The Search for Harmony
Edited by Gene A. Sessions and Craig J. Oberg

Chapter 3.
The 1911 Evolution Controversy at Brigham Young University
Gary James Bergera

[p.23]Four years after assuming the presidency of Brigham Young University in 1903, George H. Brimhall embarked on an ambitious plan “to include in [his] faculty … the best scholars of the church.”1 LDS leaders had only recently upgraded their Provo, Utah, academy to university status, and the fifty-five-year-old Utah Valley educator was anxious to improve his school’s largely home-spun faculty. Brimhall’s initial coup was hiring in 1907 BYU’s first Ph.D., Joseph Peterson, to oversee the psychology department. Brimhall also succeeded that year in recruiting Peterson’s younger brother, Henry, who held a master’s degree from Harvard, to supervise the school’s College of Education.2

The following year, Brimhall convinced twenty-eight-year-old Ralph V. Chamberlin, chair of the University of Utah’s biology department and dean of its medical school, to join the growing faculty. Upon his arrival Chamberlin was made head of the biology department, and in 1909 his brother, William Henry, was also hired. Trained in modern and ancient languages and theology, William taught classes in psychology, philosophy, and languages. In addition to their regular assignments, the Petersons and William Chamberlin, three of the most highly credentialed Utah academics of their day, were appointed to the part-time theology faculty.3

Academically superior to their colleagues, the Petersons and Chamberlins brought to BYU a contagious enthusiasm for the latest [p.24]intellectual pursuits, and were, along with Brimhall and other members of the faculty, determined to counter persistent criticism that the rural Mormon school was “lacking in genuine scholarship” from its “farmer teachers.”4 In repeated attempts to upgrade the school’s lackluster curriculum, subjects ranging from communism to eugenics were added and soon hotly debated both in and out of class.5 “I recall one occasion in which there had been a good informal talk in a little group,” Henry Peterson later wrote. Although less intellectually-oriented than his teachers, Brimhall himself reportedly “spoke up and said, ‘I too am an evolutionist.’ That viewpoint [was] unavoidable.”6

At services in 1909 commemorating the centennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and semicentennial of his Origin of the Species, Ralph Chamberlin publicly pronounced the British biologist one of the greatest scientific minds of the era. BYU’s student newspaper, the White and Blue, echoed: “Undoubtedly among the great men of the nineteenth century the foremost place should be given to the eminent scientist Charles Darwin.” For Chamberlin, Darwin’s theories of evolution explained both the origin of life and belief in God, while biblical scholarship unveiled “the progressive unfolding of the Divine.” He subsequently published two lengthy articles in the White and Blue illustrating the aims of scriptural criticism. The Petersons and Chamberlins soon became well known for their support of organic evolution and scriptural exegesis. “How I enjoyed them!” remembered BYU alumna Annie Clark Tanner. “I had been a teacher of the Bible in several of the organizations of the church and now for the first time in my life I was learning some truths which made reasonable explanations of Bible difficulties.”7

Seven months after the Darwin centennial, and perhaps in response to questions raised during the Darwin celebration, the First Presidency of the LDS church, consisting of life-long Mormon official Joseph F. Smith and counselors John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund, asked Apostle Orson F. Whitney to draft an official statement on the “origin of the physical man.” A special committee of apostles corrected Whitney’s text, which was then read to the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles, was “sanctioned by them” as “the official position of the church,” and appeared in the November 1909 issue of the official Improvement Era. As published, the statement defended a spiritual and physical creation, the creation [p.25]of man in the image of God, and Adam as the “primal parent of the race,” without addressing the age of the earth, or, most importantly, the mutability of species. Still, the statement’s anti-evolutionary sentiment was unmistakable, and many church members no doubt interpreted it as a refutation of Darwinism.8

Sketchy reports of the Chamberlins’ and Petersons’ “progressive” teachings had reached church headquarters and were referred to superintendent of church schools Horace Hall Cummings. Largely self-educated, Cummings had concluded from his own unsuccessful attempt to study in the east during the 1880s with church support that “previous faithfulness and good character [are] no assurance against” the loss of one’s faith. Cummings’s career in church education had been foretold by the widow of a church apostle who had blessed him in tongues that he “should visit the stakes of Zion, establishing and setting in order educational institutions in them.” Like his mentor and career church educator, Karl G. Maeser, Cummings had remained within the ranks of the church school system, convinced that its value lay in spiritual and moral rather than intellectual development. Skeptical of secular teachings, he had instructed Brimhall in 1908: “The use of any text book on the New or Old Testament written by a non-member of our church [is] expressly forbidden, and the use of the outlines prepared for that purpose enjoined.” Cummings viewed with alarm the growing popularity of evolution and scriptural criticism, which in his mind portended a move away from the religious simplicity he felt duty-bound to uphold.9

