29 September 2009


Within Christianity it is common to say the word amen to assert agreement with a statement or a prayer. Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we say amen at the end of prayers as well as at the end of a talk in sacrament meeting (usually following the bearing of testimony) and at the end of some ordinances. The word amen is a Hebrew word meaning "so be it" or "truly" or "verily." The word can be used as an affirmation of agreement or a statement of conclusion (e.g., a speaker in church closes her talk by saying "...in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen." The congregation members then all say "Amen." The speaker said amen as both an affirmation of the truth of what she just said and for the finality of it (akin to saying "The end" or fin or finis). The congregation members say amen implying that they are in agreement with what was said. [This means that maybe it is not appropriate to say amen after a talk or testimony if the speaker espoused obvious false doctrine. Not saying amen should never be done out of personal dislike but rather because someone simply was teaching grossly incorrect things {of course, the presiding authority in the meeting in that case should either find a way to - tactfully - get the person to stop talking or to at least - tactfully - teach the correct doctrine following the talk or testimony}].

As a further side note, the root word for amen is also the root of the word Mammon. I am not a linguist but I want to conjecture that amen is related to the word Ahman, which is a name for Jesus Christ found in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 78:20; D&C 95:17). This could imply that whenever we say amen to something we are not only affirming our agreement with it and the veracity of it but also we are declaring our devotion to Jesus Christ. We close in His name and then say amen not just as a statement of conclusion but also in recognition as Christ as the End, even Omega. Again, that is conjecture.

I want to return to what we imply when we say amen following a talk or prayer given by someone else. We are not only saying that we agree with what they said, we are accepting ownership for their words. This is more than slipping in a colloquial "What he said" or "Ditto"; it implies that you agree with what was said as if it were you were the one originally saying it. The distinction might seem trivial but the implications are not. It means you not only agree with the words but you are willing to be responsible for them and to sustain them. Saying amen is a verbal commitment to the truths of God as found in what was just said. Next time we say amen I hope we will think more about what we are really saying.

27 September 2009

A Famine of Hearing the Words of the Lord

The prophet Amos prophesied of a day of future famine, "not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). This prophecy was partially fulfilled after the death of Jesus and His apostles. His authority was lost from the earth and His words were changed - not all of them, but enough to leave people without a fullness. With the restoration of the gospel and priesthood authority, the words of the Lord once again went forth in purity. However, many in the world still suffer this spiritual famine. They willingly or unknowingly seal off their hearts and homes from the words of the Lord. The words of the Lord are ever-present but many will not hear them. Their homes become deserts without the waters of life that flow from the Lord and His anointed.

This can happen even within the membership of the church. And so I ask: is there a desert in your home? Are the words of the prophets in your homes? Is the spirit of revelation found there? Do you live the life you profess to live? Do you live the commands of the Lord and His living prophets? Is in your home a watered garden feeding and nurturing a tree of life or do you starve in a famine of hearing the words of the Lord? If you are experiencing a famine, what can you do to counter it?

There is one sure source of spiritual moisture - the Holy Ghost. Through the gentle yet piercing promptings and proddings of the Holy Ghost you can have your thirst sated. How often are you asking for this influence and nourishment in your life? Are you supplicating God in the name of Christ daily? Do you plead for forgiveness of your sins so that you might be better able to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost? If you used to pray frequently, do you do so now? "And now behold, I ask of you...have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?... And now behold, I say unto you...if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" (Alma 5:14,26). A one-time change of heart is not enough. King David was a man after the Lord's heart but he made mistakes and sinned. The Lord requires life-long endurance.

Have you kept your home an oasis of life in the midst of a desert, or have you allowed the desert to encroach into your home? Do you allow the east wind to blow through your home, drying it out and filling it with scorching heat and suffocating sand? What influences do you allow in your home? Do you eschew evil, or is it embraced? Is your home built by the iron rod and upon a rocky foundation, or have you established a residence in the great and spacious building, which has no foundation? Do you live full-time in a holy house or do you keep a summer cottage in Babylon? Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated, "Even if we decide to leave Babylon, some of us endeavor to keep a second residence there, or we commute on weekends" (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p.25).

