Subject: Planting the Seeds for Leaving the Cult: A Father's Letter
Date: Jan 24 06:20 2003
Author: steve benson
Mail Address:


The purpose of this post is to explain by way of a significant personal experience why I feel as strongly as I do about matters of personal and intellectual freedom.

I do so by focusing on one particular episode in my life that launched me down the path into the physically-grounded world and away from the mind swamp of religious fantasy.


As a BYU undergraduate over 20 years ago, I decided to undetake a comprehensive research paper on the Mormon Church’s official position on the theory of organic evolution.

During the lengthy period of my studies, I concluded that the Church’s stance on the theory of organic evolution was confused, contradictory, unreasonable, unscientific and uninspired.

While doing research for the paper, I spoke and/or corresponded directly with Mormon Church President Spencer W. Kimball, my grandfather and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Ezra Taft Benson, LDS Apostles Mark E. Petersen and Bruce R. McConkie, and Church Coordinator of Correlation Roy Doxey, as well as with a variety of campus religious and science professors.

By way of education, I also took university classes in various scientific disciplines, including zoology, geology, sociobiology, astronomy and meteorology, as well as several courses in religious instruction, focusing particular attention on the Book of Mormon.

Through it all, I acquired what I regard as a broad and well-informed understanding of the LDS Church’s official position on the theory of organic evolution—as well as of the view of the mainstream scientific community on the same subject.

It is not my purpose here to go into the details of my research or ultimate findings, other than to say that I came to reject the Church’s claims in favor of those of the general scientific community.

My grandfather, as well as my father, were not pleased with the direction my research was headed and tried desperately to halt it, or at least change its focus.

They even attempted to dissuade me from finishing the paper. Failing that, they applied pressure (also unsuccessfully) on me to allow my grandfather, my father Mark Benson, my BYU Book of Mormon instructing-uncle Reed Benson and/or Apostle McConkie to preview and critique my preliminary findings before eventual submission to my professors.


These efforts culminated in a letter which my father sent to me in March of 1980, the complete contents of which I share for the first time here. I do so because the letter played an important role in pushing me toward an eventual break from Mormonism.

No doubt, my father wrote the letter out of genuine love and concern, with what he felt were my best interests at heart. Unfortunately, he sought to accomplish his goal of controlling the outcome of my research efforts through strong-arm tactics. Those tactics included:

--demanding unswerving obedience to Church authority

--attacking scientific inquiry and the motives of scientists

--questioning the character of intellectuals

--warning against the loss of personal testimony

--and dangling the specter of eternal condemnation for failure to follow the dictates of Mormonism

I love my father, yet I found the letter to be so judgmental, ignorant and narrow in its thinking that I had difficulty reading it even back then, when I was still an active member of the Church. Laden with scripture and condemnatory tone, it was more of a lecture than a letter, more of a call to repentance than an invitation to reason, more of a discourse than a discussion.

Contrary my father’s intent, it steeled my resolve to continue the search for my own answers and not to rely on a Church for guidance whose intent seemed more focused on protecting its falsified history and mangled doctrine than in giving me credible information. If anything, my father’s letter served as a model for how not to go about searching for truth.

It also had a significant impact on my emerging critical thoughts concerning Mormonism. Ironically, it was one of many signposts that helped lead me out of the Church and into a life of intellectual independence.

For easier reading of its rather dense copy, I have broken it into subsections.

Dated March 25, 1980, it reads as follows:

“My Dear Son, Stephen,


“I have prayerfully approached the writing of this letter and have earnestly sought the spirit of our Father in Heaven in its composition. My only desire is for your welfare. I have enjoyed and appreciated so much the relationship we have had over the years as Father and Son. It has been one full of love and mutual respect and concern. Our many talks together have brought a closeness that I feel has pleased our Father in Heaven. The embraces we have had after such special talks have been sacred to me. The spirit has been present on such occasions. I have felt it. I pray for that same spirit as I write you today.


