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Genesis and Science
"our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular."
- Brigham Young, JD, Vol.14, p.116

Introduction

Many statements of prophecy seem to fly in the face of modern scientific discoveries. but on closer examination, they are in harmony. This does not mean that the "young earth" believers are wrong, or the hard-line evolutionists are wrong. I am just pointing out that the statements of modern prophets anticipated, and are in harmony with, the discoveries of modern science.

The key points are these:

 

See also: The LDS view of evolution | The Fall of Adam


You can trust the prophets!

I believe in a literal garden of Eden

I was recently surprised to see how the usually reliable site "All About Mormons" described the garden of Eden. On the page entitled "The Garden Story:  Literal vs. Figurative" we are told that "Church leaders have taught that most parts of the Garden story are allegorical and should not be taken literally." That is certainly one possible interpretation, but the prophets seem to have ben very clear in saying that Eden was a literal geographical location, where (for a limited time) there was no death or decay. There is no reason, scientific or otherwise, to doubt this. Why should we be timid? Time and again the prophets have been shown to be right. Let is look a little deeper...


The creation, verse by verse

Genesis 1:1

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

What does "created" mean?

"You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, "Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?" And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos--chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end."

- Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol.6, p.307-308

So how did the "creation" take place?

Those who study the word of God know that God works by issuing commands at intervals. The process of organizing anything (including the earth) is as follows:

This is how God commands people and objects alike. This is important to remember when we come to statements regarding the "days."

The Book of Abraham account in particular emphasizes that God "watched until the creations obeyed." It is my conclusion that during this pre-Adam stage of earth's history, free agency did not exist, and all creation had no choice but to obey.

Was the world (or parts of it) used for something else before it was organized for man?

"How many transformations this earth passed through before the one spoken of by Moses, I do not know, neither do I particularly care. If it had gone through millions on millions of transformations, it is nothing to us. We are willing, for the sake of argument, to admit that the materials themselves are as old as geologists dare to say they are; but then, that does not destroy the idea of a God, that does not destroy the idea of a great Creator, who, according to certain fixed and unalterable laws, brought these materials, from time to time, in a certain organization, and then by his power completed the worlds that were thus made, by placing thereon intelligent and animated beings, capable of thinking and having an existence; and then again, for various reasons, he destroys their earthly existence, until finally he exalts them from their former condition, and makes them celestial in their nature."

- Orson Pratt, JD, Vol.18, p.293 - 294

"In what condition have these material been for the last, say millions of ages--for instance, as many millions of years as there are sands upon the sea shore? Have they been lying dormant without any control of law? . . . How many organizations the materials of our earth have undergone before they were organized according to the revelations given to Moses, are not revealed. How many worlds they had entered into prior to that time; how many conditions existed through the millions of ages of past duration are nowhere revealed. . . . worlds were being organized, and different conditions were taking place, and laws were being given for all these vast ages of the past . . .

(The question arises, "were the materials of this earth used in this planet or as parts of other planets? And did these previous uses involve life, or just dead objects? Science seems to suggest that these materials have stayed in this world for some time. It also appears that they were used for living beings before Adam was here.)

"Science and true religion never can possibly contradict each other. There never was any truth in science that would contradict any principle of revelation that God ever revealed to man. Why? Because true science is founded upon a true understanding of the laws and forces of nature. But who ordained from time to time these laws of nature in connection with the universe as we now behold them? It was the Lord whom we serve, the great Supreme Ruler of the universe, who organizes and disorganizes according to his own will and pleasure. He garnishes the heavens in his wisdom and builds the vast superstructure of the universe, as a very handy work. He brings into life and being new worlds and disorganizes them, scattering the elements, and again brings them together by his power or by the laws he has ordained, and by his laws makes new creations, new worlds, and one universe, and inhabits them with myriads and myriads of intelligent beings? This is the work of the great Supreme Ruler of all things."

- Orson Pratt, JD, Vol.20, p.73 - 75

To be fair, it should be noted that the First Presidency urged caution with some of Orson Pratt's views (see the page on intelligences). But in my opinion this is only because we are dealing with great and mind-expanding ideas. It is very easy to take his views out of context and take them too far. In the same way, modern apostles warn against people teaching evolution. Not because the earth was not not used before Adam, but because evolution is often used to bring in other, false ideas such as "random" selection.

Genesis 1:2-10

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

"And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

"And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

How long is a day's work?

It is important to remember that the day's work refer to God's work and not to events that just happened on their own. Each day either took an evening and a morning, or it took a shorter time but God watched for an evening and a morning.

It appears that God visited for a "day," made a change, and left, then returned some time later. Genesis only records the creation from Moses or God's point of view - these days of creation, not what may have happened in between.

It might seem strange that the Lord would not mention the vast lengths of time between each act of creation. But we must remember that "all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men." (Alma 40:8)

This topic is discussed at greater length (with supporting quotations) on another page.

