Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ardis Parshall is wrong about Joseph Fielding Smith

On her blog at Keepapitchinin, Ardis Parshall claims that publication of Joseph Fielding Smith's 1954 book, Man, His Origin and Destiny, "ignored the First Presidency's injunction to leave such matters alone."

Let's be clear about this. Whatever else he may have done during six decades as an apostle, Joseph Fielding Smith did not disregard a First Presidency directive when he published Man: His Origin and Destiny. In fact, David O. McKay's First Presidency, in a signed statement published in the Improvement Era, said of him: "No man has ever been more loyal to the President of the Church." (July 1966, p.613.)

Yes, that's right. It was David O. McKay's published opinion that Joseph Fielding Smith had always been loyal to the Church President—every bit as loyal, in fact, as any other man had ever been. So who do we believe, Ardis or President McKay?

Let's analyze more closely what Ardis says:

"In 1930-1931, several church leaders, notably Joseph Fielding Smith (apostle, and son of the church president), B.H. Roberts (a Seventy, and philosopher/historian), and James E. Talmage (apostle, chemist, and geologist) engaged in an extended and often rancorous exchange of views in various Mormon publications, with Smith taking a fundamentalist, anti-evolutionary position and Roberts and Talmage advocating elements of the secular scientific theories. The public argument called forth a memorandum of the First Presidency addressed to all of the church's general authorities. This memorandum noted the detrimental effect of such disputations on the church and commanded:  ' Leave Geology, Biology, Archaeology 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.' "

And there you have it, folks. In one paragraph, Ardis gives us the injunction that was allegedly ignored and some background so we can understand it.

The paragraph contains minor inaccuracies, [1]  but more importantly, there are significant omissions. For example, Ardis doesn't say anything about the book that was the object and focus of the discussions. Leaving that book out of the above story is like leaving the Book of Mormon out of the Restoration story.

So here is some of the information I feel Ardis should have included. (A more detailed version of these events was posted here and here in 2004.)

The 1931 First Presidency memo (the one that Ardis quotes) closed the Church's lengthy and official evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted in 1928 by Elder B. H. Roberts, a Seventy. Neither the author nor his manuscript were sympathetic to evolution. [2]  Problems arose for the manual, however, because it tried to reconcile fossils with scripture by (a) bringing the conclusions of science into its gospel lessons, and (b) advancing a new theory about the creation. The 1931 First Presidency memo says:

“Elder Roberts quotes from the scripture and extensively from the conclusions reached by the leading scientists of the world, to show that the earth is older than the time given to its creation in Genesis indicates.”

In the manuscript, and in his presentation before the Twelve (which was taken from Chapter 31 of the manuscript) Roberts brought in the latest conclusions of scientists in the fields of Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology to support his theory.

Then, after two and a half years of discussion, the 1931 First Presidency memo said basically, Let's get back to work. Referring to the Roberts book, the First Presidency said the conclusions of Geology, Biology, Archaeology, and Anthropology don't belong in a priesthood manual. Discussions about the manuscript are over. The book will not be published. [3]

To the extent that it applies to anything beyond the Roberts book, the 1931 First Presidency memo was a directive not to bring the conclusions of science into the gospel and use them to interpret scripture as Roberts had done. And clearly, Joseph Fielding Smith's book, Man, His Origin and Destiny, doesn't use science to interpret scripture. President Smith's book does the opposite. It is, therefore, in full compliance with the 1931 First Presidency directive.

All of which means Ardis Parshall is merely bringing trumped-up charges against Joseph Fielding Smith when she says:

"The controversy was renewed briefly in 1954 when Smith, the last survivor of the leaders so prominent in the earlier debates, published Man, His Origin and Destiny. This volume ignored the First Presidency's injunction to leave such matters alone."

A Pharisee named Gamaliel counseled moderation when criticizing the apostles "lest haply ye be found even to fight against God" (Acts 5:39). Oh that all of us would more often heed this wise counsel.

In conclusion, a bloggernacle that watches quietly while Ardis Parshall makes a good man look bad should also be willing to allow this lowly blogger to refute her ridiculous charges and clear his good name on that one point.


1.  Inaccuracies include:

The exchange of views began in October 1928 when, after the Roberts manuscript was submitted, a committee of five members of the Quorum of the Twelve was assigned to review it.

Joseph Fielding Smith was not "son of the church president" (Heber J. Grant), he was the son of a previous president (Joseph F. Smith);

This was primarily a private discussion and there was no rancor in either of the two items that were published. Therefore, calling it an "often rancorous exchange of views in various Mormon publications" is an exaggeration at best.

2.  Elder Roberts was not an evolutionist and his book does not promote evolution. On the contrary, his book plainly teaches that each "subdivision of life ... produces after its kind, whereas evolution in all its forms destroys that thought."

