Friday, September 28, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Polygamy follow up

Just a quick follow up on my polygamy rant from a few days ago.
Warren Jeffs was found just guilty on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. In the article there were a couple sentences which directly support several of the claims that I had made about polygamy.

"Jeffs also faces multiple counts in Arizona of being an accomplice to incest and sex with minors.

He has drawn attention to the polygamous FLDS by allegedly excommunicating male followers and reassigning wives and children, arranging marriages to girls as young as 13, and reducing competition for brides by exiling male teens and young men."

Logic in Theology

In logic it is very common to present one or more established and
accepted rules or facts and then show a progression of how accepting
those facts, premises, logically lead you to accept their conclusion.
They typically take the form of if A and B are true then C is also
true. If it is obvious that C is not true the only other answer is that
one or more of the premises are not true.
If all cars are red, all cars are convertibles, and I own a car, then I own a red convert able. If I don't own a red convertible then at least one of the stated premises is necessarily false. In this case it's the first two that are false. All cars are NOT red and all cars are NOT convertible.

For centuries philosophers have struggled with making theology fit their
logical rules and restrictions. The most common attempt at this is
called the problem of evil.
1. God is benevolent and doesn't want evil to exist.
2. God is omnipotent and has the power to destroy all evil.
3. Evil does exist.
Therefore both 1 and 2 cannot be true.

Entire books have been written on just this subject but, in my opinion none of them provides a complete resolution to the issue.

I'm not overly hung up on this issue but I just bring it up to illustrate how my mind tries to grasp with issues. Once I understand the logic behind a system it is easier for me to figure out what I need to do next. All too frequently my mind finds little paradoxes that I need to resolve before I can continue.

Here is one that popped into my head during Sunday's lessons on forgiveness:
1. With sin we cannot be perfect.
2. If we don't forgive the greater sin is on our head.
3. God will not forgive some sins.
Therefore the greater sin is on God's head and he ceases to be perfect.

Or this one:
1. Part of forgiveness is to forget the sins of those who trespass against us
2. God forgives our sins.
3. Omniscient means to know everything, including the history of someones sins.
Therefore, God cannot be both omniscient and forgiving.

Or another:
1. God wanted Adam and Eve to multiple and replenish the Earth.
2. God commanded Adam and Eve to not partake of the tree of knowledge.
3. Being obedient to either 1 or 2 requires disobeying the other.
Therefore, God does NOT except us to obey all of His commandments.

I could go on and on. My only point her is to show how a logical, analytical mind tries to make sense of Gospel principles.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


We were at the church yesterday waiting for the parents of all the scouts to come collect them so Aaron and I could go home. It was just two boys left, Aaron and his antithesis, the boy who teases and torments him and calls him a sissy. After few minutes of awkward conversation because the other boy really doesn't like Aaron or me his mother arrived. I handed him his bag of dirty clothes from the caving trip. To my surprise Aaron helped him with his pack and sleeping bag. I was very impressed. Aaron had no reason at all to be nice to this boy but he didn't let himself be controlled by the other boy’s bad acts. Aaron acted on his own nature and did the good, decent thing.
As we go home I was reading my wife's blog and she had posted a video that Aaron had shown her about forgiveness and repentance. The band was Linkin Park. It's a great song and the message was very strong. Normally I don't car for videos because I like to let the imagery of the music come straight from the music. In this case the emotional impact of the images in concert with the music was overwhelming. I promptly thanked Aaron for showing me the video and again today showing me the wisdom that a young man can have at just barely 13.
A few months ago I was involved in an online chat about a bishop who made a comment from the pulpit like, ”There are families in this Ward who don't have enough food to eat and I want to know that the hell you're going to do about it." In this situation more people were upset about the fact that the Bishop had said, "hell" than they were about the fact that there were families without any food.
In this situation criticizing somebody’s choice of words is the easier way out. It doesn't require any real action. And most importantly it doesn't require anybody to set aside any prejudices. They can simply respond on autopilot. Cussing is bad; therefore if somebody cusses to make a point then their point must be irrelevant. I'm not defending the cussing but merely pointing out how we should really focus on the more important issue and not the emotive flourishes used to explain it.
Later on in the evening I made an attempt to point out the two examples of Aaron's wisdom that I'd experienced earlier. No sooner than I had brought up the subject of the Linkin Park video the conversation deteriorated and was focused solely on the bad language used in some of their other songs. Never mind the profound message in the song I was referring to that did not have any cuss words. It was simply easier to criticize modern music than to open your mind a little bit and see that forgiveness, redemption and repentance can be taught in more than one way. Realizing that I couldn't hope to get the conversation back, I simply put my arm around Aaron and thanked him for showing me the video.
I'm continually amazed at the wisdom of my children. As I grow older I hope that I will not be so set in my ways that I forget to look for and accept these alternate sources of wisdom.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fantasy Prone Personality

