Quotes of Note- Elder Talmage on Genesis

James E. Talmage

“Let us not try to wrest the scriptures in an attempt to explain away what we can not explain. The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a text-book of geology, archaeology, earth-science or man-science. Holy Scripture will endure, while the conceptions of men change with new discoveries. We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation.”

-Elder James E. Talmage, “The Earth and Man,” LDS Church, Salt Lake City, UT, 1931. Reprinted in The Juvenile Instructor (I’m informed that in 1965, it was just The Instructor), vol. 100, no. 12 (Dec 1965), pg. 474-477 and vol. 101, no. 1 (Jan 1966), pg. 9-15. The bolded portion was cited in the Ensign, Jan. 1986, 38.

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  • http://SkripterShop.com Aharon Smith

    Agreed. But even if genesis was a textbook, its no reason to belittle those who believe in the theory of evolution. If one objectively looks at the evidence, he is forced to believe in it unless he supposes a supernatural event took place, like the falling of the earth literally changed the past into the fossilized record we now see. Possible, but not a valid hypothesis and whether true or not cannot be tested and therefore is unable to use in formulating a theory of the origins of life on the earth.

  • http://abev.wordpress.com john f.

    Following on a little from that, Aharon, the Book of Mormon leads us to believe that God is not a liar, so theories that perhaps God has put the fossil record and other manifest evidences of the process of organic evolution in place in order to trick us and test our faith do not seem sound.

  • Rob Osborn

    Anyone who knows anything about the Evolution and creation debate will know that either evolution is true and the flood in Noah’s day was false, or that the flood in Noah’s day was real and that evolution is false.

    They both draw off the same record in the rocks to validate their belief.

    So, from a religious standpoint alone, we must place our faith in God and believe the flood was global as the scriptures state. But, we must realize that in doing so, the credibility of evolution entirely vanishes!

    From a purely scientific standpoint- from the general scientific community, the flood as a global event never happened, so they say. In saying this and believing this, we must chalk up Noah’s flood as a myth. In doing so we must also realize that God’s promises either haven’t been recorded correctly in scripture, or that God lies because many smaller floods have plagued the earth since Noah killing off millions of souls. God’s promise to Enoch was that after he flooded the entire earth in Noah’s day, he would never again flood the entire earth to destroy all flesh.

    What we can draw from the scriptures and the geologic record- when we couple them together is that God’s promises are true, there was a global catastrophe that killed billions and billions of animals and as a testimony that it occurred, all we have to do is look at the rocks.

    Once we can realize this, then evolution takes the trail to destruction and we realize that man after all, is, as the church states- the literal offspring of deity!

  • Ben Spackman

    Thanks for the comments.

    Aharon, I agree that believers of all stripes need to learn to voice their disagreements in more tolerant terms.

    John F. -Agreed that God cannot lie. I don’t believe in a trickster God who would, for example, deliberately place fossils that *appear* to be millions of years old when the earth is only (as the idea goes) only a few thousand. That said, God also accommodates himself to human understanding, and at times seems to not be very careful about making Himself understood. Add in the Line-Upon-Line principle, and there’s some tension there. That said, I think

    Rob O.- I think you’re reducing a very complex issue to a several simplistic false dichotomies. Your statement seems to reflect some distinct assumptions on the nature of scripture, revelation, and interpretation, assumptions which I question. On “myth”, for example, see here.

  • Emily U

    The only people who say evolution vs. creationism is a “debate” are creationists. Everyone else knows that an objective look at the evidence will force one to acknowledge evolution, as Aharon said.

    In my experience, having a creationist change his/her mind and accept evolution is extremely rare (and I’ve never known that conversion to happen the other way around), so I am probably wasting my keystrokes, but here goes anyway.

    There is no record in the rocks of Noah’s flood. That record is only in the scriptures. The record in the rocks shows many sedentary layers laid down over a very long period of time. If the fossils were created in one great event, there would be one sedentary layer with a wide variety of life forms in it. But the fossil record is nothing like that. It has simple, little creatures in the oldest layers, dinosaurs in another, hominids in another, etc. This does not jive with Genesis, but that doesn’t mean God’s promises aren’t true. Genesis is filled with myth, but also with truth. I think Ben had a recent post here on the difference between historicity and truth…

    Anyway, great quote, Ben!

  • Emily U

    Thanks for the link, Ben. I hadn’t refreshed in a while when I made my post…

  • Urbana-ite

    Emily U.

    The only people who say evolution vs. creationism is a “debate” are creationists. Everyone else knows that an objective look at the evidence will force one to acknowledge evolution, as Aharon said.

