Your evolution book gift giving guide for Christmas

So you want to give a gift that keeps on speciating. There is nothing like waking up on Christmas morning, the scent of wassail and pine in the air from the Christmas tree (or artificial pine scent from the festivas pole), and finding a copy of Origin of Species wrapped up and left by Santa.

What if your giftee as already read Origin of Species and they want to learn something about modern evolutionary biology? No fear! There is a cornucopia of new books on evolution, so which do you choose? Which one should you start with? Now I’m going to make some daring assumptions. [Read more…]

Reflecting on The Origin of Man Guest Post by Jared*

Jared* was born and raised in the Church, served a mission in the U.S., and graduated from BYU. Having subsequently completed a Ph.D. in microbiology, he is now a postdoctoral researcher. He is married with children, and wastes more time than he ought to blogging at LDS Science Review.

One hundred years ago this month, Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund published “The Origin of Man” in the Church’s magazine, Improvement Era. It was drafted by Elder Orson F. Whitney and the final paragraphs relied heavily on his previous writing. For a century this statement has been the touchstone of the Church’s position on evolution, yet the statement has little to say about evolution directly. The vast majority of text is an argument in support of the doctrine that God the Father has a body of human form, and that “Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.” [Read more…]

Origin, ID and the God of the Gaps

Exactly 150 years ago a book that changed the world was published. Blasting onto the world stage it was destined to become one of the most influential books in human history. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is still relevant today and remains one of the best introductions to evolution by natural selection around. [Read more…]

The Origin of Species marks the beginning of the end

One hundred and fifty years ago today the world changed. One of the greatest blessings and gifts to the human world occurred when On Origin of Species was published. It laid out a framework that would unify and allow progress in biology in ways that could have hardly been imaginable to our forbearers. Look around you at our modern medicine and agriculture and decide if you would like to give them up. They are gifts from the Darwinian legacy. [Read more…]

When do you change your beliefs?

Blast it all, I’ve tried to thwart the inevitable but it looks like the dark ages are upon us (to use a variation on Godwin’s Law). Jane Jacobs, that wise, indefatigable social critic, tried to warn us, but would we listen? No. It turns out that only 48% of Americans believe in evolution (only 22% of Mormons!). More Americans believe in haunted houses than global warming, and there are still loads of wacky people running around scared of vaccines (often, all the while, holding up magical herbs and alternative medicines that will cure whatever ails you.) All of these represent a catastrophic failure of science education. It boggles the mind. [Read more…]

Need we more posts on this Saint Crispin’s Day?

BCC administration today suggested that we need more posts. “Ten thousand more,” they said. This is my response: [Read more…]

“The Year My Son and I Were Born” A Review (for guys too)

The_YearIn an instant life can change. A single event can change all that happens downstream from that moment. This not a new insight and there are few who could not point to an occasion where a tiny blip in time caused entirely new trajectories to bubble up and change everything about their life. Perhaps a wrong turn at the library led to finding a spouse. Maybe a decision to not to stop for a burger led to a major accident, or a job was found through a chance encounter a shopping market. These kinds of events are the hallmark of what are known as chaotic systems. Chaos, unlike what we commonly mean when use this to describe the confusion of the uncontrollable, is defined formally in complexity theory as sensitivity to initial conditions. A small effect upfront has enormous downstream effects. Look at your children and you will see an example of this. Which particular sperm and an egg met, is an occurrence conditioned on zillions of possibilities and bifurcation points. Recombination in DNA ensures that our children are built half from the male genetic code and half the female, but it is a random draw as to which half gets taken from each. Also, chemical reactions at this level vary and many divergent pathways are possible. Tiny changes. Huge downstream effects. Chaos.

Kathryn Lynard Soper’s new book, The Year my Son and I were Born, explores the downstream effects of a nondisjunction event in chromosomal separation causing her child to be born with extra-genetic material in chromosome 21. Down Syndrome. That’s the techno-jargon for the very real human story that is the subject of this book—a book about chaos in all the meanings of the word we ascribe to it. [Read more…]

At what age do we allow facebooking?

My daughter feels a little left out. She is 12 and many of her friends have Facebook accounts and we have told her that she cannot have one until she is 16. Our theory is that she should learn some real social skills before turning to the online drama. It seems strange to me, but I get requests from kids fairly young to be my friend. I refuse and will not ‘Friend’ anyone under 18 (I think for obvious reasons). However, I’m curious. Are we being restrictive parents? At what age should kids be allowed to Facebook? [Read more…]

In praise of bright words

I was not excited about running today. For various reasons, I did not fall asleep last night until about 5:00 am. I was up at eight and the sun was already warming things up. Too much for my tastes. It was not hot yet, but I relish running in the cool of the dawn—62 F (~17 C) is perfect for me—and it was already too late for that. So feeling a little glum, I started wearily up the canal access road near my home. This was not going to be a good run. [Read more…]

Lost Ten Tribes Found!

