Interview with Elder Christofferson

June 12, 2007 | 49 comments
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Read it here. (HT: BCC) Lots of hot topics: polygamy, women and the priesthood, evolution, Romney, etc. Discuss.

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49 Responses to Interview with Elder Christofferson

  1. Kaimi Wenger on June 12, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    Oooh. This is a cool interview, Julie.

    REUTERS: Do you believe in Evolution?

    CHRISTOFFERSON: I don’t know. That’s a very intriguing question. I can’t think of a doctrinal statement by the church on evolution. We do believe certainly in a divine hand in creation. And one of our scriptures says there is a lot yet to be revealed.There’s not much that’s frankly been revealed on the religious side regarding it. You’ve got a basic account of creation over different periods – we’re not talking necessarily about 24 hour days but periods in which God directed creation. The hows, the details, I don’t know, to be honest with you. We don’t claim to know.

    Um, what the heck? No doctrinal statement? What about the 1909 First Presidency statement?

    REUTERS: Women cannot enter the lay priesthood if I understand that correctly. Can you imagine a time when that might change? Is that conceivable?

    CHRISTOFFERSON: I don’t know. I really don’t know. We do honestly believe in the reality of revelation. Both in the past and the present and the future. We think the scriptures came by revelation. We think the Lord continues to reveal His will. It wasn’t just a thing in one period in the Earth’s history, but that God has always acted that way and there’s no way he wouldn’t continue.In that sense it would be conceivable. It happened in regard to blacks (in 1978). In that case, there was a time when God’s view for whatever reason was that it was not permitted and a time now when it is. I’m not saying He changes his mind. I’m just saying that for whatever vision of eternity he has and he wants to time things in a certain way that’s up to Him. He can reveal his will and he does.

    Interesting.

  2. mpb on June 12, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    On the question of Helen Mar Kimball, he answers “It would depend on what all the facts were and the context”. Don’t we pretty much know that? Am I missing something here? But of course, I take the same approach to JS as he does. Just sayin’

    Thanks, very interesting interview.

  3. Costanza on June 12, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    I am usually pretty frustrated with GA interviews, but I liked this one.

  4. R. Gary on June 12, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Kaimi Wenger (#1) is correct about the 1909 First Presidency statement.  Remember, however, that it is titled “The Origin of Man.”  Elder Christofferson may be thinking of it as the Church’s doctrinal position on human evolution only and not the general theory of evolution.

    On the other hand, the Church claims its “Gospel Topics” section at LDS.org is:

    “… a great resource for answers to questions about Mormon beliefs,… doctrine, policies, practices, and history.”

    And the Gospel Topic page on “Creation” introduces “The Origin of Man” with these words:

    “In 1909, amid controversy and questions about the Creation and the theory of evolution, the First Presidency issued this article, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position.”

    Furthermore, reprints of the statement in official Church publications in 2000-2001 and 2002 update its relevance and give it focus directly to the 21st century.

  5. Nate Oman on June 12, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    I thought that it was interesting on the Helen Mar Kimball question that he said:

    ” Now whatever questions might arise — as to whether he erred or stumbled in a certain matter — throughout his life he wasn’t perfect. We don’t claim perfection in the human being. I don’t know what he was responsible to before — God I don’t know frankly. But as to his prophetic calling, his prophetic mission and what he achieved in that goal, I’m convinced of that. So the fruits of what he accomplished I think are evident.”

    This seems to suggest that he is willing to entertain the possibility that some of Joseph’s polygamous marriages may have been sinful even if Joseph himself was inspired (including in section 132).

  6. Ann on June 12, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Great interview. Elder D. Todd was here two weeks ago to dissolve my stake. On a GA hair scale of 1-10, with 1 being Dallin Oaks and 10 being Richard Bednar, he is at least an 8.

  7. Ann on June 12, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    He didn’t say there weren’t any doctrinal statements, just that he couldn’t think of one.

  8. Travis on June 12, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Really, really interesting stuff in this interview. I’m struck by his answer on women and the priesthood–he seemed surprisingly open and not-defensive about it. Comparing this issue to the 1978 revelation on priestood seems surprsingly…I dunno…”favorable-toward-change”?. I certainly don’t see him suggesting that this will happen, but it’s interesting to me that he seems okay with the idea that it could.

  9. timer on June 12, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    I enjoyed the interview, but I wonder if it somewhat downplays the church’s role in political decisions. Is it really true, for example, that all this time that the church has been fighting SSM, they haven’t been trying to “direct members in their political choices”? Can you really pass out Proposition 22 lawn signs and bumper stickers at every church building in California without “directing members in their political choices”? Is it possible that Elder Christofferson just has a much more restrictive definition of the word “directing” than I do (e.g., he views it as a synonym for “dictating” or even “coercing”)?

