Let me lay some cards on the table, if only to provide a bit of context for what I want to say. I am a strong and unequivocal evolutionist who places Darwin at the very core of my philosophical mindset. My relationship to religion, on the other had, is …. complicated. I don’t think any of the standard categories unambiguously matches up with what I think and feel, and I’m somewhat okay with that. I just hope that these confessions serve to clarify rather than obstruct the conversation I hope to have. (more…)
One popular website running around on Favebook is Isidewith.com. It’s a website which asks you a few questions, then tells you how the candidates answered the same questions. One question is whether you believe in evolution. After you take the survey, you get to see how you align with the candidates. Just to make R. Gary’s head explode, here is Mitt’s response.
Question #1- What does that even mean?
Question #2- Should I be offended that it tells me I should vote Green Party?
A great deal of my thought surrounding the nature of (R)eligious, (S)cientific and (P)ragmatic (or pre-modern, modern and post-modern) approaches to truth is based in the premise that rule-following is the only path to truth. Empirical observation, logical deduction and everything in between only get us anywhere inasmuch as they are normatively constrained by rules of various kinds. In this post I would like to briefly unpack this position in terms of a familiar metaphor. (more…)
I have discussed the problem of evil in the past, and what I feel is the Church’s unique position on how the atonement itself acts as a theodicy, God responding with everything he can to our suffering. I still stand by the general premise of that post, that the universe is governed by eternal laws independent of God  and that man has free agency and thus God is not accountable for him.  I also still hold that through the Atonement of Christ, God is doing all he can to alleviate our suffering.
I’d like to speculate a little bit more about why God isn’t doing more to alleviate suffering. Here is where some theories associated with evolution come in.  (more…)
Stephen Finlan, Author of “Options on Atonement in Christian Thought” ends his book with a modest proposal. It is that our understanding of divine revelation is subject to a form of evolution. Finlan Suggests that “God always seeks to deepen and expand the revelation of truth, but we humans (including the biblical authors) only perceive a part of the message. We adapt and domesticate new ideas to old and familiar ways of thinking. We always pour new wine into old wineskins, but the new wine expands and bursts open our containers (Mark 2:22), our old ways of thinking.”  Finlan calls this “progressive development in religious conceptualization”. (more…)
Continued from here.
For those who are new, click here for all parts.
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet.
No doubt many of you have seen the movie Avatar which is breaking all kinds of box office records this winter. For the three of you who don’t know, in the film humans in the future are mentally connected to test-tube-grown alien bodies and essentially act as pilots to those bodies in the story. This idea of minds powering bodies is pretty common in religions around the world where the assumption is that each of us is a spirit piloting a mortal human body and as soon as our body dies our spirits essentially hit the eject button and move on. This concept is certainly at home in Mormonism where it is not uncommon to hear analogies about hands and gloves to describe the relationship between spirits and mortal bodies.
So with that as a backdrop, it is not entirely clear to me what the theoretical objection to the idea of human evolution among Judeo/Christian religionists would be. The stereotypical objection is that evolution means human bodies “evolved from monkeys”. As far as I can tell the awfulness of this prospect is supposed to be self evident. But of course the awfulness of the idea that our ancient biological ancestors were “monkeys” isn’t self evident. If we are just pilots of these present bodies then why should we care at all how these bodies came into existence in the universe? Now I can understand that Biblical literalists would be concerned about having to give up some hyper-literalism in their interpretations of the Bible to accept human evolution and they might not like that. But beyond that it seems to me humans shouldn’t really care much how our species came to be on this planet.
