Where Are the Great Mormon Minds?

Can we be both faithful in the Church and strong analytical thinkers? Here is what I see as the crux of the dilemma for me: I desire more than anything to be faithful to the Lord, the Church, and its leaders. As such, I am prepared to disavow any school of thought, abandon any premise or conclusion, if the Lord, through his prophet, informs me that it should be abandoned. This, of course, is anathema to a good analytical thinker. As a good analytical thinker I should follow the line of reasoning where ever it takes me. In fact, I simply don’t trust academics who have any agenda (any held belief that strongly dissuades them from following the evidence to any destination): it skews their work. They miraculously always arrive at the conclusion that fits their world view.

Perhaps this is simply inevitable and no one is capable of being a really strong analytical thinker–none of us can really be objective. However, there is also a spectrum. I do not trust numbers and conclusions that come from, for example, extremely biased think tanks on either side of the political aisle. And so, the question reemerges: will Mormons ever become, en masse, great scientists, great intellectuals. Will we ever, as a group, have a large population of thinkers who are respected in their fields as some of the greatest minds? And can large numbers of LDS thinkers pull this off while remaining faithful. I have staked my flag: (granted I will never be considered a great mind in any field, except perhaps movie trivia–where I rock…), from a theoretical stance, I would much rather be faithful than smart (or anything else for that matter). Does this fact (and I think it is shared by many of us here) relegate Mormons to fields that won’t lead to asking questions and finding answers that contradict the gospel? And do such fields really exist? It seems to me that most fields of intellectual/scientific/analytic pursuit will lead us to conclusions that at least appear incongruous with the gospel.

My answer is that if we really believe the gospel, we will have the faith to follow any analytic pursuit in whatever direction it takes us, knowing that ultimately it will not lead to "truths" that contradict the gospel, because there are no such "truths". However, it will require that we leave many conclusions "on the shelf" until more information is available or better analytic tools. This fact, I think, keeps Mormons away from certain fields. They think: how can I be competitive in this field if I will have to sit on certain conclusions until they are perfected enough that they fall in line with the gospel. And thus, I do not think we will ever have a large group of Mormons dominating their analytical fields. In fact, I think the halcyon days of having a large number of Mormons who are considered to be great minds in their fields is not ahead of us but behind. 


  1. Bob Caswell says:

    That was a good post, though I must admit you now have me all interested in what kind of “movie trivia” you know to be known as a great mind. For I too know some movie trivia and want to make sure I’m on track to be considered a great mind with you.

  2. a random John says:

    They aren’t here, unless you count AT.

  3. HL Rogers says:

    Bob: we should contact UCLA film school re getting us a cottage off the campus on rolling pastures (ala Einstein and Princeton) where we engage in a several months-long intense discussion re new experimental ways to view and understand movie trivia (maybe get the first Nobel Prize for film trivia).

    Random: I was hoping this post would turn into a huge AT discussion very quickly (we haven’t had enough yet). :)

  4. Bob Caswell says:


    You read my mind; I think we can finally find the purpose of life!

    By the way, do I just not blog enough? What is the deal with AT? I have no idea what you guys are talking about. And I’d prefer it if we didn’t discuss him openly, as I’m more interested in receiving gossip via e-mail so as to make sure it’s juicy. That’s bobcaswell at fiber dot net.

  5. Jonathan Green says:

    HL, those are interesting thoughts. Wrong, but interesting.

    All academics have an agenda, I am convinced. Not in the sense that they are closet syndicalists or members of monarchist cells, but that personal history and interests drive a lot more of what one works on than is often acknowledged. My religion unavoidably colors what projects I think are pursuing. Whether the products of my research are considered trustworthy gets left up to editorial boards of various kinds (although the question if they are trustworthy is where it gets really interesting).

    It would help if you’d offer some concrete examples of fields that faithful Mormons can’t possibly make an important contribution to. I don’t think there are many, maybe not any. What fields do you think Mormons tend to avoid?

    And when you write, “I think the halcyon days of having a large number of Mormons who are considered to be great minds in their fields is not ahead of us but behind,” I respond: Huh? Did I blink and miss something? Which time period and which Mormons do you mean?

    To quote Heino: Die besten Jahre sind noch nicht vorbei, mein Kind. I believe that Mormons entering into academic fields in large numbers is a rather recent phenomenon. The big grad student wards of the Big 10 schools, for example, seem to have grown up only in the last 25 years or so.

