15) TALMAGE – WIDTSOE – ROBERTS: Were James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe and B. H. Roberts followers of the theories of Darwin?


John A. Widtsoe

In current LDS academic circles Elders James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe, former members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often hailed as promoters of Darwinism and modern liberal interpretations of the scriptures.

Elder B. H. Roberts, a former member of the Quorum of the Seventy, is also frequently quoted and revered. It comes as a surprise to most to know the truth that all three of the above men were not Darwinists and actually made firm statements in this regard. Please see the statements below under “Supporting Statements.” These men were not however in complete unity with the doctrines found in the scriptures and the unified voice of the Presidents of the Church in this dispensation.

James E. Talmage

Each of them at some time in their lives expressed being unclear in whether there had been pre-Adamites and death before the Fall. This failure to adhere to the doctrines of the scriptures, as can be imagined, created disharmony in the Quorum of the Twelve at the time and frankly contention with Joseph Fielding Smith and others. This is regrettable, but there has never been a perfect man upon the earth save the Lord Jesus Christ. The truly amazing thing is that there have not been more issues like this in the past. Additionally, it must be remembered that the President of the Church is the only man with the keys to speak for the Church. Finally, the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on this issue are much more well-established now. A few opinions in conflict with these doctrines are of no matter. Note this statement from President Spencer W. Kimball:

“The Gods organized the earth of materials at hand, over which they had control and power. This truth is absolute. A million educated folk might speculate and determine in their minds that the earth came into being by chance. The truth remains. The earth was made by the Gods opinions do not change that. The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth. This is absolute. It cannot be disproved. A million brilliant minds might conjecture otherwise, but it is still true.”


Prophetic Statements

Spencer W. Kimball

“The Gods organized the earth of materials at hand, over which they had control and power. This truth is absolute. A million educated folk might speculate and determine in their minds that the earth came into being by chance. The truth remains. The earth was made by the Gods opinions do not change that. The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth. This is absolute. It cannot be disproved. A million brilliant minds might conjecture otherwise, but it is still true.”


Supporting Statements

James E. Talmage

“I do not regard Adam as related tocertainly not as descended fromthe Neanderthal, the Cro-Magnon, the Peking or the Piltdown man. Adam came as divinely created, created and empowered, and stands as the patriarchal head of his posterityposterity, who, if true to the laws of God are heirs to the Priesthood and to the glories of eternal lives.

Were it true that man is a product of evolution from lower forms, it is but reasonable to believe that he will yet develop into something higher. While it is a fact that eternal progression is a characteristic of man’s Divine birthright, as yet we have learned nothing to indicate that man shall develop physically into any other form than that in which he now appears

The difficulty lies in the fact already stated, that man differs from the animal creation not only in degree but in kind; he is the only being who has any conception of a preexistent state or an existence beyond the grave; the only being whose thoughts turn toward God and who feels in his soul the inspiring impulses of kinship to Deity. Believe not those who would make man but little above the brutes, when in truth he is but little below the angels, and if faithful shall pass by the angels and take his place among the exalted sons of God. The spirit of man is the offspring of the Eternal Father, and his body, if unmarred, is in the very form and fashion of that spirit.” 3

“There are men in the world who have set themselves up against the God of Israel, men who have undertaken to measure arms with the Almighty, and to pit their wisdom against the eternal wisdom of God, men who have undertaken to construe, or rather to misconstrue, the holy Scriptures, and to declare to the people that these writings do not mean what they say. Beware of them, Latter-day Saints. Stand we firm and steadfast by the revealed word of God and on the words of instruction that are given us from time to time by those whom we sustain before the Lord as his representatives in our midst; and should there come a question of issue between the opinions of men and the word of revelation, I say, as said the apostle, Paul, of old, in his written address to the Saints of Rome: “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” Men have made themselves liars before God because they have undertaken to question and even to deny his word

… When I see how often the theories and conceptions of men have gone astray, have fallen short of the truth, yea, have even contradicted the truth directly, I am thankful in my heart that we have an iron rod to which we can cling—the rod of certainty, the rod of revealed truth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints welcomes all truth, but it distinguishes most carefully between fact and theory, between premises and deductions; and it is willing to leave some questions in abeyance until the Lord in his wisdom shall see fit to speak more plainly.

