Cultivated Forests

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Charles C. Mann wrote an article called 1491 for The Atlantic in 2002. He followed that article with a book, titled 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. A summary of the book is as follows: “Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.”

The book is a terrific read that I highly recommend. If you want a taste of it, first read the linked article in The Atlantic.

Now what does this have to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Not much directly. First, evidence continues to build of a highly populated North and South America with many sophisticated societies. The peoples actively managed the environment – regularly burning large areas of land, planting trees, and improving the soil. The view of Native American peoples living in small groups ‘harmonious’ with nature around them is outdated.

“In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. ‘I basically think it’s all human-created,’ Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. ‘Some of my colleagues would say that’s pretty radical,’ he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, ‘lots’ of botanists believe that ‘what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia.’ The phrase ‘built environment,’ Erickson says, ‘applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes.'” (Mann, 1491, The Atlantic).

How does this fit with the Book of Mormon?

5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.

7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east [possibly within a small region of modern day southern Mexico/northern Guatemala].

9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.

11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:5-11)

So we have American inhabitants destroying large swaths of forest, cultivating new forests, building cities, and so forth. Now back to the article by Charles Mann:

Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. (Mann, 1491; emphasis added).

None of this proves the ancient historicity of the Book of Mormon, nor should belief in the Book of Mormon be tied to science. The truth of the Book of Mormon is independent from outside scientific evidence; truth is established by God and manifest by the Holy Ghost. That being said, articles and books like these written by Charles Mann are interesting.

Scientific Revolution and Restored Religion

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“But Copernicus’s new doctrine [that the earth was not the center of the universe] inspired fear as well as ridicule and confusion, because it led almost at once to questions that transcended science. If the Earth was only one planet among many, were those other worlds inhabited, too? By what sort of creatures? Had Christ died for their sins? Did they have their own Adam and Eve, and what did that say about evil and original sin? ‘Worst of all,’ in the words of the historian of science Thomas Kuhn, ‘if the universe is infinite, as many of the later Copernicans thought, where can God’s Throne be located? In an infinite universe, how is man to find God or God man?'” (p.99; Dolnick, E. (2011). The clockwork universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the birth of the modern world. New York, NY: HarperCollins).

The gospel of Christ as restored to Joseph Smith answers all those questions without difficulty.

  • Yes, the other worlds are inhabited. “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose….But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:33,35).
  • Other worlds are also inhabited by sons and daughters of God.
  • Yes, Christ died for the sins of those on other worlds (probably): “Since Jesus is the creator of other worlds whose inhabitants are also ‘begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (D&C 76:24), it may be that the benefits of the Atonement will extend to all of the spirit children of our Father in Heaven, wherever situated. [“Not My Will, But Thine” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), p. 51].” (as cited by Robert Webb). Also, Joseph Smith wrote in verse: “Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,\ Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;\ And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons\ By the very same truths and the very same powers.” (as cited in Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 66)
  • Yes, they had their own Adams and Eves: “And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.” (Moses 1:34).
  • Original sin does not exist or apply as many others understand it. Read here (short) and here (long).
  • Where is God’s throne? Near to a celestial body called Kolob: “And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.” (Abraham 3:9).
  • How is man to find God or God man? Man finds God through the Holy Ghost and the teachings of His prophets. God doesn’t have to find man: “For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:35).

True science and true religion support each other.

Science and Religion

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In the late 1800s Edwin Abbott wrote a satirical novella called Flatland. While written as a commentary on Victorian society, physicists and mathematicians have used the concepts of the story to help explain higher dimensional space. In Flatland there are only two dimensions. Imagine the world as 2D – there are x and y axes but no z. The world would be like an infinitely thin sheet of paper. While such a world could be beautiful and rich, there is a depth missing that those of us who live in a three spatial dimension world (like we all do; 3 dimensions suffice for our discussion now unless we want to get into a discussion of some of the theories or propositions of theoretical physics, in which case there are some who believe that our universe has a number of other dimensions than the viewable three {and non-viewable one of time}). We, in our 3D world, can easily comprehend all of the 2D Flatland. However, Flatlanders cannot comprehend 3 dimensions. If a 3 dimensional being passed through Flatland, the Flatlanders would only see cross-sections of the 3 dimensional being. This would allow a glimpse of the being but not a full comprehension of him or her.

