Please review this explanation on the purpose for this section before reading the information here.
Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, with beginnings of life forming shortly thereafter. Plants and animals came into existence about 500 million years ago. Various man-like species evolved from apes about a million years ago. Humans evolved at least 100,000 years ago, while the other human-like species like Neanderthals died out. Our species first emerged in Africa with black skin. We branched out of Africa into other locations, and races and languages developed over time. Civilizations emerged independently in different areas of the world.
Up until the end of the stone age, circa 5-10,000 BC, humans were nomad hunter-gatherer societies, traveling in clans. We have evidence of things like toolmaking, art, mastery of fire, shipbuilding, use of clothing, and beginnings of language from this time period. The end of this age marked the age of agriculture where humans started growing their own food and from that came advancements such as domesticating animals, deforestation, and developing staple crops and foods, which lead to the formation of civilizations. By 4,000 BC the first civilization in Mesopotamia emerged, where concepts such as religion, division of duties, trade, commerce, and government begin. The first writing came around 3,000 BC.
Most of this is so commonly accepted today, that most LDS find a way to make it fit with the creation story in Genesis. Most people are fine saying the Genesis story is figurative and that God created the world using evolution as a technique, ie intelligent design. But how much is figurative, and what does that mean for some other LDS teachings?
Many LDS accept evolution except for how it relates to humans and accept the Adam and Eve creation story literally. But how does this work when evolution is seen as a cohesive explanation of all life with human evolution being tightly interwoven into all other aspects of evolution?
Some LDS say there was no human death before the fall, but that requires a complete rejection of mainstream science. And not just a small piece of it—nearly all of it. But LDS generally do not consider themselves anti-science.
Some LDS believe humans evolved until the point where their minds and bodies were ready to receive spirits. At that point, God deemed that human being man and that was Adam and Eve. But what about Adam’s brother and cousins? What about the humans that existed in other regions of the world?
Literal intepretations of the Noah’s ark story and the Tower of Babel story are also anti-science. There was no global flood. A literal interpretation of a global flood completely interrupts and resets all evolutionary and biological science. The Tower of Babel was not where humans dispersed from common civilization and languages were created.
LDS teachings sometimes rely on these literal events. Joseph Smith said Adam lived in Missouri. The logic that flows is that man got from America to the Middle East through Noah’s ark during the global flood. The Book of Mormon refers to the flood and Tower of Babel as literal events.
Some general authorities are on record and claiming there was no human (or any) death before the literal Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. As recent as 1998, the Ensign published an article that doubled down on this belief by Donald Parry, BYU professor and former board member of the well known LDS apologetics group FARMS. In it Dr. Parry cites the Bible, LDS scripture, and quotes from Joseph Smith and other modern LDS prophets to prove that Noah’s flood was global and the Tower of Babel was a true historically accurate representation of the dispersion of humans and creation of new languages. It’s not a bad thing that LDS feel loyalty to scripture and past prophets and desire to defend them. But it puts faithful LDS members in a very confusing position when science and historical fact is so obviously proving these things as false.
Lesson we learn about God through observation of scientific evolution
Whether or not we agree God was involved with creation, we agree on this:
If there is a God and he created the world, he did it in a way that his existence and involvement is essentially imperceptible to man. That is a concept every God believing and religious person should struggle with for a long time to make sense of what it means. This might be the only piece of absolute truth nearly ever person on the earth could agree on. And it is one of the great mysteries of life.
My personal takeaway from this information is that God (assuming he exists, which I do) must want to remain hidden in some way. Many people believe and testify he is intimate and involved personally. But he remains hidden in a grand, public way. I he wanted to reveal himself, he could very easily, right? One appearance on CNN and all doubts would be cleared away. His choosing not to must be important and must give us clues into his nature and possibly about the purpose of life and truths about religion.
How do informed LDS members view this information?
churchistrue.com sacramental paradigm view:
Scripture is seen as metaphorical. Faith is an expression of loyalty, devotion, worship and doctrinal alignment but not necessarily a belief in the factual accuracy of scripture or historical religious origins. Challenges to scriptural historical events are not damaging to faith. I believe the facts of evolution as commonly defined by scientists, with perhaps some “intelligent design” led by God. I believe everything concerning Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden is symbolic. I don’t believe there was an actual Adam and Eve. But I believe the lessons we learn from these symbols are important and valid.
Literal believing LDS view:
Adam and Eve were real people. The days talked about in the Bible creation story might have referred to periods. Noah’s flood might have been a local flood, but most of the elements of the story are literal. Some well educated LDS (and non-LDS) believe evolution is not proven science and has flaws. Some aspects of it have some validity, but not as it pertains to man or creation of species.
Nuanced LDS view:
The actual reality lies somewhere in between the two above views. Some might believe man evolved, but then Adam was taken and placed in a Garden of Eden state when man became ready. Some might be OK with Adam and Eve as symbols and not real people. Some may have other theories, but don’t place importance in the literal aspects of all of the scriptural stories and doctrines involved.
Shared view by all LDS:
The Creation and the Fall of Adam are important doctrines that we have faith in, even though all may not believe they are 100% literal. These important doctrines teach us about the relationship of man with God and the importance of Jesus Christ as Savior.