Some Ordained Scientists

Some Ordained Scientists June 10, 2018


Widtsoe among the Twelve
Probably the most prominent Norwegian member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to date is Dr. John A. Widtsoe, a respected biologist and chemist who was educated at Harvard and Göttingen and who served as president of both Utah State University (then the Utah State Agricultural College) and the University of Utah. He is shown here, standing on the upper right, in a photograph of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that was taken in 1921. (


There are many who claim that science and religious belief are entirely incompatible.  They allege that the first represents rationality while the latter embodies an unreasoning gullibility that is the antithesis of science.  Some of them are openly contemptuous of anybody who suggests otherwise.


One of those who would have disagreed, however, was the late Revd. Canon Arthur Peacocke MBE (d. 2006), University Lecturer in Biochemistry in the University of Oxford, sometime Director of Studies in Theology at Clare College, Cambridge, and director of Oxford University’s Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.


For many decades now — and certainly during my adult life in academe — the Western intellectual world,” Dr. Peacocke said, “has not been convinced that theology is a pursuit that can be engaged in with intellectual honesty and integrity.”


Rev. Dr. Peacocke’s life and career testify rather plainly, along with his many writings on both science and religion and on the relationship between them, that he thought otherwise.


But then, what did he know?  The man obviously hated and feared science!  Or, anyway, he probably hadn’t really thought about the issues.




Some time ago, I read a little bit about Elder Joseph F. Merrill, who served as a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1931 until his death in 1952.


Elder Merrill held a doctorate in physics from Johns Hopkins University.


For a brief while, he served in the Council with the English-born Elder James E. Talmage, who had also studied at Johns Hopkins and had eventually taken a Ph.D. in geology from Illinois Wesleyan University.  Elder Talmage’s service as an apostle extended from 1911 to 1933.


Throughout his tenure in the Twelve, Elder Merrill served with the Norwegian-born Elder John A. Widtsoe, who was a member of the Quorum from 1921 until 1952.  After graduating from Harvard University, Elder Widtsoe had earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Göttingen, in Germany.


It would have been fun to overhear some of their conversations.


I thought this was a minor but interesting footnote to the history of the relationship between Mormonism and science.


Posted from Richmond, Virginia



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