I am a pro-science guy and I believe in evolution. That said, it seems to me from watching the Discovery channel and reading popular science articles that it is easy to get carried away explaining things based on evolution to the point that we forget what evolution is in the first place.† Evolution is natural selection working on random mutation. Here’s an example from the NYT (hat tip: ZD sidebar) demonstrating how easy it is to slip from sound scientific reasoning into poppycock: (more…)
I have been fascinated by the theories and posts at this guy’s blog. I didn’t know much at all about evolutionary psychology before this week, though I was not surprised that such a field existed. Here is the definition of evolutionary psychology we get from the wiki:
Evolutionary psychology (EP) is a pseudoscience that attempts to explain mental and psychological traitsâ€”such as memory, perception, or languageâ€”as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology applies the same thinking to psychology.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is generated by psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments. They hypothesize, for example, that humans have inherited special mental capacities for acquiring language, making it nearly automatic, while inheriting no capacity specifically for reading and writing. Other adaptations, according to EP, might include the abilities to infer others’ emotions, to discern kin from non-kin, to identify and prefer healthier mates, to cooperate with others, and so on. Consistent with the theory of natural selection, evolutionary psychology sees organisms as often in conflict with others of their species, including mates and relatives. For example, mother mammals and their young offspring sometimes struggle over weaning, which benefits the mother more than the child. Humans, however, have a marked capacity for cooperation as well. (more…)
Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist and he blogs over at Psychology Today. Earlier this week he published a post called “How to be happy” (Hat tip to the BCC sideblog). Here are some relevant excerpts:
What can evolutionary psychology say about how to be happy? …
I would say that the best thing for people to do to become happier is to get in touch with their animal nature … Recognize and accept that we are animals. We are all designed by evolution to be certain way, and no amount of denial or fighting will change our evolutionary legacy and its implications.
One of the things that evolution has done is to make men and women very different. … One of the ways that men and women are different is in what makes them happy.
Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century. They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy. Similarly, it is very unlikely that quitting their jobs, dropping out of the rat race, and becoming stay-at-home dads to spend all their times with their children will make men happy.
The point of this post is not to give opportunity to arguing whether evolution or no death before the fall (NDBF)is correct. It is not to look at whether S. McMurrin and H. Eyring Sr. or J. Fielding Smith and B. Packer more accurately state the official position of the Church. If you have perspectives along those lines, table them, because those sorts of comments will be deleted here, even if you do have a fancy ™ on the end of your name.
The attempt here is to take the two positions, or for the sake of this post, assume BOTH are true. Then we can look at possible ways that both can work together.
10 years ago, give or take a few days, I started my first Mormon blog: Issues in Mormon Doctrine. A week or two prior, I had happened upon Jared’s blog (which was also brand new at the time), and realized that I had finally found a forum in which I could discuss the many issues that had been stewing in my head. While I shared with Jared an intense curiosity regarding the relationship between science (especially of the Darwinian stripe) and religion (of the Mormon stripe) my blog focused more on the tensions and contradictions that I saw in Mormon doctrine, as I understood it. It was a couple months later that Jared, Christian and I started Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation. (It was Christian who would eventually accuse me of playing Aaron Cox in the Banner of Heaven hoax, a part which he, in fact, played himself.)
