Today is, appropriately, the anniversary of my most popular blog post last year. The bar for that is pretty low, but it still made me happy. So here it is again: Newly Discovered Ancient Document Sheds Light on the Origin of Our Species
I hadn't been to Institute for two semesters because although the organization was taking appropriate health precautions, I knew for a fact that most of my potential fellow students were out having large social gatherings with no masks on a regular basis. Now I'm vaccinated so it's fine. I even had prolonged exposure to a Covid-positive neighbor a week before my vaccination reached full efficacy and nothing happened, so after all this time I can finally relax and stop thinking about the potential life-ruining long-term side effects that an infection might have on my brain. I missed the first couple weeks of "Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel" due to my visiting family. I've taken this class twice, as I've taken every class that interests me at all, but I still have great need to increase my relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ. It was a powerful experience the first two times but it wore off after a while.
I'd never even seen Rand Curtis before and didn't know what to expect. When I came in and saw on the screen "Lesson 4: The Creation", I got a bit queasy as I flashed back to past experiences with this topic in Institute classes. Listening to teachers who know nothing about evolution mock evolution while I sit there with the expertise to know it's real as surely as I know the sun shines has never been a pleasant experience. The last time was a few years ago, and the Institute faculty may have caught up with the last century of scientific discovery by now, but I just didn't know what to expect and it was kind of tense.
So he kind of started off with a painting of a primordial-looking Earth with Jesus flying above it looking pretty epic with his hands and feet angled toward it as if to say, "KAZAM!" He made us talk to our classmates and discuss what we think the creation of the Earth may have looked like. I told my partner that I accept the scientific account of the creation of the Earth, so I think it took a really long time and if you floated there and watched you wouldn't notice anything happening. (Granted, if you timed your observation just right you might see the hypothesized planet Theia crash into it and knock off the big chunk of debris that later became our moon, which would be almost but not quite as epic as Jesus saying "KAZAM!") I phrased my opinion as inoffensively as possible, as if accepting science were only one of many possible options. My partner kind of nodded and accepted that.
Brother Curtis then had a slide that showed a diagram of the Earth with its layers, and a timeline of its scientifically established history starting at the north pole and going around its circumference. I wondered, did he put that up there just to dispute it? But he reassured me very quickly. "Was the Earth created in six days?" he asked the class. I kind of went "Eh" as if to say "I don't believe so, but you can believe what you want." But he answered his own question like, "No! But a thousand years are as one day to God, so was the Earth created in six thousand years?" And I kind of went "Eh" again. But he answered his own question like, "No!" And he had a spiel about the ultimate compatibility of scientific and religious truth, and he spoke against checking your brain at the door of a religious classroom and suppressing secular knowledge or the questions it raises. Stuff I've read and written ad nauseam, but a welcome surprise anyway. He basically straight-up said that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That was more than I could have hoped for. I get so tired of people pretending that if the Church doesn't have a position on something, any view on the subject is equally valid regardless of basic facts and common sense.
Granted, I had another teacher, Kurt Reese, who said that the Earth isn't 6,000 years old and then said "If anyone here believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, I'm sorry... that you're bad at science." I guess that counts. But he wasn't teaching about the Creation per se - it was a church history class and we were talking about Joseph Fielding Smith's ridiculously fundamentalist readings of scripture, and he liked to joke around and tease like that in general. He would tease you for being from Colorado or being a Democrat even though one of the points he tried to hammer home is that you can, in fact, be a Democrat and still be worthy. He went so far as to imply that it's okay if you observe rampant poverty on your mission and come home feeling "pretty disgusted with capitalism". And he's a Republican himself, but not the evil kind. Where was I going with this? Anyway, his discussion of the age of the Earth was cool and all but not quite as impactful in that context. Maybe I was just desensitized to his heretical teachings by that point in the course.
Brother Curtis pointed out that on this little Earth history timeline, dinosaurs don't seem so ancient anymore, and human history was too brief to even show up. And then he said three incredible words - "Fifty million years." Not phrased as a question. Oh boy. The Earth itself is one thing, but this strikes at the very heart of some people's spiritual identity. Of course, it's the sort of perceived chronological discrepancy that some Latter-day Saints think they can just handwave away with suggestions like "wE dOn'T kNoW hOw LoNg AdAm AnD eVe WeRe In ThE gArDeN." Yeah, whatever. They're the only two people in the world, they can't have sex, literally nothing has been invented yet, and I'm supposed to seriously consider for one moment the possibility that they just chill in the Garden for, say, the entire time that dinosaurs are roaming around elsewhere? Nuh-uh. I give them three months before they eat the forbidden fruit as an attempt at suicide.
His next slide showed a bunch of skulls of our ancient evolutionary cousins and ancestors - either that, or just skulls of people who think Derek Chauvin should have been acquitted. He asked if we have room for these people in our view of the gospel. I discussed with my partner. Yes, we both did. Cool. But Brother Curtis overheard someone say "It doesn't matter how we got here, just that we're here" and called him out on it because that kind of intellectual apathy "won't make us like our heavenly parents." Brother Curtis was very big on intellect. Most religious teachers are in theory, but it's another thing to actually be so in practice and not the type of person who starts sentences with "I love science, but..." He did say he wasn't going to get into all the details of how he worked out science and religion together, which is fair, but I wish he hadn't just said "I find no physical evidence for a flood covering the entire planet a few thousand years ago. None" and left that for us to grapple with. I think the story of Noah is much easier to reconcile than most people give it credit for. I don't know why so many are locked into this false dichotomy that either the flood covered the entire planet or it never happened.
Speaking of heavenly parents, that was a big thing with him. He always said "heavenly parents" where most Saints would just say "Heavenly Father". I don't think he said "Heavenly Father" one time. In fact, in one of his slides he had written "Heavenly Father" and read it as "heavenly parents", which suggested to me that perhaps he, too, just recently had a feminist awakening. These small and simple vocabulary replacements are a huge step toward promoting true gender equality in the Church, showing women that they, too, have a significant eternal destiny and role model, and really leveraging one of the greatest doctrines that separates us from the mainstream Christian world and by all rights should be shouted from the rooftops, not treated as an open secret.
Since this was a ninety-minute night class, we then had another lesson, which was about commandments and stuff and not nearly as interesting because science, but still good. Yes, commandments can change; no, Jesus did not drink grape juice. Brother Curtis remained an engaging and effective teacher but tried a little too hard to relate. He shared that he still hasn't mastered the don't-looketh-upon-a-woman-to-lust-after-her thing. He said, "I'm old, but I'm not that old." TMI, my dude. But I'll let that slide. His whole perspective on things was such a breath of fresh air as I've grown so disillusioned with the rampant stupidity and willful ignorance that sometimes make me very embarrassed to be a believer. It's above and beyond what I've come to expect from an Institute class. He even expressed his gratitude for the LGBTQ community. The experience had me looking at him like
I hope my classmates don't complain and get him fired.
A couple of videos he shared which I'd seen before but were worth rewatching because space:
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.