Do you call upon God and plead with Him to abide in your home? Lowrie Hofford wrote this moving plea for comfort from Jesus:
"Abide with me; ’tis eventide.
The day is past and gone;
The shadows of the evening fall;
The night is coming on.
Within my heart a welcome guest,
Within my home abide.

O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

Abide with me; ’tis eventide.
Thy walk today with me
Has made my heart within me burn,
As I communed with thee.
Thy earnest words have filled my soul
And kept me near thy side.

O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

Abide with me; ’tis eventide,
And lone will be the night
If I cannot commune with thee
Nor find in thee my light.
The darkness of the world, I fear,
Would in my home abide.

O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide." (Source).
Have you asked the Lord that He enter and remain within your home? Have you made your heart and home a welcome place for Him? Have you walked with the Lord on your own road to Emmaus? Have you felt your heart burn within you? If you have, do you still feel it burn? Are you experiencing a personal and spiritual famine or do you drink deeply from the well of eternal life?

None of us are perfect and none of us will be in this life. However, we can, like Elder Maxwell said, strive to live close to Him who is perfect (see Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p.275). We have a perfect source of comfort and nourishment in the Lord. If and when we stumble and slip and fall - we all do - all we need do is get back up. If we ask, the Lord will be by our sides to help pick us up. By remaining close to Him we will find an endless well and be sheltered from personal and spiritual famine.

24 September 2009

Update about my podcast

My podcast has been on hiatus for the past month or so. I am planning on continuing it once everything is settled in for the semester and with my research. If anyone has any requests for a topic that I can cover during my podcast, let me know. Generally the podcast is a presentation of the essays I have posted on this blog but I am open to requests for other topics.

In the meantime, please take time to watch this musical slide show of sacred photos by Mark Mabry.

22 September 2009

Norman Borlaug: A Life of Service and Good Fruits

The year 1914 was significant. The Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, which event led to the start of World War I, a devastating conflict between many nations that left millions dead. 1914 was also the year the Panama Canal opened, providing quick access by boat from hemisphere to hemisphere. It was also the year that Sir Earnest Shackleton left for his expedition across Antarctica. In the U.S., 50% of the people who were born in the early 1900s could expect to live to age 60 (less than 80% would have been expected to live to age 20). In contrast, 50% of people born in 2004 can expect to live to about age 83 (source). Thus, since around 1914 we have added about 30 years to the average human lifespan. Most of this has come from reductions in infant mortality. Around the world, similar improvements in life expectancy have been made.

The world was in upheaval in 1914 but in an obscure rural town in Iowa a baby was born who would change the world. However this person largely remains unknown, at least within the United States. His name was Norman Borlaug. He died on September 12, 2009 at the age of 95. He grew up and received a PhD in plant pathology. He helped create hardier grain plants that increased food production by enormous amounts throughout the world.
"In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug's concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands "at the lowest level in human history," despite the global population having trebled in a single century." (Source).
Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work. He is one of the main reasons for a large increase in life expectancy worldwide. He spent much of his life living in the countries he was trying to help. His family went along too. In his own way, Borlaug was like Mother Teresa but on a much broader and macro level. His helping the poor and hungry was not ostensibly religious - it was based on science and plant genetics - but he had great devotion to helping and teaching those who needed help. Norman Borlaug was a man who was blessed with much and gave much. He never sought for fame and fame, for the most part, did not seek him.

None of us will likely ever have as great an impact on this world as Norman Borlaug did but we have all been given talents - spiritual gifts - that require us to use them for the good of ourselves and others.
"Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are.... For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby" (D&C 46:8-12; emphasis added).
All on the earth are given at least one spiritual gift by God. Many are given many. They should be used and expanded for the profit of all. In the New Testament we read the parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14-29). In this parable are three servants who are given talents (money) by their master as He leaves on a journey. The servant given five talents turned around and through wisdom and good sense turned the talents into ten. The servant given two talents turned those into four. The master was pleased with both servants. They were given talents and had increased them wisely. The third servant was given one talent. He, fearing his master, and not wanting to lose his talent, buried it; upon his master's return the servant gave unto him his single talent. The master was not pleased. He stated that this servant should at the least have put the money in the bank, so to speak, where it might have earned some interest. Because this third servant had not been wise with his talent, it was taken from him and given to the servant with ten talents.

