Religious Anti-Intellectualism

A few weeks ago two Evangelical scholars authored “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason,” an op-ed at the New York Times lamenting the fact that the Republican primary race “has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism.” While the Mormons in the race, Romney and Huntsman, were described as “the two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science,” the discussion still invites the LDS reader to reflect a bit on whether there is a similar strain of LDS anti-intellectualism evident in LDS culture if not in LDS presidential candidates.

What might give us pause is the description in the article of three prominent Evangelical leaders who typify the anti-intellectual approach. One has built a young-earth museum depicting humans and dinosaurs living together sometime during Earth’s 10,000 year existence; the second presents a history of America in which “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation”; the third “has insisted for decades that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people could ‘pray away’ their unnatural and sinful orientation.”

While there are sometimes disagreements about what LDS doctrine does or doesn’t say about these subjects, the present position of the Church avoids the Evangelical/fundamentalist traps discussed in the article.

  • Science students at BYU study evolution, not Creationism or Intelligent Design.
  • While the LDS view of history sees the US Constitution and its guarantees of religious freedom as inspired, the Church does not embrace nativist thinking and has recently issued a statement calling for “a balanced and civil approach” to immigration.
  • The Church does not presently take an official position on the origin or explanation of homosexuality: in the Same Gender Attraction statement, Elder Oaks said “these are scientific questions.”

The dedicated LDS critic could, of course, dig up statements from earlier LDS leaders that called evolution a heresy or that offered a questionable reconstruction of US history. But it is not Brigham Young or Reed Smoot or even George Romney that are running for president this year, it is Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. This is 2011 and if we are going to talk about LDS doctrine, it is present LDS doctrine that is the topic of discussion. In his interfaith writing, Robert L. Millet has regularly emphasized this point. In his article “What Is Our Doctrine?” he recounted a conversation with a Baptist minister who was genuinely puzzled about how to properly identify LDS doctrinal positions. Here is Millet’s response, which I’ll quote at length because it seems relevant to the sort of doctrinal angst that is regularly aired in the Bloggernacle:

1. The teachings of the Church today have a rather narrow focus, range, and direction; central and saving doctrine is what we are called upon to teach and emphasize, not tangential and peripheral teachings.

2. Very often what is drawn from Church leaders of the past is, like the matter of blood atonement mentioned above, either misquoted, misrepresented, or taken out of context. Further, not everything that was ever spoken or written by a past Church leader is a part of what we teach today. Ours is a living constitution, a living tree of life, a dynamic Church (see D&C 1:30). We are commanded to pay heed to the words of living oracles (see D&C 90:3–5).

3. In determining whether something is a part of the doctrine of the Church, we might ask, Is it found within the four standard works? Within official declarations or proclamations? Is it discussed in general conference or other official gatherings by general Church leaders today? Is it found in the general handbooks or approved curriculum of the Church today? If it meets at least one of these criteria, we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it.

A significant percentage of anti-Mormonism focuses on Church leaders’ statements of the past that deal with peripheral or noncentral issues. No one criticizes us for a belief in God, in the divinity of Jesus Christ or His atoning work, in the literal bodily resurrection of the Savior and the eventual resurrection of mankind, in baptism by immersion, in the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so forth.

So is religious anti-intellectualism an Evangelical problem but not an LDS problem? Or did we just get lucky by having two pro-science LDS candidates in the spotlight this year?

65 comments for “Religious Anti-Intellectualism

  1. It’s both an Evangelical, as well as an LDS “problem” in the sense that many find it difficult to define and explain LDS doctrine to others. Especially since those who are members of the LDS faith are taught to “give diligent heed to the words of eternal life” (D&C 84:43) and our understanding of those words change over time.

  2. Applying God’s law to the human condition can be difficult at times for any person of any religion. It might even get harder when a third, hardhearted person wants an explanation. This isn’t a problem for just evangelicals or the LDS church members.

  3. If anti-intellectualism is to be defined as the rejection of scientific findings (as implied in the NYT op-ed) then LDS doctrine has plenty of it. It may take some time, but the evangelicals will eventually accept the reality of evolution, climate change, and other scientific realities. On the other hand, LDS members will never be able to escape the Book of Mormon’s portrayal of Native Americans which contradicts a tremendous amount of anthropological, geographical, historical, and genetic findings.

  4. I don’t understand why everyone sees Science and Religion as opposite sides of the same side of one coin. Religion is a discussion of why we are on Earth and how we should live. Science is a method of observation and testing by which theories of how we are here are not disproven (good science hardly ever claims to prove anything) despite many claims, science is not a body of empirical knowledge, it is a method of discovery. Scientific method requires that theories be evaluated in light of available data and reevaluated as new data becomes available. It is concerned chiefly with what is observable, not a philosophical concept of ‘objective truth’.
    With this in mind the church will never have ‘doctrine’ on whether homosexuality is biological or choice – it doesn’t really matter. Nor will we bother to define exactly how long it took to form the Earth. What we are concerned with is how we should live DESPITE these factors.
    If that is anti-intellectualism, I’d say the problem is with people who don’t understand the difference between the purposes of the complementary methods of world view.

  5. Maybe some of us are confused on this. After all, if you’re in grad school at BYU working hard to understand something and you hear Elder Packer call intellectuals “pseudo intellectuals” because they study something he doesn’t like, what are we supposed to think?

  6. The dedicated LDS critic could, of course, dig up statements from earlier LDS leaders that called evolution a heresy.

    What about similar statements by living apostles? Or found in current curriculum?

    See examples here and here.

