The Origin of Man

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There exists a long standing debate in both the world of science and in some religious circles as to the origin of man. Did man evolve as some purport, or is man the product of creation as the scriptures teach, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27)? Job would answer, “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).

Sir Arthur Keith (5 February 1866 – 7 January 1955), a Scottish physical anthropologist and anatomist is quoted as having said, “Religious leaders and men of science have the same ideals; they want to understand and explain the universe of which they are part; they both earnestly desire to solve, if a solution be ever possible, that great riddle: Why are we here?” Even the Psalmist asked the very direct question,

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:4–6).

Latter-day Saint Doctrine and the Origin of Man

Adam and Eve Mormonism

As a result of much public discussion and debate surrounding the subject of the creation of the earth and the theories of evolution, in November 1909, to clarify the doctrinal position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on these matters, the First Presidency of the Church (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others)—Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund—published "The Origin of Man” in the Improvement Era Magazine (an official Church publication at that time). The statement was drafted by Elder Orson F. Whitney, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 9 April 1906 until his death on 16 May 1931, with his previous writing being used as the strong foundation for the closing paragraphs. “For a century this statement has been the touchstone of the Church’s position on evolution, yet the statement has little to say about evolution directly.”[1]

In an article published in 1992 in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entitled “Origin of Man”, John L. Sorenson, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University and the author of An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, commented,

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.[2]

He continues by stating that the 1909 statement, “The Origin of Man,” published by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ encompasses four essential points:

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 pre-mortal spirit that inhabits it.[3]

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.[4]

The Question of the Creation of Adam and Eve’s Mortal Bodies

In his article, Sorenson further stated, “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.” [5] In fact, in April 1910, just five months after the publication of “The Origin of Man” by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, the following question from several High Priests’ quorums, “In just what manner did the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve come into existence on this earth?", was addressed in a column of Improvement Era magazine.

The response to the question was as follows:

Of course, all are familiar with the statements in Genesis 1: 26–27; 2: 7; also in the Book of Moses [2:27], in the Pearl of Great Price; 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.[6] [7]

The Scriptures Testify of Creationism

The debate of evolutionism versus creationism is forever ongoing. Students and scholars alike from all different walks of life continue to search for answers to the age-old question, “Where did man come from?” The scriptures are an infallible witness in the case, testifying that man was created by the Master Creator—the same Creator of the heavens and the earth—God, our Eternal Father. It may prove wise to heed the counsel of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ as given in their reply as early as 1910, “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.”[8]

Elder Marion D. Hanks, a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1953 until his death in 2011, in his message titled “An Attitude – The Weightier Matters” published in the July 1981 edition of the Ensign Magazine, presents a faithful approach to both science and “The Origin of Man.” Speaking of God’s method of creation, he stated,

I know that man is co-eternal with God, and that he clothed us in spirit form and then made it possible for us to have eternal life, through his gift, through his love. I know that, with his Son, he is our Creator and that his children are his special and crowning creation.[9]