(by Dennis B. Horne)
Brigham Young had the proper words for those intellectual Mormons
who generously offered to place their great minds at the disposal
of the Church and make the Gospel intellectually respectable:
“O puss, what a long tail you have got!”
The below quotations are generally speaking on a broad level about the problems of teachings vain speculations and theories, and mixing them with the gospel. The quotations from the prophets are filled with warnings about accepting scientific teachings without due caution and wariness, and to avoid accepting unproven theories (defined as hypotheses, not as facts):
President Joseph F. Smith:
It is to be feared…that in some places there is a growing disposition to involve our religious ideas and instructions in all sorts of speculations. In religious technicalities there is always a distinct danger—a danger in which men undertake to solve the relation which we bear to God through the medium of human reasoning. There are some who love to argue for argument’s sake—as willing to argue on the side of error as of truth—and it is very easy for such people to fall into the spirit of contention. There are others who are prone to mysticism, and become easy victims of all sorts of sophistries. There are people who are always in search of hidden meaning they imagine they see in the Scriptures, and they waste their lives on trivial and unimportant matters.
There are facts enough in the history of God’s dispensation to man to occupy thoughtful minds, and there are always peculiar conditions to be found in the history of religion that can be made applicable to our social needs and individual wants; and the great fundamental truths of Holy Writ are the simplest and most easily understood. If they have become difficult to human understanding, it is because religious speculators of the day have involved them in systems of philosophy that are not necessary to their appreciation or understanding. (Editorial Thoughts, “Simplicity in Religion,” The Juvenile Instructor, vol. XLVI [May 1911], no. 5, 268.)
Joseph F. Smith:
Our methods in speculation and reasoning about the things of God may often be harmless; but if we depart from the simplicity of God’s word into a spirit of rationalism, we become the victims of a vanity which endangers the true spirit of worship in the human heart. It is not easy for men to give up their vanities, to overcome their preconceived notions, and surrender themselves heart and soul to the will of God that is always higher than their own. The dangers of religious speculations are as great today as they were in the days of Christ, and if we would avoid their dangers we must adhere to the simplicity of our religious belief and practices. When men and women realize they are getting into deep water where their footing is insecure, they should retreat; for they may be sure that the course they have been taking will lead them more and more away from their bearings which are not always easy to regain. The religion of the heart, the unaffected and simple communion which we should hold with God is the highest safeguard of the Latter-day Saints. It is no discredit to our intelligence or to our integrity to say frankly in the face of a hundred speculative questions, “I do not know.”
One thing is certain, and that is, God has revealed enough to our understanding for our exaltation and for our happiness. Let the Saints then utilize what they already have; be simple and unaffected in their religion, both in thought and word, and they will not easily lose their bearings, and be subjected to the vain philosophies of man.
What we need in our religious faith and manner of life is more simplicity and less ostentation. Some people get their religion so mixed with foreign matters that it changes according to the passing moods and speculations to which they are subjected. Our reason has been given us for a wise purpose—to support the faith that comes through the revelations of God. The fallacy of all attempts to evolve a perfect religious system out of human reasoning is apparent to the Latter-day Saints, and should be to all men. (Editorial Thoughts, “Simplicity in Religion,” The Juvenile Instructor, vol. XLVI [May 1911], no. 5, 269.)
Our young people are diligent students. They reach out after truth and knowledge with commendable zeal, and in so doing they must necessarily adopt for temporary use, many theories of men. As long, however, as they recognize them as scaffolding useful for research purposes, there can be no special harm in them. It is when these theories are settled upon as basic truth that trouble appears, and the searcher then stands in grave danger of being led hopelessly from the right way….
The Church holds to the definite authority of divine revelation which must be the standard; and that, as so-called "Science" has changed from age to age in its deductions, and as divine revelation is truth, and must abide forever, views as to the lesser should conform to the positive statements of the greater, and, further, that in institutions founded by the Church for the teaching of theology, as well as other branches of education, its instructors must be in harmony in their teachings with its principles and doctrines….