As the result of the combined labors of men I learn that man is but the developed offspring of the beast; and yet I read that God created man in his own image, after his likeness; and again, I stand on the word of God, though it be in contradiction to the theories of men. This spirit of misconstruction, this attempt to explain away the sure word of prophecy, the indisputable word of revelation, is manifest even among our own people. There are those who would juggle with the predictions of the Lord’s prophets.” 4

“Among a certain class of cultivated minds, and especially among scientific men, there is a growing sentiment, sometimes openly expressed, sometimes only vaguely felt, that what we call God is only a universal, all-pervading principle animating nature—a general principle of evolution—an unconscious, impersonal life-force under which the whole cosmos slowly develops. Now, this form of Theism may possibly satisfy the demands of a purely speculative philosophy, but cannot satisfy the cravings of the human heart.” 5

“Man’s Relationship to God—’Mormonism’ claims an actual and literal relationship of parent and child between the Creator and man—not in the figurative sense in which the engine may be called the child of its builder; not the relationship of a thing mechanically made to the maker thereof; but the connection between father and offspring. In short it is bold enough to declare that man’s spirit being the offspring of Deity, and man’s body though of earthy components yet being in the very image and likeness of God, man even in his present degraded—aye, fallen condition—still possesses, if only in a latent state, inherited traits, tendencies and powers that tell of his more than royal descent; and that these may be developed so as to make him, even while mortal, in a measure Godlike.

But ‘Mormonism’ is bolder yet. It asserts that in accordance with the inviolable law of organic nature—that like shall beget like, and that multiplication of numbers and perpetuation of species shall be in compliance with the condition ‘each after his kind,’ the child may achieve the former status of the parent, and that in his mortal condition man is a God in embryo. However far in the future it may be, what ages may elapse, what eternities may pass before any individual now a mortal being may attain the rank and sanctity of godship, nevertheless man carries in his soul the possibilities of such achievement.” 6

John A. Widtsoe

“Science stands at present helpless before the mystery of the origin of life on earth. It offers guesses which have no precedence over theological inferences. Through revelation we know that life existed before the earth was, and that “man was in the beginning with God.” Life was placed upon earth by God, through His power. That doctrine satisfies the inmost need of man

Such hypotheses or theories [about evolution]become dangerous when confused with the facts themselves. There are now many theories of evolution, all subject to the normal scrutiny to which all theories should be subjected; and until their probability is demonstrated, it is well to remain wary of them.

The foremost and best-known theory of evolution is that all living things on earth, whether fish, insect, bird, beast, or man, are of the same pedigree. All creation, it declares, has come from a common stock, from a cell formed in the distant past. Man and beast have the same ancestry. In support of this theory numerous well-established observations are presented

These facts, so claim the proponents of the theory of evolution, all point to the common origin, and an advancing existence, of all animal forms on earth. To many minds these observations, upon which in the main the theory of evolution rests, are sufficient proof of the correctness of the theory of evolution. It is indeed an easy way of explaining the endless variety of life. All life has grown out of a common root. The ease of explaining the origins and differences among life forms has won much support for the theory of evolution.

Yet, at the best the doctrine of the common origin of all life is only an inference of science. After these many years of searching, its truth has not been demonstrated. To many competent minds it is but a working hypothesis of temporary value

The theory fails utterly to explain the emotional, reasoning, and religious nature of man which distinguishes him so completely from the lower animalsMany notable advocates of the theory, such as Darwin and Huxley, have stood helpless before the mental emotional, and moral supremacy of man over the ape, the animal most like man in body. Conscience is peculiar to man. Evil, sin, goodness, truth, love, sacrifice, hope, and religion separate man from the highest animal by a gulf not yet bridged by any scientific theory.

