Two Firesides in the DC on the Temple, Science, and LDS Interpretation of Scripture

It’s been a remarkably good Monday morning. Chilly, but I scored a $72 long-sleeve Merino wool bike jersey for $18 recently, and so went out for a 24-mile ride in 40 degree weather.


Made myself chilaquiles afterwards. Bit of a foodie here. (This has been rewritten afterwards, since it was an announcement.)

Is biological evolution still a live issue for faith? How does it interact with LDS scripture and the temple? For some people, no. For others, very much so, and the reasons go much deeper than are apparent.

On Feb 28, I spoke in a home in the Chevy Chase area on (YouTube link) “Science falsely so called”: Biological Evolution in LDS History and Scripture.  That first line is from 1 Timothy 6:20, and has often been applied to evolution as a “false science”; I’ll flip that on its head, as scripture has often been read as “science” but wrongly. Basically, how and why did Latter-day Saint views towards evolution and creationism develop in the 20th century? I suspect much of this will be new to people, drawing from my dissertation research on LDS history of the topic, fundamentalism, scriptural interpretation/genre, and my Mormon History Association presentation this June.

Then, Sunday Mar 1 at the DC Temple Visitors Center at 6:30, I spoke on a related topic, (YouTube link) Reconciling the Temple with Science, Creation, and Evolution: A Faithful Approach. This draws on my dissertation, but also my book research, posts on genre and the temple (this one too), and presentations at FAIR (2017 and 2019) and UVU. My guides for that will be the scriptures and the temple (although appropriately vague), but also Elder John Widtsoe, and President J. Reuben Clark.

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5 thoughts on “Two Firesides in the DC on the Temple, Science, and LDS Interpretation of Scripture

  1. I attended your fireside last night at the DC temple as I was hoping to get more information on the church’s stand on Evolution, have been concerned ever since I attended Education Week this past August, when I realized that on the campus of BYU there was an “Evolution display”. I left last night, very upset, and more confused. I am a convert of 45yrs, grew up Catholic, joined the church at 22yrs. have sent a son on a mission and now a granddaughter serving in Spain. I was upset about the whole discussion of the Adam and Eve story, praising the movie “Noah” for showing apes turning into people,
    your mentioning over and over that the Catholic church has accepted “Evolution” since the 1950’s.
    And then discounting McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith’s teaching on evolution too! As a nurse I took microbiology in college and realize that there are mutations in viruses etc, etc, and evolution might be a part of God’s plan, but the scriptures still say man was made in God’s image, God is not an ape!
    Ape’s are a creation of God, whereas man, we are told are His children, His spirit offspring. And as far as the Catholic church’s endorsement of evolution that does not impress me at all, although I loved my Catholic upbringing I came to realize that it was not the “Truth” , this is the church that teaches of the trinity, an incomprehensible God, celibacy for priests, paying money to have sins forgiven etc, etc.
    I came to find the True church while kneeling in mass Sept of 1973, asking for God to help me find what was missing, the next morning 2 Elders knocked on my door and 1 year later I got baptized. Sorry I don’t mean to run on, but I came last night looking for some clarification of the church’s latest stand on the subject of evolution and walked away , not only confused about that, but now the whole Temple endowment, and teachings of men that I thought were inspired! I will keep reading and searching further to find out more on these subjects, I have been a teacher in church for 45yrs, now I’m wondering if all I have been teaching about, to my children and classes is the truth or not.


    1. Hi Mary. I’m sorry my presentation had such a disturbing effect on you; my intent was constructive. I’ve been investigating these things for a long time, and my conclusions have been carefully and longly considered. I don’t expect people to be able to absorb my conclusions in an hour, when I’ve been thinking and working with the data for twenty years. I think I may know more than anyone else in the Church about the questions in LDS history of evolution and scriptural interpretation. It’s my training, and it’s my dissertation topic.

      I want to clarify a few things I think you misunderstood.For example, I cited the video in Noah as an unfortunate example of concordism, not positively. I cited Catholicism and the pope to demonstrate that one can certainly accept evolution and be Christian, even a Bible scholar who accepts inerrancy. Religious faith in scripture, and acceptance of evolution are not incompatible. As for “man being made in God’s image” we are indeed; but that says nothing about the process involved, as the 1910 Improvement Era article demonstrates. Or, for another take, in the Gospel of John, the miraculous production of wine at the wedding in Cana was no less wine for having once been water. Such is the power of God. (And of course, if you want to be “literal” in Genesis, humans are created from dirt; is that compatible with being children of God?)