  7. “No one criticizes us for a belief in God, in the divinity of Jesus Christ or His atoning work, in the literal bodily resurrection of the Savior and the eventual resurrection of mankind, in baptism by immersion, in the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so forth.”

    Who is “no one”? Review any Washington Post article that deals with some aspect of Mormonism is you’ll see an army of commenters ridiculing LDS beliefs (including general Christian beilefs). You’ll also see defenders among those comments.

  8. There are three aspects to a religion;

    1) Its doctrine / theology

    2) Its mode or manner of communal worship services

    3) Its sense of community

    As Latter-day Saints we excel in the third item provided one fits within acceptable boundaries of lifestyle and political persuasion. We are horribly lacking in the second item which is demonstrated by the blandness of the Sunday meetings and the complacency of local leadership in emphasizing Christ in our communal worship. And we are horrendously ambiguous in the first item due to our fear that the mantle of infallabilty and leader worship we have ascribed to our general authorities will be shown to be of more importance than the search for truth. We cannot risk repudiating prior statements or doctrinal pronouncements because it will show that opinion instead of doctrine is given in many more instances than we would like to believe.

    I do find it sad that we dismiss the current double speak (both from the church and from its members) concerning the place of gays and lesbians within the plan of salvation as irrelevant or unnecessary to explore. If we continue to over fixate on marriage as an absolute requirement for every true disciple of Christ to gain eternal exaltation there are many prior men and women of God who never married and are therefore damned (i.e. Christ, Paul, Moroni, etc.).

    Brother Millet is trying too hard to be an apologist for our refusal to offer unambiguous clarity to the doctrine of the Restored Gospel without watering it down to nothing other than the truth of Christ crucified and resurrected. If that is all there is to LDS doctrine then why do we suffer through items 2 & 3 . There are much better worship services which focus on Christ and which offer more accepting communities than Mormonism.

  9. Jack (#5), I think Millet’s paragraph 3 above is helpful in moving occasional statements like the one you cite (he actually said “so-called intellectuals”) from the category “LDS doctrine” to the category “opinions of LDS leaders.” Critics of the Church want to consider every statement ever made by any LDS leader part of LDS doctrine so as to more easily criticize us, but that is not a legitimate way to proceed. Infallibility is a Catholic doctrine, not an LDS doctrine, and for Catholics it is limited to statements by the Pope (not just any archbishop) and limited to statements on faith and morals made ex cathedra. Why should someone else’s opinions, even Elder Packer’s opinions, bother you or me? If the Church issues an official statement against higher study and eliminates graduate degrees from BYU, then maybe you have a basis for concern. Until then, go with “the glory of God is intelligence.”

  10. R. Gary, the statements you cite do not mean what you think they mean. It is clear from the scriptures that God works through natural processes, and evolution is a natural process. So a statement (or a dozen statements) by a GA, even made in Conference, that we are the offspring of God or that God created man is not equivalent to saying evolution is a false description of natural history. Obviously some individual GAs seem to entertain that notion, but it has not become part of LDS doctrine because other GAs do not agree with those views. I am concerned with LDS Doctrine, not Packer doctrine, not McConkie doctrine, not Nelson doctrine. Millet’s discussion of LDS doctrine is helpful for making that distinction.

  11. I think it helps that we have role models in the church of people who are BOTH respected scientists and high counselors or bishops or whatever. Our stake patriarch is a department chair in his science department a a local university.

    Prominent evangelical preachers are trained only in theology and work professionally in that area. So they don’t have the bigger picture of both areas that our leadership does.

  12. Michael,

    1 – We don’t know that they weren’t married, if they didn’t get an opportunity in mortality, they get one later. There is no double speak. Acting on any sinful desires, whether homosexual or the myriad of other categories, is wrong. We are all sinners and fall short, and are expected to support each other in overcoming sinful desires, a process which for almost all of us I think won’t be completed until after we die. Gays and Lesbians are not alone in having some singularly more difficult trial. We all have the flavors that we need to learn/suffer/grow, etc.

    2 – you say we are horrendously ambiguous with doctrine, but then complain that we talk about corollaries to Jesus Christ crucified. Christ crucified had a lot of consequences which are relevant to his Gospel and our application of it, and talking of those things is talking about Christ and Him crucified, because he exemplified them, taught the, and expected us to do the same.

    3 – I’m sorry your ward meetings don’t focus on Christ. He’s been the focus of mine in all of the last 5 or 6 six wards I’ve been in in my adult life.

    True Mormons have always been true intellectuals. We ‘believe all things,’ ‘all that God has revealed and all the he will yet reveal.’ We believe that truth has different spheres of relevance and application, but that all truth is part of one great whole. The how and why of life don’t always seem to correlate because now we ‘see through a glass, darkly’ and ‘know in part’ Just because we only know part doesn’t mean we don’t KNOW. I am not afraid of walking through mists of darkness until the perfect day.

    The problem is that intellectualism is incomplete without spiritual knowledge. To be learned is good IF we abide God’s laws. IF not, then worldly intellectualism is a stumbling block for those that often leads to ignorant persecution of religion.

    When people and societies reject the Gospel or have grown up without it, they always latch on to some other cause to give their lives meaning. There are religious anti-intellectuals, but there are also religiously secular Aetheists as zealous as the Apostle Paul was for Christ. It is the same regarding sports fandom, professions, the LGBT movement, those for whom good stewardship of the Earth is their religion, etc. In fact, the world today may be as religious as it ever has been. The problem is that the religions of today are devoid of true religion as defined by the Savior, but based on incomplete virtuous principle, on temporal things which rust and corrupt, or on downright anti-christ doctrines. The God Delusion and Mr. Bloom’s hit-piece prove that many perceived intellectuals do not really want an honest intellectual conversation about God and religion, so can we be at fault?