“The Lord loves you, Stephen. You are one His valiant servants. I know of your love of the Lord and your desire to do His will. I have felt of your testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

“You have also been blessed of the Lord with a good mind and a honest desire to know truth. As you have pursued your studies at school I have been impressed with your meticulous research and scholarly inquiry into many subjects. Truly, “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36), and it is in your pursuit of light and truth I would like to make some observations and suggestions that I hope will be helpful.


“When I was at B.Y.U. Dr. Thomas L. Martin was the Dean of the College of Applied Science. At a student body devotional exercise he said:

”If you will accept a religious spirit in your life, you will have poise, personality, and a confidence that inspires and you will be able to make outstanding contributions to your work. With this (religious) spirit talents will work better, your mind will be clear from distracting influences, and you will be stimulated to do greater things. But, if you subdue this spirit you will become cynical, gloomy and blundering.’


“So, first of all, Stephen, I would urge you to continue to consciously develop a religious spirit as you pursue your studies and research whether it be to the workings of the universe and the creations of our Father-in-Heaven or into political thought and the science of government, or whatever subject or branch of learning you may be pursuing. In my mind this would include a constant reading and pondering of the scriptures. Some time ago President Marion G. Romney said:

’A few years ago, as I began to practice law, members of my family were a little uneasy. They were afraid I would lose my faith. I wanted to practice law, but I had an even greater desire to keep my testimony, and so I decided upon a little procedure which I recommend to you. For thirty minutes each morning before I begin the day’s work, I read from the Book of Mormon . . . and in just a few minutes a day I read the Book of Mormon through, every year, for nine years. I know that it kept me in harmony, so far as I did keep in harmony, with the Spirit of the Lord.’ (Conference Report, April 1940, p. 36)

“At a later time President Romney said:

‘You ought to read the gospel; you ought to read the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants; you ought to read all the scriptures with the idea of finding out what’s in them and what the meaning is and not to prove some idea of your own. Just read them and plead with the Lord to let you understand what he had in mind when he wrote them.’ (Address given to Seminary and Institute Coordinators, 3 April 1973, p.5)

“The Lord told Oliver Cowdery:

‘But, behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind: then you must ask me if it be right, and if it be right, I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

‘But, if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing that is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.’ (D&C 9:8, 9)


“Of late, Stephen, you should know that I have prayed that you would have such a stupor of thought as you wrote your paper if what you were writing was wrong and was not pleasing to our Heavenly Father, but it what you were writing was right that the spirit of the Lord would confirm this to you.


“It is so important that you seek after and have the spirit of the Lord with you as you study the scriptures and read the words of the brethren and as you do research into such sacred subjects as the creation of the earth and the creation of man, for there are some things it is impossible to understand without the spirit of the Lord. In this regard President John Taylor taught:

‘We believe that it is necessary for man to be placed in communication with God; that he should have revelation from him, and that unless he is placed under the influences of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he can know nothing about the things of God.

‘I do not care how learned a man may be, or how extensively he may have traveled. I do not care what his talent, intellect, or genius may be, at what college he may have studied, how comprehensive his views or what his judgment may be on other matters, he cannot understand certain things without the Spirit of God.’

“President Taylor’s words are confirmed in the scriptures. In I Corinthians 2:9-14 we read the Apostle Paul’s word:

‘But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

‘But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

‘Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit of God; that we might know the things which are freely given to us by God.

‘Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’

“Nephi also tells us the importance of inquiring of the Lord in order to understand great and important doctrine:

‘For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord, and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.

‘And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive-tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.

‘And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?

‘And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us

‘Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?

‘Do you not remember the things which the Lord hath said? If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be know unto you.’ (I Nephi 15:3, 7-11)

“Both Paul’s and Nephi’s words are confirmed by the First Presidency in relating to receiving and understanding the creation of man:

‘Man, by searching, cannot find out God. Never, unaided, will he discover the truth about the beginning of human life. The Lord must reveal Himself, or remain unrevealed; and the same is true of the facts relating to the origin of Adam’s race—God alone can reveal them.’ (Improvement Era 13: 75-81, November 1909)

“In fact, the Lord indicates that he can bless man with a knowledge of the creation if he has faith in him and keeps His commandments. In II Nephi 1:10 we read:

‘But behold, when the time cometh when they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given to them to do all things by faith. . . ‘

“Is it possible that man, without the spirit of our Father in Heaven, can continually learn but never come to a knowledge of the truth?

