Historical Mormon Smackdown! Evo-NDBF Edition

Remember back when I posted a weekly poll…good times. Well, since the Bloggernacle Times has started up again, I’ve decided I can go back to the well, too.

When last we spoke, the Old Testament was making sure that the Pearl of Great Price hied back to Kolob (rim-shot). This week, a reason to really bicker:

Who has the most influence on faithful LDS scholarship?
President Joseph Fielding Smith or Elder B. H. Roberts


President Smith is the son of the son of the brother of Joseph. He was the President of the Church (although not while most of his controversial stuff was initially published). He has written several books for the edification of the priesthood quorums. President Smith refused to countenance the idea of organic evolution.

Elder Roberts was an orphan encouraged into the church by Joseph Smith. He was a clear, forthright, and honest thinker and theologian. Many of his books were written for courses for priesthood quorums. Elder Roberts created a theory of pre-Adamites to explain the scientific evidence as he understood it.

There you go, please vote. I should also say that the idea for this week’s smackdown came from an “a random John” comment somewhere, but I can’t remember where. If you know what I am thinking of, please let me know and I’ll post the link.

  • Anonymous

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • Anonymous

    Tough choice. Smith gets quoted more, but I think ultimately BH Roberts is more influential for actual LDS scholars. Smith wasn’t so much of a scholar as a preacher and scriptorian. Roberts was both plus a debater and a systematizer.  Posted by Ben S.

  • Anonymous

    Hrm… a prophet vs a seventy.. seems to me the prophet wins. Plus, at his very first news conference as President of the Church, he reaffirmed that all of his doctrinal positions had not changed, that he stood by them all. So, you can’t marginalize him by saying “he wasn’t prophet when he wrote that”. Posted by Anonymous

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5220066 Rob

    That last comment was me… couldn’t log in properly for some reason

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5220066 Rob

    By the way… I’d rather follow a scriptorian than a scholar any day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5058781 John C.

    First, I would never seek to marginalize the writings of President Smith. I pointed out that they were all written before he became President because his callings seem to be important to people when judging his arguments.Second, I am always amazed by the scriptorian/scholar distinction that people make. Although people like Pres. Smith and Eld. McConkie (to name two who frequently come up) may not have been formally trained in theology, I find that the close reading that they give to the scriptures is indicative of the ideals of scholarship. I may not agree with all of their conclusions, but I think it may be drawing too fine a line to say they weren’t scholars (which, admittedly, isn’t what Ben was doing). Roberts was interested in dealing with the notions and evidences of modern science in a way that didn’t simply dismiss it. Smith wasn’t. I think most people would call the first approach more “scholarly” but that shouldn’t be used to denigrate the intellectual and theological insights that we gain from studying Pres. Smith’s writing. Nor, for that matter, should we dismiss what Elder Roberts (who I don’t believe had any formal academic training (Justin, feel free to correct me)) believed simply because he failed to become prophet.I suppose what is most frustrating about all of this is that by saying things like “I’d rather follow a scriptorian than a scholar any day”, we make it seem like we can’t be both. And we should be both.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4834808 SRA

    Does History of the Church ring any bells? B.H. Roberts hands down. ~~

  • Anonymous

    The question wasn’t whom we would follow, but who is more influential on LDS *scholarship*, a very very different question. Forgive me for answering the question that was actually asked :)For myself, being in a PhD program that relates directly to the Old Testament, I find myself much more able to relate to and appreciate BH Roberts careful, weighing, debating and struggling approach than an approach that frequently does not seem to acknowledge ambiguity, uncertainty, multiple perspectives, or anything beyond a literalistic surface reading. BH Roberts is one my intellectual Mormon heros and role models for just that reason. I derive comfort from BH Roberts and knowing that he thought the struggle valid and worthwhile, but I find little of that comfort from President Smith. President Smith certainly advocated a return to the scriptures and a close reading, both valuable things that I wish Church members as a whole were doing more.  Posted by Ben S.