  13. Dave: Where and when has the LDS Church published one single apostolic statement endorsing the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man?

  14. Evolution is a fact; it is something that just IS, and it is our responsibility to work our religious worldview around it; just like we can’t set aside modern cosmology in explaining angelic ascensions. Belief in one does not necessarily preclude belief in the other, but it forces us to admit the extent to which we compartmentalize or at least forces us into doctrinal tangents that are probably irrelevant – sure, angels ascend but I doubt they then fly off through the upper atmosphere and rocket through space, but maybe they do and I don’t really care. Likewise, we are children of God who were in some sense created but our physical forms were produced by an evolutionary process that by nature feeds on death and randomness. I dunno how or why but there we are.

    Or another approach, espoused by certain individuals (and going back to the OP and anti-intellectualism) is to create a worldview based entirely around appeals to authority without regard for external reality. While I have major issues with that, I suppose there’s enough room in the church to accommodate a variety of opinions along the spectrum. Although – and this is one of the most dangerous aspects of anti-intellectualism – it is almost always the most (I hate using this word because of its political connotations but I mean more culturally/doctrinally) conservative members who espouse the “my way or the highway” approach and would gladly cut off members who disagree with them. Not that all or most conservative members are like that, but most members who are like that fall into the conservative anti-intellectual camp.

  15. How much can we ascribe the reluctance of the Brethren to pro-actively and clearly articulate the richness and deepness of LDS doctrine to their own insecurities in the foundational items of theology given their backgrounds in non-theological professions prior to their callings? Are they just in over their heads on some of these things so they water it all down through correlation and allow a culture of anti-reason and anti-intellectualism to prevail?

    As Latter-day Saints we boldly proclaim the use of both faith AND reason to obtain to a knowledge of the truth relying strongly upon the Holy Spirit to make known and confirm the mysteries of the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit commands us to study it out in our minds and then, once we have pondered and meditated upon a particular subject using our intellect and the previously revealed Word, to draw inferences to Eternal Truth.

    Unfortunately, our culture has rejected this approach and demands compartmentalization instead between faith and reason. Reason is OK when used in the secular realm but we are to rely upon proclamations of doctrine based almost entirely upon appeals to authority when discussing faith.

    Cameron N – I will ask you one question for which I seek a clear and unambiguous answer. President Hinckley on two occasions stated that is is unacceptable for men to have tattoos or to pierce their ears. However, he did state that woman can pierce their ears with one hole in each (but no more). He allowed women to desecrate their bodies but only slightly. The men he firmly disallowed to desecrate themselves at all. Was his pronouncement concerning this matter absolutely reflective of the will of our Lord and Saviour?

  16. Gary,

    The fact that there are not public apostolic support for evolution means nothing. Think about it. The way I see it, the Apostles go out of their way now to *not* publicly contradict other apostles, particularly on hot-button issues. I would think that those GAs that do not condemn evolution, and there definitely are according to reliable (to me) things I have heard (albeit third person) and read, are quite comfortable just letting the more publicly opinionated GA statements on evolution stand without a fight.

  17. Has the church published an apostolic statement endorsing the idea that photosynthesis explains the origin of glucose?

  18. Sonny,

    Apostles are given a divine charge to always proclaim truth not opinions. If there are differing opinions on a matter within the Quorum then it is incumbent upon them to seek pure revealation to obtain the truth that they may be united in all things. If they are proclaiming opinions under the guise of truth they are violating their charge, are thy not?

  19. “Apostles are given a divine charge to always proclaim truth not opinions”

    Really? What do you exegete this from?

  20. D&C18:26-36 (especially that last verses of 34 through 36)

     26 And now, behold, there are others who are called to declare my gospel, both unto Gentile and unto Jew;

     27 Yea, even twelve; and the Twelve shall be my disciples, and they shall take upon them my name; and the Twelve are they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart.

     28 And if they desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart, they are called to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto cevery creature.

     29 And they are they who are ordained of me to baptize in my name, according to that which is written;

     30 And you have that which is written before you; wherefore, you must perform it aaccording to the words which are bwritten.

     31 And now I speak unto you, the Twelve—Behold, my grace is sufficient for you; you must walk uprightly before me and sin not.

     32 And, behold, you are they who are ordained of me to ordain priests and teachers; to declare my gospel, caccording to the power of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and according to the dcallings and gifts of God unto men;

     33 And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it.

     34 These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;

     35 For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;

     36 Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.

  21. Michael, I see a calling to testify and preach the Gospel. I don’t see anything either guaranteeing Ultra-Pure 100% Truth™ or prohibiting opinion. In fact, I’d argue it’s impossible to teach anything in an effective way without including a good bit of “opinion.” But, I suspect we differ in our epistemological and other assumptions about the nature of revelation, prophets, scripture, etc.

  22. Ben S, you are right. Individuals can accept human evolution as the origin of man without apostolic permission. However, ALL Church published apostolic and official First Presidency statements about human evolution are opposed to the idea. No exceptions. Therefore, anyone concerned with LDS doctrine is stuck with what HAS been taught, and published by the Church, by members of the First Presidency and the Twelve.

    As a last resort, it is claimed that those apostles who are more enlightened about the origin of man have been silenced by strong-willed, less enlightened apostles who oppose evolution. I don’t know about you, but even to say that sounds ridiculous to me.

  23. An interesting question. Is intellectual activity exclusive to science? Hopefully not. There are many things other than science worthy of thought. And thoughts, followed by writings, are what defines intellectuals.