    Another question: Is it good for the church (PR-wise or otherwise) that there are Mormon senators who oppose some of the church’s positions? If I read correctly, Elder Christofferson seems to think almost take pride in this fact. (I can’t imagine, say, the pope taking similar pride in the way that American Catholics use their “best judgement” in votes on abortion or birth control, though perhaps there are some Catholic leaders who feel this way…)

    ****************************************************************

    CHRISTOFFERSON: If we have any role in politics it’s indirect one like that except in situations where we have a position on something we think is of moral significance – a piece of legislation or a proposal that has some particular moral significance where we want to take a position – we feel we are free to do that and petition government as any ordinary citizen or organization is permitted to do. But to try to direct members in their political choices, no; to oppose or promote candidates, no; to try to dictate to members of the church who happen to be government officials, no.

    In our view, the first loyalty of a member of the church in his role as a government official is to the nation and his constituency. As a church member, he’s obligated to be honest, uphold high moral standards in his own life, to exercise his best judgment but he’s not required to vote in a particular way or act in a particular way with regard to his duties or his political activity.

    REUTERS: Or put God above the law?

    CHRISTOFFERSON: No, his first duty is to his constituency and nation. Even where the church has taken a firm or vigorous position on something, which we do occasionally, if a member as a government officer votes in a different way or contrary to the church’s position there’s no church censure, there’s no church discipline applied.

    A recent example would be the proposed constitutional amendment on defense of marriage. We had senators voting both ways. In federal funding for stem cell research, we’ve got senators going both ways. Both members of the church. In the one case, the church took a position. The church favored the defense of marriage amendment. In the other case they took no position, but what I’m saying is that either way we say be honest, be of high moral standards and govern yourself that way but vote according to your best judgment.

  10. Kristine on June 12, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    “Is it possible that Elder Christofferson just has a much more restrictive definition of the word “directing” than I do (e.g., he views it as a synonym for “dictating” or even “coercing”)?”

    Of course he does–he’s a lawyer! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that ;))

  11. JKC on June 12, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Nate,

    I had the same reaction to that question and answer. (Which I read with special interest being a great-great-great-great-grandson of Helen Mar Kimball). It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that any church rep has publicly expressed a statement that allows an inference that some part of Joseph’s polygamy was anything but inspired and right. Interesting.

  12. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 13, 2007 at 1:33 am

    Re: the “no doctrinal statement on evolution”

    I read it to mean that he could not think of any definitive statement on evolution. To my knowledge has been no official definitive doctrinal statement on the evolution of man, or any other form of life. The 1909 statement is one of many official and unofficial statements made with respect to several issues that arise when one considers the possible doctrinal ramifications of the theory of evolution and its basic laws. It lays out certain fundamental principles regarding man’s spiritual origins and the purpose of his creation. The first presidency emphasized “…we are not conscious of putting forth anything essentially new; neither is it our desire so to do.” They made no effort to either dismiss or support the scientific theory as it was then understood. They did reinforce certain principles which were under attack from the secular community at the time, namely that there was an “original man” Adam, that man is in the literal image of God, and that God orchestrated the creation. I think it’s great to see that Elder Christofferson had the insight to make the distinction between a “doctrinal statement” on evolution and a statement that reaffirms established doctrines indirectly related to the current extrapolations of the theory. He’s sharp!

    Awesome interview all around. Thanks for the post!

    Nathaniel

  13. m&m on June 13, 2007 at 1:36 am

    If I read correctly, Elder Christofferson seems to think almost take pride in this fact.

    I read him as saying that a person in political office cannot simply go in and bowl over his/her constituents with his/her own personal views and represent those personal views while ignoring the constituency. He/she has an ethical and professional responsibility to represent the people who voted him/her into office. And I think that position actually IS good PR for the Church, because you don’t want a member in an office simply plowing through with personal views (even if they are the views of the Church) and doing so in a way that violates sound political process and the principles of democracy.

  14. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 13, 2007 at 2:14 am

    Timer –

    The au currant view of the Church’s political role is one of distinction between political and moral activism. I think there is a great deal of consistency in statements like those made by Elder Christofferson when you apply this distinction. If the question of legalization of same-sex marriages is seen as a moral dilemma and not a political conflict then the argument in “petition[ing] government as any ordinary citizen or organization is permitted to do” and encouraging (but not coercing) it members to do the same is sound. In terms of directing or dictating members’ political decisions where there are no grounds for moral objection to legislation the Church has a clean record, as far as I know. The real question that leaves me with is: Where is the distinction between moral and political activism? Are the Bush tax cuts a moral dilemma? Is the Iraq war? Is the state of health care? Is abortion? Is immigration? With the entire political landscape riddled with moral dilemmas it’s impressive that the Church reserves its tremendous influence for very select issues or pieces of legislation and seems to try to err on the side of not overstepping it bounds.

