1909 The Origin of Man

1909 Exposition image

The First Presidency: President Joseph F Smith, John R Winder (First Counselor), Anthon H Lund (Second Counselor)

        The first decade of the twentieth century witnessed many significant inventions and scientific discoveries. Max Planck published a paper in 1900 that is frequently cited as the beginning of the study of quantum physics1. On December 12, 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first radio transmission to traverse the Atlantic Ocean2. By 1903, Hubert Booth’s horse drawn vacuum cleaners were making the rounds in the streets of Europe.3 The Wright brothers made their first successful airplane flight of 120 feet in twelve seconds on December 17, 1903.4 In 1905, young Albert Einstein published four notable papers inaugurating the study of modern physics.5 Richard Dixon Oldham published a paper in 1906 articulating reliable evidence for the existence of the earth’s core.6 In the same year, Albert L. Marsh received a patent for a nickel-chrome alloy that led to the development of the first electric toasters--as well as many other modern appliances.7 The modern era of science and innovative technology was well underway. While science was moving rapidly forward in 1909, 235 scientists from 167 countries around the world gathered at Cambridge University to celebrate the contributions of Charles Darwin in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 50th anniversary of his first full-length treatise on his evolutionary theories, The Origin of Species.8 Other similar commemorative events were held in 1909.9 His more focused theories on the origin of human life in The Descent of Man were published in 1871.

       While many people welcomed new knowledge and the modern conveniences that often accompanied it, tension between science and religion (a centuries-old conflict by this time) had been increasing throughout the nineteenth century10. Modern academic and scientific advancements were also impacting the study of religion. One such movement was known as the “higher criticism” approach to the Bible, which employed academic and scholarly means to the understanding of scriptural texts.11 Some nineteenth- and early twentieth-century religionists welcomed such investigations. For example, an advertisement in the Salt Lake Tribune from this time period announced a lecture by a Reverend William Thurston Brown to be held in Ogden, Utah, entitled, “Man’s Animal Origins.”12 Others were more concerned by these developments. For example, Pope Pius X13 rejected many of the modernist intellectual reforms with a formal papal encyclical.14

        As “inquiries [had arisen] from time to time respecting the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” upon such questions, the First Presidency asked Elder Orson F. Whitney,15 of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, to draft a statement on the matter “in relation to the origin of man” (Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, p. 75). “James E. Talmage, noted scientist and former president of the University of Utah, who would be called to the apostleship two years later; John A. Widtsoe, also a noted scientist and president of Utah State, who would be called to the apostleship twelve years later; and George H. Brimhall, the president of Brigham Young University, were invited into some of those councils”16 with the First Presidency, who approved and issued the final draft of the 1909 Exposition as “the position held by the Church upon this important subject” (Ibid.). Joseph F. Smith was then serving as President of the Church with John R. Winder as First Counselor and Anthon H. Lund as Second Counselor.

        The 1909 Exposition opens with the First Presidency’s stated intent of not “putting forth anything essentially new,” but rather they aimed to restate “the original attitude of the Church relative to this matter...and commend it to the acceptance of those who need to conform their opinions thereto” (Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, p. 75). The First Presidency cited multiple scriptures throughout the Exposition to make various points:

  • Genesis 1:27--four times (see also Moses 2:27; Abraham 4:27)
  • Moses 1:27-41 (verse 34, twice)
  • 1 Nephi 13:24-29
  • Moses 3:4-7
  • Hebrews 12:9
  • Numbers 16:22
  • Numbers 27:16
  • Hebrews 1:3
  • John 14:9
  • Moses 2:26
  • Matthew 6:9 (see also Luke 11:2)
  • Doctrine & Covenants 77:2 (twice)
  • Ether 3:6-16 (verse 15, twice)
  • Colossians 2:9
  • 3 Nephi 1:3
  • 1 Corinthians 15:45
  • D&C 77:3

        In addition to counseling with each other and others whom they felt were knowledgeable upon the subject, it is clear that the First Presidency also studied and pondered the scriptures extensively while preparing this Exposition.

