Understanding the Creation

By Rick Brunson

How do we as Latter-day Saints explain the existence of dinosaurs?  When we break it down, we are left scratching our heads.  For example, our scriptures teach that there was no death on the earth prior to the fall of Adam.  For example, Father Lehi stated:
  
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever (2 Ne. 2:22).
Yet science has demonstrated through the fossil record and carbon dating that millions of dinosaurs and other extinct species lived and died on this earth for well over one hundred million years before the fall of Adam ever occurred (approximately 6,000 years ago). Does that mean that these scientific methods of dating are unreliable or inaccurate?  Probably not. According to LDS Geologist Bart Kowalis:

In my profession I teach and study geology. I have specialized in the study of Earth’s architecture (structural geology) and in understanding the ages of rocks and minerals…. During the past few years, my research has focused on determining the ages of rocks and minerals. In 1983 I established a laboratory at Brigham Young University dedicated to [understanding the ages of rocks and minerals], and during the past decade I have used isotopic dating techniques numerous times, such as to obtain more precise ages for dinosaur bones found in Utah and Colorado…. In all of my studies, I have found no reason to doubt the reliability of the methods used. I believe that the ages obtained by these methods—often registering in millions or hundreds of millions of years—reflect events that happened on this world since its creation. The principles that govern isotopic decay and the use of this decay for determining ages are as well established, accepted, and understood as are the laws of motion and the law of gravity. These ideas cannot be dismissed as mere scientific nonsense, unless we are willing to throw out the whole of science itself.[1]
If these scientific methods of dating are in fact reliable, then the dinosaur remains we have uncovered today are indeed much older than just 6,000 years.  But if there was no death before the fall of Adam, how did they get here?
A favorite response to this question by Latter-day Saints is that the Lord created our earth out of other worlds that were already in existence. Or in other words, according to Joseph Smith,
This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live.[2]

Because of this statement made by Joseph Smith, many Latter-day Saints have wondered if our dinosaur fossils actually originated from older earths, and were simply placed here during the creation process. However, a careful reading of Joseph Smith’s statement shows that older worlds were “broke[n] up and remodeled” before their materials ever made their way to our earth. If these older earth’s were indeed “broke[n] up and remodeled” as Joseph Smith taught, wouldn’t their dinosaur fossils be broken up and remodeled in the process? In addition to this problem, there is even further evidence that suggests our dinosaur fossils did not arrive on our earth via this process. In the words of LDS scientist Eric Skousen,


From [Joseph Smith’s] statement, some have suggested that the earth’s fossilized life forms are remnants from these older planets and have nothing to do with anything that ever lived on this earth, anciently or now.  However, this idea presents us with several problems. 
First of all, the crust of the earth is ultra-thin.  It is, relative to the bulk of the earth itself, extremely fragile and carefully constructed.  If fossils from broken-up planets are part of the crust, why are they on and within this thin surface rather than somewhere deep within the body of the earth?  Were these other-planet fossils deliberately placed on the surface [by God]?  For what purpose?  How would this help us understand the work of the Gods in preparing our earth for modern life? 
In fact, this idea is immediately rejected by anyone who has any significant first-hand acquaintance with the rock record itself. Why? Because the rock record is so carefully ordered.  We might accept a jumble of fossils scattered at random throughout the crust as coming from older planets.  But the facts of fossil placement are just the opposite. There is a very carefully established sequence in the earth’s strata. Would the family of the Gods deliberately put fossils from older planets in and on the earth in a carefully ordered pattern just to baffle and mislead us concerning their origin?
That simply doesn’t make any sense.  As the Lord declared to Job, among the many witnesses of his handiwork were “the foundations of the earth” (Job 38:4). The prophet Alma, speaking to the anti-Christ, Korihor, proclaimed, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it” (Alma 30:44).  And to Enoch the Lord declared that “all things bear record of me,” including things “on” and “in” and “under” the earth (Moses 6:63).
Obviously, then, the earth’s crust is not a deliberate or haphazard reassembly of planetary remnants, but bears a clearly legible record of the handiwork of the Gods as they prepared the newly-born earth so that it could ultimately sustain modern life.
We ask again, if our scientific methods of dating are accurate, and if there was no death before the fall, and if it is unlikely that our dinosaur fossils came from older worlds, how do we explain the existence of dinosaurs? 
In a previous article entitled, “The Three CreationAccounts,” I presented the reader with another difficult question that I had been asking myself for years, which was: Why are each of our three creation accounts (Moses/Genesis, Abraham, and the endowment) so different from one another?  How different are they?  For starters, in the books of Moses and Abraham, light appears on day-1 of the creation;[3] however, in the endowment, light appears on day-3.  And this is just one of the many differences we find when we compare each account.
I first noticed this discrepancy while on my mission in Washington D.C.  Trying to reconcile the differences in my mind, I came to the following conclusion: the endowment was given to Joseph Smith by revelation,[4] so that must be the most correct, and most reliable account we have.    