    Not true. There are plenty of “evolutionists” who are willing to debate, and bludgeon anyone over the head for not believing the same as they do. Belief in Evolution is purely a belief and theory. It is a belief and theory that I prescribe to, but I recognize that is only true inasmuch as it’s the only theory to fit the facts right now. I am open to furher light and knowledge. There are plenty willing to condemn anyone else for not accepting the same assumptions as facts, and that is debate, and they are “evolutionists” as well, thus rendering your statement incorrect.

  • Rob Osborn

    Ben,

    Once one truly studies the two sides over the decades one comes to the absolute realization that Global flood believers (creationists) entire validity of the flood comes from the geologic column. This being true (check it out for yourself), a flood believer is left with absolutely no evidence for evolution because his entire evidence is for the flood. There is a reason that creationists (flood believers) do not believe in evolution. You will not find and creationist site that also adheres to a belief in evolution. That said, you will also not find any evolution site that adheres to a belief in the flood. There is very much a strict dichotomy here and it is not that complex.

  • http://abev.wordpress.com john f.

    A lot of people who believe that God created the universe, the world and all that is in it, including human beings, do not necessarily think that belief in a global flood is essential to having the scriptures hang together or for God’s covenants and all fundamental Gospel principles to be entirely valid.

    By the same token, a lot of people who accept evolution as an established observable phenomenon of the natural world are devoutly religious and many of them who happen to be Mormon have also entered into the covenants necessary for exaltation.

    I see it largely as a false dichotomy, as noted by Ben.

  • Rob Osborn

    John,

    I challenge you then to find one site on the web who believe in both the global flood and macro-evolution. You won’t find anyone I promise. When it comes to believing in the global flood, those who have studied it realize that the evidence for the flood is the geologic column- the same column that evolutionists say is millions of years old.

    Sure, a lot of evolutionists are devout religious christian believers, but I can promise you that those who are evolutionists are the same ones who don’t believe in the global flood.

  • raedyohed

    Interestingly, I think by selecting only the highlighted portion of the test for citation gives the opposite impression from what Elder Talmage intended. That is that geology will change and the scriptures ought not be interpreted to fit present-day theory, since the scriptures are superior, even if not fully understood. If we only read the bolded portion it seems to say that we ought not try to make predictions about natural history from the scriptures (what modern creationists do). These two points are not the same, and may even contradict each other.

    I think that if we put Elder Talmage’s statement in context it could be seen as a simple admonition to avoid exercises such as the rather complicated on one presented by B.H. Roberts 42 years earlier in The Contributor in which he strives to view the geologic column and evolutionary development of “lower animals” as being in line with a plain reading of Moses. (See: “Man’s Relationship to Deity III” BH Roberts, The Contributor vol 10 no 7 pp 263- 268 May 1889)

  • raedyohed

    Rob,

    To borrow and redirect your challenge, “I challenge [anyone] to find one site on the web with [scientifically rigorous (either theoretical or evidentiary)] support for the global flood[...]. You won’t find anyone I promise.” It’s not helpful to imply (as you seem to do) that flood geology contradicts evolution and therefore they can’t both be true so therefore there is a genuine scientific conflict because science refutes flood geology. Price, Whitcomb, Morris and their acolytes stand upon a pile of debunked claims.

  • Rob Osborn

    raedyohed,

    I wasn’t challenging the scientific community here with global flood geology science. I was simply clarifying the point that believers of global flood geology do not believe in evolution just as evolution believers do not believe in global flood geology.

    Why should I take your challenge when you come out and pointedly state that you won’t accept certain guys beliefs anyway. What is your point? We could debate all the day and night long on the credibility of this scientist or that scientist and get nowhere. You have already stated that you won’t believe any scientists or theories from sites so what is the point?

  • raedyohed

    Rob,

    I think I misunderstood the point you were trying to make. I assumed you were providing a counter-argument against john f.’s comment #9 in which he observed that there are many religiously devout evolutionists. Your point seemed to revolve around a dichotomy between flood geologist supporters and evolutionists, which no doubt exists. I assumed that by this you meant to imply some inherent and major contradiction between well supported theories, namely flood geology and evolution. I only meant to argue that flood geology is not well supported, and so the apparent contradiction is illusory.

    Could you elaborate or reiterate for me what the bigger picture is you are trying to get across? I sincerely want to understand, but I think I am misreading your point in, for example, comments 8 & 9. Are you merely pointing out that flood geologists don’t believe in evolution? That seems self-evident, but is there a broader pattern you are trying to highlight?

    “You have already stated that you won’t believe any scientists or theories…” Of course I’ll accept theories, if they are well supported by observation, data, theory, etc!