William E. Evenson has confirmed that Roberts, in his book, "addresses three forms of evolutionary theory with which he was familiar from science: materialistic or mechanical evolution, agnostic evolution, and theistic (or purposeful or creative) evolution. He finds all three approaches to be inadequate and rejects all current theories as he understands them. Instead he puts forward his own theory of evolution, which he calls 'developmental theism.' "

Evenson concludes that "Roberts's opinions are not those of an evolutionist. The differences of opinion between Roberts and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith on the subject of evolution were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms. Rather, the central point of concern was whether death occurred on earth before the fall of Adam." (William E. Evenson, "Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution," a review of chapters 3-5, 9-10, 12, 21, 23-25, 29-32, in B. H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996, p.645.)

3.  More than sixty years after his death, the Roberts book was published posthumously.


Anonymous Chris H. said...

"So who do we believe, Ardis or President McKay?"

Ummmm, Ardis.

8/18/2009 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Chris H., you are aware, of course, that David O. McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith served together on the 1928-1931 committee of apostles assigned to review the Roberts book. That means McKay had intimate knowledge of all that went on during that review and knew exactly what the 1931 First Presidency was talking about. Yet you believe McKay published an opinion he knew was false to protect an associate he knew was disloyal? I'm sorry, I'm not buying it.

8/18/2009 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris H. said...

R. Gary,

Not sure if I really care, but for President McKay to say about JFS that "No man has ever been more loyal to the President of the Church" does not mean that JFS never made a mistake or never took things in his own direction during the decades he served. If anything it might be a testament to the willingness of the Church at the time to allow JFS to use his agency by allowing him to provide his own interpretation in a public setting.

I think you are taking Ardis' post to be an attack on JFS. I think you are reading too much into it.

8/18/2009 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris H. said...

Additionally, I do not think that a 1931 First Presidency Memo would really have applied to a book published in 1954. So, maybe he did ignore the 1931 memo, but that may not be a bad thing.

8/18/2009 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

So if the 1931 statement was not in reference to Elder Smith's book, isn't it fair to also ask whether or not the 1966 McKay statement is also in reference to that book? Isn't there a difference between "no man has ever been more loyal" and "Joseph Fielding Smith has never published anything against the advice of the First Presidency"?

Jeffery unfortunately cites "confidential interviews" in support of this point. Personally, I'm not inclined to think he's making it up. However, if you're going to talk about leaving stuff out, it would probably be a good idea to avoid leaving out mention of sources that support Ardis' statement.

8/18/2009 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Chris H., whether Ardis wanted it to or not, her post makes a good man look bad. And that might be okay anyway if she were reporting on an actual mistake, our leaders aren't perfect. But in this case, she's erroneously reporting a mistake.

Here is what I told Ardis on her own blog on August 2nd: "Ardis, your article probably represents your sources quite accurately regarding Joseph Fielding Smith. However, other sources show him in a more favorable light."

Whether his 1954 book ignored the 1931 memo or not, either way his book was in full compliance with the memo.

8/18/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Left Field, the unpublished 1931 memo was directed at B. H. Roberts and his book. The Church published 1966 First Presidency statement was directed at Joseph Fielding Smith and his life. There is NO evidence that Joseph Fielding Smith published his book against the advice of the First Pesidency. Duane Jeffery invented the trap that Ardis fell into; he was first to tell the story without even mentioning the book. Ardis cites her sources on her blog, there is no need for me to repeat them here.

8/18/2009 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger SmallAxe said...

In fact, David O. McKay's First Presidency, in a signed statement published in the Improvement Era, said of him: "No man has ever been more loyal to the President of the Church." (July 1966, p.613.)

Yes, that's right. It was David O. McKay's published opinion that Joseph Fielding Smith had always been loyal to the Church President—every bit as loyal, in fact, as any other man had ever been. So who do we believe, Ardis or President McKay?

R. Gary, if you want to be literalist you'll have to read Pres. McKay here as saying that JFS was the MOST loyal man to the President in the history of the Church. No one was more loyal.

Is it possible that McKay was being hyperbolic? I'm open to that possibility. I'm likewise open to the possibility that McKay could say that JFS was very loyal but not deny that JFS went against a prior first presidency injunction.

It's not a choice between Ardis and McKay, but between Ardis and your interpretation of McKay. Given that, I think I'll side with Ardis.

8/18/2009 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

R. Gary: "The Church published 1966 First Presidency statement was directed at Joseph Fielding Smith and his life."

My point exactly. If someone says that no one has been more loyal to the president than Senator X, that doesn't mean that Senator X has never voted against the president's wishes, and it certainly doesn't mean that we can infer anything about his vote on a particular bill twelve years earlier. It's a statement on the senator and his life, just as President McKay was as you say, commenting on President Smith and his life. Now if someone had asked about Man, His Origin and Destiny, and President McKay responded with that quote, then you'd have something.