My point with all of this is that science is like Flatland. Religion turns the world of Flatland into our world – a world of 3 rich dimensions. The three dimensions fully encompass the 2 dimensional world of science. Science and religion are complementary. Let me qualify that statement – true science and true religion are complementary. Science has breath and height; religion adds depth. Science teaches us much but religion allows us to understand the world from a greater perspective. Having the 3rd dimension offers a perspective of and purpose for science that science cannot achieve by itself.

If (true) religion is inclusive of (true) science, why do we need science? Why then does religion not answer all the questions about the world and universe around us? Why does science provide so many answers that religion does not answer?

This stems from science and religion asking different questions. Science asks “Why?” and religion asks “What for?” Science uncovers knowledge, religion teaches wisdom. That is not to say that knowledge cannot be obtained from religion – it can, even to a greater extent than from science – but wisdom are seldom drawn from science.

Science teaches us about the world, the universe, our bodies, and all that is around us. Religion does this but with added meaning and morality. Science does not address meaning; it is also inherently amoral. That is one reason with human and animal research we have ethics boards to review research. Ethics are philosophical replacements for morality and religion. It is telling of science that we require additional philosophical frameworks (e.g., ethics) to provide guidelines for what is appropriate science when applied to human and animal research subjects. This shows that science without a foundation of morality (ethics are a branch of morality; someone can personally be amoral or immoral while still being ethical but ethics would not exist without morality; morality only exists because of religion and inspiration from God. Morality exists because of our consciences given unto us by God).

Science is important. There are few things in life that I love more than science. Science is what I do. However, I recognize its limitations. Religion, particularly the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, adds a richness to my life that science never could add. My religion and my faith teach me to be a better person, science just teaches me. I see no contest between science and religion – they are parts of the same whole. Science adds to my faith and my faith adds to my science. They are not separate spheres, they are overlapping and inseparable. For me, science would lose much richness without religion and my life would lose much richness without science.

The more I learn about the world, particularly the human brain – my own particular field of study – the more in awe I am of what God has created. Can we really fathom the human brain? Can we truly understand the 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between neurons in the human central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)? What’s even more amazing is the ability of the brain to change – to learn and grow. It has infinite storage capacity. Think of that, our brains have the ability to continue to learn new things indefinitely. That does not happen in this life because of degeneration due to age but there is still no limit on what we can learn. In the post-mortal life we will have the ability to continue to progress in knowledge infinitely – spirit and body inseparably connected in an immortal form will be able to learn more faster than we now can.

I believe that science and religion go hand in hand. When there are clashes, that just demonstrates that we have more to learn doctrinally or scientifically. This means that if I ever had to choose between my faith and my science, I would choose my faith. Thankfully, I get to choose both because both add to my understanding of life. This is all why ongoing revelation and sensitivity to the Spirit of God is so important – it will guide us in all things. All things will be revealed at some point, most likely not in our lifetimes but in the post-mortal world. Then we will see with eyes unfettered. As our faith and even science are founded upon the rock of Christ we can continue to grow and progress to become more like Him, including knowing what He knows.

Brigham Young on Science and Religion

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I have two Brigham Young quotes about science and religion. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in general feel no hostility towards science, in fact, most embrace it. That does not mean we accept everything science seems to tell us as Truth but we believe that God blesses us with scientific knowledge and technological progress.

Brigham Young said, “There is no ingenious mind that has ever invented anything beneficial to the human family but what he obtained it from the one Source, whether he knows or believes it or not. There is only one Source whence men obtain wisdom, and that is God, the Fountain of all wisdom.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Edited by John A. Widtsoe, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1998, p. 259).

It is also important to understand when these quotes were given – in the mid to late 1800s. Just as there are many religionists who are hostile to science today, there were many religionists then who were hostile towards science. Mormons do not exhibit this hostility because we believe that scientific knowledge comes from God.

Brigham Young said, “I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood. You take, for instance, our geologists, and they tell us that this earth had been in existence for thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has; and they say, ‘If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing in six days, six thousand years ago, our studies are all in vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain; we must be what you call infidels, with the demonstrated truths of science in our possession; or, rejecting those truths, become enthusiasts in, what you call, Christianity.’ In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its processors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts – they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. This we know by what we have learned naturally since we have had a being on the earth. We can now take a hymn book and read its contacts; but is we had never learned letters and knew nothing about type or paper or their uses, and should take up a book and look at it, it would be a great mystery…. But this is no mystery to us now, because we have learned our letters.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Edited by John A. Widtsoe, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1998, pp. 258-259).