The moral of this parable is not based on how many talents the servants had originally; it is based on what the servants did with the talents allotted unto them. Both the servant with five and two talents had doubled their talents. They expended effort and did not hide or neglect their talents. The servant given one talent would have acted similarly had he been given ten talents instead of one. Again, it does not matter how much we have been given as it matters what we do with what we have received. That last statement is not strictly true in the broader sense (i.e., outside this parable), I believe, because those who have received more talents have a greater responsibility to wisely use and grow them. Jesus said unto Joseph Smith, "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation" (D&C 82:3). The more we receive, the greater our responsibility.

To me it seems that Norman Borlaug was given much. He had the intelligence, training, creativity, and support that enabled him to help others have the food they needed to survive. He was not selfish with his knowledge. He spent the time himself training others so that they might in turn be able to train others. Borlaug helped start what is known as the Green Revolution, a revolution not of swords and guns but one of plows and tractors. It helped modernize the agricultural techniques of many areas of the world. Before where famine and starvation were rampant, Borlaug's work helped pave the way for surplus and plenty. He is a man who was given much and gave much in return. I do not know what he was like as a person but his fruits were good.

20 September 2009


To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. It is to declare a fact or a truth about something. It is to witness your knowledge of the veracity of something. The word testimony is a noun so someone has a testimony or can declare their testimony by testifying. The word testimony comes from the Latin word testis meaning witness (not to be confused with the male body part!). It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that the testis, or witness, stands as another (third) witness. We are taught in the Old Testament - testament is the same word as testimony - as well as the New Testament and Doctrine & Covenants that there need to be multiple witnesses to establish the truth of an accusation or declaration; this includes God's word, which shall be established by multiple witnesses (two or three; see Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; D&C 6:28). It is in the bearing testimony of multiple witnesses that truth is established. Even the Godhead, though one in witness and purpose and glory, constitute multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, "This is my beloved Son." The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove to bear witness to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ. God's pattern for testifying of His truths is well-established.

When Alma and Amulek started preaching to the people in the land of Ammonihah, the people were astonished that two people bore witness unto them: "And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them" (Alma 10:12). This is one reason LDS missionaries go out two by two - there are multiple people to bear witness, to share their testimony of the truths of the gospel.

In the October 2001 General Conference Elder Richard G. Scott gave this powerful teaching about testimony: "A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions" (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: "[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions." A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. In fact, that is the surest way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles for which you strive to gain a testimony. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, live His teachings. If you want to have a testimony of anything else, do it. That is one reason we are taught in Alma 32 to "experiment upon the word." As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth.

I want to share an experience when my testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith was strengthened. I'll quote from my missionary journal: "Tonight we taught Sarah [name changed] the 1st discussion at the stake center. She bought us pizza! What an amazing discussion. Elders VanBebber, Malie, and I taught it. Sarah is amazing. (Today Elder Malie and I reviewed the 1st [discussion] for companionship study and how we can apply it to Sarah. While doing that I decided to use the Joseph Smith pamphlet and read the Joseph Smith history in the discussion, as we are supposed to [do] but do not always do). [Sarah] used to go to church when she was 8 or so (LDS Church) with some friends. She even wanted to be baptized but told [her mom] and [her mom] said she couldn't go to that family's house any more. What a change [Sarah's mom] has gone through [we taught and baptized her previous to this experience]! I got to teach the Joseph Smith principle. Amazing! While I paused after the First Vision story, the Spirit hit me hard and I even started to cry. That is the first time that has happened to me - getting emotional like that in a discussion. As I testified of Joseph Smith I thought, 'Now I can really, honestly, [and fully] say that I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.' I have always known but now I KNOW! That feeling I received, I shall never forget nor deny."

