I got up and bore testimony

Jared* the scientific guest blogger rides again! Earlier posts here, here, and here.

The words of the scientist, Henry Eyring:

“When President Joseph Fielding Smith’s book, Man, His Origin and Destiny, was published, someone urged it as an Institute course. One of the Institute teachers came to me and said, ‘If we have to follow it exactly, we will lose some of the young people.’ I said, ‘I don’t think you need to worry.’ I thought it was a good idea to get the thing out in public, so the next time I went to Sunday School General Board meeting, I got up and bore testimony that the world was four or five billion years old, that evidence was strongly in that direction.”

What an interesting context in which to find the words “bore testimony.” I am reminded of something said in a speech by his son, Elder Henry B. Eyring:

I know from my own experience, for example, that the Holy Ghost knows some of the mathematical equations used to solve problems in thermodynamics, a branch of the sciences. I was a struggling physics student studying in a book that I still own. I keep it for historical and spiritual reasons. Halfway down a page (I could even show you where it is on the page), in the middle of some mathematics, I had a clear confirmation that what I was reading was true. It was exactly the feeling I had had come to me before as I pondered the Lord’s scriptures and that I have had many times since. So I knew that the Holy Ghost understood whatever was true in what I might be asked on an examination in thermodynamics.

I wonder what other unconventional testimonies are born at Church headquarters, and I wonder how they are received.


  1. This post reminded me of fast and testimony meeting today. In our ward, an old guy got up and bore his testimony about how awful it is that universities only teach evolution. It made him sick that these schools wouldn’t teach “creativism” because they said there was no proof. Quite an interesting testimony.
    It’s nice to know there have been and still are apostles who believe in evolution and will bear testimony of it.

  2. jessawhy,

    I am not aware of any apostles who have born testimony of evolution, though I would love to know if there have been.

  3. “When President Joseph Fielding Smith’s book, Man, His Origin and Destiny, was published, someone urged it as an Institute course.”

    That “someone” was Harold B. Lee, as he himself explains in this letter written while he was Church President only a few weeks before his death.

    jessawhy (in #1),

    I totally agree with Jared* (in #2).

  4. Gary,

    I think there may be two separate incidents. According to David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (pg 47), there was talk (apparently originating with Joseph Fielding Smith) of using the book in seminaries and institutes and the proposal was turned down. The Institute seminar that Harold B. Lee was involved with followed after.

    My suspicion is that Eyring referred to the first incident.

  5. I would love to be a fly on the wall and listen to the conversations and meetings of the FP and the 12 – as well as the presidency meetings of the Presiding Bishopric, the Seventy and the various general boards.

    As I was reminded recently of what I said in other threads, I would prefer that the apostles and prophets *not* “bear testimony” of concepts that are not central to the three-fold mission of the Church. Having said that, I have no idea how Henry Eyring phrased his “testimony” about the age of the earth. He could have said, “I believe strongly as a scientist,” or “I have prayed about this and God told me,” or “I know through the power of the Holy Ghost,” or any number of other things that he might call bearing testimony. Without that knowledge of what he actually said, I really can’t comment on whether what he said was “appropriate” for that type of meeting.

    I respect him greatly as a stellar example of someone who was a man of science *and* great faith, so I give him the benefit of the doubt.

  6. Wasn’t it Joseph Fielding Smith that said that all scientific advancement and innovation os the fruits of the Spirit? Only problem I see with that is that there are a lot of not-particularly-Christ-like folk getting a boatload of revelation.

    I have had similar experiences as Elder Eyring with chemistry.

  7. Jared* (#4),

    The bottom half of the page you cite in the Modern Mormonism book says the seminar was “the following week” but still doesn’t mention Harold B. Lee’s involvement in the promotion of Man, His Origin and Destiny.

  8. Yes, Joseph Fielding Smith interpreted the spirit pouring out on all flesh as being the inspiration behind scientific progress.

    My quibble with that is that scientists use the same reasoning processes as the rest of humanity, and professions like police detectives, lawyers, etc. I have no reason to think that scientists should be viewed as uniquely inspired. My view is that the Spirit has helped create a social/economic atmosphere in which scientific inquiry can occur.

