One of the serious conflicts between science and religion involves evolution and the religious belief in the Fall of Adam. According to the doctrine of the Fall of Adam, the world was created as an immortal world, and Adam and Eve were created as complex immortal but physical beings and were placed in the Garden of Eden. Later, the world was changed or fell to a mortal state due to a decision made by Adam and Eve while they were in the Garden. In contrast, evolution teaches that life was created as simple organisms, and those organisms slowly mutated and evolved into the complex plant and animal life that we have today. This conflict between science and religion is at the heart of both Christianity and science. With no Fall of Adam, there is no need for an atonement. With no atonement, there is no need for Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer. With no Savior, there is no need for Christianity. From the scientific viewpoint, with no evolution one of the pillars of modern science is missing.
In this post, I am presenting a scheme in which the Fall of Adam and evolution could exist together. My thesis is that evolution might have been one of the tools used by God to create our mortal world. I am attempting to show that two paradigms that seem to be in conflict might exist together in harmony, and that we don’t necessarily have to choose between science and religion.
In order to more easily express my thoughts, I describe events as if they did happen. My words should be interpreted, of course, as speculation that the events might have happened that way.
Characteristics of the Fall of Adam and of Evolution
The attributes of the Fall of Adam that I am attempting to reconcile with evolution are the following.
• The earth was created as an immortal world without death
• Adam was the first man
• The earth was changed to the mortal state of life and death
Similarly, I am attempting to reconcile with religion the following attributes of evolution.
• Animal and plant life took millions of years to evolve
• Death was an inherent condition of life during those years
• Hominids, ancestors of humans, have inhabited the earth
A Physical Earth Without Death
The scriptures teach that God created the heavens and the earth in several days. I don’t know how long those days were, and I think of them as periods of time. Oceans, mountains, and rivers were created. Plants were established. Animals were created. Finally, human life, in the form of Adam and Eve, was established on the earth. The earth was a physical earth, but, as I explain in the next paragraphs, there was no death in the earth. It was an immortal world. Through a decision made by Adam and Eve, they chose to become mortal and suffer death and decay, and the earth was subsequently changed from a physical, immortal world to a physical, mortal world. This change is referred to as the Fall of Adam.
To understand the Fall of Adam, let us first look at the conditions that existed in the Garden of Eden. The book of Genesis implies that the Garden of Eden was immortal. Of all the trees in the Garden, two trees are given special attention: the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were told they could eat of all the trees except the Tree of Knowledge. It is significant that they could eat of the Tree of Life, a tree that would cause them to live forever. Hence, we understand that they were immortal and were already living forever. However, after they had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, they were prevented from eating of the Tree of Life, else they “live for ever.” (Genesis 3:22) Thus, we realize they had changed from a condition of immortality to one of mortality.
Next, in the Book of Mormon, we have Lehi teaching his son, Jacob.
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. (2 Nephi 2:22)
From Alma we have
And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die. (Alma 12:23)
And, from the Book of Moses,
And he said unto them: Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe. (Moses 6:48)
The Fall of Adam May Not Have Been Instantaneous
The scriptures don’t say how long it took for the earth to become mortal. The scriptures speak of it as if it occurred instantaneously, and many people assume that was the case. I’m suggesting that perhaps this change took a long time in earth years, and that God used the laws of mortality to cause this change. Science tells us that mortal life evolved from simple forms into complex forms through genetic mutations and natural selection. It seems reasonable that evolution could have been one of the methods used by God for the creation of the mortal world.
Through the decision of Adam and Eve, the mortal laws of nature as we know them came into play, and the higher laws that had governed the physical but immortal world of Adam and Eve were suspended. If we make a reasonable assumption that the change to mortality took a finite time, we can conclude that Adam and Eve had to wait for their mortal world, their new home, to be created. Finally, after millions of evolutionary years, their new earthly home was ready. Not only was their new home ready, but their new mortal bodies were ready to be inhabited by their spirits. In effect, their spirits changed their places of residence, from immortal physical bodies to mortal physical bodies, from an immortal world to a mortal world.
Am I saying that Adam and Eve just sat around for millions of years waiting for their mortal world to evolve? No, not at all. I expect the millions of years it took for the earth to evolve passed quickly for them, since time belongs to mortality and Adam and Eve were not yet mortal. Perhaps this time of waiting was the time between their partaking of the fruit and their leaving the Garden. In other words, they chose to become mortal, and a short time later, from their viewpoint, they inhabited the new mortal world. From our viewpoint, Adam and Eve chose to become mortal, and millions of years later, they inhabited the mortal world. In support of this difference in time, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity teaches that time is variable, that a series of events might take a long time or a short time, depending on the viewpoint of the observer. This difference in time has a significant effect on the scope of scientific research. Scientists use techniques such as identifying fossils, using various methods of dating, and evaluating geological evidence, to look back in the mortal period. However, they can not look back into the immortal period when Adam and Eve were in the Garden and the earth was without death. They have no instruments that can extract information from the immortal world of the Garden of Eden, and all of the evidence they study pertains to the mortal earth after the Fall.
The First Flesh, The First Man
The scriptures speak of Adam as the first man.
And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word. (PofGP, Moses 3:7)
At the time Adam’s body was created, the world was immortal, and his body was created from the dust of an immortal world. Thus, Adam was the first man in an immortal world. This is significant, because we now understand that the statements in the scriptures of Adam being the first man do not apply to our physical world and hence do not apply to evolution. The scriptures do not say how Adam’s immortal but physical body was created, and, of course, evolution doesn’t describe that creation either.
Prehistoric Hominids Preceded the Mortal Adam
Science is discovering evidence of prehistoric hominids who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago. These people consisted of various species, such as Homo sapiens (from whom we descended) and the Neanderthals. According to the law of evolution, mutations in the DNA of primitive life forms occurred, and these changes caused new life forms to come into existence, until human-like hominids were created. Mutations continued to occur in the hominids until the Homo sapiens were developed and human civilization spread over the earth.
Adam was the First to Receive the Gospel
The time came that the Lord was ready to introduce his Gospel into the earth, and the spirits of Adam and Eve were permitted to inhabit the mortal bodies that had been prepared for them, and they were given the Gospel. Thus, Adam was not only the first man to be created in the immortal world that existed before the Fall of Adam, he was also the first man in the mortal world to receive the Gospel. We don’t know how much Adam and Eve remembered from the Garden of Eden, but they apparently remembered some of the events that happened there, because Eve was glad they had decided to become mortal and have children.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (PofGP, Moses 5:11)
Evolution only Applies to our Mortal Bodies
Some religious people are offended by the thought that their ancestors might have evolved from simple life forms. Knowing, however, the true nature of the human soul, that our soul is a combination of our spirits and our mortal bodies, helps us realize that our ancestors as eternal souls didn’t evolve from simple life forms. Only our mortal bodies evolved that way. Our spirits that inhabit our bodies came directly from God as His offspring.
An Alternative Way of Reconciliation
Some people say the world, in general, was a mortal world, thus having death, and that God used evolution to create the animals that were later made immortal and placed in the Garden of Eden. If that happened, then Adam didn’t bring death into the world. The world already had death, and Adam’s “fall” was nothing more than Adam and Eve and the plants & animals leaving the immortal garden and going into the world of pre-existing death. I think this belief that only the Garden of Eden was immortal is a poor way to reconcile evolution and the immortality of Adam and Eve prior to the Fall. It is more straight-forward to take the scriptures for what they say, the world had no death until Adam and Eve choose to become mortal. At that point, the Lord created the mortal world, including the bodies of Adam and Eve, and they began their journey through mortality.