I have not forgotten that feeling, even 8+ years later. That was one of the singular moments in my life. As I wrote back as a missionary, I have always known Joseph Smith was a prophet. That's not something I have ever doubted. My testimony of his calling as a prophet was based on years of going to church, reading the scriptures, praying, and learning about him. I saw and partook of the fruits the Lord restored through him to the earth. However, before that time I had not had a powerful singular experience like the one I had that evening. That does not mean I did not have a testimony before - I did - but it was strengthened considerably by that experience. What I did not write was how I had been reading my scriptures and praying with a sincere earnestness that I would receive a witness of the gospel. I had not just received that witness out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes - or most times - we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel Elder Scott offers His apostolic counsel: "Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, 'Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?' Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting. There has to be an explanation of that book you can hold in your hand. I know that you can receive a spiritual confirmation that it is true. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church (see introduction to the Book of Mormon, especially the last paragraph). You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life." (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

I add my testimony to his that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. We can all know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is God's word. We can know that Jesus is Divine, the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh, our Savior and Redeemer. We can know that God has a plan for each of us and that plan is to return to live with Him again and to someday see Him as He really is. I know these things and testify of them in the name of Jesus Christ.

15 September 2009

The Sacrament - Part 2

"See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out." (Mormon 9:29)

Sacrament - sacra-ment. Sacra- is the same word as sacred. Or, more accurately it comes from the Latin sacrare, which means to consecrate (or to make sacred). -ment is a modifier that turns a verb into a noun. It means "the action or result of what is denoted by the verb" (source). This means that partaking of the sacrament is to partake of something holy, something consecrated, that in turn helps us be holy and consecrated. The sacrament is thus both sanctified and sanctifying. This scripture in Mormon has an important phrase: "the sacrament of Christ." It is Christ's sacrament. He gave it unto us and His atonement gives it the power it has. We eat and drink in remembrance of His body and blood. It is sanctified and sanctifying through Jesus' Atonement.

The sacrament is an ordinance that is meant to help us become sacred. Being sacred is to be sanctified and holy and set apart. It is a calling of chosenness - a responsibility to shine as an example unto others and help them know the way by which they too can become sanctified and sacred. Being chosen or set apart is not a pandering to vanity, it is a call to responsibility. As we partake of the setting apart of the sacrament, we should feel a greater responsibility for our actions. We should feel like the brothers Jacob and Joseph: "And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day" (Jacob 1:19). We must act with all diligence.

Today when we partake of the sacrament, what are the covenants we make? We promise our Father in Heaven that we will:
  1. Take upon us the name of Christ.
  2. Always remember Christ.
  3. Keep the commandments of Christ.

First, I think it is important to note that we make these promises to Heavenly Father. Just as we pray to the Father (in the name of Christ) so do we covenant with the Father (in the name of Christ) as we partake of the sacrament. We first promise that we will take upon us Christ's name. That is a heavy responsibility! As Christians we should emulate Christ. We should take upon us His name by our words and actions. When we are baptized and confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we reject the old man or woman of sin and become new creatures in Christ. The old "us" dies and is buried and the new "us" arises as a spiritual child of Christ. We can then become heirs and joint-heirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17).

We also promise to always remember the Savior and keep His commandments. Those are no two small tasks but that is what is required of us. Those are terms many or all of us accepted before this life and they are terms that all will have the opportunity to accept in this life or in the next. As we accept and keep these promises we will always have Christ's Spirit with us. He is bound by the covenant when we do what He asks (see D&C 82:10).

The sacrament is a holy ordinance with which we make covenants with our Father in Heaven in the name of Christ. As we partake of it worthily and remain true to the covenants we make the sanctified bread and water will be sanctifying unto us.

12 September 2009

Gods of Science and Religion

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.

10 September 2009

The Sacrament - Part 1

There are many symbols on earth. Letters, words, and phrases symbolize everything from simple ideas to complex concepts. We have symbols for elements and molecules, such as water (pictured to the right). We have symbols for music. We have symbols for most physical and many non-physical things.

The Old Testament is replete with symbols of the Savior. Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Circumcision was performed as symbolic of the covenant between God and man. Moses lifted up a serpent upon a staff to provide healing to those Israelites who would look and live. Mosaic law required the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb in order to atone for sins. Baptism was and is performed in part to symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior.

