Wise advice on Sunday School Teaching

From my friend Blair Hodges:

“Too often, the Sunday School teacher doesn’t have a sympathetic understanding of the place of science, philosophy, the arts, and history in the lives of young people, consequently, he depreciates, even belittles these branches of knowledge in his classes. In this way, often without realizing it, he creates . . . → Read More: Wise advice on Sunday School Teaching

Life as Emergent Agential Systems: Tendencies Without Teleology

 So here is the whole thing. I sent his off  for review last week and had restructured it so completely that posting in the sensible pieces based on what went before was impossible. So this is the whole shebang. When you run across sections you have read before you can just skim and move on. This is very long for a post. Sorry. 

For those who don’t want to read this long, long paper in a nutshell the argument is:

A) Life has evolved in a completely Darwinian fashion. 

B) Even so their are strategies that evolution has stumbled upon over and over like the move to individuality and sociality which produces more individuation at higher levels. Other’s include the emergence of life imbedded in a context, changes the design space upon which it rests through influencing and restructuring that space in a constant back and forth between life and that design space. The result in genuine novelty.

C) Bergson, a French philosopher of the early 20th century, noticed that there were creative tendencies in evolution that life uses again and again despite the non-teleological direction of evolutionary change. 

D) This has implications for theology:

  1. The creation is ongoing.

  2. That the creation is unique, unpredicted, and surprising and worthy of preservation and protection. Life is not a set of predefined necessary forms.

  3. That emergence means that the universe is open ended and that surprises await in what evolves. 


For: What Is Life? Theology, Science, and Philosophy Conference

Krakow, Poland June 2011


Biology has something relevant to say to theology and visa-versa (Cunningham 2010), and as a biologist I would like to hone in on some aspects of life that may gesture to perspectives that cross disciplinary lines. In particular I would like to draw on the work of Henri Bergson, long ignored in biology. However, he is growing in relevance as problems in understanding what life is and how it enfolds in an emergent universe become more pressing and more perplexing. Continue reading Life as Emergent Agential Systems: Tendencies Without Teleology

Mormonism and Evolution, Life as Emergent Agential Systems: My Presentation at the Krakow Theology Conference Part II

My talk at the Science and Religion Conference held in Krakow Poland, “What is Life? Theology, Science, and Philosophy” continued (Part I is found here) . . .

Life’s processes are often mischaracterized as a simple reductive scheme that misses some of life’s most astonishing features. Bergson criticized this as finalism in which the whole was given. This ‘whole’ can be seen in Philosopher Daniel Dennett idea of a design space. He uses it to argue for a deterministic universe, but the idea is that there are only so many possible combinations of DNA that produce viable ‘creatures.’ From a given starting point, the unfolding of different life forms, must wander around on this space, driven by local selection regimes, but the set is finite, and the steps must be small ones. Richard Dawkins uses the same notion in his view of ‘climbing mount improbable’ in which he demonstrates how evolution can completely explain the designed complexity of life on earth. They are right that evolution completely explains complexity, but the question that deserves some consideration is can we ask where the design space comes from? Of course that is in principle unanswerable from a scientific perspective.
Continue reading Mormonism and Evolution, Life as Emergent Agential Systems: My Presentation at the Krakow Theology Conference Part II

Our Relationship With Serpents: Guest Post by Dusty Rhoads

It is my pleasure to introduce our guest blogger Dusty Rhoads! Dusty Rhoads is a Brigham Young University graduate, a herpetologist, and is the author of the book, The Complete Suboc (ECO Herpetological Publishing, 2008), which covers all North American ratsnake species west of the Pecos River. Dusty is currently pursuing his PhD in Biology at Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) studying the evolution, ecology, and conservation of reptiles and amphibians.


“Shouts would then pass from camp to camp, “Khabar dar, bhaieon, shaitan ata!” (“Beware, brothers, the devil is coming!”), but the warning cries would prove of no avail, and sooner or later agonizing shrieks would break the silence, and another man would be missing from roll-call next morning.”