  • Anonymous

    I pointed out that they were all written before he became President because his callings seem to be important to people when judging his arguments. Well, his callings DO matter. However, it is the final calling that matters most. If a man is elevated to the presidency, then all his prior writings take on a new authority. That isn’t to say that they have the same weight as a doctrinal statement from the First Presidency, but I see and hear a tendency in the Church to disregard inconvenient General Authority Statements because “He’s not the Prophet” or “He wasn’t the Prophet YET” or other such excuses.Although people like Pres. Smith and Eld. McConkie (to name two who frequently come up) may not have been formally trained in theology, I find that the close reading that they give to the scriptures is indicative of the ideals of scholarship. I may not agree with all of their conclusions, but I think it may be drawing too fine a line to say they weren’t scholars (which, admittedly, isn’t what Ben was doing). Roberts was interested in dealing with the notions and evidences of modern science in a way that didn’t simply dismiss it. Smith wasn’t.Formally trained in theology? These men spoke with God, face-to-face. They were his personal representatives and special witnesses here on the earth. Why would they NEED any “formal training” in man’s puny theological theories? They got it straight from the source. I’m not sure the “ideals of scholarship” are ideals we should be pursuing. Ever notice how many “LDS scholars” go on to become General Authorities? Not too darn many. How about the “doctrinal hardliners” as they have been here named? More than a few. God’s plan for teaching His Children involves prayer, scripture study, and personal revelation. Frankly, i’m suspicious of statements or opinions from people with Ph.D behind their name, because their learning and knowledge has been screened and stamped “approved” by some earthly group of Men. How much better it would be if there was some sort of “heavenly Ph.D” bestowed by God that would let us know which persons had actually received true knowledge and revelation from Him, rather than the philosophies of men mingled with Scripture. Oh, wait… there is! They’re called “General Authorities”. It very well may be true, as Ben said, that Elder Roberts has had a more profound influence on LDS scholarship than President Smith. If so, it is a sad state of affairs that our current “scholars” do not recognize the priesthood hierarchy. I’m sure Elder Roberts was a decent, righteous man (although he was reprimanded more than once by the First Presidency on multiple issues, including polygamy, if i’m not mistaken). However, if a Prophet or Apostle disagrees with a Seventy, no matter how learned or scholarly, you’ve got to go with the prophet or apostle. I realize you’re not talking about formal schooling as much as you’re talking about approach to the issues. President Smith approaches them with an “I’m right, you’re wrong” sort of framework. So did Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Spencer Kimball, etc. Elder Roberts comes from a “let’s see both sides of the issue, it may not be so clear as we think” standpoint. Commendable if you’re going to be an arbitrator or compromiser. Neither of which we should be in doctrinal matters. If the prophet feels the doctrine is clear and unequivocal, that should end the debate. It matters not what man’s limited understanding or “science” indicates to the contrary. Next to God’s (and a prophet’s) knowledge, man’s science is worthless.Reflecting, I guess I am mostly incensed by the idea that LDS scholarship is limited to professional academics. I have no complaint that some men choose to dedicate their lives to researching and teaching the peoples, lands, times and doctrines of the Scriptures and the History of the Church. I admire it. However my personal insights and opinions that I derive from personal scripture study and prayer are equally valid, and it bugs me that people assume I don’t know what i’m talking about just cause I haven’t memorized the Journal of Discourses in Latin. I sense in many academics a tendency to set their own opinions above those of the General Authorities, supposing themselves to be more learned and wise. I think we all know what Jacob had to say about that. This isn’t only a fault of academics, but i feel it is a prevalent one.  Posted by Rob