Looking back on my first few years in the bloggernacle I feel a strange mix of embarrassment and nostalgia. On the one hand, I (thankfully) deleted Issues in Mormon Doctrine and can hardly stomach my posts that remain at Mormons and Evolution (it looks like Christian has since taken down the 2nd iteration of the site). My “issues” and “reconciliations” all seem so naive and unpolished in retrospect. Of course, I was putting out about 2 posts a day at the time, so I consciously sacrificed form for the sake of content – or so I imagined. Perhaps the high water mark at Issues in Mormon Doctrine was a long essay dedicated to the distinction between revelation and inspiration and why we as members were only bound to the former. This essay was later presented to and well received by a mid-sized Sunstone audience that included an approving D. Michael Quinn. It was not long after this presentation that I posted another long essay on my blog in which I announced my disbelief in God and the church. This was a very, very sad time in my life that I will not dwell much upon it. (more…)
No doubt most readers have, at one time or another, come across Nietzsche’s famous declaration that God is dead. By this, he did not intend any argument for atheism or sacrilege. On the contrary, he meant to expose the pre-existing albeit unacknowledged atheism and sacrilege that he found both around and within himself. The tendency that Nietzsche was trying diagnose was how people in his time no longer employed the concept of God within their lives. Even if people still professed to believe in Him – in some sense – the simple fact of the matter was that they never explained things in terms of Him, they never expected things from Him, He was no longer the foundation or ultimate justification for anything and, accordingly, they saw a world around them in which He was totally absent. This famous passage is always worth a read: (more…)
Neo-pragmatism (at least as Richard Rorty understands it) is committed to the position that, in some sense, the earth did not exist until there was a community of people to conceptualize and categorize it as such. To be sure, there are obviously ways of reading this which do not do justice to the neo-pragmatists. The main point at issue lies in the question, “In what sense did the earth not exist until relatively recently?” I think this question is especially interesting within the context of a Mormon worldview that – in some sense – believes in a very young earth. In this post I want to sketch out some (very) rough interpretations and possibilities of how neo-pragmatism might(!) link up with LDS claims. (Warning: rampant speculation ahead!) (more…)
BYU is about to be the focus of a new protest. It’s called Bike for Beards. Students, and perhaps some alumni, will bike from Provo City Library on over to the administration building and ask to have the beard ban removed by presenting a list of printed comments from their website to the administration. While I am not affiliated in any way with this group, I did submit my own argument for changing the policy. Since this is an issue that virtually every BYU alumnus/alumna could have an opinion on, I’ve reproduced my submission here. Most of what I wrote actually came from a memo I intended to send the administration while I was a student, but alas procrastination won out.
The BYU honor code standard against beards deserves critical review as it has outlasted its purpose. As a recent alumni, I am still troubled by this outmoded and unchanged policy.
As others have undoubtedly noted, wearing beards was not an honor code violation in BYU’s early history. When Elder Oaks became president of the university in 1971, he discussed the reason for the no-beard policy in his commencement address (on the topic of the honor code generally):
In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent.
The beard wasn’t just a beard in the 60s and 70s; it was a symbol of political and cultural dissent closely associated with the hippie culture and deteriorating social norms. In light of that culture, a beard ban made perfect sense. Elder Oaks even recognized that the ban was not meant to outlast its intended purpose:
Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future.
Elder Oaks explained that the ban could outlast its intended purpose, which I and many others would argue is exactly what has now happened.
The beard has lost its political symbolism. It has no lasting stigma among white-collar professionals such as doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers. Liberals are no more likely to wear beards than are conservatives. Only in the business world are beards still stigmatized. And while that should weigh as an important consideration, one professional sector’s preferences should not dictate the dress code where other professional sectors are indifferent.
In the spirit of Elder Oaks’ remarks, tattoos, multiple piercings, and outrageous hair color should all still remain suspect violations of the honor code. These symbols remain part of America’s anti-professional counterculture. The beard has moved on.
Naturally, some beards are outrageous and certainly taboo in the professional world. Brigham Young’s beard would simply have no place among white-color professionals. The honor code should not open the door to all facial hair. Just as the honor code allows hair without permitting outrageous hairstyles, so too should it allow for beards without outrageous beard styles. A possible modification could read: “Beards should be well kempt and decorous,” with some latitude in enforcement of this standard. Such a standard would be keeping up with the times and capture the spirit of Elder Oaks’ policy reasons for the beard ban.
Finally, as a note about the need for occasional policy changes: In Elder Oaks address, he reiterated the then-current prohibition on women wearing jeans or sweatshirts as appropriate enforcements of the honor code. Those prohibitions have since been dropped. The honor code has always followed what society recognizes as reasonable dress and grooming standards. Far from prohibiting women’s sweatshirts, the campus store sells women’s sweatshirts to students! Occasional modifications to the honor code have always been appropriate. In that vein, the beard has gone from social pariah to a reasonable grooming standard among professionals. The honor code should reflect that change.