11/15/2005

Joseph F. Smith: A Tale of Two Letters Pt. 2

The same month (April 1911) that Joseph F. Smith's editorial appeared in the Improvement Era, he published a separate editorial in the Juvenile Instructor. Although similar to its companion, the JI article contains some interesting statements.

It comes as no suprise that President Smith viewed evolution as "more or less a fallacy." Nevertheless, he characterized our relationship to our Creator as defined by revelation to a "very limited degree." He further made these significant statements:
In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussions in our Church schools we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false...

The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world...
Part of President Smith's motivation for the action he took was a desire to keep the gospel simple--something that both schooled and unschooled could understand and appreciate. He thought that a better use of biological instruction was to focus on practical issues like pest control.

Commenting on this editoral, Trent Stephens and Jeffery Meldrum write:
A lot has changed since 1911...We now know that managing insects requires a knowledge of their life cycles, chemistry, genetics, and evolution.

...the decision to avoid teaching evolution in the church schools was abandoned at least by the fall of 1971, when a formal class in evolution was instituted at BYU [with General Authority approval, M&E]...It has been the case for many years that all the biology classes at BYU teach evolution as the foundation of the discipline... (Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, p. 41)


Again, it is interesting to note that President Smith did not make reference to the 1909 statement. Nevertheless it seems appropriate to suggest that these two editorials illuminate Joseph F. Smith's thinking on evolution, and that they should be kept in mind when interpreting "The Origin of Man."


The Juvenile Instructor editorial is reproduced below. The text is taken from Eyring-L.

-------------------------

Philosophy and the Church Schools.

Some questions have arisen about the attitude of the Church on certain discussions of philosophy in the Church schools. Philosophical discussions as we understand them, are open questions about which men of science are very greatly at variance. As a rule we do not think it advisable to dwell on questions that are in controversy, and especially questions of a certain character, in the courses of instruction given by our institutions. In the first place it is the mission of our institutions of learning to qualify our young people for the practical duties of life. It is much to be preferred that they emphasize the industrial and practical side of education. Students are very apt to draw the conclusion that whichever side of a controversial question they adopt is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and it is very doubtful therefore, whether the great mass of our students have sufficient discriminating judgment to understand very much about some of the advanced theories of philosophy or science.

Some subjects are in themselves, perhaps, perfectly harmless, and any amount of discussion over them would not be injurious to the faith of out young people. We are told, for example, that the theory of gravitation is at best a hypothesis and that such is the atomic theory. These theories help to explain certain things about nature. Whether they are ultimately true can not make much difference to the religious convictions of our young people. On the other hand there are speculations which touch the origin of life and the relationship of God to his children. In a very limited degree that relationship has been defined by revelation, and until we receive more light upon the subject we deem it best to refrain from the discussion of certain philosophical theories which rather destroy than build up the faith of our young people. One thing about this so-called philosophy of religion that is very undesirable, lies in the fact that as soon as we convert our religion into a system of philosophy none but philosophers can understand, appreciate, or enjoy it. God, in his revelation to man has made His word so simple that the humblest of men without especial training, may enjoy great faith, comprehend the teachings of the Gospel, and enjoy undisturbed their religious convictions. For that reason we are averse to the discussion of certain philosophical theories in our religious instructions. If our Church schools would confine their so-called course of study in biology to that knowledge of the insect world which would help us to eradicate the pests that threaten the destruction of our crops and our fruit, such instruction would answer much better the aims of the Church school, than theories which deal with the origin of life.

These theories may have a fascination for our teachers and they may find interest in the study of them, but they are not properly within the scope of the purpose for which these schools were organized.

Some of our teachers are anxious to explain how much of the theory of evolution, in their judgment, is true, and what is false, but that only leaves their students in an unsettled frame of mind. They are not old enough and learned enough to discriminate, or put proper limitations upon a theory which we believe is more or less a fallacy. In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussions in our Church schools we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false. We think that while it is a hypothesis, on both sides of which the most eminent scientific men of the world are arrayed, that it is folly to take up its discussion in our institutions of learning; and we can not see wherein such discussions are likely to promote the faith of our young people. On the other hand we have abundant evidence that many of those who have adopted in its fullness the theory of evolution have discarded the Bible, or at least refused to accept it as the inspired word of God. It is not, then, the question of the liberty of any teacher to entertain whatever views he may have upon this hypothesis of evolution, but rather the right of the Church to say that it does not think it profitable or wise to introduce controversies relative to evolution in its schools. Even if it were harmless from the standpoint of our faith, we think there are things more important to the daily affairs of life and the practical welfare of our young people. The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world, and much of the talk therefore, about the philosophy of Mormonism is altogether misleading. God has revealed to us a simple and effectual way of serving Him, and we should regret very much to see the simplicity of those revelations involved in all sorts of philosophical speculations. If we encouraged them it would not be long before we should have a theological scholastic aristocracy in the Church, and we should therefore not enjoy the brotherhood that now is, or should be common to rich and poor, learned and unlearned among the Saints.

Joseph F. Smith

The Juvenile Instructor 46(4):208-209 (April 1911)

3 Comments:

Jared, thanks for posting these interesting letters. It's now okay to teach evolution at BYU, but I would agree with the spirit of one of President Smith's sentiments, that there are appropriate times and places for such discussions, and that the Church need not be obligated to address it in official contexts (Gospel Doctrine class, for example). Hence the value of unofficial contexts (e.g., blogs). ;-> 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

11/16/2005 12:49:00 PM  

...there are appropriate times and places for such discussions, and that the Church need not be obligated to address it in official contexts (Gospel Doctrine class, for example).

Oh I agree. To use the higher criticism example, Gospel Doctrine class isn't the place to discuss which of the gospels are derived from the others, or whether Paul really did write Hebrews. Such concepts get complicated, require training in Greek, and miss the point of church services.

11/16/2005 01:21:00 PM  

Mr. Smith does indeed have two letters that establish his doctrine- P U 

Posted by Andrew Clarkson

1/15/2006 09:36:00 PM  

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