Dr. Gregory A. Prince at this year’s annual Arrington Lecture gave an intriguing biography of Leonard J. Arrington, focusing particularly on Arrington’s own interplay between faith and doubt. Arrington’s intellectual journey was sparked as he entered the world of academia and had his beliefs on evolution directly challenged. Having been raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-‐ day Saints (LDS or Mormon), he struggled with reconciling a Creationist viewpoint to that taught by the secular world. Eventually, he came to a harmony where both Mormonism and the theory of evolution could coexist in his worldview.
Arrington’s open mind continued to shape his investigations of history. His two most influential works, according to Prince, were his financial history of the LDS church Great Basin Kingdom and his research on the origins of the Word of Wisdom. In both of these, Arrington concluded that factors more diverse than solely inspiration influenced various aspects of Mormon history. To Arrington, it appeared that the sweeping temperance movement of the 1830’s was the spark of inspiration that ignited the Word of Wisdom; it also seemed to him that, despite a cultural trend towards a belief in prophetic inerrancy during Arrington’s time (Mauss, 1994), church leaders could be less than inspired in economic matters. His conclusion, as summarized by Prince, was that not all institutions need to be under priesthood direction (Prince, 2013; Arrington, 1966).
At other times, Arrington let his doubts lie and let others do the research. He never really researched his questions about the priesthood ban for African descendants or the historicity of the Book of Mormon. However, Arrington reacted with joy when the priesthood ban was overturned and when a publication supporting the Book of Mormon, “An Ancient American Setting of the Book of Mormon” by John L. Sorenson, was published.
The theme of Arrington’s life just might be best summed in his own words as quoted by Prince (2013): “It [doubt] might be the avenue to renewed faith, deeper faith, greater understanding.” Because of his ability to doubt the generally-‐accepted assumptions and investigate which facts were truly valid, he revolutionized our understanding of many aspects of church history.
One can hardly view Arrington’s influential and revolutionizing work without recalling similar traits exemplified in Mormon history. The foremost example among these may be Joseph Smith, Jr., for in the words of one unnamed internet commentator, “If Joseph Smith hadn’t doubted a whole bunch of things would we even have the LDS Church?” (“Faith vs. Doubt”, 2009).
In this essay, it is argued that the same type of doubt which helped Leonard J. Arrington to discover new truths also had to be present in Joseph Smith, Jr. and his associates in order to have formed the beliefs of the LDS church we know today. This implication shows that doubt can be healthy, rather than detrimental, as (in the author’s experience) today’s culturally-‐influenced negative perception might indicate. The backgrounds to sections in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as other records of prominent events in Mormon history are used to chronicle the extent to which doubt played a key role in the LDS church’s development.
Hortin, Joshua, "How Doubt Built the Foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" (2013). Arrington Student Writing Award Winners.