Is Man Found Upon the Earth?
In a June 1982 Ensign article, entitled “Christ and the Creation,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated,
“The Sixth Day—The crowning day of creation is at hand. In its early hours, the great Creators ‘made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything which creepeth upon the earth after his kind.’ And the same procreative restrictions applied to them that apply to all forms of life; they too are to reproduce only after their kind.”
“All that we have recited is now accomplished, but what of man? Is man found upon the earth? He is not. And so ‘the Gods,’ having so counseled among themselves, said: ‘Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness. … So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.’”
So here, Elder McConkie introduced the question, “Is man found upon the earth?” into the general Church literature.
Dr. William S. (Bill) Bradshaw, who was one of my two principal mentors during my undergraduate years at BYU, wrote a paper that was published in Sunstone (158, Mar 2010) entitled, “Biological Evolution: Toward a Reconciliation of the Science and Our Faith.” The paper was expanded by the author and reprinted at sciencemeetsreligion.org/lds/bradshaw-evolution.php, January 2021. Bradshaw addressed this question “Is man found upon the earth?”
“Q: How does the Garden of Eden fit in? Where did Adam and Eve come from? (What are the possible models to explain the creation of humankind?)”
“A: The scriptural accounts of the creation of man are beautiful, inspiring, and provide indispensable doctrinal insights about the purpose of life and our relationship with God. It is not appropriate, however, to interpret them as a scientific description of the creative process. Several of the concepts are stated figuratively and are important for the spiritual truths they convey symbolically. The truth is, we don't know the details of how Adam and Eve were introduced into mortality. In spite of our ignorance, the religious principles and the scientific evidence are not mutually exclusive and can be reconciled. Accepting Eden doesn't require rejecting evolution or vice versa.”
“Let's begin by attempting to describe a broad overview of what may have happened. The earth was formed nearly 5 billion years ago, and chemical and biological events proceeded as proposed in the evolutionary scenario. A great diversity of plant and animal life was the result. Organisms were born and died. New species arose, and many became extinct. Observing the process God asked, ‘Is man found on the earth?’ The answer was no, but at the appropriate moment in time, when ‘the earth had brought forth’ creatures -- hominids -- whose physical characteristics were compatible with the spirits who are the offspring of Heavenly Father, the decision was made to introduce that lineage, beginning with the man Adam and the woman Eve.”
“It is a fact that on the earth several million years ago there were living organisms that closely resemble modern men and women. The evidence is indisputable. What should we call these creatures? The designation man or human or protohuman seems appropriate because of their obvious physical similarity to ourselves. From the viewpoint of LDS theology, however, there is a critical distinction that can be made: the spirits that animated ‘Lucy’ (a famous African fossil of the species Australopithecus afarensis) and other prehistoric ‘humans’ were the creations of God, while the spirits possessed by Adam and Eve and their posterity were his literal offspring. One is an artistic production (even if achieved through a natural process) the other is a child. Only the latter can exercise agency and be held accountable; only the latter can attain godhood. Although the fossil record clearly shows a temporal connection between early prehistoric ‘humans’ and the subsequent appearance of modern man, the question is whether or not there was a genealogical connection or some other type of relationship. It is about the events at the historical interface between these two types of beings that we are particularly ignorant.”
“It seems to me that there is a very modest requirement if one is to reconcile ‘Lucy’ and Adam: permit Adam and Eve to inhabit a very special place or state as inhabitants in an immortal Eden that is located on an otherwise mortal planet where evolutionary processes have previously been going on for many years. It is true that some LDS writers have insisted that before Adam the whole earth exhibited the deathless state of Eden. However, the one scriptural statement always marshalled in defense of this view, 2 Nephi 2:22, seems to refer specifically to the conditions in Eden. [but see also my blog on 2 Nephi 2:22 and my book The Infinite Creation] It is the things in the Garden which would have remained in an unchanged state if Adam had not transgressed. In addition, one has to ask why, if the earth were uniformly immortal and paradisiacal, was Adam placed in one particular portion of it; why was Eden needed in the first place? And again, why after the Fall did our first parents have to leave Eden (there were sentinels guarding the Tree of Life) if conditions in and out of Eden were the same? And why was the earth outside of Eden designated as the ‘lone and dreary world’ if there were not an important difference between the two places?”…
“And so the only beings capable of repentance, and of becoming gods, are those who are spirit offspring of the Father, a principle that is not in question. It seems to me that concerns that biology will undo these true religious principles are easily removed (or at least suspended) by simply allowing for God to introduce man into the special conditions of the Garden of Eden (or for Adam's transition to mortality) following a lengthy prior period of life, death and evolution. Likewise the principle of priesthood sealing of the generations into eternal families remains intact. This blessing is available only to those in the lineage of the Father's spiritual offspring; the spirits of the animals (including ‘Lucy’?) are qualitatively different -- no matter what actually transpired during the transition from Homo erectus, etc., to Homo sapiens sapiens.”
