LDS and Science: An Epidemic, a Puzzle, and new Apostle… in 1904

I recently discovered an article about “the first real confrontation of Mormonism with science” during the Utah smallpox outbreak at the turn of the 19/20th century.

The short version is this; As Utah experienced a sixth major outbreak of smallpox, and there was a major movement to require vaccinations. Charles Penrose, as the editor of the Deseret News, kept writing editorials arguing that smallpox vaccinations denied God’s power and were evidence of lack of faith. He was also “particularly bothered by the compulsory loss of individual rights.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, n’est-ce pas?

Abraham Woodruff

Then, Elder Abraham Owen Woodruff, a young Apostle— emphasis on young, can you imagine a 31-yr-old Apostle today?— dies of smallpox, as does his wife. And who is chosen to replace Smoot in the Quorum of the Twelve? Charles Penrose, anti-vaxxer. (This is far from the entirety of the LDS response to vaccinations in history, don’t get the wrong idea. They get on board pretty quickly in spite of Penrose, and strongly support vaccinations today, along with encouraging members to follow “all health guidelines related to Covid-19

Thomas Martin, Duane Jeffery, and Randy L. Bennett look at this episode in “‘Christ is the Scientist of This Earth’: President Joseph F. Smith’s Attitudes and Policies toward Science.” The  anthology containing it isn’t even available used on Amazon, so I offer a PDF of the article here. The rest  is also quite interesting, talking about Nels Nelson— the Church financially underwrote his 1904 book accepting evolutionary ideas— John Widtsoe, BH Roberts, JE Talmage, the 1909 statement on “The Origin of Man,” and the 1931 conflict.

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