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Early LDS Teaching on the Age of the Earth

( 2.55 Billion years old )

W. W. Phelps, in a letter to William Smith, refers to the age of the earth.  He, from the context of the quote, apparently received his information from the papyri from which the Book of Abraham is also taken.  So you can compare, most scientists teach that the earth is about 4.5 - 5 billion years old, with life being about 2.5 billion years old..

Christ . . . was anointed [in the pre-mortal world] with holy oil in heaven, and crowned in the midst of brothers and sisters, while his mother stood with approving virtue, and smiled upon a Son that kept the faith as the heir of all things! . . . Well, now, Brother William [Smith], when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been of old, from eternity [Micah 5:2]; and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years:  and to know at the same time, that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years;--it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated and see and know as we are seen and known!

       --Times and Seasons 5: 758, 1 January 1845

An Open Letter to College Students

 By Apostle Stephen L. Richards

In this letter, in my opinion, Apostle Richards dispenses wise counsel to both sides of this issue.  This was published in an official church publication.

Dear Friends:

The month of June approaches and with it many graduations.  As you contemplate university experiences will you take a moment to ponder a theme that may not have been in the curriculum.  It if shall prove helpful to your thinking I shall be grateful.

Why should not a man have a religion, a faith, an overbelief - one that may not be susceptible to scientific and finite support?  Is such a faith a weakness or a virtue?  Let us see.  John Langdon-Davis, in a lengthy review of the history of the attitude of man toward science and religion, tells us that practically every scientific contribution from Aristotle to Darwin is attributable almost entirely to the religious urge of man to find out more about God.  The many spheres of Aristotle and the epicycles of Ptolemy were all of them chosen by these early philosophers as explanations of the movement of the universe because the spheres and the circles to them most nearly represented God.  Both Galileo and Newton felt that their revolutionary discoveries had inestimably contributed to a better and higher understanding of God and his management of the universe.  And even Charles Darwin, the reputed author of evolution, contrary to much popular understanding, was greatly grieved that his new law of natural selection should have been pronounced anti-Christ.  He wrote to his American friend, Asa Grav, "I had no intention to write atheistically."  So we see that the very founders of science were responding to the religious urge.  They had their overbelief, not proved by their findings of material facts.  They had their faith as their constant incentive.

Unfortunately, however, the tolerance and sympathy which in modern times have been manifest for people having divergent views have not been shown so generously toward the Bible itself.  Many of the scientific world, having discovered that the earth is round and not flat as the people of the Old Testament evidently believed it to be, have ungenerously, and it seems to me, ruthlessly, thrown the good book into the discard with unconcealed contempt.  They point out with gloating satisfaction that the God of the Hebrews is a capricious, jealous, tribal God fighting the battles of his favored people and reveling in the defeat of their enemies.

What if Hebrew prophets, conversant with only a small fraction of the surface of the earth, thinking and writing in terms of their own limited geography and tribal relations did interpret Him in terms of a tribal king and so limit His personality and the laws of the universe under His control to the dominion with which they were familiar?  Can any interpreter, even though he be inspired, present an interpretation and conception in terms other than those with which he has had experience and acquaintance?  Even under the assumption that Divinity may manifest to the prophet higher and more exalted truths than he has ever before known and unfold to his spiritual eyes visions of the past, forecasts of the future and circumstances of the utmost novelty, how will the inspired man interpret?  Manifestly, I think, in the language he knows and in the terms of expression with which his knowledge and experience have made him familiar.  So is it not therefore ungenerous, unfair and unreasonable to impugn the validity and the whole worth of the Bible merely because of the limited knowledge of astronomy and geography that its writers possessed.  The Bible gives an account of the creation of the world.  It is simply stated.  It has been made the object of ridicule by some scholars.

And yet where is the man on the earth today who has the knowledge, the demonstrable facts to gainsay the truth of the account?  I do not pretend to have knowledge of scientific data sufficient to bring proof for the assertion but I am advised that the order of creation as stated in Genesis conforms substantially with the order established by scientific research and deductions.

