Joseph Fielding Smith wasn’t the only church leader that didn’t accept evolution. He claimed, “if evolution is true, the church is false.” He could be dismissed as a “man of his times”, especially now that it’s been a lifetime since he published that statement in his Doctrines of Salvation book. We have this same sentiment coming up today! Before he was president of the Church, Elder Russell Nelson made multiple remarks about him not believing evolution is real.
He was interviewed with Lance B Wickman of the first quorum of the Seventy by the Pew Research Center and resurfaced antiquated ideas about evolution.
The church has said it neither promotes nor opposes capital punishment. It says it “opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience.” It does not oppose removing a medical patient from “artificial means of life support.”
Different denominations deal differently with questions about life’s origins and development. 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.
Wickman: The Scripture describing the Lord as the creator of all of these things says very little about how it was done. I don’t know of anybody in the ranks of the First Presidency and the Twelve [Apostles] who has ever spent much time worrying about this matter of evolution.
Nelson: We have this doctrine, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101: “When the Lord shall come again, he shall reveal all things, things which have passed, hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth by which it was made and the purpose and the end thereof, things most precious, things that are above, things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, upon the earth, and in heaven.” So as I close that quotation, I realize that there are just some things that we won’t know until that day.https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2007/05/16/in-focus-mormonism-in-modern-america/
He must resort to the usual, we can’t understand God’s plan or mentality. Church leaders say this while quoting the familiar verses “Man’s ways are not God’s ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9) and “Man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9)
The church has remained quiet on the topic of evolution since the 60s and have let members forget that they ever opposed the idea. That is how they seem to operate, let it lie and then change the narrative to claim they were never opposed to it, or dismiss the past leaders as “speaking as a man” rather than for God. They could have let it lie, but leaders have lately been digging in with opposition to clear and obvious science. This isn’t a one-time occurrence of Russell M Nelson claiming to understand science and refuting scientific theories. There are multiple instances where He emphatically states that he finds the theory of evolution unbelievable!
Through the ages, some without scriptural understanding have tried to explain our existence by pretentious words such as ex nihilo (out of nothing). Others have deduced that, because of certain similarities between different forms of life, there has been a natural selection of the species, or organic evolution from one form to another. Many of these people have concluded that the universe began as a “big bang” that eventually resulted in the creation of our planet and life upon it.
To me, such theories are unbelievable! Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary? It is unthinkable! Even if it could be argued to be within a remote realm of possibility, such a dictionary could certainly not heal its own torn pages or renew its own worn corners or reproduce its own subsequent editions!Russell M Nelson
Nelson likes to point out that those who may support the idea of evolution lack scriptural understanding. He’d probably refer to them as lazy learners. Let’s remember that professionally, Russell Nelson, was a renowned heart surgeon, and even pioneering in his field. He studied science extensively, would he really not have a basic understanding of evolution? He must be relying on his scientific background to qualify him as an expert. He may be an expert in hearts and surgery, but by what he’s saying, he’s no expert in genetics, astronomy or evolution. The way he talks about evolution and even genetics though makes it clear that he doesn’t understand it. “Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.” The theory of evolution doesn’t state that mankind evolved from a monkey or “from one form to another”, but that it is constantly changing over time through natural selection. It’s not Pokémon– where one species suddenly becomes another. It’s a long process of mutation and diversity combined with adaptation and natural selection that allows a species to change over time, we’re talking many many generations until eventually, they are classified as a different species altogether. And remember classification is a human-made system to categorize the life we find today as well as evidence of in the past. They’re just labels, nothing else.
There does seem to be more evidence of evolution than of God or any of the other Mormon truth claims.
He used his printing press explosion analogy to discredit Evolution again as recently as 2012. But what an inept analogy when talking about the big bang or evolution. Also, consider that if the big bang theory is correct, then an explosion did produce a dictionary. It took billions of years, but today there are millions of dictionaries that have been created thanks to the big bang and everything since! Many of these things created by this explosion do in fact heal themselves and even reproduce. Could an explosion create special things? Perhaps, that’s what the whole theory is about Dr Nelson. That’s why it’s so intriguing and interesting to study rather than just throw up your hands and say, it’s too complicated to have happened because I can’t understand it.
Yet some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, ‘Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?’ The likelihood is most remote. But if so, it could never heal its own torn pages or reproduce its own newer editions.Russell M Nelson
Yes, it is unlikely, but consider that the printing press explosion would burn all the paper required to write such a dictionary, not to mention that the press is where the pages would be created, but then they’d need to be also sent to be bound, etc. This is similar to the supposition that a monkey in front of a typewriter would not be able to randomly reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare. But where is this coming from? They are really only saying that it is highly unlikely that their limited understanding of the big bang or evolution could occur. They’re not even saying it’s impossible. Scientists would agree, the steps are unlikely, and that’s why we don’t see every planet teaming with life! (At least not yet) It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison anyways, just trying to set up a highly unlikely scenario and then using that to sway listeners away from something that is accepted in the scientific world as undeniable – not unbelievable.
So it’s good to see Mormon apostle Russell Nelson engaging in the time-honored religious tradition of slagging science…
The printer’s shop analogy is extremely tired — evolution is not ‘by chance’! Mutation is, but natural selection is non-random. So yes, if books could reproduce and if only the fittest books survived to reproduce, then yes, we would see books that could heal torn pages and update themselves. Nelson is making a false analogy between a living being and an inanimate object, and the two have different qualities.
Analogy aside, what Elder Nelson has done must be very strange and uncomfortable for Mormons. He’s waded into science and sneered at ideas from biology, physics, and cosmology that he doesn’t understand, and that there’s real evidence for and no real reason to disbelieve…
So the scene was set for the LDS Church to let the issue go, accommodate evolution, and claim that they were never really against it, which is how they seem to resolve all their old conflicts. Instead, Nelson has recycled his old material, and renewed the attack. That’s going to take some time to walk back.Daniel Midgley
Is the theory of evolution or the big bang theory unbelievable? There are mountains of evidence supporting the theories and whole fields of study are devoted to exploring and examining the evidence to better understand it. Are the claims fantastic? Perhaps
What about the claims of the church? These aren’t theories but are stated as historical facts in the relatively recent past. Joseph Smith looked at a rock in his hat and read words on gold plates that became the Book of Mormon. Russell M Nelson receives God’s messages in the night and scribbles them on his yellow notepad to share with the world.
Let’s refute these fantastical claims with Nelson’s own words: “The likelihood is most remote.” “Such theories are unbelievable!” “It is unthinkable!” “Even if it could be argued to be within a remote realm of possibility,” the messages would be divine and full of wisdom and love, but the messages are really just from men, who are naturally men of their times running a corporation.
How do you or how did you reconcile scientific theories that conflict with church doctrine?
- Evolution vs Mormon Truth Claims from Joseph Fielding Smith