LDS Prophets and Apostles Open to Evolution

The purpose of this article is to list prophets and apostles and Church statements which 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 in favor of anti-evolution. 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.

Quotes

Brigham Young:

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)

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)

Evolution is true so far as it means development, and progress, and advancement in all the works of God. (6)

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)

Involved in this question is that of the beginning of life upon the earth, and as to whether there was death either of animal or plant before the fall of Adam, on which proposition Elder [Joseph Fielding] Smith was very pronounced in denial and Elder [B.H.] Roberts equally forceful in the affirmative. As to whether Preadamite races existed upon the earth there has been much discussion among some of our people of late. The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning’s assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Preadamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam’s fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good. (7)

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. (8)

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. (9)

Stephen L. Richards (Quorum of the Twelve)

If the evolutionary hypothesis of the creation of life and matter in the universe is ultimately found to be correct, and I shall neither be disappointed nor displeased if it shall turn out so to be, in my humble opinion the Biblical account is sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole of the process. (10)

John A. Widtsoe (Quorum of the Twelve)

The law of evolution or change may be accepted fully. It is an established fact so far as human power can determine. It is nothing more or less than the gospel law of progression or its opposite. Joseph Smith taught that men could rise towards Godhood only “by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace; from exaltation to exaltation.”…

All living things, plants and animals, are subject to change. Every observer of nature, certainly all plant and animal breeders, know this to be true. It is an unchanging fact of nature. Living things are not static. This is the law of evolution.

In the meaning of this law, Latter-day Saints are the foremost evolutionists in the world. They believe that the immortal spirit of man may eternally approach the likeness of God himself. (11)

Joseph F. Smith (President)

[This statement is from an editorial in the Improvement Era (unsigned). Joseph F. Smith, president of the Church, and Edward H. Anderson were the editors]

[Q:] “In just what manner did the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve come into existence on this earth?” This question comes from several High Priests’ quorums.

[A:] Of course, all are familiar with the statements in Genesis 1: 26-27; 2:7; also in the Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price, 2: 27; and in the Book of Abraham 5: 7. The latter statement reads: “And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit) and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”

These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, until the Lord shall see fit to give more light on the subject. Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; 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; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. For helpful discussion of the subject, see Improvement Era, Vol. XI, August 1908, No. 10, page 778, article, “Creation and Growth of Adam;” also article by the First Presidency, “Origin of Man,” Vol. XIII, No. 1, page 75, 1909. (12)

First Presidency 1909

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. (13)

Spencer W. Kimball (President)

…”And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him: male and female created I them. (The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.)

“And I, God, blessed them (Man here is always in the plural. It was plural from the beginning.) and said unto them: Be fruitful…”…

…The Creators breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and man and woman became living souls. We don’t know exactly how their coming into this world happened, and when we’re able to understand it the Lord will tell us. (14)

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. (15)

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. (16) 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. (17)

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.

Additional thoughts:

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, all or nothing, 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?

Sources:

(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) “Personal Journal of James Edward Talmage,” 29:42, under date of April 7, 1930

(8) What does the Church believe about evolution? New Era October 2016

(9) “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.]

(10) “An Open Letter to College Students,” Improvement Era 36:451-453, 484-485, June 1933

(11) Evidences and Reconciliations, p.165-166

(12) “Priesthood Quorums’ Table,” Improvement Era 13 no. 4? (April 1910), 570

(13) Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 75–81; reprinted in Ensign, Feb 2002, 26

(14) Ensign, Mar. 1976, 70-73; parenthetical statements in the original

(15) That He May Become Strong Also By President Henry B. Eyring, October 2016 General Conference

(16) The Backstory to Elder Eyring’s Age of the Earth Comment and Creationism, OCTOBER 8, 2016 BY BEN SPACKMAN

(17) Quoted in Hatch, “Reconciliation of Faith and Science,” 89.

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