“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein (1)
From Joseph Smith and the Bible, Latter-day Saints have claim to four different accounts of the creation (in order of appearance):
- The temple
Genesis, of course, being found in the Bible, has been around for a long time and is widely known. The last three accounts however, are from the prophet Joseph Smith, revealed between 1830 and 1844. The books of Moses and Abraham are contained in the Pearl of Great Price, a standard work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And the temple is a sacred place where members of the Church make special covenants with the Lord. We don’t talk much about the temple outside of it, but I can say that part of the ceremony deals with the creation of the world (2).
These four creation accounts are open-ended and rich with symbolism, therefore allowing each one to be interpreted in many ways. In my opinion, Genesis tells us who created the earth and all life upon it. Moses, Abraham, and the temple are all pretty similar to Genesis, but they add a lot more about why the earth was created. It is important to know that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, but it makes much more sense when we know why He made them. (Hint: He made all of it for us and for every other living thing, so that we could learn and have joy–see The Organization of Intelligences)
Are there differences between these creation accounts? For sure! For example–the temple presents the Days of Creation in a slightly different order than the other accounts. But it’s not a big deal at all; and it actually makes it even more compatible with science, in a way. Like the four gospels in the New Testament, the four creation accounts work together to teach of one thing. They may have differences, but that doesn’t mean that their overall story is false. There are instances in the gospels where they don’t harmonize perfectly, but that doesn’t discredit them (3).
The four gospels, each giving us a different perspective, work together to testify of the divine mission of Jesus Christ. Each was written by a witness who had a different viewpoint; a different take on things; different struggles and experiences in their own life that made certain teachings of Christ jump out among the others. A similar thing can be said for the four accounts of the creation. Certain aspects are stressed in some, while other things are emphasized in others. In fact, the same thing could be said for all five accounts of the creation.
Yes, I said five. The Latter-day Saints are blessed because not only do we have some extra help to get us to four creation accounts, but we actually have five accounts. The fifth account is the rocks–and not only the rocks on our planet, but all the rocks above us in space. In fact, you could say the Fifth Account is the entire universe itself.
The Fifth Account
And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me. (Moses 6:63)
While the the first four accounts tell us who created the earth and why, the Fifth Account tells us how it was created and when. It can even give us a where for a lot of things too. When you have a who, why, how, when, and where, you have quite a bit of information, don’t you? We need all five accounts to get the full picture of the creation.
Now, the Fifth Account is totally awesome because this is HOW God created the earth–how the creation unfolded and which steps were taken in the process. This is how He did it! And it requires the corroboration of all fields of science to figure it out. Scientists, especially paleontologists, are super lucky because they get to study and discover how the various forms of life were created. It’s their job. How cool is that?!
I love Moses 6:63 (the scripture I quoted above), because here we have the Lord telling Adam that every single thing in the universe testifies of Jesus Christ. And it’s interesting that the Lord says everything “bears record” of Him. Everything would, of course, include even the fossil “record” on earth–a record which indicates that life has lived, died, and evolved over billions of years on this planet. And that means billions of years before Adam’s time. This is intriguing because while some people claim that extremely old fossils were put here by Satan to deceive us (6) or by God to test our faith (7), the Savior of the world claims that they are here to bear record of Him, their loving Creator.
In a revelation given in 1833, the Lord declared that when He comes again, He “shall reveal all things–Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof–Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven” (D&C 101:32-34). When He gets here, Jesus is going to teach us a lot of stuff that no scientist or scriptorian ever knew. Obviously, the Second Coming hadn’t occurred when Joseph Smith gave us the Book of Abraham in 1842, nor when he gave us the temple ceremony a short time later (9), and so even both of those combined with Genesis and Moses still weren’t enough to teach us how the earth was made or what its full purpose was (10). We need science to answer some of these questions about the creation. We need the Fifth Account! Unlike the first four, the Fifth Account is ongoing and is constantly being updated and improved as we gather more and more data every day about how things naturally came to be. Will science eventually answer every question before the Lord comes again? Of course not! But that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning and searching.
What can we learn from nature? Let’s take Moses 6:63 and D&C 101:32-34 and use them to show briefly what the Fifth Account (the universe) teaches us about the creation, and what kind of things we should look for. I’ve broken the verses up into the different categories they mention–things above, on, in, and under the earth–and written a few of the truths they contain about how stuff came to be (11).
Things In the Heavens Above
Space rocks–either still in space as asteroids and moon rocks, or fallen down as meteorites–tell us that the earth is very old. Other planets, stars, galaxies, and the way they move apart, coupled with the astronomical distances their light has to travel to get to us, testify that the universe is even older, and that celestial bodies form through natural processes. (See D&C 88:42-47)
Things On the Earth
The animals and plants on earth have different anatomies and DNA that testify how they are related to each other and are all descended from a common ancestor. Their behaviors and cognitive abilities show that they have intelligence. Even our morphology, DNA, and level of intelligence as human beings hint that we are related to them too.
