The Word of Wisdom (WofW) is a unique revelation in the sense that we are able to confirm it’s legitimacy with science. I dare say that 176 years ago when the WofW was given, people had a difficult time seeing the wisdom in it. To some pioneers living back then, the WofW must have seemed like a rule from heaven without justification (kind of like polygamy). I imagine some early Latter-day Saints said things like: “Why can’t we smoke?” or “What could possibly be wrong with drinking hot drinks like coffee and tea?”
But as the faithful know, when God commands, we should not ask “why”; we should go and do. Today no one is asking “why” questions about the Word of Wisdom. The answers have been provided in abundance by science.
The WofW says that drinking wine and strong drink is not good. Nothing drives this point home more than the fact that alcohol consumption causes about 24,000 deaths per year from alcohol-related car crashes in the US alone, and leaves another 500,000 seriously injured. Some people get all upset about 4000 US soldiers killed in Iraq – where is the outrage over the approximately 24,000 alcohol-related car crash deaths last year!? Alcohol consumption also costs about $90 billion in lost production and health care costs in the US. In short, alcohol consumption has had devastating effects on our modern society. It has affected us in ways that could not have been predicted 176 years ago.
The WofW says that tobacco is not for the body and is not good for man. The nicotine in tobacco is very addictive, so many people get hooked on smoking and are unable (or unwilling) to quit. The CDC’s national center for chronic disease reports that in the 1990s, smoking killed an average of 440,000 people per year in the US. More-freakin-over, smoking cost the nation about $92,000,000,000 in lost productivity between 1997 and 2001! Back in the day when the WofW was given, smokers who died of lung cancer just died - nobody knew why (there are few if any references to lung cancer in 19th century medical texts). However, today we fully understand the devastating cost of tobacco.
The WofW highly recommends herbs (vegetables), fruits, and grains. It should come as no surprise that vegetables, fruits and grains make up the bottom portions of our food pyramid. They are at the bottom of the pyramid because science has shown that they are the foods that we should consume the most to ensure good health. I am certain that early 1800’s science did not have extensive information on healthy eating habits. I don’t think that people living back then would have claimed that an apple was healthier than salted pork. In fact, the salted pork would have been more appealing to them because of its greater potential to satisfy hunger. However, nowadays we understand the importance of healthy eating.
And finally, the WofW counsels us to eat meat sparingly. The results of a recent research project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that “Americans who ate the most red meat boosted their overall risk of death by 30% during a 10-year period compared to those who ate the least.” The researchers claimed that “if the heaviest red meat eaters ate as little as the people who consumed the least, they could prevent 11% of deaths among men and 16% of deaths among women.” Now more than ever before we see the wisdom in the divine counsel to eat meat sparingly. (Note, neither this study nor the WofW tells us that we should become vegetarians. Red meat is a good source of iron and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K, and antioxidants such as glutathione or carnosine.)
Indeed, as science progresses we are more fully realizing the wisdom in the WofW. God said that he was warning and forewarning us by giving the WofW – Now we know some of the reasons why.
My recently published book “Truth & Science” was supposed to be titled “Light, Truth & Science.” I wanted “light” in the title to recognize the role the Light of Christ plays in inspiring scientific discoveries. But my publisher said that books with “light” in the title don’t sell well, so “light” was taken out. (I guess too many LDS authors thought it would sound warm and fuzzy to put “light” in their titles, and many of those books did not sell well.)
Anyway, should my publisher decide to publish an upcoming book of mine, he will have to put “light” in the title, not because I want it to sound warm and fuzzy, but because the book will be about the Light of Christ. Perhaps he will want to change the title to the “Spirit of the Lord”, a poor choice given that this name is also used to describe the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is not the Light of Christ.
I am fascinated by the Light of Christ. It is a divine medium that emanates from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. It is what allows God his omniscience, which is to know everything that is happening everywhere throughout all His creations. It is also the source of God’s omnipresence – it enables His influence to be felt everywhere throughout all His creations.
