Sunday, March 18, 2012

Science following religion

In church today we were talking about the "straight and narrow" path back to God.  In other words, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel (Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Gift of the Holy Ghost).   Some people think that having such a narrow path to the Kingdom of God is too restrictive and our Church (and I'm sure others as well) is criticized for being too demanding.
A girl in class brought up a cool analogy of a stream.  A stream with a wide bank would be shallow and slow moving.  But one that is more narrow will be faster - giving more freedom and power.  I fully believe that having boundaries is the real way to have freedom.

So to expand on this great analogy, I thought of the human circulatory system.  I just learned (again) recently about the Autonomic Nervous System and its two divisions:  Sympathetic ("fight or flight") and Parasympathetic ("rest and digest").
When you have a scary or threatening situation, your body goes into fight or flight mode and a number of things happen physiologically.  Pupils dilate, the erector pili muscles contract (those are what make hairs on your arms stand up when you're cold and such), the heart rate speeds up, glucose is mobilized, bronchioles dilate so more air gets into your lungs.  All these things happen in order to give your body the ability to quickly respond to whatever threat you may be experiencing.

Another thing the Sympathetic Nervous System does is constricts the blood vessels.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but it's just like the river analogy.  With a smaller vessel, the blood moves around the body more quickly, so oxygen and nutrients are able to get around faster so your body is ready for action.

The spiritual equivalent to this that I thought of is that we have a "narrow" path to the kingdom of God, and we have boundaries, standards, etc. in order to allow us to respond quickly in this time of crisis.  The world is getting increasingly more wicked and it can be pretty scary.  There are influences everywhere trying to get us to give up faith, virtue, and values.  We are in a crisis.

For instance, some of the boundaries deal with things that can be addictive and debilitating - we are to completely avoid drugs, alcohol, coffee, any addictive substances including pornography (yes, it's actually physiologically addictive, look up the research on it if you don't believe me).  All those things can dull our senses and make us less able to react to crises.  Just ask any addict.

If we had no boundaries, life is much more haphazard and frustratingly chaotic, just like in parenting children.  A good set of boundaries allow children to have freedom within limits which is very calming and freeing for a child.  The chaos of having no boundaries would be like a body with no blood vessel structure and the blood was allowed to just roam freely.  We would last probably less than a minute under those conditions - our cells would quickly die without a consistent source of nutrients.

Glad that Someone is looking out for us.  Scientific, health, medical, etc. discoveries have often come after the fact and proven exactly why the standards are for our benefit.  In the 1800's when the Word of Wisdom came out, no one knew tobacco was bad for you or why they should stop using it.  Now of course we know very well.  Likewise with pornography.  Most "professionals" believe that it's okay to do sexual things as long as it's in private.  They even encourage it in young children.  Well now the research is starting to come out about some harmful effects of this.  Pornography addiction is as strong as cocaine addiction, but even worse because you can't just get it out of your system like you can with a physical drug.

Another interesting instance of science following God is with brain development.  I found it really cool when I learned a few years ago that the prefrontal cortex of the brain - where all the higher functioning like reasoning, predicting consequences, and planning takes place - isn't fully developed until about age 18 or 19 (I think) in women, and age 21 for men.  Right out of high school many guys get into stupid relationships, financial schemes and legal problems.  But in my Church, men are called on missions at age 19 and come back at age 21.  God had the timing right all along - men come back with fully functional brains and great spiritual experiences under their belt to help guide the rest of their lives, and are much more able to make wise decisions in marriage, career, etc.  We LDS women sometimes receive a bad stigma for only wanting to date an "RM" (returned missionary), but here are some darn good (and scientific) reasons why!

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