Things In the Earth
The fossilized remains of ancient living things in the stone of the earth, and the decaying radioactive elements around them testify that not only is the earth very old, but that organisms have been living, dying, eating each other, and evolving for much of that time. Also, ancient DNA found in fossils gives us clues to how some extinct species are related to other extant species (14); and the different layers or strata of rock that make up the geologic time scale tell a story that the face of the earth has gone through many changes over long periods of time.
Things Under the Earth
The solid iron core, hot mantle, and ever-shifting tectonic plates under our feet testify how the earth was made and how it has come to look the way it does now. Fossils and the rock strata could also be in this category, as they are usually found underground. Additionally, the deeper you go down in the strata, the older the layers are and the less familiar to now-living species the fossils appear to be, supporting the fact that life has evolved varying forms over hundreds of millions of years.
“[A]ll things denote there is a God;” the Book of Mormon prophet Alma declared, “yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44). Everything on, in, under, or above our beautiful blue planet testifies of a magnanimous Father in Heaven with infinite love, compassion, and creativity (see the Four Beasts post). Every fossil, rock layer, comet, exoplanet, quasar, DNA sequence, lava flow, tectonic plate boundary, and animal mind bears record that God is the Creator, and that He’s been at it for a very, very long time. His creation never ends.
I think Joseph Smith would have agreed about using the facts of the universe to learn more about the creation. He once said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (17). In his day, science hadn’t gotten super far, yet I get the feeling Joseph knew enlightenment could come from all sorts of different sources, and that there was no reason to be afraid of it. I think he would have received as much as possible from the record in the rocks, with open arms.
Does the Fifth Account Contradict the Other Accounts?
God has left messages all over in the physical world that scientists have learned to read. These messages are quite clear, well-understood, and accepted in science. That is, the theories that the earth is about four-and-one-half billion years old and that life evolved over the last billion years or so are as well established scientifically as many theories ever are. So, if the word of God found in the scriptures and the word of God found in the rocks are contradictory, must we choose between them, or is there some way they can be reconciled? — Henry Eyring (18)
You’ve probably heard someone say that science can’t be true because natural history is incompatible with the scriptures. You’ve probably heard it the other way too–that God cannot be real because the creation account in Genesis does not play out like the way science says things happened. The question posed by LDS chemist Henry Eyring above is a good one to ponder: If we find that the word of God in the rocks (i.e. the Fifth account) appears to contradict the word of God in the scriptures (the other four accounts), does that mean that we have to choose which one to believe? Do we have to chuck the four for the fifth, or the fifth for the four? Or, can we find a way to reconcile them?
Yes, we can find a way to reconcile them. In fact, I’m convinced that there is a way (see the very first blog post on here).
To some, it appears that the record of the rocks doesn’t perfectly match the records in the scriptures. If this is so, it does not mean that science is false or that the scriptures aren’t true. Maybe we just need to take a closer look–at both sides. In this blog, we will be taking a closer look; and hopefully we can show that the the word of the Lord in the scriptures and the word of God found in the rocks are not all that different after all.
The scriptures and the temple tell us why God created the world. The rocks tell us how. They complement each other and work together for our benefit. It’s that simple.
Who gave us this Fifth Account of the creation? The same Being who gave us Genesis, Moses, Abraham, and the temple: God Himself. There may be five separate accounts of the creation, but they all came from the same Person. I think Einstein was right about nature. If we look deeper into what God has given us in this awe-inspiring universe of ours, I think we’ll be able to understand everything a little bit better. And I believe that Joseph Smith, that revolutionary latter-day prophet who conversed with the Supreme Creator face to face, would have concurred with all his heart (JS-H 1:5-20, D&C 110:1-10; see note 20).
Sources and Notes:
- Two possible sources are cited for this quote by the website http://www.asl-associates.com/einsteinquotes.htm: 1–”To Margot Einstein, after his sister’s Maja’s death, 1951; quote by Hanna Loewy in A&E Television Einstein Biography, VPI International, 1991.”; and 2–”Einstein to Lina Kocherthaler, July 27, 1951, AEA 38-303; Sayen, Jamie, 1985, Einstein in America: The Scientist’s Conscience in the Age of Hitler and Hiroshima. New York: Crown, 231.”
