Speculation: Adam and Eve, Evolution and the new lesson manual; where did you go?

Stephen Marsh Mormon 16 Comments

In our group someone asked about evolution, the fossil record and Adam and Eve.

Of course we began to speculate.

Or at least talk about the alternatives.

First, it is possible that we are all descended from from Adam and Eve just as we are descended from Abraham.

Or, given that the Pearl of Great Price talks of world without number, many lands, and each land was an earth, but the history of this earth only was given to Moses, the story of Adam and Eve (and there could be many, many Adam and Eves — in fact we have good reason to suspect that the Garden of Eden story has played out many times and places) only relates to the land where Moses was, and has many figurative elements.

Or, since reality rests on the power of God, and the physical world shapes itself around God’s power, it may well be that the geologic record is no where near as stable as it looks (countless books have similar themes, where a change in the past ripples through to the present, with dramatic changes, but no one in the present aware of the alterations).  The world could really be six thousand years old.

Do we know?  No.  We do know that an Apostle, the only one whose book is offered in “Bible binding” leather from Deseret Bookstore, was paid to do a lecture series in support of evolution to make the point that the official position of the Church was neutral.

Jesus the Christ

We also know that others have taken the other side of the discussion.

But Nibley, and others, thought it impertinent at best to deny pre-adamic man a place in creation, though exactly what humanity was like before the explosion of invention and progress that began following the end of the last ice age is a different issue.  Tens of thousands of years with miniscule progress.

Still, when I read Genesis and find a (great) grandson of Noah dividing the land with the gentiles, according to their tongues before the Tower of Babel, I know realize that the Biblical narrative provides for people outside of the flood, speaking a different language than the children of Noah (and, by implication, than Noah’s fore bearer Adam), not that very long ago.

So, where did your lesson go?  That is part of where ours went.  Surprising how deep and how far the material in the new manual can go.



Comments 16

  1. “the story of Adam and Eve only relates to the land where Moses was, and has many figurative elements.”

    Interesting to think about, for sure. I have found that the more I allow myself to focus on the figurative and the symbolic with Adam and Eve, the more my mind expands and the more I learn. The more I focus on literal, it’s like a stupor of thought. 😉

  2. #1 AdamF

    I, too, try to focus on the figurative and symbolic. Focusing on the literal ties my brain up in knots.

    There are literally thousands and thousands of different data points that are all very consistent in the big picture. Hominids existed thousands of years ago. Archeological findings from 6000-8000 BC show civilization starting. Civilization started in Africa and the Middle East and spread from there. There are ice caps with the equivalent of “tree rings” that go back tens of thousands of years before Noah’s day. There are literally thousands of different things that all point to a big picture.

    I have a hard time reconciling this with an Adam and Eve from 4000 BC, with no “man” here before them, taking place on the American continent, with a world-wide global flood transporting “man” to the Old World at Noah’s time. It requires either a tremendous suspension of disbelief or else acceptance of the fact that God designed the world to “trick” us.

    So I look for the point of the stories. The Adam story tells me that God created all of this and is behind everything (and likely took billions of years to do it). It tells me that God interacts with man at times throughout history. It tells me that a group can be chosen and set apart. From Noah I learn that God can help save us from calamities. I learn that there are things that sometimes make no sense but that we see God’s hand in retrospect. Etc.

    I think the scriptures must be seen for what they are – guides to help us to be better people and to have a relationship with God. The attempts that man has done over the millennia to use them as scientific texts have ultimately been wrong. At the same time, however, the attempts that scientists have done over the millenia to define God’s role are also limited.

  3. Re Stephen

    Surprising how deep and how far the material in the new manual can go.

    Yeah, clearly this is the good news and the bad news. The first thing my teacher said was something like “we all already know this stuff, so I’m trying to find ways to make it more interesting” meaning “we’re diving into speculation here.”

    It seems to me that anytime we’re diving into “speculation” what is really meant is “literal speculation.” In other words, (at least in my class) when we expand on a topic, it is always in the context that the event in question literally occurred and we have to find creative ways of getting around all the tricky parts so we can retain our literal perspective. “Speculation” seems to never mean “symbolic/figurative introspection.”

    OTOH, I am grateful that the lessons generally move beyond a standard correlated viewpoint.

    Anyway, in our class the focus moved entirely away from the creation of the world (despite what I said above). It seemed to be more about caring for the environment.

  4. Or the simpler explanation is possible, that evolutionary biology and the scientific evidence proves we descended from lower forms of life and Adam and Eve never existed. This would make Genesis a myth. In this case, the plan of salvation falls apart a bit don’t you think ?