I agree with nearly everything that Bradshaw proposed in this essay. However, there is one implied concept with which I take exception. Bradshaw stated, “Observing the process [of evolution] God asked, ‘Is man found on the earth?’ The answer was no, but at the appropriate moment in time, when ‘the earth had brought forth’ creatures -- hominids -- whose physical characteristics were compatible with the spirits who are the offspring of Heavenly Father, the decision was made to introduce that lineage, beginning with the man Adam and the woman Eve.”
From his discussion, it appears that Bradshaw interprets the question and answer “Is man found on the earth? The answer was no...” to have occurred around six thousand years ago when the man Adam was placed into the Garden of Eden. It is my opinion that this is a misconception.
As I point out in my book, The Infinite Creation, Unifying Science and Latter-day Saint Theology (Cedar Fort Inc., 2020), anatomically and functionally modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens), discovered at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, have been dated to 315,000 (+ 34,000) years ago. Our remote ancestors (Homo habilis) had been flint knapping to make stone tools, including spears, for at least 2.5 million years, and they had controlled fire since as much as one million years ago (Homo erectus). Therefore, “man,” defined in any way you wish, structurally, functionally, socially, artistically; has existed for at least 300,000 years. By 6000 years ago, there were several human cultures, involving numerous people, scattered throughout the earth.
So let’s re-examine the question, “Is man found on the earth?” If we read the creation account in Genesis 1, Moses 2, and Abraham 4; we find that the above statement would fit between, for example, Moses 2:24-25 and Moses 2:26. Verses 24-25 state, “And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind, and it was so; And I, God, made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything which creepeth upon the earth after his kind; and I, God, saw that all these things were good.”
Creeping things first emerged onto the earth around 419.2 to 358.9 million years ago. The first hoofed ungulates (cattle) appeared about 25 million years ago.
Moses 2:26 states, “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. And I, God, said: Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
If we confine the term “man,” or human, to only (Homo sapiens sapiens) then they first appeared around 300,000 years ago. Therefore, the question “Is man found on the earth?” was likely asked between 25 million years ago, when cattle appeared, and 300,000 years ago when man, who had “dominion” over the earth, first appeared.
The name “Adam” has two meanings. In general terms, “Adam” means all of mankind, the “them” in Moses 2:26. Adam was also a specific person, who was placed, along with his wife, Eve, into the Garden of Eden. So how could Adam, who was born around 6000 years ago, be the “first man” whose fall affected all mankind – dating back some 300,000 years?
As I point out in my book, The Infinite Fall, A Scientific Approach to the Second Pillar of Eternity (Cedar Fort Inc., 2021), there are two issues to consider in answering that question. First of all, with God, time doesn’t exist. We are told in Alma 40:8 that, “…time only is measured unto men.” Therefore, the chronological term “first” has no meaning when there is no chronology (literally, the study of time).
Second, just as Christ was the First Fruits and was chosen in the Great Council in Heaven before the foundations of the world, so too would Adam have been chosen in the same council as the First Man. We don’t seem to have much trouble understanding the term “First Fruits” is a metaphor, not to be taken literally, but the term “First Man” apparently has caused a rift between science and religion for a long time. Perhaps the name, “First Man,” in the scriptures is intended as a title rather than a statement of his position in the temporal line of humanity. We commonly use the term “First” as a title: “First Presidency,” “First Knight,” meaning the greatest knight at the time; “First Boy,” meaning the head student at a school; “First Lieutenant,” the senior lieutenant; “First Lady,” being the wife of the president. We understand perfectly well that those titles are not intended to have any chronological intent. Likewise, when Adam was chosen as the “First Man,” we were in a Grand Council in an immortal, timeless state. Adam represents ALL humanity in the Fall. In order for us to be tested it was necessary for us to leave God’s presence – thus the Fall – and then return to his presence – thus the Atonement. We left the presence of God when we came to earth and our objective in life is to return to God’s presence. “Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:16-17) Because the fall was infinite, it did not matter when it actually occurred. We were all partakers of the fall because we had accepted it the Grand Council before the foundation of the world. This issue is one of the major themes in my book, The Infinite Fall.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD