Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Mormons and evolution : a history of B. H. Roberts and his attempt to reconcile science and religion

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  • Although much has been written describing the various reactions to the origin of Species in America, the Mormon reaction to Darwinism has been largely ignored. This dissertation will recount the history of this reaction as exemplified by the life and works of B. H. Roberts. Roberts's intellectual pursuits early in life reveal a period of Latter-day Saint history when Mormons enjoyed relative intellectual freedom. However, the encroachment of secular knowledge upon the isolation of the Saints resulted in a conservative reaction to secular learning. The LDS response to Roberts's later work, including his own unique theory of evolution, best illustrates the conservative reaction that continues to the present. Roberts's early work is marked by speculation regarding origins and creation. Like many Church leaders who preceded him, Roberts believed that all Latter-day Saints should take full advantage of secular learning in order to best understand the workings of the divine; according to Roberts, science should be a support and supplement to theology. Later in life, the conservative reaction to Roberts's belief in the theory of evolution is illustrative of the changing intellectual climate. In his major theological treatise, The Truth, The Way, The Life, Roberts tries to combine all extant knowledge, including the theory of evolution, into a coherent whole. In April of 1930, Mormon Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith publicly opposed Roberts's evolutionary views in favor of a literal reading of scripture. The public confrontation between Smith and Roberts led to a private debate before the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After much deliberation, the Quorum of the Twelve decided that nothing could be gained by further consideration of the matter. Reaffirming a statement issued by the First Presidency of the Church in 1909, they agreed that God had created man; anything beyond this was mere speculation. Roberts died of diabetes one year after the debate and his masterwork remained unpublished until 1994.
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