(by Dennis B. Horne)
Today, most members don’t understand the marvelous counselor in the First Presidency George Q. Cannon was a hundred and twenty to a hundred and sixty years ago. Historians compare his influence and stature to that of Presidents Heber C. Kimball, J. Rueben Clark, and Gordon B. Hinckley. His list of accomplishments in behalf of the Church is long and distinguished with few to match it. His spiritual and doctrinal qualifications were impressive. For example, speaking to a congregation of young people, President Cannon recorded, “I testified that the Lord Jesus lived, for I had seen Him and heard His voice, and I had heard the voice of the Spirit [Holy Ghost], speaking to me as one man speaketh to another. I had been led to my present position by the revelations of the Lord, for He had pointed out to me the path to pursue. . . . I also testified that under the laying on of my hands those who were dead to all human appearance had been raised to life, and the blind had been restored to sight.” During a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Cannon declared: “I bore testimony also to the brethren that I had heard the voice of the Spirit of God [Holy Ghost] as a man’s voice.” President Cannon was truly a prophet, seer, and revelator. I suspect his inspired teachings on the creation of man will not be appreciated by BYU biologists, for while science changes, doctrine does not and what was true in President Cannon’s day remains so today and in the century and decades to follow.
From a General Conference address:
The Lord has been very kind and merciful unto His children in these latter days, in revealing the relationship which exists between Himself and the children of men, and in communicating some of His purposes in placing man here upon the earth. In this respect the Latter-day Saints, or those who have received the Gospel, have the advantage of the rest of mankind. While the scientific world and a large portion of the religious world are groping in dense darkness concerning the origin of man and the purpose of the Creator in placing him here, and while they are striving to arrive at some conclusion that will prove satisfactory, the Latter-day Saints possess knowledge concerning their origin. They do not believe that they have been evolved from some lower order of creation, nor that they have come on the earth by chance. If the Gospel did no more for us than this, what a great boon it would be, dispelling darkness and uncertainty and men's theories concerning the origin of man.
The Latter-day Saints are in a position to progress and to become informed in every direction without having to stop to investigate the theories and views of men. The Lord has revealed with plainness and simplicity, accompanied by the testimony of the Holy Ghost, many things about which the world is in doubt. Books have been written and years of time spent by learned men to establish what is called the Darwinian theory, while others have endeavored to combat that theory. It has disturbed the whole religious world. Many preachers of the Gospel have adopted this theory. The result is, infidelity has spread. Doubt has been thrown upon the Mosaic account of creation, the whole religious world has been agitated, and in many instances faith in the scriptures has been destroyed by this theory of the eminent philosopher, Charles Darwin. I suppose the majority of the theologians who have been trained in the universities during the last quarter of a century are inclined to look upon the Mosaic account of the creation as mythical in character. . . .
Had not the Lord given us revelation, confirmed by the gift of the Holy Ghost, what a condition we would have been in as well as the rest of mankind! How we would have been agitated and left a prey to doubt and uncertainty concerning these vital truths! But the Lord has given unto us evidences that are indisputable. He has given unto us the Bible, which has come down from the Jews. He has corroborated that by the revelation of the Book of Mormon. One, though translated by the learning of man, contains many precious truths; and the other has been translated by the power of God. There is no other book that it is claimed has been translated by the power of God, but the Book of Mormon. This has come to us pure and authentic, and we can rely upon its testimony. In addition to these books, we have the revelations of the Lord to this Church contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. These three witnesses agree. . . .
Do the Latter-day Saints believe that they have ascended or been evolved from a lower order of creation? No; for God has revealed to this Church that we are His children, made in His image, and possessing the gifts and attributes of God—not in their perfection, not in their developed condition, but possessing them nevertheless. We have these Godlike powers and attributes. We have descended from God, and can claim our parentage from Him, as much as our children can claim their parentage from us. . . .
You can see, my brethren and sisters, the advantage that we possess in having the truth revealed to us. It ought to be the aim of our lives to preserve that truth, and to teach it to our children, that they may be the custodians of it and preserve it from the false ideas and vain philosophy that are being so industriously propagated at the present time in the highest institutions of learning in our land. This is one of the reasons why our young men who go away to college incur such risks of losing their faith. Nearly all the text books and the teachings of these institutions of learning, not excepting theological institutions, have a tendency to make the students accept as true the modern ideas concerning the antiquity of man and the age of the earth.
Now, this Church is the repository of the truth. I know of no other organization on the earth that is made the custodian of these grand truths which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds. This is a very important mission that God has entrusted to us. He has communicated to us these truths, and has borne testimony to them unto us by His Holy Spirit. Men may philosophize and say they can prove that man lived on the earth more than four thousand years before the Savior came, and that the earth itself was organized and inhabited long anterior to the time assigned in the Mosaic account. Suppose they entertain this idea and think they can do this, it ought not to disturb our faith. We have seen theory after theory dissipated. Scientific men are continually advancing theories and creating hypothetical conditions, only to be shattered later on. Almost every generation changes it views in regard to these things. That which was believed fifty years ago is overturned today; that which is believed by the scientific world today may be upset, if things don't change, fifty years hence, by new theories as unsound probably as those they displace. But this is not our condition. The Lord has revealed the truth to us, and the records that we have confirm His revelations to us.