Objection is made to the methods employed in Biblical creation whereas in fact the Bible purports to give no method, no real definition of processes whatever.  Rather it makes authoritative statements of the facts of creation.  Who that is really interested in these major truths will take serious objection to the description of the organization of man: that he was made of the dust of the earth and that his spirit was breathed into him and that woman was made of his rib?  Indeed scientists are now all agreed that there is nothing in his physical body except the dust of the earth and those who are candid readily admit that they do not know what his spirit is or whence it came, nor do they know how woman was made.  I grant freely that I do not understand how a woman can be made of a rib, nor how a man's spirit can be-breathed into him but because I have been unable to understand or explain these expressions I have never been disposed to doubt the things of major import set forth in the account; namely, the author of creation, the subjects of creation, the order of creation, and the purpose of creation.

The time of creation has ever been a subject of much comment and dispute.  Yet I challenge anybody to produce from the Bible itself any finite limitation whatsoever of the periods of creation.  By strained inferential references and interpretations men have sought to set the time in days or periods of a thousand years, but I feel sure that no justification of such limitations is warranted by the scriptures themselves.  If the evolutionary hypothesis of the creation of life and matter in the universe is ultimately found to be correct, and I shall neither be disappointed nor displeased if it shall turn out so to be, in my humble opinion the Biblical account is sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole of the process.

It is said that a man seldom secures a philosophy of life until after he has passed the age of thirty.  Perhaps I have been a bit premature in handing out to you this bit of philosophy.  I thank you for your patience in reading it.  If you will take the counsel of one who loves science and reveres religion, permit me to admonish you: Never close your mind or your heart;  ever keep them open to the reception of both knowledge and spiritual impressions.  Both true science and true religion are the exponents of truth.  Their fields are different, their provinces are distinct, but their purposes are identical--to enlighten man, to give him power, to make him good and bring him joy.  Never abandon a time-tested thing of worth until you are very, very sure that the new is better.  Be not ashamed of faith in God.  It has been the incentive for the noblest things of life.

Sincerely your friend,

[signed] Stephen L. Richards

A member of the Council of Twelve

Stephen L Richards, "An Open Letter to College Students"   Improvement Era 36:451-453, 484-485.  June 1933.

Stephen L. Richards served in the Council of the Twelve 1917-1951, and as First Counselor in the First Presidency 1951-1959.


President McKay Letter

This is a copy of the words of a letter from David O. McKay.  President McKay gave permission for the public publication of this letter.


February 15, 1957

Professor William Lee Stokes

2970 South 15th East

Salt Lake City, Utah


Dear Brother Stokes

Your letter of February 11, 1957 has been received.

On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position.  The book, “Man, His Origin and Destiny” was not published by the Church, and is not approved by the Church.

The book contains expressions of the author’s views for which he alone is responsible.

Sincerely your brother,

David O. McKay


Selected Quotes

I have compiled a few pages of selective quotes from those in favor of evolution as a scientific principle.   If requested, I could compile quotes from the other side of the question, but you can read many of them in the books already cited.  I include this only because I have been questioned many times when I state that the official church stand is one of neutrality, and that there have been apostles and prophets and other prominent Mormons on both sides of the issue.  Most of these quotes are from longer talks on the topics by the various authors.

You can find most of these quotes, and tons of other information on our church and evolution, at a web site that I supplied some of the material for.  It can be found at


This site includes many articles, including long essays and research papers by church experts in the sciences and the scriptures.  I heartily commend the article by Steven Jones, a BYU professor, included later in this packet.  I would rather you research the site on your own, but since many of you do not have Web access, I will provide upon request articles from the Web site.

BYU has issued a collection of statements on evolution (very similar to, but much smaller than, my collection here), there have been church editorials on the topic, there have been “I have a question” type articles, and there have been various official publications.  All of these are in the web site.  Almost all of these have been either neutral or positive towards evolution.  None of the official documents were negative towards evolution, except possibly the very early 1909 First Presidency statement given above, a statement that was replaced less than 16 years later.


Now for some quotes. 

"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 go it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, 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. If we understood the process of creation
there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain,
for there is no mystery except to the ignorant." (Brigham Young, JD, vol. 14, p. 116.)


