The Great Plan of Happiness and (Apple TV’s) Severance

Apple TV’s series Severance is brilliant. Its topology in multiple dimensions is novel, strange, and thought-provoking. I want to talk about it because it problematizes Mormon theology in interesting ways. It is bursting at the seams with possible discussion topics, lesson plans, and late-night talks with family members among members of the Church. If you haven’t seen the show, there is really no point in reading on because this post is full of spoilers that will ruin the surprise in the unexpected directions the show takes. The series is just too beautiful to let my blog post ruin it with untimely reveals. So, back away if you haven’t watched it. Some future version of yourself will thank you.

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Please Help Save Utah Lake

“Look to the winged ones who soar on the wind. If we endanger these ecosystems, how will we consider the winged ones?” Matt 6:26). As the First Nation translation of the New Testament invokes, our economic interests are transcended by what nature can teach us. Lake Restoration Solutions has filed a defamation suit against Brigham…

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My Madness

One of the defining events of my life was contracting a brain disease from an encounter in Vietnam with the bacteria, Burkholderia pseudomallei. Some of you might have read my article in Dialogue describing this. The podcast “Believable” just interviewed me and my wife, Lori, about these events and how it affected our life and faith. Many of you have heard my point of view, but Lori was there watching the events unfold, and her account has never been captured before. I thought you might enjoy hearing about this event from both our perspectives.

The Point of View for My Work as an Author–On Leere

This post is a continuation from the AML Blog. Read it first to understand my path in becoming an author.

Yes. Today King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals is released into the world. At one point I was so excited about writing it. I sat in my chair too long and suffered a deep vein thrombosis. Ah, the hazards of the writing life.

To understand my work, it must be kept in mind that I break things. [Read more…]

The Book of Mormon Studies Association Meeting

The Third Annual Meeting of
The Book of Mormon Studies Association
October 11-12, 2019
Utah State University

The Book of Mormon Studies Association (BoMSA) is pleased to announce its third annual meeting, to be held October 11–12, 2019, at Utah State University. The event is sponsored by USU’s Department of Religious Studies and with thanks to both Philip Barlow and Patrick Mason, successive occupiers of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon Studies.
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The Art of Jackie Leishman: thoughts on how novelty enters the universe.


The Many Faces of Eve by Jackie Leishman

I’ve recently had the chance to think about art and its place in the world. One of the long-term projects I’m engaged with as a scientist, is the evolution of novelty. How do new things enter the world? To give a little context to this consider: The appearance of art in Homo Sapiens is hard to date, but for roughly 150,000 years we just chipped some useful tools and called it a day. There are hints of art emerging here and there, but about 50,000-40000 BP something extraordinary happened. Something astonishing flowered into existence. We began to decorate ourselves, to represent parts of our world in bone and on cave walls, our toolkits exploded with creativity, beauty, usefulness, and intricacy.

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Gilda Trillim wins Association of Mormon Letters 2017 Novel Award

AML Award for Novel

I’m pleased to announce that Gilda Trillim was selected as the Association of Mormon Letters’ 2017 Novel Award at Friday’s award ceremony. Previously, I posted this for groups wanting to read it, and this award is further evidence that it is worth reading. You are probably thinking that it was selected as the winner because it has rats in the title. Everyone knows, rats sway judges. It was almost unseemly of me putting the word ‘rats’ on the cover of the book. You may think it was a gimmick to get people to buy it and to help it play well on the awards circuit (I, however, deny that it had any role in being nominated as an AML finalist AND a Whitney Award finalist. It was just a coincidence!). Now that it has won the big award, some will likely accuse me of just pandering to the rat loving public. A crass attempt to affect its getting undo attention, but that’s just not the case. The rats in it are not just gratuitous rat-placement. No! Their presence is central to the plot.
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Questions for Book Groups Reading ‘Gilda Trillim’

Gilda TrillimDid you know my novel Gilda Trillim had its start here at BCC? I posted a number of the opening chapters and she came into my life through the blog itself. She was birthed into existence in a post that I filled with hints that it was FICTION, but I didn’t say it explicitly, and unfortunately/delightfully some took Gilda to be a genuine lost Mormon writer that everyone had forgotten about. Great fun that. A few literary types called for studies to bring her out of obscurity and move her works forward. When I pointed out all the hints I’d inserted that it was fiction, some were not happy with me. One in particular, said that when he came to the internet he expected the truth. He must now be living a very disappointed life.

