It’s late September and LDS high school students really should be back at school … and back at seminary. This year’s course of study is the Old Testament, which covers (or has already covered) Genesis 1 and the Creation. I hope LDS seminary teachers can teach Creation without teaching Creationism. But I fear some LDS teachers won’t or can’t make that distinction, so it is likely some LDS seminary students are going to go home this week thinking Creationism is the LDS view about Creation. That is very sad and sets up LDS kids to have a bad experience when they inevitably take high school or university science courses.
Let’s briefly consider two questions:
- What is the LDS position on Creationism?
- Regardless of that position, is Creationism nevertheless taught to LDS youth as the LDS position?
These are important questions. We need to teach our children well.
First, a couple of caveats. The topic of interest is Creation and the age of the earth, not evolution. Second, I am not really concerned with what Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie taught a generation or two ago — that is about as relevant to LDS high school students in 2011 as sermons by Orson Pratt or Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses. I am more interested in what the CES manual for seminary teachers says, what contemporary LDS publications say, and what LDS seminary teachers (both CES full-timers and the selfless volunteers who run early-morning classes) are actually presenting to students.
As to the first question, the CES Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual lesson that covers Genesis 1 contains the following statement, highlighted in bold font and with italicized terms:
The purpose of the scriptural accounts of the Creation is not to answer such questions as how the earth was created, how long ago the Creation occurred, or how long the process of creation took. Their purpose is to answer the more important questions of why the earth was created and who created it.
You can follow the link and peruse the lesson yourself, but at least on the topic of teaching Creation without teaching Creationism, I think the lesson does a pretty good job.
The chapter on Creation in the CES Old Testament Student Manual (for university students, often provided to seminary teachers as a supplementary resource) actually discusses three theories of Creation: (1) Earth was created in seven days; (2) Earth was created over seven thousand years; and (3) Earth was created over seven “eras,” each of which could be “millions or even hundreds of millions of our years” in duration. The CES manual concludes that “officially the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the earth.” That is a surprising and welcome admission. [However, honesty requires me to disclose the manual’s favorable discussion of the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky in the Creation chapter — does *anyone* edit these manuals for content? Isn’t this the kind of stupid discussion that Correlation is supposed to remove from LDS manuals?]
Another LDS resource is the True to the Faith handbook, published by the Church. The Creation entry notes that “the Lord organized elements that had already existed. He did not create the world ‘out of nothing,’ as some people believe.” (Citations omitted.) This clearly sets the LDS view of Creation apart from the standard Christian view, shared by Creationists, of ex nihilo Creation. It’s worth noting that ex nihilo Creation is not the biblical view from Genesis 1, which describes God fashioning Earth and the universe from pre-existing matter (“without form”) or at least from pre-existing something. The idea of ex nihilo Creation was imported into Christianity from Hellenistic philosophy. The LDS view of Creation from pre-existing material is the biblical view.
I think these three sources are enough to establish an adequate response to my first question: Creationism (as that term is understood in contemporary discourse) should not be taught as LDS doctrine in LDS seminary or institute classes or in any other LDS setting. Any seminary teacher who has unwittingly taught this position as LDS doctrine should probably announce a correction to the class.
Here are a few quick links for readers who want a broader discussion of the topic:
- “Creationism” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, noting both the broad and narrow meaning of the term. The narrower meaning is the relevant one for this discussion, generally affirming a seven-day or seven-millennium period of Creation and a global flood. “Young Earth Creationism” is the term often used to describe that set of beliefs.
- “Age of the Earth” at the FAIR wiki, disputing an alleged statement in the LDS Bible Dictionary that the Earth is 7000 years old and concluding that there is no LDS position on that point.
- “Age of the Earth” at Jeff Lindsay’s Science and Mormonism page.
- “Mormonism and the New Creationism,” an essay by LDS mathematician David H. Bailey, with helpful background about how some LDS leaders came to champion Young Earth Creationism.
- “Cafeteria Correlation,” my earlier T&S post that discusses the regrettable persistence of Young Earth Creationism in LDS discourse.
- “Evolution vs. Creationism in Seminary” at Wheat & Tares, hawkgrrrl’s recent discussion of very similar issues, although I tried to avoid bringing evolution into the discussion.
The second question is harder to clarify: is Creationism, regardless of what the manual or other LDS references state, nevertheless taught to LDS seminary students? Perhaps readers can provide some reports of their own observations and experience. After reviewing the three LDS sources discussed above, I am more hopeful about what happens in LDS classrooms than I was before doing this curriculum research.