This video addresses President Nelson’s quote, “There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both.” Also discussed are four First Presidency statements on evolution that show a progression in interpretation, allowing for much more freedom of thought than many church members realize.
On this video we’re going to be talking about science and religion, if you have to make a choice. The short answer is no, you do not, and I do want to show and make sure it’s clear what the Church’s position is on this. There’s a lot of confusion on this topic, and many people present their opinion as though it’s the view of the Church. I want to make sure it’s clear what the Church’s views are. Joseph Smith said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”
Let me show you a couple of graphs here. First of all, this was a study done in 2009 on evolution and the opinions of evolution throughout the United States by religious affiliation. If you look at this graph, you can see the line in the middle is the total U.S. population. It’s about 50/50 believing in evolution. If you look at the Latter-day Saints, we’re towards the bottom. 22%. Jehovah’s Witnesses just the only ones below us on there.
I want to contrast that with this next graph, which is a longitudinal study that was done with BYU students that were non-science majors back in 1987 to 1996 compared to 2014 to 2016 on evolution. If you look on the far right, if you look at acceptance on there, it is now to almost 40%. It used to be at about 12, 13%, so it’s more than tripled over that time. You’ll see one interesting issue here is that there seems to be a clash in between the young people versus the overall body of the Church, at only 22%, you can see statistically there’s a wide chasm and division in maybe the approach here to this topic.
One of the things … I’d like to share a few quotes and then share with you what’s called the BYU Packet and the First Presidency statements on this topic. But first, I wanted to start with a couple of quick quotes. Henry Eyring, the famous scientist, said, “Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.”
He also said, at another time, “There are a few ways in which good people do more harm to those who take them seriously than to defend the gospel with arguments that won’t hold water. Many of the difficulties encountered by young people going to college would be avoided if parents and teachers were more careful to distinguish between what they know to be true and what they think may be true. Impetuous youth upon finding the authority and trust crumbling, even on unimportant details, is apt to lump everything together and throw the baby out with the bath.”
And lastly, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and his book, Life Lessons Learned, said, “Some try to deal with apparent conflicts by compartmentalizing science and religion, one-in-one category, such as Monday through Saturday, and the other in another category, such as Sunday. That was my initial approach, but I came to learn it’s inadequacy. We are supposed to learn by both reason and revelation, and that does not happen when we compartmentalize science and religion. Our searchings should be disciplined by human reason and also enlightened by divine revelation. In the end, truth has only one content and one source, and it encompasses both science and religion.”
Now, this BYU Packet I mentioned, there was a big controversy in the early nineties between the science department and the religion department on the topic of evolution. Just so you know, BYU is one of the leaders in evolutionary studies, specifically now even DNA for evolution, dinosaur fossils, some of the key areas leading in certain areas of the nation. But going back to this 1992 pack… The compromise was essentially to get together and submit a bunch of material to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve for them to sift through and come up with a BYU Packet that would be given to students to help them with this topic.
What ended up coming out of this packet are just four statements, and they were all First Presidency statements. They’re 1909, 1910, 1925 and 1931 which were really minutes from a meeting that were then produced with President Hinckley’s help in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism. That’s kind of the key one. That was the final one there.
So, the 1909 one was the only one that had something that was anti-science, anti-evolution. Here’s this two sentences that said, “It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this Earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of man. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was the first man of all men, and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race.”
Well, the very next year, this caused quite a stir. It was addressed in various ways, but the very next year, the First Presidency put out another statement addressing all of the contention that was arising from this. You got to remember there were some famous scientists in the Church, too. John A. Widtsoe. We also had James E. Talmage. You had B.H. Roberts, who was very well-spoken on these topics, also.
So, 1910, “Diversity of opinion does not necessitate intolerance of spirit, nor should it embitter or set rational beings against each other. Christ taught kindness, patience and charity. Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy.”