  • Rob Osborn

    raedyohed,

    The point I am making is that if one is a priciply gospel oriented, there is too much evidence from the scriptures and doctrine alike that establish that the flood was indeed a global event. But, in saying this one undoubtedly must refuse evolution because to properly understand the global flood one must realize that the evidence for it is the same evidence that evolutionists use to stake their claim.

  • raedyohed

    Oh, OK, yeah, I’m with you there. There are certainly more things than just the flood if you want to go the route of “well it’s in the scriptures so evolution can’t be right.” It’s a route many certainly take, but one I see fraught with peril. I think the quote in the OP was actually pointing out this peril. It’s a peril where one essentially develops a natural theology (e.g. the earth’s baptism by immersion as having some essential theological importance) but one develops that natural theology without, or prior to (and often in spite of others’) systematic and consistent observations of the natural world.

    That’s a theology flirting with disaster. In Mormonism that kind of paradigm is going to self-destruct if it can’t adapt to take into account actual historical fact. I think that’s part of the broader point Elder Talmage was driving at in the quote above.

  • Ben Spackman

    “there is too much evidence from the scriptures and doctrine alike that establish that the flood was indeed a global event”

    And this is where I see “assumptions on the nature of scripture, revelation, and interpretation” that aren’t justified. Science has little to do with it, from my perspective.

  • Rob Osborn

    Ben,

    Reading the scriptures and studying the doctrine of our gospel and it is taught from these sources that the flood was global. Our religion must take into the account that God made the promise with Enoch that after the flood he would never again cover the whole earth to destroy all flesh. There is no “assumption” here. It is as plain as day that our scriptures relate a global flood event. There is no official doctrine within the church that states otherwise. I am not making mere assumptions here. It is right there in the scriptures- plain as day that the flood was indeed global. Now you can either chalk it up as being wrong or it being right but it is right there in the scriptures.

  • Rob Osborn

    raydyohed,

    True, but one must come to his own conclusions of observations of the natural world not necessarily what a few scientists guesses are. As for me I see the evidence in nature pointing to a global catastrophic series of events of the which are not presently happening on the earth today.

    So who really is flirting with disaster?

  • Ben Spackman

    “It is right there in the scriptures- plain as day that the flood was indeed global. Now you can either chalk it up as being wrong or it being right but it is right there in the scriptures.”

    Thank you for illustrating my point. You take the scriptures at face value plain-as-day meaning, but forget entirely that “face value” is entirely dependent on culture, worldview, language, etc. You’re reading this in translation thousands of years removed from the original audience, but can make sweeping absolutist claims about them.

    If I can extend Talmage slightly, you seem to insist on reading these references as if they were a modern history textbook, even though “history” as we know it is a modern genre that has not been around for too long.

  • Rob Osborn

    Ben,

    I guess if you want to reconfigure the scriptures to your own point of view that’s perfectly fine with me. It’s funny how hard people will try to make out Moses and Noah to be idiots. These were men of God- prophets who were far greater in understanding than you or I.

    Get over the fact that the scriptures teach a global flood, can you do that? POerhaps it may be easier for you to say they lied or anything else but the fact remains- the scriptures tell of a world-wide deluge, not a local one.

  • Ben Spackman

    Rob, I’m making serious efforts to try to read the scriptures the way an Israelite might have. But you continue to make my point about simplistic dichotomies (either Moses taught a worldwide historical flood or he was an idiot/liar, it appears you think) and misaligned worldviews. How much rope should I give you? :)

  • Rob Osborn

    Read the scriptures the way it reads out- it is that simple. The holy word says that God flooded the earth- you know- that round globe we live on.

    The difference here is that I don’t have to strain to try to make something that doesn’t really fit into the story. Evolutionists have to rewrite the entire story and misalgin the meaning of simple words for it to fit their worldview. Personally, I think it is in large part a lack of faith for Christians to not believe the flood was indeed global.

  • raedyohed

    Rob – “…one must come to his own conclusions of observations of the natural world… I don’t have to strain to try to make something that doesn’t really fit into the story.”

    I would argue that you actually are straining the natural HIStory to fit your reading of the scriptures. I think this is equivalent to “wresting” the scriptures AND “wresting” the natural observations, and that this fits under the type of thinking that Elder Talmage warned against. It’s your individual choice to place a greater weight on what you’ve called “the way it reads out” (aka “what I think it means ’cause its just so obvious”) than on the story told by the natural world, and that’s fine. But wouldn’t you have to be consistent about that and then reject heliocentrism based on Joshua 10 and Habakuk 13:11? Where does it end?

