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Reconciling concerns about faith and evolution

All living things on earth contain DNA and read DNA the same way, which scientists say is evidence that we all share the same beginning.

In the book Let’s Talk About Science and Religion, scientists and BYU professors Jamie L. Jensen and Seth M. Bybee draw on research, data, and years of teaching experience to discuss how science and religion work together.

Jensen and Bybee have watched thousands of Latter-day Saint students navigate sometimes challenging scientific topics. They hope that this book may help Latter-day Saints gain the skills necessary to navigate issues that arise at the intersection of science and religion and to help readers appreciate how both science and religion can bless themselves, families, and humanity. The following is an excerpt from the book’s chapter on evolution and shows how scientific thought and religious belief can complement each other.

Members and leaders of our Church have made a variety of statements regarding evolution, both in favor of and against organic evolution. But we will start with official statements made by the First Presidency, specifically regarding the origin of man, from 1909 and 1925. Created under the direction of President Joseph F. Smith, the 1909 statement reads:

“It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declared that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our Heavenly Father.”1

Following this statement, President Smith cautioned teachers about making statements regarding “how much of evolution is true, or how much is false.” In a follow-up statement in 1925, the basic principles of humans’ origin2 were reiterated. Additionally, the statement read:

“All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally sons and daughters of Deity. ... Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so that undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.”

Neither statement confirmed or denied the claims of evolutionary science but simply underscored humankind’s relationship to God and affirmed His role in Creation. Though conflicting views persisted among prominent Church leaders, President Heber J. Grant urged them to “leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.”3

More recently, in 2016, the Church published a statement focused on evolution (including the evolution of humans) in its magazine to youth, stating:

“The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.

“Before we were born on earth, we were spirit children of heavenly parents, with bodies in Their image. God directed the creation of Adam and Eve and placed their spirits in their bodies.”4

The most recent summary of the Church’s position on evolution can be found on the Church’s website in the Church History Topics section, under the heading “Organic Evolution.” This essay documents the varying views of Church leaders over time:

“Latter-day Saints and their leaders found themselves on both sides of this issue. James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe, two professional scientists who became Apostles, regarded scientific discovery of truth as evidence of God’s use of natural laws to govern the universe. Meanwhile, Apostle and future Church President Joseph Fielding Smith believed that the Biblical account of the Creation did not allow for the long spans required for species to multiply through evolution. ... Henry Eyring, a prominent scientist and Sunday School general board member [and father of President Henry B. Eyring], welcomed evidence of evolutionary change and reiterated the teachings of Brigham Young, who taught that the gospel encompassed all truth, scientific or otherwise. In 1965, Church President David O. McKay worked with Bertrand F. Harrison, a botany professor at Brigham Young University, to foster greater understanding between Saints with differing viewpoints on evolution.”5

So while individual Church leaders have frequently shared their personal beliefs both in favor of and in opposition to evolution, these statements do not represent Church doctrine. The Church is effectively neutral toward matters of evolution. …

The Creation

The Creation, as told in Genesis, Moses, and Abraham, is a beautiful testament to God’s creative powers and love for His children. However, these scriptures were not meant to be a scientific textbook on how the Creation took place.6 The Creation accounts in our sacred texts do teach some important truths about the natural world: (1) God created the earth, the land and the seas, the heavens and the night sky, the sun and the moon (Genesis 1:3–10, 14–19); (2) God created all living things—the herbs of the field, the fishes in the sea, the fowls in the air, and the beasts of the field (Genesis 1:11–13, 20–25); and (3) God created man and woman in His own image (Genesis 1:26–27). The details of how these creations occurred are very sparse (again, because the purpose of these records was not to illustrate the scientific mechanisms). Yet we gain some unique insight in the book of Abraham.

In Abraham 4:21, the Gods (Jesus Christ under the direction of Heavenly Father; see Abraham 4:1; Mosiah 4:2; Doctrine and Covenants 14:9) are creating life. The passage reads, “The Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth. ... And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good ” (emphasis added). Isn’t this an interesting way of describing the Creation? The Gods had a plan for the Creation, and They organized the earth in a way that would accomplish Their plan. Does this scripture leave room for the idea that They established natural laws and provided natural materials for life to emerge through the processes of evolution, knowing that it would happen exactly as it did? Could it be that They patiently watched to see if They would be obeyed, to see if Their plan was good, to see if They had put it all in place correctly? This is just one potential way to view the Creation, but one that we find helpful to consider.

