Grace and the Literature of Gilda Trillim

This Saturday the Association for Mormon Letters will have its annual meeting. In support of their work, I would like explore one of Mormon literature’s most important pioneers, although you are unlikely to have heard of her since, sadly, her reputation within the LDS community has largely fallen off. Also unfortunate is that interest in her among American literary critics as also waned since its peak in the late 70s. Still, there continues a steady stream of dissertations, theses, and papers discussing her work. Despite her star setting somewhat in the West, she yet has a large following in China, where a major retranslation of some of her best work was just released this week in Beijing. However, her largest influence continues to be found in Ethiopia where certain aspects of her work seem to speak to the Ethiopian Orthodox mind with more affinity than anywhere else in the world. It was in fact in Addis Ababa working on tsetse fly research that I first came upon the work of Gilda Trillim. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts on Icelandic Sea Captain Elder Arnfinnur Skáldskapur

I’ve not been big on history, but of late I’ve decided to take a page from some of my BCC comrades and try my hand at a bit of historical research.
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President Monson on the set of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

BCC is pleased to be the first to bring you the exciting news that President Monson as been asked to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s new movie ‘The Hobbit.’ Because the previously slated actor had a contract dispute, President Monson has agreed to fill the role. Here in an exclusive interview are the details.

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Literalism as Gormenghast

The Marvin Peake’s book opens with the 77th Earl of Groan about to judge elaborate wooden carvings. The people that live outside the walls of the sprawling castle Gormenghast live for one purpose, to have their art chosen and placed in the Hall of the Bright Carvings. The carvers live in squalor. They are bitter and angry. Dark of mind and heart. However, they make art from the wood that grows in the surrounding area. The carvings are of such wonder and rarity that to see one is to fall in love with it. [Read more…]

The Perception of American Ignorance

New Scientist magazine earlier this month ran a special report called: “Unscientific America: A dangerous retreat from reason.” (If you are unfamiliar with the highly respected New Scientist it is a newsweekly for and by scientists, much like The Economist that examines stories, trends and analyses in science. It is published in Great Britain.) It opens, “As campaigning for the 2012 presidential election gets into full swing. US politics, especially on the right, appears to have entered a parallel universe where ignorance, denial and unreason trump facts, evidence and rationality.” It points out that while America was founded on enlightenment values it as fallen off the wagon (And while the dizzy argue about whether the founding fathers were Christian, there is no doubt that they were profoundly educated and versed in the best science, philosophy and theory available at the time). One doesn’t have to listen very far into the current political debates to see that America is in deep doo doo as its commitment to science slips further and further into an allegiance of the unenlightened and the uninformed.
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Expectations for the Celestial Kingdom

“I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind”

Alanis Morissette — Unsexy

While in graduate school, I fell into a dark place. I was doing everything badly. In every aspect of my life I was failing. I was a lousy father, a bad student, and a terrible Teacher’s Quorum Advisor, and a miserable employee. Our fourth son had just been born and we had taken out student loans to pay for the tyke, so I was overwhelmed by my sense that somehow God was frowning at me for going into debt although he was the one demanding not to put off having children for my education—the classic don’t eat of the fruit/multiply and replenish the earth contradiction. So there I was working full time (yes full time) for the EPA, going to school full time (yes full time), serving in a demanding church calling, and trying to be a good father to my four boys. And I was failing miserably at all of them. Still I struggled on. Until one day. [Read more…]

Natural Theology

The subheadings for fourteen RS/Priesthood/YM/YW lessons on God gleaned from Natural Theology

I. God is far too complex to understand. Too intricate. Too magnificent. Too cold and pitiless like the blank places between galaxies. Hotter than the nuclear engines of massive suns. Too far. Too close. Neither microscopes nor telescopes can contain, compress, nor bring Him near or drive him away. [Read more…]

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.

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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…]


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)
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‘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…]


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