    There has to be some balance between “plain” readings and obvious evidence. As I see it the obvious evidence trumps biblical heliocentrism as much as it does a biblical global deluge. Same for evolution, and I think that’s what the quote from the OP is saying. “Evolutionists have to rewrite the entire story…” Guilty as chargd… well not the ENTIRE story, just the misunderstood parts. There is a lot of work to do to un-write parts of our natural theology that don’t jibe with nature. That’s the nature of natural theology I suppose.

  • Rob Osborn

    raedyohed,

    You may disagree but the evidence ofr the global flood is overwhelming. Wherever I travel I see the monument sedimentary layers piled deep and often thrust up, twisted, broken and fragmented. I see catastrophism on a massive sacle that is a pure testimony that the flood really happened. I go to southern Utah and see iron rich rocks hundreds and hundreds of feet thick and deep. These are not anomalies easily explained by modern geologic uniformatarian views. There are no present day geologic events leading to the creation of these mega rocks.

    The evidence I see in nature is perfectly explained by the biblical flood in Noah’s day. It doesn’t bother me that science says otherwise because they have proved time and time again on a multitude of things to be completely off base. Even their own science claims regarding our origins is laughable at best.

  • raedyohed

    Part of the problem is that you’re discussing the evidence that you see for yourself. Whatever your personal experience and understanding has allowed you see, and whatever conclusions you draw form that are fine with me. But it isn’t what I see, and it sure isn’t what the geological profession sees. Go back to Elder Talmage and his son Sterling. They were greatly motivated to enter into the discussion over the whole issue because it was learned that Elder Smith was communicating with and relying on the theories of Price, who was a fundamentalist advocate who was looking for ways to misconstrue data so as to give bible literalists a science-y fig leaf. That’s how Talmage saw it anyway. Elder Talmage did not share Price’s views that the flood was universal, nor that geology support this claim. He sought to dampen Elder Smith’s enthusiastic inclusion of fundamentalist flood geology into Mormon theology. Hence the quote in the OP.

    As it was back then, so it is today, that the evidence for the flood is overwhelming mainly for those who wish it to be so, and generally underwhelming to those who have approached it in a disinterested, objective, and observationally rigorous way. But all of this is fine, and it doesn’t really matter to me either way if folks wish to infer what they will from their own personal observations, but as a church, and as a whole we can’t require the entire membership to rely on the anecdotal postulations of amateurs. We certainly oughtn’t force our standardized readings of the scriptures conform to such.

    As we’ve been having this conversation, which has been very nice, for which I thank you, I’ve endeavored to return to the text of the Bible in Genesis 7. I am struck by the phrasing of the original Hebrew. Phrases like the “mountains being clothed upon by the waters,” (v20) the “waters having mastery over the land,”(v19) “even every Adamite” (v21) and “all dying from among those in whose nostrils was the breath of life who were in the area of the drainage” (v22) (my own plain readings of the Hebrew) jump out in the simple transliterations we have available. Setting all material evidences aside, it is hard for me to fathom a global submersion even based solely on the original texts we have.

    So there is a larger issue; the fact that two hypothetical people who are sincerely studying, who both have testimonies of the restoration, who are both active in the church can look at the same things (e.g. the geologic column and Gen 7) and come away with two totally opposing views. I’m OK with that. Unfortunately I think a lot of people are not OK with that. Nevertheless, there is certainly room in the church for fundamentalist literalism as well as scientific revision. We are a more diverse people than we often let on.

  • http://patheos.com Ben S

    Good points. I’m reminded of a FPR post on “Imposed Openness”
    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/02/imposed-openness/

  • Rob Osborn

    Trust me, I have objectively viewed the rocks in a rigorous manner. I find that there are a lot of people including scientistsa and geologists who also view the same catastrophism in the same manner as I.

    I wonder if we use your same approach to finding evidence for the Book of Mormon. You said-

    “…to those who have approached it in a disinterested, objective, and observationally rigorous way. But all of this is fine, and it doesn’t really matter to me either way if folks wish to infer what they will from their own personal observations, but as a church, and as a whole we can’t require the entire membership to rely on the anecdotal postulations of amateurs. We certainly oughtn’t force our standardized readings of the scriptures conform to such.”

    The church does ask that members rely on the voice of ameteurs and do so in the face of archaeological evidence from experts that say the BoM is false. Do we pick and choose?

    There are critics to almost every piece of data available. What are we to do? We should study it out ourselves and come to our own conclusions. With the flood, I have studied all sides of th ematter and have come to the conclusions that modern geology- mainstream geology just can’t answer where it matters most, that being the geologic column itself.