Reportedly responding to complaints from as far away as Mexico, Cummings visited BYU in late November 1910 to evaluate the situation. He subsequently reported to the LDS board of education that a number of teachers were “applying the evolutionary theory and other philosophical hypotheses to principles of the gospel and to the teachings of the church in such a way as to disturb, if not destroy, the faith of the pupils.” The board, allegedly “thunderstruck” at the report, instructed Cummings to “make a thorough investigation of conditions there and bring them a written report of [his] findings.” Cummings returned to Provo within the week and toured the school for nine days, “visiting classes, talking with teachers and students, and in the evenings visit[ing] some of the parents [p.26]to see what they thought of the situation.” Fearing a general condemnation of his faculty from church officials, Brimhall wrote a cautiously worded explanation to Joseph F. Smith a few days after Cummings’s arrival. “While I believe [the Petersons and Chamberlins] are from their point of view perfectly right,” he wrote, “still I think they are a little over-zealous in their desires to bring people to their point of view. As they look at it their teachings are in perfect harmony with the principles of the gospel, but there are certainly many who cannot perceive that harmony, and, therefore, it seems to me that a little [patience] will be in keeping with greater wisdom on their part.”10

When news of Cummings’s visit spread across campus, “the friendly, respectful spirit heretofore always shown me changed to one of opposition and fault-finding,” he noted. Faculty and students alike “said I wanted to destroy the ‘academic liberty’ of some of their best teachers, and would kill the school.” These defenders argued that “theological work had never been so interesting and well patronized. The ‘new thought’ was making a new school of the B.Y.U.” Indeed, one Provo native observed that the teachings of the Petersons and the Chamberlins “seemed to meet a strong need in many students, as well as [in] some of the other faculty members.” Their theology classes especially “were among the most popular on the campus and their status as well trained and highly competent men in their specialties attracted large followings.” Thus among many upperclassmen Cummings became a “blue-nose kill-joy whose office was to detect and ferret out inrectitude [sic], waywardness and sin [and who] … was merely [tolerated], except by college graduates seeking teaching positions in church schools.” Students began striking back with “semi-ribald yarns” regarding Cummings’s “ultra piety and purity.” Hoping to avoid “needless antagonisms,” Cummings evidently hedged when he appeared before the faculty in early December and was asked what he would relay to the board. He reported evasively that “he was glad to learn through conversation with the [university] presidency that matters [had] been misrepresented.”11

However, the report Cummings submitted six weeks later on 21 January 1911 did not mention misrepresentation. Cummings wrote that “when some of the most radical changes in theological views were first introduced” two years earlier, “it caused great [p.27]disturbance in the minds of both pupils and the old style teachers.” While most agreed that “interest in theological work had never been more universal or more intense in the school,” and none expressed doubt “in the living oracles … and the ordinances of the gospel,” still, Cummings reported, “there is a pronounced difference of opinion among both students and teachers upon many important points of doctrine and belief.” Without mentioning names, he accused “four or five of the teachers” of championing organic evolution and biblical criticism. The theory of evolution, he alleged, was “treated as a demonstrated law and their applications of it to gospel truths [had given] rise to many curious and conflicting explanations of scripture.” He described “the struggle [of] both teacher and student … when the new thought was being presented to them. … It was like the sorrow of the little child when first told there is no Santa Claus.” “Conditions in Provo are unfavorable for … a solution [to this] difficulty,” Cummings concluded. The number of teachers defending the new teachings “is sufficient to form a coterie having similar views, and the opposition they receive from others keeps them drawn together and determined to defend their views. … [They] have been warned by the presidency of the school and by myself, and even pleaded with, for the sake of the school, not to press their views with so much vigor. Even if they were right, conditions are not suitable; but their zeal overcomes all counsel and they seem even more determined, if not defiant, in pushing their beliefs upon the students. They seem to feel they have a mission to protect the young from the errors of their parents.”12

One week later Cummings appeared before the faculty to summarize his report. Afterwards Brimhall, increasingly nervous, warned that “criticism of leaders should be kept in the background” and urged teachers to be loyal to “the heroes of Mormondom.” “A general discussion” followed “in which a goodly number of teachers participated.” Amos Merrill, an instructor of education, called for a resolution “invit[ing] the authorities of the church to appoint a committee to investigate the points of doctrine upon which [they had been] criticised.” Brimhall, however, tabled the resolution, saying that it would be considered later at a “meeting called by the president for that purpose.” Frustrated at the apparent lack of administrative support, Ralph Chamberlin alluded to Cummings’s report in an [p.28]article appearing four days later in the White and Blue. “When we see men so unhappily bound with prejudice and tradition,” he wrote, “that they are blind to the beauties and light of the grandest conception that science has yet won for man, we sorrow … Ultimate cause and meaning,” he concluded, “remain untouched and as impenetrable as before. Evolution leaves the theistic argument from causality in its essence untouched.”13

