Thursday, July 31, 2008

Prof. Stephen Peck's comments on evolution and Lamanite DNA issues

In light of the recent post and discussion about evolution (see the post below on the Seven Deadly Heresies, Part Two), I want to get the word out on this post by Stephen Peck, a Professor of Biology at BYU, who just posted a response to Simon Southerton's claims about Lamanite DNA issues.

Some issues raised by Southerton about the Book of Mormon and DNA stem from comments from Joseph Smith (which is considered hearsay) and by Brigham Young about things such as sun men and moon men. Peck responds:

Joseph Smith’s opinion was like that of one of many of his contemporaries. It wasn’t well-grounded scientific thinking, even given the science of the times, (Oh don’t go stamping your foot and saying John Herschel the famous astronomer believed in moon people, true enough, but he was going against majority opinion, it’s kind of like quoting Patrick J. Michaels to support the fallacy that most scientists don’t believe in global warming (and not believing in human caused climate change today is analogous to believing in moon men in the nineteenth century)), but it’s not surprising. The folks at many of the world’s observatories at the time could have given a much better take on the moon. But so what if the prophet of the restoration was not all that scientifically informed when it comes to the moon, (This despite Widtsoe’s Joseph Smith as a Scientist), or population genetics, or evolution? That was not his calling. He was called to bring about the Restoration, not investigate the natural world. Leave that to Darwin.

Accoring to Peck, comments by General Authorities extend to scientific truths such as evolution. Check out his entire post here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Seven Deadly Heresies, Part Three (Celestial Marriage)

Part three in our seven part series taken from Elder McConkie's famous talk, The Seven Deadly Heresies, covers the doctrine of Celestial Marriage. The Seven Deadly Heresies can be accessed here. Elder McConkie continues:

Heresy three: There are those who say that temple marriage assures us of an eventual exaltation. Some have supposed that couples married in the temple who commit all manner of sin, and who then pay the penalty, will gain their exaltation eventually.

This notion is contrary to the whole system and plan that the Lord has ordained, a system under which we are privileged to work out our salvation with fear and trembling before him. If we believe and obey, if we enter the waters of baptism and make solemn covenants with the Lord to keep his commandments, we thereby get on a strait and narrow path that leads from the gate of repentance and baptism to a reward that is called eternal life. And if we traverse the length of the path going upward and forward and onward, keeping the commandments, loving the Lord, and doing all that we ought to do, eventually we will be inheritors of that reward.

And in exactly and precisely the same sense, celestial marriage is a gate that puts us on a path leading to exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world. It is in that highest realm of glory and dignity and honor hereafter that the family unit continues. Those who inherit a place in the highest heaven receive the reward that is named eternal life. Baptism is a gate; celestial marriage is a gate. When we get on the paths of which I speak, we are then obligated to keep the commandments. My suggestion in this field is that you go to the temple and listen to a ceremony of celestial marriage, paying particular and especial attention to the words, and learn what the promises are that are given. And you will learn that all of the promises given are conditioned upon subsequent compliance with all of the terms and conditions of that order of matrimony.

Unlike some of the previous heresies listed by Elder McConkie, I feel that he is right on with this one. The culture within the church has sometimes propagated, among other things, the idea that once one is sealed in the temple that the have essentially already received their place in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. A closer reading of D&C 132:19 will clear up this point.

"And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word (celestial marriage in the temple), which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection..."

In other words, if one is married in the temple and that marriage is sealed by the Holy Ghost and by the proper priesthood holder, then the promise of eternal life is guaranteed. These individuals have there calling and election made sure and have a knowledge in this life that they will attain that highest level of the Celestial Kingdom, even in this life, with the exception of committing the unpardonable sin and shedding innocent blood. That knowledge is described as having the more sure word of prophecy, which according to the Prophet is knowing that one is sealed up unto eternal life (D&C 131:5). See also Mosiah 26:20.

