Category Archives: Science

Higher dimensional realms revisited


The first published article I ever wrote was “Some thoughts on higher dimensional realms”, co-authored with Dr. Robert P. Burton of the BYU Computer Sciences department and published in BYU Studies, Vol 20, No. 3 (Spring 1980).  You can read the whole article here; the gist of it is that there are events and descriptions in the scriptures and other religious sources that could be interpreted as meaning that we are a three-dimensional universe existing within the context of one with (at least) a fourth physical dimension.

Now, physics and cosmology didn’t give a lot of support to the idea of a fourth macroscopic physical dimension at the time (string theory posits quite a few extra dimensions, but all on the subatomic level). However, starting about 30 years ago, some cosmologists started seriously putting forward the concept of our 3-D universe being a membrane (or “brane“) within a 4-D physical universe.

One of the latest papers to come forward attempts to account for the ‘inflation’ problem in cosmology by postulating that our universe is actually the 3-D cross-section of a 4-D nova collapsing into a black hole — that is, the singularity of the big bang is actually the event horizon of a 4-D black hole, and our universe comprises the matter outside that event horizon (or a 3-D cross-section thereof). According to the authors, this help explain the uniformity across the observable universe without resorting to some type of cosmic hyper-inflation.

I have no idea how the proposal will hold up, but it is satisfying to know that there are at least some cosmologists out there who believe we are embedded in a 4-D universe. ..bruce..



Radical life extension and the LDS Church

Interesting article in the Atlantic on the prospects of extending human life and the religious implications thereof, based on a Pew Research Center poll. The Pew Center asked sought comments from several major religions; for the LDS Church, they ended up talking with Steven Peck at BYU:

“The church believes that the human body is sacred, which is why it even discourages body piercing and tattoos,” says Steven Peck, a bioethicist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “So, as long as the body remained the same, as long as you were only giving people more of what they already have without big alterations, I think it would be fine.” On the other hand, “if there was a sense that [life-extension therapy] was desecrating the body, that would be a problem,” Peck says.

Peck, obviously, is not a General Authority or (to my knowledge) an official Church spokesperson. Also, his answer as given — and he may well have had more to say — doesn’t really address advancing technology in artificial prosthetics and organ transplants. I doubt Church leaders or most Church members have problems with organ transplants, artificial limbs, artificial hearts, and so on. But what happens when we can transplant, say, the human head of a quadriplegic  on top of a mobile prothetic torso (with heart/lung machine, etc?). Does that count as ‘desecration’ or merely another logical step in transplant/prosthetic technology? Suppose the side effect of such an action is a significantly greater human lifespan and/or greater functionality for the person involved — would elderly people who were not quadriplegics then be justified in such a procedure, assuming they could afford it?

Interesting questions. Lincoln Cannon, where are you? 🙂  ..bruce..


Rethinking the Flood (part IV)

I’ve previously expressed my opinion (here and here, plus here) that the classic (conservative Christian) view of the Noachian flood — a worldwide immersion of liquid water, likely between 3000 and 2000 AD — is implausible due to a complete lack of geological, archeological, and ecological evidence for such an event (cf. this Dialogue article by Clayton White and Mark Thomas). On the other hand, as I explain in my posts, I do believe a major climatic shift happened that gave rise to the Flood narrative in the Old Testament as well as in many other cultures and traditions. However, I believe it had to do with event surround the end of the last ice age, in which a very sharp warming period was followed by a brief ice age resurgence (the Younger Dryas period), which in turn was followed by another sharp warming period. This climactic whipsaw appears to correlate with some significant human and fauna declines, especially in North America (where LDS doctrine places the pre-flood patriarchs).

I bring all this up because I ran across a diagram today, based on the Greenland GISP2 ice core data, that shows just how dramatic that climactic whipsaw was compared to climate changes since then (the temperature scale to the left represents a reconstruction of the temperature on the Greenland icefield based on oxygen isotope ratios; click on the image to read the original paper explaining the use of this ratio as a ‘global’ proxy):

Greenland GISP2 ice core reconstructions

Many debates are still going as to what triggered the sudden up-down-up shifts, each of which occurred very quickly. But I suspect the antediluvian and Noachian events occurred in this time period.  ..bruce..

