The purpose of this article is to list prophets and apostles who have supported evolution in some form. Its purpose is not to prove evolution is true, but to show that Church leaders have been open to it and that it’s not a one-sided argument. There are certainly quotes from LDS leaders who were against evolution, but some members focus too much on those quotes while neglecting the other quotes in support of evolution.
This list is designed to grow, so if you have any other quotes, please add it to the comments section and we’ll add it to the article. We will also include official publications from Church magazines, since these go through Church correlation and are approved.
In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular…whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. (1)
Harold B. Lee:
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. (2)
Gordon B. Hinckley:
What the Church requires is only belief that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race. (3)
Prophet David O. Mckay:
On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position.The book “Man, His Origin and Destiny” [A Creationist book by Joseph Fielding Smith] 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.
Sincerely your brother,
David O. McKay, President (4)
Prophet David O. Mckay:
Evolution’s beautiful theory of the creation of the world offers many perplexing problems to the inquiring mind. Inevitably, a teacher who denies divine agency in creation, who insists there is no intelligent purpose in it, will infest the student with the thought that all may be chance. (5)
James E. Talmage:
Adamic history may be correct, if it be solely regarded solely as the history of the Adamic race. (6)
James E. Talmage:
This record of Adam and his posterity is the only scriptural account we have of the appearance of man upon the earth. But we have also a vast and ever-increasing volume of knowledge concerning man, his early habits and customs, his industries and works of art, his tools and implements, about which such scriptures as we have thus far received are entirely silent. Let us not try to wrest the scriptures in an attempt to explain away what we can not explain. The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a text-book of geology, archaeology, earth-science or man-science. Holy Scripture will endure, while the conceptions of men change with new discoveries. We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation. (6)
New Era Magazine 2016:
The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation. (7)
Improvement Era 13:
[A] Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; [B] whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; [C] whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. (8)
Henry B. Eyring and his father.
In the October 2016 General Conference, Elder Eyring told a story in the Priesthood session of how his dad was asked to review a book about the creation of the world.
Once he was asked by an Apostle to write a short note about the scientific evidence for the age of the earth. He wrote it carefully, knowing that some who might read it had strong feelings that the earth was much younger than the scientific evidence suggested. (9)
The back story of Elder Eyrings remarks was that the prophet David O. McKay asked apostle Adam S. Bennion to request responses from qualified LDS scientists concerning Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s creationist book titled, “Man, His Origin and Destiny”. Elder Bennion invited the opinions of Henry Eyring (the father of Henry B. Eyring), geologist William Lee Stokes, and chemist Richard P. Smith. (10) Henry Eyring wrote and responded to Bennion:
“I can understand ‘Man—His Origin and Destiny’ as the work of a great man who is fallible. . . .It contains many serious scientific errors and much ill humor, which mar the many beautiful things in it. Since the gospel is only that which is true, this book cannot be more than the private opinion of one of our great men. (11)
Here you have David O McKay, the President and prophet, concerned about the teachings of an apostle about Creationism. He then asks another apostle to gather reviews.
Something that may help members in their quest in understanding evolution is the idea that there are many different views one can take about this subject. Certainly, all these prophets and apostles didn’t view evolution in completely the same way. It is also not solely a polarized question of evolution versus creationism. There are more options than this. According to LDS scholar Ben Spackman, while there are numerous views, the following four ideas sum up the basic approaches.
- Natural Evolutionists say the earth is billions of years old, and humans and animals evolved.
- Theistic Evolutionists say the earth is billions of years old, and humans and animals evolved as part of God’s plan, under his control or influence. This is the most compatible with generally-established science.
- Old Earth Creationists agree that the earth is billions of years old but hold to a special creation of humans (and sometimes animals) in the last few thousand years. This has some conflict with generally-established science.
- Young Earth Creationists hold to a special creation of humans and animals (usually), in the last few thousand years. This has the most conflict with generally-established science.
Where do you lean to?
(1) Brigham Young, May 14, 1871, Journal of Discourses 14:116
(2) Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 29
(3) Gordon B. Hinckley in 2002; cited in Elaine Jarvik, “Beliefs on Darwin’s evolution vary from religion to religion,” Deseret Morning News (19 January 2006)
(4) David O McKay, February 15, 1957 Letter to Professor William Lee Stokes. On 18 October 1968, President McKay gave permission for the publication of this letter. It was published by William Lee Stokes, “An Official Position,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 4 (Winter 1979), 90–92
(5) Address of President David O. McKay to the Brigham Young Studentbody [October 8, 1952]. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
(6) “The Earth and Man,” by James E. Talmage. An Address Delivered on 9 August 1931 (from the Deseret News, 21 November 1931, pp. 7, 8)
(7) What does the Church believe about evolution? New Era October 2016
(8) “Priesthood Quorums’ Table,” Improvement Era 13 no. 4 (April 1910): 570. [Joseph F. Smith as president of the Church and Edward H. Anderson were editors of the magazine at the time. The editorial was unsigned.]
(9) That He May Become Strong Also By President Henry B. Eyring, October 2016 General Conference
(10) The Backstory to Elder Eyring’s Age of the Earth Comment and Creationism, OCTOBER 8, 2016 BY BEN SPACKMAN
(11) Quoted in Hatch, “Reconciliation of Faith and Science,” 89.