"On the other hand, to limit and insist upon the whole of life and death to this side of Adam's advent, some six or eight thousand years ago, as proposed bysome, is to fly in the face of facts so indisputably brought to light by the research of science in modern times, and this as set forth by men of the highest type in the intellectual and moral  world; not inferior men, or men of sensual and devilish temperament, but men who must be accounted as among the noblest and most self-sacrificing of the sons of men--of the type whence must come the noblest sons of God, since "the glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36), and that too the glory of man." [ B. H. Roberts ]

Evolution's beautiful theory of the creation of the world offers many perplexing problems to the inquiring mind.     [David O McKay]

So, while most theologians are regarding the developments of the natural sciences with fear & trembling, the chiefs of the Mormon religion are prepared to hail the discoveries of paleontology as an aid in establishing their peculiar beliefs.        [NY Times]

Evolution might account only for man's physical body; the addition of that "divine spark" that sets man apart from the other animals might have been the final step that created the man, Adam       [Article in The Instructor, a church publication]

Why this vast expenditure of time and pain and blood?  Why should man come so far if he is destined to go no farther?  A creature which has traveled such distances and fought such battles and won such victories deserves, one is compelled to say, to conquer death and rob the grave of its victory. [Raymond West, quoted by David O McKay]

Organic evolution is the honest result of capable people trying to explain the evidence to the best of their ability. From my limited study of the subject I would say that the physical evidence supporting the theory is considerable from a scientific viewpoint.

In my opinion it would be a very sad mistake if a parent or teacher were to belittle scientists as being wicked charlatans or else fools having been duped by half-baked ideas that gloss over inconsistencies.

That isn't an accurate assessment of the situation, and our children or students will be able to see that when they begin their scientific studies.                            [Henry Eyring]

Furthermore, whether they were in Australia, Africa, the Americas, or elsewhere, the various forms of life on earth appeared and disappeared at the same time. To the faithful student of the scriptures, this precision reflects the ordered processes of God, the divine Creator.          [Article in The Ensign]

It would do no violence to my faith to learn that God had formed man in one way or another.        [David O McKay]

Our religion is not hostile to real science.  [1st Presidency, 1910]

It is only fair to warn parents and teachers that a young person is going to face a very substantial body of scientific evidence supporting the earth's age as millions of years, and that a young person might "throw the baby out with the bath" unless allowed to seek the truth, from whatever source, without prejudice.                 [Henry Eyring]

The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again.              [Encyclopedia of Mormonism]


The details of the physical creation are not given in scripture.  Indeed, why should they be? The Lord gave us the testimony of the rocks and bids us read.                    [Steven Jones]

If the evolutionary hypothesis of the creation of life and matter in the universe is ultimately found to be correct, and I shall neither be disappointed nor displeased if it shall turn out so to be, in my humble opinion the Biblical account is sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole of the process.              [Stephen L Richards]

Whatever the subject may be, the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ may be elaborated on without fear of anyone's objecting, and the teacher can be free to express his honest conviction regarding it, whether that subject be in geology, the history of the world, the millions of years that it took to prepare the physical world,       [David O McKay]

Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.             [1st Presidency, 1931]

Many sympathetic to science interpret certain statements in LDS scripture to mean that God used a version of evolution to prepare bodies and environmental surrounding suitable for the premortal spirits.               [Encyclopedia of Mormonism]

Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God ... are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.    [Editorial in The Improvement Era]

Personal Letter about evolution

Brief History of Evolution as Taught by the LDS church 

Official Positions of the LDS church
   Current First Presidency Position on Evolution
   Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Evolution
   1931 Statement of the First Presidency
   1925 First Presidency Statement on Evolution

1910 First Presidency Statement on Evolution
   1909 First Presidency Statement on Evolution

GA statements
   Earth is 2.55 Billion years old ( WW Phelps, Joseph Smith? )
Apostle Stephen L. Richards - An Open Letter to College Students
President McKay disses Man His Origin and Destiny
   Selected Quotes

Death Before Adam by BYU Professor Steven Jones

Evolutionary Biology - a primer

Mormons and Evolution by David H. Bailey  

More Material:  http://eyring.hplx.net/Eyring/faq/evolution/

And even more material:  More and more



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