Creationism and LDS Seminary

space the final frontierIt’s late September and LDS high school students really should be back at school … and back at seminary. This year’s course of study is the Old Testament, which covers (or has already covered) Genesis 1 and the Creation. I hope LDS seminary teachers can teach Creation without teaching Creationism. But I fear some LDS teachers won’t or can’t make that distinction, so it is likely some LDS seminary students are going to go home this week thinking Creationism is the LDS view about Creation. That is very sad and sets up LDS kids to have a bad experience when they inevitably take high school or university science courses.

Let’s briefly consider two questions:

  1. What is the LDS position on Creationism?
  2. Regardless of that position, is Creationism nevertheless taught to LDS youth as the LDS position?

These are important questions. We need to teach our children well.

First, a couple of caveats. The topic of interest is Creation and the age of the earth, not evolution. Second, I am not really concerned with what Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie taught a generation or two ago — that is about as relevant to LDS high school students in 2011 as sermons by Orson Pratt or Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses. I am more interested in what the CES manual for seminary teachers says, what contemporary LDS publications say, and what LDS seminary teachers (both CES full-timers and the selfless volunteers who run early-morning classes) are actually presenting to students.

As to the first question, the CES Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual lesson that covers Genesis 1 contains the following statement, highlighted in bold font and with italicized terms:

The purpose of the scriptural accounts of the Creation is not to answer such questions as how the earth was created, how long ago the Creation occurred, or how long the process of creation took. Their purpose is to answer the more important questions of why the earth was created and who created it.

You can follow the link and peruse the lesson yourself, but at least on the topic of teaching Creation without teaching Creationism, I think the lesson does a pretty good job.

The chapter on Creation in the CES Old Testament Student Manual (for university students, often provided to seminary teachers as a supplementary resource) actually discusses three theories of Creation: (1) Earth was created in seven days; (2) Earth was created over seven thousand years; and (3) Earth was created over seven “eras,” each of which could be “millions or even hundreds of millions of our years” in duration. The CES manual concludes that “officially the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the earth.” That is a surprising and welcome admission. [However, honesty requires me to disclose the manual’s favorable discussion of the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky in the Creation chapter — does *anyone* edit these manuals for content? Isn’t this the kind of stupid discussion that Correlation is supposed to remove from LDS manuals?]

Another LDS resource is the True to the Faith handbook, published by the Church. The Creation entry notes that “the Lord organized elements that had already existed. He did not create the world ‘out of nothing,’ as some people believe.” (Citations omitted.) This clearly sets the LDS view of Creation apart from the standard Christian view, shared by Creationists, of ex nihilo Creation. It’s worth noting that ex nihilo Creation is not the biblical view from Genesis 1, which describes God fashioning Earth and the universe from pre-existing matter (“without form”) or at least from pre-existing something. The idea of ex nihilo Creation was imported into Christianity from Hellenistic philosophy. The LDS view of Creation from pre-existing material is the biblical view.

I think these three sources are enough to establish an adequate response to my first question: Creationism (as that term is understood in contemporary discourse) should not be taught as LDS doctrine in LDS seminary or institute classes or in any other LDS setting. Any seminary teacher who has unwittingly taught this position as LDS doctrine should probably announce a correction to the class.

Here are a few quick links for readers who want a broader discussion of the topic:

  • Creationism” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, noting both the broad and narrow meaning of the term. The narrower meaning is the relevant one for this discussion, generally affirming a seven-day or seven-millennium period of Creation and a global flood. “Young Earth Creationism” is the term often used to describe that set of beliefs.
  • Age of the Earth” at the FAIR wiki, disputing an alleged statement in the LDS Bible Dictionary that the Earth is 7000 years old and concluding that there is no LDS position on that point.
  • Age of the Earth” at Jeff Lindsay’s Science and Mormonism page.
  • Mormonism and the New Creationism,” an essay by LDS mathematician David H. Bailey, with helpful background about how some LDS leaders came to champion Young Earth Creationism.
  • Cafeteria Correlation,” my earlier T&S post that discusses the regrettable persistence of Young Earth Creationism in LDS discourse.
  • Evolution vs. Creationism in Seminary” at Wheat & Tares, hawkgrrrl’s recent discussion of very similar issues, although I tried to avoid bringing evolution into the discussion.

The second question is harder to clarify: is Creationism, regardless of what the manual or other LDS references state, nevertheless taught to LDS seminary students? Perhaps readers can provide some reports of their own observations and experience. After reviewing the three LDS sources discussed above, I am more hopeful about what happens in LDS classrooms than I was before doing this curriculum research.

66 comments for “Creationism and LDS Seminary

  1. September 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Don’t remember squat about my Old Testament year, but that might be due to the nap I was taking at the time.

    Even if a teacher teaches Creationism the majority won’t be paying attention.

  2. September 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    I don’t want to be a drive-by linker, but I just find it fascinating that over at Wheat & Tares, hawkgrrrl had a similar conversation recently

    I liked her distinction between the Creation Story and creationism:

    In looking at the seminary manual, teachers are instructed to teach about “The Creation,” not creationism. This is an important distinction, and I wonder how many seminary teachers understand the difference. Perhaps if our manuals said “The Creation Story” it would be more clear. Creationism is an attempt to put a religious story on par with scientific theory but without the rigors of science. There’s nothing wrong with teaching the creation story as religious teaching, although it’s a complex story subject to multiple interpretations (and multiple misinterpretations).

  3. September 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I agree with you that we need to teach our children well. Hopefully modern parents will have already discussed ideas of how the earth was formed extensively with their children, although admittedly, if their children aren’t into dinosaurs, it might not have come up. :-)
    I don’t remember what I personally was taught in seminary, but I did have a basic “earth was created in 7 days” viewpoint, mostly because I hadn’t put much thought into it. I’m not sure it came up in any of my high school science classes. Once I went to BYU, I realized there was a lot more to it than that.

