Archive for the ‘mysteries’ 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.
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?
Before 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.
For 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.
Acceptance 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. Alternatively, 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. 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. The 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. One 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.’ This 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.
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.
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)
As 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.
As 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)
A 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)
All 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.
As 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.’ The 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)
Whether 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.
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)
Let 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.
Here 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
Just 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?
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.
There 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)
While 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
How 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? The 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. These 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)
Yet, 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.
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.
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.
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As I pondered the messages of the October 2016 general conference, one talk that stood out to me given my current spiritual worldview was that given by M. Russell Ballard. I found that it spoke to a number of the issues with which believers struggle today. To start, I heartily agree with his plea to those whose faith is ‘faltering.’
Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.
Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”
Not only should one study the ‘truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith,’ but should also seek to understand how those truths are held today by the church and the general administration. Are those truths prominent today in the discourse of the church or are they, as the doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants (also known as the Lectures on Faith) been excised from the focus of the church and replaced by the traditions of men?
Is the doctrine of Christ as contained in the Book of Mormon truly central to the message of the modern day church? Is the necessity of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as prominent in church teachings today as it is in the ‘doctrine of Christ’ found in Second and Third Nephi? The doctrine of Christ presented by the Savior as He taught the Nephites after His resurrection included this warning:
…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.
Does the doctrine of Christ stand in clarity as the doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ or does it have elements of the traditions of men injected into it or the core components of salvation removed from it? One must study this out and seek the direction of the Spirit or answers.
Elder Ballard then proceeded to ask some important questions that each of us must answer, my response follows:
Where will you go to find others who share your belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents, who teach us how to return to Their eternal presence?
Are there others outside the Church, (some by their own choice and some who had no choice) who share a belief in a Father and Mother God? Are there those who literally believe that the doctrine of Christ and other important information found in the scriptures teach us explicitly how to return to their presence? I would offer an emphatic yes. While the church offers a socially supportive environment, it does not place personal salvation in the forefront. Rather, one is called upon to support the brethren, attend the temple, pay tithing and, is time is left, do your home teaching. None of these activities are specifically mentioned in the doctrine of Christ from the scriptures.
Where will you go to be taught about a Savior who is your best friend, who not only suffered for your sins but who also suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities,” including, I believe, the infirmity of loss of faith?
The scriptures speak of our opportunity to know Christ at a personal level. The promise found in D&C 93 encourages us to enter His presence and receive of His comfort. Is the church placing itself as the gate for this privilege? The role of His church should be to help members to establish this relationship on their own efforts and not rely on an intermediary for any communion with Heaven.
Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.
Go to the scriptures, go to your Father in Heaven, seek to fulfill the promise of the doctrine of Christ found in chapter 32 of Second Nephi that after we have ‘entered in by the way,’ we have the ability to speak with the tongues of angels and be guided in all we do. No apostles or general conferences are necessary. The authority to baptize historically given to the church does not extend to all communications with God.
Where will you go to find a detailed and inspired Church organizational structure through which you are taught and supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family?
Where is the inspiration recorded that authorizes this Church organizational structure in the first place? Where does the Lord establish a salaried bureaucracy under His name? Which aspect of the three-fold mission of the church supports the billion plus dollar expenditure of sacred funds for the construction of an upscale mall? Where are we told to only seek instruction from these leaders? Where are we told allegiance to this organizational structure is a pre-requisite to other benefits, such as temple attendance? The traditions of men have taken precedence over the doctrine of Christ. His organization, as characterized in Third Nephi, is made up those who acted as ministers and servants, not as rock stars deserving of the highest of obeisance.
Where will you go to find living prophets and apostles, who are called by God to give you another resource for counsel, understanding, comfort, and inspiration for the challenges of our day?
Recorded in the Old Testament is a story of a gardener who was called as a prophet to preach repentance to the established religious organization. I am sure you recall his famous saying: ‘Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ Is it any different today? Should we expect prophets to appear preaching repentance to those who have erred. The secret that Amos carried was that nothing short of sincere repentance would suffice for those to whom he was sent; otherwise the Lord would withdraw His protection. Are there prophets, outside the establishment, among us today who are brought before us by the Lord to preach repentance? I would offer an emphatic YES!
Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?
What are these prescribed values and standards that we are encouraged to live by? Do you speak of the Word of Wisdom? Do you speak of white shirts and ties required to meet the community standard? Do these values and standards bring anything other than a feeling of exclusivity to the proponents? While the church may pride itself on teaching values, it is simply not pertinent to the doctrine of Christ. There are good people outside the church who have similar values and standards without the baggage.
And where will you go to experience the joy that comes through the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple?
Which covenants and ordinances of the temple are you referring to – the Joseph Smith version, the Brigham Young version, the pre-1990’s version or today’s version? Each carries with it differences in covenants. True joy comes from the same source as Alma received it. It comes from being born again. It comes from having our sins purged and our hearts changed. No temple is necessary for that profound and life changing experience.