Gods of Science and Religion

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A recent opposing viewpoints article on the Wall Street Journal online pits “man” and God against each other in a verbose battle of words and ideas. The two authors wield their inky swords in a contest defending their theistic and atheistic ideals. However, there is no victor and no captive because their battle is not against each other; instead it is merely a clanging of swords and a rattling of shields in a feat of intimidation. Whose god will win? God of Christians or the god of science and evolution? [Note: please read the end of my post – I believe all truth comes from God, including the truths of science. Belief in God and belief in science are not mutually exclusive categories. Actually, I believe that with a belief in God that one can more fully understand and appreciate science, including its shortcomings].

The first author, Ms. Karen Armstrong argues from the theistic perspective. The second author, Dr. Richard Dawkins, argues from the atheistic perspective. It is a confrontation like that between Elijah and the priests of Baal but Dr. Dawkins’ god is not one of wood, stone, and gold but one of science and humanism. His is a dead god whereas Ms. Armstrong’s is a living God with real power (I’m certainly not calling Ms. Armstrong Elijah though!).

This is a religious blog and so I will only critique Dr. Dawkins’ arguments (and I am only really focusing on one particular part of his essay). That is my bias at this time. I am currently choosing not to critique Ms. Armstrong’s post. Dawkins wrote:

“What if the greatest show on earth [Darwinian evolution] is not the greatest show in the universe? What if there are life forms on other planets that have evolved so far beyond our level of intelligence and creativity that we should regard them as gods, were we ever so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to meet them? Would they indeed be gods? Wouldn’t we be tempted to fall on our knees and worship them, as a medieval peasant might if suddenly confronted with such miracles as a Boeing 747, a mobile telephone or Google Earth? But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us. Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.”

With this paragraph, Dr. Dawkins reveals his biases and short-sightedness. He gives a good example and asks a good question: What if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? What if life evolved to the point where those beings appeared god-like to us? Within Mormon theological tradition the answer to this question is, yes, there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. We claim that we here on earth are only some of God’s children. He has children on other planets who are also part of His Plan of Salvation. So for Latter-day Saints the question of life on other planets is moot. Further, God Himself dwells in a Celestial world, a physical place elsewhere in the universe (or multiverse in our dimensional space or a higher dimensional space; but that is speculation and is not the point of this article). There is a God dwelling elsewhere in the universe. Even Dawkins cannot definitively say “There is no God!” He can only state that he does not believe there is any supporting evidence for God.

Returning to Dr. Dawkins’ example: “But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us.” This is where his example falls short and is limited by his atheism. He does not continue his example like he could with an evolved race of beings who developed to the point where they have all the attributes and characteristics we ascribe to God, even eternal life. They may have evolved to the point where they can in fact create life. We have scientists who try to, by experiment, recreate or encourage evolution in the lab. Some scientists are “forcing evolution” (see also this article) whereas others are trying to create new life. We have the curiosity and desire to create life. Surely, an evolved race of god-like beings would also have the desire to control and create life! It might be faulty logic to state that but on the other hand, to deny some beings some where at some time both the desires to create and the power to create, goes against evolutionary principles. Even as “statistically improbable” it may be, there is still that minute probability, according to Darwinian evolution.

At least one race might even have evolved the ability to create life and “drive” evolution. They might have evolved the ability to create entire worlds or universes. To deny this possibility from an evolutionary perspective is to limit evolution in such a manner that destroys its basic tenets. Placing this limit codifies and canonizes a limit that is not inherent to evolution. How can you argue that it is not possible for a god-like race to evolve god-like powers yet argue that we evolved from a lower state and will continue to evolve to a higher state (or at least something more fitting to survival will out-evolve us)? If there has not been “time enough” in our universe, why could there not have been enough time in a different universe (and then that race of god-like creatures – even just one of them – created our universe by acting in a way that “forced evolution” or even started it outright)?!

Dr. Dawkins stated: “Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.” With this statement he lets his atheism limit his argument (plus he equates Darwinian evolution with physics, which it is not). He does not believe there is a God so he cannot conceive that some being somewhere could create the universe using the power and knowledge of scientific principles to create life. “Darwinian evolution is the only process we know that is ultimately capable of generating anything as complicated as creative intelligences.” So in the end Dr. Dawkins is not atheistic after all! Yes, he might be traditionally atheistic but his god is evolution and science. Dr. Dawkins exhibits faith in his god of mathematics, physics, biology, Darwinian evolution, theory, and statistics. His god is changeable and not well-understood. Our understanding of evolution has changed significantly since the days of Darwin. As new evidence of evolution is discovered we modify the theory and laws of evolution to fit the new data. Such is science. One thing I’ve learned as a scientist is that the more I do science, the less sure I am about my results or data. That does not mean they are wrong but they might be. Science is wonderful but flawed too. We humans are also flawed as is our understanding of science. But we can have unshaken faith in and knowledge of God – a faith that is neither misplaced nor flawed.