Now, the 1925 statement that came out actually was the 1909 statement, but it removed all the anti-science, anti-evolution statements. Those were completely removed. Then, the key piece that happened was in 1931. This was a result out of a debate that happened from a talk that was given by Joseph Fielding Smith in Conference where he talked about no death before the Fall and no pre-Adamites.
B.H. Roberts and him came in, and they essentially had a debate in front of the First Presidency and the Twelve after which those minutes that came out were part of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that President Hinckley helped to put together in 1992. This is really the final statement on this, and you can see this one became very critical in addressing these in the Church’s position. So, here’s the statement.
“The position of the Church on the origin of man was published by the First Presidency in 1909 and stated again by a different First Presidency in 1925. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes. The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again.”
“In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issues of organic evolution, the First Presidency of the Church addressed all the general authorities on this matter and concluded, ‘Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church, we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church. Upon one thing, we should all be able to agree, namely, that Adam is the primal parent of our race.'”
And then, in an interview with President Hinckley, he actually stated, “What the Church requires is only belief that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race. Scientists can speculate on the rest.” So, if you are a full believer in evolution, even the evolution of man, you are absolutely fine. You’re not going against any Church doctrine. The view of the Church is this, and that can fit within this.
If somebody has that view, please don’t make them feel bad or say, “That’s not the view of the Church.” Now, some of the confusion comes from some of these statements that were made by leaders of the Church over the years, and I did do a video on What is Doctrine, and that would be a great thing to review for this topic.
I will read one quote released by the Church in 2007 under the title Approaching Mormon Doctrine. This is in the Mormon Newsroom. This is the part of that. “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.”
There are a lot of people that grew up in the Church from the thirties to the eighties, nineties that heard a lot of things from some of these Church leaders. One of the big ones was Joseph Fielding Smith that wrote Man, His Origin and Destiny. This book was addressed by David O. McKay when he was the prophet. Many times to many different letters, and in fact, he was frustrated that this was widely read and thought by many to represent the Church’s official view.
President McKay personally accepted evolution and called it beautiful. He addressed … Here’s an example of a letter he wrote somebody asking about this. He says, “On the subject of organic evolution, the Church has officially taken no position. The book Man, His Origin and Destiny was not published by the Church and is not approved by the Church. The book contains expressions of the author’s views for which he alone is responsible.
Similar things happened with Bruce R. McConkie with the book Mormon Doctrine, with his talk at BYU, The Seven Deadly Heresies. In fact, when that talk was published, it was different from the verbal version and the part about evolution. There was a sentence added that said, “These are questions to which all of us should find answers. Every person must choose for himself what he will believe.”
Then, the last example, Boyd K. Packer gave a talk at BYU, The Law and the Light, in 1988 in which he had an anti-evolutionary message. However, the talk, when it was published in 1990, was immediately proceeded by a sharply-worded disclaimer, which I don’t think has happened before with a BYU speech, but this said, “The author alone is responsible for the views set forth therein. They do not necessarily represent the Church.”
So, to conclude with a few last things here, Henry Eyring … The Church actually asked him to go around and speak to many different groups. This is the Henry Eyring, not President Eyring but his father, the scientist. So, this is the scientist. In 1955, a report to the First Presidency that he gave. I love this quote. He says, “My conception of the gospel is that the scriptures record the dealings of God with His prophets and His people. By living in accordance with their teachings, we may expect to reach the Celestial Kingdom. To be understood, the Lord must reveal Himself in a language His children can understand.”
“Of necessity, many things not necessary for their immediate progress are omitted, to be revealed later and to be discovered by man’s own enterprise. There are some people who throw away the scriptures and restrict themselves to science and related fields. Others use the scriptures to the exclusion of other truth. Both are wrong. Latter-day Saints should seek after truth by all avenues with earnest humility. There is, of course, no conflict in the gospel since it embraces all truth. Undoubtedly, however, science is continually challenging us to think through again our conceptions of the gospel. This should work both ways, of course.”