Brothers and sisters, accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging. It has always been thus, and it ever will be. Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.
I would suggest that the church can be likened to a bus that will carry you part of the way on your journey. To climb that steep and arduous trail, one must put on their own shoes (faith) and tread the trail. No bus will take you up the steep incline. I would encourage all to pause on the path they are on. Seek the Lord in humble prayer and receive of His Spirit. There is no value in relying on an organization to save you. There is no value in completing the checklist. The Lord calls upon your heart to be changed. He invites you belong to His church by repenting and coming unto Him. No more, no less.
I join Elder Ballard in this component of his testimony:
I testify that there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ… I further testify that the Lord “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God.”
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?
1 Hearken and listen to the voice of him who is from all eternity to all eternity, the Great I Am, even Jesus Christ
How long has it been since we were privileged to hear the voice of the Lord? I have heard the refrain many times regarding the paucity of revelation in this generation. Rightly so, we should desire to have prophets in our midst giving us the mind and will of the Lord. Many times, however, the words spoken by these messengers were calls to repent if scripture is any indication of the true calling of a prophet. Are we, as participants in the restoration that is now nearly 200 years old, of such caliber that we have no need for warnings and hard words? I think not.
On the other hand, should we not take the examples of prophetic voice in the scriptures as a pattern we should establish in our own lives and develop our own, our individual, conduit to heaven? Should we not cleave to the circumstance where our sons and our daughters shall prophesy, our old men shall dream dreams, our young men shall see visions? We should be looking for the fulfillment of this prophecy found in the second chapter of Joel.
The children of Israel, when confronted with the terrifying prospect of coming face to face with God opted rather to have Moses operate as an intermediary. In Exodus, chapter 19, we read of the Lord’s request that the people be sanctified in preparation to meeting their God face-to-face. Instead of preparing for this event, the people collectively chose another course. “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19) Is today’s mantra of ‘follow the prophet’ any different? Are we, as the earlier children of Israel, comfortable with concept allowing our leaders to speak with God and listening to them? If so, we are going to face the same result as the people of Moses – we will be given the lesser law and will forfeit the opportunity to live with God in our midst.
There could also be those who fear the idea of individual revelation. What does one do when two or more receive contradictory ‘revelation?’ Does this not have the potential to breed chaos and confusion? There are examples in the scriptures of those who, like Hiram Page, claim they were the recipients of revelation. The explanation was given that they were not tuned to the correct source. I have come to believe that we must find a way to reconcile divergent personal revelation to reach the point where we are of one mind and one heart – the definition of Zion.
We are not all on the same path and, therefore, are not likely to receive the same direction from the Lord. But how do we, as members of communities who are seeking to be equal in all things, reconcile the opportunity for individual inspiration with the need to collective agreement. We must become skilled at understanding the difference between individual and collective inspiration and apply it in our spiritual community.
2 The light and the life of the world; a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not;
3 The same which came in the meridian of time unto mine own, and mine own received me not;
4 But to as many as received me, gave I power to become my sons; and even so will I give unto as many as will receive me, power to become my sons.
In these verses, Christ speaks first of those who rejected His message. They did not comprehend the light contained in the message of the Savior. As a result, they did not accept the invitation to walk into the light preferring rather to remain in the comfort of their own manufactured darkness. Is there a light attempting to be shown today? Having been there, I realize now how difficult it is to perceive the darkness within which we reside. We can easily convince ourselves that our favorite rituals, such as home teaching, temple attendance, paying tithing, and attending our meeting block, represent the light when it is the opposite. Such items, once they become rote, impede rather than impel our sanctification. I could do all these things and still be ‘in the dark.’ It is our challenge to break out of the ritual observance of our religion and seek to imbue ourselves with that light that is being offered.
I would suggest that, just as we find in the Book of Mormon, pride is the major contributor to the inability to see the light. I have come to recognize that the public relations campaign is a misdirected activity which only attempts to gratify our pride and to stoke our vain ambition, believing that the church will eventually ‘fill the whole earth.’ When we slide into the belief that the works of men have built the kingdom, we are in for an unpleasant surprise.
And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.
But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. (3 Nephi 27:10-11)
It is pride that contributes to the idea that we can build the kingdom of God ourselves.
Those who receive the light are given the power to become His sons and daughters. I find the phrasing of keen interest. It was after the people of King Benjamin had received a remission of their sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost and accepted the covenant of the Lord that they became the sons and daughters of God. (see Mosiah, chapter 5) Now back to section thirty nine.