There are so many demonstrated, practical, material truths, so many spiritual certainties, with which the youth of Zion should become familiar, that it appears a waste of time and means, and detrimental to faith and religion to enter too extensively into the undemonstrated theories of men on philosophies relating to the origin of life, or the methods adopted by an Allwise Creator in peopling the earth with the bodies of men, birds and beasts. Let us rather turn our abilities to the practical analysis of the soil, the study of the elements, the productions of the earth, the invention of useful machinery, the social welfare of the race, and its material amelioration; and for the rest cultivate an abiding faith in the revealed word of God and the saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which give joy in this world and in the world to come eternal life and salvation.
Philosophic theories of life have their place and use, but it is not in the classes of the Church schools, and particularly are they out of place here or anywhere else, when they seek to supplant the revelations of God. The ordinary student cannot delve into these subjects deep enough to make them of any practical use to him, and a smattering of knowledge in this line only tends to upset his simple faith in the gospel, which is of more value to him in life than all the learning of the world without it.
The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth. "That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy," said the First Presidency in their Christmas greeting to the Saints, "but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men we do not accept, nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense, but everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us, no matter where it may be found."
A good motto for young people to adopt, who are determined to delve into philosophic theories, is to search all things, but be careful to hold on only to that which is true. The truth persists, but the theories of philosophers change and are overthrown. What men use today as a scaffolding for scientific purposes from which to reach out into the unknown for truth, may be torn down tomorrow, having served its purpose; but faith is an eternal principle through which the humble believer may secure everlasting solace. It is the only way to find God..—Improvement Era, Vol. 14, p. 548.
and philosophy through all the ages have undergone change after change.
Scarcely a century has passed but they have introduced new theories of science
and philosophy, that supersede the old traditions and the old faith and the old
doctrines entertained by philosophers and scientists. These things may undergo
continuous changes, but the word of God is always true, is always right. The
principles of the gospel are always true, the principles of faith in God,
repentance from sin, baptism for the remission of sins by authority of God, and
the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost—these principles are
always true, and are always absolutely necessary for the salvation of the
children of men, no matter who they are and where they are. No other name under
heaven is given but that of Jesus Christ, by which you can be saved or exalted
President [Joseph F.] Smith again gave us some wonderful counsel about our studies in philosophy and science, and how we might be wise to avoid the possibility of these studies dimming our spiritual awareness or keeping us from being in tune with the spirit. This is what he said, “Our young people are diligent students. They reach out after truth and knowledge with commendable zeal and in so doing they must necessarily adopt for temporary use many theories of men. As long, however, as they recognize them as scaffolding, useful for research purposes, there can be no special harm in them. It is when these theories are settled upon as basic truth that trouble appears and the searcher then stands in grave danger of being led hopelessly from the right way.” And then he said this: “Philosophic theories of life have their place and use, but they are out of their place in Church schools or anywhere else when they seek to supplant the revelations of God.” Now if we’ll just remember that. The revelations of God are our standards, the things by which we measure all learning, and if these things square not with the revelations, then we may be certain that they are not truth.
The differing perspectives of scientific evidence and religious doctrine can be likened to the difference between studying about an automobile by observing its operation and disassembling and analyzing its various parts or by reading the operator’s manual written by the manufacturer. Much can be learned by observation and analysis, but that method will yield only partial knowledge of the function and potential of a machine. The best and most complete knowledge about the operation and potential of a machine will be revealed by studying the manual written by its manufacturer. The operator’s manual for our bodies and souls is the scriptures, written by the God who created us and interpreted by his prophets. These are the best sources of knowledge about the purpose of life and the behavior and thoughts we should cultivate in order to live in happiness and to achieve our divine destiny.
J. Reuben Clark:
I was always much impressed with one feature of the teaching of Dr. James E. Talmage. Dr. James E. Talmage had a reputation as a scientist. For years I was his secretary. I often jokingly observed that I wrote the Articles of Faith. Which I did, on the typewriter. But I know that Dr. Talmage always used the maximum of his ability. His powers of argumentation, his powers of analysis, in order to bring to the support of the doctrines of the Church, that is, all the facts of science, of which he had any knowledge….
I remember once hearing Dr. Talmage, overhearing, I was working in the room where he and Colonel Willard Young were talking, and I remember hearing him say in the course of the talk with the two men, and this is a common saying, that scriptures were never written as a textbook on science. I’m not sure. It may be that when we get farther along and know more we’ll find that they’re more than that….
I have a feeling that the Lord has
revealed to us more about science, but particularly astronomy, in the
scriptures than we appreciate.