“Did not the Lord say that in the last days:

‘. . . thee wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.’ (Isaiah 29: 14).

“Paul declared in I Corinthians 1:26-27:

‘For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

‘For God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.’


“It seem that throughout recorded time the Lord has felt the need of warning us against putting our faith in men’s wisdom as opposed to the Lord’s and that we should be continually on guard not to be puffed up in our own knowledge. Remember Nephi’s beautiful prayer and petition to the Lord as received in II Nephi 4: 16-35? I quote only four verses but commend them all:

‘Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

‘May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!

‘O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

‘Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.’ (II Nephi 4: 16, 32, 34, 35)


“Further, in II Nephi 9:42-43 we read:

‘And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and say they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.

‘But the things of the wise and prudent shall be hid from them forever—yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.’
“And in II Nephi 12:2, 3, 11, and 12 Isaiah declares:

‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lords house shall be established in the tops of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.

‘And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

‘And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

‘For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh on all nations, yea, upon every one; yea, upon the proud and lofty, and upon everyone who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.’


“The reason I dwell on this particular point, Stephen, is because Moses 1:34 states:

‘And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.’

“And in order, by the spirit, to better understand what that verse meant, the First Presidency of the Church elaborated by stating:

‘It is held by some that Adam wasn’t the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creations. These however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1: 34), and we are therefore duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race.’ (Improvement Era 13: 75-81, November 1909)

“I sincerely and earnestly raise the question, isn’t that one verse of scripture and the First Presidency statement simple declarations regarding the creation of man that if we inquired of the Lord and sought His spirit that we would not have difficulty understanding it and knowing what ‘the Lord had in mind’ as President Romney says.

“To my knowledge this statement of the First Presidency has never been rescinded and is the last official position of the Church on evolution and the origin of man. Moreover, there are ‘living’ Prophets, Seers and Revelators today that have been outspoken in their support in this position (Notably President Benson, Elder Petersen and Elder McConkie and all of the Council of the Twelve). To my knowledge, there is no living Prophet, Seer and Revelator who has taken exception to it. The living Prophets are more important to us today than the dead Prophets, and without a statement from President Kimball to the contrary and with three present members of the Twelve in visible support of it, it seems to me the statement of President Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anthon A. Lund is authoritative and represents the official position of the Church.

“The late Elder John A. Widtsoe further said:

‘The doctrine of the common origin of life on earth is but a scientific theory and should be viewed as such. Clear thinkers will distinguish between the general law of change or evolution accepted by all, and the special theories of evolution which, like all scientific theories, are subject to variation with the increase of knowledge. Honest thinkers will not attempt to confuse law and theory in the minds of laymen. The man, learned or unlearned, who declares the doctrine of the common origin of life to be demonstrated beyond doubt, has yet to master the philosophy of science. The failure to differentiate between facts and inferences is the most grievous and the most common sin of scientists.’ (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 159-165)


“Could this problem that some scientists may have both in and out of the Church have some reference to II Nephi 28: 9, 12, 14, 15:

‘Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their work shall be in the dark.

‘Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up.

‘They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride and wickedness and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.

‘O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, sayeth the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!’

“Are there those who teach today on campuses and through textbooks, as described in verse IV of that same chapter and who ‘teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance’? Can we liken the scriptures (The Book of Mormon) to our day? Are there those professors who wear stiff necks and high heads, who are wise and learned and puffed up and who teach false doctrines as described in verses 14 and 15? Are there some intellectuals who feel by their own searching and researching have obtained special knowledge and understanding which elevates them above the knowledge and understanding of the Brethren of the General Authorities and that as a result they feel that intellectually they have outgrown the Church and the Prophets and the humble followers of Christ?