    A person who thinks about spiritual things and draws conclusions and forms ideas about religion which may be true, is an intellectual if those ideas are arrived at independently. A person who does not think independently but accepts opinions and pronouncements without thought; who depends on others for understanding is not an intellectual. There are both kinds of people in all congregations.

  24. R. Gary (24), given the interpretation you gave the statements you posted on your blog, I suspect that your interpretations of the “official First Presidency statements about human evolution” are also skewed to your views.

    Last time I looked through the “official First Presidency statements about human evolution” they were, every single one, neutral on the issue.

    I can’t see interpreting them any other way.

  25. Elder Andersen recently addressed an investors’ conference at BYU. Is anything he said there of interest to the general body of the Saints, or just that audience?

  26. To address the question in the op, I’d have to say that this is a complex issue. I hear statements that hint at anti-intellecutalism from General Authorities all the time — although I think they can usually be explained. On the other hand, I see strong encouragement of intellectual activity by the Church, from the encouragement to get a good education, to the emphasis on teaching and learning in nearly all our worship activities, to the rhetoric urging members to gain an independent testimony through, among other things, study and pondering. Usually the Church seems to be against “so-called intellectuals” who have gone against principles that the church teaches.

    But, its hard to ignore a strain of anti-intellecutalism in Mormon culture, even today. A large segment of Mormons in the U.S. and Canada (and elsewhere around the world) have strong anti-intellectual views, often those rooted in cultural views.

    I believe that the “problem” we have is more cultural than doctrinal, which perhaps makes it easier to avoid the pitfalls that evangelicals run into. But I don’t think that the cultural nature of the problem makes it any less of a problem.

  27. Ben S,

    I don’t necessarily think we disagree. My frustration comes when the Prophets and Apostles play word games with controversial items or with unsettled truths and refuse to be clear as to whether they (or their deceased predecessors) are (or were) speaking as men or testifying of truth as is their calling. They have a responsibility to make the difference very clear.

    Was Hinckley speaking the words of the Lord when he said women can slightly desecrate their bodies with only one set of earrings and that men cannot desecrate themselves with any piercings whatsoever? If he was speaking his opinion then why has his counsel become firm “doctrine” in every church school and at every church youth function including baptisms for the dead and youth dances? It is pure idiocy that we let such an opinion be turned into firm “doctrine” when the youth of the church need deeper spiritual nourishment to strengthen them during these days.

  28. Michael, I don’t think they deliberately play wordgames. On the one hand, regardless of inspiration, Apostles set the policies in the Church. Setting aside the question of inspiration, if the CHI added a new temple recommend question about earring numbers, that would be that, and you’d be bound to follow it or not. What does it mean that such is not the case?

    On the other hand, prophets, like all people, are encultured, and live and react against a culture. Within my own idiosyncratic understanding, I take “doctrine” to be propositional. The truth-value of the proposition “more than one earring defiles the body” will be evaluated differently by people based on their different cultures or subcultures.

    I agree that spending an excess of time preaching or focusing on the outward showings of orthodoxy is troublesome. It makes tertiary things of primary importance, the “Do Nots” overshadowing the “Do”s. (Lowell Bennion had a great piece on that, “What it means to be a latter-day saint”)

    However, I find a long and consistent history of prophets trying to prevent their flocks from merging completely with whatever the dominant culture is. Mauss talks about retrenchment vs. assimilation in modern Mormonism, and the Bible is replete with examples.

    I don’t think prophetic words can be neatly parsed on any basis into “opinion=false and can be ignored” and “true= doctrine and handed down from Sinai”, but that doesn’t mean they’re of no worth. Heck, I’m currently reading biographies of one Apostle and one Church President with whom I disagree on a fundamental level, because I disagree with them (and on a much more fundamental topic than earrings.) It’s more important to me to understand where they were coming from than trying to assign to a True/False dichotomy.

    I suppose a good counter-question would be, why is it so important to someone to wear two earrings? What cultural pressures are they responding to, or trying to conform to?

    I’m also reminded of a statement by G.K. Chesterton.
    “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

    “This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.”

  29. I believe that the “problem” we have is more cultural than doctrinal … I don’t think that the cultural nature of the problem makes it any less of a problem.

    Agree on both counts, Kent. I think what you have cited in the OP and what some commenters have added well illustrates the Church’s (and Church leaders’, if we have to make that distinction for anybody’s sake) support for learning in secular as well as sacred fields, and in avoiding the specific intellectual traps that have snared some evangelicals.

    There’s no denying a strong anti-intellectual culture among some church members, either. That’s illustrated by Gary’s one-note piano playing where he insists on reading into general authority statements elements which appear nowhere but his imagination; in the current BCC post where commenters demonstrate their political independence by rejecting science; and in our wards by constant little things — the man who bore his testimony today claiming to be a scientist (he’s been nothing but a ski bum all the years I’ve known him) but insisting that the Book of Mormon condemned education (his was a black and white statement without the caveats of the actual scripture), and by a Sunday School teacher who in the past has told us how she teaches the second-graders in her daily care that they should not believe anything about science, that it is all wrong and always changing and can’t be trusted about anything. It’s those small and constant local, unofficial thrusts of anti-intellectualism that do more damage than any major official declarations could, because these small, local cuts govern how we live our daily lives and cannot easily be noticed and corrected by legitimate authority.

  30. To determine the tolerance of our church culture ask yourself if I would be able to call President Hinckley’s earring counsel pure idiocy in a Sunday school or priesthood class. If not, is it a sign that we do not allowing questioning and open discussion in our meetings?

    We do have a culture of anti-intellectualism. I would be classified as a heretic if I questioned his counsel and would probably have my testimony of the Saviour and His Restored Gospel questioned instead.