Cleanliness is next to Godliness — scientific proof

Via Slashdot comes this report of a study — from (ta-da!) Brigham Young University — that shows that ethical behavior increases in the presence of ‘clean smells’:

People are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments, according to a soon-to-be published study led by a Brigham Young University professor.

The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.

Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management, is the lead author on the piece in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. Co-authors are Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

The researchers see implications for workplaces, retail stores and other organizations that have relied on traditional surveillance and security measures to enforce rules.

“Companies often employ heavy-handed interventions to regulate conduct, but they can be costly or oppressive,” said Liljenquist, whose office smells quite average. “This is a very simple, unobtrusive way to promote ethical behavior.”

Perhaps the findings could be applied at home, too, Liljenquist said with a smile. “Could be that getting our kids to clean up their rooms might help them clean up their acts, too.”

My wife will be gratified to know — far too late, since our kids are (mostly) gone — that she was right about the need for them to keep their rooms smelling fresh.  ..bruce..

Latter-day Saint exobiology (part 2)

God is speaking to us in a consistent voice. God will deal with all the human family equally. We might be in a large ward or a small branch, our climate or vegetation may differ, the cultural background and language might vary, and the color of our skin could be totally different. But the universal power and blessings of the restored gospel are available to all, irrespective of culture, nationality, political system, tradition, language, economic environment, or education.

— Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2nd Counselor, First Presidency, July 2008 Ensign

Or, one might add, to those living on a different planet altogether.

In part 1 of this series, I noted that the LDS concept of myriad inhabited worlds within this universe dates back to 1830, the same year the LDS Church itself was founded. In other worlds, LDS doctrine has from the start had a very expansive, non-geocentric view of reality. This is a doctrine in which “were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still…” (Moses 7:30), and in which “by [Christ], and through [Christ], and of [Christ], the worlds are and were created, the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:24).

But what will those sons and daughters look like?

Consider the diversity of human forms (usually lumped under the unfortunate term “race“) known to exist in historic times just here on Earth.  The MButi people of Africa average around 4.5″ in height, while the Watusi (since merged into the Tutsi) average — or used to average — around 6.5” in height; furthermore, there are anthropological evidences (albeit controversial) of yet taller and shorter population groups. There are wide variations in skin color, eye color, and hair color and type, as well as in the shape of the human skull, facial characteristics, and many other genetically-linked or -influenced traits. We then have to add in the influences of environment, including evidences of rapid evolution and growing genetic diversity among modern humans.

And that’s just here on Eath.

We in the LDS Church have historically been strongly influenced by our British/European roots in our view of the physical nature of God and Christ. But what if the Gospel had been restored (for argument’s sake and ignoring the socio-politcal difficulties) in Africa, China, or India, or among indigenous peoples in Australia, South America, or North America? How would we view God and Christ then? It’s an old argument, I know, but valid nonetheless.

Now, let’s extend the above to countless worlds spread across this universe, inhabited by “begotten sons and daughters unto God” who have lived and been shaped by countless different ecologies and environments, and who will need to be genetically and physically compatible with those worlds. What physiological traits of those humans might emerge and dominate on a given world vs. what traits would be common across all worlds?

The common traits would likely correspond to those common among humans here on Earth:  upright, bilateral symmetry, two arms, two legs, front-facing head with basic facial organization, two genders [yeah, yeah, go argue elsewhere], and so on. I suspect we’d recognize them as human — but, again, that covers an awful lot of ground right here on Earth.

There could be signficant differences as well. As a simple example, consider this listing of “7 people from around the world with real mutant superpowers” (warning: profanity; also, ignore the guy with the flying jet pack). Again, these are all people here on Earth; the human body, as we know it, is capable of things that we don’t fully understand, and such characteristics — rare here on Earth — could be selected as a survival trait on another world. Other rare characteristics, considered here as birth defects — such as extra digits or webbing between fingers and toes — could again be normal and common elsewhere.

There could likewise be variations in the characteristics listed above — height, eye color, hair color/style, skin color, skull and facial characteristics, overall body shape, and so on — that don’t appear here on Earth.  Nothing inherently prohibits blue hair, red eyes, or green skin; while they’re not in the human genome here on Earth (as far as I know), they could well exist in the human genetic code on other worlds.

