Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 2:15, Part I

1 Nephi 2:15

And my father dwelt in a tent.

What does it mean he dwelt in a tent? I’ve never dwelt in a tent. I’ve stayed in tents many times while camping and once, while in the Army, I lived in a tent on the parade grounds of an Army base for six months while our barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany was being repaired. But ‘dwelt’ seems to carry more heft, more significance, than does ‘staying’ or ‘living’ in one. [Read more…]

Why Science Transparency Matters

Getting science right matters. We live in a wondrous age in which a breathtaking understanding of our universe is possible. We understand the nature of life though DNA and how structures arise through protein construction during embryonic development. We are discovering possibly inhabitable worlds at distances measured in light years. We are discovering what makes forest ecosystems tick. We have mapped the interior of our own planet and explored its oceans from deep under its waters and scanned them from above with orbiting satellites.

[Read more…]

Into the Void

The void is an unimaginable place. Unimaginable because to imagine it is to negate its possible existence by creating a reference to it. One cannot paint it, write it, or put it in film. The empty space flung about the universe fails as a simile because it is filled to brim with districts of effect, like electromagnetic fields, strong and weak nuclear forces, quantum foam, dark energy and its like. Not so the void. It is a country without borders, contour lines, or designations–no measure can be made there to quantify (or qualify) its extent or content. It dances beyond the edge of knowing, I can talk about it, as I am now, but it does not bring it closer. I can only give suggestions and intimations; gestures that convey a general direction, but not its elevation from some base or its latitude or longitude. Does the void exist? What could that mean? Is it a transcendental thing like \pi or \infty ? Something whose existence can be used but cannot be found floating about in space, or hidden under rocks, or singing sad songs on the island of misfit toys? Nothing. No-thing. No thing. Nothing. [Read more…]

Into the MTC she goes

Schwester Peck (on the left).

Schwester Peck (on the left).

It was over six years ago that I posted about dropping off my youngest son at the MTC for his mission to Finland. Today I dropped off my daughter for hers to Berlin, Germany. She follows her four brothers who did the same. She was so scared, yet excited and determined. She is one of the most courageous woman I know. I bought for her a set of Ashmae’s Brave Women Cards and one of them was left intentionally blank and says “You belong here.” That is true of Emily. [Read more…]

Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: Alma 30:44 (in part)

(For this project I’m using, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, Edited by Royal Skousen).

Alma 30:44 (in part)

All things denote there is a God;
yea, even the earth, and all things that is upon the face of it,
yea, and its motion,
yea, and also all the planets, which move in their regular form,
doth witness that there is a Supreme Creator.


Responding to Korihor’s claims to the contrary, Alma argues there is a God. Korihor is identified as an ‘anti-Christ,’ because he “began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ.” (Alma 30: 12). He also argues that God, “is a being which never hath been seen nor known, which never was, nor never will be.” (Alma 30: 28) [Read more…]

Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 1:1 (In part)

AVmarlin(For this project I’m using, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text1).

1 Nephi 1:1

I Nephi


Nephi opens the first chapter of The Book of Mormon identifying himself as the author of what follows, establishing who it is that writes and credentials the books of Nephi. The ‘I’ signals a first person account and confirms that an ‘I,’ a single individual, a unique self, will provide the viewpoint from which the text will be positioned. This account will be from Nephi’s perspective. [Read more…]

Reading The Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene

The Book of Mormon was written for our time. The Anthropocene. Human influence dominates Earth’s biosphere. The name ‘Antropocene’ was proposed as a scientific geological era recently in Science Magazine because in the mid-20th Century striking differences appear in the lithosphere and ice core data that suggests that we have entered a different geological era from the Holocene, the previous era. [Read more…]

Escape of Pleasant Grove’s Turkey-Shoot Flock

Thanksgiving in Pleasant Grove has always been a time of family gatherings, joyous feastings lubricated with good gravy, and parades and football games on TV. Except the year that Maple Shepherd stopped the annual turkey shoot with her crazy notion that turkeys deserved to die with dignity—by which she meant a hatchet. That year, all 4’10” of her skinny meanness stood on the old stump out under the trees in the little park on the corner of Main and 200 South and shouted to all who would listen that shooting turkeys wasn’t right. No sir. Her grandmother taught her that a turkey had to die on a cottonwood chopping block on the very week of Thanksgiving, because that’s the way the Pilgrims did it. To do otherwise was an offense to their memory and to yea, even God Himself. Harken even unto Him who hath ordained it such, she would cry. We paid no heed. We all knew Maple. She was always as angry as a badger with the clothespin on its tail, and we took a don’t-get-too-close-or-you’ll-get-bitten approach. [Read more…]

