One of my personal articles of faith is that I believe God expects – requires, demands – His children to exercise the gifts that He has given us, including the intellect and reasoning powers that he has granted. Even while we must take many things on faith, we are not excused from the attempt to understand revelation and the coarser methods of learning, to the limits of our abilities. We have admonitions like those in D&C 88:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms — that ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
and statements like these from Brigham Young:
Intelligence, to a certain extent, was bestowed both upon Saint and sinner, to use independently, aside from whether they have the law of the Priesthood or not, whether they have ever heard of it or not
We believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.
With such encouragement to seek for truth wherever it may be, and not simply wait for it to fall from the lips of acknowledged prophets, I am too often puzzled and dismayed by calls to restrict inquiry, to ignore the thought of anyone who doesn’t bear the title “Elder,” to dismiss anything that doesn’t come “through channels.”
To be honest, I don’t often hear those calls from General Authorities; they most often come from the rank and file. That’s why I was doubly dismayed to find this article by George Q. Cannon, written in 1883.
In visiting one of our conferences recently I was greatly surprised to hear it stated that some of our Elders were discussing and believing in the theory of Darwin respecting the origin of man. How any man with any knowledge of the gospel can think it worth his while to spend time upon discussion of this questions, but more especially to believe in it, I can scarcely comprehend; for the whole faith of the Latter-day Saints from beginning to end disproves Darwin’s theory respecting man’s origin.
The Prophet Joseph in his boyhood sought the Lord with a faith that prevailed. He was a chosen instrument sent to the earth with a mission, and that mission was to lay the foundation, under the direction of the Almighty, of this latter-day work. The first manifestation that he had was the appearance of the Father and the Son. He saw them and they conversed with him. The Father introduced the son with the remark: “This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” There were two personages, and like the brother of Jared, he saw that they were in the form of man, or in other words that man is the image of Deity.
Now, for the first time in very many generations a mortal man was found who had seen God and knew concerning His appearance. There was no longer room for speculation as to the character and attributes of Deity. The necessity for discussion upon this point ceased from this time forward with those who believed the testimony of the Prophet Joseph. The statements made by some of the religious sects that He was a Being without body, parts and passions, were to Joseph and to those who believed in his testimony, sheer nonsense and utterly devoid of truth. Jesus is the son of God, and the express image of His Father’s person, and the rest of the human family are His brothers and sisters and are like Him in bodily form. In other words, we are the children of God, not in a figurative sense, but truly and really His offspring and descended from Him. Every Latter-day Saint who is in truth entitled to the name must believe this, and if so, where is there room found for believing in Darwin’s theory?
Perhaps some of my readers may not be acquainted with the ideas that Darwin sets forth. His theory is, that man has ascended by successive steps through a long series of ages from a lower condition of existence up to his present perfection. This is what is called the doctrine of evolution. Believers in this theory indulge in the idea that there was a time when man occupied no higher position in creation than the monkey tribes now do, and that still farther back they were even lower than this.
But upon no point does the beauty and advantage of new revelation from God appear more clearly than in this case. Though the Christian world have the Bible, yet with all its writings many of them accept the doctrines of Darwin. Not long since I heard a man, who called himself a Christian minister, preach from the pulpit this doctrine, and speak about man in his present perfection as the product of ages of evolution. The Bible has not prevented such men, though they profess to be guided by the written word of God, from falling into such gross errors; but there is no room for Latter-day Saints who have faith, to indulge in such vagaries. God has revealed to us clearly that before we came here and occupied tabernacles, we had a spiritual existence with Him, just as Jesus did. When the veil was removed and the brother of Jared saw Jesus as he saw Him in a spiritual body, just as He appeared afterwards in His fleshly tabernacle on the earth. When the Lord showed Abraham a vision of the spirits of men, as we are told in this record He did, he showed them to him as they afterwards would appear in the fleshly tabernacles. All the teachings that we have heard form inspired men in our day are to the effect that in the resurrection we shall know each other again; that our bodies are in the likeness of our spirits. This being the case, how would it be possible for us to have progressed from a lower condition according to the theory of Darwin and his followers? One ray of light from the eternal world dispels such delusive ideas and gives men knowledge concerning themselves, their origin and the character and attributes of God their eternal Father.
There is no necessity for one moment being spent by any Elder in the Church in discussing the truth or falsity of these things. The truth, as God has revealed it, removes all doubt. He has revealed Himself. He has permitted His Son Jesus to reveal Himself. In his condescension and mercy He has declared to us that He is our Father. We know our relationship to Him. It is to God we look as our parent, and not to some lower order of creatures, such as monkeys or even lower creatures. And if I should hear of an elder of the Church lending credence to Darwin’s theories concerning the origin of man, I should want no better evidence than that fact that he had lost the Spirit of his calling and had fallen into darkness and unbelief.
I can already hear NDBF Gary and other anti-evolutionists firing up their keyboards to gloat “I told you so!” But don’t be so quick to do that – if you follow Pres. Cannon’s dictates, then it is just as much a waste of your time to spend one moment discussing the FALSITY of these things as it is to debate their truth. Far more than the specific point of whether or not Darwin was on to something with his theories [*] is the insistence that there is no point in even discussing those theories, either in support or in refutation. Don’t talk about them. Don’t debate them. Don’t use your reasoning faculties to understand why those theories are true or false. Don’t think. That’s anti-intellectualism at its rankest, and I’m surprised to find it in the writing of George Q. Cannon, who usually was as rational and thoughtful as he was spiritual.
[*] I most heartily agree with everything George Q. Cannon says about man being created in the image of God, and with his evidences from Joseph Smith and Abraham and the brother of Jared and other prophets, and for everything he says about our relation to Deity. But true as all those principles are, they are irrelevant to evolutionary theory.
Evolution addresses only the physical sphere and says nothing about the spiritual realm or about first causes. Even the most strict Bible fundamentalist believes that there was a distinction between man’s physical self and his spiritual self, and that until God put a human spirit into an existing form, that form was not human: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” That dust-of-the-ground body was not human, had no power over spirit, was not a child of God, until God joined it to the spirit of one of his children and made it a living soul.
I see no contradiction between that pre-human body of clay, and a theoretical physical body that was the result of evolutionary creation which had finally reached the state where it was a fit tabernacle for one of the sons of God. God put the spirit of man into a suitable vessel, one that had the appearance of God, one that had been prepared for man before body and spirit were joined. Who can be sure exactly how “God formed man of the dust of the ground”? That description fits evolutionary theory every bit as well as it fits the idea of God playing in a mud puddle and sculpting a man-shaped body with his bare hands.
I would prefer that comments be directed toward the problem of anti-intellectualism in the Church than in debating evolution, but since I’ve addressed my own theory of reconciling evolution with a literal reading of Genesis, I suppose I can’t complain if others do the same. Be polite.