Although members of the General Church Board of Education had received copies of Cummings’s report nearly two weeks earlier, they did not discuss its contents until 3 February. In his presentation Cummings named the offending teachers as Henry and Joseph Peterson and Ralph Chamberlin, “who, from an educational standpoint,” he conceded, were “perhaps the strongest men in the institution, and they have a potent influence with the students, thus making their theological teachings the more dangerous.” In the brewing confrontation, Brimhall aligned himself with Cummings, telling board members that “the only thing he could see to do was to get rid of these teachers.” He reported that he had “patiently labored with them in the hope that they would change their attitude, … but it seemed that they were more determined than ever to teach theology according to their own ideas and theories, instead of according to the revealed truth.” Based on Cummings’s and Brimhall’s testimony, the board concluded that “immediate steps should be taken [to investigate further] the three teachers named, and [to proceed with] their removal if necessary.” They also ruled that “other teachers who may entertain the same ideas should be talked to very plainly and given to understand that the teaching of such theories could not be tolerated in the church schools.” A special committee was appointed to meet with Chamberlin and the Petersons. Chaired by Francis M. Lyman, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the committee included Heber J. Grant, Hyrum M. Smith, Charles W. Penrose, George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, as well as Brimhall and Cummings. Ivins, though suspicious of evolution himself, soon resigned. “I will not … judge those men,” he reportedly protested. “We are not qualified.”14

One week later to the day the three professors were summoned to Salt Lake City. “We suddenly were brought out into a room,” wrote Chamberlin, “with six of the top dignitaries of the [p.29]church there to try us. We were, as they say, flabbergasted.” Chamberlin was charged with “teaching evolution,” which he did not deny. The three men asked for a copy of the charges against them but were refused. They were, however, aware of the substance of Cummings’s report and the broad issues under discussion. All “frankly acknowledged” belief in biblical criticism and “absolute certainty as to the truth of evolution.” More seriously, they evidently balked at recognizing the authority of the university president or Board of Trustees to rule on questions of science. The committee remained in session nearly five hours. “Many questions [were] asked” and answered, Apostle Charles Penrose recorded, “some directly, others evasively.” But, Elder Heber Grant added, the three men “manifested a very good spirit.” The committee met again the following morning and, according to Penrose, “all agreed that the ideas and belief expressed by the professors under fire ought not to be taught in church schools but that the men were sincere and good.” They then resolved to “report accordingly and to recommend that their service be dispensed with unless they conform[ed] to the decisions and instructions of the Board of Education.” Grant’s account, however, is less generously phrased: “We were of a unanimous opinion that it would be unsafe for them to continue teaching at the Brigham Young University.” In their report, submitted later that day, the committee recommended that “the services of those three teachers in the B.Y. University be dispensed with unless they change their teachings to conform to the decision and instructions of the Board.” The following week BYU board members adopted a nearly identical resolution, while William Chamberlin, whose teachings had not come under board review, published a four-page defense of evolution as an “Aid to Faith in God and Belief in the Resurrection” in the White and Blue.15

Again Brimhall pleaded with the professors to conform to the board’s decisions. Ralph Chamberlin responded defensively, “If you can bring me one student whose faith I have injured in Mormonism, I will bring you five that you, through your narrowness, have driven out of the church. … I never gave a public lecture on evolution until I had consulted you as to whether it would be all right. You urged me to do it. Now, why have you changed suddenly?” Brimhall could only feebly joke, “Well, I’ll tell you, Brother [p.30]Chamberlin, I know which side my bread’s buttered on.”16

BYU trustees were to communicate their charges to the three men on 21 February. Unfortunately, the professors first learned of the board’s position when they read an editorial attacking higher criticism in the evening’s Deseret News. Peterson publicly denied that he had taught anything contrary to the gospel and added that, in view of the accusations, he doubted there was much he or the others could do. On 24 February, the board finally issued its ultimatum to Peterson that he modify his teachings or be dismissed. Board members stressed that “from their point of view” he “was out of harmony with his brethren.”17

Conditions deteriorated rapidly at BYU. When Joseph Peterson received a similar ultimatum, he promptly resigned. News of the development spread throughout faculty and students. Brimhall sent a lengthy letter to BYU trustee Reed Smoot. With forced optimism, Brimhall wrote of probable repercussions to the school and of his resolve to protect the church:

“We are having some little out-of-harmony conditions here. I do not look for a safe reconciliation. I have been hoping for a year or two past that harmony could be secured by waiting, but the delays have been [fraught] with increased danger. There is a possibility yet, but not a probability of adjustment. The school cannot go off and leave the church in any line of activity without perishing in the desert. …There are some people who predict the death of the college if these men go. I am ready to say that if the life of the college depends upon any number of men out of harmony with the brethren who preside over the church, then it is time for the college to die. I would rather the Maeser Memorial remain a sealed tomb containing our college hopes and ambitions until the day of a new educational resurrection than to have its doors thrown open to influences antagonistic to the heroism, inspiration and revelation of those who have made the school and who have the right to say, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no farther.’ The school follows the church, or it ought to stop.”18