Like baptism, the celestial marriage covenant is conditional upon our faithfulness. When we have done enough to fulfill out part of the covenant, then the Lord is bound to fulfill his, which is to say, "Thou shalt have eternal life" and receive the Second Comforter.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


In light of the upcoming Fast Sunday, I wanted to write about a topic that has been coming up lately from First Presidency letters and other General Authorities. I am of course talking about testimonies, or what I sometimes like to refer to as thank-imonies.
Thank-imonies are a cultural aspect of LDS and has become so noticeable that Elder Oaks condemned this in his last talk in the April 2008 General Conference. A true testimony is when we share our witness for what we know by the Spirit. The Lord then allows others who hear that testimony to receive a witness of its truth by the Spirit. God promises us that we will receive “knowledge” by His telling us in our mind and in our heart “by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:1–2).

A thank-imony is when we stray from what we know to be true about the Gospel to sharing our feelings about things that, while nice, are not relevant to the Spirit. For example, a true testimony says "I know..." while a thank-imony says "I am grateful for...". The thank-imony does not have the ability to invoke divine approval of the statement by the Spirit and therefore is not a true testimony. Some other examples of well-known thank-imonies include:
  • I'm thankful for my family
  • I know I wouldn't be grateful to my heavenly father if I didn't get up here today
  • While I was on vacation last year at Powell...
  • Brother Harrison is a good home teacher (Frank gets a free pass for this)
  • My personal favorite, from a single's ward, "I love my roommate!"

While these may make one feel nice on the inside and is nice to share in a more intimate setting, it is not appropriate for a testimony meeting. Indeed Elder Oaks said this past April, "A testimony of the gospel is not a travelogue, a health log, or an expression of love for family members. It is not a sermon. President Kimball taught that the moment we begin preaching to others, our testimony is ended" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 138. In April 2004, Elder Ballard made this even clearer. "Like almost everything else in life, testimonies grow and develop through experience and service. We often hear some members, and especially children, bear their testimonies, listing things for which they are thankful: their love of family, the Church, their teachers, their friends. For them, the gospel is something that they are grateful for because it makes them feel happy and secure. This is a good beginning, but testimonies need to be much more. They need to be anchored very early to the first principles of the gospel."

An appropriate testimony should include something like these points as they are foundational principles of the Gospel:

  • I know that God lives
  • I know that Jesus is the Christ
  • I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet
  • I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God
  • I know that President Monson is living prophet and guides the church

To further illustrate the point, when missionaries learn another language in the MTC and spend a lesson on learning how to testify in their new language (which is all many greenies can do when they arrive in their respective mission), they testify in their new language "I know" and not "I am thankful for".

If you think that I am embellishing this point, wait until next Sunday and see how many times someone says "I'm thankful for" instead of "I know". I am curious to see if you think this happens as much as I do. When listening, think about whether we are following Elder Ballard's counsel:

"My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.

Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies. Those who are entrusted to speak and teach in our meetings need to do so with doctrinal power that will be both heard and felt, lifting the spirits and edifying our people."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Seven Deadly Heresies, Part Two (Organic Evolution)

This post is the second in a seven-part series covering the seven deadly heresies according to Elder McConkie in his address to the student body of BYU in 1981. Again, for easy reference, please find the entire text of the talk here.

Elder McConkie's second heresy is pointed directly as organic evolution. Specifically, he says:

"Heresy two concerns itself with the relationship between organic evolution and revealed religion and asks the question whether they can be harmonized.

There are those who believe that the theory of organic evolution runs counter to the plain and explicit principles set forth in the holy scriptures as these have been interpreted and taught by Joseph Smith and his associates. There are others who think that evolution is the system used by the Lord to form plant and animal life and to place man on earth.

May I say that all truth is in agreement, that true religion and true science bear the same witness, and that in the true and full sense, true science is part of true religion. But may I also raise some questions of a serious nature. Is there any way to harmonize the false religions of the Dark Ages with the truths of science as they have now been discovered? is there any way to harmonize the revealed religion that has come to us with the theoretical postulates of Darwinism and the diverse speculations descending therefrom?

Should we accept the famous document of the First Presidency issued in the days of President Joseph F. Smith and entitled "The Origin of Man" as meaning exactly what it says? Is it the doctrine of the gospel that Adam stood next to Christ in power and might and intelligence before the foundations of the world were laid; that Adam was placed on this earth as an immortal being; that there was no death in the world for him or for any form of life until after the Fall; that the fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world; that this temporal death passed upon all forms of life, upon man and animal and fish and fowl and plant life; that Christ came to ransom man and all forms of life from the effects of the temporal death brought into the world through the Fall, and in the case of man from a spiritual death also; and that this ransom includes a resurrection for man and for all forms of life? Can you harmonize these things with the evolutionary postulate that death has always existed and that the various forms of life have evolved from preceding forms over astronomically long periods of time?

