Human Evolution and the Children of God

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.

21 thoughts on “Human Evolution and the Children of God

  1. Very interesting take on the Creation vs Evolution debate. I find my beliefs to be very similar to yours, but you had the eloquence to be able to organize your thoughts.
    I’ve always thought it very insightful that the Creation narrative from Genesis just sounds like something very, very complicated is being explained in an extremely simplified manner… Similar to explaining nuclear physics to a two-year-old. It’s much, much more complicated. Your thoughts are the best supposition I’ve heard so far. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Max Wells. I have thought long and hard on the subject so putting this down was satisfying . Not everything was added in that I wanted as the last paragraph stated. For instance, I forgot to add that Adam’s tending of the Garden and naming of animals during his time to me represents his participation in the physical creation. He probably didn’t know exactly why he was learning and helping until the Fall, but he and Eve didn’t just lounge around.

  3. Problem is, the GAs in the Church who share your viewpoint disagree with your take on two creation accounts. Both McConkie and JFieldingS flatly said that the phrase in Moses is an insertion, and we have no account of the spiritual creation.

  4. Can you qoute or give sources Ben S. so I and other readers can evaluate and respond?

  5. I have to agree with your supposition that the Garden and a pre-mortal estate are synonymous. I have sometimes wondered how angels ministered to pre-Adamic people, if in fact there were such. I don’t know about evolution between species, a thing which, if I understand correctly, Darwin never claimed. DNA replication doesn’t require that every offspring evolve through all “lower” life forms to adulthood – it requires a parent whose DNA can replicate. I’m not being facetious; I’m simply observing that apes don’t have kittens and gods wouldn’t have amoebas. Jesus Christ was born of mortal and god. There are ways I think we haven’t considered that Adam and Eve could have been born. We have very little understanding of the DNA (or higher form) replication of resurrected beings. How we got to the point that we can replicate ourselves as complex, intelligent life forms is one of the great questions of science, history, and theology, and I’m dead curious how the Lord will reveal that truth to us.

    In addition, parts of the earth have broken off, people have left the earth, the earth has moved in space before and is prophesied to move through space again … I don’t have a problem with Adam and Eve being “placed” on earth any more than Moroni making a visit and bringing gold plates. I think the timeline is probably in the 4.5 billion year range, and I think the process of creation on earth could involve death while Adam/Eve were somewhere else walking through their process of decision (a creation in and of itself), but I don’t know about evolution between species. I think we will more fully come to understand the history of bipedal life forms other than H. Sapiens over time, and I agree that their purposes and glories were fit for their ability and intelligence, whether or not they were the ancestors of Adam and Eve.

  6. Ben is right – JFS said (in Doctrines of Salvation): “The account of the creation of the earth as given in Genesis, and the Book of Moses, and as given in the temple, is the Creation of the physical earth, and of physical animals and plants. … There is no account of the Creation of man or other forms of life when they were created as spirits.” When people talk about different accounts, I think it should be clear that we are talking about the physical creation from different angles.

  7. Bonnie…
    “When people talk about different accounts, I think it should be clear that we are talking about the physical creation from different angles.”

    According to JFS’s acanonical statements, that is, which incidentally are NOT binding on the membership of the church…

  8. Bonnie, I can’t get your source link to work. That said, if I understand the above quote to be representative then they are intelligent and holy men, but I disagree with their conclusions. The Bible and modern Scriptures for me indicate that we do have spiritual Creation accounts. The implications of my reading are that how things were done physically mirror what was made before. Unless we believe in ex nihilo, and Mormonism proper doesn’t, technically we don’t really have an account of the physical Creation other than as max wells said a very basic description. That is often followed by or hinted like Genesis 2 with plants the Creation was contemplated and spiritually formed first in an unknown process. Besides, with God there is no Two Creations because for Him time and space have no existential meaning.

    Having Jackson County Missouri designated as the Garden of Eden is more of a challenge to my ideas. Since Joseph Smith’s teachings are vague if it is the Garden of Eden or near the Garden of Eden and mostly second hand, I tend toward skepticism. What we do know is that it will be where Adam as Ancient of Days will hold a great council in the Last Days and that is official scripture.

  9. True, h_nu. However his logic has made sense to me. I should remember to phrase my opinions more appropriately as such.

    And I have to agree, Jettboy, we don’t really have an account of the physical creation either, just a storyboard outline done in metaphor.

