I once heard it said when I was a young undergraduate that the creation accounts – particularly that of Abraham – fit very well with evolutionary accounts of creation. A casual read of Abraham seems to confirm this: earth, void; waters divided from earth; plants come up from the earth; fish and fowl; beasts of the earth; man. This sort of progression would make sense from an evolutionary perspective – creation evolves from simple to complex.
But add Moses’ account into the mix and things become a little dicier. In Moses 2-3, we get a sense that the first account is a spiritual creation that occurs previous to the physical creation, which doesn’t begin until chapter 3. Then, when the physical account is actually given, the Lord states in Moses 3:7, “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” (my emphasis). I can’t tell whether figurative language is being used here or not. The narrative continues when God says to His Only Begotten that “it was not good that the man should be alone; wherefore, I will make an help meet for him” (3:18). So, in the next verse, God forms, out of the ground, all the beasts (other “flesh upon the earth”) and brings them to Adam. Adam names them, “but as for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him” (3:20). None of the beasts would do. It wasn’t until Eve was created of his own flesh that “This I know now is bone of my bones…” (3:23; my emphasis).
It seems in this account that man was the first flesh, followed by the beasts, followed by woman (who was there all along, just part of man). That’s a somewhat backwards progression, in light of evolution.
But Abraham is different, isn’t it? Well, a more careful reading of Abraham’s creation account might in fact show more similarities. Look at how this narrative unfolds: it proceeds rather the same, beginning with the light, dividing the waters from the waters, the water from the earth, etc. Then we get to vegetation and things begin to get redundant. In verse 11: “Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass…and it was so, even as they ordered” (my emphasis) and then verse 12: “And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass…and the Gods saw that they were obeyed” (my emphasis). But it only seems like a redundancy: first, the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth grass, and it was so. Then they organized the earth to bring forth grass, and they were obeyed. It’s as though they are planning (spiritual creation?) before they actually do it (physical creation?).
But look at how the planning/doing “redundancy” plays out later. Verse 20: “Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life; and the fowl, that they may fly above the earth in the open expanse of heaven.” This is – potentially – the first flesh, but in this first verse, the waters are only prepared, and it was so. Then we see something change when, in the next verse, the Gods prepare for the fish and the fowls: this time, they don’t wait to see that they are obeyed; instead, “the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good” (my emphasis). Note the future tense, both here and when the Gods prepare for the beasts.
It appears, at this point, that Abraham might be covering both a spiritual and physical creation in a single narrative, rather than dividing it up like Moses did. First prepare, then do. But if that’s the case, then we must see somewhere where man is first flesh, like in the Moses account. Is that what we see? In fact, it seems that the Gods first go down in verse 26 to “form man,” both male and female, give them dominion and whatnot. Then, in verse 30, the proceed to “give…life” to all the beasts, fowl, and fishes. It seems that Abraham and Moses may indeed agree that Adam was the first flesh upon the earth, with the beasts to follow. Abraham, then, seems to offer the same reverse-progression that we get in Moses’ account of creation.
Now understand, I’m not trying to refute evolution by using the scriptures (please, people: I’m not a creationist; I do not claim these accounts are literal, but literary). But for those Latter-day Saints who love evolution, I am asking if our creation narratives ought to be, or even can be, used in support of creation by evolution?
Filed under: Culture, Folk Theologies, Science Tagged: | creation, evolution, Faith, Good ol' Abraham, LDS, Mormon Culture, Mormon Doctrine, Moses, Philosophy, Science, Science and Religion, Scripture