  • Anonymous

    Rob, my impression is that you have not read much LDS history or scripture. It is extremely difficult to do so thoroughly while maintaining such a black and white reductionist position as you take here. “If so, it is a sad state of affairs that our current “scholars” do not recognize the priesthood hierarchy.” Ah, but they do. They are just also aware that many prophets and apostles have expressed different and even contradictory ideas on doctrine, history, etc. I know few faithful scholars who seek to overturn priesthood and prophetic authority. They are simply seeking to understand and teach what they can with the tools they have. Spirit and prophecy are not incompatible with scholarship. Joseph Smith saw value in studying Hebrew, German, and other languages as well as history. He spent his time in jail reading Josephus, among other things. What, according to you, is the value of your brother’s hard work and time in his degrees from Johns Hopkins? Why has the Church embraced FARMS? Why does the religion department encourage and hire PhD’s? Let me turn the tables a little…I think doctors are usurpers and apostates. They should simply have enough faith to heal people, instead of leaning on man’s puny understanding of the body and so-called “science.” They’re substituting their own understanding for the Priesthood. The scriptures don’t have any doctors in them, people are either healed by the priesthood or they die.  Posted by Ben S.

  • Anonymous

    One last thing. If the prophet alwasy trumps the apostle or 70, than why does the Church today embrace Orson Pratt’s teachings over Brigham Young’s?  Posted by Ben S.

  • Anonymous

    “However my personal insights and opinions that I derive from personal scripture study and prayer are equally valid”They may be valid, but they’re not scholarship… Posted by Ben S.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5220066 Rob

    Rob, my impression is that you have not read much LDS history or scripture. It is extremely difficult to do so thoroughly while maintaining such a black and white reductionist position as you take here.I guess impressions can be deceiving. I’ve read all of the Standard works, many times over, and studied quite a bit of Church History. “If so, it is a sad state of affairs that our current “scholars” do not recognize the priesthood hierarchy.” Ah, but they do. They are just also aware that many prophets and apostles have expressed different and even contradictory ideas on doctrine, history, etc.Ah, but they don’t, if they are influenced more by Elder Roberts than by President Smith. Your assertions to the contrary, prophets and apostles do not contradict each other on doctrine, any more so than God contradicts Himself. They are God’s mouthpieces. If we see an apparent contradiction in what they are saying, then almost certainly it is our understanding of their message that is wrong. It is conceivable that God would reveal a doctrine in a limited way to an earlier prophet and then expand the doctrine to a later prophet, making it seem that the doctrine had “changed”. However in no case is this “contradictory”. And certainly in no case is a lesser authority able to correct doctrine or instruction originally given by a higher authority.Joseph Smith saw value in studying Hebrew, German, and other languages as well as history. He spent his time in jail reading Josephus, among other things.Sure, and I have not claimed that study is without value. However the authority of Joseph’s teachings comes not from his knowledge of Hebrew and Josephus, but from his status as a prophet who received direct revelation from God. And my point is, if you have to choose between two sources, one a prophet and one a non-prophet scholar, you always go with the prophet, even if current scholarship seems to contradict what he is teaching.What, according to you, is the value of your brother’s hard work and time in his degrees from Johns Hopkins? Why has the Church embraced FARMS? Why does the religion department encourage and hire PhD’s? My brother is a good man, and I mean no slight to his character or faithfulness by my remarks. I rather mean to slight Academia as a whole, he being a shining example of how NOT to be puffed up by his own learning and knowledge. The Church has NOT embraced FARMS. Neither has it repudiated it. I think the Church tolerates FARMS, and provides financing, so that there will be an LDS presence in the academic community. But there is no official Church endorsement of FARMS publications, and FARMS scholars are not quoted in General Conference (with the exception of Nibley, who is in a class unto himself). As to why the religion department of BYU hires Ph.D.’s, I cannot speak for them, however it is widely known that many BYU faculty have gone down the road to apostasy and excommunication, so the fact that they’re on staff at the Y doesn’t hold much weight with me one way or the other. Am I saying that all Ph.D.’s are evil? Of course not. What I AM saying is that having a Ph.D. makes you no more an authority to pronounce doctrine than anyone else, and that many church academics set themselves about the General Authorities. I’ve heard of religion faculty sending GA’s doctrinal critiques of their conference addresses. This is base pride. My brother has chosen his field, I presume, because he loves to study ancient things, and he feels closer to God when he does so. I wish him much happiness in his endeavors. But the fact that he can read more languages than I have even heard of, and that he has read the Lost Babylonian manuscipt of Whatsisname doesn’t make him an authority on Gospel Doctrine to me. Not that he seeks to be.I think doctors are usurpers and apostates. They should simply have enough faith to heal people, instead of leaning on man’s puny understanding of the body and so-called “science.” They’re substituting their own understanding for the Priesthood. The scriptures don’t have any doctors in them, people are either healed by the priesthood or they die. I agree with everything you have said here (except the no doctors in the scriptures thing, there are several). I think that doctors are pretty much wandering around in the darkness, and very occasionally we stumble upon a bit of truth, mostly by accident. Many medical doctors are just as arrogant and conceited about their knowledge as their more philosophical counterparts. I seek and pray every day for the spiritual gift of healing, for I know it to be far superior to anything than mortal men or drug companies can concoct.If the prophet alwasy trumps the apostle or 70, than why does the Church today embrace Orson Pratt’s teachings over Brigham Young’s? Are you referring to the question of whether God can learn and progress, or whether he is Omnipotent and Omniscient? I’m not sure we entirely understand either President Young’s or Elder Pratt’s positions on this matter. We THINK we do, but I feel that if both men were alive today they might give a different rendition than what we have in the records. The Church today is largely silent on the matter, except to say that as far as WE are concerned, to our viewpoint, God is omniscient and all-powerful. Whether there is something else beyond that is really not clear (nor our concern).They may be valid, but they’re not scholarship… Sez you. I have a problem with your definition of scholarship, as I have previously mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    If I were to make “personal insights and opinions” about medicine, medical procedures, the history of medicine, etc., would they be just as valid as yours?  Posted by Ben S.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, incomplete. I meant to say-If I were to make “personal insights and opinions” about medicine, medical procedures, the history of medicine, etc., would they be just as valid as yours? I haven’t defined scholarship anywhere, but I don’t think “personal insight and opinion” rises to the level at which it can be called “scholarship.”Further, I’m not concerned with doctrine that’s the prerogative of the prophets. I’m concerned with understanding scripture, which I don’t think is the same thing. You seem to be saying “In spite of all their training, scholars don’t know anything more than the average member about the scriptures”In any case, I think you have validated several of my impressions, which leads me to think that further discussion is fruitless.Toodles :) Ben S.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12162913 FaithHopeLove

