From the day that Darwin published The Origin of Species followed by The Descent of Man (his The Voyage of the Beagle making less waves), it seemed to clash with Judeo-Christian beliefs. The very names were sure to cause consternation for those having faith in the Bible creation narratives. It was clear that God made animals and man fully formed from the dust. There would be no “intermediary” or physically “primitive” ancestors. A war has waged ever since with few conciliatory moves.
The story as traditionally told, and interpreted by the Bible reading, is that God created the Earth as a Garden of Eden with fruit bearing plants and a wide variety of animals. Man was then created by the dust and sprang fully formed and intelligent. Seeing that the man named Adam was alone, God created woman from his rib as a help meet and named her Eve. They lived in total bliss and ignorance.
Satan in the form of a snake tempted Eve with an unnamed fruit, later symbolized as an apple, that would give her forbidden knowledge. She then gave it to Adam who knew she would be kicked out of the Garden and both be alone. Recognizing they were naked, the man and woman covered themselves with leaves. When God discovered they had mentally awakened to understand good and evil, the two were indeed kicked out with the tree of Eternal Life protected by a flaming sword. Death entered the world for all earthly creations. The man and woman were given coats of skins as clothing and banned from God’s presence with only the Word of God to remind them of who they were and where they came from. For Christians, Jesus Christ was the Savior who died so that Adam and Eve’s mortal children could repent and be resurrected.
According to the theory of Evolution, the formation of animals and humans was far more complicated even if easier to explain. No recognizable Adam and Eve existed as the progenitors of modern mankind, although genetic research has uncovered a man and a women who lived thousands of years apart who could be given those designations. Instead, a species of ape (not monkey) produced a group of bipedal primates that eventually evolved into the Homo family that modern humans remain as the only survivors. We didn’t reach up for fruit in the branches of trees, but came down from them.
At first glance there is nothing in common between these two versions of human formation and history. The Bible has a deliberate and focused viewpoint. Evolution twists and turns over millions of years with many dead ends and what would seem random forces at work with no inevitable conclusions. Desperate as they seem, it isn’t impossible to allow them to exist together if rigid interpretations of both are loosened with some charity.
Again, none of what I am about to explain is official doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other member. These are my own ideas and speculations, no matter if shared by others. Long and ponderous thinking and praying has produced a personal belief that can always be amended with more revealed truth and knowledge. Like stated before, Mormonism is prepared to reconcile these two stories better than other Judeo-Christian religious traditions. The secret is in teachings about pre-mortality where plans are made before the creation of physical reality. Existence of humans can have two homes rather than one. In a nutshell, it can be speculated the spiritual creation of man and animal came from above and the physical below at nearly the same time.
It has been recognized for a very long time that the Bible contains two version of the creation narrative. This gives the first clue that not everything is as it seems, with Genesis 2:4-7 commenting that plants and man came from somewhere besides the Garden. The plants themselves specifically were made, “before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew.” Modern revelation in Moses 3: 5-7 expands on this to explain, “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” This includes man who was also created in heaven, “and there was not yet flesh upon the earth.” There is reason to believe two events could be happening at the same time as the spiritual and natural creation overlap.
At some time, according to Evolution theory, Australopithecus genus dropped out of the trees to walk on two legs toward more abundant food sources in a grassy landscape. Over 8 to 4 millions of years there developed Homo species with H. habilis using the first hand made tools. They were soon followed by H. erectus, H. antecessor, H. rhodesiensis and others that continued to develop more refined tools with later ones using fire. By about 400,000 years ago H. neanderthalensis came on the scene with H. floresiensis “the Hobbit” sidelined and H. sapiens “modern humans” interacting. Tests on DNA seem to indicate Sapiens and Neanderthal interbreeding, although in the end H. sapiens would be the last surviving member of the family. When Adam and Eve came into the picture can hardly be speculated, but that God had a plan separate from the above scenario can be explored.
It doesn’t take much of a forced reading to conclude that the Garden of Eden was a separate place either on or away from the rest of Earth. The Garden, as Genesis 2:8 states like the books of Moses and Abraham, was planted as a special place to put man. Plants were included for the man to eat, although mention of the tree of life in vs 9 and later the fruit of knowledge seems to imply a more symbolic purpose for the food other than nourishment. Eternal bodies that can’t die shouldn’t need the sustenance. The Garden of Eden was most likely the first Temple (see The Gate of Heaven by Matthew B. Brown, pg. 26 – 33) and by nature between Heaven and Earth. Some similarities to the Temple are the Presence of God, a central location, a place where sacred rivers run (see Rev. 22:1), having precious materials that High Priests wear, and etc. Although long held to have been located in Jackson County Missouri by Mormons before most likely taken up to Heaven like the City of Enoch, there are reasons to doubt the theological accuracy (note) of this conclusion. More likely is the location was in Heaven itself.
The theory that seems to best account for events is both the pre-mortal world and the Garden of Eden are one and the same. Humans in both would have no opportunity for change (2 Nehi 2:22) and couldn’t have children of their own (2 Nephi 2:23) to teach and look after. Knowledge and agency (Moses 7:32) existed and were given by God for spiritual progression. The presence of God (Genesis 3:8) was always available. Finally, Satan made arguments to destroy mankind (Abraham 3:27-28) while fulfilling a necessary role (2 Nephi 2:17-18) by acting as opposition.
Once the fruit of good and evil was taken, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden. It has been argued that there was no death before the Fall and this would be true. All spiritual creations became subject to mortality and were sent to Earth. Adam and Eve were our first spiritual parents of the Children of God, although when in human evolution they came down as the first “man” among men remains perplexing. The best guess would be H. sapiens with the other Homo species having their own purposes and glories. Perhaps Neanderthal were taught the gospel since they seem to have buried the dead with care. Adam and Eve were naturally part of the Earth having been created from the dust. The coats of skin more than likely represent receiving physical bodies. None of this is a problem if it is recognized that the Scriptures mix up time and space in one eternal viewpoint.
In some ways the above speculations are a sketch. Time and space limit the amount of information allowed. Regardless of how the events transpired, salvation is available to all through Jesus Christ because of the Fall of Adam. To quote 1 Corinthians 15:45 about the relationship, “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” The next step of Human evolution will be to have eternal life.