Can you harmonize the theories of men with the inspired words that say:

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they [meaning Adam and Eve] would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. [2 Ne. 2:22-26]

These are questions to which all of us should find answers. Every person must choose for himself what he will believe. I recommend that all of you study and ponder and pray and seek light and knowledge in these and in all fields. I believe that the atonement of Christ is the great and eternal foundation upon which revealed religion rests. I believe that no man can be saved unless he believes that our Lord's atoning sacrifice brings immortality to all and eternal life to those who believe and obey, and no man can believe in the atonement unless he accepts both the divine sonship of Christ and the fall of Adam.

My reasoning causes me to conclude that if death has always prevailed in the world, then there was no fall of Adam that brought death to all forms of life; that if Adam did not fall, there is no need for an atonement; that if there was no atonement, there is no salvation, no resurrection, and no eternal life; and that if there was no atonement, there is nothing in all of the glorious promises that the Lord has given us. I believe that the Fall affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself, and that the atonement affects man, all forms of life, and the earth itself."

Evolution is one of those topics in the church where there are multiple quotes from one General Authority and quotes from another which contradict one another. Therefore, to make sure that we focus on the most relevant statements, I will quote only from the First Presidency in its capacity or one of its members, keeping in mind that First Presidency statements with support from the Quorum of the 12 are the best sign of authenticity.

I will begin first with a quote from the First Presidency's "The Origin of Man", published in 1909. The main points include:

"Adam is the primal parent of our race...It is held by some that Adam is not the first man upon this Earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men."

Later on, the explanation continues,"

"True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo becomes a man."

In order to clarify the point, the First Presidency issued the following statement in 1925 following the famous evolution trial in Tennessee, made famous in "Inherit the Wind". The following is a brief exert provide to the press:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing belief on diving revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. By his Almighty power God organized the Earth, and all that it contains, from spirit and element, which co-exist eternally with himself.

Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with diving attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable by experience through the ages and eons, of evolving into God."

Both of these statements were reaffirmed in the 1992 edition of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism's heading under evolution, which was approved by the First Presidency.

In order to keep this post from being too long, I will share one final quote from Pres. Hinckley from an interview he granted in 2002 to Larry Witham:

"What the church requires is only a belief that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race. Scientists can speculate the on the rest. Studied all about it. Didn't worry me then. Doesn't worry me now."

Of course this is not an authoritative statement given by the First Presidency, but it gives us an idea of what they are thinking individually at the moment. I am purposefully only including these statements because the post could get long with other statements from Presidents Kimball and McKay, quotes from Talmage, etc. I just want us to address Elder McConkie's last paragraph with the previous statements in mind.

The crux of what I want to get at here is what Elder McConkie seems to think is evolution's biggest problem with compliance to the Gospel. If death did not enter the world until the Fall, literally speaking, then the atonement would never have happened and therefore no salvation nor exaltation. Essentially, the Plan of Salvation would fail.

If you think that the Gospel can work in harmony with organic evolution, how would one circumvent Elder McConkie's dilemma? Any thoughts.

Monday, July 14, 2008

D&C 46:16 - " know the diversities of operations..."

Three places in recorded scripture provide us with a list of gifts from the Spirit. The list includes 1st Corinthians 12, Moroni 10, and D&C 46. The lists in 1st Corinthians 12 and D&C 46 mention a gift of the Spirit that has always stuck out to me because it is not one that I would typically think about.

1st Corinthians 12:6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

D&C 46:16 16 And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.

As usual, the version given in modern scripture further clarifies the point from ancient times.

So what does this mean and who generally receives this gift of the Spirit? Many commentators seem to think that it refers to leading authorities in the church. McConkie and Ostler commented:

"Each [prophet] has been endowed with the particular gifts needed during the time of his restoration. The Prophet Joseph laid the foundation of this dispensation and no other man could. Yet, perhaps he would not have been Brigham's match in leading the Saints across the plains and colonizing the Great Basin. And so it has been with one prophet after another, each specially prepared to meet the challenges of that time for which he was called." Revelations of the Restoration, p. 366. McConkie, Joseph Fielding and Ostler, Craig J.