- Mormon.org. “What Is a Temple Endowment?” YouTube, 15 Dec 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd8tVXN9y6Q. For more on LDS temples, see: Church Newsroom. “Mormon Temples.” YouTube, 28 Aug 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejf9a70qgl8
- For example, the gospel of John says that Jesus cleansed the temple near the beginning of His ministry (John 2:14-17), whereas the other three gospels say He did it near the end of His life (Matt. 21:12–13, Mark 11:15–18, Luke 19:45–48). We don’t say we believe in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but not John just because John puts things in a different order. See this interview with historian Ben Spackman, “Misunderstanding the Bible,” LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 45, http://www.ldsperspectives.com/2017/07/19/genre-bible/ . There are other examples of the order of events not lining up perfectly–check them out here: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/harmony?lang=eng.
- Photos of Genesis, Moses, and Abraham were expertly taken by me. Photo of Salt Lake Temple found here: https://www.lds.org/temples/details/salt-lake-temple?lang=eng. Photo of ammonite fossils found here: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/fantastic-fossils.html.
- Picture of geologic period bookshelf found here: http://thedinozone.com/life-times/geological-time-scales-2/.
- For examples of people claiming that Satan put dinosaur bones in the ground to deceive us, see: http://www.truthingenesis.com/2013/01/03/dinosaurs-and-the-bible/; https://www.quora.com/Why-did-the-devil-plant-dinosaur-fossils-on-Earth; https://www.debate.org/opinions/preserved-dinosaur-tail-found-were-fossils-planted-by-satan-to-test-christians; https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/uncategorized/the-gap-theory/
- For examples of people claiming that God put fossils in the ground to test our faith, see: https://www.bibleandscience.com/science/ageofearth.htm; https://answersingenesis.org/dinosaurs/what-will-you-do-with-dinosaurs/; http://www.lutheranscience.org/home/180015283/180015283/180153808/Journal%202000%20Dinosaurs%20in%20the%20Bible.pdf
- Photo of Christus found here: http://www.ldsliving.com/The-Christus-Legacy/s/4910 .
- Joseph Smith began administering the endowment to close associates on 4 May 1842, just weeks after publishing the Book of Abraham; Saints, Vol 1, pp. 453-455. https://www.lds.org/study/history/saints-v1/37-we-will-prove-them?lang=eng.
- LDS population geneticist Ugo Perego talked about the scripture D&C 101:32-34 in a speech he gave at the 2018 FairMormon Conference. He said that this scripture refers to the meeting Christ will call at Adam-ondi-Ahman, where He will (according to Ugo) give something like “a science fireside” to explain things nobody knew about the creation. He makes a similar point about how we must not know the whole truth from the information we currently have, or else the Lord wouldn’t need to reveal it to us again. https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2018/04/19/fairmormon-conference-podcast-5-ugo-perego-what-does-the-church-believe-about-evolution
- The fine gentleman-scholar Douglas Richardson was the inspiration behind organizing the following section according to the prepositional phrases found in Moses 6:63. It all happened when he pointed out to me how “things under the earth” could be interpreted as fossils, which are found underground a lot of the time; and if fossils are under the earth and are real and really old, and if this scripture is true, then fossils must bear record of Jesus Christ.
- Gorgeous image of Pluto found here: https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/cracked-frozen-and-tipped-over-new-clues-plutos-past. “Did you hear about Pluto?” is a reference to the television show Psych. If you’ve seen the show, you solemnly know what the answer to this question is.
- Image of Artiodactyl family tree found here: http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/160/160S16_11.html.
- Extinct cave bear DNA has been found in modern bears, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/08/cave-bears-ancient-dna-paleogenomics-extinction/ ; and extinct Neanderthal (and Denisovan) DNA has been found in many modern humans, https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/neanderthal/. The ancient DNA found in the fossils of these prehistoric species tells us that their modern look-a-likes are descendants of them. See also Common Descent Podcast, “Episode 34: Ancient DNA,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVmTxQAbqn0.
- Photo of pterosaur fossil found here: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/fossil/; for dates of this fossil, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pterodactylus.
- Picture of erupting volcano found here: https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/812301/Yellowstone-eruption-caldera-volcano-big-one-magma-reservoir-national-park .
- Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199 (9 July 1843); https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/words-joseph-smith-contemporary-accounts-nauvoo-discourses-prophet-joseph/1843/9-july-1843 .
- Eyring, Henry (1983), Reflections of a Scientist, p. 61; Deseret Book Company.
- Infographic designed by Juan David Martinez, and found here: https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-complete-history-of-earth-in-one-tidy-infographic-1672721063 .
- Saints, Vol 1, pp. 14-16, 239-241. https://www.lds.org/study/history/saints-v1/02-hear-him?lang=eng; https://www.lds.org/study/history/saints-v1/21-the-spirit-of-god?lang=eng.
- Painting of First Vision found here: https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/media/orig/josephsmithkneeling_large.jpg.