“[T]he difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.“Charles Darwin
In the Book of Abraham, chapter 3, the prophet Abraham is shown a vision of the pre-mortal existence. He sees all the intelligences that were organized before the world was, and he sees that they exist on a spectrum of sorts. I believe that this one chapter in the Pearl of Great Price could provide an explanation for why God would use evolution in His creation. Let me explain. To do this, I have six principles about intelligences that I’ve gathered from the scriptures and from the recorded words of Joseph Smith.
1. Spirit = Intelligence
First, we need to realize that Joseph Smith used the terms “spirit” and “intelligence” interchangeably. It’s pretty clear that he understood them as being one in the same. I think it’s common in the Church to think of an intelligence like a precursor to a spirit–to help explain spirit birth–but that interpretation comes from B.H. Roberts, not from Joseph Smith (1). So remember, to Joseph an intelligence is a spirit, and a spirit is an intelligence. They’re the same thing. Therefore, I will also use those terms synonymously.
2. Animals are intelligences
Second, I believe that all living things have spirits (or intelligences), from the lowliest microbe to the giant blue whale to humans, and maybe even plants. D&C 77 backs this up by essentially saying that beasts, fowls, creeping things, “and every other creature which God has created” have spirits and can feel happiness, enjoyment, and felicity.
But if this is true, then that would be trillions upon trillions, many orders of magnitude of intelligences; and you may wonder how in the heck so many distinct spirits could exist. Well, almost like Joseph Smith was answering this question, he once said “intelligences exist one above anot[he]r that there is no end to it” (2). Basically, there’s an infinite number of intelligences; therefore we can have an infinite amount of living things.
3. Intelligences are eternal and can’t be created
Third, Joseph Smith taught that intelligences are eternal and have always existed. Spirits “have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after” (Abr. 3:18). Not even God created all these spirits–they just always were. “Intelligence,” said Joseph, “is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it… God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God Himself could not create Himself” (3). Your mind has always existed and nobody created it. Your neighbor’s cat’s mind has always existed and nobody created it either. Whoa. Talk about profound.
4. Intelligences exist on a spectrum of intelligence
Fourth, we’re told that intelligences exist upon a spectrum from less intelligent to more intelligent. Now, this is important, so listen up. The Lord revealed to Abraham that “if there be two spirits, … one shall be more intelligent than the other,” and “there shall be another more intelligent than they.” In other words, there will always be a spirit more intelligent than the last one, and there will always be a spirit less intelligent than the first one. It’s a spectrum, or a scale. The Lord finished by declaring Himself to be “more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:18-19). Interestingly, we also learn here that this spectrum of intelligence is the reality, and no amount of eternal existence among the spirits has changed the fact that they differ in intelligence level. I see this to mean there’s a diversity among intelligences that is as eternal as the spirits themselves.
Joseph Smith spoke of this spectrum at least once that I know of when he said, “I learned a test[imony] concerning Abraham & he reasoned concern[in]g the God of Heaven—in order to do that s[ai]d he—suppose we have two facts that supposes that anot[he]r fact may exist[;] two men on the earth—one wiser than the other—wo[ul]d shew that an[o]t[he]r who is wiser than the wisest may exist—intelligences exist one above anot[he]r that there is no end to it”. (4)
5. God made laws to help the intelligences progress
Fifth, God found himself among these uncreated, self-existing spirits and decided to help them progress. Abraham wrote that he saw “the intelligences that were organized before the world was”–these having been organized by God Himself, presumably (Abraham 3:22). “I dwell in the midst of them all … ” said the Lord, “I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen” (Abr. 3:21). Expounding on this, I believe, Joseph said, “God Himself found Himself in the midst of spirits and glory. Because He was greater He saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest who were less in intelligence, could have a privilege to advance like Himself and be exalted with Him, .… So He took in hand to save the world of spirits” (5).
Note that this idea of God coming upon a trove of non-creatable spirits and designing a plan for them is contrary to the common notion in the Church of spirit birth through spiritual procreation. Many LDS scholars believe that Joseph never taught such a thing as ‘viviparous spirit birth’, and I agree with them (6). Evolution fits so much better in our theology without it.
Now, I don’t think God was trying to save only the human spirits when He undertook to save the world of spirits. If D&C 77 isn’t enough, we also know from another of Joseph’s discourses that animals as well as humans will be saved, as “God glorified himself by saving all that his hands had made whether beasts, fowl fishes or man” (7). D&C 93:33 gives us a good reason to find bodies for all these human or animal intelligences, since “spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy”. Ultimately, it was to make them happy (see also 2 Nephi 2:25).
