This is a subject of perennial interest and controversy, isn’t it? Sometimes we even hear of people having trials of faith because of apparent conflicts between scriptural history and scientific knowledge. I thought I’d share a few of my own ideas on reconciling the two, on the off chance that they may be interesting and helpful to anyone.
Of course, these are only theories. They’re not necessarily true. I don’t even necessarily believe them. I do, however, find comfort in the idea that these ideas exist, and could be true. Still, if any authorized leader clearly refuted any or all of my ideas here, I’d immediately and gladly give them up.
ADAM & EVE & EVOLUTION
I’ve never understood the antipathy some have towards evolution, especially from Latter-day Saints, as a close reading of Abraham 4 practically demands something like evolution.
There’s an old rhetorical question about whether or not Adam had a belly button. I’d say that he did because, though leaders as recent as Jeffrey R. Holland have affirmed that there was a literal Adam, the scriptural account of him being created from the dust and then having a spirit put into him leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Understanding that all life forms have a spirit in them, I wonder if the following might be accurate. Here is a chart that crudely illustrates what I think may have happened (red lines indicate marriages, green lines indicate children). Basically, humans may have evolved to the point where, when the time was right, two were chosen to be the first to have not just any spirit, but spirits that were children of our Heavenly Father.
Those two then married and had children. Those children likewise, of course, had divine spirits, but they married others who did not. The children of those unions would have one parent descended from Adam and Eve (their grandparents), and one parent not, but those children could also have inherited divine spirits.
Marriage and breeding proceeded such that, eventually, all humans could count Adam and Eve as their direct ancestors.
A big problem here is that this theory requires our human family to be coexisting for quite a while historically with other homo sapiens who are not the same as us spiritually–ideas like that always have disturbing implications.
But this just reminds me of another old standby about evolution–sometimes people suggest it drags down the value of humanity to be so closely associated with animals. On the contrary, I think it elevates the rest of life. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article linked a few paragraphs above shows that all animal life is covered in the plan of salvation. Hugh Nibley pointed out the same in his excellent essay, “Before Adam:”
Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation—for our scriptures allow them such.
SOLVING THE INCEST PROBLEM
The best thing about this theory, perhaps, is that it solves the incest problem: Sunday School lessons about Adam and Eve all hit an awkward wall when someone asks, “So their kids had to marry each other and have kids?” and the teacher pauses and shrugs as if to say, “That’s the only option.” My theory eliminates incest from the equation.
My apologies to the ancient Greeks.
ADAM AND EVE AS OUR ANCESTORS
Could just two people living about 6000 years ago actually have over 7 billion descendants today? Yes, easily–that math washes out just fine.
But now I’d like to suggest a second facet of my theory.
Adoption is an important principle. Beyond the concept of legally assuming permanent parentage of another’s biological child, adoption appears in the concept of conversion itself. We are adopted into the family of Christ, and by extension are even adopted into the tribes of Israel, if there is no literal blood relation already. Converts to the LDS Church are even encouraged to see the 19th century pioneers as their spiritual ancestors, even if none of their literal ancestors were among those who crossed the plains.
So if a literal Adam and Eve are only among the many ancestors that all living humans have, how do I account for all other lines being eliminated, or how do I explain how populations that were isolated for longer than 6000 years could have Adam and Eve as ancestors?
I’d suggest that adoption might be in operation.
Perhaps, in the generations after Adam and Eve, divine spirits–the children of Heavenly Father–were then placed in the new bodies of babies around the world. Perhaps many of us are descendants of Adam and Eve not by literal blood, but by adoption, in the same sense that we are descendants of pioneers or the Biblical Joseph by adoption.
Again, this could be wrong. I’m not promoting this as truth at all. It’s only a theory. Either way, for all practical purposes, Adam and Eve are our ancestors.
“NO DEATH BEFORE THE FALL”
The biggest remaining problem with reconciling evolution and creation is our teaching that there was “no death before the Fall.”
This article impressively analyzes the assumptions and facts here. In short, it suggests that this teaching only refers to human life, not all non-human (non-Adam-and-Eve-descended) life. Also, it suggests that the immortal state of pre-Fall Adam and Eve was isolated to the Garden only, and not to Earth in general.
This has some strength to it. There are plenty of incidents of areas on our telestial world being temporarily raised to a terrestrial level: the Transfiguration in the New Testament, or Joseph Smith’s First Vision, for example.
A problem I have had with this, though, is the idea from the 10th Article of Faith that “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory,” meaning that it’ll become like Eden again. This sounds to me like the whole Earth was at a terrestrial level at that time, since it will be “renewed” to that state after the Second Coming. (See also the first verse of “Now Let Us Rejoice.”)
But I now wonder if that’s mistaken. I’ve noted before that the Earth has a chiastic history (James Ferrell does the same in his wonderful book The Hidden Christ), but chiasmus does not demand that each element be exactly equal. Often, parallel elements contrast rather than match, or are expanded in scope in the second half.
So, the worldwide renewal foretold in AoF 10 may parallel a localized Eden from the beginning of mortal human history. (Likewise, the worldwide cleansing by fire attending the Second Coming may parallel a localized cleansing by water at the time of Noah’s flood.)
Besides all that, I might still account for the “no death before the Fall” teaching like this: Tad R. Callister notes in The Infinite Atonement that the “infinite and eternal” nature of the Atonement applies to temporal chronology in addition to spiritual depth and breadth. (Jeffrey R. Holland noted the same thing in Christ and the New Covenant, which is how, for instance, the brother of Jared was saved by his faith Christ’s Atonement nearly 3000 years before that Atonement actually happened.)
Perhaps, as one of the other pillars of eternity, the Fall had a similar effect? That just as the Atonement retroactively created salvation throughout all the past, the Fall could have introduced death the same way?
I admit, that one’s pretty out there, and not at all necessary.
Yet again, I’m not saying anything I’ve speculated here is true. These are merely things I’ve thought, some of which I think make attractive solutions to apparent problems between science and religion. Any or all of these ideas could be wrong. I only offer them here in case they may benefit anyone whose faith might ever suffer because of these issues.
The only things here that I’ll affirm as complete truth are those spiritual facts taught by Elder Holland, as linked earlier in this essay:
In our increasingly secular society, it is as uncommon as it is unfashionable to speak of Adam and Eve or the Garden of Eden or of a “fortunate fall” into mortality. Nevertheless, the simple truth is that we cannot fully comprehend the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ and we will not adequately appreciate the unique purpose of His birth or His death—in other words, there is no way to truly celebrate Christmas or Easter—without understanding that there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.
I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family, and that through a sequence of choices they transgressed a commandment of God which required that they leave their garden setting but which allowed them to have children before facing physical death.