A few months ago I was surfing around on the Coast to Coast AM website. It’s great entertainment. You know the routine, Ghost pictures, alien autopsies, mummified mermaids. I thought it was a kind of funny that there were very few kooky ideas that didn’t make it onto the site.
I also checked a few of the external links from the site. If I was at a ghost hunting site they would have links to Bigfoot sites. The Bigfoot sites would have links to alien abduction site and 9-11 conspiracy sites. It was almost as if in order to believe in ghosts you had to accept the whole gambit of weird ideas. It’s very rare that I would find somebody who believed one woo-woo idea and rejected the rest.
I read a paper written by a neurologist that described something called the Fantasy Prone Personality (FPP). The idea is that when we were children there is part of our brain that creates fantasies. Perhaps the rest of our brain vetting out if our fantasies are real or not teaches us rationality. Perhaps this is the source of creativity in our brains. At any case most of us outgrow this belief in fantasy as a child. But to varying degrees many of us do not.
Dr. Novella points out that people with FPP are more susceptible to hypnosis and have a strong desire to believe things without evidence. I think this is exactly why so many of these kooky ideas seem to be joined at the hip.
What brought this up is a local talk radio show that a friend of the family has been doing for a few years. I heard about The Dr. Chris Green Show a couple a years ago and just recently decided to listen to it. Dr. Chris seems to be suffering from FPP. He believes that the entirety of mainstream medicine is a global conspiracy. He recommended that a woman with ovarian cancer come in to his office for a homeopathic detox rather than get a biopsy. On September 11th his whole show was pretty much and “amen” to Alex Jones’ 9-11 conspiracy theories. Well today he made the claim that Autism is a side-effect of Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is caused by the MMR vaccine. If I didn’t know better I’d just laugh and accept that this is parody and satire. It isn’t.
I suppose that listening to things like this can be intriguing. I personally am much more intrigued by reality. Yesterday I watched Monster of the Milky Way: A Super-massive Black Hole. Chris can keep all his woo-woo doctrines. I’m much more fascinated by these types of factual tales.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