“The Lord declared in II Nephi 9: 28 and 29:

‘O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness and the frailties and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and the harken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

‘But to be learned is good if they harken unto the counsels of God.’

“And of course, the counsels of God come to us today though the living Prophets.


“As an example of the importance of a living Prophet, Seer and Revelator interpreting scripture by the spirit we can read II Peter 3: 3-7 which is pertinent to our discussion. Verse 4 is particularly significant as scoffers in the last days will say:

‘. . . where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.’

“Now we have in Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a living Prophet, Seer and Revelator elaborating on this verse by saying:

‘ In this simple statement is summarized one of the basic reasons why the wisdom of men cannot interpret the events of creation, redemption, and salvation. The reason: It is false to assume that all things have always been the same. For instance: When the Lord created this earth, it was in a terrestrial state, and Edenic state, a paradisiacal state; death had not then entered the world. Adam and Eve were all in an immortal state. The beginning of offspring had not yet begun (Moses 5:11). Then came the fall. And, ‘if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of Him who knoweth all things. Adam feel that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.’ (II Nephi 2: 22-25). In due course, when Christ reigns ‘personally upon the earth,’ then ‘the earth shall be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.’ (Tenth Article of Faith). That is, it will return to its terrestrial, Edenic, of paradisiacal state; it will be the new heaven and the new earth of which Peter is about to speak. None of these eternal verities are known to or understood by the scientists of the world or the uninspired teachers among men. Without them how can they possibly understand the true import and meaning of the doctrine of the second coming of the Son of Man?’ (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, V. III, Bruce R. McConkie)


“Stephen, may I now even be more specific in relation to your earnest quest for truth. Be assured, my questions and comments are not meant to be antagonistic but only to cause you to prayerfully ponder and consider.

“1. How is your spirit? As you seek to know the things of God, his creations and his wonderful works do you approach it in the spirit of humility, earnestly seeking divine guidance?

“Are you sensitive to the spirit as you read both the words of men and the revelations of God that you might know the truth? Are you puffed up at all in your own learning, your own reasoning?

“Do you stand in awe of God’s wisdom and reasoning, remembering the Lord’s words in Isaiah:

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, sayeth the Lord.

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55: 8-9)


“#2. Which leads to my next question. Are you being lead by professors who teach by the spirit of Christ and his crucified? Do they build faith or do they oppose or water down the teachings of the Brethren? Do they rationalize the words of the living Prophets, damning by faint praise and saying, ‘Oh, they’re entitled to their opinion,’ rather than bearing testimony of the truthfulness of their words? Does their learning and research take precedence over Gods revelations to his holy Prophets? Do the words of Korihor, the Anti-Christ, have any application here:

‘Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which he say are handed down by holy Prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.’ (Alma 30: 15)

“I would urge you to read the entire 30th chapter of Alma in the spirit of which we are discussing. For the concern that I have, Stephen, as you pursue your studies is to have you realize that ‘truth’ always builds faith, faith in a higher power, and untruth diminishes that faith. True religion and true science will never conflict. All truth emanates from God. Therefore your studies should build faith in God, in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in the Fall and Atonement and in your testimony of living Prophets. Elder B. H. Roberts’ words have a direct bearing on this subject as it applies to the theory of evolution. He noted that among other objections urged against the theory of evolution is that:

‘. . . it is contrary to the revelations of God . . . the revelations that speak of the atonement of Christ . . . if the hypothesis of evolution be true, if a man is only a product evolved from lower forms of life, better still producing better . . . then it is evident that there has been not ‘fall’ such as the revelations of God speak of; and if there was no occasion for a Redeemer to make atonement for man . . . then the mission of Jesus Christ was myth, the coinage of idle brains.’ (The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity)


“#3. May I then ask the question, how is your testimony? Is it growing or diminishing? As you study the theory of evolution, as an example, does your love for the Savior increase? Does your love of the Brethren, the General Authorities grow? Is your appreciation for and faith in the Prophets being strengthened? Or are there some professors who would diminish your faith in the Brethren, who would almost take delight, it would seem, in pitting one against the other? I would urge you with all the energy I possess not to feed on this kind of controversy. It will destroy your soul.