Gilda Trillim is now out and it’s a finalist for the Whitney Award for best adult novel and the Association of Mormon Letters Best Novel Award. Several reading groups have asked for a list of questions to guide discussions about the book, so I thought I’d post them here as there might be other groups I don’t know about. Note there are some light spoilers, so if you want your Gilda unsullied by any information stop now, but there is nothing too earth-shattering. See the last paragraph for an Easter Egg Hunt. [Read more…]

The Baby Blessing I Wish I’d Given my Children

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 8.51.39 PM

. . . to give you a name and a blessing. The name you will be known throughout life and on the records of the church is Tardigrade Spellbinder Peck.

I bless you that you will be lucky. That you will have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. As you go through life, I bless you that people that can help you will be drawn to you, and feel a desire to assist you.

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Call for Applicants—2018 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture

Scholars and Students–Want to hang out with me and Terryl Givens for six weeks and talk about Mormonism and Science? Join us for this!

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My Mother’s Eclipse

This talk was given in sacrament meeting in the Battlecreek 9th Ward in Pleasant Grove on the subject of Gratitude.

Solar Eclipse Aug, 21, 2017My Mother died on July, 13th of this year.

One late afternoon about a month later, on August 20th, 2017 to be exact, my friend Steve and his wife Jill, pick me up along with my adult son Jaron to chase the total eclipse tacking across the United States the next day. We all know it may be a once in a lifetime event, but none of us are that excited. We’ve been to several partial eclipses, and while amazing, this more-of-the-same-except-even-more seems like a lot of work at a busy time. School is starting. I’ve got loads of projects and deadlines screaming at me. I keep asking myself why are we doing this? Time with one of my sons and good conversations with friends is really the only thing that doesn’t keep me from canceling.
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Conversations Among the Trees

Near Fish Lake in Central Utah is an living thing called Pando, arguably the largest living organism on Earth. It is an aspen clone over a 100 acres large and composed of nearly 50,000 individual units (what naively we might call ’trees’, and which I will call, ‘trees#’ to mark the distinction). Aspens send runners out from a rootball which then shoot up into a new aspen tree#, and although they look like individuals, they are a single organism. In the picture below the Pando can be seen as the darker leaved aspens—all part of the same clone. While the discrete trees# can last 150 years, the clone itself can last for thousands. Estimates of Pando’s age range from 80,000 years (unlikely) to several thousand, with likely estimates ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 years.
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Simulation and Theology

Steven PeckSo, me, a biologist, wrote this book on speculative theology. The promise is rather, shall we say, curious (‘weird’ would also work)? The usual thinking goes, especially for Mormons, that first we do religion, then science. If either is to bow, it is science. The book is an experiment on the premise that the reverse it true: the real world must impose its will on our theology (as explained in the work, I mean something specific by this term). It’s a long argument hence the book-length treatment. I tried to squeeze it into 140 words, but my arguments lost some of their heft and nuance. So look at my book and you’ll get the big picture, but I wanted to explain why I think it is at least worth thinking about.

I am a computer modeler. I build ecologies in a computer; then populate these ecologies with digital creatures. The weird thing is, and it has been shown to be true again and again, that these digital creations tell us useful things about real flesh and hemolymph creatures. This is shocking to me. I’m always completely astonished that digital entities made of 1s and 0s can teach me about actual animals living in the wild. Why should that work? [Read more…]

Why I Wrote This Book

Steven Peck
This book is unusual. In more ways than one. Well, maybe in more ways than ten. It’s a book about theology written by a Biologist. More strange perhaps is that I actually believe that science matters to theology, and visa-versa. Not a watered down science, mind you, but a full-bodied science that embraces all that that word means. No punches are pulled here. Well, that’s the wrong metaphor because it sounds like Science and Theology are entering a cage match in a winner-take-all blood fest. I need something that captures the idea that Theology and Science need each other. That they are better together than apart. That both become something richer and more compelling when they are holding hands on the beach and looking at a sunset than when they are duking it out in the ring. So what metaphor captures that? I know Frodo and Sam in Mordor. There we go. Frodo and Sam carrying the ring of falsehood into hostile territory to toss the thing into the Fires of Doom.
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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.

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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…]