? Joseph Smith asked God questions, and we can read the answers in the D&C. And since they didn’t get that cleared up back then, couldn’t our current prophet ask God now?

  66. Jax (67),

    It’s been a few days, but I have to respond. I never even insinuated that “that NO GA or scripture is authoritative enough to give us answers” regarding salvation. Your “slippery slope” argument basically accused me of apostasy!

    Please do not again create hyperbole and put such words in my mouth. It does no service to your faith or the discussion.

    And yes, I did notice you’d rather engage in a “straw man” attack than answer a question.

  67. Can someone please help me understand all the fuss about the No Death Before the Fall and No Death After Second Coming questions being bandied about here?

    As far as I can tell, the scriptures virtually never use the term death (when speaking in spiritually significant ways and not simply describing historical events) to mean the point at which a cell, or organized group of cells (ie, man) ceases to reproduce and decays. Instead, the scriptures seem to use the term death in these situations to mean, almost exclusively, the separation of spirit from matter. Why then all the worry and speculation about the process by which animals in Eden or during the Millennium manage to eat? The doctrines of the Fall and the Millennium are (obviously, to me) spiritually significant teachings of the scriptures. Are we really subjecting these spiritual teachings to a purely biological understanding of death?

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