The Darwin Seminar at BYU

This semester over thirty faculty members gathered for a reading group sponsored by the BYU Faculty Center. I led the group in its reading of Conor Cunningham’s book Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong. Cunningham is a Catholic theologian at the University of Nottingham. The thesis of the book is that both the evangelical atheists (e.g., Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.) are wrong in their attacks on faith and that their arguments are based on a caricature of religion that are largely incoherent. Conversely, he argues the Christian Fundamentalist creationists, including the cleverly-named, but silly, pseudoscience, Intelligent Design movement, is a religious and spiritual disaster. Cunningham argues that we can have a faithful religious embrace of evolutionary biology. In short, we can do both good science and good religion. BCC’s own BHodges gives a wonderful review of the book here so I won’t go too much more into the book, but instead focus on the seminar itself. I think it marks a historic moment at BYU and deserves a little attention. [Read more...]

A random rat terrier dies: Elder Uchtdorf’s address

One night last week, I came downstairs because I could not sleep. Our dog Doc was snoozing curled by the door. I turned on the light and sat watching her breathe. I waited for some recognition that I was there, perhaps by the twitch of an ear or maybe some shutter across her body. In the old days, when she was young, a cricket could not pass across the sidewalk outside without it sending her whining to go find it. Now she was deaf. Blind in one eye. She slept very deeply these days. Even so, I didn’t know in the morning she would have to be killed. I was about to write, ‘put down’ but she was a rat terrier. She loved killing. She would take down anything that was smaller than her and kill it with a quick, vicious bite to the neck. She’d killed chickens, quail, and other slow birds. Mice aplenty had fallen to her swift jaws. Rat terrier owners have refused to join the AKC. These masters of death will never be bred for looks. They are hunters and death dealers. Doc was never cuddly. She hated being touched and in extreme displays of tolerance, would stand stiffly while you petted her, as if enduring an unpleasant, but necessary, evil. But in the field she was magnificent, sniffing vigorously for whatever might be hiding in the tall grass. When she found something she was relentless in pursuit. [Read more...]

Against Tiger Mothers

I’m a scientist. I’ve published mathematical things, and wildly involved computer simulations of fiercely complex ecological and evolutionary processes. I’ve done field studies and theoretical studies. I’ve also published papers in philosophy and theology. What I lack in depth, I make up in wild eclecticism. My credentials for such wide sweeps of intellectual variability were forged from a bad case of ADD, unbounded curiosity, and a killer imagination. Some people are born to tunnel with predacious focus into the great stratigraphy of knowledge and follow the rich thin veins of precious facts deep into heart of narrow shafts of scientific discovery. Others, however, like me, are fashioned to skip singing over the entire landscape finding the broad-scale patterns scattered across multiple disciplines. Both are likely needed for knowledge to advance. [Read more...]

Are we really all so different?

While in Africa recently, I was traveling back to Dakar with one of the other scientists. [Read more...]

The White Corpse Prophecy

While I for one have given up on the rapture, I am still quite certain that the Zombie Apocalypse is not far away. Even the CDC has seen the future. As Mormons it’s time to stand up and get ready to save the world. Why you ask? Because the conditions of the White Corpse Prophecy (WCP) seem to nearing completion. “The what?” you ask. I will explain. I hope you are ready for the truth. [Read more...]

Feed my baby sheeps

One of my favorite bible translations is Da Jesus Book. This is a translation from Greek to Hawaiian Pidgin. This pidgin (properly a Creole if you are a stickler for linguistic accuracy), like many of the world’s pidgins, arose in the context of diverse people needing to speak together. [Read more...]

Faux Books (what books do you imagine you are reading?)

Ok, it’s been rainy and snowy when I can’t go outside and play I turn to the world of my imaginary friends. Since some of my best friends are books, I turn to imaginary books. [Read more...]

127 minutes

Disclaimer: Ok. This is over long. Nothing as exciting as the title intimates happens. It’s just rumination on aging. I wouldn’t bother with it.

