In keeping with the times, it is not surprising that former professor of chemistry and university president John A. Widtsoe was called to the LDS Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1921. An inheritor and promoter of "reasonable" religion, his popular book, Joseph Smith as Scientist, and his influential LDS Melchizedek priesthood manual (later released as a book), Rational Theology, underscored his and other Mormon leaders’ positivist assumptions about the world—that science was good, thatt Mormonism would be proven true, and, drawing from Herbert Spencer’s application of evolution to ethics, that society would be perfected.
Like Widtsoe’s secular books (published nationally and internationally by Macmillan, Webb, and J. Wiley & Sons), Rational Theology would enjoy multiple printings domestically and several foreign translations. Although his other church writings (Evidences and Reconciliations, The Gospel in the Service of Man, Guide Posts to Happiness: The Right to Personal Satisfaction, and others) proved to be influential, none so thoroughly summarized his embrace of science and Mormonism as Rational Theology.
John Andreas Widtsoe was born in Dalöe, Island of Fröyen, Norway in 1872. He emigrated to Utah in 1883 and graduated from Brigham Young College in 1891 and from Harvard, with high honors, in 1894. Widtsoe married Leah Eudora Dunford, daughter of Susa Young Gates, in 1898 and had seven children. In 1899 he was awarded a Ph.D. with high honors from the University of Göttingen, Germany. He both taught at and served as president of Utah State Agricultural College and the University of Utah. He was elected to the Victoria Institute in England, an honor received by only one other Mormon scholar—James E. Talmage. Widtsoe served for several years as editor of the Improvement Era. He wrote more than thirty books, including religious, autobiographical, and professional publications. He was an apostle from 1921 until his death in 1952.
Dale C. LeCheminant was born in 1927 in Salt Lake City. After receiving an M.A. at the University of Southern California and Ph.D. at the University of Utah, he taught in the LDS church Institutes of Religion adjacent to both campuses for 31 years. His early interest in the professional career and ministry of John A. Widtsoe eventuated in his doctoral dissertation, "John A. Widtsoe: Rational Apologist." He and his wife Wanda have five children and continue to live in Salt Lake City.