With all the publicity of the Warren Jeffs trial and with the new season of "Big Love" on TV I've been getting a few questions from friends and coworkers about my opinions and thoughts on polygamy. This has been an awkward subject for me and lately I've been very surprised by the sympathetic reactions I have heard from LDS friends and family members. It is not my intent to offend or hurt anyone. However I feel morally obliged to separate myself in every possible way from what I believe to be an evil practice.
I do not believe that polygamy was ever sanctioned by God. Seeing all the suffering and sorrow that has been caused by this single revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants I simply cannot accept that it came from God. It goes directly against other modern scripture. I have blogged in the past about the "fruits test". Polygamy fails this test time and time again.
Polygamy is a mathematical recipe for child abuse. When I've attempted to explain this to folks in the past it has worked best to give a simple analogy. Suppose you have a high school with a 50/50 mix of boys and girls in each grade. Now it comes time for the senior prom. If each boy can ask one girl to the prom then every senior, boy and girl will be able to attend the prom. Simple enough.
Now let's bring "plural dating" into the picture. Suppose each senior boy could ask two girls to the prom. Soon every senior girl would be asked and then the senior boys would have to start asking junior girls in order to get both of their dates.
Now let's make this analogy even closer to the real doctrine of the early LDS and the current FLDS sects.
What would happen if each of these senior boys was required to have at least three dates to the prom in order to receive their diploma? Well pretty soon every senior, junior and now sophomore girl would have a date to the prom.
Now what if we opened up this prom to the entire high school student body? Where would they go to find all the required dates? If every high school boy was indeed required to have three dates then every girl from senior down to first grade would have a date.
Creepy isn't it.
My analogy holds true when extrapolated out to real polygamist communities. In most societies the age of the wife is slightly lower than the age of the husband. Don't know why this is considering women out live men but it seems to be a good rule of thumb. I don't have any hard facts to back this up but I'd be willing to bet that in polygamist communities the average age of the husband is pretty close to the combined ages of all of his wives. If at first this statistic doesn't seem to work out please don't forget to include the men who have zero wives into you calculations. Once you've married off all the 12 and 13 year olds to older men who already have two other wives who is left for the rest of the men to marry? Nobody. In fact this is becoming a big issue as so called lost boys are being ostracized from their communities for no other reason than they are in competition for the brides.
When it first came out, I read Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer. This is probably the best and most thorough book I have ever read about the many polygamist off-shoots of the LDS church. Krakauer details the violence and abuse that permeates these sects. Krakauer is fair in his depictions of current LDS positions but many LDS members felt he did not distance the behavior of the lunatic fringe from the LDS church. I think he did as best as he could under the circumstances. Let's face it; polygamy would not exist in its current form in the United States if it were not for the official actions of the LDS church in the 1800s and early 1900s. Any book on polygamy that did not detail this history would be intellectually dishonest. The book is by no means light reading. It will and should scare you a little. Introspection is a good thing to do but it's never comfortable or easy.
I've read my great-grandfathers histories. He tells of how hard it was to be child in a polygamist marriage. I've had family members long for the Millennium to come so we could "start practicing the gospel the way we're supposed to be.” referring to polygamy. I've even had an unmarried female friend of the family tell me that in the Celestial kingdom she plans on being "sealed" to my father and she was looking forward to being my other mother. I just have such a hard time making this doctrine line up with other much more important doctrines that the only way I can make peace with it is to reject it entirely. It is wrong and it always has been.
The official LDS position is simply that it is not a doctrine of the LDS church and we excommunicate members who engage in it. It would be nice to hear a much more condemning and definite statement against this evil. The current attitude in practice is nothing more than "Yeah, but we don't do that any more. Can we talk about something else?"
Wouldn't it be nice to hear something like this from the pulpit:
"The taking in marriage of more than one wife is immoral and an insult to the institution of the family. In the past the LDS church has sanctioned and performed these marriages as if they were doctrine. This evil practice made it into our doctrine only by the selfish desires of early church leaders who used scripture and supposed revelations to justify their selfish carnal desires. To this we simply and sincerely say that we are profoundly sorry. With his first step of the repentance process we now look to do everything in our power to right the wrongs that we have caused. Nothing can atone for the many decades of sadness inflicted on women and children involved in these marriages. However, we can and will take a more active role in preventing the spread of this counter-doctrinal behavior. We also invite those who have left the church or may be struggling with their testimony because of this issue to please come back to the fold. You were right and we we're wrong. We need your love and strength to help us move forward and heal."

"6 Yea, it grieveth my soul and causeth me to shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts.
7 And also it grieveth me that I must use so much aboldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;" Jacob 2: 6-7

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Just for the record, I don't believe that coincidences have any cosmic significance. Just because I happen to look at a clock the instance it turns 12:34 only means that it's 34 minutes past 12 and nothing more. The fact that the lottery numbers in New York were 9-1-1 on September 11, 2001 also means nothing. These types of coincidences are going to happen every now and then. There is nothing weird at all about the occasional "alignment of the planets" so to speak. It would actually more statistically improbably that there were no such coincidences.