    Nathaniel

  15. R. Gary on June 13, 2007 at 4:46 am

    Nathaniel,

    The BYU Board of Trustees consists of the First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and other General Officers of the Church.  Individual members of the 1997 and 2002 Board of Trustees are named here and here.

    An official BYU Evolution Packet was approved by the BYU Board of Trustees in 1992.  In the Packet cover letter, the Trustees clearly state:

    “Formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of OFFICIAL Church positions.”

    The Packet contains all known statements issued by the First Presidency on science, evolution, and the origin of man.  There are three:

    1. “The Origin of Man” was issued in November 1909.  At 2,700 words, this is the predominant item in the Packet.

    2. “Words in Season” is a small 99 word statement on the Church’s attitude toward science printed in the December 1910 Deseret Evening News.

    3. “Mormon View of Evolution” was issued in September 1925.  This is a 560 word condensed version of the 1909 “Origin of Man” statement.

    President Boyd K. Packer has said that the first and third (1909 and 1925) constitute “the position of the Church on organic evolution.”  (Boyd K. Packer, “The Law and the Light,” The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990), p. 22.)  He continues:

    “Statements have been made by other presidents of the Church and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles which corroborate these OFFICIAL declarations by the First Presidency…. The position of the Church on organic evolution [is found in] the two OFFICIAL declarations, each signed by all members of the First Presidency.”  (pp. 22-23.)

    President Packer believes the gospel is incompatible with the idea of human evolution (here).  Elder Russell M. Nelson agrees (here).

  16. Julie M. Smith on June 13, 2007 at 9:35 am

    “It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that any church rep has publicly expressed a statement that allows an inference that some part of Joseph’s polygamy was anything but inspired and right. Interesting.”

    Yep. That’s a big deal. (And I can’t think of any similar statements, either. Does anyone know of any?)

  17. cameron on June 13, 2007 at 10:41 am

    He dissolved your stake?

  18. John Mansfield on June 13, 2007 at 10:53 am

    “We do as a church encourage members to be politically involved, to the extent that it’s permitted under whatever system they live in. At least at a minimum to exercise the right to vote if they have that.” [Italics added.]

    Good job there addressing multiple audiences: people who live in functioning democracies, and dictators who would keep out Mormons agitating for political civil rights.

  19. bbell on June 13, 2007 at 11:05 am

    The political question.

    For about 2-3 generations the church has refused to take PARTISAN political positions.

    It has never stopped taking positions on issues when it feels its warranted. From prohibition to ERA to SSM.

    I found the Helen Mar Kimball comments intriguing. Its almost like so much time has passed that we are better able to look at our past with less embarrassment. We are maturing it would seem in the last few years.

  20. Rich on June 13, 2007 at 11:20 am

    I found his comments on evolution far more appropriate than the glaring ignorance expressed recently by Elder Nelson in this recent article of a similar nature:


    [Interviewer:] Conservative denominations tend to have more trouble with Darwinian evolution. Does the church have an official position on this topic?

    Nelson: We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life. It’s interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are. We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being. We owe a lot to those lower species. But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.

    Why is that?

    Nelson: Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.

    If evolution is incomprehensible to Elder Nelson, he obviously needs a refresher course on modern biology and genetics. Evolution, far from being incomprehensible, is clearly observable, both in the lab, and in the genetic record.

    I found it troublesome anyway that a man I sustain as a prophet, seer and revelator is not only not keeping up with the explosion of knowledge that is filling the earth on a daily basis, he’s actually using his 40 years as an MD to justify (by appealing to his experience and “authority”) his position of ignorance. It’s a darn shame actually.

    40+ years ago, we knew squat about biology and genetics and evolution (relatively speaking).

  21. Ardis Parshall on June 13, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Rich, that has been hashed out on some other blog. If you really need a place to vent, I suggest you take it there and leave the focus here on Elder Christofferson’s interview.

  22. jat on June 13, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Have I missed something or have evangelicals trademarked the phrase “personal savior” ? What exactly was the reporter referring to when he said that evangelicals interpret the phrase much differently? I was surprised that Elder Christofferson left that phrase go by as being somehow not a straight-forward description of LDS beliefs as well spoken with plain language. It seems to me that clarifying this point a little more would have been first and foremost above all the political hooplah.

  23. Rich on June 13, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Ardis, thanks for the link, I missed that discussion (hence it seemed relevant here; I leave y’all alone now).

  24. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 13, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Jat –

    I agree. It seemed like the reporter was trying to dig at the theological differences between evangelicals and Mormons and Elder Christofferson just let it sail on by. I probably would have jumped on that, but I also tend to stick my foot in my mouth when I jump on things. Lesson number one of extempo interviews – don’t take the bait.

    On the whole “personal savior” thing, I don’t think you hear that kind of phraseology in LDS testimony meetings, unless you live in an area where much of the ward membership is made up of former evangelicals, like parts of New Jersey where I grew up. Phrases like “blessed Jesus” and “Hallelujah Lord” just don’t get uttered that often in sacrament talks, we’re not that expressive. In terms of Romney using more a expressive religious vernacular it’s hard to say if it’s a genuine move to bridge the sect gap, or if he’s just “pandering”. A lot of commentators like to use that word lately.

