William Henry Chamberlin papers, 1915-1954  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Chamberlin, W. H. (William Henry), 1870-1921
William Henry Chamberlin papers
1915-1954 (inclusive)
0.25 linear foot
Collection Number
The William Henry Chamberlin papers (1915-1954) consist of a bound copy of Chamberlin's paper, "Berkeley's Philosophy of Nature and Modern Theories of Evolution," written in 1916-1917 at Harvard under the direction of Ralph Barton Perry, and a photocopy of Ephraim E. Ericksen's "William H. Chamberlin, Pioneer Mormon Philosopher," published in The Western Humanities Review in 1954. Chamberlin was a Utah and Mormon philosopher who taught at Brigham Young University. He was the brother of Ralph V. Chamberlin.
University of Utah Libraries, Special Collections.
Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah
295 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT
Telephone: 801-581-8863
Access Restrictions

Twenty-four hour advanced notice encouraged. Materials must be used on-site. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

William Henry Chamberlin was born 12 February 1870 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to William Henry Chamberlin, Sr., and Eliza Frances Brown Chamberlin. The oldest of twelve children, Chamberlin was strongly influenced by the stories of Nauvoo and Kirtland told by his mother and grandmother. These stories affirmed the values of fortitude, piety, and loyalty to the community and, in young Henry's mind, firmly linked his personal destiny with that of the Mormon Church. Chamberlin attended local schools and studied both at the University of Deseret (later the University of Utah) under John R. Park, and at the Latter-day Saints College, headed at that time by James E. Talmage. His main interests were botany, astronomy and mathematics, and he taught mathematics for a year at the Latter-day Saints College. In September of 1892, Chamberlin married Amelia Telle Cannon, and divided his time between teaching, performing various jobs to support his family, and studying--finally completing his requirements for his Bachelor of Arts in 1896. In 1897 Chamberlin began a mission in the Society Islands, His missionary experience in the South Pacific, a period of intense contemplation and self-examination coupled with daily participation in Polynesian community life, convinced him that religion is an integral part of man's nature, finding expression in the intellect, and emotions, and in cultural life. This holistic view of religious phenomenon informed Chamberlin's life work--the examination of how scientific and theological speculation combined in describing the natural world.

Upon completion of his mission in 1900, Chamberlin returned to Utah, where he was offered the chair of Geology and Mineralogy at Brigham Young College in Logan. For the next decade he alternated teaching in Utah with studies at the University of Chicago, University of California, and Harvard University. By 1910 he had settled at Brigham Young University (BYU), where he taught ancient languages and philosophy. Like other philosophers of his ear, Chamberlin attempted to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between scientific and religious explanations of the origin of man. For Chamberlin, the new physical sciences described the workings of creation through an evolutionary process for which God was the prime mover. As a philosopher of the idealistic school, Chamberlin argued that what man calls nature is a symbol of the presence of God, and it is the inability to conceptualize the natural world as sacred that leads to the mistaken theory of natural selection as a causative factor in evolution. Thus, for Chamberlin, theories of evolution did not pose a serious threat to religious faith.

The controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution in any form reached a crisis at BYU in 1910, when church officials began an investigation into the teachings of William's brother, Ralph V. Chamberlin, and Henry and Joseph Peterson, all of whom served, with William, as members of the theology faculty. In 1911 the three men resigned rather than agree to cease teaching evolution. The resignation of three popular faculty members sparked student protest, faculty anxiety, and gleeful speculation in the non-Mormon press about the academic credentials of BYU, which had attained university status only recently. In the wake of this controversy, administrators chose to reduce the number and scope of philosophy classes. In 1916, William Henry Chamberlin resigned from his position at BYU. He declined an offer to teach in another state, explaining that his ties to the Mormon community were too deeply-rooted to sever. He died in 1921 in Logan, Utah.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection provides a glimpse into the thoughts of Chamberlin (1870-1921), one of the most influential men in the Mormon educational system in the early 20th centry, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was struggling to deal with the impact of the Darwinian challenge to religious explanations of the nature and origins of man.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The library does not claim to control copyright for all materials in the collection. An individual depicted in a reproduction has privacy rights as outlined in Title 45 CFR, part 46 (Protection of Human Subjects). For further information, please review the J. Willard Marriott Library’s Use Agreement and Reproduction Request forms.

Preferred Citation

Initial Citation: William Henry Chamberlin papers, Accn 846, Box [ ]. Special Collections and Archives. University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Following Citations: Accn 846.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 "William H. Chamberlin, Pioneer Mormon Philosopher," by Ephraim E. Ericksen 1954
1 2 "Berkeley's Philosophy of Nature and Modern Theories of Evolution," by William H. Chamberlin 1917
1 3 W.H. Chamberlin, "Essay on Nature" 1915
1 4 W.H. Chamberlin, "Study of Philosophy" 1919

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Evolution--Philosophy
  • Evolution--Religious aspects--Mormon Church
  • Meaning (Philosophy)
  • Mormons--Biography
  • Philosophy of nature
  • Personal Names :
  • Berkeley, George, 1685-1753
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Articles
  • Dissertations