Ardi and the Rise of Mormon Symbology

Bored in Vernalscience, symbols 39 Comments

With the advance of science and the study of more and more artifacts such as Ardipithecus ramidus, believing Mormons are faced with a challenge which becomes stronger with each discovery. Although the Church has never taken a firm doctrinal stance on the mechanics of evolution, there has been an authoritative definition on the nature and origin of man. In 1909 a First Presidency statement was issued entitled “The Origin of Man.” This statement defines the Church’s position that

  1. God created Adam, the origin of the human family and the primal parent of our race, in his express image.
  2. Creation was first spiritual and then physical.
  3. Humans do not result from a development of lower orders of the animal creation.
  4. The whole animal creation will be perfected and perpetuated in the Hereafter, but they were not made in God’s image, nor endowed with godlike reason and intelligence.

Faced with the difficulty of reconciling human origins based on an evolutionary model and a very real Adam who was created from the dust of the earth, Latter-day Saints have responded in a number of ways. Recent generations of Mormons have become increasingly willing to embrace symbology as a viable alternative of interpreting the scriptural record. Instead of viewing Adam or Noah as literal human beings, their stories are seen to embody spiritual truths from which we can learn helpful principles. The scriptural record is seen as archetypal and may be based on events which are more limited than they aver. Writings about Noah and the flood which accept this approach can be seen here and here. Adam is more problematic, because of the role he plays in LDS eschatology as a literal priesthood leader who will return in his physical body to preside at Adam-Ondi-Ahman.

There are at least three options that believing Latter-day Saints have in considering the Adam and Eve scriptures. First, we can accept them as historical persons. This necessitates either rejecting the scientific evidence as incomplete or incorrect; or compartmentalizing our beliefs so that they don’t need to be reconciled. If you find yourself within this category of belief, how do you deal with discoveries such as “Ardi?” Are you more likely to “put it on the shelf,” or do you turn to creationist apologetics?

Another choice is to see our First Parents as purely symbolic figures — fictional characters in a fictional story that intends to teach theological truths about God and humanity. This can be a deeply satisfying endeavor, and is even supported by instructions in the Temple that we are to see our First Parents as “simply figurative.” If we subscribe to this option, however, we must revise our eschatology and relegate the Adam of the Last Days to symbolic status as well. If you are in this camp, are you ready to give up the Adam who will physically return to the American Zion holding the keys to his dispensation? And what do you do with the many authoritative statements describing this event?

Lastly, we may view Adam and Eve as representative figures — a pair of hominids who God miraculously modified into the first homo sapiens about 150 thousand years ago. This theory has promise because it works with modern science, the scriptural account, and last days theology. It certainly has a great appeal to the modern Mormon armchair theologian.  However, it does not jibe with the First Presidency statements on the origin of man, which pointedly specify that human beings did not evolve from lower orders of the animal creation. There is no precedent for this train of thought, and adherents must weave a new hypothesis ex nihilo.

Comments 39

  1. I believe that Adam and Eve were real persons, but I also believe God uses scientific principles in creation, including evolution, and is truly the Master Scientist. Early Church leaders may have felt that evolution excluded the involvement of deity, but I see evolution as a brilliant master plan of the Master.

    Although scientists are still discovering much about the evolutionary process, I suspect that the Church will eventually reconcile science and religion. Because evolution is taught in biology classes at BYU, perhaps we will some day see Church leaders reflect verified scientific principles in their doctrinal analyses.

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  3. I tend to believe:

    The human species evolved, and when they evolved to a point where they were highly capable of abstract thought and moral reasoning, they were now capable of communing with God, thus initiating the first recognized contacts between God and the human species. Somewhere in that process, there was a first man and a first woman who communed with God. We could call those people Adam and Eve. In this way, the Adam and Eve story has both metaphoric and (very) loose historic value.

    I deal with the 1909 statement by simply disagreeing with it. I feel comfortable doing that because I’m certainly not the only Latter-day Saint to do so. Parley Pratt, for example, stated that the Adam and Eve story was the equivalent of a child’s fable that was designed to convey only the vaguest generalities about human origins because God needed a story that could be used and understood by peoples all over the world for thousands of years, and the true human origins were too much for many of God’s children to comprehend. You’ll find that essay in a book called “Temples of the Most High” and it’s entitled something like “Adam from a Brick, Eve from a Rib”.

