Archive for the ‘history’ Category

This post has been adapted from a presentation given at the 2016 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium. I hope that you find it at least somewhat interesting as I have attempted to weave in the idea of faith.

Introduction

Some people may find this topic so lame. After all, isn’t it correct that only the ignorant and uneducated still hold that evolution is not a law of nature and science. It is taught in our schools as part of the foundational sciences. it is a prerequisite world view for any credible scientific scholar. The evidence is there in the rocks and in the test tube. The tree of life as illuminated by Charles Darwin can be seen in the fossils on every continent. The mechanics of evolution are demonstrated in the genetic processes of every living creature. So why even challenge the prevailing wisdom?

evolution-of-manBefore I address that question, let me relate it to a discussion often held within a belief system. For one  who was once engaged in the Latter Day Saint environment, there are likely elements of doctrine or policy that can cause dissonance. From my experience, a believing, practicing member is likely in need of a ‘shelf” to hold items that are part of the dialogue of the church but may require ‘further light and knowledge’ before the true picture can be illustrated. Items on the ‘shelf’ could be the abandoned practice of polygamy, or the policy change regarding blacks and the priesthood. It could contain doctrinal items such as our role and relevance of our Mother in Heaven or the requirement of membership to hold certain men as ‘prophets, seers, and revelators.’ It could also contain historical quandaries such as the Kinderhook plates and the origin of the Book of Abraham.

falling-shelfFor the believer, the items can become too heavy for the shelf and cause a collapse commonly known as a “crisis of faith’ Some who encounter this situation simply continue to outwardly demonstrate allegiance and anesthetize the mind and the heart.  Others who walk this path determine to reject everything they once held as ‘true’ from a religious perspective and move on to re-establish a new worldview. The rejection of all things ‘God’ appeals to those who might come to see religion as simply a means of crowd control.

celebrationAcceptance of evolution  as the cause of ‘us’ can be perceived as liberating; no more checklists, no more corporate-induced guilt, no more cognitive dissonance with answers promised at some point in the future. No more blind obedience. And, relevant to our discussion today, no more need for a shelf to hold items that have not been fully clarified… or is there?

Are there aspects of the evolution narrative that are not fully explained and demonstrable? Do we today have all the answers as to the origin of life and the diversity of living creatures we see around us? Does the embrace of evolution, as conceived by the scientific community, require any amount of what could be defined as ‘faith?’ Does this ‘faith’ bear any similarity to the faith required of believers on other discussions? To quote Alma from the Book of Mormon:

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)

To bring this around to the question of evolution, are there aspects that are perceived to be true but are not seen or demonstrable? This verse contrasts ‘a perfect knowledge of things’ with a ‘hope for things which are not seen, which are true.’ I would submit that the scientific method is an example of a process to acquire a perfect knowledge. It demands that a proposed hypothesis be validated through testing and relies on repeatable verification. If the original hypothesis is not verified in the testing, one is to modify the hypothesis and continue testing.  That is the process of gaining knowledge – or to use another word – the process of coming to the truth.

Many aspects of evolution, unfortunately, are not provable by the scientific method. No one has demonstrated how man, for example, evolved from the apes. There is no repeatable scientific sequence to demonstrate how the first living organism came to exist.  detectiveAlternatively, the seeker must acquire as much data and information as possible, much like a detective at a crime scene, and infer historical events from the evidence collected.  The judicial system uses the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ in the assessment of guilt. However, there is a continual stream of news stories regarding court convictions being overturned by new evidence, such as DNA matching. One must always consider new evidence and assess its impact on the dogma of the day.

My objective in this treatise is twofold. First, I wish to examine evolution of the theory of evolution and, secondly, to provide a reasoned analysis of the areas of evolution that may require some amount of faith from my perspective. Does the information presented take one beyond a reasonable doubt? That will be left to the reader.

But first, a note of clarification. I am approaching this question from a different perspective. I am not a biologist nor a paleontologist. I am trained as an engineer in the area of information technology, networks and systems and have built chips, boards, systems and networks.ant-and-chip My area of expertise as applied to the question at hand is what it takes to put a working entity together and the information necessary to achieve the design objective.  I will use what remains of this skill in the examination of the evidence gleaned through hundreds of hours of research and analysis of issues pertinent to the topic at hand. Again, let me clearly state that the following discussion points represent items that would find space on my ‘shelf’ as one who believed in evolution. Your mileage may vary.

Natural selection or survival of the fittest

Within two decades of the publishing of Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, in 1859, evolution found general acceptance within the scientific community and cleaved science from religion. darwinThe essence of the narrative of the book is that the wide variety of species found today are the result of slow, gradual adaptation to the environment from a single ancestor. Those who adapted well to their circumstances were rewarded with continued existence, those who were not able to change were left behind. In his book, Darwin states, “One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the stronge live and the weakest die.” (Darwin, 1958 reprint, p. 232) To Darwin’s liking, Herbert Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest,” representing that those creatures who are best fit for their environment will have the best chance to propagate and continue the species.

An example of evolution utilized by Jerry Coyne in his book ‘Why Evolution is True.’ dealt with the path taken to produce our modern day whale, the large mammal whose ancestors once walked on land. Here is an illustration from his book summarizing the evolution of this beast. whale-evolultionOne prevailing theory is that an organism becomes isolated and, driven by the available food or other external variables, changes it form to adapt to the environment. In the case of Dorudon, the extinct ancestor of the whale, fossils have been found in North Carolina, Egypt and Pakistan. Not necessarily constrained to a small area.

“The evolution of whales from land animals was remarkably fast; most of the action took place within only 10 million years” (Coyne, 2009, pp. 50-51). Does ‘remarkably fast’ fit the Darwin narrative? There are attempts to explain what ‘triggers’ such rapid evolutionary development but no definitive conclusion has been drawn. The other critical aspect regarding the evolution of the whale is that in there is a need to have a number of significant changes, such as the development of blubber for temperature control, skin smoothing, the movement of the sexual organs into the body along with the associated cooling mechanisms. These changes identified between the Dorudon and the Balaena, or modern whale, would have needed to occur in the last 2.5 million years. Given that this rapid evolution, not entirely in keeping with Darwin’s original hypothesis,  has not escaped the attention of the scientific community. Let’s consider what has been developed to address the ‘speed’ of evolution.

Let’s look at the implications of this from a population perspective. There are two sides to this scenario. Nature must select those individuals that exhibit the best traits and also eliminate those weaker entities from the breeding pool needed to create the next generation. J. C. Sanford, a renowned plant geneticist who is responsible for many of the genetically engineered crops in fields today, characterized three aspects of the problem:(Sanford, 2014, p. loc 979)

  • Cost of selection
  • Recognizing obscured mutations
  • Systematic reproductive elimination

The survival of the fittest has to be paired with the removal of the weak. Cost of selection represents the level of aggressiveness in the elimination of members of the group that is needed to achieve the selection of the desired mutated traits. “All selection involves a biological cost – meaning that selection must remove (“spend”) part of the breeding population. Selective elimination is the essence of selection.” (Sanford) In other words, survival of the fittest requires the elimination of those ‘not so fit.’ peopleThis selection comes with a biological cost and has to be balanced by the needs of maintaining population levels. The elimination of too many ‘undesirable’ individuals could certain hasten the selection of desirable traits in the survivors but could just as easily lead to extinction. Haldane, who suggested that 10% is the maximum biological spend that can be tolerated, presented the dilemma in this form. “…the number of deaths needed to secure the substitution by natural selection of one gene… is about 30 times the number of organisms in a generation.”  (Haldane, 1957, pp. 511-524) Could the early Dorudon become a Balaena in 2.5 million years requiring multiple simultaneous changes to occur? Haldane is not convinced.

Speaking of the work done by Haldane, which has been validated several times since the original publication, Sanford summarized the implications with a specific example:

[Haldane] calculated that, in man, it would require 6 million years to select just 1,000 mutations to fixation (assuming 20 years per generation)… Man and chimp differ by at least 150 million nucleotides representing 40 million hypothetical mutations.” (Sanford, 2014, p. 2459) His conclusion was that natural selection could not claim total responsibility for the speciation that we have today.

The second point Sanford addressed was the need to identify the mutation. Assuming the slow and gradual evolution of the species, how does nature identify and ‘select’ that individual for specific traits? In a purely random environment, this is seen as a daunting challenge. The individual with a typical subtle point mutation, favorable or unfavorable, does not necessarily stand out from the crowd and does not have increased odds of survival and participation on forming the next generation. The issue is even more complicated when there may be multiple traits that are being selected. His conclusion was that the selection based on a particular trait or set of traits does not have sufficient ‘power’ to drive natural selection.

Finally, natural selection would need to restrain non-selected individuals from the breeding population. Otherwise, the offspring would not carry the selected traits and dilute the broader population. Again, subtle changes in the genotype would not be expected to position the individual inside the breeding circle leading to a problematic explanation of how the ‘slow, gradual’ process of evolution.

Modern Synthesis

The next phase of the scientific view of evolution was triggered by a book published by Julian Huxley in 1942 which blended the recent discoveries, at the time, in genetics into the evolution equation. For the next 70 years, science saw the delivery of the DNA model and the decoding of the genome. As the work on the human genome began, scientists expected to find upwards of 2 million genes.  Today that number is estimated to be about 22,000. (The shrinking human protein coding complement: are there now fewer than 20,000 genes?, 2014). Still much is to be understood about the operation of DNA and it’s supporting cast within the cell.

Junk DNA

Let’s look at one aspect of the gene-centered story of evolution that has developed over the last several decades. As the number of identified genes and the associated content of those genes dropped dramatically, some jumped at the early findings to bolster the case for evolution.

