Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Explosion in a Print Shop -or- Elder Nelson sets the Church back 100 years intellectually

I'm starting this post before the silly talk has even ended, but I'm ticked.

So far, General Conference (or General Nonsense, whichever you prefer) had been relatively benign in my eyes, many of the talks even surprisingly pleasant and accepting.  And then this!

In his talk on gratitude, Elder Nelson ridicules those who assume life began as the result of "a Big Bang somewhere!"  He suggests that this scenario is analogous to an explosion in a print shop producing a dictionary.
His basic argument is that the human body is amazing (I agree with this), and so cannot have arisen without design (but not this).  Even if it had, our healing capacities would never allow us to die, but mercifully (!), God invented aging to kill us off so we could begin our eternal lives.

Where do I begin?!

First off, I won't go into detail about the watchmaker argument, which I've covered before in both qualitative and quantitative examination, but it's a load of hokum.  Okay, yeah, life is amazing.  But to suggest that it had to be designed denies the elegance and beauty of the theories on the origins of life that have developed so magnificently from Charles Darwin's first innocent suggestion that the diversity of life might have something to do with inheritance and selection.  There is a whole century of scientific progress that tackles one puzzle after another in evolutionary biology.  Sure, not all the answers are yet available.  But for Elder Nelson to demean all of the best truth-seeking work mankind has done with an offhand comment simplifying centuries of scientific progress to a poorly-conceived metaphor about a print shop and a dictionary is infuriating.

Without comment like this, faith and rational inquiry could coexist.  But no, Elder I'm-A-Heart-Surgeon-So-I-Can-Comment-On-Cosmology Nelson couldn't keep his trap shut, so now the intellectual potential of millions of faithful LDS individuals has been stunted to a level found among subsistence farmers in the 1800s!
Why must leaders in the church do this?!

Now, on to aging: WHAT?!
So... a slow decline in physical and mental facilities, culminating in the loss of independence and, ultimately, the death of every human being is a divine gift?
This is not much better than regarding disease as God's wrath, and therefore rejecting treatment.
Never mind that there are plenty of biological reasons aging happens, not least of which is the fact that a limited life-span is actually an evolved characteristic maximizing the survival of the genes of an organism.
Aging as a gift is like... 9/11 as a gift!  Who are we, the Westboro Baptist Church?

Elder Nelson is an educated man, an accomplished doctor, leader, and orator.  Despite this, he has decided (in his talk on gratitude!) to ridicule the educational establishment and its most carefully-crafted ideas and theories, essentially stabbing the very organization that has helped him to success in the back.
That, my friends, is ingratitude.


  1. Thank you, I completely agree with you. I can almost feel the minds of the church closing with that talk.

  2. On one hand you say that members of the church can and do think for themselves. Then, on the other you say that Elder Nelson's remarks have set the church back 100 years intellectually. Do you see how these two statements cannot stand together? If you don't, then my point below is reinforced all the more.

    Based alone on your logic, or rather, lack thereof, I don't see any qualification in you saying such a thing. And "I have an opinion too" is not a qualification. Besides that, what qualifications do you have? My intellectual credentials? I am an electrical engineer (left-brained intellectuality) and a law school graduate (both left- and right-brained intellectuality) and am a practitioner of patent law. Based on my training in newtonian physics, quantum mechanics, and science in general, I don't see Elder Nelson's comments affecting the church in any manner whatsoever. I think I properly captured Elder Nelson's comments in the way he meant them: a joke. As far as Darwin, educate yourself son. There is not a single theory that he came up with or that others have come up with since that has fathomed the giant chasm between branch-dwellers and cognizant beings standing on the ground on two legs. The top darwinists in the world have admitted as much. Sure, they are hopeful that they can bridge this gap, but I know they never will. Myself, I am open to the big bang and even evolution, so long as God is behind it all. But to worry about how such things work is missing the entire point of Elder Nelson's and everyone else's comments in General Conference, which is to love and serve others, to forget one's self, and consider others. I find it funny to see critics of the church criticize its members as being brainwashed and not thinking for themselves. What's so funny is how much a broken record all of you are. You are the true cookie-cutters cut from the same mold of hyper-critical hypocrisy. The things I see overwhelmingly in these critics of the church are that they are (1) hyper-critical; (2) lacking in good humor; (3) selfish, prideful; (4) cut from the same "I'm smarter than those ignorant, duped Mormons" mold; (5) lack a life of giving and service; (6) care only about themselves; and (7) because of all of it, are utterly lacking of true joy.

