Thursday, March 29, 2012

Evolution and Faith

I attended a great meeting tonight.  It was put on by the Institute of Religion (LDS church), and they invited two UVU professors to talk about science and faith, who happen to also be members of the Church.
Dr. Heaton and Dr. Ogden did a very nice job of explaining how they balance their religious faith and science.  Dr. Ogden introduced himself like this:
"I am a husband.  I am a father.  I am a brother, a son, a nephew.  I'm an Evolutionary Biologist.  And I'm a Mormon."  (Sounds like all those profiles on  I love it.)
He emphasized that he searches for truth everywhere, it doesn't matter the source.  He said that he can understand how some other faiths could have real problems with incorporating evolution into their belief systems.  But Mormons don't.  Our doctrine and official standing of the Church allow evolution and religion to coexist for us.  (See my previous posts on Evolution, including the cool Coexist sticker at the bottom featuring science and religion.)

"Yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
- Doctrine & Covenants 88:118

When I was searching for this Brigham Young quote, I ran across this article that deals with two Republican presidential nominees.  I do not wish to get into the realm of politics on this blog, but the writer makes correlations between the fact that the only 2 Republican presidential candidates who believe in evolution and climate change also happen to be the only 2 that are Mormons.  This is not a coincidence.  Here is the quote I was looking for:

“In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular… whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or as many millions of years.”
- Brigham Young, 2nd President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Our scriptures are full of references to learning and even science.
"The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth."
- Doctrine & Covenants 93:36

"Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain until the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
"Of things both in heaven [astronomy, meteorology] and in earth [geology], and under the earth [volcanism, oceanography]; things which have been [geology, paleontology], things which are [biology, geology, chemistry, okay, every aspect of science], things which must shortly come to pass;"
-Doctrine & Covenants 88:78-79, examples added

I love being a member of this Church, seriously.  I second what Dr. Ogden said about why he believes in it - he chooses to.  He's experienced too many things that are outside himself - outside his own molecules and matter, etc.  I feel exactly the same way.  Until you truly feel the Spirit, you won't know what the heck we're talking about.  It's a fully tangible, physical, real phenomenon that comes from God.  It's beautiful and awesome.

I too am a seeker of knowledge and truth - wherever it may be.  And I have a blast doing it. :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Tempest in a Teapot"

On KBYU (radio) the guy doing the weather referred to yesterday as a "tempest in a teapot", referring to the weird weather sandwiched between beautiful warm spring days.  It really was a weird day.  In the same day we had pretty much everything: strong wind, rain, snow, a little sun, and even hail!  Most people probably didn't notice the hail.  I heard it in the morning and saw it coming down, and one minute later it stopped.
We are having an early spring.  I'm still wondering if we'll have a late winter in the middle of it.  We never got a single good snow sculpture snow.  I was hoping to make a WallE, R2D2 or a dragon.  I don't mind missing out on the winter driving though.

Monday, March 19, 2012

UVU Science Building

The new science building is finally open!  Yaaay I'm so happy!  The side hallways and stairs are still blocked off, but boy that building is beautiful.  We now have our own auditorium, so I bet they'll do the seminars there instead of in the library.  So exciting!  I can't wait to go upstairs to see the greenhouse and labs and stuff.

Now we can actually walk inside from the LA to Pope Science.  It's silly but I think I'm actually going to miss having to walk outside to get to the Pope Science building.  I might just keep doing it for sunshine and fresh air sometimes.

I hope I get to have some classes in the new building this summer! :)

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!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Women, Girls, Society, and Science

Girls Conference
On the 3rd of this month, I volunteered at the Expand Your Horizons (EYH) conference put on by the Equity in Education Center at UVU. It's for 6th to 12th grade girls and the purpose is to help them explore high-paying careers in math, science, and technology.  Can I just say...wahoo!!  I wish I'd been able to go to a conference like that when I was in Jr. High or High School. Maybe I wouldn't be 31 and still in college.

For me, and I suppose for many girls growing up now here in "Happy Valley", being raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (that's LDS or "Mormons" for those not familiar with it), the role of wife and mother is emphasized.  The Church places a high value on family, which is fantastic.  But it also sometimes has the side effect (at least in this area) of girls not really planning seriously for any kind of career, because they plan to be stay-at-home moms.  That is even despite the fact that our prophet Thomas S. Monson, and the previous prophet Gordon B. Hinckley both specifically encouraged women to get as much education as they can.

I found this blog - which has some great quotes from Church leaders about stay-at-home-moms as well as getting education and developing talents.  As a single mom myself and a huge proponent of education, I love the balance and I agree that women need to get educated and even obtain a college degree that could open the door to a career.  I don't believe a career should ever supersede motherhood, no way.  But an educated mother raises educated children, for one thing, and as we have all become very aware of in our current economical situation, it's extremely helpful if the wife is able to help earn an income if the husband gets laid off, becomes disabled or passes away, or in the event of a divorce.

Here is just one of the great quotes from Church leaders:
Sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests. Pick one or two things that you would like to learn or do that will enrich your life, and make time for them. Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.