It would be crucial for leaders in the church to have the ability to understand all the operations and functions of the organization. We have seen two recent leaders that serve as a great examples of being blessed with this gift.

Pres. David O. McKay - President McKay presided over the church at a time of unprecedented growth, especially in Latin America. President McKay understood the use of new media in helping modernize the church. He used the talents of new Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley to develop radio and film adaptations of church materials. Surely he was inspired to understand the diversities of operations that were at his disposal as President of the Church.

President McKay also travelled extensively and met with members all over the world, the first Church President to be able to do this. He was surely inspired to lead member who for the first time saw the Lord's anointed.

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley - As most us all know, President Hinckley, like President McKay before him, presided over the church at a time of unprecedented growth. In order to bring the blessings of the temple closer to faithful members in more remote areas. President Hinckley was inspired to direct the building of smaller temples that could be used on a smaller scale. From that time, over 70 new temples have been built and many more are either under construction or planned. Can anyone doubt that President Hinckley was called at the right time to preside and that he did have the gift of understanding the many operations of running a world-wide church.

Of course there are many more sides of this that I am not covering, but would appreciate feedback and comments on this.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cloven Tongues Like as of Fire?

Does anyone know what the "cloven tongues like as of fire" represents in Acts 2:3? I understand that a similar Pentecostal experience occurred at the dedication of the Kitland Temple where similar things were "seen." However, I have never heard any interpretation of what these cloven tongues made of fire actually were. Anyone have any leads?

I understand most of the gift of tongues interpretations, but none seem to touch on the fact that something was actually seen. Something that looked like a serpent's tongue that was made of fire. I'm at a loss...and that random illustration of the experience doesn't help one bit.

About me (Jeremy)

I guess I consider myself a "student" of the Gospel. Although I'm a big fan of sports and entertainment, I often find myself wanting to study instead of watch, for example, Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The feeling I get is quite addictive, and always more satisfying than watching the Jazz lose yet another chance at a title.

As Hans explained, we attended law school together and are now both practicing attorneys - in two quite different legal fields. My legal practice is focused mostly on intellectual property matters, like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. I have a Mechanical Engineering degree from BYU which, suprisingly to some, springboards quite well into drafting patents that are based on engineering principles.

Through our posts, Hans and I are looking to explore Gospel topics that have fascinated us in the short time that we've known each other, and hope that others will join our quest for further light and knowledge.

For those of you who do not share our religious beliefs, our intent and the intent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not to persuade you through arguments and reasoning from scripture that we can read the Bible better than you, or that we have the best reading of scripture based on the most recent biblical scholarship - though we will definitely share our scripture with you and do our best to get you to read scripture, and I believe Hans and I have a persuasive reading of the texts.

Instead, I hope these discussions will entice "honest" seekers of truth to enter into an interpersonal relationship directly with God so He can tell you personally what truth is. I did not convert because someone reasoned the scriptures with me. Rather, many hours have been spent personally reading, pondering and, most importantly, talking with my Father in Heaven. On countless occasions He has confirmed to me many plain and precious truths; the receipt of which is promised to all who will seek after these things with honest intent.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Really Fox News? LDS disciplinary meeting is newsworthy?

To further prove my point that US news is no longer "news" but entertainment, picked up this article by and the Associated Press about a church member facing discipline for publishing a calendar with semi-dressed men that are purportedly missionaries.

The article makes Chad Hardy, the publisher of the calendar, into a martyr. Of course church leaders did not comment about the situation as all such situations are confidential and never disclose those proceedings. The disciplinee is free to disclose that, which it appears Hardy has done here.

Of course in the middle of this "breaking news", during which Hardy claims that he feels his right to free speech is being violated (ignoring the fact First Amendment Rights protect us from government actions, not church government actions), the AP discloses this astonishing revelation about the case:
"A returned missionary himself, Hardy acknowledged he has not been an active
member of the church since 2002."
Not that active membership is a standard by which one is a good member or not, but I admit I would have been more surprised if he said that he were still active now. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the article comes from the end, which may just be Hardy embellishing the numbers:

"The 2009 calendar — which drew 100 inquiries from interested missionaries — will be released in September."