On 11 March, the Deseret News, attempting to answer criticisms that it had been less than objective in its coverage of the controversy, published a letter by William Chamberlin defending evolution together with an editorial attacking Chamberlin’s position. [p.31]The next morning the Salt Lake Tribune carried a detailed account of the controversy, claiming that as many as 80 percent of the faculty sympathized with the Petersons and Chamberlin. When Joseph F. Smith was told that “a number of [Provo] merchants and others favoring the … teachers had withdrawn their patronage from the [White and Blue],” he “spoke up immediately and said that the First Presidency wanted no change in the paper’s policy and … [said] he would instruct [Zion’s Savings Bank] to keep the paper out of financial difficulties.” Smith also admonished his son, Andrew, a student at the high school adjoining BYU: “For my sake, my son, as well as your own[,] eschew the Petersons’ and Chamberlin’s evolution and all such things.” On 13 March over 100 undergraduates assembled on campus in a mass rally to “stand by their teachers.” The students distributed a petition “ratifying and endorsing the teaching of the professors, and praying for their retention by the Board of Trustees.” Of a total college enrollment of 114 undergraduates, as well as a handful of professors, over 90 students and faculty signed the statement, which both the Tribune and the Herald-Republican printed. Predictably, the Deseret News chastised the students for airing their criticisms in print, especially in the Tribune, while Brimhall publicly scolded them for “dictating” to the “prophets.”19

The following afternoon Brimhall met privately with Henry Peterson. Brimhall reported to Joseph F. Smith that they talked “for hours … and until away long in the night, but to no avail.” “All that I needed to do,” Peterson later wrote, “was to be a good boy, teach the permitted doctrine only, and I could stay with them. Think of it! I was invited to stay as a hypocrite teaching one thing to my students and believing and feeling another!” The next day, Brimhall wrote Peterson that he was being dismissed: “Under existing conditions, we cannot see our way clear to recommend you to the Board of Trustees as a member of the faculty of the Brigham Young University for the academic year 1911-12.” Brimhall forwarded a copy of the letter to Smith, informing him, “This is the first time during our administration that we have had occasion to handle a teacher and the necessity is very, very painful to us.” He reminded the church president that Peterson’s brother, Joseph, had “tendered his resignation some time ago.” That evening, an open letter from Henry Peterson appeared in the Provo Herald, advising readers: “Don’t let people tell you from the [p.32]pulpit or otherwise that to accept evolution means to foresake your faith or deny God.” Within the week, Brimhall faced his faculty and “gave a brief history of recent events pertaining to the criticism of the work of the school, and impressed upon [them] the necessity of all members heartily supporting the school and the church.” Two days later he warned a prospective teacher, “While the church does not presume to decide scientific questions, it does claim the right to decide as to what of science, or of anything else, is suited to the schools under its creation, and under its direction.” “Your only safety,” Reed Smoot counseled Brimhall, “lies in having the school follow strictly the policy mapped out by the teachers of the church.”20

Previously silent on the issue, Joseph F. Smith published statements in the April issues of both the Juvenile Instructor and Improvement Era. In the Instructor, he wrote: “Some of our teachers are anxious to explain how much of the theory of evolution, in their judgment, is true, and what is false, but that only leaves their students in an unsettled frame of mind. They are not old enough and learned enough to discriminate, or put proper limitations upon a theory which we believe is more or less a fallacy. In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussions in our church schools, we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false.” In an earlier draft, Smith had added, “Without undertaking to say who has the best of the argument, the school authorities have thought it wise to ask our church school teachers to modify their instructions so as to eliminate dissension. If prudence had characterized these discussions, and our teachers who know the doctrines of the church had been more conservative, much of the sensation which has been created might have been avoided.” The Improvement Era carried a statement expressing much the same sentiment, with an appended overview of the preceding three months’ events.21

Also in April the Utah Educational Review printed a thoughtful dissenting critique of the controversy. Milton Bennion, Review editor and professor of philosophy and education at the University of Utah, argued that while church leaders emphasized their commitment to an absolute truth, the ability to understand that truth could be hampered by unchecked dogmatism. While agreeing that church leaders enjoy the right to supervise—even restrict—certain teachings, [p.33]Bennion reminded readers that earlier scientific theories had once been branded heretical by the governing church. He urged church educational administrators to “grant the utmost liberty of belief in respect to the non-essentials [of faith] without questioning the fellowship of members who exercise this liberty,” since “serious attempt on the part of church officials to dictate the methods and results of science in church schools” could “mean the death of higher education” in the church school system.22