For the record, the relevant quotation from Jeffery is the following: "In 1933 both Roberts and Talmage died; the essence of their philosophical legacy was continued by Apostles Widtsoe and Merrill. Apostle Smith, in the immediately ensuing years, also completed a manuscript of book-length, which outlined his objections to evolutionary concepts, and once again drove home his commitment to many of the basic concepts of nineteenth- century theologians--not drawing such concepts from them, of course, but arriving at essentially the same position by a similar, strongly literalistic interpretation of the scriptures. The record indicates that his manuscript was subjected to the same publication injunction as that of Roberts."

Jeffery's citation for that statement is the following: "Though considerable evidence verifying this account is already available in the public record, the primary documentation lies in confidential interviews conducted by the author with persons closely associated with this matter. The title of the Roberts manuscript, still unpublished, is "The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology." Consisting of nearly 600 manuscript pages, it was considered by Roberts to be "the most important work that I have yet contributed to the Church, the six-volumed Comprehensive History of the Church not omitted." (Letter of Feb. 9, 1931 to the First Presidency). Though it is in many critical ways contrapositive to the theology championed by Elder Smith, the reader should not infer that it is an acceptance or affirmation of evolution per se."

Now you might argue that Jeffery's confidential sources are inadequate to firmly establish the case (and I would probably not even disagree with you very much), but you have no basis for saying that the interviews are "invented". At least Ardis could cite Jeffery's interviews in support of her statement that JFS published against instructions of the First Presidency. There's nothing but your assertion to back up your claim of dishonesty against Jeffery. Does your injunction against "making a good man look bad" only apply if the good man happens to be a general authority you agree with?

And by the way, the Jeffery excerpt and citation I gave above also refute your claim that Jeffery doesn't mention Roberts' book.

8/18/2009 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Left Field, as it turns out people did ask Pres. McKay about Smith's book and not once did he say it was in violation of a 1931 First Presidency directive.

What Duane Jeffery invented was telling the story of the so-called Smith versus Roberts debates without telling about the Roberts book which was, in fact, at the center of the discussions. In his famous treatise on evolution, Jeffery claims there had been little discussion of organic evolution within the Church for several years.

Then, according to Jeffery, these "years of calm were broken in 1930 [when] Joseph Fielding Smith delivered a lecture to the Genealogical Conference on April 5." There is no mention here of the Roberts book. There is no mention of the committee of the Twelve who were reviewing the Roberts book and no mention of Joseph Fielding Smith being a member of that committee. Lastly, there is no mention of Elder B. H. Roberts going about preaching his personal theory about the creation.

The misdirection here is huge. Joseph Fielding Smith did not break "years of calm" on evolution, he didn't even mention evolution.

8/18/2009 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

(above comment continued)

According to Jeffery, Elder Smith "spelled out very clearly a disbelief in 'pre-Adamites,' peoples of any sort upon the earth before Adam" By not mentioning that Elder Smith was addressing a specific non-evolutionary theory about pre-Adamites, Jeffery misleads his reader into believing that Elder Smith was talking about evolution.

As it turns out, Elder Smith was responding specifically to the pre-Adamite theory then being preached by Elder B. H. Roberts and outlined in his book. "Even in the Church," said Elder Smith, "there are a scattered few who are now advocating and contending that this earth was peopled with a race — perhaps many races — long before the days of Adam." But remember, according to Roberts, these pre-Adamic beings were not the products of evolution at all.

Jeffery portrays Elder Smith's speech as the beginning of a two man doctrinal contest between Elder B. H. Roberts and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith. Again, this is a gross and misleading simplification of what was actually going on. Yes, there was a discussion. It began, NOT in April 1930 with Elder Smith's speech, but in October 1928 when Elder Smith was invited to be on the committee of the Twelve and asked to help with the review of the Roberts book. The fact that Roberts objected to Elder Smith's speech had nothing to do with organic evolution. Neither one of them believed in organic evolution. When, as Jeffery points out, Roberts "directly challenged the legitimacy of the remarks, in a letter to the First Presidency" he, Roberts, was not advocating evolution, he was trying to justify his own theories and save his book. But, Jeffery's readers aren't given enough information to understand this.

When, in January 1931, "both Roberts and Smith were given opportunity to present their positions ... to the Twelve", the issue was Roberts' theory of a prior creation and cataclysmic destruction preceding the Adamic creation, not evolution. Jeffery fails to mention that following the January presentations to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Roberts wrote another letter to the First Presidency which "brought the issue right back to the matter of his book" and this letter was included as part of the First Presidency's memo to the General Authorities.

