Category: Science

Zion as Superorganism

Organisms in your Organism

Earlier this month, I visited Utah to give back-to-back presentations at conferences by Mormon Scholars in the Humanities and the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Today, I’m going to recap my presentation from the MTA conference, “Zion as Superorganism.” In subsequent blog posts, I’ll share some thoughts about Mormon transhumanism and the rest of the MTA conference (including some of the other talks I thought were particularly interesting), and then also my talk from the MSH. The most well-known description of Zion in our scriptures is of course Moses 7:18: And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. Another implicit description is found in D&C 38, although you have to pull from disparate verses to make the connection to Zion. Here, I start in vs 4 and then skip to 27: I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom……

Mormonism at the Scopes Trial

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial

I read Edward J. Larson’s Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997) earlier this month, and was surprised to see the Book of Mormon appear in one of Clarence Darrow’s arguments to the court. Funny how little mention there is of the Scopes Trial in LDS discourse, given how often evolution seems to come up. I have some ideas on that. But first the interesting arguments made to the court by Darrow.

The Day Creationism Died

It was January 5, 1982, the day United States District Court Judge William R. Overton issued his memorandum opinion in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Plaintiffs challenged an Arkansas statute that required Arkansas public schools to “give balanced treatment to creation-science and evolution-science.” The Court found that “creation science has no scientific merit or educational value as science” and that “the only real effect of Act 590 [the Arkansas statute] is the advancement of religion.” As such, it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and was struck down as unconstitutional. Langdon Gilkey, a theologian who testified at the trial as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, provided an account of the trial in his book Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock (Winston Press, 1985).

Science, Mormonism, Dialogue

The good news: There is more room for dialogue between science and Mormonism than between science and other conservative Christian viewpoints. Most Latter-day Saints don’t feel threatened by science. The bad news: Some Latter-day Saints do come to see the relation between science and Mormonism as one of conflict rather than dialogue, and sometimes science wins that debate in their head. Why do some Mormons see science and Mormonism as an either/or choice rather than a helpful partnership?

The Approaching Zion Project: Deny Not the Gifts of God


This chapter (understandably) overlaps significantly with the previous chapter, Gifts. These are, after all, discourses he delivered at various times, to various audiences, with common themes. I’m reading them separately, though, and different things hit me at different readings. So, like always, I won’t discuss everything Nibley focuses on (and I’ll try to not spend too much time on things I’ve discussed previously). With that out of the way, on to the chapter.

Science as Friend or Foe


On a recent long drive, I listened to all 12 lectures of a Science and Religion audio book by Professor Lawrence Principe of Johns Hopkins. A topic of personal interest (see my earlier T&S series here, here, here , and here), the science-religion issue should also be more of an interest to LDS scholars and apologists in general, given the role that science, scientism, or a mixture of the two often seems to play in the thinking of young Mormons who choose to exit the Church. My sense is that most people pick up from the media or general education a rather naive view of the relation between religion and science, and that nothing taught in the LDS curriculum does anything to remedy the situation. It is certainly a topic that deserves more attention and better coverage. On this topic, we are failing our youth.

God and Galaxies

A piece of creation: the Andromeda Galaxy

Elder Ballard started out his recent Conference talk “This Is My Work and My Glory” with this description and commentary on the wonder of the night sky: A few weeks ago, on a cold, dark winter’s night, my wife, Barbara, and I looked in awe up at the sky. The millions of stars seemed exceptionally bright and beautiful. I then turned to the Pearl of Great Price and read again with wonder what the Lord God said to Moses: “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:33). In our day the Hubble deep-space telescope has confirmed the magnitude of what Moses saw. Hubble scientists say the Milky Way galaxy, of which our earth and sun are just a tiny part, is estimated to be only one of over 200 billion similar galaxies. For me it is difficult to…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness

[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The first three installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings] Now knowing a portion of my background, you can probably guess I’ve had opportunity to give a fair amount of consideration to the concepts of personal responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness. Please take this post as exactly that, my own considerations on these topics, long thought out, studied, prayed about, discussed, and applied, but still open to question/ suggestion/ correction/ reinterpretation. This is also about individual, rather than institutional forgiveness, though I’d love to hear insights from any who have served/ are serving as church leaders where their judgments about people are required in their church work. We’ve talked a bit about accountability in relation to mental illness. I want to start…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings

[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The other installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] During graduate school (in a different field of study), I worked in the university’s office for staff and students with disabilities.  I learned a great deal about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and about how individuals with a variety of disabilities qualify for and obtain accommodations in their work and schooling to enable them to do the work they otherwise (disability aside) are able to do.  As a neophyte, I was most surprised by accommodations given for “invisible” disabilities.  For example, did you know that an individual with certain types of anxiety can qualify for a handicapped parking permit, giving them accessibility to classrooms and other needed campus resources they would…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others