In early April, Henry Peterson unsuccessfully petitioned Joseph F. Smith to reconsider the three professors’ cases. “I have found on direct statements from some members of the board,” he wrote, “that they voted for the resolution that puts us out of the church school service on a misunderstanding. I thought I should like to have such corrected.” Peterson evidently believed that their espousal of evolution and higher criticism had been taken as evidence of apostasy, and he assured Smith of their belief “in God and inspiration.” In order that “the cause of education may be saved from further misunderstanding,” he also asked that the church issue an official statement which “would quiet the fears of people instead of … further arousing them.” He alleged that many “are already so fearful and supersensitive that [they] hardly dare to send their children to their own town schools for fear they will hear of evolution.” Yet “every text book is written [with evolution] as the basic principle. Contrary to what some people say, the general principles of evolution are almost universally accepted.”23

Throughout the following weeks, Brimhall was left to deal as best he could with dissatisfied faculty and students. In mid-May, he wrote again to Smoot, “I would be in perfect misery if I were not in harmony with those over me—I can stand it to be out of harmony with others. My policy has been to follow the interests of our faculty and also follow the interests of the student body, [but] I cannot be expected to follow either of the latter unless they are in perfect harmony with those above me.” Smoot replied supportively, “If the time ever comes that it is impossible for me to be in harmony with my presiding officer, I will quickly resign, if it involves any great principle affecting my conscience or my religious beliefs.”24

About this same time, Ralph Chamberlin, who had contemplated resigning, was asked to meet with Susa Young Gates, a member [p.34]of the Board of Trustees. She told Chamberlin that she understood he had “recanted on the things [he] had been teaching.” Chamberlin denied this and told her he would also resign. “I have an obligation to the students, and I’ll teach them what I honestly believe can be supported by evidence.” Joseph Keeler (a counselor to Brimhall in the BYU presidency) later asked, “Brother Chamberlin, why can’t you teach this subject the way we want it taught, [instead of] the way you’re teaching it?” Chamberlin replied, “I’m so constituted that I can’t teach what I don’t believe.” Despite the Board of Education’s ultimatum, Brimhall evidently promised Chamberlin he would not be required to modify his teaching if he remained. According to Chamberlin, Brimhall pleaded, “We want you to stay …. If you’ll stay and work with us there isn’t anything in the gifts of the church you can’t have.” Chamberlin refused because “these other men [had been] compelled to leave.” Brimhall informed Joseph F. Smith of Chamberlin’s resignation on 12 June.25 Chamberlin’s brother, William, would remain at BYU for another five years before finally resigning.

Christen Jensen, professor of history and political science, and his wife, Juliaetta, had hosted a party on 25 May honoring Joseph Peterson and his wife. Also in attendance were the Henry Petersons, the Chamberlins, and eleven other faculty and their wives. “The company was much of the ‘insurgent’ type,” Mrs. Jensen wrote, “but we cared to have only those who are in sympathy with the three men who are to be dismissed at the close of school.” She continued, “This fight has been extremely bitter in many ways. President Brimhall has talked to his faculty in the most insulting, uncultured manner such as no truly educated president would do to his faculty, many of whom are far, far superior to him in scholarship, and in everything else. I have lost all my respect for him. … If the school is not injured I shall miss my guess.” Within two weeks, Brimhall optimistically assured the faculty that “matters have been rectified. These particular difficulties will not recur.”26

Ralph Chamberlin remained in Provo for one year before returning to the University of Utah and then to an appointment at Harvard. In early 1922, shortly after Franklin S. Harris’s appointment as Brimhall’s successor, Chamberlin applied to teach again but was told that “our funds will be very restricted this year.” Harris explained that while he hoped Chamberlin could become “affiliated with the [p.35]faculty here,” he doubted that the school could offer a suitable salary for “a man of his training” and admitted that there was still “a little prejudice that needs to be overcome among some of the board.”27

Henry Peterson had planned to run for Utah State Inspector of High Schools but was opposed by church authorities because of his “mode of thinking and causing doubt in the hearts of the children.” He later moved to northern Utah where he taught in the Box Elder County School System and then at Utah State Agricultural College. When Peterson left BYU he sold his home, which he had built in 1911. Twelve years later the house was sold to the university. In 1927 the structure was renovated and has since served as the official residence of the university president.28

When Joseph Peterson left BYU he transferred to the psychology department of the University of Utah. In 1915, together with fourteen other faculty members, he resigned in protest when four professors were dismissed during a struggle over church influence at the school. He then taught at the University of Minnesota, where he was appointed chair of the psychology department in 1918. He later moved to the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1934, he was named president of the American Psychological Association. He died the following year.29