  25. Ross Smith on June 13, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Here\’s another interview you all just have to read, with Richard Bushman (biographer of Joseph Smith – http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400077533) and a group of leading national journalists:

    Bushman\’s Bio: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=219

    Meridian Magazine introduction to the interview: http://www.ldsmag.com/ideas/070607bushman.html

    Transcript of the Interview: http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=148

    I haven\’t yet read the transcripts of Elder Christofferson, as I just saw this today. But I have read the one of Bushman and I think you will find his answers and the entire conversation \”enlightening, intelligent and a model for how to field even difficult questions with aplomb.\”

  26. manaen on June 13, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    I enjoy this from Elder Christofferson. His comments
    in 4/2004 GenCon helped me understand why I have peace after feeling God’s love following repentance:

    “Most of all, you should pray to be filled with the love of Christ. This love is given to those who are true followers of Jesus Christ, who ask for it with all the energy of their heart. This love is the fruit of the tree of life, and tasting it is a major part of your conversion because once you have felt your Savior’s love for you, even the smallest part, you will feel secure, and a love for Him and for your Heavenly Father will grow within you. In your heart you will want to do what these holy beings ask of you.”

    A couple other thoughts:.

    The 1909 statement clearly says that the Church believes in evolution. It’s last sentence is: “Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.” Nate said it’s fun to be a Mormon and having a First Presidency that ends a major pronouncement with this little bit of tongue-in-cheek proves it.

    Elder Christofferson’s comment, “we don’t believe political systems change people but rather that religion can improve or enhance people who in turn make better societies, better laws, better governments” echoes John Taylor:

    “It is altogether an infatuation to think that a change in government will mend the circumstances, or increase the resources, when the whole world is groaning under corruption. If there are twenty men who have twenty pounds of bread to divide amongst them, it matters but little whether it is divided by three, ten, or the whole, it will not increase the amount. I grant, however, that there are flagrant abuses, of which we have mentioned some, associated with all kinds of governments, and many things to be complained of justly; but they arise from the wickedness of man, and the corrupt and artificial state of society. Do away with one set of rulers, and you have only the same materials to make another of; and if ever so honestly disposed, they are surrounded with such a train of circumstances, over which they have no control, that they cannot mend them.
    “There is frequently much excitement on this subject; and many people, ignorant of these things, are led to suppose that their resources will be increased, and their circumstances bettered; but when they find, after much contention, struggling, and bloodshed, that it does not rain bread, cheese, and clothing; that it is only a change of men, papers, and parchment, chagrin and disappointment naturally follow.
    “There is much that is good, and much that is bad in all governments; and I am not seeking here to portray a perfect government, but to show some of the evils associated with them, and the utter incompetency of all the plans of men to restore a perfect government; and as all their plans have failed, so they will fail, for it is the work of God, and not of man. The moral agency of man without God, has had its full development man’s weakness, wickedness, and corruption, have placed the world where it is: he can see as in a glass his incompetency, and folly, and nothing but the power of God can restore it.” (in The Government of God, Ch. 3)

  27. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 13, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    R. Gary

    As a graduate student at BYU studying evolutionary genetics I’ve studied the BYU packet as well as many other unofficial but relevant statements from church leaders, including those you have cited. I completely agree that those published over the first presidency’s signatures are official, as you have emphasized. There is, however, a large distinction between official and definitive. Reading those statements carefully I have not found any doctrinal statement with regards to whether man may have evolved to his present biological state. I am aware that many of the brethren have expressed disagreement with this notion. I have never come across any official, definitive, doctrinal statement contrary to the theory. That’s where I think Elder Christofferson is correct, and I would say the same thing if someone asked me whether the Church believed in evolution. I would say the Church has never made a doctrinal statement for or against it. Some may feel that past official statements have come out unequivocally against evolution, but as I read them the issue is left up in the air.

    Nathaniel

  28. R. Gary on June 14, 2007 at 7:57 am

    Nathaniel,

    When confronted with the Church’s 1909 doctrinal position statement on evolution, it is tempting to argue that the statement isn’t official.  When it is shown, however, that the 1909 statement is official, it then becomes tempting to argue that the statement is not definitive, not anti-evolutionary.

    Now, if you are studying evolution at BYU, you know who Duane Jeffery is.

    Duane Jeffery’s article, “Seers, Savants, and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface,” (hereinafter “SSE”) was published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 [Autumn-Winter 1973], pp. 41-75.  SSE explores various questions about the doctrine of the Church on the subject of evolution.  SSE was announced to the whole Church in the Ensign (Dec. 1975, p. 71) and to the Mormon academic community in BYU Studies (Vol. 15, No. 4, Summer 1975, p. 532).  SSE’s perceived respectability is enhanced by the fact that it appears in many Bibliographies, including those of four Encyclopedia of Mormonism entries.