In an article published in the Scientific American in September of 2012, Ashutosh Jogalekar wrote that junk DNA could be attributed to the mess created by millions of years of evolution.

The standard evolutionary picture tells us that evolution is messy, incomplete and inefficient. DNA consists of many kinds of sequences. Some sequences have a bonafide biological function in that they are transcribed and then translated into proteins that have a clear physiological role. Then there are sequences which are only transcribed into RNA which doesn’t do anything. There are also sequences which are only bound by DNA-binding proteins (which was one of the definitions of “functional” the ENCODE scientists subscribed to). Finally, there are sequences which don’t do anything at all. Many of these sequences consist of pseudo genes and transposons and are defective and dysfunctional genes from viruses and other genetic flotsam, inserted into our genome through our long, imperfect and promiscuous genetic history. If we can appreciate that evolution is a flawed, piecemeal, inefficient and patchwork process, we should not be surprised to find this diversity of sequences with varying degrees of function or with no function in our genome.” (Jogalekar, 2012)

Richard Dawkins, in his best seller, The Greatest Show On Earth, suggested that much of the human genome was worthless. “It is a remarkable fact that the greater part (95 percent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well not be there, for all the difference it makes.” (Dawkins, 2009, p. 333)

junk-dnaAs research has continued, the adage that one man’s junk can be another man’s treasure seems to be born out. While the vast majority of the genome did not directly produce the proteins, enzymes, and hormones necessary for life, it was becoming apparent that there is much more to the story. These castoffs, now called non-coding DNA, are now being shown to have a significant role in how genes are expressed or managed.

In her book titled, Junk DNA, Nessa Carey observed that “The only genomic features that increased in number as animals become more complicated were the regions of junk DNA. The more sophisticated an organism, the higher the percentage of junk DNA it contains. Only now are scientists really exploring the controversial idea that junk DNA may hold the key to evolutionary complexity.” (Carey, 2015, p. 192).

The complexity of the control mechanisms relative to gene expression is getting considerable attention today as scientists work to unravel the extraordinary activities of the areas of the genome once held to be worthless.

It has been 70 years since the redirection of evolution based on the discoveries of DNA. Is it time for another course correction? Perhaps, yes.  Research over the last ten years, as suggested by Carey, is showing that DNA information outside those sequences that are identified as genes, identified as epigenetic,  can have a significant impact on how genes are expressed and demonstrate the ability to modify the phenotype, or physical nature, of the organism.

The Finches of Galapagos

During his five weeks on a number of the islands of Galapagos, Darwin collected a significant amount of information regarding the variety of finches found there. Of most note were the color of the feathers and the shape and size of the beak. Finches that found their primary food source in hard-to-crack nuts and seeds had developed heftier beaks while those whose diet tended to softer items and smaller seeds sported slimmer beaks. Along with other examples identified on his voyage, Darwin used the variation of finches as a supporting case for natural selection.
finchesAs a follow up to the original research done by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, Peter and Rosemary Grant spent three decades in a detailed study of the environment/ecological impact on two varieties of the Finch originally identified by Darwin. Over the course of their observation, the finches changed significantly in beak shape and thickness as well as body size.

“Natural selection occurred frequently in our study, occasionally strongly, unidirectionally in one species and oscillating in direction in the other as a result of their dependence on different food supplies.” (Grant, 2002) Interestingly, the two finch varieties studied changed their beak thickness in opposite directions with the beak size of the G. fortis actually ‘oscillating’ over several generations. It only took a few generations of finch to see significant changes to the beak, again, not the slow gradual process held as the fundamental core of evolution. So what was really happening with these birds?

Subsequent study of these finches along with the analysis of their DNA has yielded some interesting information as recorded in a recent paper, entitled ‘Epigenetics and the Evolution of Darwin’s Finches’, found in the proceedings of Genome Biology and Evolution based on a parameter called ‘copy number variations,’ which measures the changes in DNA.

There were relatively more epimutations than genetic CNV [copy number variations] mutations among the five species of Darwin’s finches, which suggests that epimutations are a major component of genome variation during evolutionary change. There was also a statistically significant correlation between the number of epigenetic differences and phylogenetic distance between finches  indicating that the number of epigenetic changes continues to accumulate over long periods of evolutionary time (2–3 Myr). In contrast, there was no significant relationship between the number of genetic CNV changes and phylogenetic distance.” (Skinner, 2014, pp. 15-16)

In other words, the changes in the phenotype, or the physical characteristics, of the finches in the study were more closely linked to the epigenetic or non-coding changes as opposed to the changes in the genes. The genes of the bird affecting the size and shape of the beak did not change, rather the non-coding area of the DNA saw changes. Again, these rapid changes within a few generations is not in keeping with the premise of survival of the fittest.

It is certainly interesting to trace of evolution of the theory of evolution since its inception in the 19th century. I would suggest that the original ‘survival of the fittest’ as characterized by Darwin, followed by the era of the gene, may well give way to yet another phase in the study of evolution, that of one centered on the implications of epigenetics.

Gene management versus the gene

The study of epigenetics represents a fascinating new avenue of research into the mechanisms employed by the cell to enable change. Dr. Assad Meymandi, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, defined epigenetics as operating “very much like a switch on the outside of the genetic circuits and genome that influences the behaviors of a gene. The very prefix epi, which means to lie outside of the root structure, helps explains that, while not an integral part of an organism’s genetic code, epigenetics can influence the gene’s activities from the outside.” (Meymandi, 2010, p. 41).

One of the first characterizations of heritable genetic change came from a study of a small northern Swedish community of Norbotten that was subjected to cycles of feast and famine. The study found that males who had been exposed to famine during their pre-pubescent period produced offspring that had lower incidence of heart disease. Similarly, females who experienced famine while they were in the womb produced daughters who exhibited the same characteristic. (Marcus E Pembrey, 2006, p. 159)

mother-and-daughterA wide variety of research is now providing corroborative evidence that there are chemical genetic links between generations. For example, can alcoholic fathers influence the well-being of their offspring? The answer appears to be yes.

In the Journal of Animal Cells and Systems we find that “…paternal alcohol exposure prior to conception causes teratogenic and developmental defects in the next generation at pre- and postnatal stage. Furthermore, specific abnormalities such as agenesis [failure in the development of a body part] and exencephaly [defects in the development of the skull] were determined at the fetal stage. Transgenerational toxicity caused by paternal alcohol exposure is possibly mediated through alcohol-induced changes in sperm at the level of the sperm genome. However, the mechanisms of paternal alcohol exposure causing certain transgenerational toxicities remain to be defined.” (Hye Jeong Lee, 2013) Children born to parents, where the father was an alcoholic, showed traits of fetal alcohol syndrome just as if the mother was an alcoholic. The point? The life style of both parents can affect the offspring for several generations. The choices of the fathers can influence the health and well being of children for several generations. These changes can also be reversed as the environment of the second generation is ’embedded’ in the formation of the next generation. It is interesting to note the passage from Exodus, chapter 34, verse 7, which seems to align with this idea. “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”

Dr. Meymandi goes on the provide his assessment of the new field of study.

What is new, however, is the epidemiologic studies from Norrbotten and their defiance of Darwin’s assertion in his seminal work On the Origin of Species (1859) that evolution takes place over millions of years. The Norrbotten studies suggest that evolution and environmental influence affect genes within one or two generations. It does not take millions of years. This is heretical. Suddenly, we have evidence that Darwin was wrong. It takes only 25 to 75 years, 1 to 3 generations, not millennia, for evolution of genes to take place.” (Meymandi, 2010, p. 41)

Research into epigenetics stands to change the prevailing structure and understanding of evolution. Current findings demonstrate that the non-coding areas of DNA have a significant influence on the phenotype of an organism. However, as in the case of the Galapagos finches, that change may not have extended influence beyond several generations. Perhaps Richard Dawkins should consider writing a sequel to his book “The Selfish Gene.” An appropriate title could be “The Subservient Gene.”

Epigenetics may provide answers to a number of maladies from cancer, to lupus and diabetes, even to the effects of poor parenting. (Weinhold, 2006)

My purpose in this discussion regarding the evolution of evolution is to assert that what is espoused by the scientific community today is subject to change with new information. What our grandparents were taught regarding the origin and diversity of life diverged from what we are taught today. Likewise our grandchildren will likely be presented with new and modified theories on this topic.

Let me change direction somewhat now and address the second topic of areas that still remain uncharted from a genetic perspective. But first, a little perspective. Is it appropriate to apply aspects of engineering to the origin and development of an organism? I would suggest that it is. If evolution is to be fully endorsed as the origin of the diversity seen in all life, there must be a clear technical developmental path that can be illustrated and validated for all the required parts and functions. Any device manufactured today has detailed plans and components, a bill of materials. The device requires a defined sequence of activities in order to produce the end product. Random actions will not suffice in the process. I suggest the same is true for biological organisms.

DNA – a library of information

DNA can be considered a cookbook for proteins, enzymes, and hormones; the building blocks of our bodies. These proteins generated by transcribing the code in our DNA are used to support cellular differentiation and function. We, humans, have two strands of DNA, each of which contain about 3 billion base pairs. The analysis of the human genome has produced a variety of estimates of the number of encoding areas, or genes, typically ranging around 22,000. Comparatively, a chicken is believed to have about 17,000 genes and a grape leads with over 30,000. For us, genes represents about 2.5% of the genetic material. About 80%, perhaps going to 100%, of the remainder is identified as non-coding DNA, the stuff of epigenetics. (Parrington, 2015)

dna-stringAll life shares the same fundamental structure within the cell. All living share a common language in how these coding areas of the genome are represented. It is a sequence consisting of four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, arranged along a sugar-phosphate backbone of DNA.
dna-spiralAs an information technologist, the area that is intriguing is the coding of DNA. In order to generate a protein, a defined sequence of the DNA string is transcribed to what is called messenger RNA. The messenger RNA string is then excised of non-coding items called ‘introns.’ amina-acid-codeThe ribosome is then employed to translate the sequence of bases contained in the RNA string, by sets of three, specifying a lineup of 20 amino acids which is then folded into a specific protein. Genes embedded in DNA can be represented as a data base; it is information that is stored, replicated, repaired and transcribed as needed. (Bruce Alberts, 2008) This particular database contains the information necessary to build itself; an aspect that is perplexing to an engineer. Yet, this multi-step sophisticated process is necessary for all organisms to sustain life. Click on the image below to see a snippit of a Nova presentation on protein production in the cell.