  31. Yeah, I think if you called out the previous President of the Church for “idiocy” people would look at you funny, as well they should. If you don’t see why that could *possibly* be problematic, perhaps there are larger issues here. That’s not anti-intellectualism per se (though I don’t deny it happens on a local level. I’ve seen it myself.) In other words, we shouldn’t try to cover our own issues under the cloak of anti-intellectualism.

    And FWIW, our High Councilor in Chicago wore an earring to Church. Unless he was speaking as High Councilor.

  32. Aaron,

    We can always bring in the polygamy/priesthood ban grippers to balance out the thread.


    I will ignore the condescension inherent in assuming I cover ‘other issues’ under the guise of anti-intellectualism. My point was there is no place in our church meetings for questioning the teachings as presented by correlation. Many of us who are converts find it difficult to be told to question our old traditions and beliefs as we are investigating the church and then get told that further questioning once we become members is not culturally acceptable. There is a very stark difference depending what side of the fence one is on. Missionaries urge us to question and tear apart all we have been taught by our families and previous religions. However, the same challenges are not presented to those who are raised in the church from birth.

    There is a great dissonance when pondering the difference.

  33. Michael, I’m not suggesting sin or anything like that. It’s an observation from self-reflection on my own issues with the Church; the surface issue often springs from something deeper and not always related.

    I’d also suggest that making a charged statement like “idiocy” (particularly in a Gospel Doctrine setting) doesn’t appear to reflect “questioning” as much as simply negative judgment. I’m a big fan of questions, and I’ve encouraged them in the classes I’ve taught; I’m not a fan of trying to pass off (and not saying you’re committing this) negative conclusions, firmly held, as questions. If you want to question in a Sunday setting, think Jeopardy; take your statement, and turn it into a question, but make sure it’s productive and not emotionally charged.

    This has some good guidance as to the topic, as does this.

  34. Cydlawenhau, #4, brava…or bravo. :)

    I’m not a scientist. I just sleep with one. And was raised by one (or two, depending on your definition). And have siblings and spouses who are scientists. So, yea, our family dinner conversations are always weird.

    What always gets me in these discussions is that the people most prone to bloviate about science (in my experience) are rarely scientists. No one in my family, in our company, at the conferences I’ve attended, spend much time making overreaching claims about science or its various, current theories. They aren’t insistent about what is “fact.” They don’t point fingers about who’s really intellectual and who isn’t. And the very few that do, always either have a huge agenda or a huge ego.

    Rather, they are interested in discussion, different points of view, learning new things, experimentation, solving problems.

  35. From my experience it seems to me that anti intellecutalism in church tends to be an artifact from what someone was before they converted, or it’s inherited in the family until corrected. When you have someone who associates anti intellecutalism with their religious identity, and then they join the church, the church doesn’t really emphasis that they should strip that aspect of their identity away. So it sticks around.
    Or there’s something where the church doesn’t really talk about it (say evolution) and then media repeats how religious people don’t like evolution and so they end up thinking “since I’m religious I must not like evolution”.
    Sometimes I wish we could have meeting where people talk about how they piece a bunch of the aspect of their lives together. Everyone knows it’s not doctrine, but it could be useful to see how other peple are piecing together all their different sources of knowledge.

  36. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    R. Gary (#13), in 1931 the First Presidency counseled General Authorities of the Church as follows (and I know you are familiar with this quote):

    Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. 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.

    That counsel is certainly relevant: it was given as LDS leaders vocally disagreed with each other about evolution. And we know that counsel is still applicable: it was furnished by the First Presidency to the author of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism evolution article in 1991. Consequently, you will not find express endorsements of evolution by General Authorities because most of them follow that counsel and don’t address scientific issues.

    Now it is true that some leaders who were opposed to evolution seemed to think that counsel did not apply to them. That’s unfortunate, as I think their intemperate remarks have done a lot of harm to the Church. If those leaders had followed the counsel they were given and avoided addressing scientific issues, we’d all be better off. I think the proper thing for Latter-day Saints in 2011 to do is simply ignore those improper anti-evolution statements (which should not have been made in the first place) and correct those who hold them forth as establishing an LDS doctrinal position.

  37. For the 20 years that I was in the Air Force, most of my fellow ward and branch members were people who used science and technology in their daily lives, often with bachelors and masters degrees. They were clearly no “anti-intellectual” in the sense of opposing education or science. In most of the 15 years since then, I have been in wards where many of the members are engineers or scientists, most with at least a Master’s degree and some with PhDs. Hardly a place where someone could credibly attack the idea of education or science.

    My parents’ generation in the Church were not as fortunate as mine in getting college and graduate school educations, or even in having Seminary and Institute classes where they could hash out the possible conflicts between Church doctrines and scientific principles. Until the GI Bill made it possible for many more people to attend college, it was easy for people to envy and resent those who did. That is a cultural aspect of a society where people didn’t need a lot of education to support themselves and live a satisfying life. Even the adults in my wife’s family, and her high school counselors, did not value higher education; they advised her to learn secretarial skills at LDS Business College rather than aspire to a more intellectually challenging education. In the days of the pioneers, it was difficult to get some members to send their children to elementary school.

    I don’t see anything inherent in Mormonism that engenders a bad attitude toward education and intellectual work. The Church values and utilizes people with intellectual skills, not only in church callings, but also in its own organization and programs. It hires trained architects and experts in engineering and acoustics to design buildings like the Conference Center. The example of many of the General Authorities demonstrates that having a PhD and being a university professor does not disqualify someone from being an apostle. Russell M. Nelson is hardly an anti-intellectual; he holds MD and PhD degrees and was a principle inventor of the heart-lung machines that allow open-heart surgery.

