My Hopes & Fears for the Next General Conference

We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon.  If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut.  Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view.  But this is my list; YMMV.  I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes. [Read more...]

Mormon Marriage Equality

Are men and women partners or competitors?  What about in marriage?  Do men feel threatened by wives with successful careers?

Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages?  Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands?  Are they encouraged to follow their dreams?  Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding?  In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace.  This list includes things like: [Read more...]

Quantum Mechanics and The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Yoda

Ben F. checks in with a third installment in his BCC guest series on faith and physics. (Read his earlier posts here and here.)

YodaEveryone knows that Star Wars is nothing more than a (brilliant) allegory of the Gospel and the Restoration. Luke is Joseph Smith, Yoda is Peter, the Force is obviously the priesthood, and so on. With this understanding, I learned a lot as a child about how spiritual things work, including the important fact that you can use the priesthood to control things with just your mind.

Naturally, this is also how God does his work. Miracles, answers to prayers, revelations, and all other heavenly manifestations are instantaneously and immaterially transmitted from the mind of God directly to his children in need. God, bodily present at some physical location, wills something to occur, and millions of lightyears away, a mountain moves, or a voice is heard, or a prayer is answered. This is what I learned from Star Wars.

I should be careful not to poke too much fun at either Star Wars or God’s miracles, since both are actually quite important to me, but the tiniest bit of creativity is enough to realize that there are much richer and more impressive ways that God could choose to bring about miraculous occurrences other than just thinking something in his mind.

[Read more...]

Cosmological Convergence: The Pavilion That Covers God’s Hiding Place

The Universe

Ben F. checks back in from the halls of science, with a second installment in his BCC guest series on faith and physics. (Read his first post here.)

I would like to ask a simple question as the basis for this post: Is God a native of our universe? Although I lack any significant polling data, I suspect the gut instinct for most Mormons would be a confident “yes.” After all, Mormon theology emphasizes the shared characteristics between God and his spirit children—we believe he has a physical body that exists somewhere in space and time; we believe that his origin is not so different from our own; and we even believe that we can, with sufficient grace, become like he is. Therefore, it seems only natural that he is from the same place we are from—that is, this universe we find ourselves in. Besides, what would the alternative be? That he is from some sort of parallel universe? That would just be crazy, right?

[Read more...]

Faith and Science: Friends not without Benefits

Lord Kelvin, a long time ago: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

Lord Kelvin, 113 years ago: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

We’re pleased to present the first in a series of guest posts by Ben F, who is working toward a PhD in condensed matter physics at a fancy school in the northeast. 

Growing up, I took it for granted that faith and science were friends. My parents’ bookshelves were stuffed with an absurd number of works on church history and theology that was matched only by the equally absurd number of volumes on physics, chemistry, biology, and everything in between. I don’t think I ever so much as cracked open one of those books—the Orson Scott Card shelf just seemed so much more interesting to me at the time—but their happy coexistence on those shelves still left a deep impression on me. They were a visual testament that science and religion are close companions, tied together by a common quest for truth and understanding.

Naturally, I thought that was how everyone viewed the issue—until I moved to Provo to attend BYU. Between a discussion in elders quorum about the post-Fall intergalactic migration of the Earth from Kolob to our present solar system and an Old Testament classmate’s vehement insistence that Pangaea existed up until Noah’s flood, I realized that perhaps mine was not the only view people had on science and religion. My first instinct was to burst out laughing whenever I heard something like this, but the part of me trying to be a good person pointed out that everyone comes from a different background and I shouldn’t ridicule people for beliefs that are clearly important to them. But honestly, we Mormons should do much better than that, and here’s why.

[Read more...]

Science is so cool. You are part Neanderthal!

Q_and_PicardHow deeply I love studying the wonders of the universe. There was a report of a four billion light year across object! That’s 4,000,000,000 light years! Not miles. Lightyears! I watched a show on PBS last night that talked about the recent complete sequencing the the Neanderthal genome. A species near our own, but vastly different, and guess what? Unless you are from Africa, from one to four percent of your genome is Neanderthal! African populations missed this introgression. Now that’s genealogy! (If you don’t believe this, I would encourage you to become an activist demanding the release of all death row inmates convicted on DNA evidence. It’s of the same type.) [Read more...]

What Doctors Cannot Tell You, Q&A with Kevin Jones

Q&A with Kevin B. Jones, author of
What Doctors Cannot Tell You: Clarity, Confidence and Uncertainty in Medicine (Book website)

[I have known Kevin since college and have always admired his kindness, wisdom, poetry, and intelligence. He has written a thoughtful book about uncertainty and confidence in medicine, and I'm honored to have him participate in a Q&A for BCC.]

Q: Why did you write What Doctors Cannot Tell You?
[Read more...]

Review: Stephens and Giberson, “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age”

Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson 
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
Genre: Evangelicalism
Year: 2011
Pages: 356
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780674048188
Price: $29.95

If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors. [Read more...]