  5. (1) Adam, a Son of Elohim in the flesh literally was in the garden of Eden, and was the beginning of one colony of the human race on the earth that came out of Missouri.

    (2) The scriptures say that Adam was the one who had the knowledge of Good and Evil given to him.

    (3) Science says that humans have been here on the earth for eons that came out of Africa or perhaps other places. Perhaps these were multiple colonies of the human race. Archaeology shows this to be so.

    (4) Genetic science says that there is a continuity between us and those humans because we have their genes.

    I don’t believe in “this or that” logic, but “this AND ALSO that” logic.

    Putting two and two together, therefore, multiple colonies of the human race from heaven have been on the earth at various times. We are a hybrid of all of these races, including Adam, and got from him the knowledge of good and evil, while all humans previous to Adam did not have this knowledge, and were innocent. Therefore, the probationary time of man, as far as the fall goes, has only been taking place since the fall of Adam, but in no way was that the beginning of the human race on the earth. It was just the beginning of a new colony of humans from another world that came to this planet.

  6. Steve,

    Luckily I teach Gospel Doctrine, and not Priesthood. It has seemed to me that the extremely short, almost curt finality of the statements (and even chapters, they’re so short!) in the Gospel Principles manual are just BEGGING everybody (including the instructor) to jump in with opinion and speculation. I am often struck by the casual tone with which certain things are declared, yet which I had never even considered as true, let alone doctrinal! It certainly has sparked interesting discussions in our Quorum. A blessing in disguise?

    And also, just to nit pick, since I know it’s not the point of your post, but The Earth and Man wasn’t really all that pro-evolution, especially in regards to the origin of mankind. “He is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation.” I mean, how specific do you have to get?

    Not quite. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

    I follow, but realize too that this approach is still only a punt. Where those ‘individuals’ came from and what they were doing here, not to mention the fact that genetically we ‘are’ those individuals are all issues settled within rather comfortable bounds scientifically, which don’t really fit into the cosmological bounds I am familiar with in Mormonism. I am still trying to pull this rabbit out of my hat.

  7. I don’t believe its a punt. For me it fits perfectly. Science has its bounds, but we aren’t in the realm of science on this thing. we are within a religious/apologetic realm that only takes into account science but does not necessarily always conclude the same thing science concludes, when taking into account non-scientific data based on religious testimony. We must rebuild cosmological/theological bounds every time we encounter something that begs explanation that gives us more information than we had before.

  8. Our lesson generally was along the literalist lines – but I know there are a number of our ward who don’t see it that way.

    I think the literal interpretation is the easiest interpretation, so it is the default for those who really do believe that we are children of God. We taught quite openly that it was figurative, as far as the man and the woman are concerned, for quite some time – but I’m fine with leaving it up to individuals to take whatever slant works best for them.

    I personally have no problem with believing in evolution as the process by which our physical bodies were created and that, at some point, God took a “pre-human man and woman” (especially since Adam means “man” and Eve is said to have meant “mother”), inserted pre-existent spirits and created “mankind”. Works for me and resolves pretty much every issue.

  9. Adam and Eve suffer from a mix of the metaphorical and literal. I Believe the church’s “official” stance is that Adam is the first man. We are left to wander in the darkness about the human characteristics of pre-adamites. They walked, talked, and acted like us. How did their souls differ from ours. Clearly, not because of lack of intelligence. If God pulled Adam from another planet, how were the bodies created there? Evolution? Molded out of clay? Either way, why not use that method here.

    Here’s how I understand the Church’s stance. Without the Prophet coming out with a literal guide, the rest is speculation.

    Creation days – metaphorical. Undefined as to actual span of time
    Creation account of planet – metaphorical. The church accepts that science provides answers about our world, but remains neutral on clarifying it’s position.
    Adam & Eve, first parents and ancestors of all men – Literal. Gospel Principles manual
    Eve created from Adam’s rib – metaphorical
    No Death in the world until after the fall – Literal. Gospel Principles manual
    Tree of knowledge of good and evil – Literal? (although I have a hard time with an actual fruit having supernatural wisdom powers.)

  10. SkepticTheist

    “We must rebuild cosmological/theological bounds every time we encounter something that begs explanation…”

    That really captures the sense of what I was poorly conveying in my last post. By ‘punt’ I only meant to imply that there is a lot more in the scientific corpus that is at odds with even your broad re-interpretation of man’s origins in Genesis.