The doctrine of the common origin of life on earth is but a scientific theory, and should be viewed as suchThe man, learned or unlearned, who declares the doctrine of the common origin of life on earth to be demonstrated beyond doubt, has yet to master the philosophy of science. The failure to differentiate between facts and inferences is the most grievous and the most common sin of scientists

Those who insist that all life on earth has come from one source are almost obliged to rule God out of the picture; for, if a Supreme Being is allowed to create a living cell in the beginning, He may at will create other life at different periods of time. Even believers in God who accept the theory of evolution as a final explanation of the origin of life forms, are inclined to insist that the theory represents God’s only method of creation. Nearly always, those who so believe refuse to admit that any other process may also be in operation. They would limit God to one method of operation. Fettering God, or unbelief in Him, or making Him merely a universal super-force, have been usual companions of the theory of evolution.” 7

“Many a writer of books in this enlightened day is a poor philosopher, who has not learned to distinguish between facts, the only reliable units of knowledge, and inferences, the guesses, more or less probable, as to the meaning of the facts. One writer builds a philosophy for universal acceptance uponthe theory of evolution. If opposition is voiced, the proponents of the theories rise up in mighty wrath, forgetting that they are but defending a human inference, not a fact of human observation. So, even in this enlightened age men have not wholly freed themselves from the heavy yoke of ‘theories of men’.

Here, perhaps, lies the chief danger besetting this otherwise clear-thinking age. Men become enamored of their own creations, their explanations of the universe. Much of the discord among men may be traced directly to an unintelligent allegiance to inferences; few men quarrel about facts. A truly enlightened person would tolerantly consider all inferences from knowledge, recognizing them, at the best, to be helpful conjectures concerning the meaning of the universe, none wholly representing the truth. The concern of humanity must be to discover facts of unquestioned validityI thought of the youths and maidens who, not understanding the difference between a fact and an inference, wreck years of their youth in the attempt to reconcile religion and scientific theory. A religion founded in truth accepts all facts and rests itself upon established truth. A religion founded upon truth discriminates carefully between fact and inference. Theories of science can no more overthrow the facts of religion than the facts of science. Inferences are always subordinate to facts. For example, one cannot build a faith upon the theory of evolution, for this theory is of no higher order than any other inference, and is therefore in a state of constant change.”8

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

“How do these facts affect the theory of evolution? Let us remember upon what that theory rests. It rests upon the principle that lower forms producing favorable variations, and these being preserved by the process of natural selection, amount finally to the production of distant species; but we have seen that varieties cannot produce what may be called the great characteristic of species—infertility to each other; then also we have seen there is a check to variation in the sterility of species and hybrids. Add these facts to that other fact that neither in living nature nor in the geological records can be found the intermediate transitional forms linking together by fine gradations the species, and the theory of evolution as advocated by many modern scientists lies stranded upon the shore of idle speculation.

There is one other objection to be urged against the theory of evolution before leaving it; it is contrary to the revelations of God. I have not in mind, at present, the revelations respecting the creation of the earth and of vegetable and animal life; but rather the revelations which speak of the atonement of Jesus Christ. According to the revelations of God contained in the Bible, man was created just and right—”sufficient to have stood, yet free to fall.” He transgressed, in some way, the holy commandment given him, and by that transgression became fallen man, subject to sin and death, and entailed the same evils upon his posterity. Both he and they were powerless to extricate themselves from the consequences of that violation of law; but a sacrifice was prepared, a Redeemer was provided, both for Adam and all his posterity. In the Meridian of time that Redeemer appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who eventually was offered up a sacrifice for sinful man—he suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. That this was the mission of Jesus Christ is evident from the whole tenor of the Scriptures. But if the hypothesis of evolution be true, if man is only a product evolved from the lower forms of life—better still producing better until the highest type of intellectual manhood crowns with glory this long continued process—then it is evident that there has been no “fall,” such as the revelations of God speak of; and if there was no fall, there was no occasion for a Redeemer to make atonement for man, in order to reconcile him to God; then the mission of Jesus Christ was a myth, the coinage of idle brains, and Jesus himself was either mistaken, or one of the many impostors that have arisen to mock mankind with the hope of eternal life.

