The Great Buffalo Hoax of ’73

Bucky McGrue, probably the premier Mormon historian of our time, records the conversation of a buffalo counter (Cowboy Mike Echtheart) and a Representative from the National buffalo hunting, processing and marketing firm Buffalo Trading Inc. (Big Jim Plunderton ). Based on records found at the Institute of Historical Documents in South New Bedford Mills, Indiana.

Echtheart: You know you got to quit buffalo hunting. They’s disappear’n all over the range. [Read more…]

Nature simplified: ipad astronomy

I got a new ipad app. It is an astonishing piece of technology. It allowed me to point the device at the sky, and a map of the heavens appeared with the stars named, the planets identified, and the constellations lightly manifest in all their Greco-Roman pictography. The app even had a night mode so the touchscreen was displayed in a soft, night-vision friendly red, that allowed you to move from the sky to the pad with a minimum of iris adjustment. What is that star? Point at it and with a couple of calibrating moves between the ipad and the sky you recognize Arcturus. Wonder where Mars is? Ask it, and little arrows appear guiding you to its position, even if it’s through the center of the Earth. [Read more…]

More Than a Hand in a Glove: Spirit and Body (And Memory)

We wander forward moment to moment in an act of construction. All the conscious feel of experience, all that bubbles up into the world is massaged and bent. Mixed with memories. Fashioned anew out of the old. Brought forth as an act of creation. We do not see ‘as is,’ nor an ‘out there’ in the world except that it is fashioned from who and what we are—from whatever self we have constructed since birth. [Read more…]

Sneaking across the border

So let me start out a little Abe Simpsonesque. The year was 1976, the height of the cold war. I was serving in the 3rd of the 7th Cavalry, which, if you are history buff, you will recognize as Custer’s unit at his ‘Last Stand.’ Our Battalion even had a ‘Little Big Horn’ streamer on its battle guidon (I looked one day while cleaning the general’s office). The Vietnam War had just ended and the Army was in shambles. Historian, Rick Atkinson called the Army in which I served one of ‘incompetence’ and said, “it was in tatters. It was a disgrace to the country and to itself, to its own heritage, really.” Vietnam had decimated the Army and it was full of, “indiscipline and something approaching national loathing by many corridors of our country.” Yes I remember. My two best buddies had been given the choice between prison and the Army. Wild times. No glory returning from his cold war army. Still, one serves where one can, eh? [Read more…]

On the City of God and the US Consitution

BYU Bookstore is now selling the wacky McNaughton painting that inspired such great poetry here. It’s got a big display on the bottom floor where other art is displayed and sold. This is especially ironic given that the Daily Universe (BYUs paper) just did an article on how international BYU has become. I was trying to imagine how someone from another country would react to a painting of Christ returning with a copy of the US Constitution. Probably like I would to a picture of Christ returning with a copy of, say, France’s Constitution of the Fifth Republic or Uganda’s constitution. It strikes me that giving Christ the US Constitution as aegis is inappropriate. Wildly so.

Let’s explore this a bit. [Read more…]

All they knew about them was that they were women

There seems to be a wide-spread belief, and one that my personal experience would tend to confirm, that the Relief Society runs more smoothly than its equivalent priesthood quorums.

In the current issue of Atlantic Magazine is an article called, ‘The End of Men.’ Its premise is that men are not navigating the new realities of modern life and modern economies well. It discusses how women are becoming more and more the primary earners in households, are graduating with 60% of university degrees (both masters and bachelors degrees) and 50% of all professional degrees, with men’s percentages falling and women’s rising. It then explores the question, “What would a society in which women are on top look like?” [Read more…]

Must you believe in irrational numbers to go to heaven?

What is truth? The more I study it, the less I seem to understand it. How do we know it when we see it? How do we hold on to it? Is it stable? Are the truths of the present moment, the truths of the next as well? How can we tell? [Read more…]


Today my son entered the MTC. It’s curbside drop off now, instituted when the swine flu caused concerns about gathering in large crowds and the virus hit the MTC particularly hard. It used to be that there was a small meeting with all the incoming missionaries, where they showed you a kind of Mormon-ad for missionary work that manipulated everyone into tears. After, the missionaries went through one door and the tear-streaked families the other. I’ve had three previous sons go through that exit. [Read more…]

Avoiding the temptation of literalism

We understand some things only from within. Subjectively. Indeed, it is within this domain that the scriptures open to us new and more profound realities. Science, history and other objective leaning disciplines aim at revealing the details, facts and laws of universe in which we find ourselves. These have been highly successful elucidating the objective world in which we are embedded and is our best method for establishing correspondence between our understanding and this world. However, there are certain truths that are revealed only in subjectivity. [Read more…]

Your Lovely Android Spouse

Let’s try a thought experiment and see if we can tease out what it is we believe about the spirit-body connection. Previously, I asked the question about how we would know whether robots were conscious enough to baptize and if so, should they be. Here, I continue the theme.

The thought experiment (Adapted from one in consciousness philosophy)
[Read more…]

‘What is light?’ Grandy’s The Speed of Light: Constancy and Cosmos

“Perhaps you desire to know the manner in which God’s light is ascribed to the heavens and the earth—or, rather, the manner in which God is the light of the heavens and the earth in His own essence. It is not appropriate to keep this knowledge hidden from you, since you already know that God is light, that there is no light other than He, and that He is the totality of lights and the Universal Light.” Al-Ghazali, The Niche of Lights

We live in light. Before me now, the satiny white curtains of my living room have been transformed into a patchwork of bright silver where the morning sun strikes certain places in the fabric’s undulations. Darker areas (still colored white), are created in places where some of the vertical furrows of the drapes shy away from the radiance enjoyed by the alternating sunlit folds. These create striations and dappling that catch my eye and which I experience directly. I notice it more so this morning because I’ve been thinking about light. I want to write about light and I can’t help notice that I am surrounded by it. It fuses within me and although it is scattered around me, I cannot see it until it strikes my eye here in the center of my universe—I am an observer, a participant with light that creates my visual field and informs my consciousness. I experience light as it combines with my mind, integrating my world at a quantum level and then bubbling up into something that can be acted upon at macro scales.

Light. What is it? [Read more…]

All night thinking of blessings

Last night was an exciting one at my house. My fourth son opened his mission call. Family and friends gathered around, some on skype from far away, some listening on the phone. He was nervous. Where would he spend the next two years? All three of his older brothers served missions. In fact, one is still serving in Hawaii and will not be home for a month. He tears open the call and reads to us out load, “Dear Elder Peck, . . . you have been called to the Finland Helsinki Mission.” Cheers spontaneously fill the air. He leaps for joy. Hugs. Yells. Facebook is updated. Emails are fired off. Everyone is excited. A globe is produced to see how far north it is. Wikipedia is consulted amid scores of little conversations that erupt all over the house. I wander from group to group like a lost child, randomly pointing out that Finnish isn’t in the Indo-European family of languages–just because I don’t know what to say in such an adrenaline fog. My wife chats in the corner with a friend over travel to Europe. Excitement. My son’s eyes are glowing and a smile won’t leave his face. [Read more…]

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…]