[This is the third in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The other installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] I appreciate the input and insights from those who have experienced depression and other mental health challenges firsthand. Many of the comments have focused on physiological causes and medical helps. I’d like to briefly explore some emotional and psychological factors and their effects and treatments before we discuss implications and applications for church service and church leaders. My own background will provide useful context here. I was raised in the church by parents who had and have continued to regularly serve in prominent callings (including bishoprics, RS presidencies, & full-time missions). They also had unrecognized and untreated mental health issues that made it impossible for them to provide the type of love,…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions

[This is the second in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The other installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] The church’s web page about mental illness includes a brief list of potential causes.  These can include physiological and/or behavioral factors. Mental health or functioning can be compromised due to heredity; birth defect; oxygen deprivation at birth or later; biological trauma (concussion, brain clot, hemorrhage, tumor, seizure activity, bacterial infection); medication, drugs, food, additives, environmental hazards, or other substances that effect brain function; nutritional deficiencies, sensitivities, and anemias; sleep deprivation and its opposite–prolonged bed rest or other immobility/ limitation of physical movement… Behaviorally, mental health can be hampered by child, spousal, or elder abuse, neglect, or abandonment; untreated mental illness in, or substance abuse or poor modeling…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34)

[This is the first in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The subsequent installments are available here: Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions,  Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] Not many years ago, a younger sibling of mine sought to stop her unbearable emotional pain by ending her mortal life.  While she succeeded in completing her suicide, she did not consciously chose this path, and she is not fully accountable for her desperate and tragic actions. In some ways, she is in a safer place, as she is now beyond reach of some of the individuals, circumstances, and influences that had power to destroy her soul. I also believe that many of her challenges continue, and some may even be greater.  I do not know the ultimate destiny of her soul. But I know for sure that…

Snow, Citizens, and Stewards

It has recently been announced that Steven E. Snow will replace Marlin K. Jensen as the new Church historian. Elder Jensen has been a wonderful historian for our church, bringing both compassion and honesty to the work.I expect this good work will continue under Elder Snow’s direction. I am curious to see what his areas of emphasis will be. I wonder if one of those areas might deal with the pioneers’ settling of West and environmental issues because in the past, Elder Snow has written on this particular stewardship topic.Elder Snow wrote an essay published in New Genesis entitled “Skipping the Grand Canyon.” In it, he reflected on the struggle to survive his grandfather Erastus faced when colonizing the St. George Valley under the direction of Brigham Young. He wrote that although those “early settlers didn’t appreciate the beauty of southern Utah, they preserved it” (243). That preservation was done out of necessity, not out of an aesthetic appreciation. Without careful…

Religious Anti-Intellectualism

A few weeks ago two Evangelical scholars authored “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason,” an op-ed at the New York Times lamenting the fact that the Republican primary race “has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism.” While the Mormons in the race, Romney and Huntsman, were described as “the two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science,” the discussion still invites the LDS reader to reflect a bit on whether there is a similar strain of LDS anti-intellectualism evident in LDS culture if not in LDS presidential candidates.

Consumerism vs. Stewardship

The following is a modified excerpt from my presentation at Sunstone this summer. We live, not only in a capitalist, but a consumerist, society. Our society is all about spending, acquiring, cluttering, and replacing, not about maintaining, restoring, renewing, and protecting. It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old.  We live in a disposable country, where everything is trash, if not now, then soon. How did we get here? One of the best explanations I’ve found is in the work of the social theorist Max Weber (1). He examined the correlation between the Protestant religious belief and its accompanying work ethic and the accumulation of capital and the subsequent rise of capitalism. One aspect [of the concept of calling that arose during the Reformation] was unequivocally new: the fulfillment of duty in vocational callings became viewed as the highest expression that moral activity could assume. Precisely this new notion of the moral worth of devoting oneself to a…

Hurricane open thread

tsunami 3

It’s going to be a long day for some East Coast readers, but at least you’ve still got Internet. This thread is to share your first-person accounts and post helpful information. My contribution: Weather Underground, the best online source for hurricane tracking information. As of 11 AM EDT Saturday, their tracking map forecasts a storm path for Irene passing directly over New York City at about 8 AM Sunday morning.

Cafeteria Correlation

Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne, 2008) relates Giberson’s journey from fundamentalist Christian student to still-believing but no longer fundamentalist physicist. Chapter 5 of the book critiques the sources of Young Earth Creationism (YEC), primarily George McCready Price’s The New Geology, published in 1923, and Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, published in 1961. As Price’s book is also a source for LDS YEC beliefs — which for some bizarre reason still seem to guide Correlation in approving statements made in LDS publications — the chapter seems particularly helpful for Latter-day Saints seeking to understand LDS views on science and evolution.