    Duane Jeffery wrote the Foreword for the Stephens and Meldrum book Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001, pp. vii-xiv).

    Duane Jeffery and William Evenson co-wrote the book Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005).

    Duane Jeffery has been a de facto spokesman for Mormon evolutionists for more than thirty years.

    Duane Jeffery has clearly stated that the 1909 statement is “anti-science” (Mormonism and Evolution, p. 30) and “quite anti-evolutionary” (Deseret Morning News, March 1, 2006, p. B3).

    It’s interesting that apostolic and academic interpretations of the 1909 statement have come to the same conclusion.

  29. Ross Smith on June 14, 2007 at 11:19 am

    In reading R. Gary’s last post, I went searching for Jeffery’s 1973 article in the online version of Gospelink (http://gospelink.com) just to see if it was there. They don’t carry Dialogue, but I did find his article cited in the following book: Salisbury, Frank B. The Creation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976). Has anyone read this one? There’s a forward by Henry Eyring, and though he obviously wasn’t an apostle at the time, it’s an interesting endorsement. I’ve just printed it out and look forward to reading it.

    Anyway, thanks for your list of books/articles. I’ll enjoy reading all of this. By the way, I did actually find the Dialogue article on the Dialogue web page.

    Did anyone go read the Bushman transcript? As there were so many varied reactions to Elder Christofferson’s interview, I’m sure there would be some fun posts with Bushman’s interview.

  30. Ross Smith on June 14, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Oops, the Henry Eyring who wrote the forward to Salisbury’s book is not the same as the current Henry B. Eyring who serves in the Quorum of the 12. Not sure if there’s a family relationship, but it appears they’re two different people. Oh well… that’s what I get for assuming.

  31. J. Stapley on June 14, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Ross, that Henry Erying is the world famous physical chemist, father of Elder Erying and brother of Camilla Kimball. Regarding the Bushman interview, you will note that he mentions T&S in the Q&A session. There were several discussions in the ‘nacle when it was released (e.g., see here).

  32. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 14, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    R. Gary,

    Neither Duane Jeffrey nor the First Presidency who published it indicated that the 1909 statement was a doctrinal statement on evolution.

    Dr. Jeffrey does not view the 1909 statement as definitive with regards to the evolution of man. In fact, in the very same sentence you quoted he says that “they don’t come right out and say it’s false”. Although there is an underlying tone that suggests discomfort with the theory and disagreements with some of its projections (e.g. Adam not being the original human), here we have an expert who says that statement makes no declaration about evolution itself, official, definitive, or otherwise. In short, they’re ambiguous. While the statement itself is official, it is not an official statement on evolution since it never answers the question. Therefore it cannot it be taken as being a doctrinal statement on evolution.

    The First Presidency did not view their 1909 statement as definitive with regards to the evolution of man. We can see this in turning to the very next statement by the first presidency made in April 1910, just six months later. “Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes … whether they were born here … are questions not fully answered” (Smith, F. et al. (1910) Priesthood Quorum’s Table. Improvement Era 13:70) Clearly they did not feel that the 1909 statement definitively laid to rest doctrines surrounding the creation of man, except to say he was created by God in His image. We must conclude that they did not view their 1909 statement as a doctrinal statement on evolution, since they continued to view the question as unresolved as recently as six months later.

    Elder Christoffereson does not view the 1909 statement as definitive with regards to the evolution of man. “I can’t think of a doctrinal statement by the church on evolution.” Echoing Ardis’ comment that most Mormonism & Evolution topics have been “rehashed” elsewhere I want to point out why this particular line of discussion is relevant to this thread. When one says “Um, what the heck? No doctrinal statement?” it seems to imply that Elder Christofferson was being at best ignorant and at worst disingenuous. I don’t think either is the case. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I think it’s important to reject the notion that Elder Christofferson may have been offhandedly dismissing the topic. To the contrary, he was correct, not only in stating that the Church has never made any official statement on evolution, but also in making that the emphasis of his response, since this is still misunderstood by members of the LDS church.

    Experts agree! The Church has made no doctrinal statement on evolution.

    Nathaniel

  33. Rich on June 14, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    The ambiguity, lack of revelation, and the ubiquitous “we don’t know” (with its implicit “nor will we ever know until the Savior reveals it to us”) are the ONLY positions available to the brethren on the subject of evolution, because, what folks here and over at BCC that recently commented on the same topic continue to fail to admit is that evolution and fundamental church doctrine simply cannot be reconciled. The doctrine that I refer to is known in the church as one of the 3 pillars of eternity (Bruce M.) or one of the 3 pillars of the Plan of Salvation (Russell N.); the doctrine of The Fall.