  4. clark
    September 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Ginger sadly I think that the default position. I think people don’t put a lot of thought into it or understand what needs be explained.

  5. Anon so I don't embarass my Son
    September 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I asked my 12th grade son about this last night. He told me the creation lesson was weeks ago (we’re 5 weeks into the school year already) If it wasn’t creationism, it sounds like it was definitely anti-evolutionism (ie, we are not descended from apes). We had a corrective conversation along the lines of “we don’t know how but we do know why and by who.” I figure it’s cuz his seminary teacher was once-upon-a-time a highschool teacher in the South. Not that I should be surprised; a year or so ago, a high council member speaking to our ward informed us that believing in evolution is a heresy and a step toward apostasy.

  6. September 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks for the link, Andrew. I’m going to steal it for the link list in my post.

  7. Tim
    September 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I know creationism was taught, at least a little bit, by my professional seminary teachers–that was about 15 years ago, and before I myself knew that they were wrong. I know for a fact that at least one religion professor at BYU was teaching creationism in some depth, at least as of a couple of years ago (I hasten to add that I strongly believe the majority of religion professors at BYU have more sense and smarts than that).

    The last time the Old Testament was taught in seminary, I was a Biology teacher at a public high school in the Mormon corridor. I always worried what my students were learning when they went over to the seminary building, and if it was undermining the science I was teaching them. Unlike many other Biology teachers, I actually spent 15-20% of the year on evolution, like I was supposed to. I thought about introducing myself to the professional seminary teachers, but never managed to do so.

  8. Jax
    September 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Don’t remember at all what I was taught since OT was my senior year and I wasn’t paying much attention at that point. I do remember my Priest Quorum Instructor telling us that about all three options and that he just went with the “7 periods” option in his own mind, because if it turned out those 7 periods were 7 days then he was still correct. So I pretty much like that option as well since it covers all the bases.

  9. Todd
    September 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    First, with respect to the topic of creation vs. creationism, I do not recall any such distinction being taught to my OT seminary class in 95-96. I can’t comment on how it is taught now since my kids are young and not in the seminary program yet.

    As for the off-topic topic of evolution, I remember my seminary teacher specifically declaring that the concept of evolution was a heresy and completely untrue. Furthermore, a high school student in my ward bore testimony to that fact in testimony meeting this month, stating that he is becoming enlightened this year since he is studying evolution in his science class simultaneously with the teachings of the gospel in seminary, which he declared to be contradictory.

    I think there is a long way to go.

  10. courtney
    September 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t remember how I was taught in seminary, but I’m sure it was along the lines of creationism. And when I learned about evolution and what-not in school, it was with a sort of smug “well, obviously these ‘scientists’ don’t know the truth.” Obviously, this is embarrassing to admit. However, it wasn’t a painful experience to learn the difference between the creation and creationism. And it wasn’t painful to learn about evolution at BYU and realize it wasn’t B.S., it was just learning. I realize there are plenty of adults out there who still shun evolution, but I don’t know that it’s such a huge deal to fear seminary students interpreting the creation as creationism. We should all be involved in our children’s education anyway, and we all have to learn to mesh what we learn at church and what we learn in the world. It’s a process, but not every step has to be painful.
    (That being said, the creation and evolution was not one of those sticking points for me. If someone made a comment similar to mine about some feminist issue, I’d probably up in arms about teaching our youth false doctrine. So, here is a hefty grain of salt. Also, I am SO relieved to read that statement from the CES manual. Let’s hope our seminary teachers read it carefully.)

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    September 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I am favorably impressed by the CES manual, which specifically avoids even giving countenance to Young Earth Creationism (unlike the Institute manual you quote). The emphasis in the lesson manual is on having faith in God as Creator, and that the reason for the creation of the earth was to advance us toward eternal life. It specifically teaches that the other questions, which YEC tries to address, are not really important to our salvation. In other words, what you believe about the age of the earth is not going to save you or keep you from salvation! The main problem with the YEC advocates is that they insist that you have to believe their version of creation or you don’t have proper faith in God. The Seminary lesson pulls the rug out from under that notion, and teaches that the student is free to come to her own conclusions about the mechanism and timing of creation, without any risk to her eternal wellbeing.

    I was also impressed by the presentation of an illustration that emphasizes the scale of the earth versus the scale of the universe. When we talk about the diameter of just the Milky Way Galaxy as being over 100,000 light years, that is not only a statement of size but also of time: the light from across our own galaxy took 100,000 years to get to us, which clearly means the things we are seeing over there existed 100,000 years ago, well before the time of YEC creation in either the 7 day or 7 millenium flavor.

    The logic of the diagram versus the criteria of YEC is a pretty clear contrast, but the lesson does not ask the teacher to take the next logical step and point out that YEC contradicts the simplest facts about the size of the observable universe.

    The lesson also does not point to the explicit scriptural passages in Moses and the opening of D&C 76, which describe the infinite number of worlds inhabited by the Father’s spirit children, which are at different stages of creation and transformation at different places in the universe. Moses clearly introduces the Genesis creation narrative as being limited to just one earth and one sun among the billions in the galaxy and universe, so that it does not even address the creation of anything outside our own solar system.

    The time scale and multiple solar system scale of both modern science and of Restoration scripture plainly take creation out of the confines that have been asserted as all-inclusive by YEC advocates. Showing that YEC is inconsistent with LDS scripture is a simple step from this.

    Yet for some reason, the lesson does not take that step. Why not?

    Is there concern that the direct contradiction between these scripture passages and statements by Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce McConkie would create controversy? In Sunday School discussions about Genesis and Moses, it has been clear that more than a few members of any ward I have been in have simply assumed that those brethren’s statements were (literally) gospel, and they have not been aware of contrasting viewpoints offered by James Talmage and John Widtsoe, let alone LDS scientists like Henry Eyring.