The scientific community has nothing that comes close to matching the awe-inspiring nature of the Light of Christ. Take, for example, Einstein’s Relativity. Relativity is a great theory, but since it limits the fastest speed that anything can travel to the speed of light, it cannot explain how God knows in an instant what is happening on earth. Consider that if God’s throne were at the North Star, Polaris (now that’s relatively close), it would take about 430 earth-years for our prayers to reach Him, and another 430 earth-years for His reply to return. That is 860 earth years to get an answer to our prayers! If His throne were further away, as it most surely is, it would take much longer, even millions of years for our prayers to be heard and answered.
Then there is quantum physics. The quantum principle known as non-locality does a pretty good job, but still misses the mark. According to quantum non-locality, two events at opposite ends of the universe can occur simultaneously. We are not talking about coincidental occurrences here; we are talking about two events that are part of the same system or are “entangled” as it is sometimes called. In other words, when one event occurs, another event occurs at the same time at the opposite side of the universe. This principle has been demonstrated with sub-atomic particles.
Quantum non-locality (entanglement) seems to satisfy the instantaneous travel requirements of the Light of Christ, right? Unfortunately the answer is no. According to prominent physicists, quantum non-locality (entanglement) does not include the transfer of information and physical substance. So it cannot account for the instantaneous communication of thoughts in prayer, nor can it account for how an angel can transport him or herself from heaven to earth in an instant. If visiting angels were restricted to the speed of light, I am afraid that Laman and Lemuel would have beaten Nephi to death several times over before the angel arrived.
My book will explore the communicating, life sustaining, world creating, law-governing, truth providing, righteous enticing, and conscience generating roles of the Light of the Lord. It should be an interesting and challenging journey, but not nearly as challenging as getting my publisher to put “light” in the title.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was an evolutionist who believed in the inheritance of acquired traits. Inheritance of acquired traits is the notion that changes in an organism’s characteristics that are caused by life events or exposure to environmental stimuli may be passed onto offspring. For instance, if a man takes up body building and develops muscle mass, he will pass muscle mass characteristics onto his offspring. Or if a mother becomes a prolific reader, her children may become good readers.
Here is what Lamarck said:
"All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the young."
Lamarck deserves credit for being among the first to provide a comprehensive theory of evolution. He also deserves credit for stressing the important role that environment plays in giving rise to changes in organisms. However, because he advanced the idea of inheritable acquired traits, and idea that has been rejected by the scientific community, he has been relegated to the bottom of the evolution contribution totem pole. At the top of the pole is Darwin’s face, under it is Wallace’s face, and somewhere near the bottom is Lamarck’s face, positioned where people have been able to kick his teeth once and a while for proposing inheritable acquired traits. Well, that may be changing.
Recent discoveries in genetics have uncovered an exciting field called epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of the mechanisms that drive gene expression without altering the basic structure of DNA. Put simply, certain genes may be turned on and off, thus leading to changes in human phenotype (visible characteristics) without altering the genotype itself. The effects of epigenetics may be far reaching. It may lead to a better understanding of aging, life changes, and the causes and potential cures of diseases, to name a few.
What I find interesting about epigenetics is that the mechanisms driving gene expression can be influenced by environmental stimuli. What is even more intriguing is that epigenetic changes can be passed onto offspring. That’s right, the sort of things you expose yourself too (good and bad) can influence your offspring. I am not just talking about pregnant mothers here. Environmental influences we were exposed to as young children may have epigenetic consequences for our offspring.
Epigenetics is not a vindication of Lamarck’s principle of inherited acquired traits; they are not the same thing. But if I had to pick a scholar who came the closest to presaging epigenetic phenomena, it would have to be Lamarck. Well done, Jean-Baptiste.
Epigenetics is a recent discovery, yet God has always known about it. He knows everything about how the environment affects our epigenetics. I am certain that He took epigenetic phenomena into consideration when he gave us the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom was given to us as a form of godly admonition or divine advice about what we should take into our bodies. He did not tell us why He gave us the Word of Wisdom, He just did. Yet as science’s understanding of the importance of consumptive habits grows (e.g., balanced diet, moderation, avoiding harmful substances, type II diabetes, epigenetics), we are increasingly uncovering the godly wisdom in the Word of Wisdom.
