Q: How many times have individuals or teams been working in “splendid isolation” only to discover that their great scientific breakthrough has been preempted by another individual or team working also in “splendid isolation”?
A: Often enough that it has a Wikipedia entry!
“The concept of multiple discovery is the hypothesis that most scientific discoveries and inventions are made independently and more or less simultaneously by multiple scientists and inventors.”1 (Bold emphasis added.)The hypothesis is strongly supported. Here is an extracted sample:2
▪ Calculus – Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Pierre de Fermat and others;SO, if multiple, independent discovery is frequently true for science, WHY do we seem so adverse to the possibility of multiple, independent inspiration / revelation in religion? I ask because of the contest about who first discovered /developed / received the “restored gospel” sequence3 in the 1820s-early 1830s. Was it Walter Scott, Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sydney Rigdon, or some unknown other persons, lost to history? 4
▪ Sunspots – Thomas Harriot (England, 1610), Johannes and David Fabricius (Frisia, 1611), Galileo Galilei (Italy, 1612), Christoph Scheiner (Germany, 1612);
▪ Leyden Jar – Ewald Georg von Kleist (1745) and Pieter van Musschenbroek (1745-46);
▪ Oxygen – Carl Wilhelm Scheele (Uppsala, 1773), Joseph Priestley (Wiltshire, 1774). Antoine Lavoisier (1777) and others;
▪ Theory of the evolution of species, independently advanced by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace (19th century);
▪ Cadmium – Friedrich Strohmeyer, K.S.L Hermann (both in 1817);
▪ Electrical telegraph – Charles Wheatstone (England), 1837, Samuel F.B. Morse (United States), 1837;
▪ Helium – Pierre Jansen, Norman Lockyer (both in 1868);
▪ Two proofs of the prime number theorem by Jacques Hadamard and Charles de la Vallée-Poussin in the same year (1896);
▪ Sound film – Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner (1922), Lee De Forest (1923);
▪ Jet engine by Hans von Ohain (1939), Secondo Campini (1940) and Frank Whittle(1941);
▪ Higgs boson into a full relativistic model in 1964 independently and almost simultaneously by three groups of physicists: by Englert / Brout; Higgs; and Guralnik / Hagen / Kibble;
▪ Endorphins ~ in Scotland and the US in 1975.
Why the attempts to order or reorder dates so one’s verifiable or preferred creator comes first? Why the anxiety to cover up seeming plagiarism of ideas and concepts; or the enthusiasm to levy such charges? Why the need to disparage other “contestants” for prime position? Why “revise and expand” suppositions in order to defend tradition and orthodoxy? Why insist on a precise, documented order that may misrepresent a revealed order?
Despite our dispositions and predispositions, is it possible to accept the documented historical “proofs” AND the confusions / contradictions / inexplicables? Is it possible to concede that God is often inscrutable and unconcerned about presenting linear, pristine provenance for momentous events? Is it possible to admit that God isn't constrained by our expectations of precision, proofs, or exclusivity?
Surely, God’s spirit can brood upon the flowing waters of desire and sincerity and pour down knowledge into diverse, imperfect vessels, wherever they may be, even in near neighborhoods! Can’t He follow the trails of agency and stewardship; and apply the principle of added-upon or not, as each case may prove?
So, why all the allegations of plagiarism? If an angel repeats “the very same things” on at least four occasions5 might other heavenly manifestations / inspirations contain elements of repetition? Does the economy of Heaven favor déjà vu?
What if Oliver Cowdery’s “Articles of the Church of Christ”6 is an inspired reception of truths—truths also revealed to others? Is God not permitted to repeat Himself? to speak to more than one at a time? to give testimony into the mouths of two or three witnesses?
What did God say?
To Oliver, April 1829: Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above— And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways. (Doctrine and Covenants Section 6:10-11)So, can we mortals drop exclusivity? Can we stop cobbling together sparse facts to create “true” scenarios that favor our view of how something really happened (or should have happened)? How can we ever think to discover the invisible workings of God by pure study of and reliance on (or manipulation of) the visible?
To Alma: For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true. (Book of Mormon Alma 29:8; circa 76 B.C.)
To Joel: And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. (Old Testament Joel 2:28-29; see also Numbers 11:29; New Testament Acts 2:17; Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 14:25-6; Doctrine & Covenants 1:20, 34)
Can we let God be non-exclusive?!7 Can we exercise a modicum of trust in one of the most important scriptures ever pronounced for the enlightenment of every saint, sinner, scribe, and scholar?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Old Testament Isaiah 55:8-9)Can we remember that faith is, in part, "the evidence of things not seen"?
3. As in the Article of Faith # 4 sequence: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Holy Ghost.
4. See Daymon M Smith, A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon: Vol. 1, setting, a foundation of stones to stumble over, where he discusses the distortions from entwining tradition and history; where he critiques several scholars, including: Bushman, Givens, Faulring, Welch, et al.; and where he, too, sometimes seems to take a position, that may itself distort.
5. Pearl of Great Price, “Joseph Smith History;” and “Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” frontispiece of the Book of Mormon
7. “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets— ... But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; ... And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh;” (Doctrine and Covenants Section 1:17-18, 20, 34; bold emphasis added.)