The impact upon BYU of the three men’s departure was profound. Although some patrons were reassured at the realignment of church and school, others feared that the university had been irreconcilably compromised. One student remembered: “It seems tragic that these men had to go. I am satisfied they were undermining no one’s faith in God as he is defined in Mormon thought. They were good men in every sense of the word and had the students’ best interests at heart.” Thomas L. Martin, BYU dean of applied sciences, later lamented, “We lost much when [they] left us. If some of the narrowness which caused the upheaval in 1911 could have been prevented from exercising its power, I believe the vision that George Brimhall had in mind would have been accomplished; and if we could have had a free hand in dealing with these men and their associates, people would be singing our praises all over the country at the present time.”30

Following the controversy, many faculty and students were reluctant to discuss some “matters of scientific and sociological value [p.36]for fear of losing their positions and receiving the boycott of the church.” Others began asking if there were “any [other] doctrines of the church which [were] inconsistent with the commonly accepted conclusions of science.” School trustees approved a new teaching contract in October 1911 which required loyalty to church authorities as a condition of employment. Brimhall gradually eliminated classes in philosophy, ethics, and psychology, in favor of additional courses in religion, theology, and teacher training. Special summer school conferences stressed the importance of revelation, “which the ‘evolution’ and ‘higher criticism’ wave tends to obliterate.” “I am more and more convinced,” Brimhall wrote, “that while philosophy is valuable, there are so many more things of more importance to our young men and women that we shall be justified in eliminating some of our courses in philosophy and instituting other things that bear more directly on our practical lives, because I believe that a course in our theology and religion is wider and deeper than any course of ethics within our reach.”31

In September 1911, Harvey Fletcher joined the BYU faculty with a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago. Initially, he remembered, “they wouldn’t let me teach theology … because I had a Ph.D.” When William Chamberlin learned in mid-1916 that “most of [his crowded] courses had been cut out for [the] next year and that what [was] left had been put in the Department of Education,” he resigned. One student later wrote, “William H. Chamberlin was a meek, humble, gentle, non-assertive man. … By force of his thinking and ideas … he had a tremendous influence with the upper classmen of the university.” Another added, “He helped many students whose faith was disturbed by the impact of scientific and philosophical thought to achieve a more mature religious and intellectual perspective.” William died five years later in Logan, Utah; a biography, authored by his brother, appeared in 1925.32

Other faculty losses after 1911 included James L. Barker, Edwin S. Hinckley, Earl Glade, Christen Jensen, and Harvey Fletcher. When Fletcher accepted a position at Western Electric, Brimhall told him that he was “being disloyal to the church” and asked him to talk with Joseph F. Smith. Smith gave Fletcher his blessing on Fletcher’s promise that he would “keep [his] testimony strong and keep up [his] church activities.” From 1911 to 1921, when Brimhall retired, the [p.37]number of full-time faculty decreased some 30 percent. During this same period, the number of undergraduates jumped nearly threefold, but baccalaureate degrees declined over 63 percent and only two master’s degrees were conferred. In efforts to counter predictions that the school could not weather the faculty losses, church appropriations were increased 50 percent beginning in 1912.33

The departure of Joseph and Henry Peterson, Ralph and William Chamberlin, and colleagues leveled a serious blow to the academic reputation of Brigham Young University—one from which the Mormon school did not fully recover until successive presidential administrations. At issue in the spring of 1911 was not only the question of a literalistic approach to religion, but the role of a church and its administrators to intervene in the daily curricula of an institution of higher secular learning. If science lost and religion won in 1911, defeat and victory would prove short-lived, even illusory, for such tension still exists at Brigham Young University34—more than eighty years after the Petersons and the Chamberlins left suggesting, as Albert Einstein once observed, that “religion without science is blind, while science without religion is lame.”35


[p.37]1. 1 Ralph V. Chamberlin, Life and Philosophy of W. H. Chamberlin (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1925), 137. For example, Joseph Peterson graduated from Brigham Young Academy in 1902, had taught LDS seminary in Idaho, and had just earned a doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, where he studied under pioneer behaviorial psychologist John B. Watson. See Ernest L. Wikinson, ed., Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 4 vols. (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975-76), 1:409-10, hereafter BYU; also Richard Sherlock, “Campus in Crisis—BYU, 1911,” Sunstone, Jan./Feb. 1979, 11.

2. Henry Peterson: Educator, 1868-1957 (n.p., 1982). Shortly after his arrival in Provo, Henry was called to serve on the LDS religion classes and general Sunday school boards. He was later appointed a member of an ad hoc committee to study the problems of church youth. See Sunday School General Board Minutes, 26 June 1907, 19 July 1909, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, hereafter LDS archives; Religion Class General Board Minutes, 22 June 1910, 4 Apr. 1908, LDS archives.

3. BYU, 409-10, 503; Sherlock, 11. A graduate of the University of [p.38]Utah, Ralph Chamberlin had earlier taught math, science, language, and biology at the LDS College in Salt Lake City before continuing graduate studies at Stanford and Cornell, where he received a Ph.D. in 1905.

