- Prophets, not scientists- The Lord has called our prophets and apostles to be just that- prophets, seers and revelators, not scientists. Investigating scientific matters is outside of their calling. They are called to preside over the Church and foretelling scientific milestones and proving scientific theories is not in their jurisdiction. There have been a few incidents of science and statements made by prophets clashing. The “moonmen incident” is one of them. Brigham Young (in accordance with the scientific beliefs of the time) said he believed the moon to be inhabited. Many critics have held this up to be “proof” that Brigham Young was not a true prophet, because (they say) a true prophet would have known that the moon was uninhabited. Now if you really want a twist, note that as an apostle Joseph Fielding Smith said the thought it "doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.” (2) Though, it seems obvious to us that man can travel to the moon, there was a time during the “Space Race” when it looked doubtful, especially with the tragedy of Apollo 1. Brigham Young and Jospeh Fielding Smith were relying on the statements of those who were in positions of authority in the field of science in their respective lifetimes. (3) The Lord reveals what is necessary for the administration of the Church. Furthermore, if He simply revealed every scientific fact to His prophets, no one would have to work to find out knowledge. I believe our Heavenly Father wants us to find out answers for ourselves. After all, He doesn’t come to each of us individually and reveal to us that this is His restored gospel; we are told to ponder and study it out and find out for ourselves.
- The Lord does not “micro-manage”- There are many brothers and sisters who seem to wish that our Heavenly Father would dictate everything to us that is right, from the length of our hemlines to Utah’s liquor laws to healthcare decisions for ourselves and our children. But the reality is that we came to this Earth to make our own decisions. Our Heavenly Father will guide us if we ask and are open to His guidance but he will “force no man to heav’n” (Hymns 240). Indeed, the Lord has said, “ For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” (D&C 58:26) Furthermore, what is necessary in one person’s situation may be different than what is necessary in another’s. How can we expect to inherit and preside over all God has if we don’t make our own decisions and take responsibility for them?
- Agency- I take comfort in knowing that every word from a General Authority’s mouth does not constitute doctrine. They are not puppets, but prophets. Our Heavenly Father allows them their opinions and thoughts. They will never be permitted to lead us astray, but the Lord will not dictate every word say. If everything that the prophet or the Twelve were to say had to be exactly what Heavenly Father thinks, it would violate their agency.
- What constitutes doctrine?- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Approaching Mormon Doctrine (May 4, 2007)
In light of this, it should be noted that the 1978 Liahona statement does not claim any authority from the Lord, only from the First Presidency themselves who speak for themselves in this matter. Official declarations from the Lord will carry language defining themselves as such, as is the case with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God”), the Word of Wisdom (“...showing forth the order and will of God...”), the Manifesto on Polygamy (“I, therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage...”), and the 1978 Official Declaration on the priesthood (“In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church.”) The article in the 1978 Liahona carries no such language and claims no authority from God. The First Presidency at the time was giving what it believed to be good advice to members.
(1) 1978 Liahona statement on vaccination (http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=889b5991d66db010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD)
(2) FAIR article on prophets and prophecy http://www.fairlds.org/Bible/Nature_of_Prophets_and_Prophecy.html
(3) FAIR article on prophets and infallibility http://en.fairmormon.org/Fallibility_of_prophetshttp://en.fairmormon.org/Fallibility_of_prophets