Naked Mole-rat

Naked mole rat

Where are the Lost Ten Tribes? Some say they are scattered in Eurasia, some that they are among us. Through exhaustive research I have located them. I can hear your scoffs in my mind’s ear, but it is true.

I will start the story at the beginning with my proposal to the Department of Biology for my recent sabbatical leave and notes from my journal on my successful search for the Lost Ten Tribes. I feel rather guilty that I told everyone that I was going to Vienna to study tsetse flies. But the time for the truth as come. [Read more…]

Plenty Coups and Believing in Evolution

I’ve been thinking about evolution of late. Not so much about evolution as such, but about people’s resistance to it. I’ve been thinking about the fear that some experience as they face the prospects that a new scientific age is bringing to an end their way of seeing the universe. The simple creationism of a Harry Potter-like God that was appropriate in the Seventeenth Century, and which we borrowed from the Greeks, is giving way to more complex conceptions and more Mormonism-informed perspectives. [Read more…]

Something Sweet for the 4th from the Ensign

I cut and pasted this from the Ensign. It’s perfect for the Fourth of July because it’s dripping sickly sweet sentimentality (How I love alliteration!). It involves two people in the military, which I do want to remember on the day. It also takes place in the cold of January so that heat of the summer (here in Northern Latitudes that is) can be forgotten. Plus it takes place in Germany, which is oh so European and so avoids the American bias we’ve been talking about! How could I resist? [Read more…]

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done

In the Imporovement Era, June 1945 contains the following quote as part of a Ward Teachers’ message:

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God. [Read more…]

Why Olive Oil?

When we administer blessings we are commanded to use olive oil. A quick bit of research through the scriptures, Church magazines and Conference proceedings yielded basically only the reasons (a) we’ve been commanded to do so; (b) the ancients did it that way; and (3) it is the purest kind of oil. It is advised that if you do not have pure olive oil (and its purity is important and emphasized) do the blessing without.

Yet in much of our richest symbolism, we understand the reasons for the symbol. In the sacrament the bread stands for the body of Christ, the water the blood. It is very specific and well understood what these symbols refer to. Yet even in that holy ritual the substance can be substituted, if we understand and honor the referent. We all know the story of potato peels being used at the end of WWII. The symbols point to the atonement. The form the symbols take is not the important thing and the material symbols can be substituted.

This does not seem to be true of priesthood blessings. It has to be olive oil or nothing. Why? What is the olive oil pointing to?

Bookmark Why Olive Oil?

Cheap Creation and Magic Tomatoes

If you had a magic wand that could make tomatoes, you probably wouldn’t care about tomatoes very much. I mean, why would you? Why worry about preserving them in the refrigerator, when you can make more anytime you want? Need a tomato? Abracadabra, a wave of the wand and poof there it is. Do you think you would really pull out a Ziploc to save the unused half of a tomato that you had cut for a salad if you could conjure them at will? Quite likely you would pass them out to the neighbors with abandon. You could use them as compost. You could employ them as the lubricant on a slippery slide for your kids on sunny summer days. You certainly would not cultivate them, nourish them from carefully chosen starters, or set up cages to guide and cherish their growing form. Cheap, magically-made tomatoes would not induce you care about tomatoes. They would be eminently disposable. [Read more…]

Boundary Issues in Sacred Spaces: Ecotone Analogies. Part II: Transitions

Çatalhöyük was a large Neolithic ritual center in the Anatolia region of Turkey occupied from 7500-5700 BC. Found in the ruins of these structures, were platforms and panels decorated with etched bulls and bull-horned pedestals. Presumably rituals took place there. Animal or human blood was found on some of the alters. What’s interesting to me, however, was that the entrance into the sacred space required a formal transition from outside to the inside. [Read more…]

Boundary Issues in Sacred Spaces: Ecotone Analogies. Part I: preliminaries

I’m not a philosopher, but once in awhile I like to safety-pin on a philosopher’s cape and don a paper-cutout of their mask, and whoosh around the room jumping off of the low furniture. Occasionally, real ones will pat me on the head, and say “Isn’t he cute!” and let me play around their feet. So it was, that last year I was invited to present at a meeting exploring boundaries in philosophy of science. There, I talked about perceptual boundaries in ecology. The chatter about sacred space buzzing around BYU with the Sacred Space Symposium has got me thinking about, well, sacred space. [Read more…]

Noah’s Lament (update)

(Note: All place names have been translated from Adamic to Modern 21st Century English).

Noah stared at Japheth in horror. His voice shook a little, “What do you mean an Opossum escaped at our last stop?” Noah was angry. “YOU KNOW ALL THE MARSUPIALS ARE SUPPOSE TO GET DROPPED OFF IN AUSTRAILIA!.” It was another blunder in a long series of blunders. Sailing around the earth dropping off the animals in their appropriate habitat had been hard, and he only dimly understood why it had to be done, but a marsupial in North America was going to get him in trouble. [Read more…]

Letter to a friend about to make a terrible mistake

Dear [xxx],

You are about to make a terrible mistake.