The planet itself could shape or require a changed physiology. Consider factors such as gravity, air pressure, O2 content, solar radiation, humidity, land mass vs. water surface, dissolved minerals in water, climate (with the resulting weather patterns), and the fundamental chemistry of plants and animals, that is, food sources. This could change existing physiology — consider the claimed physiological adaptations of population groups that have lived for many generations at high altitudes — or there could be completely new physical characteristics that don’t correspond to any human characteristics here. As a simple example of the latter, imagine infrared sensors on one’s cheeks or neck, analogous to those found on pit vipers; this could be useful on a world surrounding a small red sun (the single most common type of star out there).

At this point, the image that comes to mind is (wince) “Star Trek: The Original Series”, with its variety of very-human-looking aliens, usually having only cosmetic external differences among them, though often claiming significant internal and sensory differences. Of course, “Star Trek” did this because it was cheaper and easier to slap some makeup and prosthetic foreheads on real humans than to try to create a truly non-human alien (though they actually made a few decent stabs at that as well).

In sum, I don’t think we can presume that the “begotten sons and daughters unto God” on these billions (or more) of other worlds would necessarily blend in while wandering around the BYU campus. But they would be our brothers and sisters, nevertheless. In that, we and the Vatican would agree — but we would mean it a bit more literally. ..bruce..

1835: Yale professors believe there are blue unicorns on the moon!

Also intelligent (if primitive) bipedal beavers and “man-bats”.

No, really.

Here’s a great write-up of the “Great Moon Hoax” perpetrated by the New York Sun back in 1835. In short, the Sun published a story that claimed that Sir John Herschel — a very real and prominent astronomer — had observed life on the moon:

The article continued on and offered an elaborate account of the fantastic sights viewed by Herschel during his telescopic observation of the moon. It described a lunar topography that included vast forests, inland seas, and lilac-hued quartz pyramids. Readers learned that herds of bison wandered across the plains of the moon; that blue unicorns perched on its hilltops; and that spherical, amphibious creatures rolled across its beaches. The highpoint of the narrative came when it revealed that Herschel had found evidence of intelligent life on the moon: he had discovered both a primitive tribe of hut-dwelling, fire-wielding biped beavers, and a race of winged humans living in pastoral harmony around a mysterious, golden-roofed temple. Herschel dubbed these latter creatures the Vespertilio-homo, or “man-bat”.

What’s interesting in the post is the account of how the Sun‘s article was received at Yale:

Yale College was alive with staunch supporters. The literati—students and professors, doctors in divinity and law—and all the rest of the reading community, looked daily for the arrival of the New York mail with unexampled avidity and implicit faith. Have you seen the accounts of Sir John Herschel’s wonderful discoveries? Have you read the Sun? Have you heard the news of the man in the Moon? These were the questions that met you every where. It was the absorbing topic of the day. Nobody expressed or entertained a doubt as to the truth of the story.

I bring this up because of the regular resurfacing of the claim — based on a 2nd party account in the Young Women’s Journal some 40 years after the fact — that Joseph Smith said “as early as 1837” that there were men on the moon, dressed “like Quakers”.  He may well have said that, but if he did, he likely was reacting to the Sun‘s article, especially given the cited timeframe. Beyond that, his claim — conservatively dressed humans — is a bit more sober and feasible than “blue unicorns”, “bipedal beavers” and “man-bats”.

Something to keep in mind the next time the issues is raised.  ..bruce..

P. S. And, no, this still isn’t Part 2 on LDS exobiology.

Latter-day Saint exobiology (pt. 1)

Indeed, many observers assert that aliens would be bad for believers. Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research, once wrote that finding intelligent other-worldly life “will be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religions.”

That quote is from the Wired article, “Christian Theologians Prepare for Extraterrestrial Life” by Brandon Keim (dated 6/13/08). The article itself is in response to an interview with “Vatican chief astronomer and papal science adviser” Gabriel Funes on extraterrestrials and religion (see “The Extraterrestrial is My Brother“). Here’s part of the interview:

LOR: And [the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligent life] would not be a problem for our faith?

