Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Rees, Robert A.
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48 I Dialogue essentially resolved.31 Our concern here, however, is not how old the earth really is. Rather, it is: where did the Church line up on the issue? The answer is: nowhere—it was wide open on the matter. Mormon speakers ranged widely in their expressions. Statements from the presiding quorum kept the Church non-committed, but open for the long age. There seems to have been no one who opted for twenty-four hour creation days, unless one wishes to so interpret Oliver Cowdery's statement, published while he was Assistant (Associate) President of the Church, that he believed the scriptures "are meant to be understood according to their literal reading, as those passages which teach us of the creation of the world,. . ." (emphasis his32). Joseph Smith left no clear-cut statement on the matter. On the Christmas day after Joseph's death, his close associate W. W. Phelps wrote a letter to Joseph's brother William, who was in the east. Therein he refers, among other things, to the contributions of Joseph, and to the eventual triumph of truth and Mormonism. One of Joseph's accomplishments, of course, was the Book of Abraham, an incomplete text produced in conjunction with some Egyptian papyri. Phelps exults: Well, now, Brother William, when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been from of old, from eternity: and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years: and to know at the same time, that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years; —it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated. . .33 This reference has been cited many times in Mormon literature. Some have used it to indicate that the planet earth is 2.55 billion years old; others, taking careful note of the phrase in parentheses, insist that it has no such meaning, that it refers to a much larger physical system and has no bearing on the age of the earth. The latter view argues that "not this world" specifically rules out the earth as the object of reference. A critical examination of terms in Joseph's vocabulary, however, indicates that he had made definite distinctions between the terms "earth" and "world": "earth" was the planet upon which we live, "world" referred to "the human family."34 One also finds that Joseph did not, in his sermons, utilize these definitions consistently. The disagreement over the interpretation of the above passage, however, centers on how Phelps meant the term "world"— in the way Joseph had defined it, or in some other sense. The question is moot, since Phelps nowhere clarified the statement. The very evident context, however, of Phelps' rejoicing over the developing agreement between this statement and the efforts of "geologists" to establish long time-spans gives strong support to those who interpret the statement as applying to the planet earth. The one certain point that can be drawn from this statement is that Joseph's world-view was not bounded by the orthodox Christian theologies of the day. His mind ranged far more widely, a point that is plentifully evident from even a casual analysis. During the nineteenth century subsequent to Joseph's death, one can find many further statements by Mormon authorities pertaining to the age of the earth. A prominent one, taught by certain apostles, was that the seven days of creation were each 1000 years in duration, and the earth was therefore approximately 13,000 years old, calculating approximately 6000 years since the Adamic Fall. This concept received limited support from members of the First Presidency,