Consider the complexity of a three component code of a sequence of DNA being translated into a specific amino acid. These amino acids are then connected into a string and folded in a specific manner to assemble a protein, one sequence for each of the known genes now numbered around 22,000. The information content of our DNA represents about 18 Gigabytes of information. This multi level translation represents a level of sophistication that, from the perspective of an engineer represents a significant challenge. Could this type of process be generated by a random chemical reaction? Wow, please show me how this developed in a random gradual process over hundreds of millions of years.

Another puzzling aspect of DNA is that, within the gene, there can be multiple transcriptions from a single gene sequence. James A. Shapiro, professor of Microbiology at the University of Chicago characterizes this as a mystery. (Shapiro, 2012). Much like a crossword puzzle requires an overlapping of function, the multiple encodings found within a significant number of genes represents a significant increase in complexity. This complication would also significantly reduce the potential for a beneficial mutation given that mutation would disrupt more than one protein coding sequence. (George Montañez, 2012)

overlapping-genesWhether it be the recent discoveries around epigenetics or the research indicating the presence of multiple encodings from genes, research continues to add to the complexity of the genome. Simultaneously, the increase in complexity demands even more of the theory of natural or chemical evolution.

Human template

We have spent some time discussing DNA at a cellular level. Let us now extend out into our world. As an organism, we are more than just a collection of cells. In his book Genetic Entropy, John Sanford describes it in this way:

“A human being contains over 100 trillion cells, but we are not 100 trillion cells. I repeat – that is not what we are. we are each truly a singular entity, united in form and function and being. We are the nearly perfect integration of countless components, and as such we comprise a singular new level of reality. The separateness of our existence as people – apart from our molecules- is both wonderfully profound and childishly obvious.” (Sanford, 2014, p. LOC 2796)

We are more than the sum of our parts; the 22 square feet of skin, the 206 bones, the variety of organs, the 100,000 miles of veins and arteries or the 90,000 miles of nerves. While each of us is unique, we do share these and other common characteristics in body shape and function. This prompts the question: Where is the template stored that governs the development of our body?

Neil Shubin, in his book, The Inner Fish, asserts this answer:

It is hard not to feel awestruck watching an animal assemble itself. Just like a brick house, a limb is built by smaller pieces joining to make a larger structure. But there is a huge difference. Houses have a builder, somebody who actually knows where all the bricks need to go; limbs and bodies do not. The information that builds limbs is not in some architectural plan but is contained within each cell. Imagine a house coming together spontaneously from all the information contained in the bricks: that is how animal bodies are made. (Shubin, 2009)

brickLet me expand on this analogy. if a brick has all the information to build a house, and has the ability to change its characteristics to meet the needs of the structure we have a similar environment to the cellular development of the body. The brick in this case would need to modify its characteristics to meet the particular requirement. Not only would it need to make more bricks, but also plumbing, electrical, plaster and drywall, floor joists, etc. While each house may be slightly different in size, each has the same floors, walls, kitchen appliances, and furnace. Anyone walking through the neighborhood and seeing the houses developed in this fashion could easily spot the consistency of design. While the roof and brick may vary in color, the general layout of the house would be the same. One would easily assume that the same ‘template’ or plan was used in the construction of each house. Similarly, humans all have the same general characteristics; strongly suggesting that there is a single template for each organism. This single template is then ‘customized’ by the DNA to address physical attributes.

As has been described before most, if not all, of our genome is dedicated to the development, manufacture and control of proteins. Our DNA contains information sequences that have been analyzed for their contribution in building each type of cell needed to build and maintain our bodies. It contains information that makes our eyes brown and our hair black. But, to bring all these cells into unity of purpose, much more information is required. If the cell does contain, as Shubin states, all the information necessary to construct our bodies, where does that information reside?

In his book, Life Unfolding, Jamie A. Davis, describes one segment of the early development of the human embryo.

In organizing themselves into different specialized groups, the cells of the neural tube and somite also use cues from an asymmetrical environment. By the stage, though, most of the information involved comes, not from the geometrical properties such as a free surface, but from signaling molecules released by the other tissues. Using these molecules, adjacent tissues engage in a remarkable conversation that allows cells to organize one another into many different types, all precisely arranged.” (Davies, 2014, p. 83)

Later, Davis describes the formulation of the physical body in these terms, speaking of the development of the nervous system and the optical subsystem:

It is all very well to list the guidance cues that a particular set of growth cones [of the eye] uses to navigate, but this begs the question of how the guidance cues come to be made in such an intricate pattern in the first place. The answer – what little we yet understand of it – mirrors a process that has already been described in the context of the embryo as a whole. As cells in the central nervous system develop, a combination of cues provided by neighbouring tissues and the proteins already present in the cells determine which of their genes will be switched on and off. Some of these genes specify the production of signalling molecules that act as cues for other neighbouring cells and can affect their gene expression. In this way an initially simple and homogeneous system can organize itself to become very complicated and heterogeneous. (Davis, 2014, p. 172)

Is it simply a vastly complex choreography, sequence within sequence, of HOX genes, cell migration, and signaling proteins? The human hand, the brain, and the eye, all  represent structures of sufficient complexity to require a significant amount of direction. Yet, we humans, in large part end up with finger nails on the correct side of the finger, and amazingly, five appendages that can be trained to work in harmony.

As I see it, there are two choices. One can choose to accept the idea that the cell is ‘smart’ enough to manage the complex development of the organism, or that there is a source of information providing the extracellular guidance needed construct the complex organs from the toenail, on to  the intricate functionality of organs such as the eye and the heart, to the hair of one’s head.

blueprintHere is where the engineer in me kicks in. Information does not magically appear. Each developing cell responds in a particular fashion to stimulus, expressing or hindering the expression of genes. If the working assumption for how an organism develops,  and this information resides within the cell, one should be able to find the ‘game plan’ embedded within the cell. Again, where is it? If the current view of DNA is correct, with about 2.5% dedicated to genes and an estimated 80% associated with the epigenetic control of these genes, little or no room can be ‘assigned’ to the template of the body of the organism. If this template does reside within the cell, as Shubin and other evolutionists assert, no one has found this information.

From a genetic perspective, research indicates that the common genes between chimpanzees and humans is characterized as nearly identical at 99%, but does that tell the whole story?

Quoting from the Deeper Genome: “When used to compare the protein-coding porting of the genome, humans are seen to be 99 per cent similar to a chimpanzee, 85 per cent similar to a mouse, and, confirming the link between all life forms on the planet, even 50 percent similar to a banana. But if the whole human genome is compared to that of a mouse, the similarity is far less, only around 5%. (Parrington, 2015, p. 94)

Most of the differentiation of the genome is found in the non-coding areas, the areas that are not being identified as managing the expression or suppression of the genes. We find in the genome the information to build proteins; where do we find the information on how to construct a body?

Hardware and Software

laptopJust as a personal computer is useless without an operating system, so is most life on earth. For example, a dolphin born in the ocean must be able to swim and understand that air is required on a regular basis. In human beings, there are a variety of systems that need control such as the auditory, visual, respiratory, lymphatic, circulatory, reproductive, digestive and urinary systems.

Each of these require sensory information as well as control information in order to operate correctly. One response is that these systems are trained while the organism is in development. If so, where is the structure to direct and accumulate the control information? One example of the coordination needed to survive is the process of swallowing which requires the closely timed sequence in the activation of 50 pairs of muscles and a number of nerves to accomplish the task. (Med Central) Without such ‘software,’ as represented by the coordination needed to swallow, infants could not survive.

Where does this information, or alternatively, where is the mechanism to gather and catalog the various processed needed to maintain life? If it is housed within the cell, then, where is it?

Instinct

In his book, The Origin of Species, Darwin titled Chapter 8 as ‘Instinct,’ with this description:

“I will not attempt any definition of instinct. It would be easy to show that several distinct mental actions are commonly embraced by this term; but everyone understands what is meant, when it is said that instinct impels the cuckoo to migrate and lay her eggs in other birds’ nests.” (Darwin, 1958 reprint, p. 233)

Perhaps, this trait could be defined as “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” I would like to use the Cuckoo bird as an example of different aspect of information management. (Richard Dawkins used the same bird as a representation of ‘stealth survival’ patterns, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy8Yy9nyi74) Here is a picture of a reed warbler, following its natural instincts to feed a cuckoo chick that hatched in its nest.

warbler-and-cuckooThere are a number of varieties of Cuckoo that do not build its own nests, rather it is what is called a ‘brood parasite.’  About 40% of the species of cuckoo demonstrate this trait  where the female Cuckoo will extract a single egg, while the parents are away, from the nest of a Reed Warbler, or other surrogate, and replace it with a Cuckoo egg while the Warbler is away. When the Cuckoo hatches, it pushes the other eggs or chicks out of the nest and is fed by the Reed Warbler as if it were the true chick. (Davies N. , 2015)

cuckoo-pushing-eggWhile this is an interesting example of adaptation, I would ask a different question. Somehow, the complex action and physical process of emptying the next was imprinted in the Cuckoo before the chick hatched. Given that the Cuckoo chick never saw its mother, where did the knowledge imprint come from which drives the behavior? Who taught the chick to push the other occupants out of the nest and how was this information transferred to the next generation?