I had an interesting coincidence like these noted above happen to me while I was driving home last night. I had been in Snellville for a Scout leader training class. At around 9:30pm as I drove roughly southwest down Hwy-78 I kept looking at a crescent moon low in the sky with a bright Jupiter about 3 degrees above it. The radio was tuned to NPR and was playing a very familiar piece of classical music. I recognized it as Beethoven but couldn't remember the score. I patiently listened to the end in hopes that the announcer would tell me what the tune was. The tune came to an end just as I was turning right onto a road called Lake Lucerne. Just then the host announced that the sonata was " Beethoven’s piano concerto#14 but most of you may be more familiar with the name that was given to it by a Berlin critic years after Beethoven died, 'Moonlight Sonata', because it reminded him of the moonlight reflecting off of Lake Lucerne." At the instant she said those words I looked to my left and was able to see the moonlight reflected in Lake Lucerne.

Just thought this was a cool coincidence and wanted to share it.

Of course a lot of the mystique of this story would be gone if this little lake in Georgia still went by its original name, "Possum Lake".

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Lucifer Effect

"Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?"
Shakespeare King Lear

I doubt that Dr. Philip Zimbardo was intentionally answering King Lear's question but he does a wonderful job of doing just that. The Lucifer Effect details the effects of one psychologist’s, Zimbardo's, experiment to understand what happens in a prison situation. His goal was to analyze the difference between dispositional responses and situational responses. He inadvertently created a situation that he refers as an example of administrative evil.
I've noticed that I frequently make the comment that "I'm enjoying this book". The word enjoy is wholly inappropriate for this book. However, as if forcing myself to learn from the mistakes of others, I am continuing to push through it.
I've always been a big advocate of free-will. I believe in holding individuals accountable for their evil actions. So when the whole Abu Ghraib event hit the media I was whole heartedly behind punishing the "bad apples". As Zimbardo points out, this is a dispositional response to the problem. Zimbardo effectively points out that many times the problem lies not with the bad apples but with the barrel that had gone bad. Just as in his own prison experiment those in charge of the prison at Abu Ghraib, and ultimately those in charge of the Iraq occupation, created a situation where the worst behaviors in people were allowed to flourish and the good behavior was seen as weakness and a lack of control.
This book has been very enlightening about how easily even the best of us can turn to evil.
He repeatedly cautions the reader that those who think they are incapable of this type of evil are all too frequently the most susceptible. I must confess that I have seen reflections of my own behavior at times in the actions of Zimbardo's subjects.
Each year the American Alpine Club publishes a book called Accidents in North American Mountaineering. It's a detailed list of all the accidents for that year. In a sense it is very morbid. However, I read it with the attitude of learning from the mistakes of others. I get the same feeling as I read The Lucifer Effect. It's not a pleasant read, but the hope that I can learn how to prevent the same behavior in myself keeps me reading.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


About a year ago I gave up listening to talk radio. In general I preferred it to listening to music on the FM stations. Nothing against music, I just felt like I was learning something when I listened to talk radio and music, although enjoyable, just seemed like background noise. Well after a couple of tests I realized that talk radio was just becoming background noise for me as well. It had gotten so that I could predict almost exactly how each of the local talking heads would spin the latest news story. After years of listening to them it finally dawned on me that they were never saying anything new. The only thing they were good for was to turn every complicated, multi-faceted news story into a one dimensional little catch phrase that was easier for their average listener to understand and agree with. Rarely if ever did I hear any deep insightful discussions on all the different points of the issues. I’d just grown tired of it all.
That being said I really enjoyed the talk format when it was being honest and really examining issues that are important to me. Since the Atlanta market is dominated by conservative talk stations if I wanted to hear anything different it was either NPR, sports talk, or Christian sermons. Of these choices I went with NPR. I like the fact that they spend more time on the stories that may not be as flashy as the stories that lead the other news stations but in the long run are much more varied and personally I feel more important.
Even with this I still began looking for something else. I enjoy examining philosophy, religion, science, and politics. I set out to find some form of media that would provide what I was thirsting for. My first rescuer came in the form of books on CD. I checked out just about every book I could from the local library on CD. I still regularly listen to around 3 or 4 books a month.
Soon after that I discovered podcasting. Within a couple of month I found days worth of audio online that dealt with exactly the same type of issues that I had been struggling with for years. Everynight I download sevaral hours of new podcasts and then listen to them while I’m CADing away at work. I really enjoy it and I feel much more educated and informed than I ever did listening to conservative talk radio. Even when I agreed with them talk radio either bored me or made me really upset. My current selection of podcasts are never boring and all to frequently they are profoundly enlightening. I don’t see me turning back to broadcast talk radio anytime soon.
Here are a few of the podcasts that I’ve been listening to in the past year:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bumper Sticker Personalities