Home Waters: Recompense


Of his awakening, Dogen says, “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers, the great wide earth, the sun, the moon, the stars.” Tinged with enlightenment, you see what Dogen saw: that life is borrowed and that mind itself is mooched. Every day you’ll need something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Mind borrows mountains and rivers, earth, sun, and sky. But you can’t just keep these things forever. Even if they weren’t quite what you wanted, they gave what they had and now some compensation is needed, some recompense is required. “Recompense is payback,” Handley says. “It means to weigh together, to bring back into balance” (xi). What was loaned must be returned or replaced. What was given must be given back. Nobody gets to start from scratch, not even God. To make a world is to borrow, recycle, and repurpose the matter that, even if disorganized, is already out there…

Home Waters: Gene/ecology

Canyon Walls 2

Earth is stratified time. Use some wind, water, and pressure. Sift it, layer it, and fold it. Add an inhuman number of years. Stack and buckle these planes of rock into mountains of frozen time. Use a river to cleave that mountain in two. Hide hundreds of millions of purloined years in plain, simultaneous sight as a single massive bluff. It’s a good trick. Bodies, made of earth, are just the same: in my face, unchosen, generations of people are stratified in plain, simultaneous sight. My father’s nose, my grandfather’s ears, my mother’s wink, the lines my kids have etched into my squint. My wife pats my cheek and says: “Dear, your genealogy is showing.” She’s right. The lines on my face and in the palms of hands are family lines. But these lines aren’t easy to follow because, counter to expectation, time’s line isn’t straight. Time piles up. It loops around, knots up, peters out, and jumps ahead. It…

Home Waters: Soul as Watershed

Provo River

Spurred by Handley’s Home Waters, I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner. Like Handley, Stegner is interested in the tight twine of body, place, and genealogy that makes a life. On my account, Handley and Stegner share the same thesis: if the body is a river, then the soul is a watershed. Like a shirt pulled off over your head, this thesis leaves the soul inside-out and exposed. You thought your soul was a kernel of atomic interiority, your most secret secret – but shirt in hand, everyone can see your navel. Stegner’s novel, Angle of Repose, opens with the narrator’s own version of this thesis. An aging father, writing about his pioneer grandparents, names the distance between himself and his son: Right there, I might say to Rodman, who doesn’t believe in time, notice something: I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I…

Home Waters: Overview

Home Waters

George Handley’s Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press, 2010) practices theology like a doctor practices CPR: not as secondhand theory but as a chest-cracking, lung-inflating, life-saving intervention. Home Waters models what, on my account, good theology ought to do: it is experimental, it is grounded in the details of lived experience, and it takes charity – that pure love of Christ – as the only real justification for its having been written. It is not afraid to guess, it is not afraid to question, it is not afraid to cry repentance, and it is not afraid to speak in its own name. The book deserves some time and attention. It’s what you’ve been wanting to read. It may also be what you’ve been wanting to write. At the very least, it made me want to write about it. I’ve planned a few posts that will air some of my ideas about Handley’s ideas:…

A Writer on Science and Religion

In this final installment of this month’s series of posts on religion and science, I will present a different take on things from the perspective of a celebrated writer. Marilynne Robinson won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for her novel Gilead. She also delivered the Terry Lectures at Yale in 2009, resulting in the book Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (Yale Univ. Press, 2010), from which I draw the following quotations and summaries.

Science and Religion: Enemies or Partners?

For the next installment in this set of posts, let’s consider the relation between science and religion. In a mildly tedious but well-organized book, When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? (HarperCollins, 2000), Ian Barbour lays out four basic forms that the relation between science and religion can take: Conflict (either science or religion is correct, but not both); Independence (science and religion refer to different domains or aspects of reality); Dialogue (where discussions about method, metaphysics, and metaphor can enlighten both scientists and theologians); and Integration (natural theology or theology of nature approaches try to unite some or all aspects of science and theology). Which of these views or models correspond to the LDS approach?

An LDS View on Science and Religion

Continuing the conversation begun in my earlier post (God and Science), let’s look at the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry titled “Science and Religion.” It provides a good summary of what might be termed the conservative LDS position on the topic. The article opens on a positive note: “Because of belief in the ultimate compatibility of all truth and in the eternal character of human knowledge, Latter-day Saints tend to take a more positive approach to science than do some people in other religious traditions who also claim a strong foundation in scripture.” While it is true that “Latter-day Saints” (you and me) take a positive view of science, the rise of Correlation has seemingly pushed most pro-science commentary out of LDS curriculum materials and periodicals. That, plus the striking absence of General Authorities with a scientific as opposed to a business or professional background, means there is very little LDS institutional support for pro-science views. Only the legacy of apostles…