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JOSEPH SMITH AS SCIENTIST.
BY DR. JOHN A. WIDTSOE, DIRECTOR OF THE AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION, LOGAN, UTAH.
Persons who are not acquainted with the labors and writings of the great Prophet Joseph Smith, are prone to believe that in no way did he furnish intellectual food to his followers. Those, however, who know, though it be only in outline, the comprehensive character of the system of theology which he taught, are not surprised to find principles enunciated in his writings which clear away mists of uncertainty in every department of human knowledge.
The purpose of these articles is to show that even though the mission of Joseph was chiefly of a spiritual nature, yet he recognized definitely the fundamental laws and many of the facts of natural science; and that, in many cases he stated natural laws which later have been discovered and accepted by men of science. Such a demonstration will not of itself be sufficient to establish a testimony of the truth of Joseph Smith's mission: but it may remove an obstacle from the way of those who are seeking for truth. At the same time it may show the falsity of the assertion
frequently made by enemies of the Church, that the writings of Joseph Smith are devoid of ideas that can furnish intellectual stimulus to an educated mind.
Throughout these articles the word science will be used in the narrow, popular sense of biological and physical science, meaning the systematically arranged knowledge of external nature. The domains of political and mental science, in which Joseph Smith made numerous suggestions of fundamental importance, are not at all considered in this series of papers.
Joseph Smith had few educational advantages during his life; and his scientific teachings did not rest upon information gained in schools or from books. His parents fully appreciated the value of an education, but the pioneer lives which they led, and their numerous financial misfortunes, made it impossible for them to realize their desires for the education of their children. The Prophet's mother writes that when Joseph was about six years old, Hyrum, the elder brother, was sent to an academy at Hanover, New Hampshire, and the smaller children to a common school.* It is probable that throughout the wanderings of the family the children were given such meager schooling as was possible. Joseph was a "remarkably quiet, well-disposed child," and his life up to the age of fourteen was marked only by those trivial circumstances which are common to childhood.†
A few months after his fourteenth birthday, the future prophet beheld his first vision. In his autobiography he mentions that at the time "he was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor." This would indicate that at this age he was spending little or no time in school. During the time that elapsed between his fourteenth and eighteenth years, there is nothing to show that the boy was receiving scholastic education. The Prophet says that he was left to all kinds of temptations, and mingled with all kinds of society.§ Nothing is
* History of the Prophet by his Mother, IMPROVEMENT ERA, Vol. 5,
† Ibid p. 247.
History of the Church, Vol 1, p. 7.
§ Ibid p. 9.
said about the acquirement of book learning. About the age of nineteen he writes, "As my father's worldly circumstances were very limited, we were under the necessity of laboring with our hands, hiring out by day's work and otherwise, as we could get opportunity. In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal. During the time I was thus employed, I was put to board with a Mr. Isaac Hale-it was there I first saw my wife (his daughter), Emma Hale. On the 18th of January, 1827, [when the Prophet was a little more than twenty-one years old] we were married, while I was yet employed in the service of Mr. Stoal. Immediately after my marriage, I left Mr. Stoal's and went to my father's, and farmed with him that season."* From his eighteenth to his twenty-second year, then, there is evidence that he worked as an ordinary laborer, and attended no school.
It seems, moreover, that Joseph Smith was not a boy to gather information from books, for his mother says of him, when he was eighteen years old, that "he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study." From the records extant, the conclusion is justifiable that from his fourteenth to his twenty-second year Joseph Smith received practically no school education, and did no extensive reading. What he might have gathered from conversation with others during that time is unknown to us. However, it is known that the heavenly messengers who visited him at intervals gave him much valuable information, which more than compensated for his poor scholastic advantages. One month before his twenty-second birthday, the golden plates were delivered to the Prophet, and the next two and a half years he was engaged with various assistants in translating the Book of Mormon; though at different times during this period he farmed and did other manual labor. During this period (twentytwo to twenty-four and a half years of age), he most certainly attended no school nor gave special attention to worldly knowledge.
On the 6th of April, 1830, when the Prophet was twenty-four
* History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 16, 17.
History of the Prophet Joseph, IMPROVEMENT ERA, Vol. 5, p. 257.