Last weekend Rachel, Victoria and I were walking through downtown Decatur. We had gone down there for a big book fair and to visit a little independent bookstore that a friend recommended. While walking the streets Victoria pointed out all of the cars that had bumper stickers on them. Most of them were very political and since the little town we were in is right near a very liberal Atlanta University, Emory, many of the bumper stickers had liberal and left leaning statements on them.
We used to have several bumper stickers on our other truck and many of them were either climbing company stickers or for environmental organizations. One was just a couple of Grateful Dead dancing bears that we bought just because we like the bears, not necessarily because we liked The Dead.
Victoria asked a rather thought provoking question when we came to a little stand that sold even more bumper stickers. “I wonder if somebody who has a bunch of political bumper stickers is more likely to get up in your face about their opinions or does the fact that they have the bumper stickers act as some kind of release so they express their opinions passively without having to be rude about it?” This caused me to think about myself and also about the people I know who have a lot of political bumper stickers. I have a few friends and family members who use the back end out their car to tell everybody behind them in traffic their opinion on everything from birth control, to nuclear disarmament and even what band they think is cool. Just a survey of my friends is far to small a group to make any statistical model however, from my limited sampling I have found that my conservative friends are defiantly the type to “get in your face” about their opinions and my liberal friends, some who have their cars wallpapered in liberal bumper stickers, are more content to let the car be their method of expressing their opinion and be more reserved in person. Perhaps this is just an observational bias. True or not, many of my friends assume that I have more liberal views. Perhaps my liberal friends just don’t feel the need to defend their views around me but my conservative friends are trying to save me from my liberal ways.
We also discussed those who do not put bumper stickers on their car. Just because they don’t choose to use there vehicle's hind quarters to exercise their first amendment rights does not necessarily mean that they don’t have strong opinions on many issues. Perhaps they just believe, as Victoria does, that it’s not an appropriate venue to air these type of issues.
Lately I have refrained from putting bumper stickers on the truck, not because I think it would be in appropriate, but because my opinions on any given issue is far too deep and nuanced to be captured in a simple snappy quote to be read at a traffic light. Far too many of us get used to thinking in bumper sticker sized political snippets. Also my opinions on political issues change as new information comes in and as factors that affect them change. Even the bumper stickers that I like the most still don’t come close to expressing my complete political opinion.
So for now at least I’ll refrain form political bumper stickers, but don’t assume that this means I don’t have an opinion on politics, and if you have bumper stickers on your car I would enjoy discussing your views regarding them, but don’t assume that I agree or disagree with you until after you have heard my opinion straight from me.
ps. I almost bought this bumper sticker while we were down there. I'd have put it on my cube at work. My coworkers have started calling me this because I'm always the one changing the paper on the printer and complaining about the vast quantities of paper that we waste.
If you're interested in getting any bumper stickers for your car or cubicle has just about everything you can imagine.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Live and Let Live?