“And don’t be a part of those who would drive a wedge between the Brethren and who would hold them up to ‘mild’ ridicule or criticism. They are on the road to apostasy. I have seen it happen, Stephen, a person starts feeling, as an example, that a member of the Twelve is speaking without authority or knowledge on a certain subject and so he dismisses his position as being uninspired or uninformed. Now, that in itself is serious enough. But often because he feels that particular member of the Twelve was ‘incorrect’ in one area, it decreases his faith in him in other areas and in his own mind he begins to take the edge off his divine calling. Soon he begins to question the Brethren in other areas and then it depends on which of the Brethren is speaking on a particular subject as to whether this person feels that Brother is qualified to speak on it and therefore whether he is obligated to follow it. And the final upshot of it all is he often starts picking and choosing between the Brethren and the doctrines he will follow, depending on what subjects they speak on and whether he feels they are qualified to do so and whether it agrees with his own point of view. What a dangerous position to put oneself in. If it does not eventually result in his complete apostasy from the Church, it does surely result in neutralizing himself and his becoming lukewarm in the Kingdom, neither hot or cold. (Revelations 3: 15 ), of not being valiant in the testimony of Jesus (D&C 76: 79) and as a result not being able to be used effectively by the Lord in his service.

“And his testimony (or lack of) may influence many, particularly those of his own family, and their testimony in the living Prophets is often likewise diminished and sometimes a generations are lost or completely neutralized as far as activity in the Church is concerned and their possessing a saving knowledge and testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


“#4. I also feel it is important to remember that there is much in this world we don’t know and will never know in this life. Primarily we still walked by faith. Faith is still the first principle of the Gospel and that is one of the major reasons for our mortal probation. Before earth life we knew, now we are required to have faith—in the Lord, in living Prophets, in the whisperings of the spirit.

“Sometimes our faith is weak and we have to obtain our learning by studying. The Lord is clear on this, for in D&C 88:116 we read:

‘As all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study and also by faith.’

“But if we had more faith, maybe we wouldn’t have to spend so much time and effort studying man’s wisdom and acquiring knowledge through fallible means and imperfect books and clumsy methods of trial and error. What of the faith of the Brother of Jared. He obtained his learning directly from God. He obtained his knowledge of the personage of God because of his ‘exceeding faith’ (Ether 3:9). Because of his faith he was redeemed from the fall (Ether 3:13) and knew in what image man was created (Ether 3:15). Maybe our knowledge of the creation of the earth and of man’s creation could be greatly increased and purified if we had more faith in the Lord Jesus Christ or at least more faith in His Prophets who speak for Him.

“Yes, there is much in this life we don’t know and by searching can’t know. Job exclaims: “Canst thou by searching find out God” (Job 11:7). But by faith, even faith in miracles, there are some things we can know. As Nephi records:

‘And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning . . . “ (II Nephi 26:20)

“The Creation could well be God’s greatest miracle.


“5. I would remind you again of the words of Elder John A. Widtsoe, ‘The doctrine of the common origin of life on earth is but a scientific theory and should be viewed as such.’

“Dr. Melvin A. Cook observes, “. . . owing to the strong desire of scientists to display their brilliance and ingenuity, there is a tendency for theory to become the objective instead of a means to the end.’ The danger, he says, is that ‘ . . . .disciples become so engrossed in the theory that they lose sight of its fundamental purpose, the quest for truth.’ And then he spoke of a renowned scientists who me a factual objection with the statement, ‘I am more concerned with the elegance of the theory than the truth of it.’

“To be specific, Stephen, I hope in your research you haven’t pursued a particular theory so far and desired to prove a hypothesis so much that it becomes the objective and it becomes difficult to withdraw from the position even though additional light and truth and inspiration tells you to do so.