    When I see the occasional “intellectual” who is ticked off at the Church and the Brethren, I suspect that the individual is confusing his or her own “intellect” with the principle of intellectualism, and appoints themselves as the representative of the intellectual history of mankind, as opposed to the ignorance of Church leaders who do not recognize their brilliance.

    The fact is that the principle of continuing revelation necessarily implies that our knowledge of religious truth at any given time is incomplete, and therefore there can be ambiguity about a number of issues. The reality of science is that the principle of scientific discovery assumes that for every question that science answers, it raises at least one new question, if not more, so that science is a constant venturing into the unknown, and the body of scientific knowledge is by inherently incomplete.

    These two facts, the incompleteness of BOTH science and the Gospel, should make us realize that insisting that either category of knowledge is absolute and complete, and thus must displace any aspect of the other that conflicts with it, is intellectually illegitimate. Extremist atheists like Richard Dawkins have made all sorts of absurd claims about the completeness of scientific knowledge, claims that are just as silly as the ones made that, because the Bible allegedly contains “all truth”, someone’s interpretation of it must trump scientific observations and analysis.

    By keeping the door to added truth open, Mormonism is a friend to intellectual endeavor. It does not claim that its body of doctrine excludes all other sources of truth. This is a reason why the claims of some Christians that the Bible is the entire word of God for all time contradicts the intellectual enterprise of modern society.

  38. Raymond,

    “I don’t see anything inherent in Mormonism that engenders a bad attitude toward education and intellectual work…”

    Nor do I. But even so, I *do* see and hear many comments from some church members that “engenders a bad attitude toward education and intellectual work.” So that begs the question: If there is nothing inherent in Mormonism that is anti-intellectual, where do the comments come from? (Rhetorical question)

  39. Dave: The 1931 passage you quote is not from any published First Presidency statement, past or present. It has never been printed in any official Church magazine or lesson manual. It comes from an internal memo that was not about evolution and not the result of any debate about evolution.

    The memo was addressed to LDS general authorities. It summarizes the lengthy evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted in 1928 by Elder B. H. Roberts, a Seventy. After two and a half years, the 1931 memo announces the Church’s decision to reject the manual.

    William E. Evenson, who wrote the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on evolution, has since admitted publicly that the opinions of Roberts were “not those of an evolutionist” and the discussions “were not centered on the scientific theories of origins of life forms.” (William E. Evenson, “Science: The Universe, Creation, and Evolution,” in B. H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life [2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], p.645.)

    Evenson further acknowledges that the Roberts book “addresses three forms of evolutionary theory [and] finds all three … to be inadequate.” (Ibid.) Evenson concedes that Roberts “rejects all [1930s evolutionary] theories as he understands them [and] puts forward his own theory” to reconcile the scriptures with the fossil record. (Ibid.)

    In an effort to bolster his own theory about fossil evidence for death before Adam’s fall, Roberts marshaled the latest conclusions of geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology. The decision of the 1931 First Presidency was that neither the Roberts theory nor the theories of science belonged in a priesthood manual.

    If the 1931 quotation has any meaning for our day, it is that Church members should not try to make the gospel fit scientific theories. Several apostles have acted and spoken in accordance with this interpretation of the 1931 memo and none have advanced your view, none.

    There is more, but you and I have discussed this before (click here and here).

  40. Indeed we have discussed this before, R. Gary, and as always it is a pleasure to review the details of the LDS position. Certainly the 1931 quote does have meaning for our day — that is why the First Presidency supplied the quote to Evenson to be published in the Encylopedia. The direct meaning would appear to be that the Church will not make statements on scientific issues. “Neutrality” is a simple term that captures the Church’s present position of not presenting LDS doctrine as either affirming or rejecting evolution (or other scientific theories — the statement is very broad). The implication is that those who have made such statements in the past should not have done so, and that those who continue to do so in the present should not be doing so. [Which isn’t to say you or anyone cannot agree with Elder McConkie that evolution is a modern-day heresy, just that it is improper to represent that as LDS doctrine or the LDS position. It is not.]

    I point your attention to the first paragraph in Millet’s helpful comments on how to approach Mormon doctrine:

    The teachings of the Church today have a rather narrow focus, range, and direction; central and saving doctrine is what we are called upon to teach and emphasize, not tangential and peripheral teachings.

    Rather than depart from the now-accepted practice of focusing on “central and saving doctrine” (except for GAs who flaunt that rule and make anti-evolution pronouncements that create the sort of problems that necessitated the 1931 communication in the first place), the 1991 First Presidency transmitted an earlier document. “Republished” would probably be a better term — they did so with the knowledge that it would be published and with the intention that it be published. Unlike the sort of freewheeling personal statements published by Elder McConkie, this is a written document sent by the First Presidency.

    The point here, R. Gary, is what the present position of the Church is, and the 1931 statement, republished in 1991, makes that clear.

  41. Dave: In #41 you make the argument that certain leaders of the LDS Church have made or are making “improper anti-evolution statements (which should not have been made in the first place).” Again in #45 you claim that they “flaunt [the 1931] rule and make anti-evolution pronouncements.” You then take it upon yourself to declare that those “who have made such statements in the past should not have done so, and that those who continue to do so in the present should not be doing so.”

    This clarifies your comment in #10 that you are “concerned with LDS Doctrine, not Packer doctrine, not McConkie doctrine, not Nelson doctrine.”

    The 1931 memo and surrounding events don’t necessarily carry the meaning you’ve attached to them. But let’s assume you are right. That leaves this question: Why has God left it to you to openly chastise these rogue apostles? Why hasn’t God openly corrected them himself? Why in 80 years hasn’t the First Presidency taken action against them?