    Just look at all the studies that show the most giving and generous state of the union is Utah. Do you have to wonder why? It's quite apparent.

    Honestly, I mean you no disrespect, I know you think you know how to think and that you think your thoughts are on a level higher than the average Mormon's, but as one that is probably educated above 99% of the world, and clearly more than you, I see your comments as a joke; a joke much bigger than Elder Nelson's. My intention is not to offend, but to give my honest assessment.

    With that said, I feel that the comments in General Conference overall were messages of faith, of service, of love. I hope the best for you and the welfare of your soul. My true hope for you is that you approach God, your Father, with an open and honest heart. I know that He will fill you with the same love He has filled me with to help you become more loving; more forgiving; more understanding and appreciative of all that life has to offer, including even its attendant afflictions and trials.

    1. I do agree that Elder Nelson meant his comment as a joke and many took it as such, as the part of the audience responded with laughter. However, it is as distasteful and off color to someone with scientific understanding as perhaps a racist joke is to someone of color. Your argument that the message of the church is love and service and because of that, anything conflicting is unacceptable, is highly illogical. True, the message that should be taken from religion in general or conference specifically is love and good will to others is a good thing and worthwhile to pursue, but that does not in any way invalidate criticism of specific points brought up in the talks. Elder Nelson in a few words strongly implied that the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution are incorrect. The scientific community accepts both as the current consensus of our scientific understanding. All of modern genetics, microbiology and biology is directly based on evolution. It is an accepted tenant of modern science as much as any other well tested theory. To suggest otherwise is to reveal one's own ignorance into just how the biological sciences operate. Likewise, modern astronomy research based on multiple lines of evidence shows a universe rapidly expanding from a centralized event that heavily supports the Big Bang Theory and largely discredits the previous static universe view. You say you mean no disrespect, but several of your comments are in fact personal attacks so how could they be taken otherwise?

  3. Well dude I also did a face palm when I heard Nelson's comments today and quickly went to the web to see if anyone was talking about it. I too was raised in the LDS church and have since fallen away from belief into atheism. My family and friends are still predominantly LDS so I refrain from open criticism lest I offend them and alienate myself. Most know my current views and seldom "get into it" with me. Most are well meaning, kind and good people that simply do not understand the conflicting world view conundrum that led to my own faith crisis. Scientific understanding was the solvent that washed away the foundation for my religious beliefs, once I grasped wholeheartedly the deduction, reasoning and logic that modern scientific understanding is based on my faith evaporated. A literal interpretation of scriptures was at complete odds with concrete scientific, historical and archeological evidence to the contrary. An allegorical interpretation of scripture quickly becomes problematic as well. What actually happened and what is a fable or parable to teach a moral lesson? Who gets to decide what should be taken literally? I believe the vast majority of people of almost any religion have good intentions and are probably naive or ignorant to the contradictions posed by modern science or understand somewhat and somehow live with a duality of understanding (religious and secular) that they believe will be resolved when they die. I believe few people are willfully obstinate in the face of reason as to mislead or set back others' understanding. Sadly I think many in positions of religious authority do turn their back on reason in favor of willfully ignoring or confounding our scientific discoveries and obscuring our understanding. I found this website that lists very well just how unscientific the ideas of the church leaders actually are and have been. I had no idea, much to my dismay and assumed like many members that the church had no official position on many scientific issues and was used to the authorities constantly exhorting members to further their education. What a mixed message that actually is because knowledge and understanding can only eventually undermine one's faith. I think a great many people in the church would be forced to confront their faith either if they have previous scientific learning and come to realize how incompatible the church's doctrines are like I did, or if they are taught science and then are confronted with how different their childhood beliefs are from established scientific principles and have to decide reason or religion.

