Have you ever wondered about the mental capacities of animals? Can we know which behaviors result from thinking and which behaviors are caused by instinct?
The other day I discussed our cat’s smarts with my daughter Brooklyn. Ever since she was a kitten, our Felis silvestris catus (that is her Latin name) has relieved herself in the litter box 100% of the time. Except for when she ate foam and got sick, she has gone in the right location every time! Should I also expect her to barf in the litter box? Well, we humans rarely make it to the porcelain throne when we throw up, so I will cut her some slack on that one.
Anyway, I told Brooklyn that I think our cat is smart. Our cat may think something like: “I gotta go and don’t want to mess up this nice carpet. Where is my litter box?” Come to think of it, if she relieved herself in a conspicuous location of the house and no one found out for weeks, wouldn’t that be a sign of smarts? At the same time, however, I said that her Freudian cleanliness may be due to instinct. She may think nothing at all and just instinctively run off to her litter box.
I am not certain of my cat’s cognitive abilities, but like so many pet owners, I am certain that animals experience joy. Watching my boyhood German shepherd burst into joyous tail wagging, bouncing, and spinning when she spotted me coming home from school, it was pretty clear to me that dogs feel joy. Some dogs even smile, and not just those in photoshopped funny dog pictures. The endowment creation video even tells us that animals feel joy.
If animals feel joy, can they also express gratitude? Can they display overt behaviors that are intended as expressions of thanks? I don’t know, but this heartwarming video of a freed whale comes as close to any display of gratitude as I’ve ever seen. Sure the whale is happy, but that it went on with jumping and tail wagging for an hour in the presence of those who saved its life seems to indicate gratitude. The person who saved its life comments on the possibility of gratitude at 7:09.
The Anthropic Principle (AP) concerns the relationship between the laws of nature and the presence of life. It basically asserts that if the laws of the universe were altered ever so slightly, life would not have come into existence.
Here are some examples.
Example 1. "If the nuclear force were only a few percents weaker, then a proton could not combine with a neutron to form a deuteron. If this were the case, no deuterons would be formed in the sun and hence no solar fuel would exist. As a result, the sun would not shine (‘burn’), but would merely be a cold ball of inert gas—precluding the possibility of life on earth."
Example 2. A slightly stronger gravity force would result in “a smaller universe of larger, brighter, shorter-lived stars, that will eventually collapse in on itself again in a Big Crunch. Most, if not all stars would be binary, trinary, or larger systems. Any planets orbiting these stars would have to go very fast to avoid a fiery demise inside their parent stars, and would be slung around wildly by their multiple suns. Any planetary system in this universe would be devoid of a stable, safe harbor for life, and relative stability is a vital prerequisite for the evolution of complex life forms. Life here would probably get to no more than amino acids, much less true life, before one of the planet’s parent stars went nova or the planet was torn apart and swallowed into one of the stars. It would not be a place to develop living creatures as complex as ourselves.”
There are different forms of the anthropic principle. The one form that most scholars agree upon is the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). This principle claims that conditions in the universe are such that they allow life to exist. If this statement did not impress you it is probably because we already know that the conditions of the universe are such that they allow for life by virtue of the fact that we exist. Thus everyone, including atheists and believers, agrees with the WAP so it can’t really be used effectively to argue for the existence of deity.
Then there is the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP). The SAP basically states that because the universe must have certain properties for life to exist, and we exist, the universe was specifically designed or fine-tuned by a supreme being for the purpose of sustaining life. As a latter-day saint, I wholeheartedly accept the SAP premise, but it lacks rigor as an argument for the existence of deity with non-believers.
The problem with arguing that God lives because the universe we live in is fine-tuned for the existence of life is that we actually live in a universe that supports life. The very thing that gives rise to the argument for deity, namely a fine-tuned universe, also weakens the argument. Think of it this way. Imagine 5 universes where nature is fine-tuned to support human life. People in those 5 fine-tuned universes might marvel over the fact that their universes allow life to flourish, and some of them even propose a supreme being as their creator. Now imagine another 5 universes that are not fine-tuned to support life. In those universes no one is around to marvel over why their universes did not allow life to flourish because life cannot exist in them. A fine-tuned universe is all intelligent beings can ever know! So regardless of whether one is an atheist or a believer, there is amazement over the fact that life exists. To leverage this amazement by arguing that “therefore a supreme being must have created the universe,” carries little weight with atheists who are similarly amazed over the existence of our fine-tuned universe.
As a stand-alone rational argument for believing in deity, the weak and strong anthropic principles accomplish very little in the way of converting non-believers to the truth. But when coupled with the influence of the Spirit, anthropic arguments can suddenly make sense and facilitate conversion.