  6. N Miller says:

    I am not sure about thinkers, but I see in many other fields, LDS people are high in rank and growing in mass. But, so what if we don’t become great thinkers? I don’t see that as a great job prospective and therefore go after other fields of interest that helps put food on the table. But maybe I don’t understand what a “thinker” is, or maybe I am not one of them and can’t “think” that way. :) My career and education path are (and have been) to become a financial analyst (sorry not a lawyer or educator) understanding what company’s are doing with their finances, how they can do better, and implementing these strategies. Is this, at least in part, be your meaning of a great thinker?

  7. HL Rogers says:

    Jonathon: thank you for the back-handed compliment–I’ll take what I can get. :)

    I agree all academics have an agenda–some agendas stronger than others. Some agendas being so strong that the academic’s work is heavily discounted–this also involves editorial boards, which are often captives of the agenda of the author (liberal or conservative publishing houses or journals). However, those examples are extremes in that they are at the margin and most reputable academic publications are not captives to one ideology.

    I think to be a great mind in a field you must be willing to question everything. For this proposition I always hold up Einstein and Feymann, both physicists who reinvented the field through their studies often before publishing a ground breaking new theory (Feynmen was famous for rewriting physics equations in different ways that reached the same results in his attempt to find something new). My question could be stated a different way: do we as faithful Mormons have the capability to question everything. I think that culturally we are at a disadvantage in this category because our religion and our culture does not teach us to question much of anything–we follow a hierarchy (I have stated this in a pejorative way only to highlight what I see as the dilemma). I think those raised in different cultures may have a head start on us in this way.
    As far as fields that exclude faithful Mormons based the subject matter for qualifying as great minds. I think Mormons shy away from psychology because of its current state, Mormons have had a tough time with Meso-American history (John Clark perhaps being the exception), biology has tended to be a problem (current views that many Mormons feel are opposed to the gospel). Those are the kind of dilemmas I have in mind. Granted none foreclose Mormons from entering the field, but I think they make it very difficult for Mormons to be on the cutting edge of the field, making new discoveries and being thought of as the great mind in the field.

    The halcyon days comment is meant as a bit of irony. I can only think of Eyring, who worked with Einstein as someone who even gets close to qualifying.

    N Miller: by great thinker I simply mean one who is thought of as one of the giants of his/her field. The Einsteins, Feynmans, Hemmingways, etc. Is being a great mind a worthwhile goal? Well, I think that is another question. Like I said, if it is not possible to be the great mind in a field and a good member of the church–I would pick member.

  8. I think this is a good post that raises some interesting questions. I can see the tension between wanting to be faithful and wanting to find all the answers with our current state of reason or science, but I don’t think faith and reason (or science) have to be mutually exclusive.

    Take the recent discoveries of DNA related information that leads us to re-interpret some of our teachings of the geography and population patterns of the BOM.

    I think most of us understand that we as humans have a limited knowledge of how to interpret our world, even when we’re guided by faithful leaders and scriptures. When we as a society gain more knowledge about how things work, I think our religion is open to finding new ways to incorporate the truthful new knowledge and to reject falsehoods.

    A problem arises when we are afraid to engage on subjects that we THINK might challenge and destroy our testimonies, so that we hide from “facts” and evidence that we believe might conflict with what a faithful person should believe. These people then shy away from using the very critical thinking powers (and faith) that I believe would lead them to the ultimate Truth. I think we should encourage more critical thinking in our gospel studies, but there are plenty of brilliant Mormon geniuses out there despite the perceived discouragement of critical thinking and the “so-called” anti-intellectualism in the church.

  9. Frank McIntyre says:

    I won’t speak for other disciplines, but being faithful poses no problems in economics.

    And I would doubt it is a problem for any discipline in terms of seeking truth. Now I can well believe there are some disciplines where one’s beliefs will run one afoul of editors and influential people, but not of truth…

  10. alamojag says:


    I think you make an interesting point when you say that our culture does not teach us to question much of anything. Maybe that is a difference between our generation and the early Church. After all, this whole endeavor STARTED when a teenage boy asked a question, ready to recieve whatever answer he got.

    Are we living too much on his answers? I don’t think so, but we are culturally steered toward getting his answers when we ask questions for ourselves. Isn’t that what the whole Moroni’s Promise is all about? I’ve always been curious about his disclaimer “if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them.”

  11. Justin H says:

    Is there any validity in considering a different approach to epistemology in “great” thinkers?

    For example, Mormonism does ask us to find out for ourselves–to question the source, as it were. But, as Alamojag points out, the message I usually get from the Church is that the answer is pretty much the same for everyone. That is, à la X-Files, the Truth really is Out There, and we just have to discover it. That is, truth exists independently of the observer and the observer is ultimately subordinate to its possessor-in-full (ie, God).