This again demands that information be made available in the young that represents a significant amount of complex multicellular processes. Yet another mystery that would need to be addressed by the scientific community. Again, this information, according to the scientists of evolution, must be found within the cell. But, information does not magically appear. These types of complex behavior or processes, if indeed are housed within the cell, the ‘knowledge’ must somehow transfer from the cell to the brain of the organism. There is no logical explanation within evolution to address the inception and transfer of the knowledge to the entity.

From the perspective of the scientific community, all this information must be found within the cell. There can be no external influence needed in the development and continuation of life. The alternative, which is anathema to a scientist, is that there is an external source of information in the development of an organism’s  physical template, control structure, and imbedded information. That external source could be the ‘spirit,’ that non-physical element that, in some unknown process, provides not only the template for the physical body (customized by DNA), but also the control processes and embedded intelligence. From the Doctrine and Covenants, section 88, verse 15, we read that “… the spirit and the body are the soul of man.”  If this is the case, no answer will be forthcoming from the scientific perspective on life and the development of complex structures from a single cell.

Origin of Life

early-earthHow life began on earth is not typically treated by evolutionary theory. Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, comments on the situation:

“Evolutionary biology deals only with what happens after life (which I’ll define as self reproducing organisms or molecules) came into being. The origin of life itself is the remit not of evolutionary biology, but of abiogenesis, a scientific field that encompasses chemistry, geology, and molecular biology. Because this field is in its infancy, and has yet given few answers, I’ve omitted from this book any discussion on how life on earth began.” (Coyne, 2009, p. 231)

While Coyne may feel justified in avoiding this fundamental question, the topic needs to be addressed. Perhaps, the best place to start is to ask the question: Have the key components of a living cell been replicated in the laboratory under conditions that could resemble the primitive earth? miller-ureyThe answer is yes and no. Most, but not all, of the amino acids used in the assembly of proteins have been manufactured in the laboratory. All of the basic components of  RNA,  as an assumed precursor to DNA, including ribose have been produced, typically in a combination of hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen cyanide excited by ultraviolet light. The manufacture of the basic components represent only the first step on the process of reaching the point where evolution is stated to take over. Ward and Kirschvink captures the essence of the problem:

…RNA is a fragile molecule, large and complicated, and thus very easily destroyed. Water attacks and breaks up the nucleic acid polymers (strings of smaller molecules) that make up RNA. In fact, it appears that there are many steps required in making RNA, and each step would require different conditions, or a different chemical environment.  (Ward, 2015, p. 55)

The coordinated development of long RNA molecules and a cellular structure to protect the easily damaged nucleotides is the theorized path in the creation of life from non-life. protocellThese molecules would then need to replicate along with the cell structure.  While theories abound, there is no clear validated path to a cell capable of replication that carried sufficient information and energy management to be considered ‘live.’

Most experiments have been done in the absence of oxygen, known to degrade these molecules fairly quickly. Likewise, most scientist hold that life developed initially in a world with little oxygen, otherwise the fundamental molecules would not have persisted.

Nick Lane, in his book, Oxygen – The Molecule that Made the World, states:

Free oxygen would have been an insurmountable problem, because any organic molecules, or incipient forms of life, would have been shredded if much oxygen was present. The fact that life did start can only mean that oxygen was not present in any abundance. (Lane, 2003, p. 18)

oxygenYet, oxygen forms the basis for energy utilization in all multi-cellular life today. The quandary still exists today. We couldn’t begin life with it and we can’t live without it.

To overcome these obstacles, Kirschvink has championed ‘panspermia,’ supporting the ‘radical notion that life not only formed on Mars more than 4 billion years ago, but that it came to Earth on meteorites..’ (Ward, 2015, p. 57) The authors came to this conclusion after a detailed review of the current range of alternatives. Unfortunately, if abiogenesis, to the development of life from non-life requires the early protocells hitchhiking on a meteor from Mars, we need to find another story.

Summary

From an evolution standpoint as a law of nature, I would have a number of items on my shelf.

The theory of evolution continues to evolve as new information is gathered and analyzed. From Darwin’s natural selection to today’s emerging epigenetic research, the complexity and information content of the genome continues to expand. It now appears the there is more to the process than the slow gradual survival of the fittest.

DNA represents a managed database of information to produce and manage the proteins necessary for sustaining life. Information doesn’t  simply spring into existence.

The structure of life, as demonstrated by human beings, exhibits a significant organization and compartmentalization in the migration from a zygote to a full featured organism. How that process is guided begs for something more than the production of signaling molecules.

There is a need for both hardware and software in the development of life. We come into this life with the basic operating system and equipped with the ability to gather and process information. If this ‘software’ can only find its source within the cell, where is it located and how does it drive development?

Finally, plausible scenarios for the origin of life require both the presence and absence of oxygen. A feat that will challenge scientists for years to come.

Perspective

As I look at the circumstances surrounding the theory of evolution, I do submit that there is plenty of room for something akin to faith as one considers the breadth of information necessary to build an organism relying solely on the information contained within the originating cell. As an engineer, the gaps in the story present a significant impediment to holding the theory of evolution as ‘true.’  One may reason that the scientific community has simply not determined that answers yet, but each successive discovery seems to require an answer even more difficult to achieve.

Bibliography

Alberts, Bruce A. J., et. al.(2008). Molecular Biology of the Cell, Fifth Edition. New York: Garland Science.

Carey, N. (2015). Junk DNA – a Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome. New York: Columbia University Press.

Coyne, J. A. (2009). Why Evolution is True. New York: Penguin Group.

Darwin, C. (1958 reprint). On the Origin of Species. London: New American Library.

Davies, N. (2015, June 2). Cuckoos and their victims: An Evolutionary Arms Race. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0O6S4hDDfE.

Davis, J. A. (2014). Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. (2009). The Greatest Show On Earth. New York: Free Press.

Denton, M. (2016). Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis. Seattle: Discovery Institute Press.

Gee, Henry (1999) In Search of Deep Time, New York: Free Press

George Montañez, R. J. (2012). Multiple Overlapping Genetic Codes Profoundly Reduce the Probability of Beneficial Mutation. Retrieved from Carnegie Mellon University.

Gitt, W. (2005). In the Beginning was Information. Green Forest: Master Books.

Goodsell, D. S. (2010). The Machinery of Life Second Edition. New York: Copernicus Books.

Grant, P. R. (2002, April 26). Unpredictable Evolution in a 30-Year Study of Darwin’s Finches. Science , p. 710.

Haldane, J. (1957). The Cost of Natural Selection. Journal Genetics 55.

Hazen, R. M. (2005). Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.

Huxley, Julian. (2010). Evolution: The Modern Hypothesis The Definitive Edition. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hye Jeong Lee, b. J.-S. (2013, Volume 17). Transgenerational effects of paternal alcohol exposure in mouse offspring. Animal Cells and Systems .

Jogalekar, A. (2012, September 13). Three reasons why junk DNA makes evolutionary sense. Scientific American .

Johnson, P. E. (1995). Reason in the Balance. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Klinghoffer, D. (2010). Signature of Controversy. Seattle: Discovery Institute Press.

Lane, N. (2003). Oxygen – The Molecule that Made the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lane, N. (2005). Power, Sex, and Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life. Oxford: Oxford Press.

Med Central. (n.d.). Retrieved from MedCentral.org.

Meyer, S. C. (2013). Darwin’s Doubt. New York: HarperCollins.

Meyer, S. C. (2009). Signature in the Cell. New York: Harper Collins.

Meymandi, A. (2010, Volume 7). The Science of Epigenetics. Physchology , p. 41.

Parrington, J. (2015). The Deeper Genome. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pembrey, Marcus E, L. O. (2006). Sex-specific, male-line transgenerational responses. European Journal of Human Genetics , pp. 159-166.

Pullen, S. (2005). Intelligent Design or Evolution? Raleigh Intelligent Design Books.

Sanford, J. C. (2014). Genetic Entropy, Fourth Edition. FMS Publications.

Shapiro, J. A. (2012, January 24). DNA as Poetry: Multiple Messages in a Single Sequence. Retrieved from Huffington Post.

Shermer, M. (2006). Why Darwin Matters. New York: Times Books.

Shubin, N. (2009). Your Inner Fish. New York: Pantheon Books.

Skinner, G. B. (2014, July 18). Epigenetics and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches. Genome Biology and Evolution , pp. 15-16.

Thaxton, W. L. (1984). The Myatery of Life’s Origin. New York: Philosophical Library.

The shrinking human protein coding complement: are there now fewer than 20,000 genes? (2014, Feb 11). Retrieved from Cornell University Library: http://arxiv.org/abs/1312.7111

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As I contemplated the recent passing of both Elder Perry and Elder Packer, I was reminded of the council given to the leaders of the church regarding their function and purpose. That thought led me back to the scriptures, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal History of the Church.

Here is what the Doctrine and Covenants states regarding the officers of the Church:

22  Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

23  The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.

24  And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

25  The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.

26  And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.

27  And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other— (D&C, section 107)

Do we today have three quorums that are equal in authority and power? Does the body of sanctioned officers known as the Seventy, represent, in their unanimity, an equal weight, in terms of their decision, to what comes from the First Presidency or the Twelve traveling apostles? Where is the revelation that changed this order of things?

Of course, it gets better:

37  The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

Are the standing high councils in a stake today equal in authority to the Salt Lake based ‘general authorities?’

39  It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—

So, the traveling High Council, the Twelve, here have the duty to manage the affairs of the branches? What about the organized stakes? Here is what is found in the history of the church within weeks of when section 107 was penned:

President Smith proposed the following question. What importance is there attached to the calling of the Twelve Apostles, different from the other callings or offices of the Church?