On The Courage Needed For the Present Moment

I’ve been talking about virtue ethics in my bioethics class. This is, in part, the view that what matters in developing an ethical framework is to focus on developing good character, rather than constructing either rules of conduct honored by a sense of duty to God or reason, or in attempting to achieve good outcomes for the majority of the people. Virtue ethics was first articulated by Aristotle as part of his view that to live a flourishing human life is to achieve an excellence of virtues. [Read more…]

Laudato Si — — Chapter 1: Mormon Lectionary Project

In the current climate crisis there are two aspects—a physical, scientific dimension and a spiritual one hiding embedded in the interstitial spaces of the unfolding ecological upheaval. The first is conditioned on facts, measurements and data. It is supported by evidence so strong that to ignore it is unethical, and additionally suggests that science is not a way to learn things about the world. The second is framed by the realization that our spirituality imposes on us normative demands that come from the values that we embrace informed by what it means to live in a God-created universe. It means that our spirituality demands we attended to the needs of other humans, many perceived to be different than us, and to care for the other inhabitants of this world and their necessary ecosystems. [Read more…]

Climate Change, The Pope, and a Call to Zion

Two weeks ago I attended a conference in Claremont California, called the Seizing the Alternative Conference. Sixteen hundred scientists, theologians and philosophers gathered to explore the question of how to best respond to the ecological changes the earth is experiencing due to climate change. These people were among the world’s top researchers, thinkers, writers, ethicists, and others concerned about how best to respond to what scientists are calling the Anthropocene–a geological era dominated by the influence of humans who are changing the fundamental ecology of Earth. At BYU we just had a semester long series of climate change talks, sponsored by BYU’s Environmental Ethics Initiative and the Kennedy Center for International Studies. Every week we brought in scientists from around the country to talk about their research on different aspects of global warming. This was a nice setup for my participation at Claremont. The conference was a call to action for the spiritual and intellectual communities to more clearly communicate what’s happening to the planet. However, a concise statement of much of what we discussed is framed in the Pope’s recent encyclical on climate change. [Read more…]

NotEs fRom a GrAmMAr aNarcHist

As a literary anarchist I am writing a book on grammar and thought I would share some of my rules of thumb in hopes others might find them useful.

1. Never end a sentence in. [Read more…]

Margaret’s Heart of Africa

DSCN2836We were staying at a nice tourist hotel in Arba Minch, Ethiopia near the Nechisar National Park that borders Lake Abaya in the great Rift Valley. High cinderblock walls topped with broken glass and concertina wire surrounded pleasant little duplex bungalows in which we stayed. It was a nice hotel. My room had a sit-down toilet in one corner and a large bucket beside a garden hose, which I could use to fill the bucket to flush the toilet. There was also a large dipper that I could use to ladle water from the bucket and pour over me in case I wanted to take a shower (and I did, because it was kind of hot). As I maneuvered the mosquito netting around my bed, I was pleased to catch the scent of pyrethroids that meant an added layer of protection from malaria-carrying mosquitos. Here people still die from diseases that for us no longer pose a problem—malaria, measles, typhoid, even polio, that we (until recently) had eradicated. [Read more…]

Hope and the Evolving Church. And Whales (or Crocodiles).

Early in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Series, the King of Dreams descends into Hell to retrieve his crown stolen by a demon. The demon admits he has it, but demands a battle of wits in order for Sandman to win it back. [Read more…]

Pinewood Derby Unleashed

The Following is from a collection of short-short fictions I’m writing about my home town Pleasant Grove. Below in the comments feel free to discuss the joys and sorrows of pinewood derbys past and present.  


Some folk remember it as the year the Bishop of the Pleasant Grove 2nd Ward went mad. But it was a delightful insanity and created one of my favorite childhood memories. It was pinewood derby time. The whole ward took this very seriously. Very seriously indeed. Every year the boys were suppose to get their official pinewood derby kit and with minimal help from their parents have a fun race down the track amid the cheers of all the participants. But it was never like that. Parents were involved and every year a black market for derby secrets would emerge with some people, like the Hilliards and the Wilds, spending hundreds of dollars on winning designs from the pinewood derby underground. This was before the Internet, so finding those who would sell their secrets was sometimes tricky. But if you got desperate, you could always find pinewood derby designs among the ads found in the ‘Pleasant Grove Soldier of Fortune Monthly’ or in ‘The Feel’n Grovy Beat’ and other rags of ill repute. [Read more…]

Your Missionary Troll

BCC’s John F. wrote a powerful and prescriptive post on the challenges facing the Church’s missionary program. With younger ages and a world gone digital, some of these appear formidable. Craig Harline’s recent delightfully funny book Way Below the Angels, has shown that missionary work has always been daunting even before these challenges appeared, but now with more missionaries, these concerns become even more fraught. Recently Elder Bednar charged the saints to spread the message online and to create a flood of interweb memes and messages that share the gospel and let the world know what our beliefs mean to us. With missionaries spending more time online, how can their time be better used and with more effect?