Yesterday my wife and I had a rather awkward situation. While eating lunch with our daughter an acquaintance bumped into us. In the course of the conversation we told her that Rachel has had a stubborn ear infection. This acquaintance then proceeded to go on for several
uncomfortable minutes criticising mainstream medicine and encouraging
us to go visit a chiropractor for her ear infection. I was as
respectful as i could be, but politely said that some of the "adjustment"
procedures used have been proven to be very dangerous especially on
children and that we would stick to what our doctor recommends. Her
family honking for her to hurry up and end the conversation was a
welcome disruption. I was having a good day and just didn't feel like
debating whether or not chiropractic was as real science or not in a
Chick-fil-a playground.

For the most part I take a live and let
live philosophy when it comes to others' beliefs, no matter how far
fetched or different from mine that they may be. Unless I can see any
real damage or harm that could come from their believes I tend to
respect them. It is only after they feel the need to "convert" me totheir beliefs that I feel the need to criticise them.
Now here comes the rub. At what point is it acceptable for me to challenge somebody else's
faith that I don't share? Perhaps it's a Christian Scientist friend
whose child is very sick from something that a simple treatment of
penicillin would cure. Or maybe a Jehovah's Witness who is refusing
blood products. Or a friend is recommending that somebody forgo a
surgical procedure for cancer in favor of homeopathic treatments. Or
maybe it's simply resorting to prayer instead of other treatments.

All of these are fictitious examples, some more than others, but I gave them just to illustrate the seriousness of my real dilemma.

At what point is it immoral for me to sit back and not voice my opinion
and try to help out, knowing that it will challenge their faith and
potentially our relationship?
I have yet to meet anybody who agrees
entirely with my philosophy on everything and I personally hope I never
do. What in the world would we talk about? But I am curious about when
it is appropriate for me to voice my concerns about others'beliefs and when it might be more moral for me to not antagonize my friends and family.
the example I've shared this has become an issue several times for me
in the not to distant past. There were times when I stayed quiet that I
wish I had spoken up and there weretimes when I spoke up that I wish I had just not interfered.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A nice rest from our labors.

The kids spent the night at various friends and Grandparents' houses so Victoria and I had a rare chance to sleep in for a couple extra hours. After we woke up and read a couple chapters in our books we gathered up Rachel and headed to Granny and Grandpa's house.
We spent a couple hours just relaxing in front of a "Dirty Jobs" marathon before we found a great program on the History Channel based on the textbooks that I used for my college astronomy classes. If you get a chance to see it The Universe is a great program. It is about as up to date as you can get, including dark matter, dark energy and even a detailed section on the demotion of Pluto from a planet to a trans-Neptunian object. I highly recommend it.
After an hour of so of this Aaron, Noah and I ran over to Boat Rock for a couple of hours. In 1988 Shortly after I'd purchased my first pair of rock climbing shoes I drove over to Boat Rock with a friend and Easy Crack (5.8) was one of the first true crack climbs that I ever climbed. Granted the route is only about 20' tall but it'll always hold special memories for me. So I was particularly thrilled that Aaron was able to move through the route today, without a rope and in amazingly good form. He actually climbed the route 4 times. The first two times I was a very overly protective father/spotter. The last two times I was able to relax a little bit more and got a few pictures and even a nice little video of the event.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

personality test

I found this test on my brothers blog.

Your Five Factor Personality Profile


You have medium extroversion.
You're not the life of the party, but you do show up for the party.
Sometimes you are full of energy and open to new social experiences.
But you also need to hibernate and enjoy your "down time."


You have high conscientiousness.
Intelligent and reliable, you tend to succeed in life.
Most things in your life are organized and planned well.
But you borderline on being a total perfectionist.


You have medium agreeableness.
You're generally a friendly and trusting person.
But you also have a healthy dose of cynicism.
You get along well with others, as long as they play fair.


You have low neuroticism.
You are very emotionally stable and mentally together.
Only the greatest setbacks upset you, and you bounce back quickly.
Overall, you are typically calm and relaxed - making others feel secure.

Openness to experience:

Your openness to new experiences is high.
In life, you tend to be an early adopter of all new things and ideas.
You'll try almost anything interesting, and you're constantly pushing your own limits.
A great connoisseir of art and beauty, you can find the positive side of almost anything.