I probably wouldn't post comments on this short section of American Moses, but it is such a nice complement to Clark's recent posts on the nature of spiritual reality over at The Bloggernacle Times that it deserves mention. We often attribute this line of thinking to a sermon or two by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, but we should not ignore the optimistic and "science-friendly" views of Brigham Young expressed over many years in Utah.
First, he saw harmony, not conflict, between science and religion:
My religion is natural philosophy. You never heard me preach a doctrine but what has a natural system to it ... All the revelations of the Lord to the children of men, and all revealed doctrines of salvation are upon natural principles, upon natural philosophy.He seems to be suggesting that God works through natural law and that all events occur in accordance with natural principles. Brigham goes on to explain that what we call miracles or mysteries are simply things we don't fully understand yet. He rejects the idea of supernatural events or a qualitatively different supernatural order.
What is spirit then? Following earlier statements, Brigham held it to be "refined matter," and emphatically not "immaterial substance." Personally, I'm not sure that changing labels (refined versus unrefined matter instead of material or immaterial substance) really changes anything, but it does seem to have moved Mormon thinking away from dualism and toward scientific materialism.
Brigham rejected the view of the Fall as truly deleterious, and looked on Adam with notable sympathy, even admiration. Arrington summarizes: "Brigham's sermons suggest that he saw God, angel, man, spirit, intelligence as merely different names designating related beings in various stages of development. Man is in the middle stage." So the Fall wasn't much of a fall at all, it just inaugurated mortal life, a stage in our eternal progression.
Finally, Brigham had to deal with a 19th-century pseudo-intellectual who had his own ideas about Mormon doctrine. Brigham clashed with Orson Pratt on doctrine and theology for thirty years in Utah. There was "a continuous tension between Pratt the philosopher and Brigham the Prophet." But Brigham had unusual patience and was a master of compromise. Pratt was never disciplined and always had "a measure of freedom in speaking and writing," yet he was still subject to some control over what he wrote and published. Here's Brigham's characteristic summary: "The trouble between Orson Pratt and me is I do not know enough and he knows too much." Brigham, it seems, never let the conflict spiral out of control. They muddled through, which is generally good enough for LDS theology.
Arrington's closing observation: "If Brigham Young was not a systematic theologian like Pratt, he did have certain characteristic emphases, a power of mind, a trenchant vigor, and a recognition of the earthly role of religion that deserve more respect than he has usually been given."
[Note: quotes are from American Moses, p. 201-09; Arrington gives JD references for all his Brigham Young quotes.]