Marriage and family are essential to the Plan of Salvation. The Proclamation on the family issued in 1995 says this much. Hence Latter-day Saints and Christians should pay close attention to efforts to redefine marriage.
Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, wrote an article exploring the impact of gay marriage on the marriage culture. One thing people on both sides of the marriage debate can agree on is that the surge of gay marriage will change our culture's understanding of marriage. Douthat highlights three possible directions marriage will go.
Some argue that gay marriage will be good for gays in the sense that it will promote stable, monogamous relationships in the gay community. Gay commitment to marriage will, in turn, strengthen marriage as a whole, as being a stable and enduring institution. An author who has written on this subject predicts that same-sex marriages will strengthen “marriage’s standard for committed relationships” across all society.
A somewhat different prediction is that gay marriage will “partially transform marriage from within.” Most noteworthy is the change in marriage sexual mores, away from sexual monogamy toward sanctioned infidelity. One gay activist hopes that same-sex marriage will end up redefining marriage “simply as a pact of mutual love and care” wherein gay and straight married couples are free to negotiate occasional sexual encounters outside the bonds of marriage.
The final prediction is the direst. There are some activists “who hope that gay marriage will knock marriage off its cultural pedestal altogether.” They want to abolish marriage as a “gold standard” for committed relationships. They hope to achieve this objective by having same-sex couples who have no intent on honoring marriage vows get married. They want to weaken marriage by denigrating it. They don’t want marriage. They want marriage to go away.
With regard to the first prediction, we do not need gay marriage to strengthen the institution of marriage, and I doubt that same-sex marriage would ever accomplish such a thing. If the gay community wants to strengthen marriage it could support traditional marriage as being between a man and woman and stop pushing for a redefinition. To their credit, some gay people are doing this. The traditional concept of marriage isn’t broken, so let’s not try to fix it.
The second prediction is very troublesome. It wants to redefine acceptable sexual relations within the bonds of marriage. Sanctioned infidelity would end up destroying marriage because it would eliminate a core component of marriage, namely sexual commitment to one person. Take out monogamy and marriage becomes little more than a relationship driven by economic and sexual convenience.
The final prediction involves complete obliteration of marriage. Activists who take this position see marriage as promoting emotional and sexual fidelity that is antithetical to their vision of a free-for-all, sexual anarchy. They cannot live in long term, committed relationships themselves so they want to eliminate anything that promotes fidelity as the norm. They want infidelity and promiscuity to be the norm. The only way to achieve this is goal is to tear down the current norm.
Clearly we are facing forces that will, if they get their way, lead to the disintegration of marriage and the traditional family. Such changes will have dire consequences. The Proclamation warns that “the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” I hope this doesn't happen, but it seems that as a society, we are headed in that direction.
With an ecological disaster currently underway in the Gulf of Mexico, I could not help but wonder if this calamity falls under the last days' calamities listed in the scriptures.
Presently four angels on our world have been given the power to save and destroy life, to spread the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and to seal up things unto life or to cast things down into darkness and despair. (D&C 77:8)
These four angels have another important responsibility - as destroyers. At God’s command they will send great calamities upon the earth. The Lord said “For all flesh is corrupted before me; and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven—Which causeth silence to reign, and all eternity is pained, and the angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth.” (D&C 38: 11-12).
Given their direct involvement with mankind, it would seem that these four have an intimate knowledge of the wickedness that is in the world; this might explain why they have been pleading with the Lord to let them carry out their duties as destroyers. D&C 86:5 tells us that these “angels are crying unto the Lord day and night . . . to be sent forth to reap down the fields.” It appears that they have grown weary of the wickedness that covers the earth. They have seen enough and are anxious to get on with the business of punishing and purging wickedness. Certainly they have marveled over God’s patience.
Why have they been held back? The Lord has held them back because He does not want their calamities to disrupt his growing church, which is why He said “pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender, lest you destroy the wheat also.” (D&C 86:6). However, I wonder if things are beginning to change.
The BP oil disaster has me thinking about angel #2. What is in his vial? His vial contains destruction in the seas. Revelation 16:3 says that when “the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea . . . it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.” And Revelation 8:8-9 says that when “the second angel sounded . . . it [was as though] a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.”
When I view the video of oil gushing from the ocean floor, it reminds me of a volcano blowing fire and dust (“a great mountain burning”). Pictures of the oil washing up on shore resemble the “blood of a dead man”. And the oil is killing many creatures in the sea. With no end to the gusher in sight, the spill may once day cover an area large enough to qualify as “a third part of the sea” (what the ‘sea’ refers to, I don’t know).