"Punctuated Equilibrium"

This pattern of creation - major changes followed by long periods of quiet - is written clearly in the fossil record. (It is more complicated than just six events, but Genesis is an abbreviated account.) Naturally, atheists do not want to see it as the hand of God. But this "punctuated equilibrium" is now accepted as a fact. A recent book tried to paint this as controversial, but that is not the case. As the New Scientist review observed,

"The difference of viewpoint that he prefers to sustain as a quarrel centers on the theory of punctuated equilibria that he published, with Stephen Jay Gould, in an influential paper in 1972. They argued that evolution does not generally proceed by slow, continuous change, but as a series of relatively rapid changes separated by long intervals in which nothing much happens. Their antagonists, whom Eldredge describes sometimes as "geneticists" and sometimes as "ultra-Darwinists," do not disagree, but they do not regard punctuated equilibrium as a seminal insight. Rather, they see it as an expected consequence of conventional Darwinian theory that is predicted by mathematical modeling. The division between Eldredge and Gould on the one hand, and the ultra-Darwinists led by John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins on the other, concerns approaches rather than conclusions."

Whatever scale we choose to look at - punctuated equilibrium among species, evolution by large macromutational jumps, catastrophic mass extinctions, or the appearance of life itself - we see that major changes happen in jumps. Just as if one day somebody visited and said "time for another change." Just as the Bible records. As Stephen Jay Gould said, summarizing his Scientific American article on "The Evolution of Life on Earth," "The history of life is not necessarily progressive; it is certainly not predictable. The earth's creatures have evolved through a series of contingent and fortuitous events. .. Three features of the paleontological record stand out ...: The constancy of modal complexity throughout life's history [e.g. some things do not change at all - Gould emphasizes the fact that increasing complexity is NOT to be expected as a result of evolution since simple organisms are just as likely to be successful as complex ones]; the concentration of major events in short bursts interspersed with long periods of relative stability; and the role of external impositions, primarily mass extinctions." The only issue that remains is, were these events random or God-directed? That is something I will discuss elsewhere.

What period was covered by these first three "days"?

"How long this submerged earth had an existence before the Lord commanded the great deep, that enveloped the whole surface of the same, to be removed, is not for me to say; no one can tell how many years, or thousands of years, or how many millions of years, this earth may have existed in the form of partial or imperfect organizations before this great event happened, of which Moses gives an account. The periods mentioned in the history, as recorded in the 1st chapter of Genesis, are represented as beginning with the evening and ending with the morning. Seven such periods are mentioned. How long these periods, called days, were, I cannot tell; it is very evident they were not governed by the rotation of the earth on its axis, because the sun did not give light during the first three days or periods. It was on the fourth day that the lord caused the light of the sun to shine upon this little speck of creation. But there were three days prior to that, when the sun did not shine upon the earth. What then was to distinguish between the light and the darkness we of course cannot say."

- Orson Pratt, JD, Vol.18, p.316 - 317

"As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and 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."

- Brigham Young, JD, Vol.14, p.116

The order of creation agrees with the discoveries of science

On the third day we have plants. On the fourth day we have the sun, moon and stars. But how can that be? How can the plants exist before the stars? It all depends on our point of view. The creation is described in terms of making the world habitable for Adam. First, matter is organized from the dust of space, and eventually light could be seen. Next the oceans came, bringing plant life. The plant life cleaned up the atmosphere, allowing more advanced life to exist (and at the same time allowing that life to make out details like the sun, moon, and stars). And then came animals, and man, and the rest is history. Everything is described just as it would look from the earth's surface. God says "let there be light!" and there is light. The next command is "make the seas!" and there are seas. Then "make life in the seas." Then "clean up that murky atmosphere!" then "let there be complex plant life!" and so on.

This all makes literal sense if we remember it is seen from a particular point of view.

Creating man "out of the dust of the earth" and woman out of "a rib" are purely symbolic.

"Brigham Young (JD, 7:285): 'When you tell me that father Adam was made as we make adobies from the earth, you tell me what I deem an idle tale.... There is no such thing in all the eternities where the Gods dwell.' Apostle Parley P. Pratt instructs us (Key to Theology, p. 50): 'Man, moulded from the earth, as a brick! A Woman, manufactured from a rib! ... O man! When wilt thou cease to be a child in knowledge?' John A. Widtsoe asserts (Rational Theology, pp. 50-51): 'The statement that man was made from the dust of the earth is merely figurative.... Likewise, the statement that God breathed into man the breath of life is figurative.' And President Spencer W. Kimball (Ensign, March 1976, p. 71) has put it very simply: 'The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.'" - quoted in Sunstone, April 1985.


Adam and Eve: 4000 BC

The world's history began around 4000BC

The Bible speaks of the history of the human race, not the pre-history, or the history of the Neanderthal race, or whatever. To all intents and purposes, human history, according to historians and archaeologists, began about 4000BC (with the Sumerians and others). Before that there was practically no writing, cities, pottery, or any of the other artifacts that we recognise as defining civilisation. I have at home a "time chart of world history" that has no interest in the Bible, considering it just one of many myths. But for convenience, and reflecting the available evidence, it begins at 4000 BC.