(“Preparation of Teachers—Build a Simple Faith,” Pre-School Faculty
If there is anything that is great and good and wise among men, it cometh from God. If there are men who possess great ability as statesmen, or as philosophers, or who possess remarkable scientific knowledge and skill, the credit thereof belongs to God, for He dispenses it to His children whether they believe in Him or not, or whether they sin against Him or not; it makes no difference; but all will have to account to Him for the way and manner in which they have used the talents committed unto them. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-86], 11: 123.)
In a recent magazine was printed a brief digest of an article from a German astronomer who says that radio astronomers today discuss as a distinct possibility interplanetary conversation between earth-bound man and creatures on other planets; he "demonstrates with intricate mathematical logic that planets suitable for life may be fairly common among the stars, and that there are perhaps only ten civilized communities within 1,000 light years of the earth," and "there may well be creatures intelligent enough on some of those planets to transmit radio messages across the enormous distances of interstellar space."
He seems convinced that earth's astronomers could eventually detect and interpret incoming messages which highly cultured creatures from those intelligent communities might send, but since the galactic history of such planets "might take billions of years to evolve their flowering might well last only a few thousand years, so their brief moments of glory would seldom coincide." He reasons that "some extraterrestrial civilizations may have destroyed themselves completely, while others may have killed off only the higher types of life, permitting new and later civilizations to evolve from the humble creatures that managed to survive."
Since no mention is made of a controlling power, we fear that there is the assumption that planets build themselves and that inhabitants create themselves. We honor and congratulate the scientists for their intensive research and some of their conclusions. When we add to their assumptions and findings the knowledge acquired through the scriptures, and then place an Omnipotent God in the center of all things, the picture becomes clearer and purpose gives it meaning and color.
Richard L. Evans:
Many evidences, or seeming
evidences, are tentative. Many findings,
or supposed findings, have been abandoned.
I know that our youngsters…are inclined to take opinions or theories
rather literally. I think that we would
bring a blessing into their lives if we should impress upon them the great
virtue of patience. There is all
eternity ahead. If there is any doubt
about the answers, or if there is any conflict or area of confusion or any
seeming contradiction between what the Lord God has surely revealed and what
any man or any segment of men seem to have found, we have nothing to lose by
waiting and reserving judgment and being patient. There is all eternity ahead. I would like to find out all the answers I
can, learn to be patient, and wait for the unanswered question. (“The
Unanswerable Questions,” Address given to Church History and Philosophy
Richard L. Evans:
I have a horror of the phrase
“science says.” I have seen so much
controversy among the experts that to personalize them, characterize them, and
collectivize them under the generalization that “science says” is a pretty
flagrant abuse of fact. You have got to
know what scientist said it, when he said it, why he said it, how good a
scientist he is, how long what he has said has lived, and who is challenging
it. There is a great deal of positive
opinion in the world, and there always has been. Men ride hobbies and hunches. It isn’t only in the courtroom that they
select the evidence and ignore what does not lead where they want to go. Whenever I read or hear “science says,” I
begin to bristle. I have a great respect
for science and a great respect for some scientists, but they are not all of
the same clan, color, or competence; and all the tentative conclusions they
reach are not the final word, not the ultimate nor the complete one. (“The
Unanswerable Questions,” Address given to Church History and Philosophy
President Wilford Woodruff:
Now, whatever I might have obtained in the shape of learning, by searching and study respecting the arts and sciences of men—whatever principles I may have imbibed during my scientific researches, yet, if the Prophet of God should tell me that a certain principle or theory which I might have learned was not true, I do not care what my ideas might have been, I should consider it my duty, at the suggestion of my file leader, to abandon that principle or theory. Supposing he were to say the principles by which you are governed are not right—that they were incorrect, what would be my duty? I answer that it would be my duty to lay those principles aside, and to take up those that might be laid down by the servants of God.
I have seen men in the days of Joseph bring up principles, and read, and teach, and advocate theories, when the Prophet would say, "It is not right to do so: they are not true." Those men would still argue, maintain their position, and they would write in defense of their theories when the Prophet condemned them, and they would say, "We have no faith in your theory, nor in the system you present." The very moment a man does that, he crosses the path of the servant of God who is set to lead the way to life and salvation. This is one thing that the Elders should carefully avoid. (JD 5:83-84)
Elder Richard G. Scott on the scientific method