After the question was discussed by Councilors Patten, Young, Smith and M’Lelllin, President Joseph Smith, Jun., gave the following decision:

They are the Twelve Apostles, who are called to the office of the Traveling High Council, who are to preside over the churches of the Saints, among the Gentiles, where there is no presidency established; and they are to travel and preach among the Gentiles, until the Lord shall command them to go to the Jews. They are to hold the keys of this ministry, to unlock the door of the Kingdom of Heaven unto all nations, and to preach the Gospel to every creature. This is the power, authority, and virtue of their apostleship (TPJS, page 79, DHC 2:200, Feb. 27, 1835)

The second quote is also from TPJS entitled Items of Instruction to the Twelve and the Seventy Order of Councils:

President Joseph Smith stated that the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion, or any of the stakes, and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof, where there is a standing high council, but its is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the Church. When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them, in any church, they will have authority to act independently, and make decisions, and those decisions will be valid. But where there is not a quorum, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church. No standing High Council has the authority to go into the churches abroad, and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No standing High Council will ever be established only in Zion, or one of her stakes. When the Twelve pass a decision, it is in the name of the Church, therefore it is valid.

It is amazing to me how broad a change has been instituted in the Church (with a capital C) and the impact it has had on the churches (with a small c). What would the worship environment if this directive were carefully followed in the intervening years between 1835 and the present? If the standing High Council had jurisdiction over the organized stakes of Zion, there would be no central coordination and no uniform direction from Salt Lake City. The Twelve would be focused on the less developed areas of the spread of the gospel and would be helping the branches grow and strengthen. The stakes would be largely autonomous entities focused on the spiritual growth and well-being of the saints.

No official member of the Church has the authority to go into any branch thereof, and ordain any minister for the church, unless it is by the voice of that branch. No Elder has authority to go into any branch of the Church, and appoint meetings, or attempt to regulate the affairs of the Church, without the advice and consent of the presiding Elder of that branch.The Twelve and the Seventy have particularly to depend upon their ministry for their support, and that of their families; and they have a right, by virtue of their offices, to call upon the churches to assist them. (TPJS, page 74)

What kind of a world would it be if those in leadership positions within the Church were expected to be ‘ministers and servants’ as the Lord directed the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 12:1). The twelve apostles would have to rely on the branches for their financial support? Wow, I would think the line for applications would shorten considerably if this were the case. But, on the other hand, what humility would be spawned when those who serve in the highest of church callings were to rely on the branches for their physical needs?

So what am I to make of this? Obviously, the Church is directed by revelation. That any directive found in the scriptures can be overridden by the inspiration of the leaders of the church. I just thought that when such things were to occur, the changes were to be ratified by the body of the church. Surely, I must have missed the ratification vote for the Church Handbook of Instruction.

What think ye?

I recently was prompted to re-read the sermon of King Benjamin found in the book of Mosiah. This time, however, I started at the beginning of the first chapter where I found this interesting aspect. King Benjamin was teaching his three sons of the value of the scriptures described in the first chapter of Mosiah:

My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.

For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.

I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.

O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true.  And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.

And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers. (Mosiah 1:3-7)

In the first verse, King Benjamin tells his sons that the scriptures contain a record of God’s interaction with men and secondly, they contain the commandments. Then he makes what is, to me, in interesting statement; that without the scriptures they would have been in ignorance, ‘not knowing the mysteries of God.’

We know from Alma, chapter 12 that we are to seek the mysteries of God:

And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.  Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:9-11)

We are all to seek the mysteries of God, or in other words, we are to seek His word which I believe to be personal revelation. We can only receive a ‘portion of His word’ if we rely on others to supply it because God only will make in known based on the ‘heed and diligence’ demonstrated by the people.  If we continue to strive in seeking this personal revelation, we can receive the mysteries of God in full, in a complete form.

I would suggest that the scriptures play a vital role in leading us to the mysteries of God. It is through diligent study of the scriptures that we are able to form the questions that will lead us to the answers that enlighten us as to these mysteries. Are we, individually and collectively, demonstrating the necessary heed and diligence, to receive the portion of His word that is available to us? Are we seeking, through the words of the prophets contained in scripture, to understand the veiled references to His mysteries? If not, we are allowing ourselves to be captured by the chains of hell. Not seeking to know the mysteries of God is placing us in the grasp of the adversary.

I also found another interesting item as I read the things that King Benjamin taught to his sons. Let me again state the quote:

…our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct. (Mosiah 1:5)

Let me paraphrase King Benjamin from this verse, in our context today. There are modern day people who suffer from the same malady as the Lamanites. They know nothing of the scriptures and do not believe them when they are taught from the scriptures because they prefer to hold to the incorrect traditions of their fathers.

What incorrect doctrines and practices do we have among us today that are a result of the traditions of our fathers? I would suggest that the key test is to determine if these doctrines or practices or rituals have foundation in and are consistent with the scriptures. The scriptures should be the rudder of our boat. They should be the lens through which we view our chosen mechanism of devotion to our God. Without the reliance on the scriptures to be our guide and our source, we would be as the Lamanites and left to flounder in what we incorrectly believe was delivered by those who came before us.

You might say that we are led by prophets, seers and revelators and, therefore, the scriptures are of lesser importance than the current dogma. You might even suggest that modern revelation trumps the scriptures. To that assertion, I would respond with the caution given by the Lord Himself. We have been warned several times not to add to or remove from that which we are taught. For example, when Christ described His doctrine to the Nephites, He ended with this warning:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi, 11:39-40)

What aspects of our doctrine have been added to our sacred regimen by traditions within the church? Does our day-to-day worship contain aspects that are not founded in scripture? Is  the LDS church, today, governed by the scriptures or by the traditions of our fathers, better known as the Church Handbook of Instruction? We are told here explicitly that our adherence to the defined doctrine of Christ is necessary if we are to avoid evil.

The ‘chains of hell’ await those who do not use the scriptures to seek the mysteries of God. The ‘gates of hell’ stand open to receive those who add to or take from the doctrine of Christ as defined in the scriptures. We must, individually and collectively, ensure that we are in line with the direction received from the Lord. We must understand that any modern revelation should not contradict with, but find support in, the scriptures.

What think ye?

It was all over the world news, ISIS put a Jordanian pilot to death by fire after he was captured in the war against the developing Islamic caliphate.  Here is an example of a religious body (yes, I am willing to call them radical Islamists) which believes so strongly that they are right and have God on their side that taking a life is justified in the ascension toward their sacred goal of world domination. It is of note that a cleric associated with the Islamic state was arrested for objecting to the punishment inflicted on the captured Muslim pilot.

Fire has been used for many years to extinguish the lives of those who were deemed a threat to the religious establishment. Wiki maintains a list of martyrs, including a 19 year-old relapsed heretic by the name of Joan of Arc.

Jeanne au bûcher

In the Book of Mormon, Alma and Amulek were commanded by God to preach to the people of Ammonihah. A minority of the inhabitants of the city believed the words of these missionaries and were subjected to cruelty. The men were stoned and the women and children were burned by fire as described in Alma 14:

“And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.

And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.

And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene?  Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.

But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”

These acts were committed because those that believed in the words of Alma and Amulek were seen as reviling the people of the city and, more seriously, they taught “that there was but one God, and that he should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them; and many such things did the people testify against Alma and Amulek.” (Alma 14:5) It is interesting to note that they were being punished for adhering to the truth. Ultimately the city of Ammonihah along with its inhabitants were destroyed by the Lamanites… justice served, I presume.

It seems to be a pattern what when a religious body has gone away from God, they take upon themselves the ‘right’ to determine the fate of those that are perceived to hold a different belief within the community. This day we see ‘virtual’ death being inflicted by those who govern the LDS church in the form of excommunication.  The charge is typically apostasy. A charge, which in a number of cases, cannot be specifically defined by those who wield it. In essence, the real offense is one of not following the guidance and direction of the priesthood leaders. The priesthood determines what is currently acceptable from a doctrinal and historical view and then uses this definition in punishing those who disagree with it. It does not seem to matter whether this doctrine is justifiable from a scriptural perspective, not does the fact that historical documentation can be shown to bring into question the efficacy of the church’s doctrinal or historical stance.

Those that are found ‘revile’ against the church by exposing flaws or unsavory aspects in its history or preach doctrine that is not aligned with the current version of church doctrine are to be subjected to the virtual torch. It doesn’t seem to matter whether these historical warts or the fact that these doctrines can find justification in the scriptures, it is not acceptable to speak out against the current version of church doctrine and the ‘correlated’ view of church history. This week, it was John Dehlin’s turn to face the tribunal of stake officers who determined that his public face could not be tolerated by the church that bears the name of Jesus Christ.

As I grieve for those who have found themselves in similar situations, I am reminded of the concise direction that the Lord has given the priesthood in dealing with these situations. Should anyone feel that they are exempt from such instruction; the Lord first reminds us that the probabilities are against the priesthood holder from judging fairly.

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:39)”

I would suggest that the characterization of ‘almost all men’ should be sufficient to ensure that the guidance applies to everyone. Every priesthood holder should be instructed as to what this verse means relative to church governance. I would suggest that this verse implies that it is rare when a person holding the priesthood does not exercise unrighteous dominion as he perceives the purpose and execution of his authority.

What form does unrighteous dominion take in this context? I would suggest that unrighteous dominion can be characterized as the attempt to dominate another in a way that is not righteous or in tune with God. If I attempt to impose my current belief on another, have I attempted to dominate them spiritually? If one’s current view of history or doctrine is used to ‘demand’ obedience from a member of the church, is this unrighteous dominion? Does this apply to the current leadership of the church? Can one holding a position of leadership at the general or stake level be exempt from this charge from the Lord? I think that these questions should be carefully considered when one is called to bring judgment on another’s current spiritual worldview.