    There have been articles in the Church magazines that have pointed to the same astronomical evidence about the size, and therefore the age, of the universe that this lesson cites, but the Smith/McConkie view seems to survive at a level of faith promoting rumor, and the curriculum authors continue to allow this rumor to live by not pointing out the simple inconsistencies between the major premisesof YEC and fundamental LDS doctrines about the eternal, ongoing nature of creation. Indeed, the much ridiculed LDS belief in personal exaltation and becoming like God clearly implies that some of the Saints will eventually be able to participate in new creations of new worlds.

    YEC is based primarily on the axiom that the Bible is inerrant and complete, and therefore that it contains everything God wants man to know about the creation. The LDS specifically repudiate that axiom, so it is curious that we should be interested in embracing a theory that is founded on what we proclaim is a false doctrine.

    YEC also embraces the Catholic doctrine of creation ex nihilo, although the Catholic Church, and the Protestant scientists who support the argument that science gives evidence for Intelligent Design, have no problem with a 14 billion year old universe being made in the Big Bang. (This is one of the significant differences between YEC and Intelligent Design, one of the many that critics of ID never seem to acknowledge.) Again, Joseph Smith specifically criticized ex nihilo creation, correctly pointing to the actual words of Genesis 1:1 as pointing to already existing material.

    The major proponents of YEC appear to be among the same more fundamentalist Protestants who are so insistent on biblical inerrancy that they are mightily offended by the Book of Mormon and all the modern revelation taught in the LDS Church. It is exceedingly strange why Latter-day Saints would look to the people who are our most vociferous and misguided critics as our guide to interpreting Genesis 1 and 2, even though there have been a few LDS scientists who have promoted a Mormon version of YEC (Melvin A. Cook, PhD Yale in chemistry who made major advances in the science of explosives is probably the most prominent).

    Since teenagers are at a stage in their lives when they are learning about cosmology and biology, many of them (as I did) are going to be asking their parents, bishops, and Seminary teachers about these issues. While it is one thing to focus the lesson manual on the aspects of creation that are important to our salvation, and suggest the other questions are not as important, there are going to be a lot of after-class discussions where students ask their teachers about the specifics of YEC and other theories of HOW creation was done by God. If the Church does not guide the teachers, many of them are going to fall back on their own resources, which all too often are going to be the unscientific folk traditions started by the Smith/McConkie doctrines that had so much unopposed currency among the Baby Boomers who are the current crop of leaders in the Church in the US.

    I hope that the brothers and sisters who oversee CES would seriously consider the need to have a mature and responsible LDS approach to the science of creation that at the very least points out the many reasons why YEC is opposed to explicit LDS doctrines, so that Seminary and Institute teachers can offer a more positive message about this issue to their students rather than allow fundamentalist Protestant doctrines that contradict explicit LDS doctrine to continue to confuse and potentially undermine the faith of LDS students. As a corollary, the Seminary teachers can learn how to teach the fact that apostles and other General Authorities are not always speaking and writing by revelation, and that the Lord tolerates diversity of opinion on many questions, and that trusting the Lord’s statements that He created our earth does not require that we believe in YEC.

  12. Ben S
    September 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Raymond, I’m not sure it’s necessary to involve science in order to counter YEC, as it can be done from within scripture. As Julie pointed out a few years ago, “Most people are more or less relieved to be offered a new and better balloon: they don’t have to read a dozen pages in Dialogue on the scientific impossibility of a worldwide flood to get that a worldwide flood defies the laws of nature. What they need are not facts but rather a framework for incorporating the facts that they already suspect.”

    People who already mistrust Science with a capital S aren’t going to be convinced with more science, but by providing an alternate reading that makes more sense.

  13. Ben S
    September 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Perhaps I’m misreading your “science of creation” comment…

  14. Sonny
    September 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I have not seen the new CES manual so I can’t comment on it either. However, I do have a personal story to tell about evolution/creation and CES, at least as it pertains to Institute at Fresno State in 1987.

    I was somewhat fresh off my mission when I was asked to be the Institute President. The Director at the time, very orthodox in appearance and teaching, asked me to get a speaker for Friday Forum (where we have a guest speaker talk) and he wanted me to approach a BYU grad who was now pursuing a Masters at Fresno State to speak on Evolution. The Director wanted to speak to her first to find out specifically what she would say on the subject. She told him that she wants to talk about how the earth is a set of scriptures, as beautiful as our standard works, and that the earth tells a marvelous story of how the earth was made by our Father in Heaven over time. He smiled and told her that is exactly what he was hoping she would say. So our orthodox director was apparently not so orthodox after all, at least on creation/evolution, and apparently this was his way of teaching creation without having to somewhat contradict the CES manual at the time.

    A side note: I was so impressed with this woman speaker that I decided to pursue her and marry her, which I did. :-)

  15. September 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks for bringing the teacher resource manual quote to my attention, Dave.

  16. SusanS
    September 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Darwin’s theory of evolution as he put it forward in his day, and as it is currently accepted by modern science, demands that species evolution must random and meaningless in that there is no motivation behind a species’ development beyond survival. As Darwin lost all faith in God, it was an easy supposition for him to make. Several of Darwin’s contemporaries, namely George Wallace, the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution and another, George Argyll, independently tried to reconcile their Christian faith in the creation with their support of evolution by positing that nature was guided and the process of evolution wasn’t random. That it was guided by a supreme being according to a divine design, or plan. Darwin argued vigorously against this position, against the idea of divine interference or that man was unique or set apart in any regard: “I’m sorry to say I have no ‘consolatory view’ on the dignity of man. I am content that man will probably advance, and care not much wether we are looked at as mere savages in a remotely distant future.”

    While we are all to quick to reject “Creationism,” we should also be cautious about a full and unequivocal embrace of Darwinian “Evolution,” and be honest in acknowledging its inconsistency with our beliefs about the creation.