FUNES: I believe no. As a multiplicity of creatures exist on earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God. This does not contrast with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God. To say it with Saint Francis, if we consider earthly creatures as “brother” and “sister,” why cannot we also speak of an “extraterrestrial brother?” It would therefore be a part of creation.

Of course, from a Latter-day Saint point of view, this is old news. LDS theology and scriptures from the start took a vast, expansive, and non-geocentric view of the universe, including its population. Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of Genesis — in particular, Moses 1, which is a preface to the Old Testament version of Genesis 1 — makes this clear from the start. Here are some selected quotes from Moses 1 (given by Smith in June 1830, just 3 months after the Church was formally organized):

[God speaking to Moses:] And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease. Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth. . . .

. . . and [Moses] said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed. . . .

. . . And the Lord God said unto Moses For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me. And by the word of my power, have I created them; which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth. And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. . . .

. . . But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

And it came to pass that Moses spake unto the Lord, saying: Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content.

And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but there are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. (Moses 1:4-5, 10, 31-33, 35, 37-38)

So by mid-1830, LDS doctrine — as given by what was (and is) considered restored ancient scripture — declared the vast size of the universe and that the Earth was just one among an uncounted number of worlds, with a strong suggestion that these other worlds were and are inhabited as well.

This doctrine was re-emphasized just six months later (December 1830) in the ongoing scriptural expansion of Genesis when writings attributed to Enoch were given. Enoch has a vision where he ascends into heaven and sees the wickedness of all the earth:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as rain upon the mountains?

And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is that thou canst weep, seeing thou are holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there . . . how is it thou canst weep? . . .

[God replies:] Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also. Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren. (Moses 7:28-31, 35-36)

That last verse makes it clear that not only has God made worlds without number, but that many of them are inhabited. And the nature of such inhabitants is made even clearer a year later, in a revelation to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon given on February 16, 1832 (and recorded as section 76 of the Doctrine & Covenants):

. . . and we heard the voice bearing record that [Jesus Christ] is the Only Begotten of the Father — that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. (D&C 76:23-24)

So we see that by early 1832 — nearly 180 years ago and almost a century before Edwin Hubble proved that galaxies other than ours existed — LDS scriptures and revelations explicitly and repeatedly stated the existence of incomprehensible numbers of extraterrestrial worlds, at least some number of which, like the Earth, are inhabited by “begotten sons and daughters unto God.”

Next up: do all of those “begotten sons and daughters unto God” on other worlds look just like us? ..bruce..

Some quotes on Native American ancestry

Meridian Magazine has an excellent set of quotes dating back to the 1920s — including from Church publications and General Authorities speaking in General Conference — cautioning members (e.g.)

against the error of supposing that all the American Indians are the descendants of Lehi, Mulek, and their companions, and that their languages and dialects, their social organizations, religious conceptions and practices, traditions, etc., are all traceable to those Hebrew sources. [from a Book of Mormon study guide, 1927]

These quotes, in turn, are taken from the FAIR Wiki article on the same topic (which, unlike the Meridian article, has detailed citations).

This issue remains important, because I still see a few commenters in the Bloggernacle claiming that the limited geographical model of the Book of Mormon, as well as the recognition that not all Native Americans descend from Lehites and Jaredites, are “late” (i.e., recent) responses to mainstream archeological and genetic (DNA) research of the past few decades.  That’s just not true. Limited geographical models started before 1920, with Willard Young (son of Brigham Young) proposing a Mesoamerica-only geography of the Book of Mormon, complete with the Hill Cumorah in Guatemala) sometime before 1920, while Louis Edward Hills (of the RLDS Church) proposed a Central Amercia/Mexico-only model (with Cumorah in central Mexico) in 1917.

Likewise, the Meridian article and the FAIR Wiki article from which it draws make it clear that Church materials and leaders were anything but unanimous in claiming Native Americans all descended from Book of Mormon peoples. I’ve previously cited from Hugh Nibley’s writings in the Improvement Era (the Church’s official magazine and precursor to the Ensign) back in the early 1950s, but these new quotes go back a generation earlier. ..bruce..