Loyal to the Word NOTE: The following is a letter written by Harold B. Lee to a member of the Church which concerns the letter which David O. McKay wrote to Professor Stokes about the Church’s position on evolution. This letter therefore reflects both David O. McKay’s and Harold B. Lee’s personal sentiments regarding evolution. In this letter, Harold B. Lee describes a note David O. McKay passed to Marion G. Romney in April 1953 General Conference after Elder Romney  gave a scathing talk against evolution. President McKay’s note, as described below, notified Elder Romney that, “I assure you that I agreed heartily in every instance [with Elder Romney’s anti-evolutionary talk].”

 

 

 

I have a few moments to respond to your letter of recent date in which you express some concern about some contradictory information as to the position we should take with regard to the doctrine of evolution.

This, as you know, has been long a bone of contention so serious that in the earlier years when Darwin's theory first was enunciated, a number of professors at the Brigham Young University were released because of their unwillingness to teach the theory and then counter by delivering the true doctrines of the gospel.

Apparently the thing that confused you was that these who have contended have shown you a copy of a letter which was signed by President David O. McKay in which he disavowed the church having taken any official position on the subject of organic evolution. And, furthermore, that in that note to Professor William Lee Stokes, he declared that the book, Man, His Origin and Destiny was not published by the church and is not approved by the church.

            There is a little bit of history that I should tell you about. One summer some years ago, I was assigned to deliver a day by day set of lessons to all the seminary students [teachers?] and some of the institute teachers of the church, which proved to be a very demanding assignment. I went down each morning and met with all of these teachers. President Joseph Fielding Smith's book had just come off the press and I assigned as a part of the course, the reading of this book and writing a dissertation not less than 2500 words on the subject "What Your Appraisal Is of the Value of This Book to a High School Senior or a College Student." This caused quite a consternation among the teachers, some of whom wanted to write a very critical analysis of the book and were fearful of doing so lest I would downgrade them in the course. This was not at all my intent, it was merely to have them respond critically if they wished, and I so told President Smith that I was inviting criticism and he said that was alright. [sic]

Some of these brethren who were critical of the book came directly to President McKay and represented to him that I had used President Joseph Fielding Smith's book as a text for my lectures at the BYU. He called President Ernest Wilkinson in to express his criticism that I had done so, and President Wilkinson told him that that was not true, that he, President Wilkinson, had sat in on most of the lectures that I had given and I did not use the book as a text, it was merely an assigned reading outside of the lessons.

It was undoubtedly the undue pressure of some of these dissidents, one of which was his own son, who was a professor at the University of Utah, that induced him to write this brief and to them a satisfying but to you a disturbing note, which poured water over their wheel and tended to lessen the influence of President Joseph Fielding Smith's book.

When your letter came to our attention, President Marion G. Romney told me of a conference address which he had delivered at the April conference in 1953, where he spoke directly to this subject of the fall of Adam, or the fall of man, as it is spoken of, and then brought forth scriptures to support the position of the church with respect to the advent of man upon the earth, etc.

At the conclusion of his talk, President Romney said that President David O. McKay had congratulated him and had written a brief note, a copy of which I am attaching hereto, in which he congratulated President Romney and then said, "I congratulate you for your excellent contribution during the conference and express gratitude for your remarks as well as your fine spirit, and I assure you that I agreed heartily in every instance." President Romney thought if you had this statement from President David O. McKay, signed by himself, to counter this other statement which has been so confusing, that that should be sufficient for you to understand that President McKay had made this other statement probably because of a compromising position he had been in due to the circumstances as I have explained them.

I might add one further thought. Just after this book of President Joseph Fielding Smith's was printed, I had a young student of science from the University of Utah who came from a family who lived in my stake, come in with several books and wanted to argue against statements made in President [Joseph] Fielding Smith's book. I said to him, "Now Brother ___." (his name was Dr. ___.) "I haven't had the opportunity of delving deeply into science, but I want to tell you an experience that Mark E. Petersen and I had when we organized the new Kansas City Stake. In our interview we had a man who was considered as a bishop of one of the wards who was a teacher of anatomy in the Kansas City University, which was a dental school. Of course this made it necessary for us to examine very carefully his faith as contrasted with his teaching of the evolutionary theory which of course would be taught in connection with the subject of anatomy. After we had discussed this, I asked him if he had read Brother Smith's book. He smiled and said, 'Yes, I have, and it was the most difficult book I have ever read. But,' he said, 'I want to tell you that in my opinion this is the finest book that the church has ever produced for men who were teachers in the field of science. And I endorse what President Smith has said entirely so.' "

I said to this young Dr. ____, "I wish you would write to this professor of science, who is much older and more experienced than you, in Kansas City, and have him respond to your questions."

A few weeks later this young man came back in a humble spirit and said, "Well I need nothing more to quiet my concerns, when a man of his experience can say what he said, that's enough for me."

Now if I were you, Brother ____, I would not be discouraged. This is a contention which has gone on and will continue to the end of time I suppose, and until the scientists get nearer and nearer to the doctrines of the Church, there will still be contention, but remember this, that truth can never be composed with the errors of men. Just know that the gospel is true and that these are the theories of men which you as a student must learn if you want to pass the courses you are taking.

With kindest personal regards and trusting this letter will be sufficient to set the matter right in your mind I am, Very sincerely yours,

Harold B. Lee.

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