Saturday, February 04, 2006

 

Official LDS Position on Evolution

As I read the full text of Joe Maynard's letter to the editor, it became obvious that he doesn't understand the LDS church's official position on evolution. Neither current President, Gordon B. Hinckley, nor any of the previous church Prophets have issued an official declaration on the subject that says anything other than "the church has no official position on evolution." The most recent example of such a declaration that I know of is from a letter to William Lee Stokes (then Head of the University of Utah Geology Dept.) from President David O. McKay (then President of the LDS church) from February 1957. The full letter was published in the Winter 1979 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (p. 90-92). Dr. Stokes wrote to President McKay for a clarification of the church's official position on evolution. The response was (emphasis added):

Dear Brother Stokes,

Your letter dated February 11, 1957, has been received.

On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position. The book "Man, His Origin and Destiny" was not published by the Church, and is not approved by the Church.

The book contains the expressions of the author's views for which he alone is responsible.

Sincerely your brother,
David O. McKay
(President)


A little background on the book "Man, His Origin and Destiny" may be helpful. The book was published Joseph Fielding Smith (who was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time*) in 1954. The book came out strongly against evolution and was the basis for the article on evolution in "Mormon Doctrine", a book compiled by Smith's son-in-law (who was also an Apostle). "Mormon Doctrine" was not published by the LDS church and is not the official doctrine of the LDS church. While members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold a position of high authority in the LDS church, they do not have the authority to dictate church doctrine. Only the President of the church has that authority. "Mormon Doctrine" is so widespread among members of the LDS church that most of them have assumed that the section on evolution represents the official position of the church, when in fact it does not.

Interestingly, since the official position of the LDS church on evolution is that it has not taken any position on evolution, it leaves a lot of room for individual interpretation. You can believe the literal creation story from Genesis and be a member in good standing. You can believe completely in evolution and be a member in good standing. This has lead to some extremely interesting and enjoyable conversations between myself and other LDS church members on the subject.

As hard as I've tried I just can't understand how people can really think that my belief in evolution is threatening to their belief in God. Evolution says nothing about God. Religion teaches us why, science teaches us how.

*Click here for more information on the organization of the LDS church.

Comments:
Hi there. I just want to draw two blogs to your attention, the first is Mormons and Evolution, where I co-blog. Probably doesn't need any explanation. The other is No Death Before the Fall. Gary, the NDBF blogger, is a very able defender of his view. His arguments are more procedural and legal within a Church framework. He won't be drawn into scientific debate--his position is that nothing can be known with certainty before 4,000 yrs B.C.--that uniformitarian assumptions must be flawed. Although you will almost certainly disagree with him and many things, he does make some good points.

Back to McKay's statement, I think it's main value is that it shows diversity of opinion among church leaders. Boyd K. Packer makes the point that private letters are not the way Church positions and doctrines are promulgated. I can't argue with that, but their existence is at least instructive as to diversity of opinion--even among Church leaders.
 
Thanks for the comments, Jared. I am actually familiar with both of the blogs you linked.

In addition to demonstrating the diversity of opinions among general authorities, McKay's letter reiterates the church's official position that had been defined by the 1931 statement issued by the First Presidency.
 
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