As I slowly get additional interviews completed (I’ve got some that are scheduled for as far away as December right now), I decided to fill in the gaps with a new series. I’ll write some of the entries and other posters are welcome to join in and add entries of their own.
Before I begin, I want to quote a first presidency statement from 1910.
Diversity of opinion does not necessitate intolerance of spirit, nor should it embitter or set rational beings against each other. … Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy; but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men, we do not accept nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense.
With that as a starting point, I thought I’d address things that I thought everyone knew — but it appears that they do not. I’m starting with the LDS Church and its official position on evolution. Here it is:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stated that it “has no official position on evolution, and each member is entitled to his or her own personal views on the subject”
Now, there have been people who have spoken in strong terms on both sides of the subject. The most famous used to be Elder James E. Talmage who the LDS Church sponsored to speak in favor of evolution in order to make it clear that there was not an official position in either direction. More recently, the most famous was Bruce R McConkie who was more well known for advocating that Blacks would not receive the priesthood until after Christ had returned and the millennium was completed.
Those who are said to have favored the theory (with a great deal of nuance) include B.H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe, Henry B. Eyring, and Gordon B. Hinckley (which is a long stretch. See the footnote). Those who have opposed it included Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R McConkie. Hugh Nibley was well known for considering it rather petty and ungracious to deny the existence of pre-Adamic man, but also felt that the theory of evolution as it was at the time he looked at it (around 1950ish) failed to be complete.
Those who have told people to knock it off and just look at the prior statements include the late Boyd K. Packer. He was following in the footsteps of an earlier first presidency who had told people to knock it off and quit arguing the point:
Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research …. We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion … but on the contrary are certain it would lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding if carried further. Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: “Adam is the primal parent of our race.”
The latest CES manual has the following conclusion:
While it is interesting to note these various theories, officially the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the earth. For reasons best known to Himself, the Lord has not yet seen fit to formally reveal the details of the Creation. Therefore, while Latter-day Saints are commanded to learn truth from many different fields of study (see D&C 88:77–79), an attempt to establish any theory as the official position of the Church is not justifiable.
So, in case you were wondering, the Church’s official position on evolution is that there isn’t one and there is not any benefit in arguing over it, but we should instead learn the truth by study.
On Talmage: I’ll just quote from a better source:
Another of the apostles, geologist James E. Talmage, pointed out that Smith’s views could be misinterpreted as the church’s official position, since Smith’s views were widely circulated in a church magazine but Roberts’s views were limited to an internal church document. As a result, the First Presidency gave permission to Talmage to give a speech promoting views that were contrary to Smith’s. In his speech on August 9, 1931, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Talmage taught the same principles that Roberts had originally outlined in his draft manual. Over Smith’s objections, the First Presidency authorized a church publication of Talmage’s speech in pamphlet form. In 1965, Talmage’s speech was reprinted again by the LDS Church in an official church magazine.
On David O McKay:
There is a perpetual design permeating all purposes of creation. On this thought, science again leads a student up to a certain point and sometimes leaves him with his soul unanchored. … For example, evolution’s beautiful theory of the creation of the world offers many perplexing problems to the inquiring mind. Inevitably, a teacher who denies divine agency in creation, who insists there is no intelligent purpose in it, will impress the student with the thought that all may be chance. I say, that no youth should be so led without a counterbalancing thought. … God is at the helm. God is the Creator of the earth. He is the Father of our souls and spirits. No question about it. You have your testimony—if you haven’t you shouldn’t be on the faculty—that God lives and Jesus is the Christ, and the purpose of creation is theirs.”
On Gordon B. Hinckley (or why I consider listing him a long stretch):
People ask me every now and again if I believe in evolution. I tell them I am not concerned with organic evolution. I do not worry about it. I passed through that argument long ago.
Also in 1997, Hinckley published his earlier teachings wherein he contrasts “organic evolution” with the evolution and improvement of individuals:
None of us … knows enough. The learning process is an endless process. We must read, we must observe, we must assimilate, and we must ponder that to which we expose our minds. I believe in evolution, not organic evolution, as it is called, but in the evolution of the mind, the heart, and the soul of man. I believe in improvement. I believe in growth.
On Dallin H. Oaks:
He approved the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry that states:
“[t]he scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again.”
Want to read more:
So, what else do you wish that someone would have told you?