  4. I never intended to suggest that church members cannot think for themselves, but I would contend that statements along these lines increase the perceived conflict between well-established scientific thought and religious faith.

    The fact that it was meant as a joke makes it all the more damaging. The offhand comment ridiculing so much work by so many brilliant minds, coming from a man regarded as the mouthpiece of god, must shift the attitudes of all of the earnest truth-seekers who trust this person. Many members who don't feel strongly on these issues may now feel pressure to become more dogmatic and belligerent in these areas, despite lack of any real study in said areas.

    As a believer, it was statements like this that made ME most confused and anxious, because I wanted to be able to reconcile observable phenomena with my beliefs.

    While I appreciate your condescension, I feel that many of your claims to more information are irrelevant. So you are more educated than most of the world? Does everyone at your level of education agree with your beliefs?
    Utah leads the nation in charitable giving? Okay, how is that relevant to your point?
    Frankly, the kindest people in the world might still hold mistaken beliefs.

    I am well-aware that there is no unified theory of evolution explaining each step from non-replicating organic molecules to human beings. That's a tall order for only a century or so of scientific inquiry into the origins of life. Still, the advances being made are fascinating, beautiful, and hold great promise. Perhaps we never will know all the answers, but I find it more noble to try than to give it all up as "mysteries of god."
    I know a few good books I could recommend if you are interested. And no, they're not by Dawkins. ;)

    Finally, the list of attributes you assign to me is unfounded in many cases.

    (1) hyper-critical: I am, it's true.

    (2) lacking in good humor: I don't agree, but I do care about some things, so my goat can be got, so to speak.

    (3) selfish, prideful: How could you know this?

    (4) cut from the same "I'm smarter than those ignorant, duped Mormons" mold: Maybe, I'm not perfect and I know I am sometimes unfair, but this seems an unfair generalization.

    (5) lack a life of giving and service: How could you know this? For all you know, I devote all my time to service and blogging!

    (6) care only about themselves: I resent this deeply; though I can be selfish, I care deeply about family and friends.

    (7) because of all of it, are utterly lacking of true joy: I'm an unhappy man, true, but I was unhappy when I was a believer, too. You're assigning a causality you have no way of knowing.

    I appreciate your invitation and hope for my soul, but your unfounded characterization of me and similarly-minded folk is not so endearing.

  5. Ah, my comment was directed at the first commenter.

    1. I mean... the second? Strange things have happened with this particular comments section.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I love picking up these bits of crazy news from my former religion. Aging is a gift? I guess cancer is a gift, diabetes, etc. Aging and death are only gifts in the sense that they keeps us from procrastinating -- which is why I left Mormonism in the first place.

  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Just look at all the studies that show the most giving and generous state of the union is Utah. Do you have to wonder why? It's quite apparent.

    Why is that..."quite apparent" Mr. law and engineering degree? (by the way your vain-glorying and braggadocio makes me want to wretch) That generosity and giving which hales from Utah must have something to do the astronomical levels of porn viewership and anti-depressants. Utah= Numbero Uno in porno...maybe because the Brethren talk so much about it in priesthood session.
    Oh and about evolution and god, did god just magically appear and become god just as the encyclopedia nonsense? Sorry for not adding much to the conversation regarding the conference talk, but the holier than thou attitude in the comments is so typical of the hubris by some church members.

  8. I missed the connection between the original post and the claims that the author is selfish, doesn't engage in service, and lacks true joy? Maybe Anonymous missed Uchtdorf's talk about not judging.

    Also when did a retort have to be accompanied by a CV?

  9. I came across this link on facebook. I could care less about conference- I was busy having fun with family and friends. Mormons (in general) are very closed minded. Case in point "Ours is ther ONLY true church." LMFAO. No matter what science we dicsover and comes around they find a way to morph it to fit their needs. Aging is a gift??? CRAZINESS! I can't wait until we (science) unlocks the aging process and can make it possible to live forever. How may years have we been in the "last days"???? I was told since a very young boy that I'd be alive to see the 2nd coming....I call BS.

