Mormon encyclopedia: ‘The scriptures tell why man was created, but they don’t tell us how’
OREM – Adam or ape?
It’s the inevitable question when talk turns to evolution. Sure enough, it cropped up Tuesday at Utah Valley State College during a discussion of a new book about the LDS Church ‘s evolutionary view.
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Duane Jeffery, a Brigham Young University biology professor, and William Evenson, a UVSC administrator and physics professor, who co-wrote Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements, say the church’s position on evolution is clear: It doesn’t have one.
“When you look at what the church has said on [evolution] in context, it’s clear the church has no authoritative position that suggests evolution is incompatible with religion,” said Evenson, a 34-year professor and administrator at BYU until retiring and taking his present job at the Orem college.
The duo’s 123-page book, published by Salt Lake City-based Greg Kofford Books, is just beginning to grace shelves at area bookstores. Its release is timely, given the Legislature’s defeat this week of a bill that would have required teachers in Utah public schools to tell students that evolution is not a fact.
Fact is, both professors attest, many Latter-day Saints are misinformed about their church’s stand, often dismissing Charles Darwin by selectively citing what certain LDS leaders have said.
Evenson and Jeffery – both of whom say Darwin’s theory doesn’t lack for evidence – concern themselves with authoritative church statements.
Three formal statements made by the governing First Presidency – the first in 1909 during church President Joseph F. Smith’s administration, a second in a Christmas message in 1910 and a third in 1925 during President Heber J. Grant’s tenure – carry the most weight. So does the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s entry on evolution, which contains excerpts from First Presidency minutes in 1931.
Jeffery said the 1909 declaration, while not rejecting evolution, clearly carries an anti-evolution flavor. He said the 1925 statement mirrors the earlier one, but without anti-evolution rhetoric.
Penned by Evenson and approved by the church, the Encyclopedia article says, “The scriptures tell why man was created, but they don’t tell us how.” The article further contains the First Presidency’s instructions in 1931 to church general authorities: “Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research.”
Evenson and Jeffery buttress their book with an appendix of additional documents the First Presidency approved or sponsored for publication, as well as church presidents’ published statements that were issued over their signature. For example, it contains President Joseph F. Smith’s 1911 editorial in the church’s Juvenile Instructor.
“The church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in his creation of the world,” wrote Smith, who personally opposed the idea of evolution.
Mormonism and Evolution’s genesis came about in 1992, when then-BYU President Rex Lee tired of answering students’ questions about the subject and wanted a packet written to inform students of the church’s official position. Jeffery and Evenson helped assemble that packet, which is replicated in their new book along with some commentary to provide context.
Jeffery said many LDS members’ anti-science views can be traced to the 1909 statement or Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man: His Origin and Destiny, written in 1954. Too many Mormons, he added, are not as well-versed on the other statements.
“This book tells the rest of the story.”