    I wonder if being a “great” thinker requires one to approach truth differently–to take an approach that the answer is In There (rather than Out)–that the individual thinker really is important as such, and that the revolutionary ideas are accessible only to those individuals who can remake truth in their own image, as it were.

    This is probably false, and is turning out way more anti-intellectual than I intended.

  12. Here I am.

  13. Wait about 20 years- my brother John and I will have revolutionized legal thought within the realm of intellectual property. John is already beginning, with a lengthy publication forthcoming on the architectural provisions of the Copyright Statute.

    Our names will replace Lessig, Chisum, Nimmer and others. Just wait… and wait… and wait…

  14. I think that culturally we are at a disadvantage in this category because our religion and our culture does not teach us to question much of anything–we follow a hierarchy

    I think that there are many who are raised in this culture; but we also have the dichotomous history that questions all things. Joseph smith was an iconoclast extraordinaire.

    Erying has to be the best example of what we can be. I don’t know that people realize where he stands in the history of chemistry. As to evolution, BYU has some of the world’s foremost scholars (albeit non-Mormon), but it is a start.

    I imagine that the liberal arts are where the difficulty lies – mostly because greatness is not objective like in the quantifiable arts/sciences. Politics are consequently a much larger portion of the field. In the sciences, if one is an iconoclast with good data, one is the victor at the end of the day. In the liberal arts, there is no data to prove what you are saying is true – just the opinions of your superiors.

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    If you’re looking for great minds which speak in movietriviaspeak, I’m right here, willing to answer all questions.

    And by the way, my grandfather was one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, one of the greatest minds of all people, let alone religious ones. Harvey Fletcher.

  16. HL Rogers says:

    “And I would doubt it is a problem for any discipline in terms of seeking truth.”

    I agree with this point Frank, that’s why I put truth in quotes. The point is that we may have to sit on conclusions that are false, contrary to the gospel, and what the endeavor is dead set on–until the mood changes (that makes it hard to be on the cutting edge).

    And of course economics runs afoul of the gospel: haven’t you ever heard of supply side economics. :)

  17. HL Rogers says:

    I think it is no coincidence that Mormons have had the best luck at achieving some measure of greatness as measured by peers in their fields in business and politics. Both fields of thought do not require any search for truth in any form to be successful (they are both largely driven by results–even if ideologies are still front and center). I think we have been limited somewhat in our political fortunes but only b/c of prejudices.

    I sense a feeling by many respondents that as Mormons grow n critical mass we will find more great minds. Obviously, this will certainly raise our statistical chances but I think it comes down to more than merely number of members. I have the sense that yes we will continue populating the great schools as both students and academics with more frequency but that we will only reach a rather high level and never ascend to the pinnacle in any field–at least with any frequency. Or better stated: at a lower frequency than other distinct groups, after controling for relative size.

    Not that this is per se a bad thing. Perhpas it comes down to the fact that we may simply not have the time to ascend to the top. Between family, church callings, and then career/academic pursuits. I certainly, try at least to, put my priorities in that order.

  18. a random John says:


    I’ll warn Lessig to watch out next time he’s at my house.

  19. Mark N. says:

    Frank: I won’t speak for other disciplines, but being faithful poses no problems in economics.

    Well, that’s because you can have anything in this world for money. : )

  20. HL – your conclusions are very similar to my reasons for thinking that we will never have our “fair share” of superlative musicians. Namely that the cost is too hi. Though I think that there are less barriers in other fields.

  21. I was mostly kidding. Who could replace Lessig?

  22. SeptimusH says:

    I believe the great Mormon minds are in hiding. And who can blame them?

  23. Aaron Brown says:

    Yes, we are in hiding, Septimus. But we really should get out and blog more.


    Aaron B

  24. Frank McIntyre says:


    Dude, supply side economics isn’t the gospel?! THen what is with all that line-upon-line trickling down of truth? And that whole “dews of heaven” sounds awfully supply sidish to me!

    Mark N, You can have “anything in this world” for money assuming that “anything in this world” has a non-zero price elasticity. Which is probably only true if one defines “anything in this world” as things with non-zero price elasticities!

  25. HL Rogers says:

    Look how far you’ve already fallen–mixing gospel truths with the philosophies and teachings of men. Repent now while there is still time–but you will have to give up your dream up winning the nobel prize

  26. D. Fletcher says:

    I repeat, my grandfather, a Mormon Stake President, was one of the greatest minds ever. His oil experiment, designed and implemented by him, won his graduate supervisor Robert Millikan the Nobel Prize.