Such is the inevitable result of accepting the philosophy of evolution, after which all the world is now running—it is destructive of the grand, central truth of all revelation; as well ancient as modern—as well the revelations given to Moses and the prophets, as those given to the apostles of the New Testament; as well those given in Asia; as those given in America; for the central truth of all revelation is the fall of man, and the redemption through the atonement of Jesus Christ. All things else contained in the revelations of God to man are subordinate and dependent for their strength and force upon this leading truth.

I am aware that there is a class of men who profess to be “Christian evolutionists,” and who maintain that Christianity can be made to harmonize with the philosophy of evolution. But how are they made to harmonize? We are told that Jesus is still a Redeemer, but in this sense only: he gave out faultless moral precepts, and practiced them in his life, and inasmuch as people accept his doctrines and follow his example they will be redeemed from evil. But as to the fall of man and the atonement made for him by the Son of God—both ideas are of necessity rejected; which means, of course, denying the great fundamental truths of revelation; it is by destroying the basis on which the Christian religion rests, that the two theories are harmonized—if such a process can be called harmonization. It is on the same principle that the lion and the lamb harmonize, or lie down together—the lion eats the lamb.”9

“The student of the great subject of the atonement will find in President [John] Taylor’s work [Mediation and Atonement] a most valuable collection of material for his consideration. In chapter XXIII he will also find a most valuable reference to the doctrine of evolution as believed in by the Darwinian school of philosophers—a school of philosophy which professes to trace living phenomena to their origin, and which, if it were true, would at once destroy the doctrine of the Atonement.”10

“Then came one of the sons of God to the earth—Adam. A garden was planted in Eden and the man placed in it, and there the Lord brought to him every beast of the field and every fowl of the air, and Adam gave names to them all

Lest any one should doubt that Adam was one of the sons of God, I call attention to the verse of Luke, chapter iii, where in tracing the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam, and coming to Cainan it goes on to say that “he (Cainan) was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.”

Afterwards was brought to Adam his wife, whom, since she was derived from man, he named woman; and she became his help-mate, his companion and the mother of his children. In this nothing is hinted at about man being made from the dust, and woman manufactured from a rib, a story which has been a cause of much perplexity to religious people, and a source of much impious merriment to reckless unbelievers. And though it is said that the “Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground”—it by no means follows that he was “formed” as one might form a brick, or form the dust of this earth. We are all “formed” of the dust of the ground, though instead of being moulded as a brick we are brought forth by the natural laws of procreation

As before stated, the claims of evolution, as explained by philosophers of the Darwin school, are contrary to all experience so far as man’s knowledge extends. The great law of nature is that every plant, herb, fish, beast and man produces its kind; and though there may be slight variation from that law, those variations soon run out either by reverting to the original stock, or else by becoming incapable of producing offspring, and thus become extinct.”11

  1. Spencer W. Kimball, “Absolute Truth”, Ensign, September 1978, p. 3
  2. Spencer W. Kimball, “Absolute Truth”, Ensign, September 1978, p. 3
  3. James E. Talmage, Church News, Nov. 21, 1931, pg. 8
  4. James E. Talmage, Conference Report, October 1916, pp. 7376
  5. James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 416
  6. James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 474
  7. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliation, pp. 160-163
  8. John A. Widtsoe, In Search of Truth: Comments on the Gospel and Modern Thought, p. 109
  9. B. H. Roberts, The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity, pp. 265-267
  10. B. H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor, pp. 367 – 368
  11. B. H. Roberts, The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity, pp. 279 282
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