5 And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me.
6 And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.
We either receive or reject the Lord by receiving or rejecting His gospel. As described in these verses, we must accept a gospel that requires us to repent, be baptized by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost. Clearly we must understand each of these components and apply them correctly in our lives. We must understand what we are doing that is incorrect or not conducive to the spirit and turn (repent) from these practices. We must demonstrate our willingness to be obedient to the commandments and seek a baptism that is acceptable to the Lord, and of great importance, we must develop a correct understanding of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost and seek this sanctifying power directly from Him who is the administrator of this ordinance, even Jesus Christ. (3 Nephi 12:1)
7 And now, behold, I say unto you, my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee.
8 And verily I say unto thee, thine heart is now right before me at this time; and, behold, I have bestowed great blessings upon thy head;
9 Nevertheless, thou hast seen great sorrow, for thou hast rejected me many times because of pride and the cares of the world.
I often find myself in the same position as James Covel – realizing that I, also, have frequently ignored the promptings of the spirit and, instead, chose actions that gratified my pride or satisfied desires that are described by the world as acceptable, even necessary.
I can only hope that I can receive the assurance from the Lord that he finds my heart acceptable to Him. I long to be as stalwart was James Covel was at that particular time and be the recipient of the promise of a great blessing from the Lord. At the same time, I fear that I could fall victim to the same call to abandon my familiar and comfortable connections for the unknown, as did Mr. Covel, if I am not focused on the Lord.
10 But, behold, the days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you never have known.
11 And if thou do this, I have prepared thee for a greater work. Thou shalt preach the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth in these last days, the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel.
I believe that the charge to preach the ‘fulness of the gospel’ circumscribes the same message today as it did in 1831. In Joseph Smith – History, verse 34, we find that the fulness of the gospel is found in the narrative of Christ’s visit to the Nephites as found in Third Nephi. Chapter twenty seven contains the definition of the gospel as it came from the mouth of the Lord. It is the means by which we can become Saints – sanctified by His blood and prepared to enter His presence.
12 And it shall come to pass that power shall rest upon thee; thou shalt have great faith, and I will be with thee and go before thy face.
13 Thou art called to labor in my vineyard, and to build up my church, and to bring forth Zion, that it may rejoice upon the hills and flourish.
We have the same charge today; to labor in His vineyard, build up His Church, and to bring forth His Zion. We will not be given power from on high unless this direction from the Lord is our agenda also. I am certain that building up His church has no reference to buildings and land. It has reference to what the Lord has defined as his church, they that repent and come unto Him. Zion can only be brought about collectively when we have been prepared individually.
14 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou art not called to go into the eastern countries, but thou art called to go to the Ohio.
The message to James Covel was that he would not be called to the familiar lands of the east, rather, he was to go to the Ohio. We are not always called to serve where our own skills assessment would place us. We are on this journey to develop the talents and abilities needed to further the cause of the Lord.
Also, I am convinced that we must carry in our hearts that the greatest of all is the servant of all. Seeking position is counter to the message of the Savior.
15 And inasmuch as my people shall assemble themselves at the Ohio, I have kept in store a blessing such as is not known among the children of men, and it shall be poured forth upon their heads. And from thence men shall go forth into all nations.
16 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that the people in Ohio call upon me in much faith, thinking I will stay my hand in judgment upon the nations, but I cannot deny my word.
What is our Ohio? Where are we called to gather? The same is true today, if we are prepared, a blessing will be poured out upon our heads while the judgments of the Lord await those who cling to the world.
17 Wherefore lay to with your might and call faithful laborers into my vineyard, that it may be pruned for the last time.
18 And inasmuch as they do repent and receive the fulness of my gospel, and become sanctified, I will stay mine hand in judgment.
The fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is critical to our salvation and sanctification. Those who repent and are cleansed of their sins, just as described in the Lord’s presentation of the gospel in 3 Nephi, chapter 27 have received the gospel and therefore, have received Christ. In my opinion, the gospel is the core of the message we have been given; the gospel is encompassed by the doctrine of Christ which in turn is surrounded by the mysteries of God. Could it be that each of these components expand as our knowledge and wisdom expands? Or is the gospel and doctrine of Christ delivered in its fulness and we are to expand in all directions and topics from the gospel and doctrine into the mysteries? One of what I consider choice examples of this idea is the description of a mystery that Alma gives to his son Corianton in Alma, chapter 40:3
Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet. Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection.
So… is the resurrection of the dead a component of the gospel or is it a mystery of God? I would suggest that Alma should be taken as a witness; he gives us all an example of a mystery that is now available to those who diligent seek them. Again, back to section 39:
19 Wherefore, go forth, crying with a loud voice, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand; crying: Hosanna! blessed be the name of the Most High God.
20 Go forth baptizing with water, preparing the way before my face for the time of my coming;
21 For the time is at hand; the day or the hour no man knoweth; but it surely shall come.
22 And he that receiveth these things receiveth me; and they shall be gathered unto me in time and in eternity.
I may be the stranger in a strange land but I truly believe that it is not correct to ‘reformulate’ the commandments of God into something that is palatable to our current worldview. We cannot simply state, for example, that the church welfare system is today’s equivalent of the law of consecration. It just doesn’t work that way. We who are awakened need to fulfill the commandment, here, now, to prepare the way for His coming.