The recent death of four-year-old Ethan Stacy at the hands of his abusive step father has been heart wrenching for many Utahns. Recent evidence indicates that he was repeatedly beaten by his step dad, left alone to suffer from his injuries, and left alone to suffer through traumatic brain injury during the final days of his life.
Where was Ethan’s mother through all of this? She was physically present, yet emotionally detached. A former friend of the mother told KSL news that the mother telephoned her in Florida days before Ethan died and complained that Ethan would not stop crying and would not stop calling for his “mommy”. Apparently his cries were irritating the mother. The woman who should have loved and helped her son turned into an unfeeling bystander. Ethan cried for help as he slowly died.
A similar event took place a few years ago in Galveston, Texas. In October 2007 the body of a young girl was discovered in a plastic container partially buried in a watery bog. Investigators called the child Baby Grace until they found out that it was the body of Riley Ann Sawyers.
During the trial it came out two-year-old Riley was repeatedly beaten with a belt and had her head repeatedly pushed into a pillow and under water for not saying “please” and “yes sir” to her parents. During her final beating she cried out to her mother for help by saying “I love you.” Her plea for her mother to save her went unheeded. Moments later she died after her rampaging stepfather threw her across a room and fractured her skull.
In both cases the parents tried to cover up the murders. Ethan’s parents bashed in his face and teeth with a blunt object (probably a hammer) and set fire to his body before burying him. Riley’s parents let her body decompose in a plastic container for a month or two before putting her out to sea.
I am not going to go into behavioral science explanations of infanticide or discuss the issue of insanity as a legal defense (which seems to be the defense that Ethan’s step father is cooking up). Also, I am not going to discuss the anger and sorrow that I feel whenever I contemplate these events. Instead I am going to finish this blog post with an expression of light and hope.
Because of the great plan of happiness of our God, Ethan and Riley will be taken into God’s presence where they will be surrounded by His love and compassion for eternity. They will be exalted on high as a prince and princess to the most high God, and become heirs to all that He has. This is God’s blessing to all children who die before the age of accountability. This realization helps replace feelings of anger and sorrow with feelings of hope and peace.
In my study of epistemology (i.e., knowing and how we know), I have come to the conclusion that spiritual ways of knowing can be just as certain as empirical (visual) ways of knowing.
For some time I believed that spiritual knowing lacked the certainty that we attribute to empirical knowing. I mean, most people would agree that seeing something is more certain than spiritually ‘feeling’ something. After re-evaluating this position and the evidence, I think it is false.
I have come to the conclusion that there is just as much certainty in spiritual experience as there is in empirical experience. Consider times when the spirit bears powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon, when the Lord directly answers heartfelt prayers, and when the power of God is felt through priesthood blessings. We can know that those experiences are real. For many they are just as real as reading this post on a computer screen. I have experienced this sort of thing myself. I have had spiritual experiences where I know something supernatural happened.
Alma commented on the certainty of spiritual experiences in his address to the Amalekites. Regarding the experiment of planting a seed of faith (Alma 32), he wrote that when we plant a seed of faith, it will swell, sprout, and begin to grow. This swelling, sprouting, and growing refer to the spirit working in our lives. Planting a seed of faith causes us to feel the spirit more strongly, to see that it is good.
Can we be certain that something good is happening to us? Alma’s answer is “Yea.” He wrote that “ye must needs know that the seed is good.” Herein lies the certainty. “Your knowledge is perfect in that thing . . . for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” In other words, we know that the spiritual experiences are real. We know that something good and supernatural has happened to us.
But wait a minute; I thought faith was not having a perfect knowledge. Where does the uncertainty come into play? Alma explains it this way: “and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Nay.” He is saying that while we are certain of having had spiritual experiences, we still lack perfect knowledge of God and the power of the priesthood and prayer. There is so much more for us to learn. The more we exercise faith in the Lord, the more knowledge we will receive. We can continue to acquire knowledge through faith until we reach the point where, like the Brother of Jared, we receive a perfect knowledge of the Lord.
Our certain spiritual experiences are what allow us to rationally declare “I know God lives”, “I know the priesthood power is real”, and “I know the Book of Mormon is true.” Although we lack a perfect knowledge of these things, the experiences which led to our testimony of these things are as real as the chair you are sitting on. As Alma pointed out, these experiences are clearly “discernible.”
