Although many of the letters to be posted in this series will no doubt be the odder ones sent to Brigham Young, those constitute only a small portion of his incoming correspondence. Many others, like the one presented below, come from faithful Latter-day Saints who simply wanted to make a connection with their president – and how fortunate we are that some of those connections were made on paper and not only on street corners or in the parlors of the Beehive House!
Early in 1871, Brigham Young gave a talk that touched upon the compatibility of divine revelation and the scientific discoveries of man:
Those principles which the Lord has revealed are the only correct principles that man possesses on the earth. We may imagine to ourselves that we possess a great deal of human wisdom independent of the Lord, but this is a mistake, for every truth that is in the possession of the children of men upon the earth came from God. The sciences understood by man came from God, and when we demonstrate a truth, we demonstrate a portion of the faith, law, or power by which all intelligent beings exist, whether in heaven or on earth, consequently when we have truth in our possession we have so much of the knowledge of God. I delight in this, because truth is calculated to sustain itself; it is based upon eternal facts and will endure, while all else will sooner or later perish. …
In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts – they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways, we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it.
How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.
This talk, with quite a bit of additional commentary on technology and science – and the statement that “the Lord is one of the most scientific men that ever lived” – drew this letter from a Salt Lake man a few days later:
In some of your remarks on Saturday I understood you to say that you had been studying up Geology in order to find what caused so many Geologists to be Infidels. I think I can throw a little light on this matter, Some time before joining the Church I had studied this science by reading, attending lectures, and as far as was consistent with my work, inspection of Rocks of which the numerous R[ail].R[oad]. Cuttings afforded us the best opportunity in the vicinity of London …
It had begun to be considered by several Geologists that the Six days of Creation as spoken of by Moses related not to six days as now, but to six periods of time of considerable duration and that the term “days” was only used figuratively – This the extreme Religionists and the more ignorant, the more positive would not admit, they insisted on a Creation in six days and from nothing and I well remember the extreme and earnest solicitude with which I was regarded by the Curate and the members of a Sunday School Teachers Bible Class which I had been instrumental in forming when I stated that I did not believe in the theory of six days creation from nothing, and did not see how any man of sense could believe it, The Curate tried to explain that it was possible that the Lord could create it by miraculous power in that manner. I could not admit this as I did not see the necessity for it
Soon afterwards I heard the doctrines of the Church preached and fortunately for me the worst fears of my former friends were realized. I did not then trouble about what Geology taught in relation to times and seasons, for I had better authority to reckon upon than either Parsons or Geologists. I however do not see anything in the teachings of Geology (I do not mean as interpreted by Geologists as they differ among themselves) incompatible with the teachings of our religion.
I do think that many Geologists have not taken into account the possibility that, owing to the greater heat of the earth in its early stages, the changes in the Formations would take place in a much less space of time than under present circumstances and conditions.
You will of course understand that as many men are constituted, the compulsory swallowing of the six day absurdity would often cause them to reject the whole.
I remain Yours Respectfully …