Brigham Young on Science and Religion

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I have two Brigham Young quotes about science and religion. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in general feel no hostility towards science, in fact, most embrace it. That does not mean we accept everything science seems to tell us as Truth but we believe that God blesses us with scientific knowledge and technological progress.

Brigham Young said, “There is no ingenious mind that has ever invented anything beneficial to the human family but what he obtained it from the one Source, whether he knows or believes it or not. There is only one Source whence men obtain wisdom, and that is God, the Fountain of all wisdom.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Edited by John A. Widtsoe, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1998, p. 259).

It is also important to understand when these quotes were given – in the mid to late 1800s. Just as there are many religionists who are hostile to science today, there were many religionists then who were hostile towards science. Mormons do not exhibit this hostility because we believe that scientific knowledge comes from God.

Brigham Young said, “I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood. You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth had been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, ‘If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago, our studies are all in vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain; we must be what you call infidels, with the demonstrated truths of science in our possession; or, rejecting those truths, become enthusiasts in, what you call, Christianity.’ In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its processors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts – they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. This we know by what we have learned naturally since we have had a being on the earth. We can now take a hymn book and read its contacts; but is we had never learned letters and knew nothing about type or paper or their uses, and should take up a book and look at it, it would be a great mystery…. But this is no mystery to us now, because we have learned our letters.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Edited by John A. Widtsoe, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1998, pp. 258-259).

The Church Marches On

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A couple Sundays ago I was teaching the lesson to our Priest (we only have one) when I made a comment about us leaders in the Church being easily replaceable. I meant the comment to be somewhat self-deprecating but honest. Our bishop started to disagree with me so I amended my statement by saying, “Some of us are easily replaceable.” Then we went on with the lesson. My point in making that statement was not to minimize myself or any particular individual; the point I was trying to make is that we are called to positions within the Church. We do not aspire to positions. We are set apart and/or ordained to positions and then released at some point (although there are callings that last for life but those are relatively few). Mainly the point I was making is that we leaders train others to take our place at some point in the future. Maybe not our particular calling but we want to teach the youth how to be leaders. I think a leader is best when the leader becomes largely expendable. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that a leader should be able to train others to replace him or her.

I am not minimizing the talents and particular callings of each individual nor am I neglecting fore-ordination; what I am doing is all church leaders are replaced at some point (it might be through death in some instances but we are all replaced). What this means is that we as leaders need to make sure that we help train others to be leaders. None of the operations of the Church are about specific church members (and yet, the Church is all about specific church members). What I mean is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Jesus’ church. He is its head. He is its Ultimate Leader. The prophets and apostles and all other leaders are called as was Aaron of old – by prophecy and by the laying on of hands. They do not call themselves to the ministry, they are chosen. That’s how all church positions are filled – by prophecy. Okay, I know that’s not always the case but for the most part it is the case that church positions are filled by direct revelation. I also know that sometimes people volunteer for positions but in such instances they do not call themselves. This reminds me of what happened following the death of Joseph Smith.

While the early years of the Church were tumultuous in general, the death of Joseph Smith sent shockwaves though the membership. Some left the Church but most remained. Outsiders prophesied that the Church would die – cut off the head of a snake and the snake dies. But that’s obviously not what happened. It would have happened should some of the church leaders and members gotten their way. A meeting was called where the general membership were invited to hear “arguments” from Brigham Young (who was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve) and Sidney Rigdon (and others) over who would be the next leader of the Church. Brigham stated that Joseph taught that the authority remained with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Sidney Rigdon claimed that he, as the sole surviving member of the First Presidency should be the next Church President. Notice the difference – Brigham Young wasn’t claiming he should be the President, he claimed the authority rested with the Quorum of the Twelve. Sidney was seeking the honor for himself. Yes, Brigham would eventually be the President of the Church (in part because he was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) but his argument was that the authority was with the Twelve and not an individual.

Put all of this together and you have a church that is run by a lay ministry; people who volunteer their time to build up the Kingdom of God. Church leaders are called by those in authority over them through revelation. They do not call themselves, which is doctrine that is not only Biblical (see Hebrews 5:4) but was also solidified in the months following Joseph Smith’s death. This is why I stated that we as leaders are easily replaceable – we are called into positions for a while and then released. The Church moves onward with nary a blip. A bishop is release, a new one sustained, and the Church marches on. A Relief Society president is released, a new one called, and the Church marches on. A prophet dies, a new one is ordained, and the Church marches on. We are just part of God’s great work; it will go forward with or without us so it is up to us to choose whether or not we will help it along as best as we can..

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 5

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Education, as stated previously, is a major focus within the Church. We have been counseled to gain as much education as possible. It has always been a major focus within my family. It was expected that we would work hard in school, well at least do well in school. Both of my parents graduated from college. My father has a master’s degree and a JD. All of my siblings (there are 7 of us children) graduated high school, attended BYU, and graduated from BYU. Some of us have advanced degrees as do some of my brothers-in-law (I have a lot of sisters). I’m currently working towards a PhD. However, education does not stop there. Further, light and knowledge and truth do not come with degrees; in other words, you do not have to have any college degrees to learn. In fact, sometimes degrees get in the way of learning, at least learning what is really important.

As I wrote before, the most important education to receive – the most important knowledge to learn – is spiritual. “O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:28-29). Worldly wisdom and learning are good only if they build upon and do not detract from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another reason for the strong focus on education within the LDS Church are the following verses in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C; 130:18-19). Just as knowledge we gained in the previous life as spirit children of Heavenly Father continued to some degree with us in this life (i.e., what we have in this life is in part due to what we did in the premortal existence), so will our knowledge and faith gained and grown in this life rise with us in the next. I think it is important focus on the word rise in verse 18. Our intelligence will rise in the resurrection. It will grow and develop. Intelligence is not a static state – it is something that can grow and be nourished unto the perfect day.

The prophet Brigham Young taught much about education and learning. I’ll include a few key quotes. “Inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has designed us to know all that is in the earth, both the good and the evil, and to learn not only what is in heaven, but what is in hell, you need not expect ever to get through learning. Though I mean to learn all that is in heaven, earth, and hell. Do I need to commit iniquity to do it? No. If I were to go into the bowels of hell to find out what is there, that does not make it necessary that I should commit one evil, or blaspheme in any way the name of my Maker” (Discourses of Brigham Young {DBY}, p.249).

“Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all science and art belongs to the Saints [i.e., we accept all good and all truth]” (DBY, p.253). “Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular” (DBY, p.258).

“There is no ingenious mind that has ever invented anything beneficial to the human family but what he obtained it from the one Source, whether he knows or believes it or not. There is only one Source whence men obtain wisdom, and that is God, the Fountain of all wisdom; and though men may claim to make their discoveries by their own wisdom, by meditation and reflection, they are indebted to our Father in Heaven for all” (DBY, p.260).

Faith accepts all true science. Further, it is through our faith experiments that we not only nourish the tree of life but also the tree of knowledge. We accept all truth. As we experiment upon the word, the power of the word is revealed. This power is sharper than a two-edged sword; the power of the word is the power of eternal life. This powerful word is Truth. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we love truth. As Pres. George Q. Cannon said, “It is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found” (as cited by Robert Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet, p.13).