    Here’s why. Read these six paragraphs at and explain to me how anyone could have missed the boat so badly.

  42. R Gary,

    I am quite sure that Dave can speak for himself and he probably will, but please allow me to answer your questions:

    Q: Why has God left it to you to openly chastise these rogue apostles?
    A: Dave never said or implied that God left it to him to say anything. You did. Also, I would hardly call the following sentence of Dave’s as a chastisement: “The implication is that those who have made such statements in the past should not have done so….” Pointing out a First Presidency statement that can easily and correctly read as having implications is hardly a chastisement.

    Q: “Why hasn’t God openly corrected them himself?”
    A: Why does He have to?

    Q: “Why in 80 years hasn’t the First Presidency taken action against them?”
    A: See above.

  43. This thread is frustrating. Let me tell some people that don’t know. Evolution is NOT true. There are multiple scientific LAWS that prove it wrong. Now those of you who believe otherwise, could you explain it to me. I’m pretty sure I understand the THEORY of evolution and I cannot possibly understand how someone could except it as fact. So please enlighten me.

  44. If you wnat to know the reason why the CHurch Leaders and others are not clear on their veiws for certin matters is because they do not want to “offend” anyone. I say state your hard core belief and stand by it with tolerance and respect and don;t gaurd it jealously either. Just admit that this is what you believe now with your limited understanding but are stiving to understand more.

  45. Sonny: Christ, not Dave, calls the apostles. They are Christ’s representatives, not Dave’s. They will be judged for the way they use their authority, but not by Dave. Now this is the important part: The Lord gives the authority to judge and condemn His apostles only to the First Presidency, not Dave.

    Times and Seasons is a large blog with readers all over the world. Dave uses this forum to openly accuse some apostles of making “improper” statements. He claims they “flaunt” some “rule” whenever they make such statements. He announces to the world that those apostles who made such statements in the past “should not have done so,” and those who do so now “should not be doing so.”


    Does Dave have authorization from Christ to tell the world that some of His apostles have repeatedly, for the past 80 years, shamelessly disobeyed the First Presidency?

    Why hasn’t God openly corrected them himself? Remember that the events and memo of 1931 can be legitimately viewed another way, and remember that the apostles report to God, not to Dave.

    Why in 80 years hasn’t the First Presidency taken action against these rebels? Dave would have us believe that the First Presidency has been and is being held hostage by a few unenlightened rebels.

    Dave’s evidence for this involves a 1931 memo, but more importantly, the evidence requires strict adherence to a particular interpretation of that memo. The mere fact that this particular interpretation makes multiple apostles and prophets rebels should be reason enough to accept a historically accurate alternative interpretation.

    My advice to Dave would be to never criticize any apostle in any public way. Make private contact. Find one of the allegedly more enlightened apostles and enlist his support in a campaign to silence the rebels. But do it all privately. It might take many years and it will definitely take a lot of work, but if Dave is in possession of absolute truth, it will be worth it.

  46. So why did the First Presidency transmit the 1931 document to Evenson with the intent it be published? It was prepared in the context of a dispute among General Authorities about the status of evolution in LDS doctrine. The First Presidency’s response was that the authorities of the Church should not state positions on scientific issues, incouding evolution. The 1991 First Presidency transmitted the document that contained that message to Evenson with the intention that it be republished, suggesting strongly that is still the position of the Church (if it was not, they would not have relied on the 1931 document to represent their position). Many authorities of the Church have followed that wise counsel. We would be better off if all had followed that counsel.

    I am not sure why you are offended that I suggest following the counsel of the First Presidency in this matter. Perhaps because you disagree with that counsel? And you think I have a problem?

    And just to repeat, R. Gary: there is nothing wrong with holding the views that you do. But I believe, in light of the First Presidency’s counsel, that it is an error to state that LDS doctrine or the LDS Church presently takes a position on evolution. It does not.

  47. Dave: You are one of the few LDSBlogs bloggers I’ve met in person. We had a pleasant visit. You are a great guy.

    But in this case, you conveniently ignore the fact that William E. Evenson, who wrote the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article you quote, corrected himself later when he wrote (as noted in #44) that the 1931 discussions were not about evolution.

    Viewed in its correct context, the 1931 passage simply says the theories of science don’t belong in a priesthood manual and, by extension, shouldn’t be used to interpret the gospel. THAT is the message Church leaders wanted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article.

    Church published and privately published statements of apostles since 1931 support that view and suggest it’s you who isn’t following the First Presidency in this matter. You are following a misinterpretation of their words and using that view to bash Church leaders with whom you disagree.

    The apostles you accuse are not rebels, they are servants of the Lord. And I don’t think you should openly and falsely assert they have disregarded a First Presidency directive.

    Dave, you have the context and meaning of the 1931 excerpt backwards.

  48. I think Evenson agreed to the context of the 1931 context. I’m not sure he backed off the claim that it was Pres. Hinkley who told him to include it as a kind of neutrality on evolution. I agree that it would be nice to have a more forthright statement rather than this indirect approach. The indirect approach runs into problem due to the original contexts of the texts. It also lets people like Gary simply bring out the quotes from those GAs who have talked who tend to be more anti-evolution. Those pro-evolution are for some reason more loath to speak publicly on the matter.