The gathering of those who receive Him is still a commandment. I believe that this is a requirement both spiritually and temporally. As I have traveled around the fringes of Mormonism, there is a constant need expressed to come together with those who are like-minded; to have a community with which we can ‘commune.’ I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I do know that the Lord is expecting his people to gather. There will be false starts, there will be attempts to develop a power structure. I can only say that those who wish to be a part of the eventual gathering must maintain a soft heart. We must learn that we are only there to serve others. We must learn to look past the human imperfections that plague us all. Zion will come as we embrace the fulness of the gospel and have, individually, had that change of heart that represents the gate to the strait and narrow path to eternal life.
23 And again, it shall come to pass that on as many as ye shall baptize with water, ye shall lay your hands, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and shall be looking forth for the signs of my coming, and shall know me.
24 Behold, I come quickly. Even so. Amen.
I have been drawn to these verses several times this week as I pondered my weaknesses and contemplated the need to strip myself of pride and the cares of the world. It is so difficult to retrain my mind to act instead of allowing myself to be acted upon. I will continue to exert all the effort I can muster to prepare myself spiritually that my heart may be right before the Lord
We are, in these last verses, again presented with the promise that if we embrace the gospel of repentance, baptism by water, and baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost, we will come to know Christ. It is through that same path that we will come to understand and watch for the signs of His coming. That was the message that James Covel abandoned. That is the message that each of us must stitch into our hearts and support with all our might, mind and strength.
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.
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.
This 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.
This season, in which we commemorate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes as the earth passes into another renewal. This winter has been tough and long in the Midwest, so spring is certainly welcome. For me, Easter is not about bunnies and eggs, although I am partial to marshmallow bunnies. It is not about a shortened Sunday program. To each of us, it should have significant meaning.
On Good Friday, as I traveled back from a meeting, I was able to pass by the processional of the cross conducted by several of the local Catholic churches. Behind the cross, as it traveled down the street, was a line of parishioners waiting patiently for their turn to bear the similar burden to that which was laid upon the shoulder of Christ as He was led to His crucifixion. It was a solemn occasion as I pondered the meaning of the cross in my life.
For much of my religious life, I was instructed that the cross was not the central theme of the ministry of our Savior. instead, the focus was placed on His emergence from the tomb. It made sense since it also allowed us to differentiate ourselves from the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Since my awakening, I have been led to question everything I had been taught; everything that I had taken for granted. It has been an interesting journey these last years as I re-trod ground that was once unquestioned. I have taken the admonition of Paul to “prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
As I reviewed the procession, my mind was drawn to a thought that I had never considered before. It was almost as if the question was placed in my feeble mind and the answer was played out before my eyes. What is the importance of the cross to me? Immediately, my mind was connected to a scripture that I had never associated with that question, found in the 27th chapter of Third Nephi where Christ defines His gospel.
13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
As I rehearsed this in my mind and then later re-read the scripture, I came away with a change in perspective. According to the gospel as delivered to the Nephites by Jesus Christ, he was sent by the Father to be ‘lifted up upon the cross.’ I had never considered the crucifixion as part of the central theme of the restored gospel, but there it was in the words of our Savior. This act of laying down one’s life for a friend is placed as the central theme, in my opinion, of the gospel. There is no mention of the resurrection in this summary of the gospel. There is no reference to the tomb. The focal point of the gospel is that Christ was crucified on the cross to draw all men to Him. We then are to be lifted up, crucified as it is, by the Father to be judged of our works.
So what place should the cross be in our lives? At least one should consider the weight it is given in this exposition of the gospel. What better source than the words recorded of the Savior Himself?
The remainder of the description of the gospel is as follows in the same chapter:
16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
20 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.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
We are told that those who repent and are baptized in His name will be filled and sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost. If we accomplish this, then when we are lifted up upon our own cross, we will enjoy the sanctification that comes from the cleansing of the Holy Ghost.
That is the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel. At least if you believe, as I do, that the Book of Mormon contains the words of Christ and contains the fulness of the gospel. The message of the cross is carried in the restored gospel, the image of the cross as the means to draw all men unto Christ is played out in these words.
May you all take time this holy week to consider the message of Easter and the central theme of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all come to understand what we must do to carry our own cross up our own hill to be lifted up by the Father.
What think ye?
The title for this blog is taken from the twelfth chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon. Amulek and Alma were confronted by Zeezrom, who was a lawyer and “was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people.” (Alma 10:31) Zeezrom intended to catch the missionaries in their words but was stymied by the knowledge that Amulek and Alma had received of his intentions. When this became apparent, Zeezrom trembled and was apparently humbled enough to change the tone of his questions from accusation to a search for understanding. His question dealt with the resurrection of the dead.
In response to the question posed by Zeezrom, Alma stated the following found in the twelfth chapter:
9 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.
10 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.
11 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.