The Lord has given direction as to how one should administer in a priesthood position:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile – reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he my know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. (verses 40-44)”

I would suggest that influence expressing the authority of the priesthood by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and by love unfeigned is the opposite of unrighteous dominion. Priesthood leaders are instructed in these verses to operate, not by compulsion, but by persuasion; not by swift action but by long suffering; not by authoritarian dictate but by kindness, gentleness and meekness. Have these corrective actions been based on ‘pure knowledge?’ What is pure knowledge when it comes to different interpretation of history and doctrine? And, most important, do not feign love by calling these activities ‘courts of love.’

Have these disciplinary sessions been held based on the movement provided by the Holy Ghost or by the SMTC? Have they been used as an attempt to persuade or dictate?

I can only pray that the next ‘torch’ is replaced by the light of Christ in administering to the spiritual welfare of those that call themselves saints.

What think ye?

Part One

In the October 2013 General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf addressed the topic of doubt:

Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”

It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.7

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting that the reference associated with the text ‘doubt your faith.’ is to a book entitled “Christ the Healer” written by F. F. Bosworth.

Christ the Healer cover full

The book, originally published in 1924, was  a compilation of a number of sermons. As the title connotes, the book has continued to be used to promote the idea that Christ is able to redeem us from both our spiritual and physical weakness.

Many, instead of saying, “Pray for me,” should first say, “Teach me God’s Word, so that I can intelligently cooperate for my recovery.” We must know what the benefits of Calvary are before we can appropriate them by faith. David specifies: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.”

After being sufficiently enlightened, our attitude toward sickness should be the same as our attitude toward sin. Our purpose to have our body healed should be as definite as our purpose to have our soul healed. We should not ignore any part of the Gospel. Our Substitute bore both our sins and our sicknesses that we might be delivered from them. Christ’s bearing of our sins and sicknesses is surely a valid reason for trusting Him now for deliverance from both. When, in prayer, we definitely commit to God the forgiveness of our sins, we are to believe, on the authority of His Word, that our prayer is heard. We are to do the same when praying for healing. (Christ the Healer, F.F. Bosworth, 2000 edition, pp 17-18)

The forward of the 2000 edition of the book speaks of a ‘flood of testimonies’ of those who were benefitted spiritually and physically by the book. The premise being that we should have just as much faith in Christ that He can take away our sins as in His ability to take away our sickness. Reverend Bosworth’s message was that we should not doubt that Christ has this ability; to cleanse us of sin as well as sickness. He encouraged the reader to show faith in the ability of the Savior to take upon Him our physical and spiritual impairments.

Here is the statement regarding doubt  by Rev. Bosworth from the 2000 edition of the book:

Any man or woman can get rid of his or her doubts by looking steadfastly and only at the evidence that God has given for our faith. Seeing only what God says will produce and increase faith. This will make it easier to believe than to doubt. The evidences for faith are so much stronger than those for doubting. Don’t doubt your faith; doubt your doubts, for they are unreliable. (ibid, pp 21-22)

As I read this, the author is entreating us not to doubt that Christ can heal our sicknesses. He encourages us plant the seed which can develop the faith to heal our physical ailments. We have been taught that it is by faith that we can be healed. Do we, today, exhibit that kind of faith? Or, do we believe that we can simply request a blessing and we have done sufficient work to overcome a physical malady? Some of these things are more difficult than others, in many ways, because of our lack of faith, prayer, and fasting. As I see it, the scriptures speak of the healings of the twelve, in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, as signs of the truth. These are to be expected but do not represent the sum of our ability to gain the upper hand over physical maladies. Reverend Bosworth puts forth the case that we can receive a remittance of our physical troubles. Do we have that level of faith among us?

Part Two

This begs the question: can the doubt, as characterized by F. F. Bosworth, that Christ can heal us physically as well as spiritually be on equal plane with the doubts, alluded to by Elder Uchtdorf, largely driven by the historical inconsistencies in doctrine and policy of the LDS church?

I, personally, do not believe this is the case. Our faith in Christ is separate and not reliant on from our faith in the works of men; in our case, the corporation commonly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I do believe that we should ‘doubt our doubts’ regarding the gospel and message of Jesus Christ. I do not believe the same attitude should be taken regarding the inconsistencies of the policies of men running any religious organization, even those claiming to be the only true church.

We should first make the effort to understand and integrate the gospel of Jesus Christ into our minds and heart. It is the gospel that provides the assurance  to seek and receive answers on all else.  We are promised that if we will seek Him, He will provide direction, even to the truth of all things.

Pierre Abelard, a noted philosopher of the eleventh century saw it this way: “By doubting we are led to question; by questioning we arrive at the truth.” I see this message consistent with Paul as he spoke to the Thessalonians:

Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:9)

It is our right and responsibility to ask questions and seek the Lord for direction and confirmation. There is a power in this world that demands that we blindly obey, that gives us assurances that they can lead us through to the glories that await us, that seeks to act as arbiter of our destiny and salvation. That voice is not the one we should follow.

There is also a power to has promised us that He will open the door if we knock. Doubts lead to questions which, through the Holy Ghost, can be answered.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

It is our challenge to first develop the requisite faith in Christ.  By so doing, we will have access, through the Holy Ghost, to the truth of all things.

What think ye?

Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)

Who is this Amos? What do we make of the message of this man whose words we use as proof that a prophet is needed among the people of God? His story began as a simple shepherd from Tekoa during the time that Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam was king of Israel (Amos 1:1). When challenged by those who kept the temples, he simply stated that he was no prophet nor could he claim to be one by lineage until the Lord called him out of the fields while he tended his flock.

Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.

For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.

Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:

But prophesy not again any more at Beth-el: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court.

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:

And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. (Amos 8:10-15)

As one could expect, the leadership, in the form of Amaziah the priest, told him to take his message elsewhere, that it wasn’t wanted or needed among Israel. But Amos did not acknowledge his request, rather he proceeded to relay the message that the Lord had given him to deliver. It was a message of warning, not just to the people of Israel, but also to their leadership.

Why is it that we, today, are willing to use a sound byte from Amos to support our misguided characterization of the voice that is held to speak for God but ignore the context and the message he was called to deliver? What is the secret that the Lord would share with His prophet Amos? Was it one regarding how to administer the organization that was called in his name? Was it a message on how to care for the flock? Was it an epistle on the doctrines to use in the government of His church? It was none of these; the message was a call to repent directed at both the leadership and the membership. A careful reading of the message of Amos would suggest that, rather than saying that the Lord would guide and direct his church through a prophet, the message was that He would not chastise His people until He would send a warning voice among them to call them back to Him. Perhaps another more modern interpretation of the often used quote from Amos would be:

Surely the Lord God will not destroy his church until He shares His plan with His prophets and commands them to warn the people.

The secret that Amos was deliver was that the Lord knew the sins of Israel and that he, Amos, was sent to call Israel to repentance. He was called to warn them of the consequences of their idolatrous pattern of living. Here are some elements of his message:

HEAR this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,

You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:1)

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;

That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:

And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)

WOE to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1}

Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.

For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. (Amos 5:11-13)

The message was for the entire house of Israel. The Lord outlined the failings of the people; they were guilty of turning away the righteous and the poor. They did not hold sacred those things which were given by God. And finally, what is it the Lord wanted them to do:

Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.

Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5: 14-15)

What should we, as modern Israel, take as a learning from Amos? Should we not liken ourselves to ancient Israel and learn from their mistakes? Are we not warned, as they were, that we cannot assume all is well in Zion? Are we safe in assuming that God will not chastise us as he did to His previous chosen people?

The message of Amos 3:7 is clear to me. When correction is needed, God will call prophets and share His counsel with them. They will be called to preach repentance to those that, in their pride and arrogance, dismiss the warnings of the words of the prophets recorded in scripture. The prophets will call His people to repentance and warn them of the removal of God’s protection that will be their lot if they choose not to soften their heart.

Surely the Lord God will not leave us in the midst of ignoring His commandments without warning. When we see a prophet come among us that is not ‘called’ by the organization, that doesn’t have the required pedigree, that isn’t recognizable as a sanctioned authority, should we request that he take his message elsewhere as Amaziah did? What would Amos look like today? What would his message be? What are the consequences of ignoring his words of warning?

What think ye?

One can only assume that this week, somewhere in the halls and spacious offices of the Church Office Building, concerned voices echoed with the sound of anxious conversation subsequent to Denver Snuffer’s final lecture in Mesa this week. Well, he has gone and done it now. He is calling for a new church. He says that the Lord has wrested the last vestiges of the priesthood from the church and he is stirring up the saints to follow him into this egregious error he calls communities. He is telling these poor misguided followers that men can actually perform baptisms upon receiving permission from the WOMEN in the community as long as the man has also received authority directly from God. He reaffirmed his call to those who listened to him to hold their tithes and offerings and spend them on the poor, how dare he challenge our use of the sacred funds donated to the church?!!

He had the audacity of telling people to conduct the sacrament in their own homes regardless of whether they have sought permission from the bishop or not. He has finally showed his true colors and ego as he applied the Lord’s warning to himself that He would bless them that bless Denver and curse them that curse him. He has been divorced, we all know that God would not call such a damaged individual to speak for Him. He is just another Jim Harmston, you’ll see.

The fury of the orthodoxy was quickly manifest as these attacks were launched in the blogosphere against both the message and the messenger. Blog sites, such as Tim Malone’s Latter-day Commentary, were bombarded with naysayers spewing criticism of both the supposed inconsistencies of the message and the deviance of the man claiming to be on a mission from God.