The sacrament is symbolic of Jesus Christ's body and blood. To the Nephites in the Americas as well as to his disciples Jesus gave the sacrament. He explained the meaning of the bread: "And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you." (3 Nephi 18:7). The bread is symbolic of Christ's body, which He laid down for us that we might have power over death in the resurrection.

After bread was given, Jesus commanded that those who had gathered at the temple in the land Bountiful partake of wine.
"And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his Disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it. And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled. And when the Disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you. And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you." (3 Nephi 18:8-11).
Just as the bread is symbolic of the Savior's triumph over physical death, the water (or wine) is symbolic of Jesus' blood, which was shed for us in Atonement for sins and sorrows and sufferings. Jesus' blood provides the sanctifying power to those built upon His rock: "For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified" (Moses 6:60; see also 3 Ne. 18:12). Again, through Christ's blood are we sanctified. The bread is symbolic of salvation from physical death whereas the wine or water is symbolic of salvation from spiritual death.

06 September 2009

Building Zion

Sir Cecil Spring-Rice wrote a poem about his country (England) and a spiritual country. Both countries are deserving of devotion. The words are beautiful. Here are the words:
"I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace."
The speaker in the poem gives an oath to serve and protect his country. If that calling is war, he goes to war. Joseph Smith wrote in his letter to John Wentworth, an editor of the Chicago Democrat newspaper, these words: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Wherever we live, we should honor and obey the laws. Yet, there is another country that requires greater commitment and devotion. This country is spiritual. It's ruler is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is its King. It is not protected by walls of stone but by faithfulness and love. It is a country of peace.

A number of English poets wrote of spiritual countries and themes. Another of my favorites is by William Blake. His poem Jerusalem was set to music and is the national hymn of England. In the poem Blake questions if the Savior's golden feet ever walked upon England's green mountains and pleasant pastures.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
These words are stirring and powerful. Did Jesus ever walk upon England's ground? He might have. We read in 3 Nephi: "And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister. For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them. But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them" (3 Nephi 16:1-3).

Jesus said that He was going to show Himself to others who were not in the land of Jerusalem or in the Americas. I believe some of those others He visited were from the lost tribes of Israel who were scattered into the north countries and across the face of the whole earth (see Ether 13:11). Many within the lost tribes (and some who were not "lost") ended up in England. To them the Savior may have come. His divine countenance may have shone forth upon the clouded hills of England.

Blake also calls for the building of Jerusalem upon England's hills. This is similar to the early Latter-day Saints who sought to establish Zion, a New Jerusalem. It was to be built in Missouri (but was not due to persecution) and someday shall be built in Missouri. We can build Zion wherever we live by building our lives upon righteousness. As we strive for and are blessed with purity of heart we will discover that Zion is no longer fled (see Moses 7:69) but stands on the rock upon which we build (see Matt. 7:24 and 3 Ne. 14:24). Yes, someday a literal Zion shall be built in the Americas and the city of Enoch will return from whence it was taken, but in the meantime, Zion is wherever the Saints of God, especially the pure in heart, dwell (see D&C 97:21).

03 September 2009

C. S. Lewis on Suffering

Why does God allow us to suffer if He is all-good and loves us? Many today confuse love with kindness. C. S. Lewis wrote:
"By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness...by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness -- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?' We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven -- a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all.'" (Source).
This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi:
"Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God." (2 Nephi 28:7-8).
A loving God, according to many, would simply dote on His children. Many think He should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to the parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means that He, like any good parent, allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents, as their children learn to walk, never allow them to fall down? Parents do not like to see their children hurt or upset but it would be a spoiled child who always had its way and never once got hurt.

Again, it is because God loves us that He allows us to suffer. It is part of His plan for us to become like Him. We should not confuse love with kindness, as C. S. Lewis so eloquently pointed out. When people ask why God allows us to suffer, they do not understand the nature of God or His plan for us. This is not necessarily their fault but the question is evidence of ignorance or at least temporary blindness.


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