After a brief hiatus dealing with a broken computer just in time for tax season, it’s time to get back to business. So, here is one of those classic Hugh W. Nibley quotes that contains a wonderful statement by Brigham Young.
In the quote below, President Young stated that the “scientific” theories of Darwin, Huxley, and Miall1 were actually being used to promote a political economic theory based on natural selection that thwarted the Saints from living the United Order. That was in 1875.
Last month, a post on Charles Darwin points out that over time the theory of evolution reached far beyond a scientific or biological theory.
In any case, here is the quote as promised:
As if to counteract these growing heresies, the old Darwinian view is being puffed today for all it is worth in a half dozen prestigious TV documentaries in which we are treated to endless footage of creatures ranging from amoebas to giant carnivores stalking, seizing, and with concentrated deliberation soberly crunching, munching, swallowing, and ingesting other insects, fishes, birds, and mammals. This, we are told again and again, is the real process by which all things were created. Everything is lunching on everything else, all the time, and that, children, is what makes us what we are; that is the key to progress. And note it well, all these creatures when they are not lunching are hunting for lunch–they all have to work for it: There is no free lunch in the world of nature, the real world. Lunch is the meaning of life, and everything lunches on something else–”Nature red in tooth and claw.” Tennyson’s happy phrase suited the Victorian mind to perfection. He got the idea from Darwin, as Spencer did his even happier phrase, “Survival of the fittest.” Darwin gave the blessing of science to men who had been hoping and praying for holy sanction to an otherwise immoral way of life. Malthus had shown that there will never be enough lunch for everybody, and therefore people would have to fight for it; and Ricardo had shown by his Iron Law of Wages that those left behind and gobbled up in the struggle for lunch had no just cause for complaint. Darwin showed that this was an inexorable law of nature by which the race was actually improved; Miall and Spencer made it the cornerstone of the gospel of Free Enterprise–the weaker must fall by the way if the stock is to be improved. This was movingly expressed in J. D. Rockefeller’s discourse on the American Beauty Rose, which, he said, “can be produced . . . only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. . . . This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God.”
In this divinely appointed game of grabs, to share the lunch-prize would be futile, counter-productive, nay immoral. Since there is not enough to go around, whoever gets his fill must be taking it from others–that is the way the game is played. “In Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, or anywhere else in England,” as Brigham Young reported the scene in 1856, workers knew that “their employers would make them do their work for nothing, and then compel them to live on roots and grass if their physical organization could endure it, therefore, says the mechanic, `If I can get anything out of you I will call it a godsend,’ ” and does what he can to rip off the boss. If he gets caught, he is punished, yet he is only playing the same game as his employer.
Three years after Brigham made his observation, the Origin of Species appeared, putting the unimpeachable seal of science on the lunch-grab as the Supreme Law of Life and Progress. And it was expressly to refute that philosophy on which Brigham Young founded Brigham Young University in 1875: “We have enough and to spare, at present in these mountains, of schools where . . . the teachers . . . dare not mention the principles of the gospel to their pupils, but have no hesitancy in introducing into the classroom the theories of Huxley, or Darwin, or of Miall and the false political economy which contends against co-operation and the United Order. This course I am resolutely and uncompromisingly opposed to. . . . As a beginning in this direction I have endowed the Brigham Young Academy at Provo and [am] now seeking to do the same thing in this city [Salt Lake City].” With his usual unfailing insight, President Young saw it was the economic and political rather than the scientific and biological implications of natural selection that were the real danger and most counter to the gospel.2
- Thomas H. Huxley was an English biologist and is best remembered as “Darwin’s Bulldog”. Louis Compton Miall was a Professor of Biology at Yorkshire College and in 1883 delivered a lecture on The Life and Work of Charles Darwin to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.↩
- Nibley, Hugh W. “Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free”. Approaching Zion. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989. 205-207.↩