        An important doctrinal starting point in relation to the origin of humankind is mentioned several times in this Exposition, namely that the “Father is in the form of man” (Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, p. 77). “It was in this form that the Father and the Son, as two personages, appeared to Joseph Smith” (Ibid.). “God Himself is in the form of a man” (Ibid., p. 79). “God Himself is an exalted man, perfected, enthroned, and supreme” (Ibid., p. 81). Given this premise, the First Presidency concludes: “Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father” (Ibid., p. 80). Thus, God is clearly portrayed as the progenitor and pattern for the entire human race.

        While the Exposition does not make any statement regarding the theory of evolution as a whole, when it comes to the origin of humankind, it clearly asserts that ideas 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...are the theories of men” (Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, p. 80). In conjunction with this statement, the First Presidency also affirms the need for revelation in this matter, noting that “all revelations from heaven are harmonious with each other” (Ibid., p. 76) and, “never, unaided, will [humans] discover the truth about the beginning of human life. The Lord must reveal Himself, or remain unrevealed; and the same is true of the facts relating to the origin of Adam’s race--God alone can reveal them” (Ibid., pp. 80-81). On the matter of human origins, the First Presidency concludes: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity” (Ibid., p. 81). And again: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity” (Ibid., p. 78). Because of this divine lineage, the Exposition concludes by reiterating the eternal potential for all people: “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 the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God” (Ibid., p. 81).

        While not all questions received by the First Presidency pertaining to the subject of evolution were deemed “vital from a doctrinal standpoint,” they demonstrated in this Exposition their desire to reaffirm vital truths that “are closely connected with the fundamental principles of salvation” (Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 75). The 1909 Exposition captures and articulates core truths about God and our relationship to Him that continue to inspire, enlighten, and comfort Latter-day Saints around the world.

  1. See Kragh, Helge (2000), “Max Planck: The reluctant revolutionary,” Physics World, https://physicsworld.com/a/max-planck-the-reluctant-revolutionary/ , accessed June 14, 2021.
  2. See “Marcon Receives Radio Signal over Atlantic,” PBS: A Science Odyssey, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dt01ma.html , accessed June 14, 2021.
  3. See “The Invention of the Vacuum Cleaner, from Horse-Drawn to High-Tech” (2020), Science Museum, https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/everyday-wonders/invention-vacuum-cleaner , accessed June 14, 2021.
  4. See “The Wright Brothers: The inventors of the aerial age,” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/fly/1903/#:~:text=On%20December%2017%2C%201903%2C%20Wilbur,invented%20the%20first%20successful%20airplane.&... , accessed June 14, 2021.
  5. See “Annus Mirabilis of Albert Einstein” (2019), Library of Congress, https://guides.loc.gov/einstein-annus-mirabilis , accessed June 14, 2021.
  6. See Norton, Stephen D., “Geologist Richard Oldham's 1906 Paper On Seismic Wave Transmission Establishes The Existence Of Earth's Core And Demonstrates The Value Of Seismology For Studying The Structure Of Earth's Deep Interior,” Encylopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/geologist-richard-oldhams-1906-paper-seismic-wave-transmission-establishes-existence-earths-core-and , accessed June 14, 2021.
  7. See “Toasting Albert Marsh: Nichrome and the Electric Toaster,” History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff, https://lflb.passitdown.com/stories/42314 , accessed June 14, 2021.
  8. See Richmond, Marsha L. (2006), “The 1909 Darwin Celebration: Reexamining evolution in the light of Mendel, mutation, and meiosis,” Isis, vol. 97, no. 3, pp. 447-484, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/508076?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents , accessed June 14, 2021.
  9. See “Darwin Day” (2021), Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_Day , accessed June 14, 2021.
  10. See Croce, Paul J. (1999), “Encyclopedia Entry on Nineteenth-century Science and Religion,” Stetson University, https://www.stetson.edu/artsci/american-studies/pc19thscience.php , accessed June 14, 2021.
  11. See Stewart, John F. (2018), “Higher Criticism,” Encylopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/christianity/protestant-christianity/higher-criticism , accessed June 14, 2021.
  12. See “Lecture on Man’s Origin,” January 20, 1910, Salt Lake Tribune, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=14230639&q=origin+of+man&sort=rel , accessed June 14, 2021. Although this lecture was advertised shortly after the 1909 Exposition was issued, it indicates an interest in the subject during the relevant time period.
  13. See Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, “St. Pius X,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Pius-X , accessed June 14, 2021.
  14. See Pius X (1907), “Pascendi Dominici Gregis,” Vatican, https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_19070908_pascendi-dominici-gregis.html , accessed June 14, 2021.
  15. At this time, Elder Whitney was the third youngest in seniority in the Quorum, having been ordained an Apostle and sustained in the Quorum on April 6, 1906. Elder Whitney was considered a man of great literary talent, having written a four volume history of the state of Utah in 1892 and many other poems, hymns, articles, and so forth.
  16. McConkie, Joseph F. Joseph (2013), “Doctrinal Contributions of Joseph F. Smith,” in Joseph F. Smith Reflections on the man and his times, ed. Craig K. Manscill, Brian D. Reeves, Guy L. Dorius, and J. B. Haws, pp. 17–35, https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_19070908_pascendi-dominici-gregis.html , accessed June 14, 2021.

