14) BYU’S PURPOSE: Was Brigham Young University established to refute the theories of Darwinism?

Commentary

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President Young saw the dangers of false philosophies and desired Church schools to combat them. The two primary concerns that rested upon President Young were evolution (Darwinian evolution) and Marxism (socialism/communism). The Presidents of the Church have continually warned of the dangers of teaching that man descended from lower forms of life and President Young was no exception. President Young felt that the theories of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, who was known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of the theories of organic evolution, were corrupting the youth among the Saints in his day. Another prominent Darwinist, Louis Compton Miall, was also noted as a threat to the youth. Because of this, President Young used his own financial means to create an academy where these false philosophies could be refuted. This Academy was named Brigham Young Academy and later became Brigham Young University.

Brother Hugh Nibley once commented that the purpose of Brigham Young University as envisioned by Brigham Young was to confront the false doctrines promoted in Darwinian evolution.

“The purpose of the BYU, then, is to challenge the reigning philosophies of Darwinism and what today is commonly called Social-Darwinism [1]—not to forbid their teaching but to present the gospel alternatives to it. Instead of which we still embrace both with uncritically open arms . . .” [2]

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Additionally, President Young felt that socialism, the political outgrowth of evolution, should also be countered. Currently, there is no institution of higher learning in the world today that we are aware of that is dedicated to the refutation of these dangerous philosophies using the doctrines of the gospel as contained in latter-day revelation. President Young envisioned schools that fit these criteria:

  1. False philosophies, including Darwinism and Marxism, should be expressly countered.
  2. The doctrines of the Gospel, as contained in Latter-day revelation, should be used to counter these false philosophies.
  3. The primary text of the school should be the standard works of the Church, and no doctrines contrary to the scriptures should be promoted.
  4. All textbooks or teaching materials would be created by individuals with complete faith in the doctrines of the Gospel as contained in the scriptures and taught by latter-day prophets of God.
  5. All teaching materials would be manufactured by the Saints assuring that all of the above criteria were met.

President Young saw the dangers of false philosophies and desired Church schools to combat them.

Prophetic Statements

Brigham Young

“We have enough and to spare, at present in these mountains, of schools where young infidels are made because the teachers are so tender-footed that they dare not mention the principles of the gospel to their pupils, but have no hesitancy in introducing into the classroom the theories of Huxley, of Darwin, or of Miall . . . this course I am resolutely and uncompromisingly opposed to, and I hope to see the day when the doctrines of the gospel will be taught in all our schools, when the revelation of the Lord will be our texts, and our books will be written and manufactured by ourselves and in our own midst. As a beginning in this direction I have endowed the Brigham Young Academy at Provo.” [3]

Spencer W. Kimball

We have no choice at BYU except to “hold the line” regarding gospel standards and values and to draw men and women from other campuses also–all we can–into this same posture, for people entangled in sin are not free. In this University (that may to some of our critics seem unfree) there will be real individual freedom. Freedom from worldly ideologies and concepts unshackles man far more than he knows. It is the truth that sets men free. BYU, in its second century, must become the last remaining bastion of resistance to the invading ideologies that seek control of curriculum as well as classroom. We do not resist such ideas because we fear them, but because they are false. . . . When the pressures mount for us to follow the false ways of the world, we hope in the years yet future that those who are part of this University and the Church Educational System will not attempt to counsel the Board of Trustees to follow in false ways. We want, through your administration, to receive all your suggestions for making BYU even better. I hope none will presume on the prerogatives of the prophets of God to set the basic direction for this University. No man comes to the demanding position of the Presidency of the Church except his heart and mind are constantly open to the impressions, insights, and revelations of God.” [4]

Darwinist and Neo-Darwinist

“I know that I am, in spite of myself, exactly what the Christian would call, and, so far as I can see, is justified in calling, atheist and infidel.” [5]

“I long to take vengeance on the One Who rules from above.” [6]

Scripture

Supporting Statements

Hugh Nibley

“The purpose of the BYU, then, is to challenge the reigning philosophies of Darwinism and what today is commonly called Social-Darwinism [7]—not to forbid their teaching but to present the gospel alternatives to it. Instead of which we still embrace both with uncritically open arms . . .” [8]


  1. Alma 30:17
  2. Hugh Nibley, More Brigham Young on Education, Sperry Lecture, Brigham Young University, 11 March 1976
  3. Brigham Young, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons, p. 200
  4. Kimball, Spencer W. “Second Century Address,” Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, 1975
  5. Thomas Henry Huxley, letter to Charles Kingsley, May 6, 1863
  6. Karl Marx, “Invocation of One in Despair,” poem written by Marx
  7. Alma 30:17
  8. Hugh Nibley, More Brigham Young on Education, Sperry Lecture, Brigham Young University, 11 March 1976

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