(by Dennis B. Horne)
Elder Boyd K. Packer referenced this dream or vision given to a past Superintendent of Church Schools in his 1995 address to BYU students. It directly relates to teaching evolution and other false doctrines to BYU students; the same thing warned of in this dream is going on now as BYU biologists today repeat the egregious errors of their former associates:
I remember as well Sunday, January 8, 1956. To understand why that is memorable to me, we must go back to 1910.
George Brimhall, having already served 19 years as president of BYU, determined to establish a recognized teachers college. He had hired three professors: one with a master’s degree from Harvard, one with a doctorate from Cornell, and the other with a doctorate from Chicago. They hoped to transform the college into a full-fledged university. They determined that practicality and religion, which had characterized the school, must now give way to more intellectual and scientific philosophies.
The professors held that “the fundamentals of religion could and must be investigated by extending the [empirical] method into the spiritual realm,” and they “considered evolution to be a basic, spiritual principle through which the divinity in nature expressed itself.”2 The faculty sided with the new professors and the students rallied to them.
Horace Cummings, superintendent of Church schools, became concerned because they were “applying the evolutionary theory and other philosophical hypotheses to principles of the gospel and to the teachings of the Church in such a way as to disturb, if not destroy the faith of the pupils,” and he wrote, “Many stake presidents, some of our leading principals and teachers, and leading men who are friends of our schools have expressed deep anxiety to me about this matter.”3
Superintendent Cummings reported to the board that:
1. The teachers were following the “higher criticism”. . . , treating the Bible as “a collection of myths, folk-lore, dramas, literary productions, history and some inspiration.”
2. They rejected the flood, the confusion of tongues, the miracle of the Red Sea, and the temptation of Christ as real phenomena.
3. They said John the Revelator was not translated but died in the year A.D. 96.
4. “The theory of evolution is treated as a demonstrated law and their applications of it to gospel truths give rise to many curious and conflicting explanations of scripture.”
5. The teachers carried philosophical ideas too far: (1) “They believed sinners should be pitied and enlightened rather than blamed or punished,” (2) and they believed that “we should never agree. God never made two things alike. Only by taking different views of a thing can its real truth be seen.”
6. . . . .
7. The professors taught that “all truths change as we change. Nothing is fixed or reliable.”
8. They also taught that “Visions and revelations are mental suggestions. The objective reality of the presence of the Father and the Son, in Joseph Smith’s first vision, is questioned.”4
Superintendent Cummings concluded his report by saying that the professors “seem to feel that they have a mission to protect the young from the errors of their parents.”5
President Brimhall himself defended the professors—that is, until some students “frankly told him they had quit praying because they learned in school there was no real God to hear them.”6
Shortly thereafter President Brimhall had a dream.
He saw several of the BYU professors standing around a peculiar machine on the campus. When one of them touched a spring a baited fish hook attached to a long thin wire rose rapidly into the air. . . .
Casting his eyes around the sky he [President Brimhall] discovered a flock of snow-white birds circling among the clouds and disporting themselves in the sky, seemingly very happy. Presently one of them, seeing the bait on the hook, darted toward it and grabbed it. Instantly one of the professors on the ground touched a spring in the machine, and the bird was rapidly hauled down to the earth.
On reaching the ground the bird proved to be a BYU student, clad in an ancient Greek costume, and was directed to join a group of other students who had been brought down in a similar manner. Brother Brimhall walked over to them, and noticing that all of them looked very sad, discouraged and downcast, he asked them:
“Why, students, what on earth makes you so sad and downhearted?”
“Alas, we can never fly again!” they replied with a sigh and a sad shake of the head.
Their Greek philosophy had tied them to the earth. They could believe only what they could demonstrate in the laboratory. Their prayers could go no higher than the ceiling. They could see no heaven—no hereafter.7
Now deeply embarrassed by the controversy and caught between opposing factions, President Brimhall at first attempted to be conciliatory. He said, “I have been hoping for a year or two past that harmony could be secured by waiting, but the delays have been fraught with increased danger.”8 When an exercise inadministrative diplomacy suddenly became an issue of faith, President Brimhall acted.
And now to Sunday, January 8, 1956. President David O. McKay came to Brigham City to dedicate a chapel built for students of the Intermountain Indian School. I stood next to him to introduce those who came forward to shake his hand.