12 And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.
13 Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned. (Alma 12:9-13)
Before Alma was ready to answer the question regarding the resurrection, he first defined the importance and structure of the knowledge that was going to be discussed. We first learn that many have been given the opportunity to gain knowledge and wisdom from the Lord. The way that one receives this information is through the word of God – revelation. The mysteries of God are given to us “according to heed and diligence” that we demonstrate unto God.
There are those who, through pride or other impediments, “harden their hearts” toward this available information are not given the mysteries of God through revelation. I have come to believe that ‘hardening our hearts’ is a product of a misplaced desire to achieve salvation based on our own knowledge and understanding.
On the other hand, those who exhibit of ‘soft’ heart, one that allows the words of God to penetrate, are given the opportunity to receive great knowledge, even to the point of receiving this knowledge in its fullness. There are other demonstrations of this idea in the scriptures. I find it of note that Nephi, in the first chapter and verse of the Book of Mormon, chose to reference this idea with these words: …having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God.., (1 Nephi 1:1. Nephi received visions and revelation to the extent of seeing the entire history of the world. He is not the only one who was able to receive this glorious revelation.
In the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states:
5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. (D&C 76:5-7)
While these citations contain sufficient material for a wide variety of discussions, I want to simply point to the multiple references that encourage, no, command us to individually and collectively seek the mysteries of God. You and I are encouraged and should be compelled by our desire to serve God in righteousness, to seek the knowledge He is willing to share with us.
But what of those who “harden” their hearts? The description found in Alma tells us that they are ‘given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning His mysteries.’ As I pondered this phrase, I came to understand that two elements are described. The first indicates that continuing revelation will not happen. There will be no pronouncements of “Thus sayeth the Lord” by those who are not seeking the mysteries of God. While the mantra may continue that there are prophets, seers, and revelators upon the earth, there is no meat delivered in terms of revelation. Those who harden their hearts will not be privy to the revelation of God.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; (Alma 12:11)
Secondly, the past revelations will be lost in terms of understanding. This verse suggests that there will be a, perhaps gradual, slide downward in terms of understanding revelation that was given in the past until nothing is understood regarding His mysteries – His word delivered by revelation.
Do we see evidence of the gradual loss of the knowledge of God that we have already received from Him? In my mind, there are a number of potential examples. You are certainly to accept or reject them as evidence that there is a chronic hardness of the heart among us individually and collectively.
After Jesus Christ was resurrected, He appeared to His disciples as described in Mark:
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:14-18)
First, I find it interesting that the apostles of the Lord were chastised because of the hardness of their hearts. More importantly, they, the twelve, were to take the message of the gospel to the world. They were to do this accompanied by the signs that they were doing this in His name. Shortly thereafter, as described in Acts, chapter three, Peter healed a man lame since birth.
6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
This same behavior was exhibited by the disciples of Christ in the Book of Mormon:
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus. (4 Nephi 1:5)
Why don’t we see the apostles of the Lord demonstrating miracles in the name of the Lord? Do they not carry the same pronouncement as the apostles of Christ in Jerusalem and among the Nephites?
Today, miracles have been defined around many things that I would consider as short of the description of miracles found in the scriptures. Is it a miracle when a change in the age requirement boosts the missionary ranks to over 75,000? Can the church efforts in genealogy be considered miraculous? I suggest you ponder these questions in your heart. What should be considered a miracle? What have we lost by redefining what ‘miracle’ mean among the body of believers?
Law of Consecration
The Law of Consecration is laid out in the forty-second section of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 42:30-39).
31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose. (D&C 42:31)
The members were instructed to consecrate their property to the church and then receive an inheritance from which they were to extract their living. This commandment of the Lord also has roots back into the meridian of time. Following the Savior’s death and resurrection, we find his followers practicing a similar way of life:
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (Acts 2:42-46)
Note that there is another reference to the signs or miracles done by the apostles. The followers of Christ lived as one, their possessions were pooled together for the benefit of all. The same appears to be the case for the Nephites after the visit by the Savior:
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. (4 Nephi 1:3)
If we were indeed given revelation as to how the followers of Christ were to conduct their daily lives, why do we seem to be satisfied today with the temporal law of tithing? Have we lost our collective memory of the revelation given by God?
Here is how President Eyring described the method by which the followers of Christ have been directed to care for one another:
His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program. His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program. (2011 April General Conference Saturday morning session)
Does the church welfare program equate to the law of consecration? Or is it possibly an example of how the word, the purpose of the original revelation, has been taken from us due to our hard hearts?
Gathering to Zion
I have a friend who ended every communication with the phrase, “next year in Zion.’ There was a time in this church when people still talked of preparing to return to Missouri. There was a time when the saints were told to gather that they could be ‘one.’ Speaking to the apostles of the restoration, the Lord said:
7 And ye shall go forth baptizing with water, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
8 And from this place ye shall go forth into the regions westward; and inasmuch as ye shall find them that will receive you ye shall build up my church in every region—
9 Until the time shall come when it shall be revealed unto you from on high, when the city of the New Jerusalem shall be prepared, that ye may be gathered in one, that ye may be my people and I will be your God. (D&C 42:7-9)
We now know where the Lord originally intended to have His Saints gathered. We also know that the people who attempted to establish Zion were thwarted by their own actions.