  27. D. speaks the Truth. Every Chemistry freshman learns about that experiment as one of the foundations of modern chemsitry/physics.

  28. a random John says:


    Your grandfather got ripped off. One of the great tragedies of modern science.

    Also notable is the fact that Philo T. Farnsworth rarely gets credit for invention of the modern television.

    Maybe mormons are great minds and just don’t get credit.

  29. danithew says:

    My grandfather was a pretty decent scientist as well — and he probably got ripped off a bit himself, since his invention spawned a billion-dollar industry. I think he received something like a $25.00 raise before he left GE and formed his own company.

  30. why has no one brought up ken jennings?

  31. danithew says:

    Here’s the final synopsis (from the link above) of my grandfather’s invention’s contribution to society:

    “For nearly 40 years, slmost every diamond-making press in the world was based on one of the designs that Dr. Hall invented. In addition to diamonds, these presses are used to make other superhard materials such as Cubic Boron Nitride (CBN), the substance invented by Dr. Hall’s co-worker Robert Wentorf. Manufactured diamonds are used in aerospace, manufacturing, mining, and automotive industries; they are found in masonry saws, mining drill bits, polishing machinery, and cutting tools. In fact, it would be difficult to find a segment of industry where industrial diamonds are not used. Countless jobs and billions of dollars of American productivity are the direct result of Dr. Hall’s work. In 1954 industrial diamond consumption was 14 million carats–all from natural sources. By 1996 industrial diamond consumption had expanded to 505 million carats, 90% of which was manufactured diamond (Source: Industrial Diamond Association). While the creation of diamonds is an astounding scientific achievement, the significance of Dr. Hall’s work lies in the social contribution of his inventions. Industrial diamonds have significantly reduced the cost of drilling oil wells. Dental work is quicker, cheaper and more painless thanks to industrial diamond instruments. Eye glasses that once took weeks to order are now available in an hour. Road repairs that once required noisy, dirty, and bone-jarring jackhammers can now be prepared with precision using diamond saw blades. It would be safe to say that there is no American whose life is not significantly impacted by the used of industrial diamonds. Much of the credit for this can be given a young farm boy who enjoyed reading about Thomas Edison in the public library.”

  32. D. Fletcher says:

    Harvey Fletcher lost out on a billion dollars too. He invented hearing aids, and is known as the Father of Stereophonic Sound, for his work at Bell Laboratories.


    P.S. Just pointing out here, arguments that there are no great international “thinkers” in Mormonism are specious, in my opinion. Faith can co-exist with science.

  33. I think HL’s question moves away from great “inventors” or those who use science and scientific theories by applying them to the creation of something new, and is focused more on those like Newton or Einstein who discover new theories about how the world works. I think Mormons do suffer some in this regard, because we are taught to accept authority, that the answers will be revealed to us, and that answers which contradict the teachings of the prophets must somehow be wrong.

    The areas of science where I see this as especially true would be such fields as biology and psychology. For example, what if homosexuality, rather than being a sinful inclination to be overcome, is truly a biological tendency. Is this then something which God “inflicts” on us to teach us something in this life? (This seems like typical Mormon thought, akin to the idea that disabled people may have been more righteous in the pre-existence and therefore are given different challenges.) Or what about really trying to discover the truth of evolution? This would cut against the idea that God created the earth in 6 days, etc. etc.

    For areas such as physics or chemistry and other sciences less tied to spiritual aspects of our being, I see this as less of an issue. How God can know everything or affect everything is generally attributed to a greater understanding of physical or natural laws of which we are currently unaware, so pursuing greater truths related to physics or chemistry is less threatening to religious truth, while biology’s “nature vs. nurture” conflict and psychology’s focus on essentially “spiritual” matters is more threatening.

    As an example, post-partum depression in Utah is more likely to be treated by drugs than in other states. Is this because Mormons are taught that if you are living the Gospel you will be happy, and therefore, if you are unhappy, especially after pregnancy, the problem must be due to a physical rather than an emotional or spiritual problem or an issue with sociological pressures from Utah society?

  34. To my knowledge, none of my grandparents were ever cheated out of a Nobel Prize or substantial royalties.

    My daughter, however, who actively participates in church, is working on a Ph.D. in evolutionary psychology (according to the previous posts, this may be a doubly suspicious field–psychology AND evolution). She is not aware of any other Latter-day Saints in the field. Evolutionary psychology is controverisal even in the secular world.

