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.

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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
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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…]

Questions

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…]

A Call to Stewardship Conference at BYU

The Environmental Ethics Initiative at BYU is holding a conference with a stellar lineup of speakers, including Margaret Palmer, Professor at the University of Maryland in the Department of Entomology and in the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES); Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota; and J. Baird Callicott, University Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and formerly Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Texas. [Read more…]

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…]