In His beautiful and powerful intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Our goal, our purpose, in life is to know God and Jesus Christ. Dr. Dawkins does not know God. He does not even fully know his god of Darwinian evolution. He knows a lot about them but science and evolution are abstract principles and as such are immaterial (while founded upon the philosophy of materialism) and unknowable. Evolution raises as many questions as it answers. We do not fully know God either, but we can know God. God is material and knowable (fully in the next life). Even in this life we can know God with a greater surety than we can know science. God testifies to us through His prophets and through the Holy Ghost. Science has its prophets but it has no testator like the Holy Ghost. Science is great and powerful. I am not anti-science. I am a scientist. But more importantly I am a man of faith. True science and true religion have no conflict.

I do not fully understand how the earth was created but I know that it was by a loving Heavenly Father who did so in order for us to progress – to evolve – and become like Him as we are faithful to His laws and ordinances and through the grace of Christ.

Science and Religion: The Creation

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I do not generally write posts like this one but I had to comment about something I read today. Yesterday morning I saw a bumper sticker that had the following words: “Creationism is a product of the Christian Taliban.” The inflammatory comparison is obvious but the whole statement is ambiguous at best (i.e., if you ignore the spurious comparison, the statement – according to a very narrow definition of creationism – could be interpreted as true by some).

First, the idea that the earth was created by a supreme being or higher power is as old as religion itself (actually, it’s older than “religion”; besides, it is true). The broader term creationism simply refers to any idea that the earth was created. In this sense, that bumper sticker is blatantly wrong. However, the term creationism was not coined until the early 1900s, when conservative (fundamentalist) Christian groups started a major backlash against evolution (more accurately evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, which had all animal life – man included – descended from a common ancestor like branches on a large blossoming tree of life). Today some people equate creationism with intelligent design. However, while intelligent design is a subset of creationism, the two are not exactly the same. In other words, all intelligent design is creationism but not all creationism is intelligent design. It is only in this very narrow interpretation of creationism that the bumper sticker could be viewed as true (again, completely ignoring the inflammatory conservative Christian / Taliban comparison).

This we do know – the earth was created by Jesus Christ. We do not fully understand the process by which He created the earth (and the “heavens”). We can glean a few golden kernels from the book of Abraham. As an example, here is a selection from the creation story:

“And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time” (Abraham 4:17-19).

The first key point is that during the creation, “the Gods [a reference – at least – to the Godhead] watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” Those involved in the creation watched and were active in the process until what they had ordered obeyed (i.e., finished the process They started and maintained). The creation took time; a lot of time. In fact, that is the second key point from these verses: “it was the fourth time.” The creation did not occur in “days” it occurred in different periods of time. The Genesis rendering of the creation using the word “day” is not wrong because “day” can be used to reference a particular span of time – 24 hours on earth – or some other interval of time (e.g., a “work day”, which might consist of 8 hours or some other length of time and might occur during the day or night; or, another example is where “day” is used to reference an event and not necessarily an actual time: “the day of vengeance of our God” {Isaiah 61:2}).

At least some scientific explanations of the origin of the universe and the earth can be interpreted as being in harmony with the gospel (one example is the Big Bang but I will not explain here how that can be viewed as being in line with the gospel). I’ve found that the more I study science, the more I do science, or just about anything, the more I believe in God. Non-believers may balk at that statement but when I see the beauty of the brain or in mathematics or physics or nature, I, like Alma, believe that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

In the end, that bumper sticker I saw is nothing but a cheap political shot at Christianity (ostensibly it is only a cheap shot against Christian fundamentalists who deny evolution but it really is an attack on Christianity in general). We do not understand the creation. We do not even understand science and anyone who places his or her trust completely in science (or, at least the preachings of scientists) really does not understand science. It is in God that we must place our trust. Whenever science and the gospel seem to clash, there are at least two explanations: the science is wrong (or at least partially wrong) or our understanding of the gospel (specifically, the extent of what has been revealed or our understanding of what has been revealed) is incomplete. Unlike science, the gospel is never wrong. So for me, if it ever really came down to a decision between science and the gospel, the gospel would always win.