  17. Julie M. Smith
    September 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Just one more data point in case anyone is interested; this from the OT Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual:

    “Length of the Creation

    The length of time required for the Creation is not known. The term day in the scriptural account of the Creation does not represent a 24-hour period. The Hebrew word yom can be translated as “day,” “time,” or “period.” The Apostle Peter said that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8; see also Abraham 3:4).”

  18. mapman
    September 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    My Old Testament year was four years ago. My teacher was a volunteer (and my mom). I’m pretty sure we didn’t ever talk about the age of the earth or evolution. However, I was at the time a believer in creationism, and I know that some of my classmates were as well. I don’t really know why I believed in creationism because I didn’t learn it at home (my dad’s position is that we should accept what science tells us as the best guess we have today and my mom doesn’t care about these issues). I don’t remember ever having learned about it at church, so I suppose it must have been something I just assumed until I began to think about it in my sophomore year. My perception has been that in general members of the church don’t care about these issues and don’t think about them.

  19. john willis
    September 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    In regard to comment # 16 about Darwin losing his faith in God because he came to believe evolution is “random”— You misunderstand what we mean when we say evolution is random and why Darwin became an unbeliever.

    I would refer you to the website and the associated blog. There is a post today which addresses this very issue of evolution being random. Whle mutation is a random process in that we can’t predict which gene will mutate and how it will mutate this does NOT mean that the process of evolution is random. We do see more and more complex life forms developing over time through natural selection. I don’t see this as a random meaningless process. I don’t think Darwin did either, he talked about evolution producing “endless forms, most beautiful” not just survival of the fittest ( a term Darwin never used by the way.)

    Second the evidence is that Darwin became an agnostic not so much because he came to believe in Evolution and developed the theory of Natural Selection but the grief he felt at the death of his eight year old daughter.

    I would refer you the movie “CREATION” which came out a few years ago which dramatizes this and other episodes in Darwin’s life. Unfortunately it never got a wide release. Order the DVD on Netflix or buy it on

    I would also refer you to the multivolume biography of Darwin by Janet Brown which discusses Darwin’s “loss of faith”

  20. September 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    The Velikovsky issue illustrates the contradictions in our current correlated approach.

    Discussion is supposed to draw on approved sources. But “old church talks” are an approved source. And old church talks drew on everything under the sun.

  21. Ben S
    September 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    As hinted at in several comments, we run into problems unless we define what exactly we mean by “creationism” or “evolution.”

  22. Seah
    September 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    My son (grade12) has asked me straight out why he is being taught things in seminary that are wrong (his words), for example, the flood happening around 2000 bc, Adam living around 4000 bc, taught yesterday that humans are “not descended from monkeys,” earth 6000 years old, nothing dying before 4000 bc, etc. My son’s academic interests are ancient history and biology and he is trying to come to terms with a lot of contradictory ideas right now. I am not sure how much of what he is being taught is official, from the seminary manual teaching and how much is the teacher’s personal point of view. The thing is, he doesn’t know either; to him it all seems like it must be what we are “supposed” to believe. At school he is talking with some LDS classmates who share similar concerns. Being a teenager who will never voluntarily speak in class, he hasn’t said anything to his teacher. He mentioned that one source for what he sees as a completely preposterous timeline is the OT seminary bookmark which can be viewed on the seminary website. The positive, for me in this situation, is that my son is talking to us, his parents, about it and is receptive to hearing about how many people are faithful, believing Mormons and are also scientists, biologists, geologists and historians. So thanks to people like SteveP who have shared their thoughts in public forums.

  23. Ray
    September 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    This is my comment from the Wheat & Tares thread linked above:

    My wife and I teach seminary in our town. I taught a day of introducing literal interpretations vs. figurative / mythological views and empahsizing that I really don’t give a large rodent’s hindquarters how the individual students interpret the OT – as long as they find meaning from it that resonates with them individually. We taught Noah and the flood this morning, and I explained the four main reasons I can’t take it literally as a world-wide catastrophe – but I also said again that there are great lessons to be learned no matter how it is seen and mentioned the one reason I think it actually can be read as a world-wide flood. We talked about those lessons and didn’t spend much time at all on wheter or not it happened literally as recorded.

    It’s rather easy to reconcile evolution with Mormonism, imo – as long as we don’t take the Garden of Eden narrative literally. Even the “no death before the fall” issue is reconcilable quite easily, if “The Fall” is seen as our transition from a pre-mortal, spiritual state to mortality.

    “As far as it is translated correctly” means a lot to me when it comes to this stuff.

  24. dallske
    September 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    After reading all the comments I feel I need to speak up for the seminary teachers. I realize many of them do sway toward incorrect teachings, yet, there are some that seek to give a correct, robust view of these things. My brother is one of them. He has been a seminary teacher for over ten years now. He teaches in happy valley in two different grade schools. He is always reading and trying to add depth to his teaching and his facebook friends are filled with students past and present (although he never uses facebook).

    I am just trying to give optimism from the perspective of the human factor involved…or the teacher of the manual.

  25. Ben S.
    September 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm
  26. dallske
    September 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    (I was writing and not refreshing and didn’t see comment number 23)

  27. Rob Osborn
    September 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Actually, LDS views on the creation is that it was both planned and executed by an intelligent being/beings. LDS doctrine also teaches that without such intellihgent beings in prior existance, no creation would have ever came about. It is because of God that complex life exists not the other way around. that is the definitive stance of LDS doctrine. So, does LDS doctrine thus support creationism? Depends on how one defines it. I think it is more proper to state that LDS doctrine supports the position of intelligent design- that life could have only come about through some intelligent agent or process.

    LDS doctrine is firmly against Darwinian evolution on many accounts, mostly with how life originated. Darwinian evolution says it had to have been through chance and random events. LDS doctrine in no way supports this view and actually firmly rejects it altogether. The other issues is that of man. LDS doctrine teaches that we are the sons of God, not the sons of monkeys.