6. The Noble and Great Ones could be all humans
And finally, sixth, I think the Noble and Great Ones mentioned in Abraham 3 are all the intelligences that were to become humans. After seeing all of the organized intelligences, Abraham saw that “among all these there were many of the noble and great ones.” God had seen “these souls that they were good”, and he said, “These I will make my rulers .… Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born” (Abraham 3:22-23).
In the Church–probably due to D&C 138:55–we typically think of the Noble and Great Ones as those “chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God”, but I think they are those self-existing, eternal, good, noble, great intelligences that were chosen to become Homo sapiens on Earth. And not just any Homo sapiens, but those H. sapiens that would live in a time to be held accountable (and therefore exaltable) before God. Our creation accounts do show the Creator giving humans “dominion over … every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Abr. 3:28). Being top dog on planet Earth as a human is a good enough definition for “ruler” for me, but the title could also foreshadow the eternal ruling as kings, priests, queens, and priestesses promised to the faithful.
Joseph said, “The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge.” And this relationship which humans have with God could give them “a privilege to advance like Himself and be exalted with Him, so that they might have one glory upon another in all that knowledge, power, and glory” (8). Our relationship with God is what allows us to become like Him someday. I don’t know if the Noble and Great Ones are everybody to ever be human, but I think a loving Father would want all of His children to be included as His rulers.
Let’s put it all together
Okay, let’s combine these six principles together and see what overall picture we can come up with and how it relates to evolution in God’s creation:
All living things have intelligence that was never created (it just is). Despite the fact that these intelligences have existed for all eternity, and there are an infinite amount of them, some intelligences are smarter than others (no two are exactly alike). This difference in intelligence level allows all spirits to be organized on a continuous spectrum from less intelligent to more intelligent. God found Himself among all these spirits and decided to institute laws so they could get bodies and progress, since that’s how happiness is achieved. What laws were these? Were they natural laws? Spiritual laws? Both? I don’t know, but He did something to organize them and give them bodies. Among these spirits were the Noble and Great Ones, of whom God thought very highly. They were good, so He decided to make them His rulers–perhaps rulers over the rest of the intelligences on Earth and over His own kingdom in the eternities.
Whew. We good so far? Now it gets interesting.
Because all these intelligences existed on a spectrum of smartness and capability, God had to put them into a spectrum of bodies. I know that the term ‘complex’ is subjective, but a spectrum of less complex to more complex spirits requires a spectrum of less complex to more complex bodies. Cue evolution. We know from the fossil record that life on Earth started out very simple and then gradually began to radiate into more complex and varied forms. Was Abraham’s little lesson from the Lord about one spirit being more intelligent than the other a fundamental prerequisite for understanding why an all-powerful God would use something like natural selection and evolution to create His world? If it’s not, then I don’t know why else it’s in the Book of Abraham.
Take the human lineage, for example. If apes today have spirits, then the ape who lived 7 million years ago and was the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees also had a spirit. From that ape, 7 million years ago, to the present, the brains of our ancestors (who were all intelligences) have grown from less than 500 cubic centimeters (cc) to nearly 1500 cc. That didn’t happen all at once, but gradually, over generations, on a continuous spectrum of brain sizes. And brain size correlates with intelligence. Just like our ancestors could be placed on a spectrum of brain sizes, their spirits could also be placed on a spectrum of intelligence (9). And that could be why the Lord taught Abraham about the spectrum of intelligences in Abraham 3. Maybe, in His presentation of how the creation happened, God showed Abraham our hominin ancestors in all their increasing-in-brain-size forms, and this was a way to introduce it.
Like I said, I don’t know for sure if this theory is legit. But it makes sense to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Why else do you think God taught Abraham about intelligences and their various levels of smarts?
P.S. For more on this topic, see my previous blog posts:
- The Organization of Intelligences: The Why of Evolution
- Spectrum of Human Ancestors
- The Four Beasts
- And more…
Sources and Notes
- http://signaturebookslibrary.org/essential-joseph-smith-50/; see also https://emp.byui.edu/jexj/courses/sermon_in_the_grove.htm
- https://bycommonconsent.com/2012/10/23/a-wildly-popular-folk-belief/; https://wheatandtares.org/2016/09/13/no-spirit-birth/
- Watch this cool video for another explanation/visual of the spectrum of our ancestors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdWLhXi24Mo
- Pic of increasing brain sizes: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/565905509399419388/
Charles Darwin quote: The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, by Charles Darwin, 1871, p. 105.