We may be called ignorant and fanatical for clinging to these things. But it is like the rod of iron that Lehi saw in his vision; if we cling to it, we have got something firm in our grasp, and though the mists of darkness may surround us, making it difficult to see the path before us, we may rest assured that we will be brought safely through.
Aside from these evidences, however, I would rather believe that I was a literal descendant of the Almighty, and lift my eyes to Him as my Father, and aspire to be like Him, than to entertain any other belief, however well supported it might be by the evidences of men. No, no; we have not ascended from any inferior order of beings. We have, I repeat, descended from the God of heaven, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The sublime words of this hymn that we have sung this afternoon are true. . . .
I feel to rejoice this day in the presence of God, that He has been so good and kind to us as to reveal Himself to us, so that we know the truth; that we need not go groping after the theories of men and the confusion that exists in the world, but that we can cling to the truth and live by it. (George Q. Cannon, “The False Theories of Men, General Conference, October 4, 1896.
There is, no doubt, an element of truth in these theories; still, they mislead and have a wrong effect upon the mind. For God does ask us to have faith in Him, to believe in Him, and to appeal to Him; and He gives us the promise that if we do so in faith He will interpose in our behalf, and He will bless us in ways that are unknown to men and by means which are invisible to mortal sight. He gives us this encouragement in the Gospel, and He calls upon us to exercise faith in Him and in His word; and we have proved His words to be true upon these points. But it is a difficult thing in the midst of this widespread unbelief, and these false doctrines and theories which come to us and to our children in the guise of science, to prevent the spirit of unbelief from influencing us. This also is one of the great obstacles in the way of the education of our children. The books which are in our schools, and from which our children are taught, contain theories that are unsound; they are based upon false premises, and that lead to wrong conclusions; and it requires the utmost care on the part of parents and teachers to prevent bad effects following education based upon such text books. Hence it is that when our young men go east to obtain education they are exposed to dangers that are more terrible, according to my view, than a contagious disease. I would rather my sons and daughters should run the risk of some infectious disease than be exposed to the influences that prevail in some of the schools of the land and in the text books that are used therein. . . .
Our young people are full of desire to obtain knowledge and to qualify themselves for the duties and labors that are likely to devolve upon them. But while giving them education there is danger of their losing their faith in the eternal truths of heaven. Although we have taken pains to organize our young men who go east to school, and to have them hold regular meetings, partake of the sacrament and bear testimony, yet the information comes to us that there is an inclination in the minds of some of our young men to adopt the false theories that are taught and to yield to the spirit of unbelief that is prevalent in these institutions of learning.
(“Building Zion through Righteousness,” Collected Discourses 4, October 7th, 1894.)
In the evening attended with Bro. Caine a lecture by Henry Ward Beecher, “evolution and revolution.” I did not like the lecture. It was a weak affair, I thought, for a man of his reputation. He spoke of man as being on the earth at least 280,000 years. He expressed himself as being indifferent as to where he came from; it was where he was going to, what his destiny would be, that gave him concern. He did not care if he was descended from a monkey, if he was only descended far enough. He knew he was not a monkey now. He fully believes in evolution. He said it was all wrong to say that mankind had fallen from and through Adam; Adam, if he fell at all, had fallen upward; mankind had been going forward and upward. He appeared to ridicule the idea that man had fallen, and the story of the Garden of Eden and the prohibition to not eat of the fruit of two trees. He appeared to think the Bible to be a mere record of man’s experience—written honestly, and according to the best light of the writers and compilers, but containing many things which superior light would enable mankind to discard. His lecture was well adapted for the infidel and left very little for the so-called Christian to stand upon. While listening to it I thought of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to avoid “profane and vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so-called”. What a contrast between such theories—theories which trace man’s descent from the lowest forms of existence — and the truth as the Lord has revealed it! There is something grand and ennobling in the thought that our God whom we worship is our Father—that we are his literal descendants and that if we obey His laws we shall continue to grow and increase until we shall be like him. (George Q. Cannon diary, March 16, 1885.)
George Q. Cannon diary, September 13, 1899:
Brother James E. Talmage came to the office with a number of questions that he wished answered. The First Presidency listened to them. President Snow excused himself and asked President Smith and myself to answer them. They were questions concerning science and the attitude that scientific men occupied in relation to the scriptures. He wished these questions answered because he is professor of geology in the University and holds the chair endowed by the Church. I fancied from the drift of his talk that he himself was unsettled on some points, for instance, the antiquity of man, and whether there were more progenitors of our race than Adam.
George Q. Cannon diary, March 29, 1894:
We had considerable conversation upon the subject, and I favored myself the idea of one of our brethren teaching geology, as I think there is no branch of science where greater care has to be used to prevent infidel ideas taking possession of the student than this. All the popular text books on this science are unfavorable to the Biblical account of creation, and Brother Talmage, I think, would be a man well suited to teach this science.