  28. Stephen Hardy
    September 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I have much to say on this topic, as some of the comments here have troubled me. Let me just say two things:

    1. It troubles me when we (Mormons) seem to be inspired by those who reject science. I don’t find that inspiring at all, and in fact I find it frightening. Science (where truth is learned brick by brick… and sometimes the entire wall needs to come down and then re–built) and religion (where truth is revealed and unquestioned) approaches things so differently as to make it hard to straddle both worlds at times. It’s true that science can occasionally be troubling, because it seems so transient. For example, I read recently that one of the oldest stars in the universe, recently discovered, was puzzling to scientists because it has no lithium. Apparently lithium should be present in abundance in these early stars, so the finding of this star is causing astro-scientists to re-consider their theories of how/when stars formed. As Mormons we might find such uncertainty uninspiring or even uninspired.

    But we make a serious error when we decide to throw it all away and turn to the bible to answer questions that the bible never even asks. It appears to me that some Mormons admire those who seem able to throw it all out, and see much of our science as not only uninspired, but actually evil: geology, plate tectonics, the findings of ever larger numbers of early human ancestors, carbon dating, argon dating, astronomy, all suggested to be some sort of grand tool of Satan to lead us astray. But this isn’t so, and this view needs to be vigorously rejected. I do give a “large rodent’s hindquarters” as one of our bloggers put it earlier, as to what our students learn from certain OT stories, because this approach suggests that the truth doesn’t matter. When we interpret these old stories literally we not only mislead ourselves and others, but we also usually manage to miss the point that was intended by the teller of the story. We miss major themes and teachings. This leads me to the second point.

    2. I know that Henry Eyring, father of our current member of the first Presidency used to say something frequently. He may not be the only or the first one to say this. This Henry Eyring was a famous scientist and chemist. He used to say to groups of college students at firesides that:

    “the church doesn’t ask you to believe anything that isn’t true.”

  29. September 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Great post, Dave. Thanks for this discussion and for your insight on the teachers’ manuals.

    This has been a hot topic in our home. My son is like Seah’s (#22) — very trusting of science and untrusting of what he perceives to be inflexible “faithful” members of the church.

    I have regularly counseled him to exercise caution: before he rejects the teachings of the church, he should first know what the teachings of the church are. Posts like this are helpful in that regard.

    So far, he’s said, his seminary class hasn’t said much on the subject of creation, especially the “how”. Seems consistent with the intruction in the teacher’s manual.

    #14: Sonny, loved your story.

    #18: Mapman, your experience was similar to mine 35 years ago, down to the fact that my folks never “taught” me creationism (though there was a lot of general feelings of anti-evolution in my community, which, though not LDS, was quite church-going). My epiphany did not come for another four years when I got to BYU and grew up a bit.

    #27 Rob O: Perhaps you missed this line in the OP: “First, a couple of caveats. The topic of interest is Creation and the age of the earth, not evolution.”

    As I indicated, I haven’t been in seminary (as a student) for a long time. But in my HP group just a couple of months ago, I heard talk of cosmic dump trucks (bringing dinosaur bones in during the creation), and of the evil of scientists who practice their own religion. Yikes.

  30. September 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    What disturbs me about this topic, is the assumption that what is taught in a science class is correct. Frequently, if it is not always the case, theory (such as the theory of evolution), is taught in a science class as if it was a proven fact.

  31. Ben S
    September 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Gravity is only a theory too, you know. And I’m a bit suspicious…

    My science teachers were always pretty up front about the level of certainty in the model they were teaching. Of course, there have been disruptive discoveries that overturn old models and so on, but I was impressed with their disclosure.

  32. September 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I find it very gratifying that some readers might actually print this post and give a copy to their curious, science-oriented LDS teenagers, who might in turn be relieved or encouraged by the actual statements made in LDS teaching manuals (as opposed to what an individual teacher might have said). I wish all teen problems could be solved this easily.

  33. Tim
    September 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    It’s absolutely awful that theories like Plate Tectonics, germ theory, cell theory, atomic theory, valence bond theory, the theory of relativity, and evolution are taught in a science class as correct. The horror!

    Seriously, folks–there are plenty of places to debate evolution. The focus here is on how seminary teachers approach creationism, not on whether or not evolution happens.

  34. cramen
    September 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t know what all you people are fussing so much about, but I have been a member for over 30 years and I have always been taught that earth was created in 7 periods which length nobody really knows and which makes no difference to our salvation. Jesus created or organized the earth. My personal speculation abt dinosaurs is those fossils were probably part of the materials Jesus used to form the earth, which also has no bearing on my salvation. My kids were taught along the same lines abt the creation, minus my personal opinions on dinosaurs lol.

  35. clark
    September 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. (Brigham Young, JD 16:115-116)

    Well, now, Brother William [Smith], when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been of old, from eternity [Micah 5:2]; and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years: and to know at the same time, that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years;–it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated and see and know as we are seen and known! (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons of January 1, 1845)

  36. Dan
    September 16, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I can’t remember my seminary days, but if the teacher, way back then, attempted to teach me that creationism was right and that the science I was learning later on during the day in school was wrong, then that teacher clearly failed.

  37. Cameron N
    September 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I think most wise teachers focus on why the earth was created and don’t bother with the how. Whether the existing planet was formally organized by the voice of the Lord, or gradually prepared line upon line over millions of years, or both, doesn’t really matter in the end.

  38. Mike H.
    September 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Gravity is only a theory too, you know. And I’m a bit suspicious…

    We don’t know how that even works, in detail.

    I also remember a great Calvin Grondahl cartoon, with 2 people standing next to a dinosaur fossil skeleton. One of them was saying:”The Lord created it so Adam wouldn’t be overrun with mice in the Garden of Eden”.

    Also, what we call now YEC types now caused some issues for Darwin about the tremendous heat in the Earth’s core. If the Earth was old enough for Darwin’s theories to fully play out, why isn’t the Earth’s core cold? Darwin never did come up with an answer for that.

    Some years after Darwin’s death, it was discovered that radioactive decay is the driver for the heat in Earth’s core.

  39. jader3rd
    September 18, 2011 at 12:00 am

    # 16 @ SusanS
    Have you read Origin of Species? I find it to be a beautiful book, chalked full of references to Darwin’s belief in God. There not “and therefore God must not exist” types of references but “I know see the order in which God did this, my testimony is strengthened” references. Just because something is random from our point view doesn’t mean it’s random from God’s point view. Besides that evolution doesn’t demand randomness, it demands adaptation.
    I reject the Intelligent Design/Creationism stance whole heartedly because it’s not science, and it’s trying to pass itself off as science. I wholeheartedly believe in Evolution, and I don’t find this conflicting with my testimony of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon or the Restoration at all. Do I believe that Jesus Christ created this world and Universe with the power of faith and the priesthood, yes? Do I believe that he broke all of the laws of nature to do so? No. It would be contradictory of God to create everything one way, and also create a bunch of evidence showing that it happened some other way. Besides the scriptures are there to teach us what is pertinent to our salvation, and there are some details about creation time periods which are not pertinent to our salvation.

  40. Paul
    September 19, 2011 at 4:32 am

    I remember seeing the reference to Velikovsky and I thought Velikovsky made the most sense to me. I think his scientific theories matches LDS theology better than any scientific theory.

    In regards to “it not being pertinent to our salvation”, I can only say… so what. Since when do we stop asking questions and searching for our own answers. I understand that in a church setting we need to stay with the official church pronouncements, but at the same time we should be motivating the youngsters to do some of their own searching and studying outside of class. The stamp of “Church doctrine” is not a stop sign.

    I tried to find a quote about true religion and true science saying the same thing. I can’t find it at the moment. I know it is quoted in “Jesus the Christ”. For me I, having a testimony of the restored gospel, I have always considered my search in now to find some science that actually matches my faith. Velikovsky comes the closest. I don’t think many current LDS folks believing the creation took place in only 7 days. Millions of years seems to long for me. God simply doesn’t need to take so much time to create something. For me, Velikovsky bridges the gap. I just get the sense from the scriptures and from Velikovsky that big changes and big creations can happen quicker than we think.

  41. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    September 19, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    To jader3rd: I think it is a gross misrepresentation to label “Creationism” and “Intelligent Design” as the same thing. In common parlance, “Creationism” most often denotes Young Earth Creationism. If you use it to mean ANY belief system that asserts that God created the earth, then it is so inclusive that it loses all of its usefulness as a label, except when contrasting that group of beliefs with that of atheists who insist that, because God does not exist, God could have had no role in the creation of the earth.

    Most often when I see this kind of merging of the two terms, the person speaking about them then goes on to describe ONLY Young Earth Creationism. But the scientists (yes, people with PhDs in biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, etc.) who support Intelligent Design are usually pretty clear in their rejection of the premises of YEC, especially the belief that it only took a few days or thousands of years to create the earth as we know it today, not billions of years.

    The actual books written by advocates of ID do NOT argue “The Bible says this, therefore this scientific theory must be rejected.” Rather, they offer very specific critiques about specific scientific theories that claim that undirected, truly random changes in living things are a sufficient explanation for the assembly of the often elaborate mechanisms that exist in living things, especially at the level of cellular biochemistry. Most of those authors are also explicit in accepting the standard models of how old and large the universe is.

    It is one thing to try to rebut the arguments offered by advocates of Intelligent Design. But the tactic of asserting that “ID = YEC” and therefore, ID is refuted by the whole panoply of easy scientific arguments that can be used against the whole “young earth” hypothesis, is simply dishonest. The age of the earth and the universe do nothing to refute ID’s arguments.

    I have read essays offered by Catholic theologians and scientists to the effect that the God they believe in effect has control of events at such a fundamental level that events that appear totally random to scientists actually will tend toward the fulfillment of God’s purposeful intent for His creation. I think to actually feel comfortable with such arguments, it helps if you accept the theologicial dichotomy between spirit and matter that underlies the creedal descriptions of the Trinity. I don’t read LDS doctrine as preserving such a fundamental dichotomy of substance.

    I personally am puzzled as to why anyone should feel obligated to reject a priori interventions by God at the biochemical level to guide the development of living things. Scientists affirm that random interventions occur constantly due to cosmic rays and natural background radiation from carbon 14, potassium 49 and other natural radioisotopes. I don’t see any reason why it would violate Darwin’s theory if some of the mutations are actually guided. It certainly did not bother him that so many modern developments in domestic plants and animals were guided by human breeders. Advocates of the Darwinian synthesis don’t have a problem with the coexistence of both natural selection and human-guided selection. They just have an aversion to the idea that someone as intelligent as modern geneticists may have been playing with the DNA of living things on earth in the distant past. If one does not reject that hypothesis out of hand, existing biology in all its complexity may be the best evidence that there exists life, especially intelligent life, elsewhere in the universe. Since the assumption that life will pop up all over the galaxy, and not be confined to earth, is the fundamental premise upon which the whole field of exobiology is based, why should it be difficult for the same scientists to entertain the idea that some of that extraterrestrial life could have been intelligent enough, in the last 4 billion years, to have played a role in the development of complex life on our own planet?

    The only consistent explanation for these inconsistent views, as far as I can see, is that a certain strain of atheist scientists cannot tolerate the idea that there have existed beings who were more intelligent than them, back 500 million years ago, during (say)_the Cambrian Explosion in the diversity of life forms.

