Friday, December 13, 2013

"In That Competition Truth Emerges Triumphant": Hugh B. Brown on Testing Ideas

Hugh B. Brown (1883-1975) is an important figure in the history of Latter-day Saint thought.   He became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in April 1958 after having served for four and a half years as the Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Furthermore, he was called in June 1961 to become part of the First Presidency, serving first as President David O. McKay's Third Counselor, then as his Second Counselor, and finally as his First Counselor.  After President McKay's death in January 1970, Hugh B. Brown returned to service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until his own death.

Hugh B. Brown had what I consider some extremely valuable thoughts about the importance of the testing and competition of ideas.  The following short selections are from Hugh B. Brown, "A Final Testimony", in Edwin B. Firmage, ed., An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1999), 137-139:
I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress.  We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent - if we are informed.  Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant.... 
Revelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration.  We must be unafraid to contend for what we are thinking and to combat error with truth in this divided and imperiled world, and we must do it with the unfaltering faith that God is still in his heaven even though not all is well with the world.
We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity.  No one would have us become mere tape recorders of other people's thoughts.  We should be modest and teachable and seek to know the truth by study and faith.  There have been times when progress was halted by thought control.  Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against the other so that the best, which might not always be our own, can prevail.  Knowledge is most complete and dependable when all points of view are heard.  
Now, compare with this passage from a 25 March 1958 fireside address that Hugh B. Brown delivered at Brigham Young University titled "Man and What He May Become":
I hope that you will develop the questing spirit.  Be unafraid of new ideas, for they are as stepping stones to progress.  You will, of course, respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent - if you are informed.  Now that I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth must emerge triumphant.  Only error needs to fear freedom of expression. 
Personally, while I may not quite agree with everything that President Brown said in either his 'final testimony' or his earlier fireside address, I see nothing in these passages that is not commendable to the highest degree.  Hugh B. Brown says that all points of view should be heard.  He makes no exception for so-called "anti-Mormon" ideas.  He makes no exception for the ideas of other religious traditions.  He invites the competition of ideas.  He invites testing by the faculties of the mind, that is, reason and faithful study.  He welcomes new ideas to the table, assured that, because God is a God of truth who reigns in heaven, the truth will emerge triumphant from that competition.  These are my firm convictions as well.  What do you think of them?

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