9 Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—
10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.
11 And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.
12 For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me.
13 Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion. (D&C 105:9-13)
How long is a little season? What are the things that we, collectively and individually, must learn to be better prepared to establish Zion, the pure in heart? Will it still happen in Jackson County, Missouri or will there be some other place for those who are truly converted to collect?
In the Sunday School lesson conducted about one year ago, the teacher made it clear that we are to stay where we are at; that we are no longer required to gather. I cannot find any commandment to that effect. There was no mention made that we are to be preparing for the gathering? Is this yet another example of the revelation, the word, that has been taken from us?
The Mysteries of God
So this brings me back to the start of this blog entry. As members, we are told today that we are not to seek after the mysteries of God. We are told that we place our membership in jeopardy if we stray outside of the correlated church. We have recent examples of people who have been excised from the fabric of the corporate church because they dared to share their concerns with others. We find that they were not charged with apostasy against the gospel but that they were excommunicated because they spoke words that were at odds with the current version of the church doctrine. How do the chains of hell feel? There are surely people around you that have no desire to seek after the mysteries. They are fully committed to following man rather than God.
In closing, my plea is for us all to ‘come unto Christ.’ Seek to prepare ourselves for the commandments that we have received. Prepare our hearts for the word that the Spirit will deliver.
What think ye?
A few days ago, as I sought some quiet time away from the frantic pace of life, I turned on the television and was browsing for a distraction. I came upon a rebroadcast of the miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth” being shown on TBN. I came in fairly early in the show as Joseph was practicing his carpenter trade and preparing to take Mary as his betrothed.
As the narrative continued, I was absent mindedly in a mode of critiquing the story for its lapses relative to the scriptures. I noted that the side story of Zacharias’ encounter with the angel Gabriel was not included in the story. As my cynicism reigned, I was viewing the part where Joseph was considering what to do with Mary, now that she was with child – not something he was willing to accept. The story also left out the dream that Joseph received:
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:19-20)
I could just imagine what Joseph had been thinking. Here, he is trying to set up a carpentry business and establish himself as a solid member of the community and of the church when, BAM, his betrothed is with child. What are the people going the think? How is this going to affect his new business? What will the elders think when they count the months between his marriage and the birth of what appeared to be his son?
Joseph, based on the guidance received in a dream, proceeds with his marriage to Mary.
As I continued watching, I was overwhelmed by what I can only call revelation. My cynicism was interrupted by a flash of pure knowledge, for lack of a better term. My mind was redirected to the scripture:
And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold the condescension of God! (1 Nephi 11:26)
Christ was born to Mary and all who knew them could count the days between her marriage to Joseph and the child’s birth. He would likely have been, to those who were not spiritually aware of the circumstances, viewed as an illegitimate offspring of two people who couldn’t control their passions.
Here is the Savior of the world born into circumstances that could have subjected him to shame and ridicule due to events beyond His control. Much like the shame imposed on young people who find themselves unexpectedly preparing for parenthood. When I was young, the stigma was much stronger than it is in this day of ‘living together.’ and the optional status of marriage. But that is another topic.
I came away with another profound (for me, at least) appreciation for how God condescended below all of our sins and weaknesses. What greater burden could He carry than to hear the whispers of those around him breathing shame into His entry into the world? How should we approach our lives when we consider how Christ was, by necessity, required to carry all the humiliation and stilted criticism much like we must do in our lives?
As I approach this time when we are supposed to be remembering the birth of Christ, I pray that the majesty of His humble entry into the world is not overwhelmed by the dollar signs of the holiday season. I pray that we may all take a moment to realize that, from the moment He entered mortality, He was likely the recipient of ridicule.
It is our task to turn our eyes and our hearts to the Lord – to recognize Him as our Savior and Redeemer, to read and study His life and teachings and apply them to ourselves.
May we use these ‘holy days’ that are upon us to recommit to the task of coming unto Christ. I am reminded of a statement by Joseph Smith:
Search the scriptures – search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God, nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them. (TPJS, Section 1)
May I wish all who have come to this humble site a merry Christ mass and may the start of a new calendar year bring you true joy.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
This morning I see the first glint of the morning sun spilling across the tall pines outside my window. I came to the mountains this weekend seeking peace and some needed rest for the whirring machinery of today’s life. As I read the words recorded in our scripture, I was reminded of the invitation, repeated oft in the words of the prophets, to enter the rest of the Lord. Is this rest only found as we leave this life, as I have often heard repeated as we honor the passing of our loved ones? Nay, it is available to each of us today and all the remaining days of our lives.
Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven. (Moroni 7:3)
The phrase, ’entering into the rest of the Lord,’ to me, means leaving the anxieties of the world behind. It means having the hope that we are right with the Lord and that we have had our hearts softened by His word. But the scriptures tell us it is more than just this hope. The rest of the Lord is a state of our being. It is a spiritual cloud that envelops us and speaks peace to our soul.
Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins, and these shall enter into my rest. (Alma 12:34)
We receive, as is told in 2 Nephi, chapter 31, a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. This sacred experience is what welcomes us into the rest of the Lord. This baptism of fire should be the goal of each of us. The objective is to expunge from our hearts and our souls all the dross of the world around us. The experience lifts us above the realm of the mortal and gives us but a taste of what awaits us in the kingdom of God.
Those of the true high priesthood have, according to the scriptures, already partaken of this gift from God.
Now, as I said concerning the holy order or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and become high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish. Therefore, they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. (Alma 13:10-12)
The purpose that these men were called to this high priesthood was to teach others how to receive the same blessing.
And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest. (Alma 13:6)
According to the Book of Mormon, high priests are called to teach us how to enter into the rest of the Lord; something that they themselves have experienced. It is a call to set aside the things of the world. It beckons us to soften our hearts and make our spirits contrite and accept the words of Christ. It is how we become the sons and daughters of God. It is how we are sanctified and prepared to enter into the presence of the Lord. It is the gate by which we enter the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life. It is the rest of the Lord.
What think ye?
Dear President Uchtdorf,
In your Saturday morning talk at conference, you began by telling a story of a man who had a dream. The man dreamed that ‘he was in great hall where all the religions of the world were gathered.’ The story continued with this man meeting a nice couple who represented the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and asked “What do you require of your members?” Their response was that ‘we do not require anything, but the Lord asks that we consecrate all.’ The couple went on to explain about ‘church callings, home and visiting teaching, full-time missions, weekly family home evenings, temple work, welfare, and humanitarian service and assignments to teach.’ The list was expanded with ‘family history, youth camps, devotionals, scripture study, leadership training, youth activities, early morning seminary, maintaining church buildings. And, of course, there is the Lord’s law of health, the monthly fast to help the poor, and tithing.
Upon hearing of all that is required of members and the fact that none locally were paid for these contributions of time and talent, the man responded, “Why would anyone want to join such a church?” The couple’s response was, “We thought you would never ask.”
The story reminded me of a talk given by Boyd K. Packer in the Sunday morning session of conference in October of 1974. I was not privileged to hear this talk directly as I was serving a mission in Finland at the time, but the words sunk deeply into my soul. It was not easy for us, my father had passed away when I was in high school but, at a sacrifice, my mother easily agreed to help cover the costs of my mission. It was she who sent me a copy of the conference proceedings as well as a tape of the session.
In this talk, Elder Packer referenced an event that occurred while he was a mission president as found here. A family receiving the discussions had requested no more visits. The man had heard of tithing and had decided that was too much to pay. When visited by the branch president, he was asked if he knew about fast offering, building fund (remember those days?), welfare and teaching assignments. The story ends with these words
As they departed, almost as an afterthought, he turned and said, “Have you ever wondered why people will do all of these things willingly? I have never received a bill for tithing. No one has ever called to collect it. But we pay it—and all of the rest—and count it a great privilege.
“If you could discover why, you would be within reach of the pearl of great price, which the Lord said the merchant man was willing to sell all that he had that he might obtain it.
“But,” said the branch president, “It is your decision. I only hope you will pray about it.”
A few days later the man appeared at the branch president’s home. No, he did not want to reschedule the missionaries. That would not be necessary. He wanted to schedule the baptism of his family. They had been praying, fervently praying.
For many years, the story helped validate the work I was doing and justified the many church assignments and activities that made up the agenda of an active member. Are we not to be busily engaged in a good cause? Are not all these things expected of us in order to gain salvation? Doesn’t paying tithing, attending our meetings and the temple regularly, contributing to fast offering, and fulfilling our assignments represent what is expected of a member in good standing? Is this not how we are measured in the church?
I no longer hold that view. I now understand that relying on these works of men can only give us ‘joy in our works for a season.’ (3 Nephi 27:11) These outward acts – tithing, buildings, assignments and other works of man requiring our time and energy, do not gain us anything but a short lived satisfaction without the correct foundation. Checking all the boxes is not the prerequisite to entering into the rest of the Lord.
In a marvelous display of the workings of the Holy Ghost, the people of King Benjamin were baptized by fire and received a remission of their sins. They were cautioned to ‘humble themselves even in the depths of humility’ in order to retain a remission of their sins. (Mosiah 4)
They were also taught that, in order to retain a remission of their sins, they were to consider the needs of those around them as described in verse 26:
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
The pattern that the Lord has set here is that we are to first seek a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. We are then to maintain humility and seek to serve those around us in order to retain a remission of our sins. We must cleanse ourselves before we can truly serve others. Through that service, we are able to retain a remission of our sins from day to day.