In September 1925 the First Presidency restated and reaffirmed some of the central points of the 1909 Exposition in an Improvement Era article on a related subject entitled, “‘Mormon’ View of Evolution.” While the 1925 statement addressed evolution more generally and not just the origin of humankind more specifically, it includes quotations from the 1909 Exposition without citing it directly.

Read More: https://archive.org/details/improvementera28011unse/page/1088/mode/2up

President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave a BYU devotional on April 22, 1953 titled “The Origin of Man.” This devotional draws content and ideas from the 1909 Exposition.

Listen to more: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/joseph-fielding-smith/origin-man/ [His message begins at 2:30. From approximately 18:34 to 24:13 he quotes from the 1909 statement.]

In 1954 President Joseph Fielding Smith published his views on evolution in a book titled Man: His Origin and Destiny. While the book represents his opinions and not formal Church doctrine, it has nonetheless been influential in the Church and has been cited in Church publications ranging from Church Educational System manuals to magazine articles. This book contains a printing of “The Origin of Man” on pp. 348-355 (1973, 8th edition; see pp. 226-230 of the PDF).

Read More: http://www.sainesburyproject.com/mormonstuff/Man%20His%20Origin%20and%20Destiny.pdf

An informational packet prepared in 1992 by faculty at BYU and approved by the Church Board of Education, titled “Evolution and the Origin of Man” teaches university students the Church’s official positions on these topics:

This packet contains, as far as could be found, all statements issued by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the subject of evolution and the origin of man, and a statement on the Church's attitude toward science. The earliestFirst Presidency statement, "The Origin of Man," was issued during the administration of President Joseph F. Smith in 1909. This was followed by a First Presidency Message in 1910 that included brief comments related to the study of these topics. The second statement, "Mormon View of Evolution," was issued during the administration of President Heber J. Grant in 1925. Although there has never been a formal declaration from the First Presidency addressing the general matter of organic evolution as a process for development of biological species, these documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man.This packet also contains the article on evolution from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published in 1992...Various views have been expressed by other Church leaders on this subject over many decades; however, formal statements by the First Presidency are the definitive source of official Church positions. It is hoped that these materials will provide a firm foundation for individual study in a context of faith in the restored gospel

Read More: https://biology.byu.edu/00000172-29e6-d079-ab7e-69efe5890000/byu-evolution-packet

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism included as its fourth appendix reprints of three doctrinal expositions of the First Presidency. The first of these three entries, which follows a brief introduction, is “The Origin of Man.” While the Encyclopedia of Mormonism was not formally published by the Church, it was nevertheless approved by the Church to help explain matters of doctrine and history and was donated to both public and Church libraries to promote general use.