  • raedyohed

    “I wonder if we use your same approach to finding evidence for the Book of Mormon.” Do you mean trying to balance plain readings and obvious evidence? I don’t know, that might be generally true. It’s just a thought, anyway, I’m not sure of the best approach. On the other hand the only evidence any of us needs for the Book of Mormon is personal revelation. On the other other hand I welcome any evidence that can shed light on or give a more historically accurate context to the Book of Mormon story. On the other other other hand we have to acknowledge evidence that tends to counter our popular views.

    “The church does ask that members rely on the voice of ameteurs and do so in the face of archaeological evidence from experts that say the BoM is false.” I don’t see much indication of this, even though some people may chose that route. If the church has ever asked its members to rely on amateur apologists or hobbyist archeologists, or even professional apologists (e.g. FAIR, FARMS, etc) maybe I missed that meeting! I know of at least one recent example in which church leadership relied upon mainstream science to refine a popularly held view abour the Book of Mormon. DNA evidence of Native American ancestry played a direct role in changing the BoM introduction replacing the word “principle” with the word “among” stating that the Lamanites “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

    This change was presaged by a decades old view, well supported by archeology, demography, and genetics. This is a substantial paradigm shift, I would suggest it might be as big a change as accepting a local flood instead of a global one. Scientific discoveries over the last few decades have caused us, as a church to change certain views previously held which were thought to be spiritually validated. Now we have a predominantly local instead of continental view of Book of Mormon peoples.

    I see the flood in a very similar light. I would not be surprised to see talk of global flooding continue to dwindle over the next generation or so. I know very few people my age in the church who believe in a global flood. Many also believe in evolution, and in increasing numbers. Most believe in limited Book of Mormon geography. These are all views being shaped by mainstream over amateur science in the rising generation, overturning the more traditionally held views. But it always comes back to discussions of whether it fits into plain understandings from the scriptures, and a simple understanding of truths of the restoration. In that sense there is a real striving for balance I think.

  • raedyohed

    Also, Ben S, thanks for that link. The whole post, comments and all, is full of gold. Reading through that has given me lots to think and pray about.

  • Rob Osborn

    I would be shocked if the church ever went to advocating a local flood. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me one way or the other as I know man has limited knowledge and can make mistakes but the account of the flood is entirely different in our doctrine than changing one word as you mentioned in the forward of the BoM which basically has no bearing whatsoever on the content of the BoM itself.

    We are speaking of completely different things here. If we are going to compare we may as well compare it to if the church would change it’s stance on if man is the literal offspring of deity or the offspring of animals for hundreds of thousands of years. As of date the church has no budged on the fact that it adheres to no evolution when it comes to man’s origins.

  • raedyohed

    I guess we differ in our views on the weight of scriptural support for, the doctrinal importance of, and the authoritative emphasis given to a global flood. I maintain that the implications of the shift away from seeing all Native Americans as essentially modern Lamanites (popular until very recently) is larger than most suspect. This was a core part of the Mormon world view, and placed the narrative of the Book of Mormon in a different context and scope than the one we more commonly accept now. Today we can at best say that some Native Americans might have some Lehite ancestry somewhere in their past. That’s a pretty big difference.

    I think the magnitude of a local versus global flooding is about the same as the Lamanite question. Lile the Lamanite quesiton and the Book of Mormon, the flood issue doesn’t change a whole lot about the narrative itself; as far as Noah is concerned either way it’s a pretty huge deal, and a global or local narrative can be used in similar metaphorical doctrinal ways. Similarly, both the flood question and the Lamanite question are dwarfed by the Adam question. That’s really the whole enchilada right there. I admit it continues to stump me, although I have some guesses, which I’ve probably regaled you with elsewhere, so I won’t do so here :)

  • Rob Osborn

    And, it’s perfectly ok to differ. Having a difference of opinions help both of us to learn more about the philosophies of man and how it may impact our spiritual understanding.

    As far as the flood goes, i believe that we as mormons have to believe that there was a flood of some sorts. I honestly think that if there wasn’t a real flood then there are some perhaps very serious problems with our doctrine and with the scriptures alike. For the most part, the overwhelming majority of mormons believe there was a literal flood. But, having said that I also believe that the majority of mormons have no clue what the flood entailed- whether it was local or global. I know that most mormons take it at face value and don’t really think about the implications on both sides of the argument. Here is something i find interesting-

    If you ask 10 mormons where the ark left from and where it landed, 8 out of 10 will tell you the ark left from Missouri/Mississippi river region and landed on Mt. Ararat. But, nowhere in our doctrine does it state where on the ancient world the Ark left from and how far it traveled before it landed. I believe that would about sum up where mormons get their typical knowledge from- word of mouth, rumors, etc and not any real study on their own part.


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