Every year an old friend and I undertake an adventure. H. and I are middle aged now. Past our prime and youth when our adventures were bolder and more carefree. I can remember when we then, full of laughter, took his new pickup and rubbed its shiny sides against aspens for luck while searching out some secreted beaver dam in which to toss a fly. Now we fuss and fret. We worry endlessly about our kids and their kids and temper our exuberance with caution having faced too many sorrows and misfortunes since. We are stressed and plagued with the press of the day to day, and we both in demeanor have that worn edge that cheese graters achieve when used on granite. [Read more...]

Tractatus de Corpore et Mundo Naturali

I have been working on an ‘ecological’ version of Mormon theology. This is a doodle of what I think is important to include. My apologies to the ghost of Wittgenstein.

[Read more...]

Why science is so darned powerful

What is Science? A school kid’s definition goes something like this: Find a hypothesis (from somewhere); make sure it is falsifiable; test it against reality; if it fails, discard it; if it doesn’t, published it. Rinse and repeat. We’ll call this SKD view of science for shorthand.

There is some truth in it. In the same way that, being a good tennis player means, being able to hit the ball really hard, keeping your knees bent, and keeping your eye on the ball. While that’s got some things right and that seem to lean somewhat in the direction of what it means to be a good tennis player, there is much that could be taken away and gobs of stuff that could be added to give a richer and more accurate description of the concept. [Read more...]

Home Waters A review of George Handley’s new book

The Provo River has been entangled in my life from the beginning. I was born a few hundred yards from its shady cottonwood-lined flow. I met my wife during a student ward party at the Canyon Glen Park on the banks of the Provo. I know it better than any river. [Read more...]

In which I am locked in a room and asked to spin straw into gold

Then my dissertation advisor locked me in a classroom. He was not happy. The proof was suppose to be simple, it was just a jump from one dimension to two. We needed it for an obvious, intuitive claim I was making. In mathy circles, however, obvious and intuitive doesn’t count for squat so we needed the proof. And it should have been easy. [Read more...]

The Great Buffalo Hoax of ’73

Bucky McGrue, probably the premier Mormon historian of our time, records the conversation of a buffalo counter (Cowboy Mike Echtheart) and a Representative from the National buffalo hunting, processing and marketing firm Buffalo Trading Inc. (Big Jim Plunderton ). Based on records found at the Institute of Historical Documents in South New Bedford Mills, Indiana.

Echtheart: You know you got to quit buffalo hunting. They’s disappear’n all over the range. [Read more...]

Nature simplified: ipad astronomy

I got a new ipad app. It is an astonishing piece of technology. It allowed me to point the device at the sky, and a map of the heavens appeared with the stars named, the planets identified, and the constellations lightly manifest in all their Greco-Roman pictography. The app even had a night mode so the touchscreen was displayed in a soft, night-vision friendly red, that allowed you to move from the sky to the pad with a minimum of iris adjustment. What is that star? Point at it and with a couple of calibrating moves between the ipad and the sky you recognize Arcturus. Wonder where Mars is? Ask it, and little arrows appear guiding you to its position, even if it’s through the center of the Earth. [Read more...]

More Than a Hand in a Glove: Spirit and Body (And Memory)

We wander forward moment to moment in an act of construction. All the conscious feel of experience, all that bubbles up into the world is massaged and bent. Mixed with memories. Fashioned anew out of the old. Brought forth as an act of creation. We do not see ‘as is,’ nor an ‘out there’ in the world except that it is fashioned from who and what we are—from whatever self we have constructed since birth. [Read more...]