  9. Gary,

    No it doesn’t, but I think that must be the seminar. I’ll have to dig into the footnotes to be sure.

  10. J.,

    That’s the problem I have with linking the arts to closely to the “spirit.” If it were so, then mormons would be the most uninspired folks on the planet.

  11. I am frankly unable to distinguish between feelings of awe and inspiration I experience when looking at a great painting or a building or reading a great book or listening to a great musical work, and the feelings I associate with spiritual confirmation of gospel truths. Both come to me as a powerful sense of “rightness.”

    Jack says:
    That’s the problem I have with linking the arts to closely to the “spirit.” If it were so, then mormons would be the most uninspired folks on the planet.

    If we unwind this tautology in the other direction, we could see it instead as a compelling reason–perhaps even an injunction–to develop our culture’s aesthetic sensitivity.

  12. On the issue of the arts, and focusing narrowly on music, it’s hard to sing or listen to “I Stand All Amazed” or Handel’s “Messiah” or Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” (chosen to illustrate the wide diversity of genre) – for the first time, especially – and not feel awe and wonder and joy and peace and insight and love. It’s hard not to feel what have been called the fruits of the spirit. It’s easy to dismiss it as an “emotional reaction,” but the Spirit touches our emotions as often as it instructs our minds. In fact, we are told that the Lord requires the heart first and also a willing mind.

    I think the key is:

    Moroni 7:13 – “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”

    That definition, coupled with the admonition that follows it to be careful not to reject that which fits this description, opens up a much wider scope for inspiration and the working of the Spirit than many people are willing to allow. It even opens up the kind of inspiration / confirmation that Brothers Eyring mention.

  13. J., I think of it as the Lord blessing people and blessing the world even if and as people don’t realize it. I like the way BH Roberts put it:

    “If I am right in this conjecture respecting this diffusion of a more general spirit of intelligence in the world, as a result of the renewed direct communication between heaven and earth, then we should not be surprised, and I am sure that none of us are envious in the matter–we should not be surprised, that the sects and parties in the world, outside of the organization known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, should partake of some of the rays of light emanating from this central spiritual sun.”
    (Conference Report, October 1903)

  14. I was really trying to point out an analogue between the conundrum of “inspiration” in the sciences and the arts. How one views the *creation* of art in mormondom (rather than mere appreciation) can throw a wrench into the theological works if one links the spirit too closely with the creative process. What we have is Bach with the spiritual stature of President Hinckley and the average mormon artist at about the level of (say) Cain.

  15. Jack, another possibility would be that the unwashed masses of Mormondom and the world at large lack the spiritual sensitivity to appreciate the role of the Spirit in the creation of Mormon art. By worldly standards much of it might be considered crud, but by the enlightened standards of Heaven, divine. Or something.

  16. Although it may be of little interest, for the sake of accuracy I need to correct my comments #4 and #9.

    June 28, 1954: Joseph Fielding Smith gives a speech at a BYU seminar run by Harold B. Lee.

    July-Aug: David O. McKay hears complaints that Joseph Fielding Smith wants the book used in seminaries and institutes. Presumably, this is also the period Henry Eyring referred to.

    Aug 28: Joseph Fielding Smith gives another speech to church teachers–I’m not quite sure of the forum.

    David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism referred to the last two items, not the first. See also here and here.

  17. I love his quote that goes something like this:

    “I don’t argue about evolution, I know God created the world and that’s all that matters”

    He tells, also, of inadvertantly attending a First Presidency meeting, where he thought he was supposed to talk about the Sunday School program. They never asked him why he was there, and he just gave them his two cents worth and they thanked him.
    When his secretary informed him he’d gone at the wrong time, he just shrugged and blew the other meeting off entirely.

    That’s not about testimonies, but we sure need more people like that.

  18. A deacon got up and bore his testimony in our ward this Sunday. He’s one of those kids who always manages to say something entertaining, without meaning to. People always sit up and listen when he goes up to the stand. (I know because they’ve told me so.)