This reasoning satisfied my thinking for about 15 minutes, until I remembered that the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham were also given to Joseph Smith from the Lord by revelation.  
It goes without saying that if all three accounts were given by revelation, then each account is true accurate and true.  But how? Did light appear on day-1 (Moses), or on day-3 (endowment)?   Was plant life placed on the earth on day-3 (Moses) or on day-4 (endowment)? 

These were the questions I began asking myself.  Determined to find answers, I starting asking the smartest people I knew.  I first asked my bishopa man who had previously been able to successfully answer all of my other gospel questions (many of which were also extremely difficult)but unfortunately, he did not know.  I then asked my mission president, a man well versed in all aspects of gospel doctrine, but he did not know.  I then asked a General Authorityone of the Seventy who spoke to our mission during my stay in Washington D.C.and he did not know.  I even made an appointment with the temple president of the Washington D.C. temple, but unfortunately he did not know the answer either. 
I then realized that if I was ever going to find answers to this difficult question, I would have to find them myself.  The day I got home from my mission I started studying.  I bought many books and studied many articles written by the most learned LDS scholars and General Authorities we have had in the churchall in an attempt to find an answer to my difficult question. 
Finally it happened.  Not only did I find a book that touched upon this very topic, but I found that the explanation given was more than just satisfactory.  In fact, it was extremely convincing and made perfect sense.
 
As I read further into this book, I was pleased to find that it also answered many additional questions that I had had.  One of which, was how to explain the existence of dinosaurs.  And as I found, these two questions were very closely related. To answer one is to answer the other. 

The book that I am referring to is, Earth in the Beginning, by Dr. Eric Skousen.  In this book, Dr. Skousen, an LDS scientist, demonstrates through the scriptures (and backs it up with science), that the earth’s creation process was divided into three separate phases. 
Earth in the Beginning
By Dr. Eric Skousen

For the most part, according to Earth in the Beginning, our three creation accounts (Moses/Genesis, Abraham, and the endowment) each fall into one of these three creation phases. In short, Moses chapter 2 describes the first phase of creation, which was the earth’s spirit creation. The book of Abraham picks up where this spirit creation left off and describes the second phase of creation, which was the earth’s physical creation. Finally, the endowment, as well as Moses chapter 3, describe the third and final phase of creation, including the finishing touches of the earth’s physical creation and the placing of life on the earth. In other words, the three creation accounts we have are different because they are describing different phases of the earth’s creation.[5] 

For those who are interested in the full explanation and references for these three creation phases, I will refer you to the book itself.  However, here is a brief overview of Dr. Skousen’s findings:

That Moses chapter 2 is describing the earth’s spirit creation was made clear by the Lord, who said:

I, the Lord God created all things, of which I have spoken [see Moses chapter 2], spiritually, before they were naturally [or physically created] upon the face of the earth (Moses 3:5).

What about the physical creation? Where is that recorded? The physical phase of the creation is recorded in the book of Abraham. What is interesting about the Abraham account is that it never mentions plants or animal life as actually being placed on the earth. As we shall see, these forms of life will be placed on the earth in the third phase of creation. Instead, the Abraham account states that the earth was simply prepared to receive the various life forms we find today.[6]  For example, on day three of the Abraham account, it states:
And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass…. And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass (Abr. 4:11-12; emphasis added).

Notice that the earth does not receive grass during day three of the Abraham account. Rather, the earth is prepared to bring forth grass at a later date. This later date will occur in the third phase of creation, which is given to us in the endowment and in Moses chapter 3. And this trend is the same for all forms of animal life as well:

And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life…. And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth (Abr. 4:20; emphasis added).

And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind (Abr. 4:25; emphasis added).

And so it goes.  During this second phase of creation, the earth never actually receives the plant and animal life forms currently found on this earth.  Rather, it is prepared to bring them forth at a later date. The Abraham account is always future tense.

In the third phase of creation, however, the earth actually receives these various life forms. The matter unorganized, or in other words, the physical earth that is still unprepared to sustain life, is finally organized to sustain all life forms that we see on the earth today. Once this organization has occurred, plants, animals, and mankind (Adam and Eve) are placed upon the earth.  This is where Moses chapter 3 picks up and where we learn about Adam and Eve.

So how does all of this relate to dinosaurs?

T-Rex as portrayed in Jurassic Park (1993)
The questions regarding dinosaurs are all answered by understanding the scientific details of phase two of the creation process (or the book of Abraham account). According to Earth in the Beginning, dinosaurs and other extinct life forms lived and died for millions and millions of years during phase two of the creation process. Remember, we do not know how long each “day” of creation lasted.  President Brigham Young stated that the term day, as it appears in the context of the creation accounts, “is a mere term, [and] it matters not whether it took six days, six months, six years, or six thousand years. The creation occupied certain periods of time. We are not authorized to say what the duration of these days was.”[7] Furthermore, Dr. Skousen asks,

[Doesn’t] a lengthy preparation of the physical earth for modern life [i.e. millions and millions of years] seem truly unnecessary? Why not have the earth born ready-made to support modern life? The answer to this question is probably the same as the question: Why not have each human being come into the world fully formed as an adult? To answer one is to answer the other.  There are purposes, not all revealed nor understood, for the gradual development and maturation of a planet.  These explanations are undoubtedly as complex as the incompletely understood purposes for our gradual development, learning and experiences as offspring of God.[8]

Therefore, it is quite possible that dinosaurs did in fact live and die for millions and millions of years during this second phase of creation. And their remains were instrumental in preparing the earth to, one day, sustain the many life forms that we find today.  Of this process, Dr. Skousen stated,

The dinosaurs, along with many other extinct life forms, were members of the earth’s preparatory ecological system…. These organisms chemically enhanced the atmosphere and oceans, laid down the fuel and mineral deposits, and did much more to develop the crust of the earth into what it is today. 