Really? Assuming that this is even true, what current missionary would even consider that? It is probably not that debatable whether an endowed member taking off his garments for something designed for sexual feelings is violating covenants. But that's not really the point here. Hardy can do what he wants because there have been worse things done towards the church's image and life hasn't changed. It's obvious that he is using this opportunity to get more publicity to sell calendars.

The actual question I want to pose is why this was a feature article on the front page of Is there really nothing more important going on in the world? And we wonder why people outside of the US think that we are ignorant of what goes on around the world. Can we trust our news if it is designed as entertainment and focuses on garbage?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Seven Deadly Heresies - Part 1

This is the first part of a seven part series based on Elder McConkie's famous talk given at BYU on June 1, 1980. Elder McConkie focused his talk on some points of doctrine that were beginning to enter the church that he felt needed to be addressed. The whole talk can be accessed here.

I will focus one heresy per post for discussion and summarize Elder McConkie's response with additional thoughts. Because this is the initial post, I want to provide Elder McConkie's standard for truth before going through his planned talk.

"There is no salvation in believing a false doctrine. Truth, diamond truth, truth unmixed with error, truth alone leads to salvation. What we believe determines what we do. No man can be saved in ignorance of God and his laws. Man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge of Jesus Christ and the saving truths of his everlasting gospel. Gospel doctrines belong to the Lord, not to men. They are his. He ordained them, he reveals them, and he expects us to believe them. The doctrines of salvation are not discovered in the laboratory or on a geological field trip or by accompanying Darwin around the world. They come by revelation and in no other way. Our sole concern in seeking truth should be to learn and believe what the Lord knows and believes. Providentially he has set forth some of his views in the holy scriptures. Our goal as mortals is to gain the mind of Christ, to believe what he believes, to think what he thinks, to say what he says, to do what he does, and to be as he is. We are called upon to reject all heresies and cleave unto all truth. Only then can we progress according to the divine plan. As the Lord has said,

'Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.' [D&C 130:18-19]"

Heresy 1 - God is still progressing now and learning new truths

This come from a faulty reading of the King Follett Discourse given by Joseph Smith shortly before his death. Because the KFD laid out the teaching of eternal progression, that we are progressing towards an eventual perfect as God once did before us, some have interpreted this to mean that he is still progressing.

I don't think that in the church that there is much debate on this but I can make a point or two on why this would still be wrong. First, if God were not omniscient, omniscient, and omnipotent, how could we depend on him that the current Plan of Salvation is the best plan for us? Abraham 3 makes it clear that the plan was clear from the beginning:

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Elder McConkie goes on to say:

"Will [God] one day learn something that will destroy the plan of salvation and turn man and the universe into an uncreated nothingness? Will [God] discover a better plan of salvation than the one he has already given to men in worlds without number?"

Moreover, the idea that God is still progressing is contrary to what Joseph/Sidney had already taught at the School of the Prophets in the Lectures on Faith. The first lectures go to great length to prove that God is perfect in all his attributes, as we could not properly put faith in a being who is not already perfect to save us. If God were not consistent, how could we put faith in a being who wakes up on the wrong side of the bed?

I have not come across any claims of this lately as we do not focus on the KFD normally for these points, but I have always wondered whether if we are to be eventually perfect as God, with how many ever eons it will take, and become a Father/Mother in the same sense that he/she are, does this lead to the role of another Savior under that person's authority? In other words, my assumption is that the whole plan will play itself out again because it is perfect. I don't want to speculate but this is just the natural progression on the scenario. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

About me (Hans)

I am an immigration attorney in Phoenix, Arizona, which always makes for an interesting conversation starter in a border state. I actually practice Global immigration, which means I get people to any other country but the US. So if you need to work in Pakistan, please feel free to contact me.

I am married and have a son, who both love it here. I am a pretty boring person, especially if I have time to blog about LDS topics during work.

Jeremy and I went to law school together in New Hampshire until last summer when we graduated. While in school, we talked apologetics and shared our thoughts about the Gospel.

We still keep in touch regularly through work emails and discuss our ideas. We found that we migrate to many of the same LDS-oriented blogs and so decided to do our own blog where we can publish our conversations, thoughts, musings, and allow anyone else to comment with their thoughts on the topic. Please feel free to share your thoughts about our topics.