Read More: https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/EoM/id/5943

On June 15, 1999, in a BYU devotional titled “A Divine Nature and Destiny,” Elder Angel Abrea quoted from this 1909 Exposition while teaching about mankind’s divine nature and destiny:

The first major step upward made by the uncreated entities was entrance into what we call the first estate. Here the intelligences were tabernacled in bodies of spirit matter by birth through heavenly parents. In November 1909 the First Presidency declared in “The Origin of Man”: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”

Read More: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/angel-abrea/divine-nature-and-destiny/

The Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Manual for 2000-2001, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, takes the majority of the content for its 37th chapter (“Sons and Daughters of the Eternal Father”) from this 1909 doctrinal exposition:

In November 1909, President Joseph F. Smith and his Counselors in the First Presidency, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund, issued a statement titled “The Origin of Man” to answer inquiries arising “from time to time respecting the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … in relation to the origin of man. It is believed that a statement of the position held by the Church upon this important subject will be timely and productive of good.” The statement includes these words:
“‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’ [Genesis 1:27.] In these plain and pointed words the inspired author of the book of Genesis made known to the world the truth concerning the origin of the human family.” This chapter contains excerpts from “The Origin of Man.”

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-37?lang=eng

A quotation from the 1909 Exposition was included in chapter 3 (“The Creation'') of the Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (2001). This manual served as the adult Sunday School curriculum every four years until 2019:

In whose image are we created? (See Moses 2:26–27.) The First Presidency said: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity”

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/old-testament-gospel-doctrine-teachers-manual/lesson-3?lang=eng

To help supplement the study of the Old Testament in Sunday School that year “The Origin of Man” was reprinted in the February 2002 Ensign

In the early 1900s, questions concerning the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution became the subject of much public discussion. In the midst of these controversies, the First Presidency issued the following in 1909, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position on these matters. A reprinting of this important First Presidency statement will be helpful as members of the Church study the Old Testament this year.

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2002/02/the-origin-of-man?lang=eng

The Gospel Topics Essay “Mother In Heaven” lists some of the places where the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother has been taught. It includes the 1909 Exposition as one of the few times the First Presidency has specifically published this teaching as a formal doctrine:

Subsequent Church leaders have affirmed the existence of a Mother in Heaven. In 1909, the First Presidency taught that ‘all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.’

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng

An October 2016 New Era article titled “What does the Church believe about evolution?” states that “the Church has no official position on the theory of evolution;” it then refers readers who want more information to the 1909 Exposition.

Read More: https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2016/10/to-the-point/what-does-the-church-believe-about-evolution?lang=eng

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught truths about the Savior Jesus Christ from the 1909 Exposition in his April 2017 General Conference address “The Godhead and the Plan of Salvation”:

To mortals, the most visible member of the Godhead is Jesus Christ. A great doctrinal statement by the First Presidency in 1909 declares Him to be ‘the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh.’ The Son, the greatest of all, was chosen by the Father to carry out the Father’s plan—to exercise the Father’s power to create worlds without number (see Moses 1:33) and to save the children of God from death by His Resurrection and from sin by His Atonement. This supernal sacrifice is truly called ‘the central act of all human history.’

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2017/04/the-godhead-and-the-plan-of-salvation?lang=eng

The Church Educational System has repeatedly included quotations and large excerpts from “The Origin of Man” in its publications. These have particularly been used to teach about the doctrines of Heavenly Parents and the Creation. The following lessons all draw content from this statement:

[Featured version] The 1909 Exposition was first published in the November 1909 Improvement Era on pp. 75-81:

Another digital version of the 1909 Exposition in the November 1909 Improvement Era is available on Archive.org:

For the benefit of Church members in Europe, the 1909 Exposition was reprinted beginning on the front page of the Millennial Star on November 18, 1909:

The 1909 Exposition was translated into Danish and published in the Skandinaveans Stjerne on December 15, 1909, pp. 369-374:

The 1909 Exposition was translated into Dutch and published in the December 15, 1909, issue of De Ster on pp. 385-391:

The 1909 Exposition was also republished in The Messenger, the journal for the New Zealand Mission of the Church, on January 5, 1910:

The 1909 Exposition can also be found in Clark, James R. (1970, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:199-206.