So those of us who want to pass on favorable epigenetic characteristics to our children and grand children should heed the counsel of the Word of Wisdom. It now appears that the things we were exposed to as children can influence our children’s epigenetics, and the things that we expose our young children to can influence our grandchildren’s epigenetics.
When I consider the myriad of stars in the heavens, I can’t help but marvel at the power of God. The starry sky is physical evidence that He created worlds without number. When we view the night sky we are literally witnessing the power and majesty of God.
What makes the cosmos even more fascinating is that God wants to share the cosmos with us. He has already done so with Abraham. The scriptures declare that Abraham has received his exaltation, ascended to a throne, and has become a god. What sort of work is Abraham doing in the cosmos? If I had to guess I would say that he is assisting Heavenly Father with the creation and organization of worlds.
If we live righteously and qualify for the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, we too will enjoy the same opportunities as Abraham. We will become involved in the celestial effort to create and populate worlds without number. When that day comes, alas we will finally know what is going on with those mysterious globular clusters!
A globular cluster (as shown in the above photo) is an ancient, tightly packed, cluster of stars. Long before dinosaurs and ancient life roamed the earth, even before our sun was formed, large groups of stars coalesced and started orbiting our galaxy. Most globular clusters exist in the halo of our galaxy, the bright bulging region extending out from the galactic center.
Surprisingly there are relatively few globular clusters in our galaxy, only about 200 known to date; yet these clusters contain innumerable stars. Each contains millions of stars so densely packed that the “night” sky would always be bright if our earth was placed within one. Interestingly, however, they contain very few planetary systems because they have low metallic concentrations, and extreme gravitational forces from passing stars would rip planetary systems apart.
So what in the world is going on in these clusters? What purpose do they serve? The scriptures tell us that every space in the cosmos contains a kingdom. What kingdom(s) exists in these mysterious regions of our galaxy, then? Are they mortal-telestial, immortal-telestial, terrestrial, or celestial kingdoms? They hardly seem like ideal zones for mortal-telestial planets. If they are inhabited regions, it would seem that only exalted beings could exist in them, likely on worlds that look to us like stars because they have been celestialized into “seas of glass”.
Mormon Scholars in the Humanities is an association that explores the relationship between religious and secular scholarship. Last year their annual conference was held at Southern Virginia University. This year’s conference will be held on May 8th and 9th at BYU Provo and Aspen Grove, Utah.
The theme of this year’s conference is Religions and Critical Practices: Prospects for Scholarship in the Humanities. I will be a presenter at this year’s conference. The title of my presentation is From the Inspired Scientific Revolution, to the Spiritually Unenlightened Enlightenment, to Atheistic Secular Humanism in Science.
Here is a brief outline of what I'll have to say:
The 16th–17th century Scientific Revolution has long been recognized as the period that ended the scientific dark ages and ushered in an era of rapid discovery. Pioneers of the Scientific Revolution, scholars like Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton were instrumental in breaking the bands of apostate religious dogma that hung over people’s minds. Some of their greatest contributions include encouraging free-thinking societies, preparing the earth for the Restoration, and laying the groundwork of modern science. They were devout believers in God, yet notwithstanding their theism, they demonstrated that it is possible to accept and recognize deity while producing rigorous scientific work. These pioneers would be uncomfortable with the atheistic secular humanism that arose during the 18th century Enlightenment and is now endemic in science today. The commonly held belief that science must avoid any recognition of God is a grand deception. By rejecting God, secular humanists are turning the blessings of modern science into a curse - as the apostle Paul prophesied, they are ever learning without coming to a knowledge of the truth.
If you are looking for interesting presentations and engaging discussions on issues exploring the crossroads of LDS theology, philosophy, history, and science, I recommend attending this year’s conference. If you wish to join the association, memberships are only $10 per year.
For a synopsis of presentations by Latter-day Saint scholars during previous conferences, visit here and then click on current newsletters.