      First, the Church has always been neutral on evolution per se, although individual Apostles and Presidents have taken strong individual stands against it , such as Elders McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, and others (Side A, I’ll call it). However, we must also recognize that others Apostles and Presidents have often disagreed with them on various aspects of that (side B, I’ll call it). For example, David O. McKay became quite favorable to evolution as President of the Church (see here and here), but was not nearly as loud and forceful about it.

      There is no warrant, no reason to take Side A as representing a revealed position, truth, or doctrine, because it is clear that those views came through human reason and interpretation. In saying that, I am not claiming that Side B *is* any of those things either. Nor am I “discounting” anyone’s teachings. As a historian, I am more knowledgeable than most about what has been said in Church history, the basis for those views, and the historical context shaping them (the context of my Friday night fireside). “No revealed position” means exactly that.

      So, in the absence of authoritative revelation, we are left to our best understandings both of what science says, and what scripture means; for those best understandings, we (including Church leaders) must make use of the best information from experts in their respective fields: scientists, as well as historians and Bible scholars. This is what Elder Ballard has taught recently and repeatedly.
      As I indicated at the fireside, evolution has extremely strong and broad scientific evidence and acceptance. We should expect changes in understanding, but it is highly unlikely to be completely incorrect. Also as I indicated, the way Latter-day Saints have understood their scriptures has often failed Elder Widtsoe’s guidelines, which I quoted at the fireside; we have ignored context, origins, and translational issues, and consequently, we have assumed that Genesis and the parallel creation accounts are all, essentially, history. Those assumptions are unjustified and create serious problems. And as I indicated, there are very good reasons for understanding that idea to be incorrect. It’s something we inherited, and never thought about closely. Well, we are now 🙂

      I have written a good bit which might help you. I recommend all my posts on evolution here, my essay about what prophets know and the follow-up, my FAIR talks, podcasts with LDS Perspectives, and long interview with Mormon Tangents (the last few are all linked here).
      I hope this is all helpful, and it gives you time to digest and read as you are comfortable taking it in.


  2. Hi Mary,

    I too am a nurse and an adult finery, but coming from an agnostic background prior to baptism. You are a little shocked but stick with it. The church has never had an official position on evolution (there is an official statement on this). BYU has taught courses on evolution for a long time. Each member is free to reconcile issues and scriptures around creation however they would like. Good luck. Jan


  3. Hello Mary,

    I was not at the fireside this past week, but stumbled across this thread as I am a friend of Ben Spackman. I met him about 9-10 years ago when we were in the same ward. I remember one day after Elder’s quorum talking with Ben about some elements of Church history that I was just learning and which Inwas trying to fit into my understanding of my strong beliefs in the Church and the Gospel. He told me something very wise that I have never forgotten. He said that ultimately belief is a choice. If we want to believe, we will have reasons enough to do so. If we do not want to believe then we will justify our actions thusly. I realized that the knowledge with a lowercase k that I was gaining of certain events / occurrences did nothing to change the very real Knowledge with a capital K which I had gained through the Spirit throughout my life. I realized that to choose not to believe I would have to turn away from the myriad experiences that I had had as a seeker of the Living God. I would have to turn from the multiple occasions that I had felt filled with light while reading the Book of Mormon or contemplating the doctrines of the Savior as taught through the restored gospel. If I turned away from all that I would be effectively making an affirmative statement that if the new information about church history that I was learning was true then therefore the church could not be true. How could I ever make such an if then assumptive leap, especially in light of the testimony that I had gained and nurtured? That is one of the most beautiful things about the restored Church in my opinion, is our method of identifying truth. Theologians and philosophers of religion call it epistemology. Our epistemology is that truth can be identified through experiences of the soul. I guess I am saying this only to say that as you seek out this exciting knowledge, such as Brother Spackman’s fireside, which may challenge some of your factual assumptions, don’t let it affect your experiences of the soul. Reading your post I can tell that your journey has been deep and powerful. With love.


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