Mormon Rumors – Talmadge and Einstein
Here’s another excerpt from the latest Sunstone issue I thought people here might appreciate:
“A Place for Every Truth”
THE EINSTEIN RUMOR
This regular Cornucopia column features incidents from and glimpses into the life and ministry of Elder James E. Talmage as compiled by James P Harris, who is currently working on a full-length biography of this fascinating Mormon apostle. The column title is adopted from the statement inscribed on Elder Talmage’s tombstone: “Within the Gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known.”
WHENEVER I SPEAK ABOUT JAMES E. TALMAGE in firesides or other gatherings, I almost always get a question about Albert Einstein’s supposedly having said that Talmage was the smartest man he’d ever met. On one occasion, a brother became very upset with me when I told him the rumor was not true. He had heard the story from his mission president who is now a temple president, so in the man’s mind, that made the story true no matter what I said.
Here’s what I know: There are no references in Talmage’s journals suggesting that he and Einstein ever met. I have made queries at Princeton and Rutgers, where a great number of Einstein papers are housed, and the librarians know of no references to a James E. Talmage. The closest thing to an Einstein reference in the Talmage journals comes on 12 July 1924:
I had an interview with President Heber J. Grant on important matters; and he advises that I should attend the approaching meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, to be held in Toronto, Canada, next month.
Talmage arrived in Toronto for the science convention on 9 August 1924. While there, he met with LDS missionaries, and in the evening, he and mission president Joseph Quinney “attended an evening meeting at which the Einstein Theory of Relativity was the subject of discussion.”
In October 1996, I had the opportunity to interview John R. Talmage, then the last living child of James and May Talmage. We had a wonderful discussion that lasted more than three hours. John was very lucid despite his being eighty-five years-old. Near the end of our discussion, as we looked at an enlarged picture of his father in his college laboratory, I asked John about the Einstein rumor and if it was true. He shook his head “no” and said that to his knowledge, his father and Einstein had never met. John also expressed his bafflement over how that rumor might have ever started.
I first heard the Einstein/Talmage rumor in 1976 while serving as a missionary in Brazil. Since that time, I have learned that we Latter-day Saints love our faith-promoting rumors. I have also learned that James E. Talmage was an amazing manâ€”an educator, a scientist, a father and husband, and an apostle. As one who has benefited greatly from studying the life of Dr. James E. Talmage, I can state without hesitation that neither his intellect nor any other character trait needs an endorsement from Albert Einstein or anyone else.