    My central point is simply this: so far I have not seen any hypothetical scenarios (including those mentioned here) which sufficiently resolve the fundamental LDS assertions about Adam’s origin with science’s most basic and well supported theories about the evolutionary origins of Homo sapiens.

  11. You are right. Thats because the central assumption of evolutionary theory is common descent of all living beings, and this is plausible and certainly is the scientific view, and it is not fundamentally against the Gospel. But to believe that, you must believe that Adam’s body did not come from Elohim’s body, but from other pre-Adamic men, as you have stated. And you are right. This is something that cannot be reconciled if one believes in usual evolutionary theory.

    I believe in a scenario of panspermia similar to the “alien transplantation” type scenario. In that scenario usually people assume that aliens were the means of transplanting beings to this planet from other planets. My modification on this idea is that the human race itself as the Gods/angels are the transplantation mechanism. Thus, this planet becomes a colony of other worlds, and all family lines of beings are perpetuated. This assumes a continuation of lines of species from other worlds to this one, and evolution within pre-existing lines. This assumes that some lines CAN have common descent, but all lines do not necessarily have common descent. It also assumes that there is no beginning to the human race, the race of the Gods, only different types of humans emerging from common ancestry (i.e. cro-Magonon/Neanderthal, etc. having common descent from the same line we are). Not common ancestry with other primates.

  12. #7: “Not quite. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.”

    Better phrased as “Absence of evidence isn’t always evidence of absence.”

    When the circumstances are such that it would be more likely than not for evidence of a thing to have been left, absence of evidence is evidence of the thing’s absence.

    For example, if the question was whether a particularly bloody murder had been committed in my living room with a pure white carpet a few minutes ago, the complete absence of bloodstains anywhere in that room would be evidence that the murder was not committed there. You could try to rebut that evidence by arguing that maybe the carpet was cleaned miraculously fast, or that the murderer had been extra careful not to splatter blood anywhere, but the evidence from absence would still be valid.

  13. Thomas (& SkepticTheist),

    My point is more along the lines of: there’s been a murder in your living room. You assumed it was bloody. You found no blood so you assumed there was no murder. It’s more about our assumptions about the kind of evidence that we are looking for to help answer our questions.

    Case in point. SkepticTheist stated: “Thats because the central assumption of evolutionary theory is common descent of all living beings, and this is plausible and certainly is the scientific view, and it is not fundamentally against the Gospel. But to believe that, you must believe that Adam’s body did not come from Elohim’s body, but from other pre-Adamic men, as you have stated.” This assumes facts not established, and further assumes that the theory of common descent says something about Adam’s origins, which it does not explicitly do. On the other hand, genetic and geological data have one major thing to say about our relationship to Adam, namely that, assuming there is one it is not exclusive. This is the primary problem I was alluding to earlier. There is no evidence, sufficient to prove or disprove the existence of Adam, nor sufficient to establish what relationship, if any, the human species has to him. Hence my “absence” comment.

    I had to read that like ten times. Fun, wild. I love thinking about this stuff. As you freely admitted, that theory makes no allowance for common ancestry with primates. So not only does it go against the basic conclusion of DNA and fossil evidence vis a vis human origins, but the theory itself is not a suitable replacement, since the genetic data of mankind strongly suggests at least some kind of primate connection, as well as a very ancient and complex population history. You’d need something along the lines of multiple Adams for all these 100-200 thousand year old Homo sapiens founding populations, have them be genetically modified versions of the previous evolutionary stage (H. heidelbergensis?), and to tie up the teleological issues, maybe make them not just interstellar but also time travelers? I dunno…

    I must, at this point thank Steve M for his indulgence, since all of this is quite beside the point of the OP.

  14. raedyohed,

    No kidding. Its not a scientific theory, and never claimed to be. It is a theological construct, an apologetic that makes certain assumptions based on my personal beliefs.
    Furthermore, science has come to the conclusions it has come to based on an overly simplistic, reductionist assumption that shared structures must mean common descent. So I am actually fully aware of the implications of my personal beliefs. Yes, precisely. Multiple Adams for multiple transplantations. Good to see that you are following what I’m proposing. But your lack of respect for the theory, and rejection of its plausibility doesn’t mean that you need to mock it. Because I assert my rationality on my own terms, and have done a lot of theological thinking on this subject. So get off your fracking high horse please.

  15. Oh, and no, it doesn’t mean genetically modified versions of previous stages. It means multiple transplantation of already-evolved versions of man from other worlds, and the only difference between them and us is the knowledge of good and evil. Nothing else.

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