    I predict that visions and encounters with heavenly beings and the "3 Nephites" won't ever happen now that we have cell phone cameras.

    Darwin. Really???? Enjoy your ignorance Mr. Anonymous I'll take Newton, Einstein, Darwin and Dawkins over any "Elder in Zion"! They know when to call bullsssshit too. Sure glad Newton finally got a pardon from the Pope a few years ago so he can go to heaven.

    If ANYONE teaches anything similar to "this life isn't very important because it's temporary and it's more important to do X, Y & Z so that our 'next life' is better and we can be with god and become like him" be very careful. The odds tell us that this is most likely our ONLY life.

    I don't need 72 virgins. I don't need more than one wife. I don't need someone to judge me or for me to judge. I have my opinions and I sahre them.

    I can't wait to look god in the face and as him WTF were you thinking? You created everything with such beauty and structure yet when it comes to the most important stuff "everlasting salvation" you give us a treasure map (Bible, BofM, prophets) that 7 billion people can't agree upon yet some little tribe in Utah during the last few hundred years will come to the rescue??? Do the math! Nonsense, and if god lived and loved us- he'd leave the nonsense aside.

    I could go on and on, but I'll just end now by asking you to pray for my soul- which I highly doubt you realy will do. And I highly doubt I'll vere need.

    Life was easier when I thought god was working miracles in my life, when I found out that he doesn't exist, I realized how special and important I am.....oh wow I'm selfish...

    Your Lost Brother

  10. Fun exchange, thanks for posting. I'm glad at least one believer reads and reacts (patent lawyer). It makes for interesting dialog and illustrates real-time some of the points for and against. Perhaps some incivility is unavoidable in disagreements on topics so near and dear, idk.

    I agree with your points about the damaging metaphor. On the other hand, I think it's carrying it too far to also say his comments set back the church's intellectual standing or say anything new about members' likelihood of thinking for themselves.

    Anyway, my comment is tangential rather than on the substance of the printer metaphor - it's about the off-handed, joking manner of discounting big-bang and evolution. On one hand, everybody needs a sense of humor and to not let off-handed comments bug them. No big deal. On the other hand, jokes and asides are incredibly important indicators (tools?) to highlight what's acceptable and what's ludicrous. Dismissing antagonistic ideas out of hand as silly and laughable is far more effective than confronting them seriously with thorough examination of arguments. Examining alternatives as serious or legitimate in the eyes of reasonable, enlightened people gives credence to the alternatives. Those who take the alternatives seriously are implied to be misguided, uninformed, or ill-intended.

    You see it in politics and many other settings where persuasion and core assumptions are at a premium. Treat the opposing views as preposterous, silly, or misguided; leave the home team's assumptions unquestioned. It's not necessarily evil or brainwashing, it just is, and it's an effective, natural approach. Cultural norms are best reinforced through subtle, unquestioned means.

    I avoided most of conference, but I found myself listening for underlying life assumptions - rather than the explicit doctrines - during the few talks I overheard. I heard what confirms my own views, of course, but I was still surprised how much subtle reinforcement I heard woven through the talks relative to a worldview of we-vs-them, battles, judgment, and performance-based love. The metaphors, word choices, and examples were often all about being tested, earning love and acceptance, purifying out the evil to become perfect, racing, being special, battling as a soldier, saving people from destruction, enduring persecution and hardship, and defending zion. Whether the topic was service, love, or not judging others, all of the jokes and implied assumptions reinforced (from my perspective) judging and being judged at some deeper level, measuring self, and endless striving against rigid standards.

    The embedded theme I heard surely says as much about me as it does about the content of the talks. I get that. I'm just saying I find it useful to look at the jokes, examples, and asides as indicators of assumptions and cultural norms. The explicit doctrines and intellectual disconnects (along with the bad fruits in my life) led to my departure long ago. Now it's the subtle, embedded assumptions that turn me cold. I cringe over how I bought into a worldview emphasizing god as judge, life as a test to prove yourself, and black-and-white mapping of sinners and saints (much less one that discounts the big-bang or opposes equal rights for same-sex couples). I'm not sure my youngest daughter is even aware of those underlying assumptions, and I don't want her to adopt them without critical evaluation. I want her to pay attention to the jokes and metaphors as much as she does the doctrine.

