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Origin of Man

by John L. Sorenson

The view of the "origin of man" in THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints differs significantly from that in most other modern traditions. Its prime concern is to affirm that humans were created as spirits by and in the image of God, which determined their form and nature long before they became earthly organisms. Questions about what biological or cultural mechanisms might have produced Homo sapiens and over what period of time that often dominate secular discussions are of limited interest for Latter-day Saints.

The clearest presentation of the Church position may be a 1909 statement by the First Presidency entitled "The Origin of Man," where four essential points are made: (1) God created humans (Gen. 1:27-28); (2) God created Adam, "the origin of the human family" and "the first man"; (3) creation was sequential: first spiritual, later physical; and (4) each human body displays the characteristics of the individual premortal spirit that inhabits it. Other ideas included in the statement are that humanity was not "a development from the lower orders of creation" but a "fall" from a higher state of existence; that an understanding of all the details about the origin of man is not vital to one's salvation, although the matter is related to several important truths; that the subject cannot be fully clarified by human learning alone; and that only certain relevant facts are now known, to which the Church adheres.

Subsequent official statements indicate that the details of how Adam became "the first man" are considered not to have been revealed clearly enough to settle questions of process. Emphasized instead is an eternal perspective wherein the individual as an "undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God" (IE 28:1091).

Since the rise of Darwinism in 1860, individual Latter-day Saints, both leaders and members, have occasionally participated in public discussion about evolution, since the official position of the Church on man's origin is not definitive in all respects. Mormons have expressed a wide range of views that are reminiscent of the well-known debates among Christians. Since a large number of Latter-day Saints entered careers in science early in this century, some have attempted to reconcile scientific facts and ideas with statements from the scriptures and prophetic leaders that are emphasized in the LDS tradition. Others have argued that in this area science merely offers "theories of men" and should therefore be discounted.

Many sympathetic to science interpret certain statements in LDS scripture to mean that God used a version of evolution to prepare bodies and environmental surroundings suitable for the premortal spirits. For example, one scriptural description of creation says, "the Gods organized the earth to bring forth…every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind" (Abr. 4:25 [emphasis added]). Certain statements of various General Authorities are also used by proponents of this idea to justify their opinions.

Other Latter-day Saints accept a more literal reading of scriptural passages that suggest to them an abrupt creation. Proponents of this view also support their positions with statements from scripture and General Authorities (see Earth).

While the current state of revealed truth on the LDS doctrine of man's origin may permit some differences of opinion concerning the relationship of science and religion, it clearly affirms that God created man, that the Fall of Adam was foreknown of God and was real and significant, and that the Atonement of Christ was foreordained and necessary to reverse the effects of the Fall. Perhaps because these claims embrace the main doctrinal issues relevant to the condition of man, the description of the actual creation process does not receive much attention from the general membership of the Church or from the authorities.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; The Gospel of Jesus Christ home page; The Creation home page)

Bibliography

Jeffrey, Duane E. "Seers, Savants and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface." Dialogue 8, Nos. 3/4 (1973):41-75.

"Mormon View of Evolution." IE 28 (Sept. 1925):1090-91; reprinted in MFP 5:244.

"The Origin of Man." IE 13 (Nov. 1909):75-81; reprinted in MFP 4:199-206.

Packer, Boyd K. "The Law and the Light." In The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, ed. M. Nyman and C. Tate, pp. 1-31. Salt Lake City, 1990.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Origin of Man

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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