If this is the case, do we have evidence for a Creation orchestrated through evolution? It turns out that science provides a lot of evidence that evolution did (and continues to) occur, suggesting that evolution is a possible mechanism of creation. This then leads to an interesting question: If God used evolution to bring about His creations, how long (in our earthly accounting of time) did the Creation of the world take? This is a question for which science can offer a potential answer. Briefly, we know how long ago rocks formed by looking at the presence of isotopes (variations of elements that decay at a predictable rate and turn into other elements), their proportions, and their arrangements. The oldest rocks found on earth (along with collaborative evidence from meteors and moon rocks) suggest that the earth is around 4.6 billion years old.7 We can also look to science to learn when the first life-forms appeared. Based on fossil evidence of bacterial-type colonies embedded in rocks, scientists have determined that the first living things began to appear at least by 1.9 billion years ago and possibly even before, at 3.4–3.6 billion years ago.8 Thus, if God prepared evolution as a mechanism for creation, then this creation presumably began with this first life-form, which then transformed through generations, by God’s plan, into the beautiful array of living things we see today. …

One of the most important pieces of evidence comes from DNA, the genetic material inside our cells. Not only do all living things on earth contain DNA, but they also all read DNA the same way. This means that if you took a gene (a gene is a piece of DNA that codes for a specific characteristic) from a jellyfish, like the green fluorescent protein (the protein that allows them to glow) and you put it into a rabbit, the rabbit will read the gene the same way, produce the same protein, and glow in the dark.9 Likewise, if you put that protein in a plant or even a human, they would also glow, because all life on earth, including humans, read DNA the same way. This is strong evidence that we all shared a common beginning. Further, if you compare all the genes between organisms, you’ll find that the more closely related the organisms, the more genes they share and the more likely they will share mutations or unique differences in these genes. For example, all mammals carry the necessary genes for making vitamin C; however, primates have a mutation that makes it impossible to make vitamin C. The same mutation in all of these primates is in the exact same gene.10 This strongly suggests that these primates share a common ancestor who gained this mutation and then passed it on. …

We could keep giving more evidence of our evolutionary heritage, but then this would turn into a science textbook. Suffice it to say, scientists have not come lightly to the conclusion that all organisms evolved on earth. They have accumulated mountains of evidence that suggest that this is a strong and highly plausible explanation. This does not need to diminish your belief in our Heavenly Father as the Creator. …

We only place limits upon God’s power when we require that His creation fit our own personal views or when we try to suppress the views of others. Thus, regardless of whether God played an active, orderly, interventionist role in every step of the Creation (as in day-age creationism) or was involved in each miniscule step (as in progressive creationism), or whether He prepared the earth and its laws and then allowed the process to take place according to His design (as in theistic or deistic evolution), we know that He was deeply involved. We believe that the evidence we find for evolution is just evidence of His divine hand.

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Let’s Talk about Science and Religion

Let’s Talk about Science and Religion is part of a collection of short and approachable books by trusted authors who tackle gospel questions from a place of faith. From Let’s Talk about Polygamy to Let’s Talk about Temples and Ritual, the collection explores deep questions Latter-day Saints may be having and gives them the skills needed to navigate their concerns moving forward.


  1. Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13 (November 1909): 75–61.
  2. Joseph F. Smith, “Philosophy and the Church Schools,” Juvenile Instructor 46, no. 4 (April 1911): 208–9. Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley, “’Mormon’ View of Evolution: 1925 First Presidency Message,”
  3. First Presidency, memorandum to General Authorities, April 1931.
  4. “What Does the Church Believe about Evolution?” New Era, October 2016,; see also First Presidency, “‘Mormon’ View of Evolution,” 1925.
  5. “Organic Evolution,” Church History Topics, accessed November 25, 2022,
  6. For more information on appropriate interpretations of these texts,see Todd Patterson, “Genesis 1:1–2:3: The Creation Account as Hebrew Poiesis,” January 21, 2010,; “How to Read the Bible,” BibleProject, accessed February 13, 2023,; John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
  7. “Age of the Earth,” United States Geological Survey, last modified July 9, 2007,
  8. Stephen Moorbath, “Dating Earliest Life,” Nature 434, no. 155 (2005),
  9. Eduardo Kac, “GFP Bunny,” Leonardo 36, no. 2 (2003): 97–102,
  10. Guy Drouin et al., “The Genetics of Vitamin C Loss in Vertebrates,”Current Genomics 12, no. 5, (2011): 371–78,
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