    1. Great points, Snorkel, especially regarding off-hand dismissals. Gave me something to chew on this morning, like dessert to Dave's main course. I appreciate the time you took to put together such a thoughtful response.

    2. You (Snorkel) are right, of course, that this comment isn't quite so nefarious as I indicate in my post. I also agree that this sort of thing is par for the course in all sorts of discourse. I am not above it myself.

      It just... makes me soooo angry! Must have happened to push my buttons in just the wrong way.

  11. Great post, thoroughly enjoyable. For the record, I, too, am an attorney, but apparently that didn't stop me from leaving the Church two years after I graduated from law school. Maybe I didn't go to the "one true and living law school" like Anonymous? Otherwise I can't explain his "credentials" justification.

    As an attorney, Anonymous should be roughly familiar with rhetorical strategies. As such, his descent into fallacy is all the more unappealing. Ad hominem attacks? Appeals to authority? Appeal to consequences of belief? Appeal to ridicule? Begging the question? Where do I stop?

    Smart people believe the church is true. Smart people don't believe the church is true. Hell, despite Elder Holland's claims, smart people even get trapped in serious cults, like the Branch Davidians, Scientology, the Unification Church, etc. One need look no further than the Heaven's Gate cult, which was, I believe, comprised of several doctorate holders.

    Finally, perhaps Utah is the "most giving" state in the nation (if, indeed, it is) because you are counting "mandatory charity" such as tithing? Let us not forget that the church teaches that if its members do not pay their 10% share, they face exclusion from the Celestial Kingdom. Thus, church member tithes are not "charity" or "charitable giving," but are, in reality, simply the payment of a mandatory "get into heaven" tax.

    As an attorney, I've learned to separate my emotional connection or response to something from the facts, and argue a case based on merit, leading to logical conclusions. Let's stick to the merits of the argument here, Anonymous.

    1. Thank you for these points! While I welcome opposing viewpoints, I felt that the Anonymous poster was a bit unfair. I feel validated now that you've pointed out where this person waxed irrational.

  12. Here's a great primer explaining why Elder Nelson's "tornado in a library" metaphor misses the mark completely. See "Myth #2: Evolution is like a tornado in a junkyard forming a perfect 747." Or just listen to the whole podcast. It's worth it.

    Most of you probably already know, but Brian Dunning, the brains behind, is a Formon (former Mormon).

    1. I liked the podcast, and I like the term Formon even more!

  13. Hmm, In my opinion, Elder Nelson's comment was unfortunate and naive. It underscores his stunning lack of appreciation of the massive amounts of hard evidence supporting evolutionary biology. Regardless, if you accept the "God" theory, you should still explain where God came from. In the LDS religion, it is believed that God evolved from being an apprentice-God to becoming a fully certified God ("as God is, man should become, as man is, God once was"), and so on and on backwards in time. Of course, this explains nothing. This 'infinite' regress has got to stop somewhere, there has to be a "first cause": something evolving out of a primordial ooze. Indeed, a hurricane blowing through a junkyard is not going to produce a Boeing 747, but that's not what evolution teaches at all... It is something evolving over the eons of time, adapting and incorporating accumulative mutations to gradually developing into something different and more complex. That is what the fossil record has shown has happened. The testimony of the proverbial rocks below stand in stunning opposition to the religious superstitions preached from the pulpit...

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  15. While I still hold out hope for the LDS faith and blame remarks like Nelson's on 1 Cor 1:27, there is no need to deny the foolishness of the comment.

    That the big bang is necessary for mortal life to exist at all is apparent to any member with an understanding of basic physics. Why? Because there is no mechanism for the recycling of energy in the mortal universe analogous to the water cycle on earth. The use of energy to do work degrades useful energy overall. Thermodynamics plain and simple. There is a reason perpetual motion machines are not patentable and it has nothing to do with conspiracies.