  42. September 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Stephen Hardy #28:

    Science (where truth is learned brick by brick… and sometimes the entire wall needs to come down and then re–built)…

    Stephen, et. al., your very description brings up the point that seems to be missed too often. If “the entire wall needs to come down” at times (and we know it does), then obviously the “truth” wasn’t the truth at all. The incessant insistence that *today’s science* is the only reasonable thing to believe, isn’t credible.

    I’m not a scientist. My husband is, my dad is — most people in my family are. I grew up with the strangest dinnertime conversations. I’ve never been bothered by the creation/evolution issue and neither have others in my family. IMO that’s because we can see reconciliation with the correct parts of both accounts and discarding of incorrect parts of both pretty easily.

    I guess what always surprises me in such discussions is that the actual scientists I know well, don’t ever get so demanding about the “truth” of science and the “falsity” of the Bible. Rather, they understand the ever-changing nature of science and the collective body of knowledge, because they see it every day.

    I’m confident that when we completely know God’s story and perfectly understand science’s story, they will be one and the same. But, then again, I think math and God are almost the same thing. :)

  43. Stephen Hardy
    September 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm


    I agree with your comment. All true scientists ought to have some degree of humility because the wall may need to come down at some point. Your comment is great and I agree with it.

  44. September 20, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Thank you, Stephen. :)

  45. September 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    You should read the chapter in *The New Mormon Challenge* on ex nihilo.

  46. ned
    September 21, 2011 at 2:24 am

    RE: #39 jader3rd
    This is an excellent entry. I encourage everyone to read it. It will not give you “the answer”, rather it will encourage you to look at the subject with an open mind and be receptive to those who desire to search for truth.
    None of us fully understands the teachings in the Bible and the other scriptures, but we are admonished to read them, contemplate on them, and be respectful of the opinions of all others.

  47. Don
    September 22, 2011 at 6:02 am

    I was taught in seminary that I should not kiss a girl until I was married.

  48. Bob
    September 22, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Then how many can you kiss?

  49. Michael
    September 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    I take umbrage at the straw man technique employed by the evolutionists that implies that those of us who disagree with the theory of evolution are somehow opposed to science. The theory of evolution and science are not synonymous terms–they are not the same thing. To be opposed to one does not imply that one is necessarily opposed to the other. Nor does the acceptance of one necessarily imply the acceptance of the other. Believe it or not, there are scientists who do not subscribe to the theory of evolution–Michael Behe, for one. Are they “anti-science”? I think not. I consider them the true scientists because they only accept that which has been proved.

    I am disappointed that the whole discussion has centered on what the CES manuals say and not what the scriptures or modern prophets have said. Contrary to what the lobbyists for the theory of evolution would have us believe, the Church actually has taken an official stance on the theory of evolution, both by President John Taylor, in the Mediation and Atonement, and then later in the 1909 Message of the First Presidency, “The Origin of Man,” in which President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors took a very clear stance opposed to the theory of evolution.

    First, they referred to the theory of evolution and related theories as the “theories of men,” which is always used as a pejorative in Mormon culture. You never hear anyone refer to the atonement of Christ as a “theory of men.”

    Second,they said that we are obligated to accept Adam and Eve as our “primal parents.” The word, “primal,” comes from the same root as the Spanish word,”primero,” which means “first,” and according to the dictionary, means “original.” If they were our first parents, or our original parents, then that means that there were no parents before them.

    Third, they said that not everything pertaining to the creation of life on earth had been revealed to us but that which has been revealed should be accepted, and then they proceeded to quote, among other things, Moses 3:7, which says that Adam was the “first flesh upon the earth.” If, as the Lord said, Adam was the “first flesh upon the earth,” then it logically follows that there could not have been any earlier flesh on the earth from which he could have descended. Thus, one cannot logically believe both the LDS scriptures and the theory of evolution simultaneously.

    Yes, I know that Joseph Fielding Smith said that this reference to Adam being the “first flesh upon the earth,” really means the first MORTAL flesh upon the earth, but there are problems with that interpretation.

    First, this is not a question of interpretation. This was direct revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and if the Lord had meant to say, “first mortal flesh,” then He could have said, “first mortal flesh,” but He didn’t. He said “first flesh upon the earth.”

    Second, Adam was not the first mortal flesh on the earth–Eve was–because she ate the fruit first. So, Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretation doesn’t work.

    Third, Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretation takes the phrase “first flesh” out of context, because what that verse actually says is that the Lord breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and he became “the first flesh upon the earth.” Thus, Adam was “the first flesh upon the earth,” right from the moment that he took is first breath, and not from the moment that he ate the fruit. Hence, once again, Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretation just doesn’t work.

    Fourth, a literal interpretation of Moses 3:7 is supported by the Book of Abraham. According to the Book of Abraham, Adam was not just “the first flesh upon the earth” but the first living thing upon the earth. In other words, Adam was here before any plants or animals were here. Thus, there was no form of life upon the earth from which he could possibly have descended.

    Joseph Fielding Smith asked why God would put Adam here before there were any plants or animals here. I would answer with a question: why did Jehovah need Adam’s help in creating the earth? What did Adam have that Jehovah did not? Obviously, a physical body. Apparently, people with physical bodies are able to exercise power over physical elements of matter in ways that spirits cannot.

    This message of the First Presidency was republished in an official organ of the Church, the Ensign, in 2009, which implies that the Brethren have not changed their stance on the theory of evolution, but that the official position of the Church is that it is still opposed to that theory.

    The Book of Mormon warns us against trusting in the arm of flesh. If believing in the theory of evolution is not trusting in the arm of the flesh, then I don’t know what is. It did not come to us from the Lord, or from the scriptures, or from any of the modern prophets or apostles but from uninspired men who were not even members of the true Church and did not even have the Holy Ghost given to them to inspire them. This is the very definition of the “arm of flesh.” If there is no harm in believing in the theory of evolution, there certainly is in putting one’s trust in the arm of flesh, especially when the arm of the flesh is so patently contradicted by the word of the Lord.