    Say, as long as we’re talking about doctors in the Scriptures, maybe someone here can clear something up for me. There’s a modern medical symbol that features a snake entwined around a staff. (I saw this a lot working at BlueCross BlueShield.) This appears to relate back to Moses in this verse: Numbers 21:8Now, why a serpent? Because serpents were sent to kill them? Look upon the serpent and live. Doesn’t this strike anyone else as strange, particularly with the connotation of the serpent from the Garden? Plus, they were trying to cure the Israelites of idolatry, so Moses constructs a staff with a brass serpent that if they look on it, will heal them? (Yes, yes, their faith healed them, I get that.) Maybe this is another one of those stories where more is going on than is let on. (The whole ‘story’ is only 3 or 4 short verses.) Anyone have any personal insights on this?

  • Anonymous

    Wallace Hunt. “Moses’ Brazen Serpent as It Relates to Serpent Worship in Mesoamerica.” JBMS 2:2, ??. Also contains discussion of “fiery flying serpents.” Andrew C. Skinner. “Serpent Symbols and Salvation in the Ancient Near East and the Book of Mormon.” JBMS 10:2, ??..pdf only.You can find links to these under 1 Nephi 17:41 on this page  On the other hand, be careful. They are, after all, scholars and not General Authorities, so they can’t have anything worthwhile to say ;)  Posted by Anonymous

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5220066 Rob

    Or you could look up “caduceus” in the encyclopedia :) It comes from Greek mythology, not the OT.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1229816 Ronan

    FARMS at General Conference? Try this talk by John Carmack that mentions Mr. FARMS, Jack Welch and his chiasmus discoveries. But Carmack’s only a 70, so who cares?BTW, Rob, you are so overreacting to Ben’s position on this one. You are on the defensive when no attack has occurred. That just makes you seem paranoid.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5220066 Rob