    The Fall simply cannot be reconciled to evolution by definition; it tells us (wo)men were created with immortal bodies.

    Evolution completely contradicts this idea. One glance at the fossil record is all you need for starters.

    This conundrum is further exacerbated by the fact that the Book of Mormon, the “most correct book” on the planet (as we are often reminded), also cannot be reconciled to evolution, as it supports this notion of The Fall:

    2 Nephi 2:
    22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
    23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

    You simply cannot get around this without coming to the conclusion that:
    1. Humans could not possibly have evolved
    or
    2. The Book of Mormon contains errors, and the brethren have profoundly misunderstood the doctrine of The Fall from the beginning.

    But instead I see a great deal of tap dancing around this conundrum, with nobody admitting that it’s a HUGE doctrinal hurdle that NOBODY seems willing to tackle. And so we attempt to punt by saying “well, we just don’t know”, as if that were some kind of satisfactory answer (it isn’t), because the evidence FOR evolution is so overwhelming, and the doctrine of The Fall is as old a doctrine in Judeo-Christendom as it gets, and if you start messing with it you are in danger of hellfire.

    When Elder Nelson says it’s incomprehensible, it’s easy to understand — a child that has never mastered basic arithmetic or algebra will find calculus incomprehensible for the very same reason.

    When Elder Christofferson says we just don’t know, what he may in fact be really saying is “this conundrum is too difficult for me to even begin to tackle, so I won’t go there at all”, a seemingly safe retreat, but ultimately terribly unsatisfying to inquiring minds.

    If you say you just don’t care, to me that’s just another way of admitting cowardice confronting a sticky issue. Where is the truth? You don’t care about truth?

  34. Sam B on June 14, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Rich,
    It (meaning evolution) actually dovetails quite nicely with LDS doctrine if you let it. I recognize that many find the two incompatible; if you read carefully (here, at BCC, in Henry Eyring, Sr.’s book), etc., you’ll find people who have successfully reconciled the two in their minds.

    It’s dangerous to suggest that two things are categorically incompatible, dangerous because you may well be wrong. Better to say, I cannot reconcile evolution and LDS doctrine. That’s a fair position, and it may be an unexaggerated position. But please don’t tell me what my beliefs are and are not incompatible with.

  35. Rich on June 14, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    please don’t tell me what my beliefs are and are not incompatible with

    That’s fine, but I dare you to try! ;o)

  36. Rich on June 14, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    I suppose I should clarify what I mean by “dare you to try”; you say that many have successfully reconciled these two, but I have yet to see HOW. Please give me some examples!

  37. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 14, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Apologies to all for promoting a seriously thread-jack prone topic. I want to restate my desire to have brought this up in the context of Elder Christofferson’s interview. To counter Rich’s comment that his reply was a “safe retreat” I cite this very thread as evidence that there’s not much safety in what he said. It seems there’s some disagreement over whether he was balking, or in my opinion jabbing at conventional Mormon doctrine-lore.

    Rich – It’s ok with me that you don’t see a reconciliation between your understanding of principles like the Fall and your understanding with theories like common descent. I for one, echo Sam in saying that I have read many in depth explorations of the topic by individuals who find plenty of gray area to explore and find potential resolutions without compromising the solid basic fundamentals of Mormon theology. I think its helpful to dig a little deeper to understand where the other side is coming from though. That has helped me immensely in “tackling” these kinds of “doctrinal hurdles”. As a Mormon biologist I’ve gained as much insight on the topic from men like Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie as I have from James Talmage or Henry Eyring. As far as all the evolution stuff goes, again, it’s been hashed out over and over elsewhere and that’s not why I really jumped in on the issue.

    I think one thing can be safely said about everyone here, and that is that they care deeply about truth and are earnestly trying to find it by reasoning, studying and praying!

  38. Rich on June 14, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Until someone can offer up some examples, you’re all just proving my “tap dance” point. A lot of talk with no substance. Then again, I’ve been chewing on this topic for most of my 50-year old life (since you inferred that I’m not digging deep enough to understand the other side), and so I really don’t expect any. I’m just trying to keep the discussion here regarding evolution HONEST. And I’ll continue to throw down the gauntlet, because I personally would REALLY like to know how those of you who claim that these two dovetail nicely actually have been able to reconcile two things that to me at least seem irreconcilable without investing in a certain amount of personal dishonesty in the mix. (FWIW, Eyring, Talmage, JFS and Bruce, I’ve studied all of them).

    As far as all the evolution stuff goes, again, it’s been hashed out over and over elsewhere and that’s not why I really jumped in on the issue.

    But that’s my point — in all the hashing, nobody’s addressed the REAL reason that the brethren won’t touch this topic with a 10-foot pole, which is why I chimed in here. It’s actually quite to the point, and very much relevant to this thread, even if you are uncomfortable with this very uncomfortable truth.