    I find that those who believe in the theory of evolution usually trust in the arm of flesh in other ways as well, such as disbelieving the flood of Noah, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, the Church’s opposition to abortion, etc. Of course, they have very good, scientific reasons for not believing in things like the flood of Noah. I wonder if they also disbelieve that Jesus actually walked on water, healed the blind, turned water into wine, and ascended into heaven, since those things are equally as unscientific as the flood of Noah–and so is the resurrection. I am constantly amused at the wonderful hubris of those who think that they know absolutely everything about what is and is not possible. Is it possible that so-called “scientific evidence” has ever been misinterpreted?

    Paul advises Timothy: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” (1 Tim. 6:20)

    This proves one thing–that there are some things that are called science that are not really science. I think that the theory of evolution fits that bill. And it is opposed to the scriptures, as we have seen.

    The Book of Moses is Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of Genesis. Thus, we have essentially two scriptural accounts of the creation–the Moses account and the Abrahamic account, both of which unanimously agree that Adam was “the first flesh upon the earth.” The question now is, what should seminary teachers teach in seminary–the theories of men or the word of the Lord?

  50. clark
    September 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    I think not. I consider them the true scientists because they only accept that which has been proved.

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  51. Michael
    September 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Which would explain why I explained what the word means to me.

  52. Sonny
    September 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm


    “I think not. I consider them the true scientists because they only accept that which has been proved.”

    Organisms evolve. They adapt. That is proven. And all true scientists know that.

  53. clark
    September 23, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    The problem Michael is that’s not what scientists mean by science.

  54. Ben S
    September 24, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Gary has a sock-puppet !?

  55. Ben S
    September 24, 2011 at 11:58 am

    On second read, that’s unfair to Gary. My apologies.

  56. September 25, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Earlier in Church History many of the leaders including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc. taught that the universe is filled with planets upon which dwell Heavenly Father’s children, many before this earth even existed. When this earth was created or orgnized, all life including human life was brought here from elsewhere in the universe. If this teaching is true, and I believe it is, then evolution is wrong and so is creationism. The true origin of human life on earth is transplantation from elsewhere. I don’t think Church organizations including Seminary should be teaching evolution or creationism for they are both wrong.

  57. September 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Redelfs has spoken. The issue is settled.

  58. September 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    From Sonny:

    “I think not. I consider them the true scientists because they only accept that which has been proved.”

    Organisms evolve. They adapt. That is proven. And all true scientists know that.

    Any mammalian or reptilian organisms? Tell me about those new species. Or tell me why not.

  59. September 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Chris H.
    Redelfs has spoken. The issue is settled.

    Notice I didn’t use the “F” word or any other filthy language.

  60. September 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm


    I am glad that my contempt for you was made clear. I only use those special words for those that earn it. You are amongst a special few.

  61. Bob
    September 25, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    John W. Redelfs:
    If you wish to make a Faith or supernatural argument __then make it.
    But don’t think you can use Science to disprove Science__you will lose.

  62. Dan
    September 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    why do we let our religion get hijacked by extremists like John W Redelfs?

  63. September 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Dan: Why do we let our religion get hijacked by extremists like John W Redelfs?

    John W. Redelfs: Calling me an extremist is just name calling. Whether I’m an extremist or not depends on where you stand. From where I stand the view is different. My family does not think I am an extremist, nor does my ward or stake. I can think of a couple of names I could call you if I were into name calling. I’m not sure how one hijacks a religion, especially one that is defined by one man at the top. Perhaps the problem is the natural tension that exists between cultural and religious Mormons. Perhaps it is the tension that exists between those born in the Church, and those converted from other religious traditions. Or maybe it is the natural divide that exists between believers and doubters.

    Regardless, you are just name calling when you call me an extremist. You would demonstrate better judgment and wisdom if you were to learn more before judging me. It is pretty hard to get the gist of a person from only a few paragraphs.

  64. Dan
    September 25, 2011 at 8:31 pm


    Perhaps the problem is the natural tension that exists between cultural and religious Mormons.

    This kind of statement makes you an extremist. You’re differentiating between people who disagree with you by stating those who disagree with you must surely only be cultural, and those who agree with you the “true” “religious” Mormons. If you agree with Darwin’s theory of evolution, clearly you’re going against the prophets, and thus are only a cultural Mormon, and not really a religious Mormon. This is the kind of statement that makes you an extremist, John.

    Or maybe it is the natural divide that exists between believers and doubters.

    Exactly. You are a believer, and he who disagrees with your position is clearly a doubter. You use prophetic quotes as if you own them and their interpretation, and you use them as an appeal to authority, so that anyone that disagrees with you comes across as disagreeing with prophets, thus a “doubter” not a “believer.” You’re an extremist, and you make me not want to be a part of this church.

  65. September 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    You know, folks, John W. Redelfs has been causing this same kind of disruption in Mormon internet circles since at least the mid-’90s when I first encountered him. He may be quite different in person, for all I know, but his on-line persona hasn’t changed one iota and is, was, and doubtless always will be exactly what you’ve seen so far. You’ll want to bang your head against a block wall every time he speaks up, but it won’t do any good. He wouldn’t be any easier to be around even if you could bang his head against a block wall.

    Best to just let him make his pronouncements, issue his edicts, and set himself up as the One Mighty and Strong while the rest of us are faithless enemies of the true prophets (meaning a small cadre including Brigham Young, Ezra Taft Benson, Bruce R. McConkie, and Joseph Fielding Smith, but not necessarily including the other men you and I sustain as prophets). It’s hard, and I can’t always take my own advice, but ignoring him, or snickering and moving on, is really the only way to deal with him on the blogs. Engaging him at all means turning over whole discussions to him, because he will always, always, always, and always insist on the last word.

    Ignore him. Get on with discussing whatever it was we were discussing before John W. Redelfs decided we needed him to straighten us out.

  66. September 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Comments are now closed.

Comments are closed.