  35. I think all the really smart people wait to join the church in the afterlife.

  36. The reason LDS don’t excel in thinking fields is not intellectual. It’s lack of time

  37. a random John says:


    Years ago there was an piece by Jerry Johnston in the Deseret News about how a bunch of guys in his ward got baptized when they were about 80 and then promptly died. He speculated that this was the way to live life. Have fun, get religion, and then die. This is the only article of his that I can even remember.

  38. pdmallamo says:

    What is this “gospel” to which you all so blithely refer and about which you assume so much? It sounds like an awful thing, like a wet blanket. Some of you need a good dose of Ayn Rand. Why shouldn’t everything be on the table? “Insist upon your right to question every proposition” is, I believe, Hugh B. Brown’s advice. Only truth is holy, isn’t it, wherever it may be found? As for thinking per se, as this relates to Christianity, Mormons might do well to study the pattern of great Catholic thinkers, some quite contemporary, who have also run afoul of thier own tired dogma. Some lost their church, some their faith, but few their integrity. Stand up, for God’s sake, and be men.

  39. Daylan Darby says:

    HL says: “if the Lord, through his prophet, informs me that it should be abandoned.”

    Why did you add the clause ‘through his prophet’?

  40. Seth Rogers says:

    You know, the question for me isn’t “where are the great Mormon minds?”

    For me, the question is “where are the great human minds?”

    My impression isn’t just that there is a lack of profound and transcendent Mormon thought, but that there is a lack of profound and transcendent human thought worldwide.

    I look at the truly great minds throughout history and I fail to locate them today. The scholars of today are largely a bunch of academic specialists hailing from glorified tech schools. Their focus is so narrow as to destroy any broader inspirational or social relevance that their discoveries might have.

    Look for a true “Renaissance man” today (such as Aristotle) and you won’t find him. This is partially because some of our greatest intellectual talent worldwide has been utterly subrogated to commercial pursuits.

    I am told that the manufacturing of razor-blades uses the most “cutting-edge” technology in the world. Today, some of the greatest minds in the world are busy figuring out ad campaigns for tampons.

    Our institutions of higher academic learning encourage this kind of brain-drain. Everyone is expected to specialize to the point where any concept of the broader expanse of human learning is lost.

    In the end Mormons are just as smart as everyone else. And just as stupid.

  41. I think there is a tendency in academia to give too much credence to what are theories. Some psychology professors and teaching assistants would reference evolution in a manner that assumed that everyone in a classroom believed this theory. There was a good article in the Ensign some 15 years ago approximately that showed some of the holes in the Theory of evolution. One must also remember that many claims in the world of Science are based on what is considered to be correlations. It is not so easy in the best control experiments or study to isolate one factor. I think it is important to remember that Scientists with all their elaborate theories that may seem above the average finite mind do change positions. I remember some time back that views shifted about the food source of primative man. Previously, it was thought that they ate large Mammals. Remains were discovered to supports a new idea that rabbits were a large part of their diet. Recently the theory of the Black Hole has been re-examined by the person who postulated the original prevailing theory. One must remember that theories are made by man and that there is much diverse thought. In history, we usually have a more accurate view of an event after time as passed and facts come to light or one has an opportunity to better synthesize facts. So it is with science as new facts arise, theories may change. I want to say that I think there are many brilliant LDS minds as well as people so endowed in other faiths.

  42. In fact, I simply don’t trust academics who have any agenda (any held belief that strongly dissuades them from following the evidence to any destination): it skews their work. They miraculously always arrive at the conclusion that fits their world view.

    There is irony in this statement.

  43. woodboy says:

    Perhaps there are no more “Renaissance” men, but there are also no more idle renaissance noblemen with vast sums of money to act as wealthy patrons that allow would-be scientists to follow their every quixotic whim. If i wrote a grant to paint a bunch of paintings, and build a futuristic flying-machine, who would fund it? We are forced to specialize in order to receive funding. But i think it would be hard to argue that the scientific enterprise as a whole now is not much more productive than it was in the sixteenth century. It’s somewhat sad, though, that scientific research has become more business-like these days…
    Post 41 betrays a severe misunderstanding of science, promoting a view of scientists who whimsically change their mind on important theories all the time. that’s simply not how things work. Any new theory must adequately explain all the data that supported the old theory. Primitive man ate small mammals as well as large mammals? good for them. We have expanded our knowledge of their eating habits. Work on black holes, as i understand it, is largely theoretical, and therefore it should be no surprise that there are a number of competing ideas and explanations, and people’s allegiances to them may shift. Evolution, however, is supported by overwhelming physical and empirical evidence, and you will see no serious scientist repudiate it. Psychology professors reference evolution as if everyone believed it, because everyone with scientific training _does_ believe it. It is unbelievable to me that with the severe deficiencies and declining state of science education in this country that we are still wasting our time arguing over evolution.