— from The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (JH Patterson, 1907)


In March, 1898, two male African Lions (Panthera leo) with an unsavory penchant for man-flesh terrorized the workers of the Uganda Railway camped in Tsavo, Kenya and brought the construction of the railroad to a halt for nearly a month. Continue reading Our Relationship With Serpents: Guest Post by Dusty Rhoads

Intelligent Design: snake-oil science cries ‘whaa whaa whaa’

It always seems surprising when I hear LDS people arguing for the Discovery Institute’s fundamentalist evangelical campaign of Intelligent Design as if there were some science behind the idea. ID was exposed long ago as a backdoor attempt to get creationism taught in the schools. This was made abundantly clear in the Dover Trial, in which ID was put under the microscope and found to be a fuzz ball rather than a living organism—by a conservative Christian judge nonetheless. It’s an idea without a modicum of scientific merit. There are no scientific institutes, programs or organizations that recognize it as a science. Still, myths persist. Here are a few. Continue reading Intelligent Design: snake-oil science cries ‘whaa whaa whaa’

Does complexity mark revelation as such?

Faithful and good readers. Apologies for my absence. Shortly after my last post, I attended the Philosophy of Science meetings in Montreal, and then was called upon to sit on a EPA Scientific Advisory Board. That was earlier this month and required me to read about 1500 pages of documents to prepare. I was also teaching two classes. Excuses, excuses. I will try to do better.

The prophet offers a challenge to those who see the revelations he has received and doubt that they are genuine. He suggests that you try to write one. If you cannot, then you ought to accept that they came from God. If they are just the works of a man, then they should be reproducible by a man or a woman, or at least reproducible by the wisest among us. It is worth quoting the verses in full: Continue reading Does complexity mark revelation as such?

The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part III

Continuing . . .

Below are the points seem to cause some confusion and may need the most work in framing a detailed reconciliation. Here I sketch of where I think these pivot points lie. I’ll start where I feel there is little tension between science and our religion and that the hermeneutics of each seems not to pose any major difficulties in providing narratives that are comfortable lying side by side. Continue reading The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part III

The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part II

The relationship between Science and Theology

I begin with a controversial claim from Haught,

“For its part, theology can become reputable in an age of science only if it abandons any attempt to provide information of a scientific sort. It must allow that the Bible and other religious teaching cannot add anything to our store of scientific knowledge. However, scientists for their part must concede that evolutionary theory, or any other set of scientific ideas, cannot provide answers to religious or theological questions either.”

Continue reading The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part II

The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part I

So during the last month because of trips to Indonesia and Senegal and the SMPT conference, I’ve been rather inactive on my blog. Time to repent. The following is the text from my SMPT paper. It will be posted in four parts.

Just this week, researchers reported the results of the DNA analysis of a 40,000 year old finger fragment. It was a previously unknown species of human. It’s last common ancestor with humans and Neanderthals was over a million years ago. This forensic reconstruction and the skull going around are from Homo erectus, a hominin that lived about 1.5 million years ago. Our last common ancestor with the Neanderthals was about a half million years ago. Do such things have implications for Mormon Theology? Continue reading The implications of evolution for key LDS Doctrines: My SMPT paper part I

A peek at my paper attempting to reconcile evolution and LDS theology

Here to whet your appetite are the first few paragraphs of my Dialogue article in the Spring 43 (1) issue called “Crawling Out of the Primordial Soup: A Step toward the Emergence of an LDS Theology Compatible with Organic Evolution.” If you want to read the rest, pick up the new issue! In this paper I try to take a stab at identifying the tensions that appear as one tries to reconcile LDS theology and Darwinian evolution and gesture toward some possible solutions to these quandaries. Also, I will speaking at the SMPT Conference on March 26 on “The Implications of Evolution and Consciousness for Key LDS Doctrines.”

From Peck (2010):

Wesley J. Wildman, a liberal evangelical Christian, contributed this issue’s sermon as part of the ongoing “From the Pulpit” series. Provocatively titled “Narnia’s Aslan, Earth’s Darwin, and Heaven’s God” (see pp. 210–17), it details some of the waste and brutality of natural selection that are inevitable accompaniments of evolution. “Surely such a loving, personal Deity would have created in another way,” he queries, “a way that involved less trial and error, fewer false starts, fewer mindless species extinctions, fewer pointless cruelties, and less reliance on predation to sort out the fit from the unfit” (214). In conclusion, he poses the far-from-rhetorical question: “What sort of God could, would, and did create the world through evolution?” (217). He shows that evolution has striking implications for theology—including LDS theology, I would add. Continue reading A peek at my paper attempting to reconcile evolution and LDS theology