Review: Howard C. Stutz, “Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture”

Title: Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture
Author: Howard C. Stutz
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Evolution/Religion
Year: 2011
Pages: xvi, 87
Binding: Softcover
ISBN13: 978-1-58958-126-5
Price: $15.95 ($9.95, Kindle)

“One of the greatest tragedies in recent times has been the extensive promulgation of creeds that have created chasms between science and religion. At no time in the history of humankind has science provided a more comprehensible panorama of the universe in which we live. Nor has there ever been a time when God has more clearly revealed Himself and His purposes to His children. Why then should there be so much apparent conflict between science and religion?” (xix).

Let the Earth Bring Forth is the culminating testimony of a man who spent his life successfully exploring the realms of faith and science. In addition to earning a Ph.D in genetics at UC Berkeley and teaching at Brigham Young University, Howard C. Stutz (b. 1918) served in various church callings from bishop, to high councilor, to stake patriarch. In university and church settings he interacted with students who were unsure of how to make sense of evolution from a faithful perspective. Shortly before passing away in 2010, Stutz completed his manuscript to “point out the harmony which exists between the theory of speciation by organic evolution and revealed truths contained in hold scriptures” (xv).

Stutz repeatedly emphasizes a few guiding principles throughout the book: [Read more...]

Feasting (Way Too Much) Upon the Word of God

The Interwebs are abuzz with news of some research coming out of Northwestern University’s medical school which, according to lead author Matthew Feinstein, says that youth who exhibit high levels of religiosity tend to become chunkier later in life. In layman’s terms, if you send your kids to early morning seminary, you’re condemning them to a lifetime of obesity.[1]
[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...]

Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the Faithful: LDS Church Debuts Green Buildings

George Handley serves on the Executive Board of Utah Interfaith Power and Light and is the author of Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press 2010), a book that blends LDS theology, history, nature writing, and memoir. He will also have an article forthcoming in the Summer 2011 edition of Dialogue.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. In which case the actions taken by the LDS church to green their architecture according to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards represents a major sermon on the Christian duty to reduce our ecological footprint. LEED certification was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to facilitate architectural design that works to reduce the ecological footprint comprehensively (see http://www.usgbc.org). Last spring, the LDS Church unveiled a new multi-congregation building in Farmington, Utah with 158 solar panels on its roof, state of the art Solarban windows to reduce interior heat in the summer, dual-flush water-saving toilets, bike racks, instantaneous water heaters, comprehensive recycling, xeriscaping, and a meter in the ward library that measures the building’s savings in units of electricity, gas, and, yes, carbon. This is one of four prototypes that the church will use to apply for a portfolio certification so as to then roll out all future meetinghouses according to LEED standards. [Read more...]

Technology, Humanity, and Jeopardy

The inevitable future, as depicted by Matsby

All the hubbub around IBM’s new Jeopardy champ has stirred up talk in pop-futurist circles of the coming Singularity—the idea that one day humankind will create a machine that is intelligent enough to build an improved version of itself, which will then replicate and improve itself in the next generation, and so on until eventually humans are rendered obsolete.

Another vision of the Singularity is that human consciousness will somehow be “loaded” onto machines, freeing us from the bonds of biology and anatomy.

Both are fun theories to think about, and form the basis of lots and lots of bad sci-fi stories and a few good ones.

[Read more...]

Ken Jennings vs. Watson: Mormon to save humanity? (cue allusions to White Horse Prophecy)

Last night, I gleefully skipped celebration of Valentine’s Day, in favor of sitting rapt in front of the television to watch Jeopardy! mega-winner (and longtime friend of BCC’s Police Beat Roundtable) Ken Jennings go up against IBM’s latest massively parallel Artificial Intelligence engine, Watson.

The Atlantic has dubbed their coverage of the matchup “Liveblogging the robot takeover or humanity’s finest hour,” and it is hard not to read this confrontation in such sweeping, maybe-apocalyptic terms. Especially when there’s a Mormon in the mix!
[Read more...]

Monson is Pro-Evolution: The Unsaid Sermon

A number of LDS Apostles have not been shy about expressing their personal views on the topic of evolution; even if those presentations have necessitated (at times) extraordinary caveats, i.e. ‘The Law and the Light’.  However, President Monson’s distancing from and (IMO) out-right repudiation of those ideas is less well known.

[Read more...]

Times, Seasons, Astrologers, and We

I have confessed to some of you my growing interest in a collection of interrelated ideas that have born various titles over the centuries. Where they were once considered sophisticated and respectable philosophy, they are now generally termed “hermetic” or “metaphysical” or “esoteric.” When I first began to read them in the hopes of better contextualizing my work on the history of earliest Mormonism, I mostly chuckled in my sleeve. As I have spent more time with their texts and ideas, I think I have come to understand some of the impulses motivating their ideologies. [Read more...]

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