  44. I did not mean for my statements to imply that scientists abandon theories on a whim. I thought that I was showing as new data presents itself that theories are re-examined. I do take not agree with the view that educated minds cannot disagree with the theory that one species evolves to another species. There was a respected professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who was LDS and taught biology and zoology who believed strongly in Creation as told in Genesis. He was not naiive to data that was presented. He did not interpret the theories to support evolution.

  45. I noticed an error in my statement that makes the thought hard to follow. I will try to rephrase it in a positive statement to make my position more clear. I believe educated people do disagree with the theory that one species evolves from another species.

  46. a random John says:

    Speaking of science, we were told in a mega-stake conference for all of New England this past Sunday that your media consumption can not only alter your brain, but it can change your DNA as well. Even more shocking was that you can pass this altered DNA down to your children. It wasn’t clear if your children have to be conceived after the DNA changing media consumption or not.

    I was a bit shocked when I looked around and found that I was the only person laughing to myself at this news. This was the greatest abuse of science I have witnessed in church, and it was in a broadcast conference, with two apostles in attendance.

  47. Jonathan Green says:

    ARJ, that’s why your mom told you not to sit so close to the TV.

    Seriously, think about it this way: Even if the proposed model is Lamarckian, doesn’t this mean that the speaker, in the presence of two apostles, confirmed a theory of evolution from the pulpit?

  48. woodboy says:

    You are right, educated people do disagree with the theory that one species can evolve from another. Educated people also believe a lot of other things that are wrong. The earth is round, gravity attracts, and animals evolve by natural selection. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but to suggest that there is an undercurrent of serious biologists who doubt the validity of evolution is disingenuous. Strict creationism is just not compatible with scientific evidence. A belief in God is, though.
    a random John, i am truly sorry that circumstances prevented my attending that conference, for i would have loved to hear that for myself. i would have probably laughed out loud, not just to myself. It reminds me of a SS lesson i heard while visiting England about the word of wisdom. The teacher was telling everyone that they should exercise and get in good shape, so they could pass these traits on to their children. The worst part? She claimed to have been trained as a geneticist!

  49. a random John says:


    You are right. I didn’t consider radiation from the TV. I knew I was missing something.

    I really wondered if President Packer would say something about it. Oddly, President Faust’s comments could have been understood to confirm what was said. He talked about having “believing blood” and mentioned several families whose memebers have been prominent in the church for generations. I have always been disturbed by this concept. It also could be seen as advocating a certain form of evolution, as families with “believing blood” intertwine they could produce super-believers.

  50. QUOTE: He talked about having “believing blood” and mentioned several families whose members have been prominent in the church for generations. /QUOTE

    I try, and yet I fail, to restrain myself from pointing out that a “good-old-boys network” theory works as well to explain this phenomena as a “believing blood” theory.

  51. a random John says:


    Several people in my ward mentioned just that possibility in conversations after the end of the conference.

  52. arj, I was truant last Sunday, but now I”m wishing I’d attended. I’d have given almost anything to hear the general authorities openly espousing lamarckian evolution.

  53. The various references to passing things on to your children and strong believing families and so forth are obvious references to the influcence of parents on children by example. This is the premise behind Exod. 20:5 and 2 Ne. 4:5-6. Nobody believes you can pass faith on through the DNA in a Lamarkian fashion.

    The few people who espouse “believing blood” couch it in terms of valiant pre-mortal spirits being assigned to covenant families, and stuff like that. Naturally, this falls into the faith-promoting-rumor category. But, seriously, nobody thinks that faithfulness is heritable.

    Come on people.

  54. a random John says:


    I am not kidding you. Sister Wood (or is it Woods?) said, “change your DNA”. She believes this. She specifically said that these changes could be inherited via DNA. There was no visible reaction in the congregation, which surprised me since my reaction was to look around to see if anyone else was looking around. Maybe I have much less self control than other members. I spoke to a few people afterwards that thought it was outrageous, but I didn’t approach anyone that I would have thought would agree with the statement.

    I think that you underestimate the variety of beliefs that people have when you say that, “Nobody believes this.” As for nobody believing in the idea of “believing blood”, well, it was a member of the First Presidency that delivered that talk, so I would guess that many people believe something on the subject that goes beyond what you think is reasonable.