    I haven’t defined scholarship anywhere, but I don’t think “personal insight and opinion” rises to the level at which it can be called “scholarship.”…You seem to be saying “In spite of all their training, scholars don’t know anything more than the average member about the scriptures”You are absolutely correct, you have offered no definition for scholarship, I apologize for thinking otherwise. From your above quotes, I implied a definition of scholar as “someone who has received training, or who approaches intellectual questions from the perspective of an academic”.I do feel that more information is available to us through the Spirit than through all the arcane writings of professors. We have been commanded to “seek out of the best books” knowledge about things above, below, and on the Earth. Pres. Hinckley has stated, “get all the education you can.” It is in no way bad to seek the educated opinion of scholars on any issue. What IS bad is to value their opinion more than the opinion of a living prophet (or a dead one). This whole discussion began with the question of who had more influence on modern LDS “scholarship”, a Prophet, or a Seventy, who was more of a “debater and a systemitizer”. I didn’t say Elder Roberts’ opinion was of no value, I said it is of LESS value than that of a prophet, e.g. President Smith.As to understanding the scriptures, while I find scholarly articles interesting I do not find them helpful in “understanding” the “doctrine” the Scriptures are trying to impart. I am confused by the distinction between “understanding scriptures” and “doctrine”, it does not signify to me. If I have available to me two commentaries on the Scriptures, one a thoroughly researched work by leading LDS professors, and the other a work by a prominent Apostle with no other references or bibliography other than the Scriptures themselves, I will gladly avail myself of both of them, but I would hope to be “influenced” more by the GA work than the Ph.D one. I am also saying that the key to “understanding the Scriptures” lies not in rooting out obscure historical references and linguistic nuances, but in obtaining the Spirit, which is freely available to all members, regardless of what letters, if any, they write behind their name. The Spirit can teach me better than Strong’s concordance what a particular verse means. Does this mean the concordance is useless? No. But neither is it essential. The Spirit is.Ronan-I stand corrected on the quote by Elder Carmack. I’m not sure where the “only a Seventy” quote comes from… I’m not putting down Seventies. I’m saying that in a disagreement, the higher priesthood officer wins. As to seeming paranoid… *shrug* I’m defending my position that the Prophet is, or should be more influential than a Seventy. If I seem defensive about the intellectual arrogance of “scholars” perhaps it is repressed animosity towards past professors :)

  • Anonymous

    Let’s work through your repression, Rob! Posted by Ronan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5220066 Rob

    I thought that’s what this blog was for, written therapy for my tortured psyche! BTW, just read the Elder Carmack talk… thanks for the reference, it was great. He praises the scholarly work being done on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. So, I guess you academics have some value after all :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12162913 FaithHopeLove

    Rob and the anonymous poster, thanks for the info on the medical symbol. The BlueCross symbol is a single snake around a pole/staff, where the caduceus symbol seems to typically have two snakes and maybe wings at the top. So, uh, which do you think came first, the OT or Greek mythology? =)Or, Rob, are you saying that the medical reference comes from the wand of Mercury, not from the OT? I guess it was easier to represent than “bathe in the Jordan River 7 times.”Some VERY interesting information on that page, although it doesn’t clarify why a serpent. (In fact, it makes it worse in my mind by comparing the serpent with Christ.) Wouldn’t a symbol of a dove on a branch have been better? Not that I’m trying to second-guess God.(hope I can sleep tonight, without thinking about fiery, flying snakes)