    Then again, maybe I’m just a sitting “evil and adulterous” duck, with a big fireball target on my “show me a sign” head… :o)

  39. Nathaniel Scott Cannon on June 14, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Rich,

    I guess if you want to turn this thread into a deeper discussion on evolution that is your prerogative. I’m more than happy to talk about my own thoughts on the subject, but I’d prefer if it could be in some other thread rather than taking over this one, since I think there’s probably other things regarding Elder Christofferson’s interview that people might want to discuss as well. If you could possibly post a link to another thread where you’d like to have some more discussion that would be great.

    Just FYI, I will be out of town for the next two weeks. I’ll be in Bolivia doing some research on my thesis on the evolution of seed storage proteins and then in Nova Scotia to present some of that research at the annual conference for the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution! After I get back I’d love to talk some more!

    Until then,
    Nathaniel

  40. R. Gary on June 14, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Rich,

    It’s true that some Church leaders (i.e. Elder Christofferson) seem to “tap dance” around the issue of evolution, but there are three reasons why I believe that isn’t where the Church stands in the issue.

    First, the apostles and prophets, those who have the keys as prophets, seers, and revelators—with the senior apostle at their head—are in charge of Church doctrine:  “And the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people” (D&C 1:14; see also 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20, 4:12-14; D&C 52:9, 36).

    Second, it simply isn’t true, as you claim, that “nobody seems willing to tackle” evolution.  Two living apostles, President Packer and Elder Nelson, regularly and loudly proclaim that the Church opposes evolution.

    Third, and perhaps most importantly, not one of today’s apostles and prophets has endorsed evolution in any Church magazine or lesson manual.  The same is true for ALL of the most recent six Church Presidents and thirty one apostles.

    When some apostles oppose evolution and none endorse it, you can’t say the “tap dance” is where the Church stands.

  41. R. Gary on June 14, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Nathaniel,

    The 1909 statement is, according to the First Presidency who published it, “a statement of the position held by the Church upon … the origin of man.”  Today’s Church interprets that to mean that it “expresses the Church’s doctrinal position.”  (See the Gospel Topic page on “Creation” at LDS.org and p. 26 in the Feb. 2002 Ensign.)  The statement is viewed as “the Church’s official teachings on the creation of mankind and evolution.”  (See p. 80 in the Feb. 2002 Ensign.)  In Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, the Church taught that the 1909 First Presidency issued “the doctrinal exposition  ‘ The Origin of Man.’ ”  (p. ix.)  The Church’s “Significant Events” history page for Church President Joseph F. Smith also says the 1909 “First Presidency issued the doctrinal exposition  ‘ The Origin of Man.’ ”

    I’m not seeing the part where Jeffery said the “statement makes no declaration about evolution itself, official, definitive, or otherwise.”  It’s probably best to let the expert speak for himself.  According to the quoted sentence, the 1909 statement contains a couple of paragraphs that are ” ‘quite anti-evolutionary, yet they don’t come right out and say it’s false, but it doesn’t take much to say that’s what the intent was,’  Jeffery said.”

    Your comment about “the very next statement by the first presidency in April 1910, just six months later” is completely spurious because there was no 1910 First Presidency statement on evolution.  The anonymous April 1910 comment was not written by the First Presidency and doesn’t even represent the thinking of Church President Joseph F. Smith (click here).

    The 1992 BYU Board of Trustees (consisting of the First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and other General Officers of the Church) said the 1909 and 1925 statements “make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man.”  Yet Elder Christofferson couldn’t think of a doctrinal statement by the church on evolution.

    Your claim that that’s because “the Church has never made any official statement on evolution,” is (a) not fairly implied by Elder Christofferson’s offhanded remark and (b) completely false.  The problem with your interpretation of Christofferson’s comment is that the Church DOES have an “official statement on evolution.”

  42. Steve M on June 15, 2007 at 12:05 am

    This may be relatively minor, but did E. Christofferson’s response to the “temple polygamy” question strike anyone else as being a bit odd? I’m referring the part about letting people (or, rather, men) get sealed again following the death of a spouse, and then letting the Savior sort it out in the life to come. Here’s the exact quote:

    Yes, when someone’s spouse has died for example and they remarry; they could be married in a temple for a second time, sealed as we say. How that sorts out in the afterlife we’ll leave in the Savior’s hand, but we permit people to marry again when there’s been a death or a divorce.

    The uncertainty apparent in his answer may have to do to some other, comparatively minor detail, but it seems to me that he was giving a less than affirmative response that the modern practice of “temple polygamy” will definitely lead to polygamous marital relationships in the hereafter.

    I wonder how Elder Oaks, Elder Nelson, and others who have been sealed to multiple spouses feel about that.

  43. Rich on June 15, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Two living apostles, President Packer and Elder Nelson, regularly and loudly proclaim that the Church opposes evolution.

    No they don’t; they express their own brand of ridicule of evolution, but do not claim to speak for the church as a whole.