  55. ARJ,

    Sister Woods did say “change your DNA” and of course my wife immediately nudged me, but I believe you are mischaracterizing the degree of her conviction in the statement. She was obviously uncomfortable giving the talk (perhaps because it was before such a large audience) and she floundered at times (although she was a veritable William Jennings Bryant next to Sister Packer). She paused briefly before saying the bit about DNA and it seemed clear to me that, like many an inexperienced speaker, she was reaching for words to convey her idea and said the first thing that came to mind. As soon as she said “DNA” I recognized that she had misspoke. In light of her further comments on “imprinting” I concluded she was trying to express Judith Reisman’s oft quoted belief that repeated viewings of pornography can permanently alter the brain by imprinting a biochemical trail. The science behind Reisman’s claim may not hold up to scientific scrutiny any more than claims of changing DNA, but that sort of claim is happily entertained by a much wider group of people and it isn’t surprising to me that it would make an appearance at conference.

    In short, it seems obvious to me that if pressed on the subject, Sister Woods would tell you that she simply misspoke. Perhaps you need to brush up on interpreting things in context? Your criticism reminds me of Slate’s Bushisms–always funny until you get more than the sound bite.

  56. Frank McIntyre says:

    Gee, what a surprise. Somebody made a mistake. It makes you wonder why the Church specifically asked people not to publically share comments from local meetings.

  57. Go easy on us, Frank. We’re just enjoying the humorous implications of a general authority’s wife advancing Lamarkian theories of evolution in a forum that seems designed to homogenize Mormon teachings. Perhaps we’re making a mistake in doing so, but it’s no less human of a mistake than Sister Woods’. At least we’re not making fun of some a general conference speaker’s hairstyle or scorning her speaking skills as has been done elsewhere (a context wherein you made no attempt to defend the speaker).

  58. a random John says:


    I am glad you heard the comments as well. Perhaps you can help me. Didn’t she also say that these changes could be passed down to our children? It seems that this indicates she didn’t simply misspeak when she said “DNA”, but that her concept is that there is a change that is passed via genes to your children, without your children having to experience this media. I can certainly see how you could say that certain media can alter your brain, just as drugs can alter your brain. I could even see then saying that since your brain is altered you are a different (perhaps less effective) parent, which then leads to your children not being raised as they could be. I don’t see how they could get the same “changes” you have, but maybe I am missing something.


    Consider my comments to be intended for those that are in the New England area. There are several here. I can discuss this with them since they were at the meeting right? Don’t respond to that since you live in Utah, and I wouldn’t want you to discuss a meeting that didn’t involve you.

  59. Frank McIntyre says:


    I don’t follow bcc threads too regularly and I totally missed the bad hair jokes, sorry. Sure enough, though, I am also not in favor of mean comments about general conference speakers. Some things are better kept to oneself. James talks about this a bit in the New Testament.

    I am not sure what your overall point is though. Is it that it is okay to ignore Church requests when there is a joke to be made? Probably not.

    John, your claim was just plain bizarre. If you are going to ignore requests from Church leaders, be up front about it!

    In any case, you fellows are free agents and can do whatever you want. I just thought I’d give you a reminder of a recent request.

  60. Franky, you’ve been very good at reminding us of the recent request. But you seem a bit wound up about it. Relax, man! Serenity now!

  61. Frank McIntyre: Sure enough, though, I am also not in favor of mean comments about general conference speakers.

    You’re the man!

  62. HL Rogers says:

    This is my post AND I SAY WHAT GOES. Whaw ha ha ha ha.

    No making fun of ga speakers or their wives, for heaven’s sake. And no snarky uptightness to try and stop it. (Except of course my snarky uptightness, which is always allowed).

  63. Frank McIntyre says:

    Thanks guys. I actually am relaxed but didn’t take the time to come up with clever written ways of showing my relaxedness.

    I should have put in more smiley faces and found a way to slip in a derogatory comment about Steve.

    It’s always relaxing to make fun of Steve…

  64. Maybe she had just seen the latest Star Wars and had mitichlorians on the mind.

  65. Mark B. says:

    what makes any of you think she was referring to deoxyribonucleic acid?

    I mean, DNA can stand for lots of things, including “deadly negative attitudes”, which a lot of you seem to have.

    And, you can pass those things down to your kids, simply by being snarky around them.

  66. “DNA can stand for lots of things”

    I believe Cliff Claven provided the best definition: Dames are Not Aggressive

  67. a random John says:


    More seriously, is it ok to discuss the contents of a meeting with those that were there? What about those such as that should have been there?