  • Anonymous

    Oh my. What have I wrought?Rob, take a deep breath. Say it with me: It’s all okay.I do think it is interesting that President Smith has pulled ahead in the polls. Do we have any theories, aside from Rob getting his wife and in-laws to vote ;)I appreciate that I am being held up as the example of the uninflated scholar here, but I voted for Elder Roberts. What he did is much more aligned with what I do, hence I believe that he has more influence with me. President Smith relied on a tool set that I simply don’t have (revelation and certainty of conviction). Elder Roberts tentativeness in his approach more closely aligns with my feeble attempts at scholarship. Let us be blunt: if an LDS scholar wrote in the way that President Smith wrote, he would be drummed out of the church for apostasy. That kind of writing demands a kind of authority that is not conveyed by academia, nor would good scholars think it is.But there is value in good scholarship. There are things that I understand about the scriptures that Rob, nothing personal, doesn’t. I am fairly sure that my appreciation for the processes of editing the Book of Mormon, for an example, is greater than Rob’s, because I have spent some time studying ancient scribes and their craft. I can see some things hidden to Rob. If, as I could guess, our access to the Holy Ghost is roughly equal, then it may seem that I have a slight advantage. But that would be pride talking…Regarding the “never pick against a prophet” principle that Robert is espousing, I don’t know what to make of it. I have been told that the official church position regarding the Adam-God theory is that Brigham Young was wrong. But I don’t have any documentation for that. I know that Elder McConkie’s beliefs about blacks and the priesthood were wrong and he frankly admitted so. But I don’t know if we should consider his feelings on this issue to be based in revelation or just surmise (mind you, I don’t know how to do that with anything that the GA’s do). I know that Joseph Smith seemed confident in his revelations, yet he edited them heavily, sometimes years later. Does this invalidate the initial revelations? I don’t think so, but it does seem to indicate that even revelation is an ongoing learning process that not even the prophets get a handle on immediately.I wonder if we sometimes give an authority to statements by the GA’s that they do not intend. It would be a natural mistake, because we hold them and their opinions in high esteem. But I find it hard to believe that a church with an open canon would want to stifle discussion because of what a prophet may have said (especially when most statements can be taken in several different ways).Regarding the current batch of GA’s, there are several academics (Elders Oaks, Holland, and Eyring all come to mind). There are several businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and other such. There is even a used-car salesman on the twelve. It would be a mistake to look at the professions of the GA’s and assume that non-represented professions are inherently sinful. After all, our saintly mother is a nurse and I doubt that that has gotten much representation among the GA’s.Regarding theology as a profession, most people don’t or won’t have the opportunity to speak with God face to face. Therefore, it behooves us to provide them with models for reading the scriptures that do not hinge on divine incarnations. I too believe that the Holy Ghost is the most important tool. But that isn’t the sort of thing one gets by training. I would submit that, while the Holy Ghost is available to all earnest seekers, the manner in which one applies oneself to reading the scriptures is important. Theologians have something to say on that matter (if you do a little digging, you will find that LDS Scholars and LDS Ecclesiastical Authorities agree on the basic manner of reading the scriptures). Attempts to systematize and explicate our religion are important for helping us understand what it is exactly that we believe (in all honesty, it appears that President Smith was doing just this). I know that this should be available to us directly via revelation, but for some reason it isn’t. God seems to expect us to do some work (hear that, Geoff). For instance, recently we had to be told that policy statements by the church (in this particular case, regarding the possibility of a flat tax in Utah) are not to be understood as the doctrine of the church. In hindsight, this seems clear (what does Heavenly Father care what happens with the Main Street Plaza?), but, for some reason, possibly the same one that fuels this debate, we had to be told.There may be a lesson there. Posted by John C.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, here goes with another long-winded response….On second thought, perhaps it’s time to move on. For a parting shot: I think LDS scholars are great as long as they recognize prophetic authority to pronounce doctrine is greater than their own. I think smart people of all professions have a tendency to get caught up in their own smartness, and try to second-guess the Lord and His prophets. This is a bad thing. I think that LDS scholarship can provide many interesting insights into the gospel. I think that I alone, armed with a set of Standard Works, the latest Conference edition of the Ensign, and the Holy Ghost have sufficient information to understand most of the Gospel, and all of the essential bits. But I also recognize that study and learning of books other than the Scriptures has value. Hope I haven’t stepped on too many toes. Posted by Rob


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