“Remember the move, ‘Bridge on the River Kwai,’ and how the general resisted having the enemy’s bridge blown up? Even though he and his men were forced to build the bridge for the enemy, he was so committed to building a perfect bridge (analogy: perfect theory) he lost sight of his objective and didn’t want the bridge destroyed even though it should have been. Thus, I hope you haven’t taken an hypothesis so far because of its elegance and then feel the need of defending it at all costs, even though it is only a theory and not a fact and may eventually need to be altered or even discarded.

“In this regard, I hope you don’t feel the compulsion of reconciling all of the theories of evolution with the revelations of God through the scriptures and through the modern Prophets. I feel there are some theories of evolution that simply cannot be reconciled. Some humanistic, materialistic and agnostic theories are opposed to revealed religion and are corrupt. They have a smattering of truth and yet are anti-Christ. Some ‘teach the philosophies of men mingled with scriptures’ but they are false Gods. President Joseph F. Smith warned that in the last days there would be three dangers that would threaten the Church from within: (1) the flattery of prominent men; (2) sexual immorality and (3) false educational ideas. Could organic evolution be one of those false educational ideas?


“6. In all your studies, Stephen, keeping the commandments allows you to keep the channels open for communication between you and the Lord. Living right, staying clean, being faithful to your Priesthood duties, being a good father and husband entitles you to answers from our Heavenly Father that are available no other way. It is still true:

‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’ (James 5:16)

“And D&C 121:45-46 is still a class of truth:

‘Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish they thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong n the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon they soul as the dews from heaven.

‘The Holy Ghost shall be they constant companion, and they scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and they dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.’

“We all need the Holy Ghost to be with us as we read and study and research the things of God and man, and being virtuous is the key to receiving it.

“And in this pursuit of knowledge I would urge you again to read the scriptures every day, the Church News every week and the Ensign every month. Elder John A. Widtsoe wisely observed:

‘It is a paradox that man will gladly devote time every day for m any years to learn a science or an art; yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons. The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject. They who pass opinion on the gospel without having given it intimate and careful study are not lovers of truth and their opinions are worthless.

‘So important is the gospel the guide to human conduct, that it would be well for every lover of truth to set aside fifteen to thirty minutes daily for the study of the gospel. Such regular study will in a few years yield mastery of gospel principles.’

“In this connection, I would recommend your reading again ‘Jesus the Christ’ by Elder James E. Talmage, a great man of letters but also a true Prophet, Seer and Revelator. I am playing the tapes of the book to and from work and find that one receives a special spirit when one considers the divine mission of Jesus Christ. His atoning sacrifice becomes the greatest of all miracles and as one studies the life of the Son of God the humanistic approach to the Creation and the fall of Adam contain no appeal.


“7. My last specific suggestion has to do with the actual writing of your paper. Will the final manuscript build faith in any member who may read it or will it diminish faith? Will it increase a member’s desire to sustain living Prophets, Seers and Revelators or will it decrease that desire? Will it develop in a person’s heart and mind more love for the Savior, a belief in the actuality of the fall and a testimony of the miracle of the atonement or will it neutralize that testimony? I feel you have a sacred responsibility, Stephen, to yourself, to your family and to all who may read your final paper. I know the desire you have for intellectual honesty and this is commendable. You also have a responsibility for spiritual honesty and sensitivity and for the salvation of your own soul and this is even more vital. To help you understand what I mean would you please read the attached pages 19 and 20 of the recent insert on the Equal Rights Amendment, as published by the Ensign Magazine. Then ask yourself would the publishing of our paper (even to a most select group) be considered ‘publishing those differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the church, if possible, in a wrong light . . . ‘

“If so, the Brethren as I understand it would consider to that be an act of apostasy. Then please analyze the state of President George Q. Cannon:

‘We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.’


“Again, Stephen, my only desire is for your spiritual welfare and the spiritual welfare of those you may affect. I now you have the same concerns. Therefore, would you please consider the ramifications of your paper n light of the points discussed in #7.


