That’s a book by Christian scholar Peter Enns: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (BrazosPress, 2012). The arguments in the book are directed at Evangelicals, but Mormons can quite profitably read along as well. Given that the LDS Church has “no official position on the theory of evolution” and that evolution is taught as part of the biology curriculum at BYU, you would think evolution is a non-issue with Mormons compared to the trouble it seems to cause Evangelicals. But prior statements of some LDS leaders and certain passages in LDS scripture create difficulties for Mormons that Evangelicals don’t face, so it sort of balances out. For Evangelicals and Mormons alike, the Enns book is an excellent discussion from a believing Christian perspective that attempts to reconcile the apparent tension between biblical and scientific accounts of humankind’s origin, as well as the place of the historical Adam in that account.
In Chapter 1, Enns identifies three 19th-century developments that continue to present a challenge to traditional Christian beliefs: evolution, historical criticism (of biblical texts), and biblical archaeology (in particular, discoveries of ancient texts that were similar to biblical accounts of Creation, the Garden, and the Flood but that were written earlier). In the first half of the book, Enns presents the well-supported hypothesis that the Pentateuch as we have it is a postexilic work. He also shows how the story of Adam (disobeys a commandment and is cast out of the Garden into exile) parallels the story of Israel (disobeys divine commandments and is cast out of the promised land into exile in Babylon). In other words, the story of Adam’s exile helped Israelites process the import and meaning of their own exile.
In the second half of the book, Enns examines in detail Paul’s use of the Adam story to support his preaching of the saving grace of Christ, particularly as described in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:20-58. The thrust of Enns’ argument is that Paul’s primary emphasis was on the saving work of Christ, not the historical story of Adam, and that Paul merely employed the beliefs about Adam prevalent in the Jewish tradition of his day to illustrate and support his primary claim of salvation in Christ.
In the conclusion, Enns presents nine theses that summarize his overall argument. The primary question he addresses: “How are Christians — those who value Scripture as God’s Word and who also accept evolution as the correct model for human origins — to think of Adam today?” As reasonable as that question appears, I suspect that considering “evolution as the correct model for human origins” would rule out serious discussion along these lines for any official LDS commentator. Which is why you, LDS reader, have to read the Enns book if you fit his target audience (a Christian who accepts evolution) and want to read a serious discussion of the issue.
I won’t hit all nine theses (they are listed in this rather critical review of the Enns book) but here are three, along with one sentence drawn from the several paragraphs in which Enns explains each claim:
- Thesis 1: Literalism is not an option. “One cannot read Genesis literally — meaning as a literally accurate description of physical, historical reality — in view of the state of scientific knowledge today and our knowledge of ancient Near Eastern stories of origins.”
- Thesis 2: Scientific and biblical models of human origins are, strictly speaking, incompatible because they speak a different “language.” They cannot be reconciled, and there is no “Adam” to be found in an evolutionary scheme. Says Enns: “I support the effort to take seriously both the theological heart of the Adam story and natural science, and to be willing to rethink the biblical Adam in the process.”
- Thesis 7: A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors — whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis. Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment. “[E]ven the expression of deep and ultimate truth does not escape the limitations of the cultures in which that truth is expressed.”
Enns is quite aware of conservative Christian sensibilities and works hard to frame his proposals in friendly, non-threatening terms. Boiling his ideas down to short paragraphs and bullet points makes Enns sound more harsh and critical than he sounds in the book. Even so, if you sleep with a copy of Man His Origin and Destiny under your pillow, this is probably not the book for you. But if you roll your eyes when you hear an LDS speaker rail against evolution, this book might give you an alternative but positive perspective on the whole issue.
As a final item, let me point you to the most recent official LDS statement on evolution: a two-paragraph article in the October 2016 New Era. In response to the prompt “What does the Church believe about evolution?” the following response is given:
The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.
Before we were born on earth, we were spirit children of heavenly parents, with bodies in their image. God directed the creation of Adam and Eve and placed their spirits in their bodies. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who were created in God’s image. There were no spirit children of Heavenly Father on the earth before Adam and Eve were created. In addition, “for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family.” They fell from that state, and this Fall was an essential part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us to become like Him. (See Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Apr. 2015 general conference.)
Update: After publishing this post, I came across an additional LDS statement related to Adam, the Garden, and life on Earth in the February 2016 New Era. In response to the prompt “What does the Church believe about dinosaurs?” the following response is given:
Did dinosaurs live and die on this earth long before man came along? There have been no revelations on this question, and the scientific evidence says yes. (You can learn more about it by studying paleontology if you like, even at Church-owned schools.)
The details of what happened on this planet before Adam and Eve aren’t a huge doctrinal concern of ours. The accounts of the Creation in the scriptures are not meant to provide a literal, scientific explanation of the specific processes, time periods, or events involved. What matters to us is that as part of His plan for us, God created the earth and then created Adam and Eve, who were our first parents and were instrumental in bringing about the Fall, which enabled us to be born on earth and participate in God’s plan. (See Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Ensign, May 2015, 105.)