A very old man, a stranger to me, came forward on the arm of his daughter. He had come some distance to speak to President McKay. It was impossible for me not to hear their conversation. He gave President McKay his name and said that many years ago he had taught at BYU. President McKay said, “Yes, I know who you are.” Tears came as the old man spoke sorrowfully about the burden he had carried for years. President McKay was very tender in consoling him. “I know your heart,” he said. That old man was one of the three professors who had been hired [and fired] by President Brimhall in 1910. . . .
Now I must speak of the snow-white birds that Brother Brimhall saw in his dream or vision. I say vision because another old man, Lehi, told his son Nephi, “Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision.”
We have now enrolled in our institutes of religion 198,000 students. We spend approximately $300 a year on each of them. We spend more than $7,500 a year on each student at BYU and over $12,000 per student on the Hawaii campus, all of it from tithing funds.
That inequity worries the Brethren. We are trying to reach out to those in public colleges, as well as to the college-age members who are not, for various reasons, in school. We have invited them to attend classes in the institutes.
General Authorities often speak at firesides in the Marriott Center. Lately we have been broadcasting these messages to the institute students by satellite. Last time I was assigned, I spoke from Seattle. I wanted to show an equal interest in and an equal desire to be close to those who do not attend Church schools.
They need our help, these snow-white birds who now must fly in an atmosphere that grows ever darker with pollution. It is harder now for them to keep their wings from being soiled or their flight feathers from being pulled out.
The troubles that beset President Brimhall were hardly new. Paul told Timothy that, even in that day, they were of ancient origin:
“As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses,” he told Timothy, “so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.”
Paul prophesied plainly that those challenges would face us in the last days. They seem to cycle back each generation. They emerged in the early ‘30s. The Brethren called all of the teachers of religion together for a summer school at Aspen Grove. President J. Reuben Clark Jr., speaking for the First Presidency, delivered the landmark address “The Charted Course of the Church in Education” (1938). That address should be read by every one of you every year. It is insightful; it is profound; it is prophetic; it is scripture.
That opposition emerged again in the institutes of religion in the early ‘50s, and the Brethren called the summer session of which I spoke earlier, with Elder Harold B. Lee of the Twelve as our teacher.
We need to be alert today. Although there are too many now in our schools for us to call all of you together, here at BYU much is being done to reaffirm standards. You yourselves have helped refine the credentials for one who will influence these snow-white birds of ours. That standard is temple worthiness, with a recommend in hand for members and a respect for our standards by those who are not.
But that is not all. There must be a feeling and a dedication and a recognition and acceptance of the mission of our Church schools. Those standards will and must be upheld. The largest block of the tithing funds spent at BYU goes for teaching salaries. We cannot justify spending the widow’s mite on one who will not observe either the letter or the spirit of the contract he or she has signed. Every department chair, every director, every dean and administrator has a sacred obligation to assure that no one under their care will pull the snow-white birds from the sky or cause even one to say, “Alas, we can never fly again!” or to “believe only what could be demonstrated in a laboratory” or to think that “their prayer could go no higher than the ceiling, or to see no heaven—no hereafter.”
We expect no more of anyone than that you live up to the contract you have signed. We will accept no less of you.
Such are the feelings of the Brethren. Below is the complete report and some further comment from senior church leaders of that former day, who were wrestling with these teachers of false doctrine at the church’s school.
[Below report prepared by Horace Cummings, Superintendent of Church Schools:]
January 21, 1911.
Pres. Joseph F. Smith and Members of the General Church Board of Education.
According to your request I herewith present for your consideration a written report of my recent visit to the B. Y. University, Provo, and the impressions made upon my mind concerning the nature and effect of certain theological instructions given, mostly by the College professors in that school.
I spent about nine days there between November 28, and December 10, and conversed with the Presidency of the school, many of the teachers and as many of the College students as I had opportunity of meeting. I also conversed with a number of leading citizens of Provo about this feature of the school’s work and endeavored, conscientiously, to find out the real condition of the school in this respect, and the following are some of the points of information gained there:
1. About two years ago when some of the most radical changes in theological views were first introduced, it caused great disturbance in the minds of both the pupils and the old-style teachers there, but many have gradually adjusted their views to the “new thought” and feel that they have gained much by the change. Many of the teachers and students are unable to accept them, however, though practically all the College students whom I met, except one or two returned missionaries, were most zealous in defending and propagating the new views.
2. It was the unanimous opinion that interest in theological work had never been more universal or more intense in school than it is now. The classes are gladly attended and none seem to shirk the work.
3. All express firm faith in the living oracles.
4. All believe in tithing, missionary work, and the ordinances of the gospel, and appear to be determined to do their duty in these things.