And finally, Jeffery fails to mention that in late February, when Roberts was "given opportunity to present [his position to] the Presidency" it was one last effort to defend his theory and remove "the principal cause of suspending his work."

Jeffery's statement that "the two contestants, Roberts and Smith, were thus directed to drop the matter" suggests that only two General Authorities had actually participated in the discussions. Jeffery leaves the reader believing that there had been a heated discussion on the subject of organic evolution between Elder B. H. Roberts and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith.

In reality, the review committee consisted of five Apostles, in addition to the Quorum President, Rudger Clawson, who acted as liaison between the review committee and the First Presidency. At times, the discussions had involved the entire "Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve." And Roberts was repeatedly informed "that the First Presidency and the Twelve could not approve some parts" of his book.

8/18/2009 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

Speaking of misdirection...

None of your long, long commentary on Jeffery is relevant to the question at hand.

You're claiming that "there is NO evidence that Joseph Fielding Smith published his book against the advice of the First P[r]esidency." This is false. As I have already pointed out and quoted, evidence for this is cited in Jeffery's footnote 86. Now, you may find the evidence inadequate, but you really ought to deal with it instead of studiously asserting that it doesn't exist, and then ignoring it again when quoted to you, and going on for ten paragraphs about what Jeffery did or did not say on a mostly unrelated subject.

Jeffery said that Smith's manuscript was under the same injunction as Roberts' and cites confidential interviews and other evidence in the public record. Kindly deal with that relevant point instead of spending ten paragraphs on matters tangentially related at best.

R. Gary: "Left Field, as it turns out people did ask Pres. McKay about Smith's book and not once did he say it was in violation of a 1931 First Presidency directive."

And evidently he did not once say in response to those questions that nobody else was as loyal to the prophet.

Furthermore, Jeffery does not claim that it was the 1931 memo that put an injunction on Smith's book. In fact, Jeffery says that Smith did not begin work on his book until after 1933.

And how exactly did President McKay respond when he was asked about the book? Not exactly a ringing endorsement:

"The Church has issued no official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution.

"Neither "Man, His Origin and Destiny" by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor "Mormon Doctrine" by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church.

"Evolution is a theory. You say that biologists would agree on the general lines of what happened, although there may be less agreement about just how it happened. While scientific people themselves differ in their interpretations and views of the theory, any conflicts which may seem to exist between the theory and the truths of revealed religion can well be dealt with by suspending judgment as long as may be necessary to arrive at facts and at a complete understanding of the truth."

8/18/2009 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Left Field, you know what? I mistakenly thought Ardis Parshall and Duane Jeffery both wrote about the same Smith-Roberts affair, and stuff left out of either rendition was therefore relevant to the other.

The fact that Jeffery buries his only mention of the Roberts book in his footnote 86 only proves to me that he knew all about those things mentioned in my "long, long" (too long for you, obviously) comment above. I don't care why he failed to mention any of it in his telling of the story. What I notice, however, is that Joseph Fielding Smith looks different when the story is not completely told. That is the reason for my post.

In his footnote 86, Jeffery claims that "considerable evidence" verifying his account "is already available in the public record." This, he says, is in addition to the "confidential interviews" he can't talk about. But I've still never seen any of the public record stuff proving "that his [Joseph Fielding Smith's] manuscript was subjected to the same publication injunction as that of Roberts."

And, by the way, it was Ardis who used Jeffery's word "injunction" in connection with the 1931 First Presidency memo, saying it was an "injunction to leave such matters alone" as Smith writes about in his book.

Now. If Joseph Fielding Smith is not very high on your list of favorite Prophets then Duane Jeffery and Ardis Parshall are who you want to read. And I'm okay with that. And if it makes you happy to point out on my blog that you see things differently than I do, I'm okay with that too.

8/18/2009 08:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

Thanks. I couldn't make any sense of what you were saying. But after my last comment, I looked over what we had written and kind of pieced things together and figured out that we were talking past each other.

8/19/2009 06:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

R. Gary,
I would have to side with David O. McKay.

8/25/2009 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

In an article posted yesterday at Keepapitchinin, Ardis Parshall claims a particular statement from the current Sunday School lesson manual is "false and problematic" and that it promotes "seriously false doctrine."

Let's be honest. Thomas S. Monson (Ensign, May 1990, p.46), Gordon B. Hinckley (Ensign, Nov 1981, p.40), and James E. Faust (Ensign, Nov 1992, p.84) have all quoted that same "false and problematic" statement in general conference talks, thus promoting, according to Ardis, "seriously false doctrine."

Not likely.

9/12/2009 07:30:00 AM  

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