I have an idea. [Read more…]

Workers Celebrate Labor Day

Labor Day is the one day ants all over the world celebrate their lifestyle, which is all about labor. This holiday is their most religious and sacred. Today I will share with you some of the joy of these celebratory activities. Here an ant rises to greet with the dawn with the traditional Labor Day carol: “Sun Arise! Ye Merry Sisters Rejoice!”
[Read more…]

Church announces Twible will be used as headings for the LDS KJV Bible!

download (1) Well, not really. But they should.

Here at BCC we have issued few edicts. Certainly we have offered sage advice. Motherly wisdom and fatherly Knowsbestticisms. We have indeed cajoled. Pled. Perhaps even subtly tried to shame others into action. But now, I, under the authority granted me by the governing board (which has no idea what I’m up to), I am issuing an edict. I was going to offer a bull, like a papal bull, but a BCC bull. But I feared the jokes that would ensue about BCC bull and refrained. So to the edict. Go now one and all. Both high and low. Both blue and green. Both sour and sweet. And ride thee forth to procure a copy of BCC friend Jana Riess’ book, The Twible.

I recognize that some will be disinclined to follow edicts for edicts sake. To you stubborn souls I offer a modicum of reasons. The best reasons will be found by perusing the book itself. If you have followed Jana on twitter or Facebook than you know the hilarity of these bytes of wisdom as she offers up a tweet capturing the gist of each chapter of the bible. These are both funny and wise. Some forced me think more deeply about the text and made me see things in new ways. Others made me blow diet coke out of my nose.

So follow the edict or your good sense and go buy the book. I know what everyone on my list of good boys and girls is getting for Christmas. This. Go thou and do likewise.

The Great BCC Aphorism Contest!

foot-in-riverLike many of you are wont to do, one night I was curled up in a comfy chair reading Heraclitus and I came across his famous aphorism,

One cannot step twice into the same river . . .#91

(which actually I’ve done several times, so I’m not sure what he’s going on about). He had a few more that were not so famous, but equally memorable and aphoristic,

The way up and down is one in the same. #60

Very Zen. How about this one that left me fairly discouraged, but I’m nothing if not willing to recognize that, ‘If the shoe fits I need to face the music (wait, is that an aphorism too?)–Heraclitus writes,

Eyes and ears are bad witnesses for people who have barbarian souls. #107

Yawp! That hurt. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: ‘That which is below is like that which is above’, Part 7 of 7

paintings_forest_artwork_fairytales_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-781163In D&C 130 we learn:

2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.

Can we read that word ‘sociality’ a little more broadly? I would like to interpret it in an expansive way. A biological way. To look at levels of sociality matching the kinds of deep societies that make up every biological system—a  move that would make Hermes Trismegistus proud (the coiner of the aphorism, “Tis true without lying, certain & most true/That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below”). Sociality implies relationships among things, and in fact relationships among organisms and their environment is my area of study. We call it Ecology. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: There are only imperfect triangles, Part 6 of 7

DSC05640Fasten your seat belts and hold on. The speculation coming may leave you with whiplash.

Take triangles. Most of us are tempted by the idea that there is some perfect realm where triangles in their formalwear are eking out an eternal existence being flawless and sitting beyond the ravages of time and circumstance.