I love the scripture in D&C 101 because if anyone says they think they’ve got it figured out, and science certainly tells us maybe which way to bet on some of these things and the probability analysis. You can look at it that way. But when you read D&C 101, you can certainly say that nobody knows for sure, and we won’t know until the Second Coming.
It says, “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, He shall reveal all things– Things which have passed and hidden things which no man knew; things of the earth by which it was made, and the purpose the end thereof.”
You might say, “Well, why even study?” We’re taught to study out of the best books. D&C 88 says, “Teach diligently and be instructed more perfectly in theory and principle. Study things both in the heaven, the earth, under the earth.”
So, we’re told to to study these things, but I have to … This is one of my favorite quotes. Probably one of the wisest stances. Harold B. Lee. He said, “Perhaps if we had the full story of the creation of the earth and man told to us in great detail, it would be more of a mystery than the simple few statements that we have contained in the Bible because of our lack of ability to comprehend. Therefore, for reasons best known to the Lord, He has kept us in darkness. Wait until the Lord speaks, or wait until that day when he shall come and when we shall be among the privileged either to come up out of our graves and be caught up into the clouds of heaven or shall be living upon the earth likewise to be so translated before Him.”
“Then, we shall know all things pertaining to this Earth, how it was made and all things that now as children we are groping for and trying to understand. Let’s reserve judgment as to the facts concerning the Creation until we know these things for sure.”
To finish, I just wanted to tell you of an excellent resource, a website called sciencemeetsreligion.org. It’s run by David Bailey. He’s an LDS scientist, and it’s a fantastic resource, a tremendous amount of detail.
He does talk about the history of evolution in the Church and the thinking on it and talks about our present situation. It’s interesting to note, he said, that under the study by topics, there’s 232 topics there. One of them used to be called The Origin of Man, and in 2009, that was removed, and it did have a link in the past to the 1909 statement. It’s actually been removed from the website. He says, also, there’s a pro-science interview that’s in a prominent spot on lds.org with the scientist John Lewis of MIT, and I’ve watched it. It’s a fantastic video. I’ll link to it in the resources.
“He compares science and religion to the differing images seen by the left and right eyes, yet when they are combined, they result in three-dimensional vision.” That’s beautiful, and I hope you liked this video. That’s it for this time.
Science meets religion – amazing website with a significant number of links: sciencemeetsreligion.org
Latter-day Saints’ specific section of sciencemeetsrelgion.org: http://www.sciencemeetsreligion.org/lds/
FairMormon links – Mormonism and Science: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mo…
FairMormon links – statements made by Church leaders on evolution https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Pr…
New Era Article – July 2016: Science and Our Search for Truth https://www.lds.org/new-era/2016/07/s…
LDS Perspectives Episode 50 – A Religion of Both Prayers and Pterodactyls – Steven Peck http://www.ldsperspectives.com/2017/0…
BYU Maxwell Institute Podcast with Terryl Givens and Steven Peck – The God Who Marvels: https://mi.byu.edu/mic-peck/
Steven L. Peck on “Why Evolution and LDS Thought are Fully Compatible: Overcoming our Suspicions of Science” given at the Science & Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth, & Man conference held on November 9, 2013, in Provo, Utah https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_co…
Reconciling Science and Religion: A Mormon Bishop’s Perspective on Evolution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNEyy…
David H. Bailey on “Science vs. Religion: Can This Marriage Be Saved?” given at the Science & Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth, & Man conference held on November 9, 2013, in Provo, Utah. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srEha…
Henry Eyring- Faith of a Scientist, Reflections of a Scientist, Mormon Scientist (biography written by grandson)
Where Science Meets God – 12 Ways Science Reinforces LDS Doctrine by Scott Frazer
Science – The Key to Theology by Steven Peck
Of Heaven and Earth: Reconciling Scientific Thought With LDS Theology by David Leigh Clark
Truth and Science: An LDS Perspective by Dave Collingridge
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.