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    PPP wasn’t the only one to call the Adam & Eve story a fable–didn’t Brigham say the same?
    Andrew, do you think this first man to commune with God was also a preexistent being named Michael who assisted in the Creation, or do you think that is symbolic also? Did this human being hold the keys to the first dispensation, and will he return to the earth in a physical form at Adam-Ondi-Ahman? Are these “fables” also?

  5. Well, first of all, discovery of a fossil is just that, discovery of a fossil. Trying to weave the back story causes the exact problems people have with this kind of conjecture, it’s not science, but mere speculation. It’s interesting and relevant speculation, don’t get me wrong, but we need to stop interpreting these kind of scientific discoveries as earth-shattering. They are merely one more piece to the puzzle. We still maybe looking at the wrong puzzle.

    The fundamental flaw of Darwainistic evolution in conjunction with geologic time is the assumption of a temporal constant. However, if you go with the relativistic physicist, time and space are fluid, and therefore, our assumptions of a temporal constant may be flawed if you look at it in conjunction with the big bang. It works on one level, don’t get me wrong, but it too still has problems.

    But to answer your question and to deal specifically with your last explanation and how it doesn’t jive with the 1909 statement. I answer that with the understanding that the term “evolution” was dealing specifically with “Darwainism” as understood in 1909. To that I can reconcile the statement and still believe in the representative figures theory, even though I’m not saying I do, I’m just sayin’ . . .

    Prophets can still be prophets and science can still be science in my little apologetic world, I guess. Round pegs aren’t always as round as they seem, neither are the holes always that square.

  6. “instructions in the temple that we are to see our First Parents as ‘simply figurative'”.

    Actually, that’s not quite what’s said. We are to see ourselves as if we were Adam and Eve, implying that we can both learn from what is being taught to them and benefit from aspects of the ordinance directed to them.

    Be that as it may, your point about the struggle for reconciliation continues for many of us. I am a firm believer that God doesn’t, for some reason, plant “evidence” of an ancient, populated earth to mess with our minds. Therefore, I have to take the findings seriously. And we can’t look to modern-day scripture to aid us. We learn from the D&C that Adam – a real person – was Michael in the pre-existence and has a major role to play at the end of times. We also learn that the earth has had six thousand-year periods since the Fall of Adam, and that no death took place prior to the Fall.

    So, the whole thing, for me, sits up on that very crowded (and constantly increasing) shelf…with little hope of reconciliation.

  7. Yes, I believe that evolution was involved in the creation of man. I believe God used scientific principles to create the earth and all of his creations, including man.

  8. I believe in evolution in the creation of the human body. I think that Adam and Eve were the first humans with whom God had direct contact in mortality. Even then, they may be symbolic of an “Adam and Eve Tribe” rather than two distinct individuals. That being the case, I’d have no problems expecting the patriarch of God’s first group of chosen people to return to Adam-ondi-Ahman and addressing the Church.

  9. Most of you seem to be saying you think the 1909 statement was wrong. This site is full of instances where the prophets got this or that wrong, but many still believe. If they were wrong so often, what gives you confidence that they are right about other things? I guess I already know what you will say. It just amazes me how often faithful believers will say the prophets were wrong about this or that. It’s interesting.

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    I do suspect the 1909 statement doesn’t have the clout it used to. I am seeing that many LDS are willing to include aspects of Darwinism as part of the origin and creation of man, and that it doesn’t necessarily cause them angst. And for me the addition of a literal Adam in the last days throws another monkey wrench into the works.

    Larryco, I wasn’t talking about that part, and the exact words “simply figurative” are used in the endowment when describing the organization of the man and the woman.

  11. I guess if we didn’t have a literal Adam and Eve, I have a little problem understanding part of the significance of the story of the fall. I mean, if the fundamental premise is that mankind went from being intelligent spirits with moral agency to living in a fallen world with mortal bodies and no memory of our pre-mortal existence, then what’s the point of the Garden of Eden story if Adam and Eve weren’t real? If they’re just figurative, then who would they be representing? Us? So we each were tempted by Satan to partake of the forbidden fruit? The wives all jumped first, their husbands following after? I have a hard time weaving a figurative narrative that makes sense to me without a real Adam and Eve. That certainly isn’t a hard argument like BiV’s Ancient of Days in the last days, but still…

    I’m pretty simple-minded. I don’t have any problem with Adam and Eve emerging from the garden to co-exist with human-like creatures. I just don’t accept that they’d interbreed (at least, not Adam or Eve). Nobody’s arguing that “modern humans” evolved from separate lines, are they? Unless they do, I don’t see a conflict. Maybe I’m just to ignorant to see it.