Putting the anticipated cacophony aside, what did I hear as I sat in that Mesa hotel ballroom Tuesday morning? I heard more about how to become a Zion people than I have heard in twenty years of general conference platitudes. I heard words of compassion for the poor. I heard a man speak who demonstrated a strong interest in defending those who have been spiritually and socially abused by an organization claiming to represent the Lord Jesus Christ. I heard a call for transparency in the operation of God’s organization and a need to refocus on the core objectives of the restoration of the gospel.

As I pondered the events of this week, questions formed in my mind such as the one I have used as the title for this blog post:

How many malls do we need to construct to bring again Zion?

Billions of dollars have been spent on high end shopping malls in Salt Lake and now another project has begun in Philadelphia. Is it even conceivable that when the Lord returns, He will stop off a Burberrys to pick up an overcoat in case of inclement weather? How does this major economic effort driven by the church bring us closer to being a Zion community? What were you thinking???

How is it that the Church has drifted so far away from the original intention of the restoration that it is now shunning those people who yearn for Zion? As I see it, the purpose of the restoration was to prepare a people to live in the city of God. Instead of threatening those who still hold to that objective, why can’t the leadership recognize the shift that has occurred and find an accommodation? Are we not still under a commandment to both individually and collectively establish Zion?

I am reminded of an event recorded in the New Testament:

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41)

Be it casting out devils or preaching preparation for Zion, can we not recognize ‘he that is not against’ the church mission is on our part? The cup of water that I received on September ninth was regenerative. It was pure and cool and satisfying. Even at the time of Christ, there were others who were blessed with the ability to cast out devils who were not linked to the disciples gathered to the Savior but used His name. The Lord’s reaction to John’s rebuke should tell us something about how those people should be treated today who are eager to apply the message of the Book of Mormon.

When Brigham Young attempted to establish the United Order as preparation for Zion, he met with failure. Perhaps his top-down approach contributed to the demise of the effort. Is there not room to try a ‘bottom-up’ approach to building a Zion people? That is what I see in the message of communities; let us organize ourselves. Let us prepare our hearts and practice the principles of a Zion community.

And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me. And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself. For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D&C 38:24-27)

This is wise council at many levels. If I esteem my brother as myself, I give room for my brother to express his devotion, just as I expect him to honor my practice of worship.  How many of the sons and daughters of the church have been told to sit elsewhere? If we cannot figure out how to love and support one another, how can we possibly claim to be on the Lord’s side, to be one? If not, then we must separate to become one.

Excommunicating people, like Will Carter, for seeking to adhere to scripture and promoting the cause of Zion is a travesty. Forcing people, like Tim Malone, to choose between affiliation with the church and their allegiance to God is a damaging blow to the inspired model of the church of God.

Today we are not ‘one.’ Tomorrow, may we be one, that is my hope and prayer.

What think ye?

Ye Elders of Israel top

Here are the lyrics from ‘Ye Elders of Israel’ written by Cyrus H. Wheelock:

Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me  And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be:  In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea,  And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.

The harvest is great, and the laborers are few;  But if we’re united, we all things can do;  We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares  And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.

We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,  And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;  We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore  And point them to Zion and life evermore.

Chorus:

O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;  We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.

This is one of the ‘songs of Zion’ that brings back to memory the days of my mission. It was one of the songs that was fairly easy to sing the bass part, even for a tone-deaf soul like me.  We were tasked with finding those who were scattered throughout the world who had the ‘blood of Israel’ in their veins. Here is how Brigham Young characterized the search taken from the Journal of Discourses, Volume 2, page 269:

It is Ephraim that I have been searching for all the days of my preaching, and that is the blood which ran in my veins when I embraced the Gospel. If there are any of the other tribes of Israel mixed with the Gentiles we are also searching for them. Though the Gentiles are cut off, do not suppose that we are not going to preach the Gospel among the Gentile nations, for they are mingled with the house of Israel, and when we send to the nations we do not seek for the Gentiles, because they are disobedient and rebellious. (D&C 64:36) We want the blood of Jacob, and that of his father Isaac and Abraham, which runs in the veins of the people.

Loins of Ephraim

My patriarchal blessing echoed this idea where my lineage was declared as coming from Ephraim, therefore, I was of the house of Israel through Ephraim. But it was several years ago I began to experience some dissonance. I read in the words of Isaiah of the drunkards of Ephraim:

WOE to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!

Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: (Isaiah 28:1-3)

If being an Ephraim-ite meant that I was a ‘fading flower’ and that the crown of pride would cause me to be ‘trodden under feet,’ I felt I needed to understand the broader picture. I was also concerned by the position of the house of Israel in the context of the last days.  In reading of the vision of the tree of life given to Lehi and Nephi, I came upon the following:

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.

And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.

And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw.  And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:32-35)

Does this not imply that the house of Israel occupied and, possibly, still occupies that large and spacious building and were/are fighting against the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It was because of their pride that the gospel was taken from them and extended to the Gentiles. It is similar pride that will be demonstrated by the Gentiles that will cause the Lord to withdraw His Gospel from them and extend it once again to the house of Israel. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (1 Nephi 13:42)

In my last post which contains the presentation at the Sunstone Symposium, I spoke of the Gentiles who were blessed  ‘because of their belief in [Christ], in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.’ (3 Nephi 16:6) The core question central to this feeble attempt at a post is to answer the question; who am I relative to the warnings of the Book of Mormon? Am I of Ephraim which, outside of the writings of Isaiah, is only represented by the name of a hill in the Book? Am I of the house of Israel that will receive the gospel only after the Gentiles reject it? Or am I a Gentile who can hope that through repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost can be numbered with those of the church?

Is the right answer all of the above? Let’s go back to the blessing that Ephraim received at the hands of his grandfather.

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.

And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day.

The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. (Genesis 48:13-20)

So Israel/Jacob had his two grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim, brought before him for a blessing. Joseph positioned Manasseh, the elder child on the right side of Israel and Ephraim on the left side. Much to his dismay, Israel crossed his hands and laid his right hand upon Ephraim and his left hand upon Manasseh. Israel persisted and pronounced blessings upon both children. He blessed Manasseh that he would ‘become a people,’ but for the younger son, Ephraim, he blessed to ‘become a multitude of nations.’

Here is where an understanding of the original Hebrew is of benefit, but alas, I am not a Hebrew scholar. What I do have at my disposal is the Interlinear Bible and Strong’s Concordance. The blessing given to Ephraim notes, in the Interlinear Bible, that ‘his seed shall become the fullness of the nations.’ The word used in Genesis, chapter 48, verse 18, for ‘nations’ is ‘goy,’ the same Hebrew word used in many places to denote ‘Gentiles.’ So, in effect, Ephraim was blessed to fill the Gentile nations. The progeny of  Ephraim is both of the house of Israel and identified as the Gentiles. Here is how Joseph Smith treated the topic in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer:

We ask thee to appoint unto Zion other stakes besides this one which thou hast appointed, that the gathering of thy people may roll on in great power and majesty, that thy work may be cut short in righteousness.

Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles. (D&C 109:59-60)

We are the Gentiles, we are those who are of the house of Israel. The challenge comes in that the ‘nations’ no longer remember their roots, nor are they able to link themselves with the house of Israel. When Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord commanded him to ‘number’ the house of Israel before they could be introduced into their promised land. Each tribe was counted and each member had to be linked to his clan.

These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.

To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him.

Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.

According to the lot shall the possession thereof be divided between many and few. (Numbers 26:51-56)

In order to receive an inheritance, each person had to be numbered according to tribe. Those that were not able to link themselves to Israel were not given any place in the land. They were deemed outsiders. The same is true today for those who wish to be part of the kingdom of God. Here is the plea from the Lord to the Gentiles:

Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 30:2)

Given that we cannot literally prove of lineage back to the Fathers, we are given an alternative. If we are willing to repent, be baptized, receive a remission of our sins and be filled with the Holy Ghost; we are then promised that we, even as Gentiles, can be ‘numbered’ with the house of Israel.

In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter whether we consider ourselves as coming from the loins of Ephraim or as a Gentile that fought against our mother Gentiles in establishing this land of freedom and bounty.

AND now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be.  For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:1-2)

We should all be rightly concerned about the warnings in the Book of Mormon, not only to the house of Israel, but more importantly, to the Gentiles. We should seek to be numbered among His people. We should seek to receive the same blessing taught by Moroni relative to the church of Christ:

AND now I speak concerning baptism.  Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.

Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.

And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1-4)

Those who bring forth fruit; those who approach God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit; those who have repents of their sins; those who take upon them the name of Christ and are cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost. These are the one who will be numbered ‘among the people of the church of Christ.’

What think ye?

 

In a response to the growing visibility of recent church disciplinary actions, the LDS church released a statement regarding church discipline; the discussion is found on the church information website. The charge of apostasy has been used repeatedly to stigmatize and label those who have stood out in their efforts to question and challenge the some of the current doctrines and leadership of the church.

Here is an excerpt from the press release:

What are the purposes of Church discipline?

The purpose of Church discipline is not to punish but to facilitate full repentance and fellowship for a person who has made serious mistakes.

Written instructions for lay Church leaders outline three purposes for Church discipline:

To help the individual repent and return

Repentance brings peace when we place our lives in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Church discipline is a process that helps the individual feel that change of heart and change of behavior necessary to bring full forgiveness and peace. Someone who has fulfilled the requirements of Church discipline can be completely forgiven and return to full participation in the Church.

To protect the innocent

When someone poses a physical threat to others or a spiritual threat to other members, Church discipline is conducted to provide protection to potential victims. This includes predatory practices, physical harm, abuse, fraud and apostasy.

To protect the integrity of the Church

The Church teaches its members to follow the example of Jesus Christ in leading moral, faith-centered lives. Anyone who does not meet these standards and significantly harms the integrity of the Church by their actions may face Church discipline.

