John A. Widtsoe: Rational Apologist

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Publication Type dissertation
School or College College of Education
Department Educational Administration
Author LeCheminant, Dale Campbell
Title John A. Widtsoe: Rational Apologist
Date 1977
Description During his life, John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) held three positions of influence and authority in the State of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormon Church). He was an agronomist of national reputation, the president of the two main public institutions of higher education in Utah (Utah State Agricultural College, 1907-1916, and the University of Utah, 1916-1921) and an apostle (1921-1952), the second ranking leadership position in the Mormon Church. While he occupied these seats of authority, he wrote numerous articles, editorials, manuals of instruction and; books on topics of religion in an effort to "educate" the Church regarding certain intellectual ideals. Essentially, Widtsoe wrote as a rational apologist who invoked what he regarded as a scientific mind-set and method to advance the long-held Mormon ideals, to Which by training and disposition he was drawn, (1) that Mormon theology is a rational system of universal, fundamental truths, (2) that knowledge of truth is man's highest possession, and (3) that true secular (scientific) knowledge and true spiritual (religious) knowledge agree, for he conceived truth to be one harmonious whole. Though a scientist, well trained in physical chemistry (Harvard University, BA 1894, summa cum laude; University of Goettingen, MA and PhD 1899, Magna cum laude) and an experienced academician, he was foremost a believer whose feeling for the Mormon religion and people shaped his writing to the Church quite as much as his rational scientism. He praised with oratory and personal testimony the worth of these ideals just as he argued with reason for their truth. In Widtsoe's praise and arguments for learning, he assured Mormons that their Church was on the forefront of truth-seeking because it accepted all truth from any source, it morally upheld all truth-seekers, and it subscribed to both revelation and reason as viable approaches to learning truth. He argued that science though man-made and prone to error is a legitimate avenue to truth and a support to Mormonism. Widtsoe's primary emphasis on rationalism and scientism occurred before his proselyting mission in Europe (1927-1933) where he saw first-hand the aftermath of world war and the effects of economic depression. With a growing awareness of man's moral failure to use his rational faculties and his science for constructive purposes and with the onset of advanced age, Widtsoe the practical Mormon and applied scientist tended to promote the values of scientific agriculture-- his field of professional experience--which he saw as offering to people the fuller physical, intellectual and spiritual mode of life and consequently a solution to world problems. Widtsoe's promotion of reason, learning and science in his "education" of the Church was done in a popularized and abbeviated manner. Yet he was acclaimed gratefully by Mormons who valued reason and knew the work of his most creative, free and vibrant years as one of few who tried to advance rationalism, despite the external forces that militated against his efforts manifested in the growing exigencies of his office and a mounting antagonism in the Church against a trust in reason and science, demeaned as "man's arm of flesh." That his role as rationalist diminished in his later years is discounted by admirers who remember the early Widtsoe as a firm, confident voice of reason in the Church.
Type Text
Publisher University of Utah
Dissertation Name Doctor of Philosophy
Language eng
Rights Management (c) Dale Campbell LeCheminant
Format Medium application/pdf
ARK ark:/87278/s6t49j9d
Setname ir_etd
Date Created 2020-11-25
Date Modified 2020-12-15
ID 1612639
Reference URL