4. Joseph Peterson to Brimhall, 30 Aug. 1910, Brimhall Papers, Brigham Young University Archives, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, hereafter BYUA; Ralph V. Chamberlin to Brimhall, 3 Sept. 1910, Brimhall Papers.

5. Ralph V. Chamberlin, “Darwin Centennial Speech,” 12 Feb. 1909, Chamberlin Papers, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah; see the articles in the White and Blue, 16 Feb., 12 Nov., 24 Dec. 1909, 29 Apr. 1910, 31 Jan. 1911.

6. Henry Peterson: Educator, 118-19.

7. Annie Clark Tanner, A Mormon Mother (Salt Lake City: Tanner Trust Fund, University of Utah, 1976), 216-17. See Edward J. Johnson, “George H. Brimhall Biography,” BYUA.

8. BYU Faculty Minutes, 25 Sept. 1909, BYUA; George F. Richards Journal, 27 Sept. 1909, 22, 30 Oct. 1921, LDS archives; James E. Talmage Journal, 27, 30 Sept. 1909, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; Anthon H. Lund Journal, 14, 15, 20 Oct. 1909, LDS archives; “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, 75-81; Divine Mission of the Savior, Course of Study for the Priests (2d Year), Prepared and Issued under the Direction of the General Authorities of the Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1910), 35; Duane E. Jeffery, “Seers, Savants and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Fall/Winter 1973, 61; cf. John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith as Scientist, A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (General Church Board, Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1908); “Editor’s Table,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1909, 489-94, and May 1909, 505-09. For Whitney’s earlier views on evolution, see “Man’s Origin and Destiny,” The Contributor, June 1882, 268-70.

9. Cummings, “Autobiography,” chap. 41, 2, LDS archives (cf. Cummings Journal, 22 Sept. 1917, LDS archives); Cummings to Brimhall, 27 Feb. 1908, Brimhall Papers.

10. Cummings, “Autobiography,” chapter 41, 2-3; Henry Peterson: Educator, 123; General Church Board of Education Minutes, 2 Dec. 1909; Brimhall to Smith, 3 Dec. 1910, Brimhall Papers.

11. Cummings, “Autobiography,” chap. 41, 5; Mark K. Allen, “The History of Psychology at Brigham Young University,” 63, BYUA; Tanner, 216-17; Johnson; Faculty Minutes, 7 Dec. 1910.

12. Cummings to Smith and Members of the General Church Board of Education, 21 Jan. 1911, BYUA.

13. White and Blue, 31 Jan. 1911; Faculty Minutes, 28 Jan. 1911; Ralph V. Chamberlin, “Evolution and Theological Belief,” White and Blue, 31 [p.39]Jan. 1911, a four-page supplement, reprinted in Chamberlin, The Meaning of Organic Evolution (Provo, UT: the Author, 1911), chap. 4.

14. General Church Board of Education Minutes, 3 Feb. 1911; Ivins, in Chamberlin, Oral History, 11, BYUA. See Ivins, “A Study of Evolution,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1917, 161-66.

15. Chamberlin, Oral History, 6, 9-11; Penrose Journal, 10, 11 Feb. 1911, Utah State Historical Society; Grant Journal, 10, 11 Feb. 1911, LDS archives. Grant reported that Joseph B. Keeler also attended the first of the two meetings. Richards Journal, 10, 11 Feb. 1911; Francis M. Lyman et al. to Smith and Members of the Board of Trustees of the Brigham Young University, 11 Feb. 1911, BYUA (cf. Board of Trustees Minutes, 11 Feb. 1911); William H. Chamberlin, “The Theory of Evolution as an Aid to Faith in God and Belief in the Resurrection,” White and Blue, 14 Feb. 1911.

16. Chamberlin, Oral History, 7-9.

17. Board of Trustees to Smith, 25 Feb. 1911, Brimhall Papers. See articles in Salt Lake Tribune, 23 Feb. 1911 (cf. 19 Feb. 1911); Deseret News, 21 Feb. 1911; and Salt Lake Telegram, 23 Feb. 1911.

18. See Brimhall to Cummings, 17 Mar. 1911; Brimhall to Smith, 17 Mar. 1911; Brimhall to Smoot, 8 Mar. 1911; all in Brimhall Papers.