  12. I just think it’s too cool to think of God stringing togeather DNA base pairs with start and stop sequences, histones, etc. until he said “this is man” and put it in a sterile cell and “breathed life” into it so it developed into the imortal Adam. I guess the problem is that science will never be able to confirm or disprove it. Funny, it’s not so tough to contimplate a scientist genetically engineering and cloning a bean or a sheep.

  13. BiV, I have no opinion about whether Adam was the earth-name of a pre-existent being named Michael who held keys, etc. Or about a great winding down scene in Adam Ondi Ahman with passage of keys by their holders from various dispensations. I don’t say I know it’s not true, I just say I don’t have an abiding conviction that it is true. I tend to view those sorts of things as metaphorical or symbolic. I think the symbolism is rich and powerful and serves the instructive purpose for which it was intended. I also think it’s pretty obvious from both scripture itself and the temple that it’s intended to be understood as symbolic rather than literal historic truth, to provide a metaphor that we can personally identify with in a “liken the scriptures to ourselves” sort of way.

  14. Martin, #11, you do yourself a disservice–your thoughts here are VERY cogent.
    Years ago, I read an article in the Ensign by Bruce R. McConkie linking the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. I’ll try to find a link to it. I believe he postulates that without a literal Adam, and a literal Fall, there would be no purpose for an Atonement, much like you are suggesting. Personally I think that allegory would work as well here. We are each tempted to partake of sin, Eve could represent a man or a woman, so could Adam. Some of us partake of sin because they are tempted, some knowingly for a higher good. Because of transgression, we are cast out of the figurative presence of God, and need something to reconcile us. But I’m going to go back to McConkie to see what his reasoning is.

    Your other point is just as fascinating. Because the fossil record has left us incomplete links, it could be possible that there was a “human-like” creature, not created in God’s image (but close!) that died off before or soon after the human race was created. But why? God’s practice model? Given their brain capacity, what was their place in the plan of salvation?

  15. BiV,
    I more or less agree with Andrew and further have no problem with that Adam being the Preexistent Michael. In reading over the 1909 statement, while the call the idea of man coming from lower animals the ideas of man, they employ logic from existing revelations, not revelation of their own to justify the conclusion that Man could not have come from lower animals, and further undercut their argument with the undisputable existence of the embryo developing into a human. Call me crazy, but I am enough of a hair splitter not to see the conflict here.

  16. Doc!! Long time no see!
    OK, here’s the link to McConkie’s The Three Pillars of Eternity. Bruce R. says (and I can just hear his voice saying this:

    “Who is Michael? He is a spirit son of the great Elohim. Under Christ he led the armies of righteousness when there was war in heaven. Our revelations say that he “was the son of God” (Moses 6:22), that he was “the first flesh [the first mortal flesh] upon earth, the first man also” (Moses 3:7), and that he was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34). He is Adam our father; he is the presiding high priest over all the earth. Under Christ, who is “the Holy One,” he holds “the keys of salvation” (D&C 78:16). He is the only one by whom the fall came. And anything you may have heard to the contrary, from whatever source, is false.”

    McConkie further says: “There was, we repeat, no death in the world until after Adam fell. And there was, we repeat, no procreation until after the fall. And there was, we repeat, no mortality until after the fall.” If we accept this statement from a fairly recent Apostle, it would make it pretty hard for any of our above speculations to have occurred. And McConkie plainly did not see Adam as a symbolic character.

    Reading BRM’s words can be quite disconcerting. He tells us that if we do not believe in the Fall, it is not possible to believe in the Atonement. And he insists that if we do not gain a true understanding of these things we will not be in a position to work out our salvation, and “we will never make the spiritual progress that will prepare us to enter the Eternal Presence.”


  17. Talmadge and McConkie disagree. The Church paid for Talmadge to give lectures in support of evolution to make sure the members understood the topic was open, not closed.

    Given how often McConkie was wrong, I have no problem concluding he may not be right on this point.