Plato laid this out nicely with his sense that there was a world of perfect forms or ideas that stamped the shape of things that got instantiated in this world as particulars. The form of the ‘good’ or maybe ‘beauty’ stood as the form of the forms. This got taken as God. Existing up there (I’m pointing up) as the one pure being. Like the triangles, only rather than perfect sides, angles and such, he held all perfections including perfect being—sort of a really advanced trianglely sort of thing only better. And beyond time, where time is some ‘river’ that flows forward but which can be circumvented by this perfect being and who is its source rather than something embedded in it. Time is down here. With us. Not with him—the God of triangles. Oh and these perfect ideal formal triangles escape time too, just like all the Platonic forms. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: On the innocence of hyenas, Part 5 of 7

In 2 Nephi 2, Jacob receives instruction from Lehi. In a metaphysical discussion he discusses aspects of spiritual reality, specifically the conditions necessary to establish righteousness. He says:

 11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

[Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: The Only Absolute: There are no absolutes, Part 4 of 7

One more thing to do before we frame an evolutionary interpretation of the Fall—we must destroy absolutes. Absolutes seem antithetical to much of Mormon theology. Ideas such as embodiment, temporality, gendered deities, the agential nature of existence, the implications of emergence, and a god who weeps seem to be antithetical to the God of classic monothesism. Much of the neoplatonism upon which much of Christianity rests, relies on a set of absolutes that misdirect our Mormony gaze in ways that have allowed things like arguments from creation ex nihilo that structure many current creationist leanings to have crept into our creation narratives. Modern creationism seems to fly in the face of what we have discovered about the universe. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Emergence bubbling up, Part 3.5 of 7

bee hive utahA little more on Niche theory might be useful:

Niche theory introduces the possibility of emergence. Let me be careful with that word because it has come to mean many things to many people and tends to be a fraught concept. I am defining it in the sense of Mark Badau (Not Badiou mind you). Badau argues for three concepts of emergence. In all three types, the foundational concept of emergence is the idea that a property is emergent if it is a property that can be possessed by the macro scale, which cannot be possessed by the micro scale. The classic example of this is the property liquidity possessed by water in a bucket, but is not possessed by a single water molecule. He then breaks this down into three kinds of emergence, nominal, weak and strong. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Badiou Company and the Void, Part 3 of 7

DSC_4253In his book Being and Event, Badiou construes ontology to be based upon set theoretic elements, principally the void, the empty set which provides a foundation for all subsequent set manipulations. He focuses especially on the ‘belongs to’ operator, and the notion of set itself—a collection of elements. He sees being as such is multiple in the sense that it is not decomposable into a countable set (you can’t map a being into one-one relationship with the natural numbers), they can be element of a set or or as he calls it a ‘count-as-one’. His thought is rich and complex and I don’t want to explore it fully here, but I do want to tap into his notion of an event. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Roman Legions of Death, Part 2 of 7

Faulconer appleSo to begin. Assume that the story that science tells is tout court correct. That humans evolved from apelike ancestors and have existed as a species for roughly two-hundred thousand years and became behaviorally modern about fifty-thousand years ago. They have been living and dying for almost eight-thousand generations.

Dying. What do I mean by that? Actually, it can mean a lot of things. For example, it can mean the cessation of living. Scripturally it can also mean a number of things. Paul’s letter to Romans is a great place to start. No I take that back, Jim Faulconer’s book on Romans is a great place to start. Look at the attached photo It shows the index entries for ‘death’ in his book on Romans giving a short peek into the way Paul uses the word. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: A More Harmonious Reading, Part 1 of 7

DSCN1646‘There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!’ snarled Voldemort.
‘You are quite wrong.’ said Dumbledore . . .

—————– Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p. 718

One of the key challenges in defining a post-Darwinian LDS theology is that of the Fall. The Fall is considered one of the foundational pillars of Mormon doctrine (as Bruce R. McConkie has often argued). This because the Fall is what provides the backdrop for the necessity of the Atonement, another foundational LDS doctrinal pillar. [Read more…]


What if the prophets are right and wickedness will cause the destruction of the last days? But what if it’s not indirect causation such that people are wicked therefore God looking down smites the Earth? What if the wickedness itself causes the destruction? What if the seas are heaving themselves beyond their bound** because the wicked are using up the resources of the Earth in wicked ways: selfish, unnecessary, greedy, used to adorn the flesh of a few, and to vaunt vanity? [Read more…]

New evidence of fossil origins

article-1234473-060777D70000044D-378_468x317I suppose that yesterday’s paper in Nature deserves to be more broadly known, because it has some implications for the faith/science debate. A brief outline is in order. Beardy Card’s lab at MIT has completed the most extensive dark matter (DM) analysis ever done. As we’ve learned dark matter (an unidentified form of matter) is found throughout the universe in great abundance. Dark matter detectors were pioneered by Card and this is the first analysis of the DM contained within our planet ever conducted. The results are stunning. In a news release Card says, “We are still reeling over this, but there can be little doubt that we’ve done the analysis correctly. It’s been confirmed in six independent labs and they are all reporting the same finding. [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…]