The missionaries have been teaching an evolutionary biologist named Stephen. Stephen is a committed Christian and is enthralled by the Book of Mormon. He has prayed and feels good about its authenticity.
He asked the missionaries what the Church’s position is on evolution. He wants to know if he can accept the science as it relates to evolution and still be a member of the church.
Being a man of science and of faith I invited him and the missionaries to my home. We had a wonderful discussion and he asked me what the position of the church is on the matter concerning him.
Firstly I confirmed to him that being a believer in evolution certainly shouldn’t deter him from being baptized and didn’t make him ineligible in any way. I explained that we are more concerned with how people live and what they do than the specifics of what they believe. Having said that though, I also wanted to share with him our teachings on the matter to ensure he didn’t join the church under any false pretenses. He had a question and I had an obligation to answer as honest and forthrightly as I could.
I thought about sharing with him the part in the book Doctrines of Salvation by our beloved past prophet Joseph Fielding Smith where he said that if evolution was true then the church isn’t, but then I thought better of it. While there has been much debate on the subject within the church over the years I thought it best to only use quotes that can be found on our current lds.org website (I do hope none are offended at this approach).
I explained to Stephen and the two Elders that evolution is a theory and is based on an understanding that life and death have been around for millions of years upon the earth. Stephen agreed with this. I then had us turn to the Bible dictionary which says*:
"Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the fall (2 Ne. 2: 22; Moses 6: 48).”
Stephen agreed with me that the fall of Adam took place some 6,000 years ago, but let us know that he didn’t really take it as a literal event but looks at it more symbolically. I then had us read together 2 Nephi 2:22 from which we learn that if Adam had not transgressed he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created (in a perfect state such that they could not die) 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.
As mentioned Stephen has a more scientific view and seemed quite comfortable with the fact that his views are often at odds with the more literal interpretation of ancient scriptures such as the Bible and Book of Mormon. This is how I hoped he would react as I have no issues with people joining the church that see things like this in a different light.
We then moved on to the specific issue of evolution. As already mentioned I didn’t want him to join the church without a full understanding of today’s teachings on the topic so we read from the current Old Testament institute manual as follows**:
“It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’"
“Of course, I think those people who hold to the view that man has come up through all these ages from the scum of the sea through billions of years do not believe in Adam. Honestly I do not know how they can, and I am going to show you that they do not. There are some who attempt to do it but they are inconsistent—absolutely inconsistent, because that doctrine is so incompatible, so utterly out of harmony, with the revelations of the Lord that a man just cannot believe in both.
“. . . I say most emphatically, you cannot believe in this theory of the origin of man, and at the same time accept the plan of salvation as set forth by the Lord our God. You must choose the one and reject the other, for they are in direct conflict and there is a gulf separating them which is so great that it cannot be bridged, no matter how much one may try to do so. . . . “
This seemed to concern Stephen. He had read online that some of our leaders had debated evolution but didn’t realize there were current teachings against it. I told him not to worry and assured him that with time he will come to see that the leaders of the church are prophets, seers and revelators and can be trusted in their interpretation of scientific data.
I mentioned that the quotes from our Old Testament manual are completely in line with what we see in the Ensign magazine. Do you remember the special Ensign from March 2008 all about Jesus with that nice cover on it? I have a copy at home and always keep several in my office at the stake centre. I asked one of the Elders to read the following from Boyd K. Packers address found therein***:
“We are taught in Genesis, in Moses, in Abraham, in the Book of Mormon, and in the endowment that man’s mortal body was made in the image of God in a separate creation. Had the Creation come in a different way, there could have been no Fall.
How well I know that among learned men are those who look down at animals and stones to find the origin of man. They do not look inside themselves to find the spirit there. They train themselves to measure things by time, by thousands and by millions, and say these animals called men all came by chance. And this they are free to do, for agency is theirs.
But agency is ours as well. We look up, and in the universe we see the handiwork of God and measure things by epochs, by aeons, by dispensations, by eternities. The many things we do not know, we take on faith.
This we know! This simple truth! Had there been no Creation and no Fall, there should have been no need for any Atonement, neither a Redeemer to mediate for us. Then Christ need not have been."
Stephen was quite taken back by this statement and asked if he could re-read the part about learned men looking down at animals and stones to find the origin of man. He considered this a personal attack on his profession and was quite surprised that something like this would be found in our writings and on our official website. He enquired as to who the author of this article Boyd K. Packer was. I told him that Boyd K. Packer was the President of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles and will become the next prophet and Church President if he outlives 83 year old Thomas S. Monson.
Stephen then sincerely thanked us all for our time and said he had another appointment to be at so we promptly closed with a prayer.
I noticed he left his Book of Mormon on my front doorstep on the way out. He must have been tying a shoe lace and accidentally left it there in his haste. I asked the missionaries to return it to him at their earliest opportunity so he can continue to ponder the message it contains. I am confident that Stephen will be baptized very soon and look forward to having his perspective amongst the latter-day saints in my stake.
Lovingly shared by Stake President Paternoster