During this [second] creation [phase], the first parents of different preparatory life forms [including dinosaurs], were transplanted to the earth as needed.  At times they were removed or allowed to die out, sometimes in great numbers and in a very short time interval.[9]

These life forms were instrumental in preparing the newly-born physical earth to sustain the life forms we find today.  According to the popular LDS website FAIR,

There is overwhelming archaeological evidence of death having occurred on the earth for many millions of years. For example, oil deposits are formed from the decomposed remains of ancient plants and animals.[10]

These oil deposits, for example, are a direct result of this second creation phase. This means that the earth, during the second creation phase, was able to sustain some forms of life, such as dinosaurs and other extinct species that we have discovered, just none of the life forms that currently live on the earth today.

So does this mean that there was in fact death on the earth prior to the fall?  Let us return to Lehi’s statement and see if the above explanation from Earth in the Beginning contradicts this particular scripture:

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever (2 Ne. 2:22).

Notice that Lehi does not say that there was no death on the earth prior to the Garden of Eden.  What he said was that by the time Adam and Eve arrived in the Garden of Eden, there was no death on the earth; and unless Adam transgressed, “all things which were created [or brought to the earth during the third and final phase of creation] must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created” (2 Ne. 2:22).

So is it really possible that death existed on our earth sometime before the Garden of Eden was created for Adam and Eve?  Elder James E. Talmage believed so.  According to him, our earth was home to many “plants and animals…[that] lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.”[11] After all, the concept of no death before the fall is not an official doctrine of the Church.  For example, Elder James E. Talmage stated,

That there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam’s fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church.[12]

The key to reconciling this death found on the earth with our understanding of the Garden of Eden is Abraham chapter 5.  After the Lord finished the second phase of creation (after the dinosaurs and other extinct creatures had lived and died for millions and millions of years), Abraham tells us that the Lord “sanctified” the earth (Abr. 5:3). Once this occurred and the earth was sanctified, it was then elevated to a state where there was no more death. Dr. Skousen stated,

During the seventh [day in the Abraham account], and before the earth was sanctified, the last living remnants of these preparatory organisms [including dinosaurs] were removed from the earth. However, the dead, processed and fossilized remains were not removed since this would have robbed the earth of her crustal wealth and defeated the very purpose for which the preparatory life had lived and died.[13] 

Once the earth was sanctified on day seven of the Abraham account, the third and final phase the creation process began (reference endowment), and all the various forms of plant and animal life that we find here on earth today were placed upon the sanctified earth. This was the state Adam found them when he arrived in the Garden of Eden.  And had Adam not partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, each of these various life forms would have “remained in the same state” that they were in when they were originally placed in the Garden of Eden by the Lord (2 Ne. 2:22).

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Notes:

[1] Kowalis, “Things of the Earth,” Brigham Young Magazine, (Winter 2000-2001),  p. 38.
[2] Words of Joseph Smith, p. 60
[3] Moses 2:3-5; Abr. 4:3-5.
[4] Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “A Masonic Lodge...was established in Nauvoo and Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow, Orson Hyde, F.D. Richards, and about 1000 others in all became Masons.  Joseph, the Prophet, was aware that there were some things about Masonry which had come down from the beginning and he desired to know what they were, hence the lodge. The Masons admitted some keys of knowledge appertaining to Masonry were lost.  Joseph enquired of the Lord concerning the matter and He revealed to the Prophet true Masonry, as we have it in our temples” (Larson, A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson, p. 42).
[5] Note that these three phases are each divided into seven days, or more accurately, seven unknown periods of time. (Journal of Discourses, p. 231).
[6] “[Abraham] reports that the physical earth was prepared to receive and sustain modern life forms.  But he doesn’t tell us specifically how it was done” (Skousen, Earth in the Beginning, p. 92).
[7] Journal of Discourses, p. 231.
[8] Skousen, Earth in the Beginning, p. 92.
[9] Skousen, Earth in the Beginning, p. 313.
[10] “Mormonism and science/Deathbefore the Fall,” Fair Mormon Answers, (03/18/2014).
[11] Talmage, “The Earth and Man,” address delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle Sunday, Aug. 9, 1931, and printed in the Deseret News, Nov. 21, 1931.
[12] James E. Talmage Journals, Vol. 29, p. 42 (April 7, 1931).
[13] Skousen, Earth in the Beginning, p. 313.