Category Archives: Environment

Another perspective on the continuing crisis

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

— Sara Teasdale

[cross posted from And Still I Persist]

[full size (3008×2000) original photograph]

Alma returns to Mesoamerica

I’m not sure which agency was responsible for naming this tropical storm, but I have to wonder if there’s a Mormon in the mix somewhere:

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Tropical Storm Alma lashed the coast of Central America with heavy rains on Thursday after becoming the first such storm of the eastern Pacific season.

Authorities issued a tropical storm warning from Costa Rica to El Salvador.

Costa Rican authorities evacuated low-lying areas and set up more than 160 storm shelters after Alma dumped rain over the country for 24 hours. A few highways were blocked by landslides.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) and was expected to strengthen before hitting Nicaragua’s northwest corner later Thursday. The storm was moving north at 6 mph (9 kph).

The center predicted it would plow through the southern border region of El Salvador and Honduras early Friday.

And mostly in my old stomping grounds, no less; I served in the Central America Mission (1972-74), which included Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Canal Zone. I hope everyone down there gets through this OK.  ..bruce..

Evolution: a complex systems perspective

The best way to build a large, complex system that works is to evolve it from a small, simple system that works.
— Information technology maxim (cf. Gall’s Law)

The most complex and difficult intellectual work performed by humans to date is the design, development, testing and deployment of large-scale information technology (IT) systems. Such systems can have literally astronomical numbers of discrete internal states, changing through hundreds, thousands, or even millions of such states per second. As such, many such development efforts end in failure [PDF], and the ones that do get deployed always have defects, sometimes very large numbers of defects (think Windows Vista). I know, because this is what I deal with on a professional basis — both helping to rescue large troubled IT projects and acting as an expert witness in lawsuits that involve failed or disputed IT projects. And prior to that, I helped to develop and architect large, complex IT systems.

As such, I have no problem with the concept that God would use various evolutionary mechanisms (including, yes, natural selection, geological time-scales, and random mutations) in preparing a world for us to live in. For me, such as approach is more efficient, less difficult, and less error-prone than an ex nihilo creation of the (quite literally, at least for us) incomprehensibly complex biological/ecological/physical environment in which we live. (In fact, one very fascinating area of computer science uses evolutionary concepts for creating more efficient software and hardware.)

I’m not necessarily arguing for a “fire-and-forget” model (where God kick-starts things and then comes back later when the planet is ready), though I don’t rule it out, either; since God has created “worlds without number“, one would suspect He’s got the process pretty much down pat. Still, I think the creation account found in Abraham, which describes “the Gods” as preparing the earth and the seas to bring forth life at certain stages is as good a description as any in which the creation is shepherded towards a desired end, viz., an environment that is biologically, chemically, environmentally, and genetically compatible with the soon-to-be-mortal bodies of Adam and Eve. And, yes, that would include introducing human-compatible DNA (or that which would evolve into it) into the biological mix as early as necessary.

This is, in fact, why I not only have no problems with the varieties of hominid species in the fossil record, up to and including the emergence of Homo sapiens, but I would expect it. Why? Because a world that actually evolved Homo sapiens would be guaranteed to be 100% compatible with the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve. I could also make the argument (dismissed in some quarters, but still valid I believe) that without such an evolutionary track record, the ‘veil’ over our pre-existence memories would be less effective, since it would be so blindingly clear that we had come from somewhere else. (SF author J. P. Hogan explored this concept a bit — on behalf of an alien race — in his “Giants” series of novels.)

Now, this raises the issue of the “pre-Adamites” that B. H. Roberts and others explored during the first few decades of the 20th Century (and that Joseph Fielding Smith, and later Bruce R. McConkie, fought so hard against). For me, it’s not much of an issue. As Hugh Nibley points out (in “Before Adam“, a BYU talk given in 1980), we as Mormons believe in eternal life for a wide range of animal life — why would we deny it to intelligent, evolved hominids, however much they look like us? As Nibley also points out, the “story” — a written history, a record — doesn’t really start until Adam appears on the scene:

Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation—for our scriptures allow them such. Nor am I overly concerned as to just when they might have lived, for their world is not our world. They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared. God assigned them their proper times and functions, as he has given me mine—a full-time job that admonishes me to remember his words to the overly eager Moses: “For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.” (Moses 1:31.) It is Adam as my own parent who concerns me. When he walks onto the stage, then and only then the play begins. He opens a book and starts calling out names. They are the sons of Adam, who also qualify as sons of God, Adam himself being a son of God. This is the book of remembrance from which many have been blotted out. They have fallen away, refused to choose God as their father, and by so doing were registered in Satan’s camp. “Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom.” (Moses 7:37.) Can we call them sons of Adam, bene-Adam, human beings proper? The representative Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, to name only the classic civilizations of old, each fancied themselves to be beings of a higher nature, nearer to gods than others who inhabited the land with them (and before them), or who dwelt in other lands. And yet they did not deny humanity to them.