“Stephen, this is the longest letter I can ever remember writing. I started it about 7 weeks ago and it’s taken another week to type. I hope it has not been tiring for you to read. I have earnestly prayed with deep humility that the spirit has been present as you have read it. I pray for that same spirit as you read the enclosures, some of which I am sure you have, others you may not:

--Two statements by the First Presidency on evolution

--Seven articles from “The Improvement Era”

--Two editorials from the “Church News”

--“To the Humble Followers of Christ,” by Ezra Taft Benson

--“What is Orthodoxy,” by John A. Widtsoe

--“Man—His Origin and Destiny,” by Joseph Fielding Smith
(first 20 pages)
--“Evidence and Reconciliations,” by John A. Widtsoe, pp. 1-34, 125-159,- 182-187. 287-290

--“Gospel Interpretations,” by John A. Widtsoe

--“The fall of Adam, The Atonement of Christ and Organic Evolution,” by Reid E. Bankhead

“I know my letter comes to you at the 11th hour and that you have spent months in writing your paper and have it practically completed. I just pray that you will give my humble efforts serious and prayerful consideration, and I have the faith the if you will do so, and if it is the Lord’s will, that this letter will have beneficial effect on your final paper in spite of its late arrival.

“I have also determined to do additional study and research myself and have just begun reading, “Science and Religion—Toward A More Useful Dialogue, Volume I and II and President Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Man—His Origin and Destiny, which I have never read all the way through.


“May I make a final request. I would really be honored to be allowed to read a final draft of your paper before you submit it to B.Y.U. As different teachers on campus may have been helpful to you in making observations and recommendations before you submitted your final
paper, may I have the same opportunity? It is not my right or desire to edit your paper. It is only your prerogative to do that. All I could do is make observations which you may or may not feel are valid and useful and then only you can determine what is finally submitted.


“Thank you, Stephen, for letting me visit with you in this letter. I bear you my testimony that I have told you the truth to the best of my ability to transmit that truth through faith and prayer and study.


“I love you, Stephen, with all my heart. May you ever hold to the iron rod and may the Lord use youth build His Kingdom as one of his truest and most valiant servants in is the humble prayer of your father,





On September 9th, 1981, my father wrote me a follow-up letter, again attempting to persuade me one last time to allow my undergraduate research paper on the Mormon Church’s official position on the theory of evolution to be reviewed by Church authorities, before submitting it to my BYU professors.

The letter was printed on the letterhead of Cleon Skousen’s right-wing “Freemen Institute,” for whom my father worked as a vice-president.

The letter read as follows:

“Dear Steve:

“As you prepare your final paper on Evolution, a few observations from Grandpa and myself that I hope will be helpful and received by you in the right spirit.

“Grandpa: ‘Write nothing that will diminish faith and testimony.’

‘You can be a toll of the Lord if you’ll let Him.’

‘You’re my oldest Grandson and I’m proud of you and feel
I always will be.’

“Dad: ‘Write with the spirit of God. With prayer and fasting you are
entitled to revelation beyond your research.’

‘Being true to yourself should mean being true to your higher
and a higher law.’

‘Intellectual pride now may bring regret later, as one matures
and becomes more sensitive to the spirit.’

‘Guard its use and into which hands it goes (Dialogue, etc.)’

‘Share the final draft with Grandpa, Brother McConkie, Uncle
Reed or myself before it goes to press (for our final
observations, whether you accept them or not). I particularly
feel Grandpa would be appreciative of this opportunity.

“God bless you, Steve. We pray for you continually that the Holy Ghost may literally be with you in all your research, writing and editing.




“P.S.—And a final suggestion, that you reread the paper I submitted to you several weeks ago with the prayer that the Holy Ghost will witness to you of the truths contained therein.”


For all their stated good intentions, this personal episode demonstrated to me that the Mormon Church, at its highest levels, is a controlling cult ,as manifested by the fact that it is:

--antagonistic to individual thinking

--opposed to non-Church approved independent research, education and scholarship that is critical of the Church

--ignorant of science

--critical of the character and motivations of scientists

--fearful of intellectual growth and curiosity