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 5

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Education, as stated previously, is a major focus within the Church. We have been counseled to gain as much education as possible. It has always been a major focus within my family. It was expected that we would work hard in school, well at least do well in school. Both of my parents graduated from college. My father has a master’s degree and a JD. All of my siblings (there are 7 of us children) graduated high school, attended BYU, and graduated from BYU. Some of us have advanced degrees as do some of my brothers-in-law (I have a lot of sisters). I’m currently working towards a PhD. However, education does not stop there. Further, light and knowledge and truth do not come with degrees; in other words, you do not have to have any college degrees to learn. In fact, sometimes degrees get in the way of learning, at least learning what is really important.

As I wrote before, the most important education to receive – the most important knowledge to learn – is spiritual. “O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:28-29). Worldly wisdom and learning are good only if they build upon and do not detract from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another reason for the strong focus on education within the LDS Church are the following verses in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C; 130:18-19). Just as knowledge we gained in the previous life as spirit children of Heavenly Father continued to some degree with us in this life (i.e., what we have in this life is in part due to what we did in the premortal existence), so will our knowledge and faith gained and grown in this life rise with us in the next. I think it is important focus on the word rise in verse 18. Our intelligence will rise in the resurrection. It will grow and develop. Intelligence is not a static state – it is something that can grow and be nourished unto the perfect day.

The prophet Brigham Young taught much about education and learning. I’ll include a few key quotes. “Inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has designed us to know all that is in the earth, both the good and the evil, and to learn not only what is in heaven, but what is in hell, you need not expect ever to get through learning. Though I mean to learn all that is in heaven, earth, and hell. Do I need to commit iniquity to do it? No. If I were to go into the bowels of hell to find out what is there, that does not make it necessary that I should commit one evil, or blaspheme in any way the name of my Maker” (Discourses of Brigham Young {DBY}, p.249).

“Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all science and art belongs to the Saints [i.e., we accept all good and all truth]” (DBY, p.253). “Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular” (DBY, p.258).

“There is no ingenious mind that has ever invented anything beneficial to the human family but what he obtained it from the one Source, whether he knows or believes it or not. There is only one Source whence men obtain wisdom, and that is God, the Fountain of all wisdom; and though men may claim to make their discoveries by their own wisdom, by meditation and reflection, they are indebted to our Father in Heaven for all” (DBY, p.260).

Faith accepts all true science. Further, it is through our faith experiments that we not only nourish the tree of life but also the tree of knowledge. We accept all truth. As we experiment upon the word, the power of the word is revealed. This power is sharper than a two-edged sword; the power of the word is the power of eternal life. This powerful word is Truth. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we love truth. As Pres. George Q. Cannon said, “It is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found” (as cited by Robert Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet, p.13).

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 4

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Faith experiments and science experiments are similar in some ways. One of the similarities is that both seek knowledge; rather, through both, the experimenter seeks knowledge. Because knowledge is so important, learning is a major part of both. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are commanded to seek wisdom and knowledge: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C; 88:118). This verse relates perfectly to the faith experiment because it tells us that because “all have not faith” we need to seek wisdom and learning. Wisdom and learning help nourish the seed of faith, helping it grow.

Education is a vital part of life. Education is not just vital, life-long education is vital. We started learning as spirits living with our Heavenly Father. He taught us and had others teach us. We all progressed to various points, some learning more and some less than others. Then we came to earth, receiving bodies that allow us to continue to grow and progress. We also are able to learn spiritual and temporal things. Life-long education need not be formal, although receiving as much formal education as possible is a great goal. We can continue to learn and study on our own by seeking wisdom and knowledge out of the best books. We can and should study the gospel. We can and should study as many good topics as interest us.

Formal education is important because it helps teach you different ways of thinking. Learning in general exposes you to new ideas and new experiences, which help broaden your understanding of the world. Gaining a formal education also allows you to provide better for your self and your family. It also can lead to more free time with which you can do more church service. I’ve always thought it interesting how educated in general the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are. Most have higher education degrees and many have advanced degrees. Within the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, most have advanced degrees.

