A Vague Post on Joseph Fielding Smith, Evolution, and Other Sides of His Story

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 9.07.09 AMPeople are multi-faceted and complex. It’s very easy to develop an attitude of putting either a halo or a black hat on someone from one incident, one aspect of them, particularly when it’s a historical figure. It can be hard to get a full picture of someone. Elder Maxwell once said that the tragedy of Elder McConkie was that he had the most fantastic sense of humor, and no one in the Church knew it. (See my old post here.)

It’s well known that Joseph Fielding Smith was strongly opposed to evolution, embraced a young earth creationist view, and consequently had arguments with other General Authorities for much of his life. I’ve tried to read a lot about him, understand his arguments, and where he’s coming from. There’s not much in the way of biography beyond the Gibbons volume (left), which is basic and leans towards hagiography. Ditto this one from 1972. (Perhaps I need to add a “Joseph Fielding Smith biography” to the list of books to write…)

In the last week, I’ve acquired two sources which I’m not at liberty to share publicly at this point in time. One comes from earlier in Smith’s Church life, the other near the end. In the first, Smith expresses some doubt to a fellow Apostle, some epistemic humility, about how he’s interpreting scripture for his young earth views. He doesn’t think he’s wrong, but realizes that he is offering a particular reading. Second, it’s notable that when Smith was President of the Church, he did not push his views about creationism, evolution, and the age of the earth. I think he became aware that although that was how he read the scriptures, and he was confident of his reading, it was still just his reading. In this second source, Smith approves several things that go directly against his reading.

He had his opinions, and held them strongly, but when he had the ecclesiastical power to enforce them on others, he refrained from doing so, and I respect him for that.

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10 thoughts on “A Vague Post on Joseph Fielding Smith, Evolution, and Other Sides of His Story

      1. What makes Loyd Ericson think that Joseph Fielding Smith was incapacitated for any of his presidency? The fact is that he was active, spoke with vigor in every general conference held during the time he was president of the church, traveled extensively, including to the area conferences in Manchester, England in 1971. There is a statement in a Wikipedia article attributed to Leonard Arrington to the effect that he left much of the administrative work to his counselors, but I’m not sure what that means. JFS spoke in the General Conference held in April 1972, two or three months before his death. Go to lds.org and listen yourself.

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  1. Why are we still debating evolution? We all know that “science” and our belief in the Creator are at complete odds. No reputable evolutionary science model can accept a Creator. why dont we discuss that fact?

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    1. “We all know that “science” and our belief in the Creator are at complete odds.”
      I couldn’t disagree more. And science doesn’t deserve your scarequotes.

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      1. Im all ears to hear a peer reviewed theory accepted by science that accounts for the need of a Creator in the formation of life.

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      2. I read you as saying you can’t accept evolution and also believe in deity as creator. That’s quite a different claim than what you post above.

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      3. Do you believe the Creator planned and carried out the formation of life, of which, would not have happened without his intelligent guidance?

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  2. “He had his opinions, and held them strongly, but when he had the ecclesiastical power to enforce them on others, he refrained from doing so, and I respect him for that.”

    I believe that, as a general proposition, most people, once they become the chief executive of an organization and experience first-hand the weight of that mantle, tend to moderate their views. There is something about “the buck stops here” that causes us to temper certain opinions which we may have expressed more stridently when we were simply in “middle management.” I believe we witnessed that with Ezra T. as well (though I fear Mr. Trump may prove an exception to that rule should he win the election).

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    1. Good points. I think some I know quite get to the point of tempering opinions. I will say no more. I too fear that Trump WILL be an exception. Every time he goes off script…. With him, I think you have to put the stated policy (with all the reverses his policies have) into the garbage can, figuratively, and watch for consistent indications about his character which he will always have.
      This has been an interesting discussion. President Smith was more interesting and humble than I thought.

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