    The tap dance is that not one of today’s apostles and prophets has officially, categorically and doctrinally denounced evolution in any Church magazine or lesson manual. The same is true for ALL of the most recent six Church Presidents and thirty one apostles. Instead we have the rather vague wording of a 1909 first presidency statement that doesn’t say anything about HOW God created Adam and Eve. Instead they pretty much all fall back on “we don’t know”.

  44. R. Gary on June 15, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Rich,

    Actually, human evolution was recently (two and a half years ago) “categorically and doctrinally denounced” in a Church magazine:

    “No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals.”  (President Boyd K. Packer, as quoted in Ensign, Jan. 2005, p. 49; italics in the original.)

    Lest you be tempted to point out that this wasn’t a formal declaration of the First Presidency and the Twelve, just remember also that the comment was originally made in the April 1992 General Conference and, in 15 years, no member of the First Presidency or the Twelve has made any effort to correct it.

    In the meantime, President Packer continues to denounce “those who equate humankind with animals.”  (Address given at the BYU Women’s Conference, May 5, 2006, p. 5.)

    “We are all children of God…. Each is a child of God. He is not a monkey; neither were his ancestors.”  (Ibid.)

    The 1909 First Presidency statement is official.  The First Presidency, with other members of the Twelve, have said it makes clear the “official” position of the Church on human evolution.  Two members of the Twelve say it opposes human evolution.  No apostle has said otherwise and until that happens, it can safely be said that the Church officially opposes human evolution.

  45. Rich on June 15, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    R. Gary, you’re still blowing smoke. Nothing in your BKP quotes show even the slightest hint that this is an official declaration of church doctrine. Just more examples of BKP strongly expressing his personal opinion on evolution, as he has done many times in several different venues, including GC.

    One can also infer from his “neither were his ancestors” quote that either:
    1. Adam had none
    – or –
    2. God was/is his literal ancestor.
    – or –
    3. There is, in our family tree, some primate (not literally a monkey) that is a common ancestor to both humans and apes.

    I highly doubt he means number 3.

    Number 1 takes care, once and for all, of the “Did Adam have a belly button?” dilemma. God performed some feat of spontaneous magic and/or divine sculpture, breathed life into it, and Adam appeared. One of his ribs was used to make Eve. Problem solved.

    Number 2 implies that God also has a belly button, and is perhaps prone to telling fibs, since we understand from Scripture that Christ is “The ONLY Begotten”. Adam therefore either isn’t “begotten”, or there’s something else going on here that lies outside of human understanding (unless perhaps he was cloned in some divine petri dish from God’s DNA).

    (If there are other options, I’m happy to entertain them).

    And if the official position of the Church on human evolution has in fact been made clear, why did Elder Christofferson and Elder Nelson give different answers to the same question?

    Elder Nelson deliberately didn’t give an “official” response. Elder Christofferson flat out said he wasn’t aware there even was one.

  46. Ken on June 15, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Maybe this is too obvious to even bother pointing out, but the real problem with R. Gary’s reading of that Packer quote isn’t where or when he said it. It’s the phrasing.

    BKP may not like any of evolutionary theory, but in that conference, he merely disagreed with the specific notion that “we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals.” Isn’t that pretty non-controversial among theists of any religion? I would assume that all members of the church, whether pro- or anti-evolution, would agree that that’s a harmful notion.

  47. Julie M. Smith on June 15, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Ken, it is very much worth pointing out. I’m starting to conclude that about 75% of the fireworks between creationists and evolutionists within the Church is because they are not being clear on what exactly they are disagreeing about.

    Evolution is a big tent; some of it is clearly contrary to the gospel (i.e., that humans are solely the result of random processes) and some of which is not. Similarly, creation theory is sometimes contrary to the gospel (i.e., that everything we need to know about the creation is found in the first chapters of Genesis–an idea refuted in the D & C) and sometimes not.

  48. Rich on June 15, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    I should amend something I said earlier. Elder Bruce McConkie did in fact acknowledge the dilemma I pointed out between The Fall and Evolution. He presented it in GC in October of 1984:

    There is no salvation in a system of religion that rejects the doctrine of the Fall or that assumes man is the end product of evolution and so was not subject to a fall.

    True believers know that this earth and man and all forms of life were created in an Edenic, or paradisiacal, state in which there was no mortality, no procreation, no death.

    That’s pretty harsh condemnation! Those that believe in evolution are not only not saved, they are not “true believers”.

    While I know of no other GA that has since contradicted brother McConkie (do they ever?), I also do not know of any that have reiterated and elevated these rather bold (rash?) statements to the level of “official doctrine” status.

  49. R. Gary on June 25, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Re: Ardis Parshall (#21) and leaving the focus here on Elder Christofferson’s interview, I’ve posted a summary of my response to all of the above evolution talk on my own blog (linked in the “Comment by” below) where the focus will not be so limited.