  68. John,

    How about I just give you the statement and you can decide where to draw the line?

    From time to time statements are circulated among members which are inaccurately attributed to leaders of the church. Many such statements distort current church teachings and are often based on rumors and innuendos. They are never transmitted officially, but by word of mouth, e-mail, or rather informal means. We encourage members of the church to never teach or pass on such statements without verifying that they are from approved church sources such as official statements, communications, and publications. Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only.

    True spiritual growth is based on studying the scriptures, the teachings of the Brethren and Church publications.

  69. Frank, one can either (a) take this statement at face value (never mind the question of whether your transmission of this statement constitutes an “approved church sources such as official statements, communications, and publications,” because it doesn’t), (b) accord it the same respect that feminists give to the Proclamation on the Family (which carries more force, being signed by the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve), or (c) interpret it as a necessary attempt to preserve some form of deniability among leaders and politicians who may hold church callings (here in Massachusetts, for example, a talk that Mitt Romney purportedly gave some years ago in Belmont Ward which referred to homosexuality as a perversion was used in an attempt to paint him as an extremist). I take it you choose (a). Don’t you believe that there’s room for disagreement?

  70. AT,

    The reason I copied and pasted it is so you can make up your own mind about what it means! As should be clear from being on this board, there is room for disagreement about, well, pretty much anything.

  71. Frank, you’re just wrong about the level of permissible disagreement. Wrong!

  72. Frank McIntyre: The reason I copied and pasted it is so you can make up your own mind about what it means!

    You’re the man!

  73. perhaps tihs is just a non science person speaking, but perhaps she didn’t mean DNA in the strict science meaning, but in a poetic, figurative meaning. IE DNA is the essence of who we are physically. If we consume too much media (or bad media) it will alter us to the very “Core of our being” (oh how I love that phrase), which DNA is substituted for. That can be the problem with you graduate school geeks and your high and mighty GRE! You forget that not everything has to be taken so literally. Many times us non science types use what we think are science principles to explain other things. Sometimes when you use an analogy it falls apart if you push it too far.

    Of course I wasn’t at the meeting, and didn’t here the words so I could be wrong. Just my 2cents

  74. Frank,

    Back to the bizarre claims for a moment. My sister-in-law is going to beat you up for me in a few days.

    and now for the more serious, and again Frank, feel free not to participate if this makes you uncomfortable…

    I (unlike AT it seems) appreciate your posting of the statement. I still do wonder what you think though. Would you mind answering for yourself? It isn’t clear from that statement if I am allowed to discuss the contents of a meeting with others that were there. I can certainly see how posting “notes” to a blog could be undesirable. I will even concede that the conversation that has played out here has demonstrated how discussing a talk with those that were not there can be problematic. I also know that some people do not want transcripts of their talks made public because they intend to publish the talks in book form, at which point I assume that it is fair to discuss them.

    Reflecting on it a bit more, it seems to me that the mistake was a poorly understood application of science to explain additional reasons for keeping the commandments rather than a gospel error. I do think that discussing the content here has been helpful to me. I hope that it hasn’t been harmful to you.

  75. Thanks John,

    As best I can tell, the most relevant part is

    “Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only.”

    where the key is to differentiate distribution of notes from individual use. Distribution, to me, sounds like public fora of some sort. Individual use, to me, sounds like it allows for me to discuss with those who were there, or with my family, or in an interview or small group setting with people I know. Anyway, I would feel comfortable doing those things.

    Similarly, I might feel comfortable talking discreetly about parts of the temple ceremony with people privately that, while I am not bound to not mention them, I would not bring up in a public forum.

    I think you’re right that talking about things we don’t understand can be really useful. Giving some of that opportunity up is the price we are paying because of the license it gives to people who abuse the chance.

    Do I know your sister-in-law? Do you have any tips on how to calm her rage? Should I wear some form of eye pretection?

  76. a random John says:


    Thanks for your response. I knew that you would bring “pricing” into this.

    As for telling you who your attacker will be, I have already gone far enough towards spoiling the element of surprise. Just be on your toes.

    I also wonder what “notes” means. I certainly don’t think of what I posted as “notes”, though I could see how someone could construe it as such, especially if they didn’t approve of the conversation. It does strike me as strange to not be able to discuss in public a meeting that was held in public, especially if something odd or confusing was brought up. I really don’t think there is anything to hide in this instance, but I readily admit that my judgement on the subject isn’t important.

  77. I don’t suppose you have a niece named Olivia, do you?


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