But, let me know turn to the message you delivered to those who are estranged from the church. I quote from your talk:
There are some who leave the church they once loved. One might ask, if the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave? Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended, or lazy, or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question of whether they should separate themselves from the church.
I am gratified that there is at least some recognition that offense and sin are not the general cause of people leaving the church. Yet, in the pamphlet the church sends to those who have asked to have their names removed, that attitude is still apparent, at least as of last year.
In this church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers. We respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the church we love and the truth we have found but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience just as we claim the privilege for ourselves.
Does this church truly honor personal agency? What would you say to the September Six who were honestly seeking truth, albeit outside the bounds of the lesson manual? Are we not told we must seek the mysteries of God or be bound by the chains of Hell? (Alma 12:9-11) Are we not to share these mysteries as guided by the Holy Spirit? Who is to judge from the outside which of us are to share and which to keep to ourselves?
What is the message to Denver Snuffer now that he was involuntarily separated (excommunicated) from the church? Is that how the church honors personal agency? Is that how you show respect for those who are honestly seeking for truth from the scriptures and historical records of the church. It seems that the church is doing the exact opposite. It is dictating what are the acceptable bounds of personal agency – bounds drawn by the currently accepted view of historical events and filtered by the need to justify the abandonment of practices and doctrines of the past.
Do not the people who travel to listen to people like Denver Snuffer deserve the same protection of personal agency for themselves? Can a person who differs in the perspective message they derive from the scriptures versus the correlated message of the church be shunned and cast away. Can’t truth stand on its own?
In the past, I was a casual reader of Denver Snuffer’s blog. When his notice of pending church discipline was published, I ordered his book, Passing the Heavenly Gift, to see for myself what would get a person excommunicated these days. Having recently finished the book, here is my perspective. I found someone who had put many painstaking hours into rationalizing the scriptures and the documented history of the church with the current church practices and doctrines. I found many of the same scriptures and information that I had independently found on my journey. I would suggest that the message delivered in the writings of Denver Snuffer are as worthy of the sanctity of personal agency as the result of any other prayerful search for truth.
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of church history along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.
Patience appears to be the only rational response to the cognitive dissonance that prompts many of these questions. Will patience answer the question why the ordinance of the sacrament differs in practice from the scriptural dictate? Will patience explain why the call to gather to Zion is now ignored? Must we wait to understand the core aspects of the gospel and the true meaning of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost? Must we wait for a season to understand why the works of God have been replaced by the works of men in the validation of the mission of the church?
Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the facts really mean. The question that creates doubt in some can. after careful investigation, build faith in others. And to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
Is the difference of opinion as to the ‘facts,’ even after careful investigation, sufficient to threaten church discipline if that opinion runs counter to the current correlated version of church history? How does one resolve which events are mistakes and which are ‘inspired?’ Are we not encouraged to seek the confirmation of the Spirit in these matters? Should that not be the encouragement given to members when confronted by these differences in opinion, rather than threats and coercion?
As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as one who has seen firsthand the counsels and workings of this church, I bear solemn witness that no decision of significance affecting this church or its members is ever made without earnestly seeking inspiration, guidance, and the approbation of our Eternal Father. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. God will not allow His church to drift from its appointed course not fail to fulfill its divine destiny.
To this comment, I would ask where in the scriptures do we find that God would not allow the church to fail? On the other hand, is the church still under the condemnation identified in D&C 84:56 and reinforced by the voice of President Benson? What is the vengeance directed to His house as decribed in D&C 112:23-26? Are we not the Gentiles who have received their belief, in and of the Holy Ghost, and then reject the fulness of the gospel? (3 Nephi 16:6-12)
Joseph Smith stated “…for if Zion will not purify herself, so as to be approved in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people; for His work will go on until Israel is gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel his wrath. (TPJS p. 18) Has Zion purified herself in all things, may I ask? We face the same bitter end as the Jews at the meridian of time should we choose to ignore this warning.
The Church of Jesus Christ seems to attract the kind and the caring, the honest and the industrious. If you expect to find perfect people here, you will be disappointed. But if you seek the pure doctrine of Christ, the word of God which healeth the wounded soul and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost, then here you will find them.
Does the church promote the pure doctrine of Christ as found in the scriptures (ex. 3 Nephi 11:31-40) or has it added to church doctrine, many doctrines of men? Does the church teach, as doctrine, the scriptural representation of sanctification or has it adapted doctrine of Christ to be more palatable to the average member (see 2 Nephi 31:17-20) Is it not the definition of some of these core doctrinal questions that cause some people to waver with regards to the church?
I am reminded of a time in the Savior’s life when many abandoned Him. Jesus asked His twelve disciples – “Will you also go away?” Then Simon Peter answered Him – “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.
There are times we have to answer the same question. Will we also go away? Or will we like Peter hold fast to the words of eternal life.