Saturday, May 24, 2014

How could we have evolved if death was not on earth until after Adam and Eve left the garden?


It's true. On the surface, it appears as though these two ideas are incompatible. But just because it may seem like they are incompatible doesn't mean that they are. Unfortunately, when you've been told that evolution is incompatible with religion, it is often easier to accept the surface answer than to find ways that they are compatible.

We know from science that the earth has been around for about 4.6 billion years, that life has existed for about 3.5 billion years, that life has generally progressed from less complex organisms appearing earlier to most complex organisms appearing later. We know that each generation produces offspring very similar to the previous generation. We know that hominids have been around for about 2.5 million years, and anatomically modern humans for about 200,000 years. Multiple lines of scientific evidence including genetic comparisons, comparative anatomy, biogeography, and the fossil record all verify the evidence that life on earth has evolved for a very long time.

We know from scripture that man is made up of the same basic chemicals and elements as the earth (Genesis 2:7), that the first human with a spirit was Adam whose spirit was placed in him after he was in the garden (Genesis 2:7), and that physical death occurs when the body is separated from the spirit (James 2:26). 

There are several ways you can reconcile these ideas, and it's largely based on your religious interpretation. One simple way that some reconcile this is that they believe that the restriction on death was limited to the Garden of Eden: outside of the Garden, death was possible. Therefore evolution could happen regardless of what happened to Adam and Eve.

Others believe that the restriction on death only applied to humans, the children of God. Therefore, any pre-Adam animals (including hominids), not being yet in the "image of God" were not subject to the Fall of Adam (being incapable of sinning) and thus were able to die. Adam, being the first "finished product" of creation, was given the first spirit created by God for humans and was thus placed in the Garden to undergo a specific series of events that begins our mortal experience. When he fell, it became possible for him and Eve (and other humans) to die.

Still others believe that the key is in the definition of spiritual death, defined by God as the separation of the body from the spirit. Scriptural references to death are referring to this separation of spirit from body, and since Adam didn't receive a spirit until he was placed in the garden, any "death" (used by God as part of evolution to create this world) would have occurred as a purely physical process without spirits and thus would not be considered "death" to God (and thus referred to as death in scripture). We, in our limited mortal existence, are not be able to discern the absence or the presence of a spirit, so to us, "death," regardless of whether or not a spirit was involved, would appear to be the same. So to the human perspective, death has been occurring for billions of years, but to God, death is only a recent occurrence. 

There is no reason to suppose that a God who works through physical laws to maintain the universe would not use the same laws to create it. Evolution could have easily been the means by which He created this world. It is entirely possible that only at the point when His creation was complete - the point at which Adam and Eve were placed in the garden and became the first to covenant with God - were spirits were placed in humans, thus making physical death - a separation of body from spirit - possible. Therefore, the deaths that occurred before Adam and Eve existed could have occurred to bodies without spirits as part of the creation process.

For more on physical bodies and death:

Moses 6:48, 59
Theodore M. Burton, Ensign 1985 - To Be Born Again.