  49. R. Gary, it was a nice visit. I found the text of your letter to the SL Trib and Evenson’s response as posted at your NDBF site. I think it would be fair to quote Evenson’s short letter in full as it speaks directly to the 1931 letter and its use in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism evolution entry. Here is Evenson’s letter as posted at your website:

    In 1931, the LDS First Presidency counseled the other general authorities to leave scientific matters to scientific investigation, and that the general authorities should restrict themselves strictly to matters of the ministry. Several writers have recently used this statement as a reflection of current church opinion. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism uses the quote in this sense.

    [R. Gary] (June 25) asserted that since this counsel was given in 1931 to terminate discussion of Elder B. H. Roberts’ views, it is not relevant today, and the encyclopedia and more recent writers are in error to use it. This interpretation overlooks some pertinent facts.

    As the author of the article on evolution for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, I can attest that the article went through various drafts and eventually was submitted to the First Presidency and members of the Twelve for their counsel. It was at their initiative, and specifically by the action of then-First Counselor Gordon B. Hinckley, that the 1931 counsel was supplied to be used in the encyclopedia to indicate the church’s position in 1992. This updates the 1931 counsel and gives it focus directly to modern conditions. The encyclopedia and other writers are quite correct in citing it as a currently valid statement.

    William E. Evenson

  50. What’s so interesting about this is that R. Gary is usually the first one to cherry pick obscure, eighty-year-old chestnuts (that have never been repudiated or corrected by the First Presidency or Twelve!!!)to support the doctrines of his imagination — so I find this very entertaining.

    Dave, I am glad you have the patience to engage him because I certainly don’t / wouldn’t. Deep down part of me hopes that R. Gary is the second coming of BoH (for all our sakes).

    Although Ardis saying something doesn’t make it true, Ardis says many true things — and this is one of them:

    There’s no denying a strong anti-intellectual culture among some church members, either. That’s illustrated by Gary’s one-note piano playing where he insists on reading into general authority statements elements which appear nowhere but his imagination […]

  51. Orwell, I can personally vouch for R. Gary as a real live person. I wouldn’t call R. Gary’s quotes obscure — they are mostly 20th-century statements by General Authorities. It points up a problem for those trying to nail down Mormon doctrine: we sustain 15 leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators, but the volume of published material from Conference, the Ensign, BYU forums, and books is so large and covers so many topics that you can find quotes to support almost any reasonable view.

    That’s why I like Millet’s thoughts quoted in the opening post: he is trying to narrow down the range of relevant doctrinal topics (omitting the sort of doctrinal speculation that was fashionable years ago but is now disfavored) and narrow down the types of statements that express “official” doctrinal positions as opposed to the opinions of one LDS leader (so declarations, proclamations, Conference talks, handbooks, approved manuals are what should be cited to establish an LDS doctrinal position).

  52. Well, I may be guilty of a little hyperbole in using “obscure,” but not much.

    I long ago gave up hope of ever pinning anything down based on GA quotes. They’re just as bad as the scriptures in that regard.

  53. Just to be clear, I certainly wouldn’t categorize everything R. Gary digs out of his doubtless voluminous collection of dated pamphlets and manuals (that have never been repudiated or corrected by the First Presidency or the Twelve!!!) as “obscure,” but in a contemporary context involving current-day lay members, there’s likely a fair amount that is.

    As to him being a real person, I don’t really doubt it… his dogma is just so baffling sometimes that, if I hadn’t personally met others like him, it would be easier to believe he’s a fabrication.

  54. Dave: Thank you! I am so excited that you printed Evenson’s letter. I hope you noticed that (aside from offering his personal opinion), he proffers nothing in this letter to support your distorted view of what the 1931 excerpt means. And I hope you noticed the straw man argument.

    But the big thing I hope everyone notices is that Evenson is backpedaling here. Contrary to what he said in the Encyclopedia, he now claims:

    “In 1931, the LDS First Presidency counseled the other general authorities to leave scientific matters to scientific investigation, and that the general authorities should restrict themselves strictly to matters of the ministry…. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism uses the quote in this sense.” (Emphasis added.)

    But that is contrary to the Encyclopedia article which says:

    “In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution, the First Presidency … addressed all of the General Authorities of the Church on the matter, and concluded,…” (Emphasis added.)

    Whereupon, and clearly in this sense, the Encyclopedia quotes the 1931 First Presidency. In this way, the Encyclopedia creates a false context for the 1931 excerpt, leading readers to accept a false view of what the excerpt means.

    And don’t forget Evenson’s own published disavowal of the “intense discussion” statement, as quoted in #44 above. Then, in his SL Trib letter, he switches to a new but equally non-historical and misleading context for the 1931 excerpt, leading to a slightly modified but still false view of what the excerpt means.

    The mere fact that so many senior LDS leaders have not acted in accordance with the false interpretation is confirmation to me that the historical view (discussed in #53) is the correct view.

    Thank you again, Dave, for printing Evenson’s letter in your comment.

  55. R. Gary,

    Hate to break it to you, but evolution is a “scientific matter.” Therefore, regardless of which quote is “correct,” the First Presidency instructed the General Authorities to stick to the gospel, and to leave science to the scientists.

  56. My questions to the gallery are: What is intellectualism? Is it good? Why? Is Jesus Christ an intellectual? How so? Another question: What is reason? Who has the authority to define it? Why? All to often, some of those who submit to a higher authority, be it to God, or to one of His servants, are criticized by others who are submitting unawares to the perceived authority of their own mind, or worse, to the highly questionable authority of a rampantly spreading and dogmatic secular definition of intellectualism.

  57. “Intellectual” is one of those terms that can be praise or condemnation depending upon who is using it. As a descriptive term it really isn’t too terribly helpful.

  58. @Lucy #63

    i confess that i have been one of those “submitting unawares to the perceived authority of their own mind.” thank you for alerting me to the danger!

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