Now we get to the issue of Adam and Eve’s bodies themselves — how were they created, what was their ‘pre-fall’ condition, and how did they transition into mortality? Frankly, the simplest explanation for me would be something equivalent to a combination of cloning (from evolved Homo sapiens bodies) and genetic engineering to induce the ‘pre-mortal’ (anti-aging, infertile, intellectually innnocent) state. The ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ could itself be genetically engineered to provide, if you will, genetic therapy that would transition Adam and Eve to a mortal, fertile, and intellectually enhanced state.

Which brings me to another issue. I’ve just described a hypothetical mechanism for the creation and fall of Adam and Eve using concepts and technology not that far removed from what we can currently achieve as humans. God, on the other hand, is a being Who created, comprehends, and perceived this entire universe and all that’s in it. I think it’s pretty arrogant for any of us humans — wherever we sit in the creation/evolution debate — to state categorically what God could or could not have done in creating this earth and placing us on it. My own posting here is not to state what God must have done, but what He could have done, and in particular why an evolutionary approach would make a lot of sense.

For exampe, intellectual honesty — and my own belief in God’s power — compels me to also admit that God could well have the cosmic equivalent of a Xerox machine (or, for fellow object-oriented development geeks, a Factory pattern) that He can use to stamp out new copies or instances of worlds — with whatever variations He chooses — at will, working from one or more pre-created ‘template’ worlds (that were indeed evolved). Indeed, I think that a lot of our post-mortal education will consist of unlearning many of our cherished personal beliefs and assumptions, accompanied by a lot of forehead-slapping (“I never even thought of that…”).

In sum, I think we in the Church set up for ourselves some unnecessary dichotomies and dilemmas, particularly on issues for which we have relatively little scriptural information — other than the most critical, namely that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” ..bruce..

Restoring the earth and ourselves: Brigham Young

In the (out-of-print) anthology To The Glory of God (Deseret Book, 1974), Hugh Nibley had an entry entitled “Brigham Young on the Environment” (pp. 3-29). The entire article is worth reading, but I’ve always been intrigued by the following passage, which suggests that the Article of Faith that states that “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” is talking about work that we will have to do (Nibley’s citations are from the Journal of Discourses and indicate volumn:page:year):

If the earth still retained its paradisiacal glory, we would be justified in asking, “What do we do now?” But that glory has departed, and the first step in the rebuilding of Zion is to help bring it back. “Who placed the dark stain of sin upon this fair creation? Man. Who but man shall remove the foul blot and restore all things to their primeval purity and innocence? [That is a large order, an impossible assignment, and Brigham admits it.] But can he do this independent of heavenly aid? He cannot. To aid him in this work heavenly grace is here.” (10:301:64.) Fortunately it is God’s work, in which he allows us to participate. “The greatest acts of the mighty men,” said Joseph Smith, have been disastrous. “Before them the earth was a paradise, and behind them a desolate wilderness. . . . The designs of God, on the other hand” are that “the earth shall yield its increase, resume its paradisean glory, and become as the garden of the Lord.” It is a clear-cut and fundamental doctrine: “We believe . . . that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Tenth Article of Faith.) that, however, according to the same Article of Faith, will be the last step of five in the rehabilitation of the earth, and according to Brigham Young, it was to be a long hard pull: “Not many generations will pass away before the days of man will again return. But it will take generations to entirely eradicate the influences of deleterious substances. This must be done before we can attain our paradaical [sic] state.” (8:64:60.)

Now, in fairness, I think that Nibley is misapplying that last quote a bit, though he may not have had the full paragraph on his note card (and appears to have a typo) — but the original, complete quote is in and of itself interesting and does indeed have environmental application and again is decades (if not a full century) ahead of its time:

If the days of man are to begin to return, we must cease all extravagant living. When men live to the age of a tree, their food will be fruit. Mothers, to produce offspring full of life and days, must cease drinking liquor, tea, and coffee, that their systems may be free from bad effects. If every woman in this Church will now cease drinking tea, coffee, liquor, and all other powerful stimulants, and live upon vegetables, &c., not many generations will pass away before the days of man will again return. But it will take generations to entirely eradicate the influences of deleterious substances. This must be done before we can attain our paradisaical state, for the Lord will bring again Zion to its paradisaical state.

May God grant that we may see and enjoy it. Amen. (JD 8:64)

Something to think about. ..bruce..