Almost Gods

One of the banes of my existence are new earth creationists. Another wrench has just gotten thrown into one of their arguments, and science, as it always has, proves that an all seeing, all knowing magical being with all power isn’t needed to explain the order of the cosmos. I have had the chance to converse with a multitude of people all of whom believe that the world was created around six thousand years ago. One of their pillar arguments is the existence of life, claiming that a divine spark is needed to give matter….life.  In the last few years, scientist have been able to play the role of god and create the building blocks of life in a test tube. They created RNA base pairs by and through chemical processes; these RNA strands were able to replicate and more importantly mutate (key ingredients of life).

Unfortunately, for the replication to occur, scientists had to assist the splitting of the RNA pairs by adding enzymes to their environment. Now scientists have been able to achieve synthetic life that self replicates. They did this through several complex procedures, and they used an already existing cell structure. While not creating life completely from scratch, we are so close we can taste it, and we are doing it without magic or god.

Deseret Book discontinues “Mormon Doctrine”

Well this is interesting. Deseret Book has stopped printing Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, the controversial book that almost single-handedly destroyed my faith in the LDS Church with the following passage about “Negroes”:

Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty (Book of Abraham 1:20-27). The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them…Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pages 527-528)

This and other unpalatable comments were later removed or softened, but the church continues to be embarrassed by the book’s earlier editions and the lasting impacts they’ve had on Mormon thought.

Deseret Book says that the decision has to do with Mormon Doctrine‘s poor sales, but local bookseller Tony Weller (of Sam Weller’s) maintains that there is a “solid and constant demand for it.”

Their dropping of Mormon Doctrine reflects less on the book’s sales and more on the LDS Church. It signals a positive change—an acknowledgment by the church of the need to outgrow the old Mormonism that McConkie embodied.

Some thoughts on “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”

Yesterday, I wrote about Paul Kurtz and his objections to “Blasphemy Day.” I assume Kurtz would also balk as the blasphemy being exercised today, “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” The event was started on Facebook in response to Comedy Central’s censorship of and Islamic threats against South Park. The event has over 80,000 confirmed participants on Facebook and has received national media coverage. “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” has become so large in fact that Pakistan found it necessary to temporarily ban Facebook.

My take on the controversy: I enjoy slaughtering sacred cows. Not because I like to needlessly offend people, but rather because I like breaking taboos of all sorts. People just need to take themselves less seriously.

That said, when I do blaspheme, I try to make it constructive. And I rather doubt that “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” will be constructive. It could be, but it won’t be—not the way that most people will practice it. The event will be used as an excuse by some to trade in malicious stereotypes about Muslims. Consequently, prominent secular humanists and cartoonists—groups otherwise very supportive of free speech—are against “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”

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Paul Kurtz resigns from CFI

Big news from the Center for Inquiry, the world’s foremost secular humanist organization: Dr. Paul Kurtz, its founder, resigned yesterday.

This is a tragic loss for CFI and its affiliated groups (like SHAFT). Kurtz, who is 84, has been a prominent figure in the skeptic/atheist community for decades. He has even been called—and I think deservedly—”the father of secular humanism.”

Kurtz’s resignation stems from both managerial and philosophical disagreements with the direction of CFI. In 2008, CFI’s board of directors elected Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay president and CEO of CFI, and demoted Kurtz to “chairman emeritus.” The board expressed concern over Kurtz’s “day-to-day management of the organization” (I suspect due to his age).

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A very Mormon me

As you know (or probably could have guessed), I am an ex-Mormon. I was born into the LDS Church and, during my middle school and high school years, was intensely religious—a “bonafide paragon of piety.” That’s hard even for me to believe at times.

Since graduating from USU, I have been in an existential funk of sorts. With no job or school, I have had a lot of time to think about my past. Going through some old junk (emails, letters, journals, etc.), I was reminded of just how devout a Mormon I was. So for our collective amusement, I thought I’d share what I re-discovered.

One of the first things that I found in a small box buried away in my closet was an envelope entitled “Open when ALONE.” In it was Elder Mark E. Peterson infamous “Steps in Overcoming Masturbation” article. I was planning to give this talk to a friend as a Christmas present (WTF?!), but apparently never did, seeing as that I still possess the envelope. Here are a few of the “guidelines to self-control” that Elder Peterson recommended (several of which I followed):

*If you are associated with other persons having this same problem, you must break off their friendship. Never associate with other people having the same weakness.

*When you bathe, do not admire yourself in a mirror. Never stay in the bath more than five or six minutes—just long enough to bathe and dry and dress.

*In very severe cases it may be necessary to tie a hand to the bed frame with a tie in order that the habit of masturbating in a semi-sleep condition can be broken.

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Chloroform in print?

An article in Slate today discusses the Book of Mormon as a work of literature. Here is the bulk of it:

[The Book of Mormon], depending on where one stands on the Mormon question, was either discovered by the 17-year-old Joseph Smith in upstate New York after the Angel Moroni directed him to golden plates written in reformed Egyptian, or it was the product of a budding confidence man who copied and pasted other pieces of scripture into a totally improbable tale in which ancient Israelites found their way to the New World. Whatever one’s views on the authenticity of the text, it has been widely regarded as a rather inferior work of literature, especially when compared to the King James Bible. “Chloroform in print,” is Mark Twain’s famous dismissal of it.

In Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, Grant Hardy, who teaches history and religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, begs to differ. He asks his readers to forgo historical questions in favor of literary ones: Let us bracket the issue of what Joseph Smith actually did, he proposes, and instead engage in a careful reading of the text with which, whether as author or as conveyor, Smith is associated. The “narratological structures” Hardy finds in that text, he is convinced, show that Mark Twain did not know what he was talking about.

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Islam and the crisis of pluralism

It seems that every day brings a new censorship controversy involving Islam. Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Comedy Central’s censorship of South Park for its attempted (and mild) portrayal of Muhammad. I’d be remiss to ignore something that happened earlier this week.

On Tuesday, controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks was attacked by a Muslim student during a lecture at Uppsala University. Vilks played an offensive film that juxtaposed homoerotic images with Christian and Muslim images. Many in the audience took offense, and less than a minute into the film the room erupts into chaos.

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