Joseph Fielding Smith was the 10th president of the church, the son of Joseph F Smith, the 6th president of the church, and the grandson of Hyrum Smith. He returned from his mission to England in 1901, and began to work in the Churcvh History offices and was later called to the quorum of the twelve by his father in 1910 (when he was just 33 years old). He also served as The Church Historian in 1921, until he became the church president in 1970 (at the age of 93). He worked in the Church History department from 1901 until 1970, close to 70 years, nearly 50 of which he led the department!
CANNOT BELIEVE BOTH GOSPEL AND EVOLUTION. I say most emphatically, you cannot believe in this theory of the origin of man, and at the same time accept the plan of salvation as set forth by the Lord our God. You must choose the one and reject the other, for they are in direct conflict and there is a gulf separating them which is so great that it cannot be bridged, no matter how much one may try to do so.
If you believe in the doctrine of the evolutionist, then you must accept the view that man has evolved through countless ages from the very lowest forms of life up through various stages of animal life, finally into the human form. The first man, according to this hypothesis known as the “cave man,” was a creature absolutely ignorant and devoid of any marked intelligence over the beasts of the field.
THEORY OF EVOLUTION DENIES CHRIST. Then Adam, and by that I mean the first man, was not capable of sin. He could not transgress, and by doing so bring death into the world; for, according to this theory, death had always been in the world. If, therefore, there was no fall, there was no need of an atonement, hence the coming into the world of the Son of God as the Savior of the world is a contradiction, a thing impossible. Are you prepared to believe such a thing as that? Do you believe that the first man was a savage? That he lacked in the power of intelligence? That he has been on the constant road of progression? These are the teachings of such theorists. . . .Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, page 88, Joseph FIelding Smith
Being the official Church Historian for nearly 50 years he’s left his mark on the narrative the church shares about church history and even doctrine. As a Church Historian, he is known for removing evidence when the content didn’t fit his narrative. Joseph Fielding Smith is squarely responsible for working to cover up and hide the earliest first vision account from Joseph Smith’s journals when he would have stumbled upon the account, he cut it from the book and stored it in his safe for decades. He shaped a lot of Mormon thought and tradition as well.
There is strong resistance from church members to ideas and theories from science. Evolution is one of the more obvious points of tension but also things like the age of the earth and even space travel. He famously stated in a 1961 sermon that “We will never get a man into space,” which was proven false less than a decade later when NASA landed men on the moon. When later asked about it he allegedly said “Well, I was wrong, wasn’t I?” Which, first of all is commendable that he can admit his mistake, but secondly, what else was he wrong about? This doesn’t count as an apology, though we know the church doesn’t apologize.
Joseph Fielding Smith was not a fan of evolution. Or logic for that matter! Even though his logic isn’t complete here, because the church and evolution technically could be true, as many nuanced members will tell you… There is no way to reconcile the two in this binary thinking way. Has a church leader ever been more prophetic, though? As a hard-line literally interpreting Mormon, you must believe that evolution is false.
His views on evolution helped set up a way of thinking often referred to as binary thinking in which the church was either all true, or it was all false. Either, 100% of the things are as taught or 0%. This way of thinking continues today as shown by a recent church president Gordon Hinckley when he taught that “If the First Vision was true, if it actually happened, then the Book of Mormon is true… If the First Vision did not occur, then we are involved in a great sham. It is just that simple.” Hinckley taught this same binary thinking regarding the first vision, and it doesn’t bode well when we have multiple conflicting accounts of that vision.
This binary thinking leaves no room for any nuance. There is a black-and-white view, and the white is only white and the black is only black. Today we learn that nearly everything is on a spectrum (even mormonism), and the world is not binary. So even though, he’s been wrong before, what does his statement say about his willingness to find answers and follow evidence? He’s making members choose between evolution and the truthfulness of the church. His statement feels more like an authoritative scare tactic to make sure members don’t get too interested in scientific topics which may challenge his and the church’s power or position.
Even though it’s still referred to as the Theory of Evolution, it’s generally accepted as a fact today. So following the church president’s logic, Evolution is true, therefore the church is false. He is leading members out of the church with his logic. He wouldn’t win any logic or critical thinking awards with his views.
IF EVOLUTION IS TRUE, THE CHURCH IS FALSE. If life began on the earth, as advocated by Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel (who has been caught openhanded perpetrating a fraud), and others of this school, whether by chance or by some designing hand, then the doctrines of the Church are false. Then there was no Garden of Eden, no Adam and Eve, and no fall. If there was no fall; if death did not come into the world as the scriptures declared that it did – and to be consistent, if you are an evolutionist, this view you must assume — then there was no need for a redemption, and Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, and he did not die for the transgression of Adam, nor for the sins of the world. Then there has been no resurrection from the dead! Consistently, logically, there is no other view, no alternative that can be taken. Now, my brethren and sisters, are you prepared to take this view?Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, page 89, Joseph FIelding Smith
Regardless of your views on evolution, you can see that binary thinking is not serving the church very well today. The church narrative is littered with examples of binary thinking and at the same time whitewashed church history and doctrine that doesn’t add up. This leads to many members with complex issues on their shelf trying to stay in the pew until their shelf can’t take the load anymore and collapses. These members find themselves struggling with a faith crisis where the advice to “doubt your doubts” is not only unhelpful but also insulting.