Sneaking across the border

So let me start out a little Abe Simpsonesque. The year was 1976, the height of the cold war. I was serving in the 3rd of the 7th Cavalry, which, if you are history buff, you will recognize as Custer’s unit at his ‘Last Stand.’ Our Battalion even had a ‘Little Big Horn’ streamer on its battle guidon (I looked one day while cleaning the general’s office). The Vietnam War had just ended and the Army was in shambles. Historian, Rick Atkinson called the Army in which I served one of ‘incompetence’ and said, “it was in tatters. It was a disgrace to the country and to itself, to its own heritage, really.” Vietnam had decimated the Army and it was full of, “indiscipline and something approaching national loathing by many corridors of our country.” Yes I remember. My two best buddies had been given the choice between prison and the Army. Wild times. No glory returning from his cold war army. Still, one serves where one can, eh? [Read more...]

On the City of God and the US Consitution

BYU Bookstore is now selling the wacky McNaughton painting that inspired such great poetry here. It’s got a big display on the bottom floor where other art is displayed and sold. This is especially ironic given that the Daily Universe (BYUs paper) just did an article on how international BYU has become. I was trying to imagine how someone from another country would react to a painting of Christ returning with a copy of the US Constitution. Probably like I would to a picture of Christ returning with a copy of, say, France’s Constitution of the Fifth Republic or Uganda’s constitution. It strikes me that giving Christ the US Constitution as aegis is inappropriate. Wildly so.

Let’s explore this a bit. [Read more...]

All they knew about them was that they were women

There seems to be a wide-spread belief, and one that my personal experience would tend to confirm, that the Relief Society runs more smoothly than its equivalent priesthood quorums.

In the current issue of Atlantic Magazine is an article called, ‘The End of Men.’ Its premise is that men are not navigating the new realities of modern life and modern economies well. It discusses how women are becoming more and more the primary earners in households, are graduating with 60% of university degrees (both masters and bachelors degrees) and 50% of all professional degrees, with men’s percentages falling and women’s rising. It then explores the question, “What would a society in which women are on top look like?” [Read more...]

Must you believe in irrational numbers to go to heaven?

What is truth? The more I study it, the less I seem to understand it. How do we know it when we see it? How do we hold on to it? Is it stable? Are the truths of the present moment, the truths of the next as well? How can we tell? [Read more...]

Departure

Today my son entered the MTC. It’s curbside drop off now, instituted when the swine flu caused concerns about gathering in large crowds and the virus hit the MTC particularly hard. It used to be that there was a small meeting with all the incoming missionaries, where they showed you a kind of Mormon-ad for missionary work that manipulated everyone into tears. After, the missionaries went through one door and the tear-streaked families the other. I’ve had three previous sons go through that exit. [Read more...]

Avoiding the temptation of literalism

We understand some things only from within. Subjectively. Indeed, it is within this domain that the scriptures open to us new and more profound realities. Science, history and other objective leaning disciplines aim at revealing the details, facts and laws of universe in which we find ourselves. These have been highly successful elucidating the objective world in which we are embedded and is our best method for establishing correspondence between our understanding and this world. However, there are certain truths that are revealed only in subjectivity. [Read more...]

Your Lovely Android Spouse

Let’s try a thought experiment and see if we can tease out what it is we believe about the spirit-body connection. Previously, I asked the question about how we would know whether robots were conscious enough to baptize and if so, should they be. Here, I continue the theme.

The thought experiment (Adapted from one in consciousness philosophy)
[Read more...]

‘What is light?’ Grandy’s The Speed of Light: Constancy and Cosmos

“Perhaps you desire to know the manner in which God’s light is ascribed to the heavens and the earth—or, rather, the manner in which God is the light of the heavens and the earth in His own essence. It is not appropriate to keep this knowledge hidden from you, since you already know that God is light, that there is no light other than He, and that He is the totality of lights and the Universal Light.” Al-Ghazali, The Niche of Lights

We live in light. Before me now, the satiny white curtains of my living room have been transformed into a patchwork of bright silver where the morning sun strikes certain places in the fabric’s undulations. Darker areas (still colored white), are created in places where some of the vertical furrows of the drapes shy away from the radiance enjoyed by the alternating sunlit folds. These create striations and dappling that catch my eye and which I experience directly. I notice it more so this morning because I’ve been thinking about light. I want to write about light and I can’t help notice that I am surrounded by it. It fuses within me and although it is scattered around me, I cannot see it until it strikes my eye here in the center of my universe—I am an observer, a participant with light that creates my visual field and informs my consciousness. I experience light as it combines with my mind, integrating my world at a quantum level and then bubbling up into something that can be acted upon at macro scales.