    Sorry about the link. I was in a hurry yesterday cooking for son’s farewell dinner last night. I threw it up on drive this morning and hoped that would work since I can’t paste a jpeg in here, but the file link doesn’t look like a web page. I’ll get it to you some other way.

  10. It’s interesting that Adam and Eve were moved to a new location — a lone and dreary world, if you will — after they ate the fruit. For me, that change of location elegantly handles the problem of “no death before the Fall” in light of what we know about evolution.

    That said, I’m not convinced the change of location was from premortal life to mortality. It could be so — and Adam and Eve receiving a coat of skins does fit nicely with taking on the flesh. But then receiving the garment seems a little redundant in its meaning and purpose.

  11. I don’t know how things happened, but I appreciate the discussion. To accept a flannel board version of our origins is to me to believe, as Paul said, as a child. To accept a more challenging version, despite its frustrations, is to me to believe as an adult. One of the greatest gifts of Joseph Smith was to accept the fact that ultimately all knowledge is spiritual. Someday, by exploring science and faith to their ultimate, we may know all things. I find that comforting.

  12. Jettboy, that is an interesting speculation, but to me, it seems a bit strained. Granted, any attempt to comprehensively reconcile these two conflicting viewpoints will have to strain, and this is as admirable an attempt as any.

    But have you considered the fact that Mormons, even extremely conservative ones, already take some of the events of the Garden of Eden entirely symbolically? For example, it is universally understood in the LDS community, at least as far as I’ve experienced it, that Eve coming from Adam’s rib is symbolic and not literal. We also take the term “day” symbolically, in the sense that we treat it as a period of time, not a day as we know it. We have four separate creation narratives, all slightly different, some of which conflict among themselves. None of this seems to cause us any angst.

    So if we already use so much flexibility in our understanding of the narrative, why do we have to strain to make everything so literal, when we have the freedom and the precidence to take elements of the Creation narrative symbolically?

    “No death before the fall” could mean “spiritual death.” The Garden could be symbolic of a state of innocence. The fruit could be symbolic of the transformation from innocence to knowledge, the transformation every child makes around the age of 8. Adam and Eve could be symbolic of every one of us, and our choice to do evil when we know better. Why not? Why take some things symbolically and not others? Where do we draw the line, and why? Why are we so obsessed with using the Fall as a story to explain the mechanics of our physical state, when the story so powerfully explains our spiritual state as it is symbolic of so many of the elements of our life?

  13. Nate, I find The fall too literal in relation to Christ’s atonement to make it all alligorical. Besides, if you call something alligorical then why not call everything alligorical such as the whole atonement. That way leads to soft atheism and therefore I reject wholesale alligorizing. I happen to believe what I wrote is far from strained and frankly personal revelation. Besides, the modern (and Scriptural) prophets have from Joseph Smith testified to the reality of The Garden, Adam and Eve, and the Fall as literal even if there are allagorical elements.

  14. “if you call something alligorical then why not call everything alligorical such as the whole atonement.” Exactly. If we call Adam’s rib allegorical, why don’t we call whole thing allegorical? This is the kind of all or nothing, black and white approach to the scriptures that we fall into, which I believe leads us into all sorts of strained hypotheses. We don’t have to be extremists. Our default doctrine already conatins a mix some allegory, some literal history. We can keep it that way.

  15. The problem you presented above with the Fall is exactly what you say “exactly” about. The idea of making all of the Fall allegorical is equally as extreme as saying it is all literal. This is especially problematic when the Prophets might have signaled some allegorical elements, but the events of the Fall historically theological. Ignoring that is to fall into the same science vs. religion war that atheists are using as a hammer against religion.

  16. I count myself as a relatively conservative Mormon who nonetheless believes that the garden account does not make a lot of sense as a literal account. However, it makes a great deal of sense as a representation of the outcome of a series of events in the first estate. The first estate having not been adequate to save mankind, therefore a place was made for a second.

  17. Missed the request for cites.

    JFS- “NO REVEALED ACCOUNT OF SPIRIT CREATION. There is no account of the creation of man or other forms of life when they were created as spirits. There is just the simple statement that they were so created before the physical creation. The statements in Moses 3:5 and Genesis 2:5 are interpolations thrown into the account of the physical creation, explaining that all things were first created in the spirit existence in heaven before they were placed upon this earth.” From Doctrines of Salvation 1: 75

    BRM- “The Mosaic and the temple accounts set forth the temporal or physical creation, the actual organization of element or matter into tangible form. They are not accounts of the spirit creation.” Ensign, June 1982.

    Both of them said this in other places as well.

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