Barbie "I Can Be..."
And can I just comment on what I happened to see on the girls' toy aisle the other day (I was going down every aisle looking for a stuffed animal moose for a friend).  I stopped when I saw a couple of Barbies saying, "I can be....[insert career here]"  Okay so now Mattel is going to tell all the girls in the world what jobs they can do?  That's my first problem with this - what if something they're interested in isn't on the list and therefore isn't cool or beautiful like Barbie is?  Will they abandon it and go for one that IS on the list?
My second problem was the options there at the toy store - Pet Vet, Teacher, Art Teacher, Preschool Teacher, Ballet Dancer, and "Kid Doctor".  Okay at least they had a doctor, but why can't you actually call her a Pediatrician?  Teach the girls some vocabulary for heaven's sake!  They've probably all been to a Pediatrician, it's not that far-fetched that they know what they're called.  Must we continue dumbing everything down?  And does Barbie HAVE to be wearing high heals and a dress only slightly longer than the lab coat (mid thigh)?  Seriously, what doctor do you know that would dress like that?

The Barbie website has some information on each of the professions complete with a couple of videos and games.  I cannot believe this game I just played for the "Babysitter" job.  You have to guide the little kid around the house and move toys out of her way so that she doesn't have an accident on the way to the potty.  When she makes it there you see her sitting on the potty, hear a distinct plop and the girl grins, and they show the toilet flushing with yellow and yes a little brown circle in there swirling around.  Holy heck!  Are you serious?

They do have more professions that just weren't on the shelves where I went, but they still have a pretty limited scope: lifeguard, snowboarder, baby doctor, zoo doctor, rock star, cooking teacher, fashion designer, track champion, tennis champion, gymnastics champion, chef, movie star, and my favorite - bride.

Girls aspire to be "brides".  But are they ready for the title that comes next - "wife"?  Or did they spend all their time planning for the wedding instead of the marriage?
The only non-traditional things are race car driver and architect.  The website showed a software engineer, but I haven't seen the actual toy of that anywhere. 

Anyone notice the trend?  Girly stuff involves either: being famous and adored by all (rock star, sports champions, movie star), cooking, or liking "cute" stuff like kitties and babies.  Don't get me wrong, I love cooking, animals and babies.  But I also love seeing cells in various stages of mitosis under a microscope, collecting Brine Shrimp eggs, taking way too many pictures of rocks, and cutting things open to see what's inside.

So, Barbie's at it again...  shaping our society.  Thanks, but no thanks, Barbie.

A Different Kind of Barbie
Speaking of Barbie, I went to this way cool seminar at the beginning of the semester by this awesome lady scientist who does a lot of work in the rainforest, and she has many non-profit projects she does to educate people about the rainforest.  She uses rock climbing techniques to study the canopy of the rainforest.  They actually created a "Tree Top Barbie" with her all decked out in her gear to climb to the top of the canopy, and she kind of joked that she was surprised that Mattell was not interested in it.  I think it's sad though, it's cool stuff like that they should promote in addition to Ballerina, Art Teacher, and Babysitter. Broaden the horizons of girls.

That brings me full circle back to Expand Your Horizons.  It's wonderful that they do this conference.  I only wish it would reach more girls out there.  The battle field is probably a lot younger than we think.  Girls in Elementary school have already been brainwashed that they need to be pretty to be worth anything, they can't "get" math and science, and they're only supposed to like things that are small, fuzzy, and/or pink.

Well, I've got one for you, girls:

A curious symbiotic relationship between an animal and algae - hungry corral polyps grasping for dinner
More importantly: AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL -  just like you.  (Source)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Coal and the Carboniferous Period ... Cool

During the Carboniferous Period (about 300-350 million years ago), there were a lot of coal deposits being made because the conditions were just right.  Here's why.

The land mass of current-day North America was near the equator during the Carboniferous Period - in the tropics.  This was a great environment for lush plant growth.  This is also the time when plants with lignin and complex cellulose were beginning to evolve (ferns).  Forests of trees up to 100 feet tall made up coastal swamps.  Below is a fossil of the tree trunk (this one from lepidodendron)- all the indentations are thought to be attachment points of leaves or branches.

So, what's the big deal?  Well this is the cool part (to me).  Since woody plants were a pretty new thing, the bacteria had not yet evolved the appropriate enzymes to break down and decompose them.  So when those plants died they stuck around.

Then add to this the fact that there was a lot of glaciation at the time and you have the recipe for coal.  ("Huh?" you say... I know, I didn't get that at first either.)  The reason ice caps are important is that they would melt, causing transgressions (rise in sea level) which would flood the swamps and bury them in sediment, preserving them where they would continue to be compacted and eventually become coal.

The geek factor?  Pretty sweet that these things formed largely due to good evolutionary timing - woody plants: 1, bacteria: 0.  Good geological timing with the transgression as well.  Nice orchestration there, and we get fossil fuels, the industrial revolution, and much of modern technology out of it.