Unfortunately, following the death of Paul and the other apostles, apostolic authority was taken from the earth and the gospel of Jesus Christ fell into obscurity and darkness. This decline in spiritual truth and apostolic authority corresponded with a sharp decline in secular scholarship, indicating that as the plain and precious truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were being lost, so too were secular truths being lost.
The simultaneous loss of both was not a coincidence. The spiritual apostasy and wickedness of man diminished the enlightening power of the Spirit of the Lord. Because so much of humanity’s secular knowledge comes from the Spirit of the Lord, this diminishment affected mankind not only spiritually, but secularly as well. As the power of the Spirit of the Lord waned during the apostasy, so too did mankind’s ability to receive enlightenment.
The spiritual apostasy contributed to the decline of secular knowledge in another way. During the apostasy mankind tried to compensate for the loss of spiritual enlightenment and apostolic authority by appealing to human reason. The philosophical contributions of ancient Greek scholars were monopolized by misguided theologians and scholars who wanted to settle doctrinal disputes and make Medieval Christianity more appealing to the masses. The works of famous scholars like Plato and Aristotle now served the interests of a powerful apostate church.
Because the church controlled a large number of educational institutions and most medieval scholars were clergy members, few people dared interpret Classical Greek principles in a manner contrary to the teachings of the church. Those who attempted to enlighten mankind faced reprisal from the church if their ideas opposed church doctrine. The hijacking of Classical Greek philosophy by dogmatic religious authority, diminished blessings from the Spirit of the Lord, and the loss of priesthood authority all combined to create the Dark Ages.
I’ve always thought that the proportion of spirits cast out of heaven for rebelling against the Plan of Salvation was 1/3. To give you an idea of how much this is in relation to the whole, it is like cutting a blueberry pie into 3 equal sections and tossing one piece into the garbage. Just as I cringe at the thought of so much good blueberry pie being tossed out, I cringe at the thought of so many souls losing their first estate and being cast into hell.
Last week I discussed this issue with Craig, a member of our HP quorum. He said that it wasn’t 1/3 of the hosts of heaven; rather, it was a “third part” (D&C 29:43) which, in all likelihood, is much smaller than 1/3 of the whole. In other words, he claims that 3 groups were present during the war in heaven: (1) the noble and great ones who are leaders; (2) those who kept their first estate; and (3) those who rejected God’s plan. According to this viewpoint, these 3 groups were NOT equal in size. Those who did not keep their first estate in group 3 were likely much smaller than 1/3 of the entire whole.
To put this theory into blueberry pie terms, there are three slices of pie: a very small piece representing the leaders; a very large piece representing those who kept their first estate; and a smaller piece representing those who did not keep their first estate. The last small piece is taken out and thrown away. I’d feel better knowing that just a small piece of the yummy pie was tossed out.
So which is it? 1/3 or a third part?
The Bible Dictionary (BD) says it is 1/3. It reads: “The war broke out because one-third of the spirits refused to accept the appointment of Jesus Christ as the Savior.” However, the BD is not canonized scripture and the introduction even states “It is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth.” Also, the scriptures never say one-third; they say “a third part”.
I’d like to think that those who did not keep their first estate were a third part smaller in size than 1/3 of the whole. Yet having been taught for so long that it was 1/3, I tend to think that it was one-third of the whole.
There are seemingly well-intentioned teachers, scholars, scientists, and academicians who are working to make the world a better place, but they are also doing the work of the devil.I am referring to secular humanists.Mormon tells us that “whatsoever thing persuadeth men to . . . believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.”This is exactly what secular humanists are doing – they are persuading people to disbelieve in God.
It wouldn’t be so bad if they kept their atheism to themselves, but they don’t.They are the modern day Korihors who go about persuading people that there is no God, no divine law, and that “everyone fare[s] in this life according to the management of the creature.”A major Korihorian tenet of secular humanism is that the key to human prosperity is mankind’s own abilities.It claims that we can achieve lasting peace and happiness through human ingenuity, reason, and strengthening humanity through science and technology (compare to Alma 30:17).There is absolutely no place for God in achieving lasting peace and happiness according to this belief system.
Secular humanism has become more than a system of beliefs.It is now an organized religion.Its gods are science and philosophy.Its old testament is the book of human reason.Its new testament is the book of nature.Its holidays are the summer and winter solstices.Its priests are highly educated evolutionary spin doctors and academicians who are ever learning without coming to the knowledge of the truth.Its missionaries are teachers who openly criticize notions of intelligent design in front of our young children.Its “churches” and “meetinghouses” are websites that promote atheism and denounce Christian beliefs 24/7.And its current leader is a highly successful author, scholar, and retired professor of philosophy named Paul Kurtz.