Another author who has no time for the Bible (considering the Judeo-Christian tradition to be confrontational, woman-hating and evil) is Malcolm Godwin. ("The Holy Grail" - London: Bloomsbury, 1994). He notes that the world we are familiar with has existed for around 6000 years, and is quite different from what went before. He bases that conclusion on European archaeology, which suggests that:

"A peaceful agricultural civilisation, living 6000 years ago, was invaded and overrun by a nomadic and aggressive people who lived by the sword. Suddenly, within the various strata unearthed, archaeologists began to find weapons and fortifications as if they had sprung up overnight, where there had been absolutely none for the previous six millennia." (p. 214)

This is backed up from many different directions. See for example New Scientist 22 May 1999 p.38, which argues that the great civilisations around the world all got a kick start around 5800 BC. The article begins with this summary:

"A climate upheaval some 6000 years ago may have forced people all over the world to adapt simply to survive. The payoff was a great leap forward for civilisation."

So score another one for the Bible. Of course, the dating system could be wrong and the "creation science" lobby could be right, but all I am looking for is the simplest explanation


The garden of Eden and the rest of the world

Potential confusion

Much confusion arises because we forget that the garden of Eden and the world as a whole were not the same. In the garden of Eden, there was no death of any kind. But that does not mean the rest of the world was the same. The following statement does not conflict with scientific discoveries when we realise that the Edenic phase (with no death or procreation) was not the first state of this world, and probably only lasted a few years at most.

Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.648
"This earth, as with man and all forms of life, was first created spiritually. Thereafter came the temporal creation the paradisiacal or Edenic creation, the creation of the earth and man and all forms of life as they were before the fall. In that day there was no death, not for man nor for any form of life. In that day there was no mortality and no procreation, not for man nor for any form of life."

Was the garden of Eden the whole world?

It is sometimes said, based on Moses 6:48, that there was no death before Adam. But this seems to refer just to the garden of Eden, the start of the world as we know it. The sequence of events goes like this:

Since death was there after Eden was closed off, it seems reasonable to assume that death was there before Eden was planted in the first place.

It must be remembered that:

So, Eden was just a part of this planet, and not the whole of it.

It appears that the garden of Eden had immortality because it had the tree of life. It follows that the rest of the world did not have immortality.

Does "the earth" mean "the whole planet"?

We sometimes read phrases like "first man in the earth," or "brought death to the world." But in the Bible, terms like "all the earth" and "all the world" are relative. See Exodus 10:15 (Egypt is "the whole earth"), Jeremiah 15:10 (the "whole earth" knows Jeremiah), Jeremiah 50:23 (Babylon is "the hammer of the whole earth"), Luke 2:1 (Caesar caused that "all the world should be taxed").

Sweeping statements like "the earth" are only from Adam's point of view. (And our point of view, as descendants of Adam.)

How the ground was cursed for Adam's sake

When God cursed the ground for Adam's sake, it is possible that the whole world was moved down a peg or two (see the discussion of different dimensions). But it is also possible that God simply moved Adam to the existing cursed part. The complete passage in Genesis 2 reads:

17 . . . cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
[Note that this is cursed from Adam's point of view. The simplest way to curse his ground is to move him to an inferior part, which is exactly what God does.]

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
[We know from Genesis 2:5 that the herb of the field had already been put in place before Adam was created.]

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
[Here again we have the idea that "you started there, you finish there."]

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
[How could God make coats of skins if no animals had died anywhere?]

23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
["From whence he was taken" - Adam is simply returning to the place where he began.]

Adam and Eve: common ancestors to the whole human race

The idea of a common ancestor for the whole race is quite reasonable. Ever heard of the mitochondrial "Eve Hypothesis"? One way of looking at our DNA is that the entire human race can be traced back to one woman.

But surely science says that "Eve had a mother and father," yet the Bible says that Adam and Eve were created from the dust of the earth? But you and I were also made of the dust of the earth, and we had parents.

Note that I am going further than official LDS statements here, so I could be totally wrong. The LDS church has been careful to stick to the official "Message of the First Presidency " that simply declares that Adam was the father of the human race. That leaves a lot of room for opinion - the church is not interested in people wasting valuable time arguing over things that have not been fully revealed.

Adam and Eve at around 4000BC

The mitochondrial Eve theory places our common parent at around 200 000 BC. But this relies on assumptions that the factors that affect genetic mutation have not changed over the millennia. The Biblical record puts that assumption in serious doubt. I don't want to get into the realms of speculative "creation science" here, but I am just pointing out that changed assumptions lead to changed conclusions.

Random mutation depends on cosmic radiation. This same radiation is also the ultimate cause of the death of cells and hence of aging. (It is also what makes your car work - I studied this at university and it is fascinating! You see, your car's spark plugs rely on the air having free electrons, and ... but I digress.) How much radiation reaches the earth, and of what type, depends on the nature of the atmosphere. You've heard of the ozone layer? Now the atmosphere in Adam's day may have included far more water vapour than today (Genesis 2:6). Perhaps this explains why the early patriarchs lived for so long.

 

The bottom line

"Science and true religion never can possibly contradict each other. There never was any truth in science that would contradict any principle of revelation that God ever revealed to man."

- Orson Pratt, JD, Vol.20, p.73 - 75

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