I attended a lecture today entitled "An Approach to Understanding the Purpose of the Creation Accounts." It's part of the series of lectures dedicated to Darwin's birthday (which is tomorrow). Many people, myself included, were led to believe that it would discuss evolution in the context of the Creation because the official announcement said the lecture was titled, "An Approach to Understanding the Creation." A subtle difference, but an explicit example of false advertising. My guess is they really wanted to fill the seats, and they did. Unfortunately not everyone left satisfied.
It was given by Terry Ball, Dean of Ancient Scripture at BYU. The room was totally packed, with people sitting in the aisles, on the floors and standing around the perimeter and out in the halls listening. Luckily I got there ten minutes earlier, anticipating such a crowd. Apparently everyone wanted to understand a religion professor's take on evolution. Unfortunately that wasn't the thrust of the lecture. Dr. Ball talked about the importance of understanding what kind of questions the creation accounts actually answer. He made it very clear that the accounts were given to answer the questions of "Why?" and "Who?" The earth was made for the children of God to inhabit, to keep their second estate, and it was created by Jesus Christ, and likely by others with Him. Of course I already knew the answers to these questions, but it was an interesting point.
At the end of the lecture Dr. Ball opened it up for questions. Finally the hungry wolves were loosed and hands shot up everywhere. It didn't seem like anyone could tactfully phrase their question well enough, because everyone sounded like the devil's advocate. Questions were asked about the vast time period required for evolution to occur, the Fall of Adam and whether the accounts were figurative. Dr. Ball sidestepped most of their questions and usually turned them into hilarious jokes.
For instance, when a man asked if Adam was really 900 something years old, Dr. Ball said, "We don't know for sure. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. If I was betting YOUR temple recommend on it, I'd say he was." That got a pretty good response.
One difficult question that he fielded was about the human pedigree. What are we to think of the fossils of primitive hominids that resembled men, which are dated several million years ago? He made it clear that the Church has one position on the origin of Man, and that is that we were created by God and in His image. BYU put together a packet back in 1992 to help biology students gain some insights into the Church's position, commonly referred to as the "Origin of Man" packet. This packet contains official statements from prophets, especially Joseph Fielding Smith, and the only time it actually mentions the word "evolution" is in a statement that "man is evolving into a god." He then stated his personal opinion is that there were pre-Adamite hominids, and that they had evolved from other species, but when God created Adam, he was creating a new species. However related to those other hominids man is by his DNA, he was still created by God and in His image.
Another interesting question he answered was related to the Garden of Eden. How can one simultaneously believe in evolution as the engine for Creation and the Garden of Eden, in which nothing could die? Evolution and speciation can't happen if animals aren't dying.
Of course he couldn't give a definitive answer to this, and he made it very clear that Church doesn't have an official position on it. He said that there are two prevalent theories that circulate throughout our church and among other Christians. One is called the "It is good" theory. It basically states that God created the first organisms and let them evolve to a point that He thought, "It was good," and then He placed the Earth in a paradisiacal state, including the Garden of Eden. Then Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, and the rest is history.
The other theory is called the "40 acre" theory, which basically states that the Garden of Eden was an isolated patch of paradise in the midst of a world that was still evolving. While they lived in the garden animals were reproducing, dying and speciating. When Adam and Eve fell, they were expelled out into that lone and dreary world. Both are compelling to me, but I'm more inclined to go with the latter theory.
When all is said and done, however, we really can't figure it out on our own. If God ever wants to reveal the hows and whats of the Creation, He'll do it through His prophet. I personally don't think we'll learn this mystery till we're resurrected. Dr. Ball agreed and made the remark that we'd learn it all in Godhood 695 R. "It is an R class," he said.
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