  • Pres. Monson has a bachelor’s in business from the University of Utah
  • Pres. Eyring has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard
  • Pres. Uchtdorf has a degree in business administration as well as being a highly respected military and commercial pilot
  • Pres. Packer has an Ed.D. from BYU
  • Elder Perry has a B.S. in business from Utah State University
  • Elder Nelson has an M.D. from the University of Utah and a PhD from the University of Minnesota – he is a world-renowned heart surgeon
  • Elder Oaks has a J.D. from the University of Chicago
  • Elder Ballard attended college but I’m not sure if he graduated – he was a successful businessman, however
  • Elder Scott has a bachelor’s degree but he also received the “equivalent to a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but due to the classified nature of the work, a formal university degree could not be awarded” (Source)
  • Elder Hales has an MBA from Harvard
  • Elder Holland has a PhD in American Studies from Yale
  • Elder Bednar has a PhD in organizational behavior from Purdue
  • Elder Cook has a JD from Stanford
  • Elder Christofferson has a JD from Duke
  • Elder Andersen has an MBA from Harvard

That’s quite a list of education accomplishments (and I didn’t even touch their other accomplishments). 11 of the 15 apostles (Quorum of Twelve plus the First Presidency) have advanced/professional degrees or the equivalent thereof. However, the greatest accomplishments these men have experienced are at home and in their church service. Every one of them gave up their careers in order to answer the call to full-time church. They do set a wonderful example of education and the life-long pursuit of learning. Contrast the current apostles’ education with that of Joseph Smith. He had little formal education but he continued to study and learn his whole life. He learned new languages; he studied the sciences; but most importantly, he studied the scriptures and the gospel; he was taught directly by angels as well as the Savior. He was one of the most intelligent and understanding men of all time.

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 3

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While the goal of science is to uncover truth (at least in theory) and the goal of a faith experiment is to understand truth, the means and methods to those goals are very different. Further, the goals are also very different, although both science and faith seek truth. Gospel Truths are Eternal. Science truths may or may not be True. Actually, most scientists do not state that they are discovering truths, they state they are seeking facts, as I wrote previously. But facts are manufactured, they are created by humans. That does not mean they are untrue, they just do not happen to be the same as truth. In a faith experiment the goal is Truth but again, Truth is not on trial, the experimenter is. In a science experiment the goal may be truth but that truth is on trial; however, the experimenter is not.

I think that is why Alma’s seed analogy for the faith experiment is perfect. Experimenting with faith is not like science, it is like gardening (to which scientific principles can be applied, if wanted). For the tree of faith to grow, it is best to prepare the soil first, to make it ready for sustaining the faith seed. Soil often needs preparation – tilling, softening, fertilizing, and so forth in order to best sustain life. Once the seed is planted, it needs water, additional fertilizer, weeding, and other nutrients and protections. Now, many seeds can grow just fine in hostile environments and even in spite of the lack of care and nourishment but most of the time the plants that grow best with the least care are simply weeds – plants that are unwanted where they are and/or plants that serve little practical use. Some weeds are even noxious on top of just being annoying. On the other hand, most good seeds require much nourishment. The best outcomes occur when the most care is given.

The seed of faith, if given the proper care, eventually grows into the tree of life, which produces fruit that is more desirable than all other fruit and fruit that is bright and pure beyond all other fruit.

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 2

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In some ways, Alma’s faith experiment is similar to a science experiment. For one, Alma tells the people to look for evidence of the growth of faith, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:28-30; emphasis added).

Alma told people to not cast the seed of faith out and not resist the Spirit of the Lord; if they did this, they would feel and understand the seed. They would be enlightened and filled. The seed, with nourishment, will grow into a tree producing fruit of light and purity, that which is without end and never spoils.

In a science experiment you seek to falsify your hypothesis; in other words (and in theory), you try to collect all the evidence you can that you are wrong, then accept your hypothesis as supported if you don’t find anything that contradicts that hypothesis. Again, in theory that’s how science works. On the other hand, a faith experiment is almost the opposite; you try to do everything you can to find evidence that you are right – not wrong. That is how many scientists work, or at least people who are learning to be scientists, but that’s very different than what scientists should be doing.

In a faith experiment you plant the seed, you nourish it, and care for it; you don’t try to kill it and then, if it survives, call it a good seed – that’s a science experiment. You do all you can to try to show that the seed is good – because it is. The truth of the Seed of Faith is not what is on trial in a faith experiment because the seed is Truth; what’s on trial is the experimenter! That’s why in a faith experiment we shouldn’t try to falsify the seed – the seed is True – we should do all we can to support the seed. Additionally, in a faith experiment it becomes necessary to at least suspend judgment on things that – on the face – look like they disconfirm our hypothesis (e.g., doctrines or teachings or statements that we might not currently understand or that seem to not fit with science or general worldly knowledge). I wrote “on the face” because a lot of things or ideas that look like they are at odds with true religion are created or “discovered” by humankind, who are imperfect and sometimes dishonest. However, in science experiments ignoring data that disconfirm your hypothesis is poor science.