Light. What is it? [Read more...]

All night thinking of blessings

Last night was an exciting one at my house. My fourth son opened his mission call. Family and friends gathered around, some on skype from far away, some listening on the phone. He was nervous. Where would he spend the next two years? All three of his older brothers served missions. In fact, one is still serving in Hawaii and will not be home for a month. He tears open the call and reads to us out load, “Dear Elder Peck, . . . you have been called to the Finland Helsinki Mission.” Cheers spontaneously fill the air. He leaps for joy. Hugs. Yells. Facebook is updated. Emails are fired off. Everyone is excited. A globe is produced to see how far north it is. Wikipedia is consulted amid scores of little conversations that erupt all over the house. I wander from group to group like a lost child, randomly pointing out that Finnish isn’t in the Indo-European family of languages–just because I don’t know what to say in such an adrenaline fog. My wife chats in the corner with a friend over travel to Europe. Excitement. My son’s eyes are glowing and a smile won’t leave his face. [Read more...]

Your evolution book gift giving guide for Christmas

So you want to give a gift that keeps on speciating. There is nothing like waking up on Christmas morning, the scent of wassail and pine in the air from the Christmas tree (or artificial pine scent from the festivas pole), and finding a copy of Origin of Species wrapped up and left by Santa.

What if your giftee as already read Origin of Species and they want to learn something about modern evolutionary biology? No fear! There is a cornucopia of new books on evolution, so which do you choose? Which one should you start with? Now I’m going to make some daring assumptions. [Read more...]

Reflecting on The Origin of Man Guest Post by Jared*

Jared* was born and raised in the Church, served a mission in the U.S., and graduated from BYU. Having subsequently completed a Ph.D. in microbiology, he is now a postdoctoral researcher. He is married with children, and wastes more time than he ought to blogging at LDS Science Review.

One hundred years ago this month, Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund published “The Origin of Man” in the Church’s magazine, Improvement Era. It was drafted by Elder Orson F. Whitney and the final paragraphs relied heavily on his previous writing. For a century this statement has been the touchstone of the Church’s position on evolution, yet the statement has little to say about evolution directly. The vast majority of text is an argument in support of the doctrine that God the Father has a body of human form, and that “Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.” [Read more...]

Origin, ID and the God of the Gaps

Exactly 150 years ago a book that changed the world was published. Blasting onto the world stage it was destined to become one of the most influential books in human history. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is still relevant today and remains one of the best introductions to evolution by natural selection around. [Read more...]

The Origin of Species marks the beginning of the end

One hundred and fifty years ago today the world changed. One of the greatest blessings and gifts to the human world occurred when On Origin of Species was published. It laid out a framework that would unify and allow progress in biology in ways that could have hardly been imaginable to our forbearers. Look around you at our modern medicine and agriculture and decide if you would like to give them up. They are gifts from the Darwinian legacy. [Read more...]

When do you change your beliefs?

Blast it all, I’ve tried to thwart the inevitable but it looks like the dark ages are upon us (to use a variation on Godwin’s Law). Jane Jacobs, that wise, indefatigable social critic, tried to warn us, but would we listen? No. It turns out that only 48% of Americans believe in evolution (only 22% of Mormons!). More Americans believe in haunted houses than global warming, and there are still loads of wacky people running around scared of vaccines (often, all the while, holding up magical herbs and alternative medicines that will cure whatever ails you.) All of these represent a catastrophic failure of science education. It boggles the mind. [Read more...]

Need we more posts on this Saint Crispin’s Day?

BCC administration today suggested that we need more posts. “Ten thousand more,” they said. This is my response: [Read more...]

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