    He said something like: “I haven’t come up in awhile because I didn’t just want to say the same thing over and over, I wanted to have something new to talk about. Our family recently had a family home evening about my brother’s friend, who has left the church and now says he’s an athiest. We were talking about what makes people turn away from the church. I guess he was living in a place where it was hard to be Mormon. Even my own dad left the church for awhile. But he came back, thanks to my mom. And my dad’s friend, he left the church a long time ago. He lived in Utah. So I guess Utah’s not a good place to be Mormon, either. [Huge laughter from everyone here.] But now he lives here, and he’s started coming back to church. I’m glad we live here.”

    It’s so nerve-wracking to be this kid’s mom. (I know because I am.)

  19. Susan M, out of the mouths of babes… =D

    About art and the spirit, my take is that all our human art is basically refrigerator art in God’s kitchen, and what matters is not how well it turned out, but the feeling behind it. It’s all tacky, even Bach or Van Gogh or whatever, which are marginally less tacky than the rest on God’s scale. But the reason it matters is because of the feeling that inspired it. If we are sincere, then whatever art we produce is of great worth to God, and the spirit can discern this.

  20. James E. Talmage:

    In another sense the Holy Ghost has frequently operated for good through persons that were unbaptized; indeed, some measure of His power is given to all mankind; for, as seen already, the Holy Spirit is the medium of intelligence, of wise direction, of development, of life. Manifestation of the power of God, as made plain through the operations of the Spirit, are seen in the triumphs of ennobling art, the discoveries of science, and the events of history; with all of which the carnal mind may believe that God takes no direct concern. Not a truth has ever been made the property of humankind except through the power of that great Spirit who exists to do the bidding of the Father and the Son. And yet the actual companionship of the Holy Ghost, the divinely-bestowed right to His ministrations, the sanctifying baptism with fire, are given as a permanent and personal possession only to the faithful, repentant, baptized candidate for salvation; and with all such this gift shall abide unless it be forfeited through transgression.

    (James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 149.)

  21. A woman from our old ward tearfully recounted how they had lost their little dog, and they cried and prayed and lo and behold, a call came from a neighbor that a sign had been posted at the local grocery store with a picture of their little found Fido. I leaned over to my wife and whispered “It’s a dogamony”. The bench shook for the next twenty minutes with her failed attempts to suppress laughter…

  22. This earth was created from matter that is billions of years old.That does not mean that it was from or started here.

  23. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship” (Teachings, 350). Some say you can tell the age of those old ships by counting tree rings in the timber from which they were built.

  24. R. Gary, you are likely familiar with it, but in 1904, James E. Talmage, of the twelve, wrote an article entitled “Prophecy As the Forerunner of Science” for the official publication of the Church (Improvement Era, vol. 7 pg. 481-488) stated, regarding that idea that:

    [This] statement by Joseph Smith…has been amplified and applied by some of our people in a way unwarranted by the Prophet’s utterance. This is no unusual incident in connection with the announcement of a great truth bearing the stamp of newness. Thus, the words of the prophet have been construed as meaning that great masses of material have come together in space to form this planet, and that the broken and disturbed state of the earth’s crust is an immediate result of these masses falling together…But [this] assumption…is completely disproved by existing facts…[B]y applying the most reliable tests known to the geologies…we may read on the stony pages, with fair assurance of correctness, the account of the formation of stratified and other deposits…in all their varied modes of occurrence.

    A clear distinction must be made between theory and fact. The observations last referred to are in no sense representative of theory, but, on the contrary, stand as demonstrated facts.

    Talmage explains that neither theory nor fact warrant belief in the assembly of the earth from large pieces of former worlds. Rather, he states that the formation of the earth from “world dust” is the theory most worthy of belief. He concludes with a prescient warning that is equally applicable today:

    In light of past events, it is apparent that this dissatisfaction with [the antecedent theory], and its provisional renunciation in favor of a theory that accounts in a better way for observed phenomena, will be emphasized as another instance of the fallibility of science and the utter unreliability of theories propounded by man. It will not be strange if the loudest criticism comes from those who are the least acquainted with either of the theories named, and still less conversant with the facts they were intended to explain.

  25. Yes, J., it was written by Professor Talmage, Ph.D., who didn’t become Elder Talmage for another seven and a half years. So just keep counting those tree rings.