I have warned you about the demons of home repair, those minor spirits encountered in plastering a hole in the wall or hanging a door, but in tampering with a sprinkler system you will be pit against demigods you must not face—fierce and angry gods of mythical power so prone to wrath that even those priests endowed with a great and fearless prowess do not trifle easily with these energies. [Read more…]

Swine flu-Sorry it’s not the apocalypse (Part II Darwin Edition)

This morning the schools in Park City, UT were closed based on three suspected cases of Swine flu (or H1N1). The test results for the students will not be in for a few days so eight schools will be closed until at least Tuesday. President Obama (Wow, what a great 100 days given the mess he was handed!), recommended last night that schools close if there are confirmed cases. The World Health Organization yesterday raised its pandemic alert to phase 5. Phase 6 means an official pandemic, and that may come at anytime. Should we panic yet? No! [Read more…]

Swine flu—Sorry it’s not the apocalypse

There is a lot of apocalyptic talk out there on the Net about the current swine flu crisis. Most of it is junk. If you are reading about swine flu from the usual doomsday email/internet sources, conspiracy theorists, or emails that contain capital letters that read ‘GET YOUR FOOD STORAGE IT IS THE END OF THE WORLD’, or from anyone who regularly sends you the latest on the current state of the ‘Endtimes,’ or points to prophecies predicting the this pandemic is “The one”. Toss it. [Read more…]

Grace Vis-à-vis Violence

Violence permeates existence. I offer six studies from my life to disclose and unpack what I mean. I came to this project because of the amount of internet chatter (and I mean this in the most warm and Heideggerian sense) about grace and mercy and other such positive attributes of the Divine. Three things helped crystallize my need to say something about the place of violence in LDS thought. [Read more…]

Live Blogging Gill on Global Warming

Today the Utah Valley Sierra Forum will host BYU climatologist Richard Gill at the Provo Library. The talk is called ‘Global Warming: Fact or Fiction?

I will be live blogging this event at 7:00 PM MST so be ready for a good discussion. (If for some reason I can’t get internet access, I’ll post my notes later that evening.)

Ok, we are live. (Note I’m not going to pay attention to spelling or grammar in the interest of keeping the experience going!)

[Read more…]

The Future Robot Mission to Wyoming

With the end of Battlestar Galactica fresh on our minds, it’s a good time to reassess the place of robots in Mormonism. [Read more…]

Irreducible Complexity Power

So in the late Middle Ages there was this twisted group of clerics (and entire underworld of them it turns out) who wanted information from God. But they felt the Deity was being a little cagey about dispensing with his almighty power and wisdom, so they put on their thinking caps and pondered, ‘How can we get God’s knowledge when he won’t tell us any of the really useful info we want to know?” Well, they came up with a creative albeit malevolent solution that didn’t even involve God. Ask demons! [Read more…]

On the Improbability of Miracles

Last week a friend of mine’s daughter went through the temple for the first time. These are not ordinary friends. These are the kind of deep friends who you’ve been through a lot with. Friends who know your deepest secrets. The kind of friends that would stay back and help push your wagon out of the mud despite everyone else having gone on, leaving you to the arrows and elements. Friends who you know will always be there for you, and you for them. [Read more…]

The Archeology of my Bookcase

If you want to endear yourself to me when you come over to my house for the first time, notice and peruse my living room bookcase. My real bookcases are downstairs in my basement, but the two you see as you enter my door are a convocation of carefully chosen books designed to reveal things about me. [Read more…]

Why BIV would totally have slept with with JS. Polyandry Part II

I remember as an undergraduate walking to school with a friend. He was fairly newly married, and I was yet to have found ‘the one.’ Apparently, he was fresh from an argument with his wife. I pointed out that at least he had one. He dismissed my idealistic view of marriage and complained that that was not the way it was. He said that he could not wait to get to heaven where he would have several wives so that when one was being contrary [Read more…]

I refuse to believe that polyandry was practiced in Nauvoo: Part I

So seeing all the fuss about Nauvoo polygamy, I thought to myself, history schmistory, let’s talk biology. Biologists know plenty of titillating facts about reproductive strategies—including polygamy and polyandry! However, watch out, biologists tend to be ribald and earthy in these descriptions so if you tend towards reserved euphemisms in your discussions about what the ‘stork brings’ and the ‘nether parts’ of the body stop reading now. You are duly warned that I will splash some rather unsettling biology across the page. [Read more…]

Four Minutes of Meaning

In Terry Eagleton’s new addition to Oxford’s, A Very Short Introduction series, The Meaning of Life, he adds a footnote to the following sentence, “Many of the readers of this book, however, are likely to be as skeptical of the phrase ‘the meaning of life’ as they are of Santa Claus. It seems a quaint sort of notion, at once homespun and portentous, fit for satirical muling by the Monty Python team.” [Read more…]