  18. “There was, we repeat, no death in the world until after Adam fell. And there was, we repeat, no procreation until after the fall. And there was, we repeat, no mortality until after the fall.”

    Count me among the legions of Church members who are elated that the General Authorities have moved beyond these sorts of questions that, to me at least, seem so irrelevant to how we each choose to live our daily lives, and are further glad that GA’s largely focus on trying to help us to develop good habits of spiritual health and become Christlike persons.

  19. I remember there was some dinosaur bones some archaelogists found somewhere and one of the bones was kind of a spike thing, they couldn’t figure out where to put it when they reconstructed it so the stuck it right above it’s nose, then they found some more bones that had two of the spike things so they made em into thumbs. Either way that’s a pretty F’d up dinosaur.

  20. I can’t get behind McConkie’s statement. In my mind, the creation story had Adam created last (the “first flesh” could be human flesh, and the “first man” being the first male human), and the Garden of Eden was created for him (and Eve). The Garden was not the world, it was a creation within it. Adam and Eve were cast out of it into the world, and their state was changed, not the world’s.

    Of course, evidence to contrary of my view is that Adam named all the beasts (could that be just those in the garden?) and was made lord of the whole earth (which, while in the Garden, he’d never see).

    What’s the evidence (besides McConkie’s statement) that there was no death of anything before the fall?

  21. I would like to jump in for a second.

    I read a book entitled “Earth in the Beginning” It was written by Skousen’s son. It has allot of interesting scriptural, scientific and some speculative information. Anyway, the author talks about how the earth was created over millions of years using different kinds of life over different periods of time in order to create the earth for man. For example. it discusses how the coal beds and oil reserves were created in an organized way. One point I want to make is the fairly scientific and scripturally substantiated idea that after the earth was prepared for man, it was sanctified. All life was wiped out prior to Adam and Eve being introduced to it. So you see, there could be death before the Garden of Eden although it was before the creation was completed.

    It also notes that the book of Moses amd Genesis provides the spiritual creation while the book of Abraham provides the physical creation. The temple I think is more symbolic and may contain both. The author provides quotes from a number of general authorities to back up these claims.

  22. #21 Martin:
    What’s the evidence (besides McConkie’s statement) that there was no death of anything before the fall?”

    What type of evidence are you asking for, Martin? The following comes from R. Gary’s blog, “No Death Before the Fall.”

    The Church’s basic doctrine manual, Gospel Principles, reaffirms that Adam’s fall brought mortality and death into the world. The 2009 edition of Gospel Principles teaches:

    “Jesus Christ created this world and everything in it” (p.23). “When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden,… there was no death” (p.28). “Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world” (p.219). “Their part in our Father’s plan was to bring mortality into the world” (p.27).

    Originally written in 1978 for investigators and new members, the 2009 edition will be used for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society second and third Sunday instruction during 2010 and 2011. The manual is also an approved resource for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society first Sunday lessons.

    Interesting blog. You may want to peruse it for more “evidence.”

  23. Basically, my take is that whether there was an actual married couple named Adam and Eve or not is largely unimportant. The evidence that the human race is not the product of a single couple which lived roughly 10,000 years ago is overwhelming in every sense of the word. Even if you doesn’t buy into evolution, you simply can’t ignore that much solid evidence. Instead, I simply take the story of Adam and Eve’s fall to be a description of the fall we all go through when we enter mortality. See here for a more detailed description/argument:

  24. To fall back to a position where god uses evolution to create man discounts the grandeur of the theory and limits our understanding of how much of our life is understood as a result. Try watching Ken Miller’s you tube video on intelligent design, or read “Born to be Good” by Dacher Keltner, or even Dawkins new book, to see how and why.

  25. I like Karen Armstrong’s concept of creation taking place in a sacred “everywhen,” that it’s not meant to be viewed as a literal historical event.

  26. The “simply figurative” language was removed from the endowment in 1990, which is why some of you don’t recognize it. One could speculate that it was removed because after 150 years of being figurative, it suddenly became literal. Or one could speculate that it was removed because it was being interpreted as applying only to the specific event being described, thereby implying that the rest was literal when, in fact, it was all figurative. Guess which speculation I hold to.