There are positive teachings in secular humanism.There is an emphasis on freedom of choice, moral values, ethics, reason, and scientific progress.These are worthwhile pursuits, but as they say, “the proof is in the pudding.”In this case the pudding contains a dangerous mixture of a denial of godly existence, influence, and authority.Like a snare hunter, secular humanism lures people with attractive bait, and then springs the trap of atheistic dogma.That atheistic dogma traps individuals in a world devoid of hope and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here are two questions regarding the secular humanists. 1. Deep down inside do some of them truly believe in a supreme being, as did Korihor?I think the answer is yes.
2. Will those who are intentionally deceiving others meet the same sort of fate as Korihor?I don’t know.I’ll leave that one up to the Lord.
Korihor had no evidence that God does not exist, and neither do the secular humanists.They have not been able to disprove the existence of divinity with their intellectualizations and pedagogical ramblings.Yet, like Korihor, secular humanists have plenty of reasons to believe in a supreme being.As Alma pointed out, the scriptures, the earth and its motion, all things upon the earth, and all the planets bear witness of the existence of a supreme creator (Alma 30:44).But until the learned secular humanists humble themselves and exercise a particle of faith, the Lord will not reveal himself to them (2 Nephi 9:42).
I am hopeful and prayerful, but am not holding my breath.
What did Isaac Newton, Renes Descartes, Galileo Galilei, Robert Boyle, James Maxwell, and Michael Faraday all have in common?
They were highly successful scientists and scholars who lived during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Isaac Newton is one of the brightest and most influential scientific minds that ever lived.Descartes’ earned the title “father of modern philosophy” for his contributions on reason and scientific methodology.Galileo’s popularization of experimentation and mathematical analysis played a major role in shaping modern science.Boyle is a co-founder of the influential Royal Society and a founder of modern chemistry.Maxwell made groundbreaking discoveries in mathematics and physics, most notably in the area of electromagnetic theory.And Faraday revolutionized modern physics with his work in electromagnetism.
These men shaped the world in which we live.Without their contributions the world would be a very different place.They brought us out of the Dark Ages and laid a foundation of scientific progress and prosperity that continues to this day.
What some may not realize is that they were also devout believers.They were theists, which is to say that they believed in a Supreme Being who is actively involved in His creations.They believed in divine inspiration, guidance, and intervention, and accepted the divine mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.Why is this significant?It means that if you believe in God and believe in science (in the sense of recognizing science as a noble pursuit of truth), then you are in good company.You are in the company of men like Newton, Boyle, and Galileo.
I’d rather be in the company of these men than in the company of contemporary godless scholars such as Dawkins (author of The God Delusion), Stenger (author of God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist), and Hitchens (author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything).I don’t need to say anymore about their work; the titles of their recent books speak for themselves.
For the past 250 years atheists and agnostics have been driving God out of science, and they have largely succeeded.Science is now packaged to our children as a secular endeavor that is entirely free of religious ideas.In today’s environment, mixing scientific and religious beliefs is considered scientific heresy and unscholarly work.Ben Stein’s recent film Expelled illustrates the hostility towards religious beliefs that currently exists in academia, education, and science.
When believers reference deity and present evidence in favor of intelligent design, the response from atheists and agnostics is usually resentment and rejection.Objections from the non-believers usually sound like “There is no place for god in science!” and, “If we accept the supernatural into science we will digress to the way things were in the Dark Ages.”Scientific history indicates that these claims are misleading.
You see, Newton, Decartes, Boyle, Galileo, Maxwell, and Faraday would have disagreed with the claim that there is no place for God in science.For them, just the opposite was true.Newton mentioned the Creator several times in his book The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which is arguably the most influential science book ever written.Descartes claimed that the Creator played a major role in humanity’s acquisition of secular truth.Galileo thanked the Creator for his discoveries in astronomy that changed the way we view our place in the universe.Boyle believed that science enriched mankind’s understanding of the nature and purpose of God’s creations.Faraday’s belief in a unified Supreme Being likely contributed to his unification of electrical and magnetic forces.And Maxwell was motivated by the belief that the wisdom of the Creator’s handiwork can be found in scientific discovery.
Moreover, these men would disagree with the claim that allowing supernatural beliefs into science will hinder the latter.That they are among the greatest scientific minds that ever lived suggests their beliefs did not hinder their work. The opposite is true. Their religious convictions strengthened their resolve to uncover the mysteries of the God's creations and opened their minds to the enlightening power of the Spirit of the Lord.
When skeptics from academic, education, and scientific institutions scorn your beliefs in God, just remember, you are in good company.