19. Deseret News, 11 Mar. 1911; Salt Lake Tribune, 12 Mar. 1911 (cf. Chamberlin, Oral History, 8, and Edwin S. Hinckley to Brimhall, 24 Feb. 1911, Brimhall Papers); Heber Charles Hicks, “The Life Story of Heber Charles Hicks,” 40-41, BYUA; Smith to Andrew K. Smith, 25 Feb. 1911, LDS archives (Smith evidently left school because of poor grades and excessive absences); Daily Herald, 14 Mar. 1911; Salt Lake Tribune, 15, 16 Mar. 1911; Salt Lake Herald Republican, 15 Mar. 1911; Deseret News, 16 Mar. 1911. For copies of the student petition, see Brimhall Papers and Chamberlin, W. H. Chamberlin, 149-51. Brimhall, in “Devotional Remarks,” 16 Mar. 1911, BYUA, reprinted in Deseret News, 16 Mar. 1911.

20. Brimhall to Smith, 17 Mar. 1911, Brimhall Papers; Brimhall to Peterson, 16 Mar. 1911, Brimhall Papers (cf. Henry Peterson: Educator, 131-32); Daily Herald, 17 Mar. 1911; Faculty Minutes, 23 Mar. 1911; Brimhall to Ericksen, 25 Mar. 1911, Brimhall Papers; Smoot to Brimhall, 26 Mar. 1911, Brimhall Papers.

21. Smith, “Philosophy and the Church Schools,” Juvenile Instructor, Apr. 1911, 208-209; Smith, “The Church and Science,” Smith Papers; Smith, “Theory and Divine Revelation,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1911, 548-51.

22. Bennion, “The ‘Evolution’ and ‘Higher Criticism’ Controversy at the Brigham Young University,” Utah Educational Review, Apr. 1911 (cf. Joseph Peterson, “The Blessings of Science and Evils of Pseudo Science,” Utah Educational Review, May 1911). Nine years later, the First Presidency considered Bennion as Cummings’s replacement as superintendent of church schools and also as Brimhall’s successor as BYU president. They [p.40]decided, however, that the church needed a “Mormon spokesman” at the University of Utah and instead called his brother, Adam, as superintendent and Franklin Harris as president (see BYU, 233-34).

23. Peterson to Smith, 3 Apr. 1911, LDS archives.

24. Brimhall to Smoot, 11 May 1911; Smoot to Brimhall, 21 May 1911; both in Brimhall Papers.

25. Chamberlin, Oral History, 7; Brimhall to Smith, 12 June 1911, Brimhall Papers.

26. Juliaetta B. Jensen Journal, 25 May 1911, in Allen, 72; Faculty Minutes, 2 June 1911.

27. BYU, 428; Allen, 72-74; Chamberlin to Franklin S. Harris, 3 Jan. 1922, Harris Papers, BYUA; Harris to Chamberlin, 14 Mar. 1922, Harris Papers; Chamberlin to Harris, 29 Sept. 1923, Harris Papers; Harris to Chamberlin, 10 Oct. 1923, Harris Papers; Harris to Richard R. Lyman, 1 Oct. 1923, Harris Papers.

28. Anthon H. Lund Journal, 23 Apr. 1912; Ephraim Hatch, “History of the Brigham Young University Campus and the Department of the Physical Plant,” 4:8-9, BYUA; BYU, 428; Allen, 72-74.

29. For the 1915 controversy at the University of Utah, see Joseph H. Jeppson, “The Secularization of the University of Utah, to 1920,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1973, 180. For Peterson’s later work, see Lyle Lanier, ed., Psychological Monographs, 1938, i-v, 1-237; and Peterson, “Completeness of Response as an Explanation Principle in Learning,” Psychological Review, 1916, 153-62, “Aspects of Learning,” Psychological Review, 1935, 1-27, Early Conceptions and Tests of Intelligence (Yonkers: World Book Company, 1924), and “The Scientific Study of Human Behavior,” Brigham Young University Alumnus, 1927, 4-5.

30. Johnson; Martin to Heber C. Snell, 16 Mar. 1942, Snell Papers, Archives and Manuscripts, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

31. E. E. Ericksen, The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1975), 65; Tanner, 216; Board of Trustees Minutes, 25 Oct. 1911; Daily Herald, 6 Oct. 1913 (cf. Board of Education Minutes, 29 Dec. 1913); Brimhall to Joseph Fielding Smith, 11 Mar. 1916, Brimhall Papers.

32. Fletcher, Oral History, 19 Sept. 1968, 43, BYUA; Fletcher, “Autobiography,” 38, 42-43, BYUA; Chamberlin, W. H. Chamberlin, 211; “A Sentiment,” White and Blue, 31 May 1916; Russel B. Swensen, “Mormons at the University of Chicago Divinity School: A Personal Reminiscence,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1972, 38.

33. Fletcher, “Autobiography,” 42-43; “A Brief Survey of the Work of Brigham Young University from the Beginning of the School Year 1906-07 to the Close of the School Year 1913-14—Eight Years,” Printed Material 34, e-2, BYUA.

[p.41]34. For organic evolution and science at BYU after 1911, see Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis, Brigham Young University: A House of Faith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 148-71.

35. In Stanley L. Jaki, The Relevance of Physics (Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1966), 345.