  27. BIV:

    I am having great fun this semester teaching a university course on human evolution. It is an Honors Program course, and the intelligence of the (non-LDS) students overwhelms me. “Ardi” has been big news in our discussions. We have also concerned ourselves with the evolutionist Richard Dawkins and his promotion of atheism, in which he argues that religion is an abuse to children.

    All in all, I believe that evolutionary science is neutral to religion. I do NOT know how Adam & Eve fit in, but I firmly believe that the story of the fall (whether taken literally or figuratively) is essential to our LDS theology.

    To me, there is no problem studying evolutionary science on weekdays, and then attending Church on Sundays. I find that I need to do both. Besides, the study of evolution is just my way of doing genealogy.

  28. “Besides, the study of evolution is just my way of doing genealogy.” it is fast and testimony meeting this Sunday, I would love to work that into the conversation. Just mention Evo and look at the expressions across the congregation.

    I’ll put that in my list of “how to avoid leadership callings” with growing my hair long and starting each doctrinal conversation with “if I were the Prophet”.

  29. I believe Adam and Eve were real persons some 6000 years ago. I believe that the whole of creation at that time was imortal. I also believe that there were no men that preceded Adam- that he literally was the first on the earth. I do not believe in evolution- that man evolved from a lower order of species of the animal kingdom. I believe that man is man and animals are animals. To say that man came from animals is like saying that God like amusement and likes to lie.

    I firmly believe that evolution is an atheistic approach to the origins of life. I firmly believe that people like Richard Dawkins are either tremendously misled or are advocates of the devil, Satans foot-soldiers. There is nothing, in my opinion, that validates man originating from a lower species of animals other than an artists conceptual drawing. Evolution, the mechanism of atheism, will be seen in the future to be the greatest hoax of modern times. Coming in a strong second will be the hoax of the age of the earth being billions of years old.

  30. The evidence that the human race is not the product of a single couple which lived roughly 10,000 years ago is overwhelming in every sense of the word.

    I didn’t realize there might be any scientific evidence of that or pointing toward that. But I must say it makes me feel much more relaxed. The story of Adam and Eve, if taken literally, disturbs me. I mean, you have Adam and Even and two sons. Then what?

  31. I think Ardi is really Lillith, Adam’s first wife who would not submit to him, so she was excommunicated (and her Temple blessings revoked). Then Adam took on a second, more submissive wife: Eve.


  32. I am not sure what you are trying to say, Peter, but speculation and conjecture about what evidence might mean is essential to science.

    As more evidence emerges, some hypotheses are confirmed and others can be rejected. I am afraid that the Adam and Eve account is inconsistent with the available evidence. That is not a big problem since the most valuable aspects of the creation narrative cannot be captured by literalism anyways.

    It is fascinating to see how evolutionary biologists are moving away from war and conflict as the foundation of reason and civilization and are increasingly focusing on motherhood and cooperation instead.

  33. I have always thought that adam and eve were very similiar to Ardi. I am convinced that original sin is when we evolved from animals into humans. Animals can kill and it is not a sin. Animals can have sex whenever the urge and it is not a sin. Animals can be mean and it is not a sin. When we became humans we became capable of sin. Killing and sex (under some circumstances) became a sin. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of evolution. From Animal to human.

  34. so what about that stuff about the 6 thousand year periods Larryco. was talking about how does that fit into things…

  35. Why is it that there HAS to be a current resolution to this situation? One we are given in hypothesis, and the other we are given in faith. There is more than one thing on this Earth and it’s history and make-up that fall into this kind of category. Whatever the resolution is – isn’t exactly pertinent to how WE individually choose to live our lives at this point. Whether you are a creationist, or an evolutionist in belief system should not and does not dictate your choices of what to do in life, or how to treat other individuals which is the pertinent information for living a “good” life.

    Line upon Line – precept on precept. When the time is correct, or when your faith has become great enough, things will be revealed. I believe God does indeed work through scientific means, but I also believe that science is always evolving as we know it as humans, therefore there could very well be more science we have not yet discovered that fills in the gap here. But regardless of the outcome… it does not affect my day to day life and choices whether my genetic ancestors were “Ardi” or Adam and Eve. Too much time is often wasted on trying to figure all of these things out precisely given only what is currently known. Remember that at one point humanity was CONVINCED that the Earth was flat and the center of the galaxy. Both of which are obviously now proven wrong. Let us not be so quick to think we know everything.

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