Hey everyone — today we’re going to be scratching the surface of that good old rivalry between science and religion. Specifically, we’re going to be talking about what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches about evolution. Let’s do it.
Alright, so, in the words of an article published by the Church, aptly titled, “What does the Church believe about evolution?”, we read: “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.” In other words, it is not a doctrine of our faith that evolution is true, and it’s not a doctrine of our faith that evolution is not true.
You can be a faithful Latter-day Saint and believe whatever you want when it comes to evolution. That said, it is no secret that evolution is taught at Church-owned schools. My wife and I recently went to the Life Science Museum on BYU campus, and what did we find? A whole exhibit about evolution. Evolution has been taught at BYU for more than half a century. So, while the Church itself has no official position on it, current leaders are certainly fine with it being taught and obviously don’t feel that it poses any kind of insurmountable problem to faith in God.
But there are a lot of people who worry that evolution and, for example, the scriptural creation accounts cannot co-exist. Where do dinosaurs fit in? Was there life and death before Adam and Eve? Were they really the first humans on earth? How do we reconcile this stuff? Well, frankly, you can approach that issue however you best see fit. Again, the Church has no position on evolution, so we don’t have definitive doctrinal statements on this-or-that concern about how evolution jives with scripture. That said, you may want to consider some of the Church’s more recent statements on this subject as sort of a framework for you. For example, in a 2016 article titled, “What does the Church believe about dinosaurs,” we read,
“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.)”
Now pay attention to the next couple of sentences because they’re super important: “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.”
In other words, science and religion are two very different things with two very different purposes. Sometimes we think that because the scriptures are “true,” everything stated in them is absolute scientific fact. But the truth is, the Bible was never meant to be a science book. Perhaps attempting to force one to fit with the other is like cramming a square peg into a round hole. Did the Creation really occur within six 24-hour days? Not necessarily. Was Adam literally made out of dirt? Not necessarily. Was Eve literally created out of a rib taken from Adam? Not necessarily. “The 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…” Doctrine and Covenants 101 teaches:
“…in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things— Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof— Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.”
The time will come when we have answers to those questions. But in the meantime, we’ll let science worry about the whats and the hows, religion will worry more about the whys, and we’ll take truth from both sources.
Now, I will mention that when it comes to the Church’s position on evolution and some of the questions that stem from it, some people have understandably received some mixed messaging over the years. Casual conversations about evolution can sometimes become a sort of chess game of statements from opinionated past leaders on the subject. B.H. Roberts said this, but Joseph Fielding Smith said this, but John Widtsoe said this, but Bruce R. McConkie said this, but James E. Talmage said this… there’s a long and frankly fascinating history behind the debate on evolution in the Church. We’ll probably dedicate a future episode to that topic. But I will say that even though the Church has no official position on the subject, and while it is taught in our schools, some fairly anti-evolution statements from decades past have persisted into at least one teaching manual that is still around today.
So with all of the opinions and with all of the questions out there that we don’t have answers to, it makes sense that the Church has no official position on the subject. Could that change in the future? Sure. The Restoration is ongoing, scientific discovery is ongoing, and revelation is ongoing. Our articles of faith teach that God has yet to reveal “many great and important things” to us. There are lots of questions we don’t have answers to, and you’ll notice that in this video I’m intentionally trying not to go down too many rabbit holes or speculate too much about some of these unanswered questions.
For example, earlier we read from the Church’s website: “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.” OK, well if that’s what these accounts are not, what are they? How should we read these chapters in Genesis if not as 100% face-value scientific fact? That’s something that we’ll get into a bit in the future, but in the meantime, if you want to dive deeper into this subject and come to your own conclusions, please please please check out the resources in the YouTube description below, and don’t forget to have a great day!
- “What does the Church believe about evolution?” via Church’s website (published in New Era Magazine, Oct. 2016): https://bit.ly/3AfBWPD
- “What does the Church believe about dinosaurs?” via Church’s website (published in New Era Magazine, Feb. 2016.): https://bit.ly/3CqRKzR
- The famous BYU “Evolution Packet” (if you know some of the history behind this topic in our faith, this packet will sound familiar): https://bit.ly/3AlqeD8
- BYU’s “Reconciling Evolution” website (check it out!): https://bit.ly/3ClzUhn
- Resources recommended by BYU’s “Reconciling Evolution” website: https://bit.ly/3ArJY8k
- “Evolution and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” by Ben Spackman (BYU’s “Reconciling Evolution” website refers you to this paper): https://bit.ly/3zmN6kl
- Ben Spackman’s 8-part series on this subject, on the YouTube channel “Gospel Tangents”: https://bit.ly/3kjoLaY (also recommended by the “Reconciling Evolution” website).
- “What does the Church believe about evolution?” a presentation by Ugo Perego: https://bit.ly/3u2iQKJ
- “The Scientific Deformation and Reformation of Genesis: How ‘Science’ Messed It Up, but Also Fixes It” by Ben Spackman (2018 UVU Mormon Studies Conference): https://bit.ly/3kjmj41 (And a corresponding article here: https://bit.ly/2XzIv1o ).
- “The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution,” by Michael R. Ash, in Dialogue Journal: https://bit.ly/2Z1mJnr (This article gives a fantastic historical outline of the evolution controversy in the Church over the past century).
- Additional resources regarding the age of the earth question: https://bit.ly/2XsOTaQ
- “Were there Men before Adam and other Hard Questions,” by William A. Dargan in Meridian Magazine (April 2014): https://bit.ly/3lBkrmB
- “Why Evolution and LDS Thought are Fully Compatible: Overcoming our Suspicions of Science,” by Steven Peck: https://bit.ly/39eGnhJ
- “The Theory of Evolution is Both Compatible with Belief and Unbelief in a Supreme Being,” by David Belnap (Interpreter Journal): https://bit.ly/2YWPMsj
- Additional resources from the Interpreter Foundation: https://bit.ly/3AnVmln
- Casey Paul Griffith’s commentary on D&C 77 (“age of the earth” relevance) via Doctrine and Covenants Central: https://bit.ly/3tNmess
- “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (2015 general conference talk): https://bit.ly/2Z1nj4B