5. I discovered no spirit of contention or bitterness—their differences seemed to be good natured. Still, there is a pronounced difference of opinion among both students and teachers upon many important points of doctrine and belief.
Some of the matters which impressed me most unfavorably may be enumerated as follows:
2. The Bible is treated as a collection of myths, folklore, dramas, literary productions, and some inspiration. Its miracles are but mostly fables or accounts of natural events recorded by simple people who injected the miraculous element into them, as most ignorant people do when things, strange to them, occur. A few concrete examples will illustrate this view:
(a) The flood was only a local inundation of unusual extent.
(b) The confusion of tongues came about by scattering of the families descended from Noah when they became too numerous for the valley they originally occupied. After a generation or two, having no written language, their speech changed, each tribe’s in a different way. There is nothing sudden or miraculous in the change.
(c) The winds blew the waters of the Red Sea back until the Israelites waded across, but subsided in time to let the waters drown Pharaoh, while a land slide stopped the River Jordan long enough for them to cross it.
(d) Christ’s temptation is only an allegory of what takes place in each of our souls. There is no personal devil to tempt us.
(e) John the Revelator was not translated. He died in the year 96.
3. The theory of evolution is treated as a demonstrated law and their applications of it to gospel truths give rise to many curious and conflicting explanations of scripture. Its relations to the fall, the atonement and the resurrection, are, perhaps, the most important and damaging to the faith of the students.
4. Philosophical ideas are often carried too far and result in wrong impressions as to doctrine. This may be partly the fault of the teacher in not making himself clear, and partly of the pupil in jumping at the wrong conclusions or applications. For example:
(a) Sin is the violation of a law resulting in pain or discomfort. Righteousness is pursuing a course that brings happiness. No intelligent being would sin if he knew its full consequences; hence, sin is ignorance–education or knowledge, is salvation. Sinners should be pitied and enlightened rather than blamed and punished. Ordinances may be helpful props to weak mortals, but knowledge is the only essential.
(b) We should never agree. God never made two things alike. Only by taking different views of a thing can its real truth be seen.
5. Memory gems are immoral, since fixing the words fixes the thought and prevents growth. I was told that one teacher, before his class, thanked God he could not repeate one of the Articles of Faith and another took his children out of Primary Association because they were taught to memorize.
6. All the truths change as we change. Nothing is fixed or reliable. As we grow or change our attitude toward any truth, that truth changes.
7. Visions and revelations are mental suggestions. The objective reality of the presence of the Father and the Son, in Joseph Smith’s first vision, is questioned.
8. To get the real truth in any vision or revelation, modern as well as ancient, the mental and physical condition of the prophet receiving it must be known. After eliminating the personal equation, the remainder may be recognized as inspirational or divine.
9. In thus robbing the scriptures, both ancient and modern, of the greater portion of their divinity, and limiting the wonders of the Great Creator to the necessity of confining his operations to the natural laws known to man. I asked if it did not lower the scriptures and weaken their influence upon their minds. The reply was that the scriptures and the gospel were more dear and more beautiful to them, on that account, being broader in their application. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the line of the prophets and righteous men of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, whose reference to the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt is recorded as a special mark of their divine approval, cannot but be regarded with pity for not knowing the science of our day which robs those events of their wonder, if not their divinity.
10. And in the same line, while these teachers extol the living oracles, it came to me from several
sources that if their teachings are to be investigated they will demand that the ones who do the investigating shall be men of the same learning as themselves; none others could understand them and do them justice.
The foregoing are only a few of the more important features of the questionable teachings there that came to my notice, but enough to give a general idea of what I found. Much of the work, of course, was sound and unobjectionable, and even many of the questionable new theories and explanations were not fixed. There seemed to be a struggle still going on between their new views and their old ones, and at times, their words were full of light and at other times and on the same subjects they would be full or darkness. The struggle that both teacher and pupil described to me as having taken place was very fierce, and often robbed them of appetite and sleep. “An unusual effect of getting added light on the gospel,” I urged; but they replied that it was like the sorrow of the little child when first told there is not any Santa Claus. “Our early teachings have been very satisfying and useful, but untrue; and as the child’s real parents are better than a Santa Claus, so will the real new Bible and gospel be better than the old one.”
Religion, like science, must be expressed in terms of knowledge. Faith now seems to be regarded with pity as a superstition and is not a characteristic of the intellectually trained.
