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Monday, January 29, 2007

Thomas S. Monson on Science and Faith

About eleven years ago, according to an article posted at Eyring-L, a member contacted the First Presidency asking for the Church's position on evolution. The answer came back in the form of a letter from President Thomas S. Monson to the local stake president and quoted the 1931 First Presidency:

"Leave Geology, Biology, Archeology and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church."

Some members view this letter as an expression of Church neutrality toward science. However, I believe the intended meaning is simply this: "Don't let science modify faith."

Let's go back to 1965, when Elder Thomas S. Monson advised BYU students:

"Remember that doubt and faith cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other. If you should have doubting thoughts then follow the counsel of President Stephen L Richards who declared:

" ' Just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts,  ' I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God's word. I wasn't with Joseph but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science and I will not permit science to destroy it. When I change my mind about God and his work, only the inspiration of God will change it. ' 

"I commend this advice to you." (BYU Speeches, May 11, 1965, p. 7; emphasis added.)

That was 30 years before he wrote the quoted letter. Now let's move forward to 2001, five years after he wrote the quoted letter, when President Monson again admonished LDS youth to resist allowing science to modify faith:

"Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: ' I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God's word. I wasn't with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it.' " (President Thomas S. Monson, "First Presidency Message: The Lighthouse of the Lord: A Message to the Youth of the Church," Ensign, Feb. 2001, p. 2; emphasis added.)

And again, in a 2005 Fireside, President Monson said:

"Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: ' I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God's word. I wasn't with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it. When I change my mind about God and His work, only the inspiration of God will change it.' " (President Thomas S. Monson, "Decisions Determine Destiny," CES Fireside for Young Adults, Nov. 6, 2005, at LDS.org; emphasis added.)

All three of these published comments by President Monson argue strongly that his use of the 1931 excerpt in the quoted letter is in complete harmony with its historical meaning, which is: Don't let science modify faith.

The 1931 First Presidency excerpt is taken from an internal memo informing general authorities that the controversial 1928 B. H. Roberts book, The Truth, The Way, The Life, would not be published and that discussions about it should cease.

In 1982, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (including Thomas S. Monson) once again considered the possibility of publishing the 1928 Roberts book. Again, however, the decision was not to publish. Historian James B. Allen tells us:

"The [1982] First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve had reviewed the 1931 decision and were impressed with the wisdom of the admonition given then that the Church's mission was  ' to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave Geology, Biology, Archeology and Anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.' " (James B. Allen, "The Story of The Truth, The Way, The Life," as published in The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p. 715.)

President Stephen L. Richards, as quoted by President Thomas S. Monson, said: "My faith did not come to me through science and I will not permit science to destroy it." This seems to have become a Monson motto for youth.

It is significant that Stephen L. Richards served on the original committee of Apostles who, between 1928 and 1931, reviewed the Roberts book and recommended that it not be published. President Richards had first hand knowledge of events surrounding the 1931 First President comment.

It is reasonable, therefore, to believe that both President Richards and President Monson who later quoted him echoed the true meaning of the 1931 First Presidency excerpt.

Conclusion

The First Presidency has never said that the Church or its leaders should refrain from contradicting the conclusions of science. Nor has any Church published statement ever said that the Church is or should be neutral on evolution.

What clearly has been taught is this: "Don't stretch the gospel to fit scientific views. Don't let science modify faith." Indeed, the 1931 memo was written in response to and in rejection of an attempt by B. H. Roberts to do that very thing. And the 1931 decision was reiterated in 1982, quietly and privately, by the First Presidency and Twelve, 14 years before the quoted letter was written.

I believe President Monson's understanding of the 1931 excerpt (and the only meaning it has ever had) is this: Don't allow science to destroy faith.

4 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

Good to see your comments again, Gary. I guess I prefer President Monson's verbatim remarks to your interpretation thereof, but thank you for doing the research and posting his earlier statements.

1/29/2007 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

Dave,

On your blog last September, you mentioned "the 1931 First Presidency statement on evolution" and said that the current "LDS position on evolution" is to be found in an Encyclopedia of Mormonism article that quotes it.

The simple fact is, there was no 1931 First Presidency statement on evolution.

The mere existence of an internal First Presidency memo doesn't make it a "statement on evolution" and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism claim that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution" is completely and utterly false.

President Monson made no reference to organic evolution when he quoted the 1931 memo. Neither the memo nor President Monson's letter says anything about evolution. And neither is neutral on allowing science to modify faith.

1/30/2007 04:47:00 AM  
Anonymous cew-smoke said...

r. gary,

I am interested in your statement that "'in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution' is completely and utterly false."

I am not exactly sure who the statement is referring to. Is it in reference specifically to the "bretheren" or the church as a whole, or to western society as a whole?

Your statement is so matter of fact and strong that I wanted to understand what was actually being referenced and then more information on how you know it was false.

I'm very curious about this topic and was trying to get an idea where people are gleaning their information from.

1/30/2007 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous R. Gary said...

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cew-smoke wants to know who I'm referring to (the Brethren, the Church as a whole, or to western society as a whole) when I say it is completely and utterly false that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution."

Please see Chapter One and Chapter Two on my web site at ndbf.net for an in-depth evaluation of the 1931 discussions we are talking about, who was involved and what the subject really was.

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1/30/2007 05:05:00 PM  

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