To help the individual repent and return

It is illuminating to compare the discussion here with the descriptions of events in the scriptures as it pertains to the situation when ‘apostasy’ is identified as the prime factor in church discipline. While the desire to assist members to repent and return is a noble objective, how does one repent from holding an alternative view of church history? How does one repent from holding an opinion that is different from the church leadership on topics that are not in the core message of the gospel?

Alma, the elder, could have used church discipline in addressing the actions of his son, Alma, and the sons of Mosiah in their efforts to undermine the church.

Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man.  And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.

And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. (Mosiah 27:8-9)

These men were ‘seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord.’ Certainly not the normal path for the offspring of the church leadership. As Alma was confronted by an angel we find out the motivation of the angel’s intervention:

And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. (Mosiah 27: 14)

It was the earnest and faithful prayers of the people, as well as his father, that were answered with the visitation of the angel to bring into question the actions of Alma and his cohorts. Instead of excommunication, those who have been a target of church discipline in these recent months could have been the subject of prayer and fasting by the leaders of the church and concerned membership.

The scriptures are clear that the option exists to blot out the names of those who refuse to have faith, pray, and repent. Action that should be reserved for those who have rejected the gospel. For those who have voiced questions regarding church practices, gospel adherence should be sufficient ‘protection.’  The actions illuminated in this scriptural event show that there are alternatives.

Protecting the Innocent

Protecting the innocent is again a worthy objective. It is interesting that the church missionary effort puts heavy emphasis on the need for an investigator to apply to the promise of Moroni regarding the acquisition of a testimony of truthfulness of the church:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5)

Is it the responsibility of the church to ‘protect’ members from those accused of apostasy? Alternatively, should the members be taught to use the same powerful tool described in these verses from Moroni to ascertain ‘the truth of all things?’ Alma, in the context of the challenge from Nehor, can be argued that he took the same approach as Joseph Smith’s statement: ‘I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.’

The Integrity of the Church

Finally, are those who are brought up for church discipline and accused of apostasy impugning the integrity of the church? The leadership of the church do not seem to recognize that the integrity of the church has long been compromised by the doctrinal shifts and policy changes that have occurred over time.

On another tangent regarding the integrity of the church is found in a recent news article. In the June 29 issue of LDS Living (http://ldsliving.com/story/76205-sister-missionaries-assigned-to-proselyte-at-book-of-mormon-musical), we read of sister missionaries being assigned to proselyte outside the performances of ‘Book of Mormon Musical.’

Sister used at BOM Musical

Those of you who have seen the musical would likely agree with the content of this news article:

Not just any musical. The rollicking, raunchy and irreverent “Book of Mormon,” which takes potshots at the faith they practice.

Their goal from the area mission president was simple: Hand out cards to people heading to the theater directing them to a website (Mormon.org) that explains the religion and its practices. And to deliver the message, “Now that you’ve seen the play, read the book.”

I have attended a performance and, while it did have its good moments, it succeeded in using humor to attack some of the doctrines of the church. Is it appropriate to use such an event as a missionary opportunity, yet excommunicate faithful members who are seeking to build up the faith of individuals through a message centered on seeking God.

To apply an alternative approach, instead of excommunicating those who publically question practices, they could have deployed missionaries to the venues where these people were meeting to promote the church view on the topics at issue. Of course, that kind of activity is reserved for raunchy exploitations such as the Book of Mormon Musical.

Church discipline has become a tool to enforce orthodoxy for a wide set of issues that are completely outside the scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the public pronouncement of the purpose of church discipline seems rational, the actions are harsh and dictatorial. If there is any guide for the implementation of these practice of correcting members who express concerns in public, it would be found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 121:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

In the end, a person’s salvation is solely dependent on their relationship with God. No bishop, no stake president, no general authority can act as a proxy for the Savior. Nor can any church leader interpose when a person is truly applying the gospel in their lives.  The purpose of  the gospel of Jesus Christ, as found in 3 Nephi, chapter 27,  is to sanctify us in preparation for entering the presence of our God through our faith and repentance.

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

As individuals and as the collective group seeking Zion, we should focus on the gospel. All this noise that is being generated detracts from that mission.

What think ye?

 

It was five years ago this month that this blog became a reality. I had been commenting on blogs for a number of months when LDS Anarchist invited me to guest post on his blog. I found it presented an outlet that I had been searching for; an opportunity to virtually commune with others who had similar views but also hear the alternative perspectives that were graciously provided. I am grateful to Adam and JR for their early support. I am grateful for Jack who brought his ‘orthodox’ views to the pages. I appreciate the handful of people who stopped by to offer words of challenge as well as encouragement. Each word, each comment that landed on the littered landscape I call my worldview, tilted it in various directions. I am a better man because of these interactions.

The blog was originally entitled “The Fulness” and was housed at 2k12.net. I decided to change the name because I had another website by the same name and I was beginning to see confusion. The original Fulness site (fulness.com) was stood up in December of 2008. I can best describe it as the summary of my spiritual perspective after struggling through eight years of the trial of my faith. Today, it is as close to a ‘shrine’ as I am willing to go. The words on that site poured out of my feeble brain over the Christmas holidays. I had finally put the sequence of ideas and topics in an order that appeared logical to me (your mileage may vary). It represented my first attempt to understand what the gospel meant, what doctrine was of most worth, and what Christ expected of His church. It was a site where I first captured the broader consequences of being a Gentile in this day. And finally, it was where I began to understand what the true future of the restored church was to be.

Kindred Spirits

This month has been a time of building associations with others who share concerns about the direction of the restored church. To my delight, I was able to have dinner with Tim of the blog entitled ‘Latter Day Commentary,’ Will (and children) of the blog  ‘In 200 Words or Less’, and Log who has been prolific in this comments on various topics.

This was followed by an opportunity to rub shoulders with the people behind Mormon Heretic and Pure Mormonism. It is such a refreshing and buoying experience to break bread and discuss spiritual matters not constrained by correlation. I found we were all seeking further light and knowledge. It was reconfirmed to me that there are people who are seeking to come unto Christ and fulfill the definition of His church in D&C, section 10:

65  For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;

66  Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.

67  Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.

68  Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

69  And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

I take the Lord at his word. I espouse the idea presented in this scripture that His church is made up of those who repent and come unto Christ, no more and no less. Anyone who attempts of redirect our attention to the works and words of men is not of His church.

The Mormon Inquisition

It now appears that, in order to be a member in good standing, one must not only support and sustain the brethren, but also conform to their view of the current version of doctrine and, amazingly, of historic events. Straying outside the acceptable bounds of the narrative currently espoused by the leadership of the church  is met with decisive action of ‘eternal’ consequences. The excommunication of Denver Snuffer, and the ongoing questioning of anyone who publicly supports the scriptural basis for his teaching claimed another victim recently. Will, the proprietor of the blog “in 200 Words or Less” was excommunicated for apostasy. This action represents a gross injustice, in my opinion. The idea that people can use the internet to express legitimate concerns regarding the historicity of church claims and doctrine and suffer excommunication without any dialogue seems to follow the same path of other inquisitions. Is there a significant difference between the actions of the Spanish Inquisition where non-believers were given the choice of either conforming to the precepts of the Holy Roman Church or be dragged through the streets until they were dead and the virtual ‘slaughter’ of one’s eternal salvation that is represented in excommunication?

As I pondered this pathetic situation, I have determined that message delivered by President Uchtdorf in the 2013 October General Conference should be clarified with the necessary caveats. Rather than simply saying to those who have been estranged from the church, “Come, join with us,” his message should include the following ‘fine print.’

All are welcome to join us, except those who differ from the current church leadership on the interpretation of church history. Also, anyone who dares interpret scripture that, in any form, represents a concern regarding the legitimacy of the church claims to authority. Please don’t join us if you believe there is any validity to the warnings in scripture regarding the condemnation or possible apostasy of the church. One can only join is if they accept the non-scriptural guidance that the Lord will not permit the church to go astray. Please leave your desire for meat behind as discussion of the mysteries of God is not permitted. Do not share any misgivings about the doctrinal shifts and the policy changes as these are an affront to the inspired leadership of the church. Please refer to the website lds.org regularly to ensure that you are in compliance with the current version of church history and doctrine.

Mothers Day

Kirtland TempleThis past Mother’s Day was the most unique in memory. I was able to attend a the Sunstone sponsored service in the Kirtland Temple to commemorate the holiday. What made it different? Perhaps the fact that there were only women on the stand; that women gave the opening prayer (my dear wife) and closing prayer and the lone instrumental musical number was presented by the token male on the program. The speakers recited their thoughts of the divine feminine – that oft marginalized Goddess who represents our spiritual beginnings. They spoke of the early beliefs in the church of a ‘shared’ priesthood between a man and a woman.  They shared the frustration with current male domination of the corporate church and the one-sided nature of the eternal relationship as defined by the current leadership. It helped me understand the Ordain Women movement.

But from my, perhaps, unique viewpoint, I am not sure it is worth the effort. Why would any woman want to partake of a corrupt priesthood when she has within herself the ability to accomplish the miracles that have evaded those who claim the keys?

The service on Mother’s day was the culminating event for the Sunstone Kirtland Symposium. This was my first experience with the Symposium and one that offered a richness of thought and provoked my heart with misapplied stereotypes. I was pleased with the diversity of speakers from Jessica Kimball who recited her experience as an intern in Nauvoo to Ross Osmond’s description of the stages of faith as applied to organizations. It was will worth the trip; especially when you consider that I was honored to spend the long weekend and a number of hours in the car discussing doctrine with Rock (Pure Mormonism) and Connie Waterman. Thank you for joining us in the Ohio.