Since my visit to Provo, as many as three stake presidents in one week have called upon me expressing alarm at the teachings that come from the B.Y. University. One of them said that when he expostulated with the principal of their stake academy for teaching false doctrine, his defense was that the B.Y. University taught the same. Another President told me he did not want their present principal another year, as he is an apostate in his teachings and belief. The third said he would not allow one of his children to be under certain of the B.Y. University professors for anything. Many parents of students there have also visited me and expressed great fear for the faith of their children.
A student who will take his degree at the University of Utah next spring, applied to me the other day for a position in the church schools. In our conversation he told me that one of his professors, well known as hostile to our church, has read the articles from the White and Blue, the B. Y. University school journal, to his classes and expressed great satisfaction that young Mormons, anyway, are getting their eyes open on religious matters.
I presume that, being the Superintendent of the Church Schools, more complaints of this kind reach me than come to any of the other brethren; and I may therefore, be unduly impressed with the danger which exists and needs to be remedied in our Provo school. I do not wish to magnify these conditions, but cannot help feeling deep anxiety that the soundness of doctrine, the sweetness of spirit, and the general faithfulness that has, from the beginning, characterized the products of that school, should not diminish, much less give way to error and disbelief.
I believe the presidency of the school feel exactly as I do about this matter, for I have talked about it with them many times—especially with President Brimhall and President Keeler.
The responsibility for this state of affairs seems to rest upon no more than four or five of the teachers, all of whom I regard as clean, earnest men, conscientious in what they do and teach; but, being so long in college with so little to help them resist the skillfully formed theories of learned men, they have accepted many which are erroneous; and being zealous teachers, are vigorously laboring to convince others of their views. Such attitudes of mind, from the beginning, have been a common experience with our students in eastern colleges; but fortunately they often get rid of these errors when they again plunge into church work at home. Conditions in Provo are unfavorable for such a solution of their difficulty. The number there is sufficient to form a coterie having similar views, and the opposition they receive from others keeps them drawn together and determined to defend their views. If they were distributed and given other lines of work to do where their theories would not be continually called into activity, I think their attitude might change much for the better, in time, but I feel sure the conditions on the Teacher’s College, in this respect, need changing as soon as practicable.
These teachers have been warned by the presidency of the school and by myself, and even pleaded with, for the sake of the school, not to press their views with so much vigor. Even if they were right, conditions are not suitable; but their zeal overcomes all counsel and they seem even more determined, if not defiant, in pushing their beliefs upon the students. They seem to feel they have a mission to protect the young from the errors of their parents, and one student said to me, “I could make my dear mother weep in a minute by telling her how I have changed my religious views.” Yet, he had only accepted that which he thought was far ahead of what that mother had taught him. The poor mother did not have the capacity of understanding his new light and rejoicing with him in it, so he would keep it a secret from her.
The foregoing is respectfully submitted in the hope that a wise and effectual way may be decided upon to bring into harmony the theological teachings in our church schools and prevent the dissemination of doubt or false doctrine.
Heber J. Grant diary, February 10 & 11, 1911:
This afternoon met with President Lyman, Bros Hyrum M. Smith, Charles W. Penrose, Anthony W. Ivins, George H. Brimhall, Joseph B. Keeler, Henry and Joseph Peterson, Ralph Chamberlin and Horace H. Cummings, and we were together until nearly 7 p.m. listening to explanations regarding the teachings of the Bros Peterson and Chamberlin at the B.Y.U. at Provo. They were very frank in their explanations of their beliefs on Evolution, and as to certain parts of the Bible which they did not believe. They manifested a very good spirit.
Attended the meeting of the Twelve ... and after discussing the status of Bros Peterson and Bro Chamberlin we were unanimous of the opinion that it was unsafe for them to continue teaching at the B.Y.U. We were together until a little after 2 p.m.
Charles W. Penrose, Diary, February 10, 1911:
Met with committee and Brigham Young University Principal and Professors on heretical teachings. . . . Professors Henry and Joseph Petersen and William H. Chamberlain frankly acknowledged belief in the “higher criticism” and absolute certainty as to truth of Evolution and disbelief in many Biblical statements; while they recognized its general inspiration, literary excellence and spiritual influence. They set themselves up as independent of Church Superintendent and President of the University in mode and tenor of teaching in their particular callings. Believed in God, in miracles, the Atonement, ordinances, resurrection &c, but claimed the common origin of all material forms of life including man from the same protoplasm. Therefore there was no special creation of man. Kept in session until 7 p.m. Many questions asked and replied to, some directly others evasively.
George F. Richards, Diary: The extent to which evolution and higher criticism is gaining ground among our school teachers is something alarming. The effects of such teachings in the Brigham Young University are indeed alarming.