Monday, April 28, 2008


There is a common theme that has been popping its head up lately. It seems that in many of the conversations I've been having lately I've been dealing with people who have a limited horizon. The things that are right in front of them so skew their perspective that they react as if those immediate things are the only things that are real. Once this topic came up in the context of evolution and another time it came up in reference to global warming. In both of these cases and in others I find that I tend to give more credence to the position that has a broader horizon.
This analogy is not mine. It's one that has been brought up in a few of the books that I've been reading. We are slaves to the middle world. Humans have a hard time dealing with the really big and the really small. So we tend to think that the more familiar things are more real. Its hard for us to understand the microscopic units of time like nanoseconds. It is just as hard for us to understand the macroscopic concept of the universe being 4.6 billion years old. It's just too hard for us to comprehend. So, it's not surprising that people revert to the more comfortable age of the universe of 6000 years. It's within our limited horizon.
There are a few people here on this Earth who still think that the world is flat. This is because their horizon is limited. What they can see appears flat so they think that applies to what they can't see as well. The Earth is not flat. All we need to do to see this is to step back, or in this case up, from the situation just a little bit. All too often we allow our emotional response to what is immediately before our eyes to cause us to to interpret our perception as absolute fact.
This same argument follows for the idea of global warming. If we just look at the recent trends we can make claims that it isn't happening, that it is happening but it's not caused by man, or even that humans putting carbon into the air is good for the planet. All of these arguments are based on limited horizons. Without stepping back and seeing the big picture it's hard to see the long term trend.
One of the tough parts about basing my opinions on logic, facts and reason is that occasionally the facts are going to confront my opinions and force an uncomfortable dilemma. Do I stick to my a priori opinions or do adjust them to meet the facts? It's not easy to make these adjustments, but as tough as it is I prefer it to dogma.
A case in point for me is the claim that nuclear weapons have made the world safer. I despise the idea of warfare in general and nuclear weapons specifically. I believe they are anathema to how people should be treating each other and solving their disagreements. A few years ago I read a claim that the percentage of deaths due to warfare has gone dramatically down since 1945. Many use this as evidence that Nuclear weapons have brought more peace than they have destruction. My gut instinct is to reject his data but the evidence is pretty compelling. If I expand my horizon beyond the immediate gut reaction the facts will be allowed to speak for themselves.
I really wish that those who confront me about my opinions would have a similar approach to accepting fact without ideological requirements and just judging the facts themselves.
For the record, I still despise warfare and think that eventually we should be able to deal peacefully with each other without such crude tools. It's still uncomfortable to admit some of the facts but, I don't try to deny them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


There is a phrase that I hear people use all too frequently that I have serious mixed emotions about. "We are nothing more and nothing less than the sum of our choices."
This has become a mantra for conservative talk show hosts. Neal Boortz uses it frequently to criticize those on welfare and those "looking for a hand out". For the most part I agree with the sentiment when people are indeed victims of their own bad decision making. I have little sympathy for folks who try to separate their decisions from the consequences. If you choose wisely you should expect the consequences of those decisions. Conversely if you make bad decisions you should expect to be rewarded accordingly. To this extent I have been trying to teach my children that they have the freedom to behave as they like. They just need to remember that consequences are just the other end of that decision and they can't be separated.
So I totally agree that our lives are directly affected by our decisions. My problem with the phrase comes with all encompassing and exclusionary tone of "nothing more and nothing less". This I flatly disagree with. Yesterday we heard this from the pulpit from a couple who had just returned from a mission in Spain. Granted he was trying to teach us to make correct decisions. However, as he said that I started looking around the room and one after the other I saw examples of people who were clearly more than the sum of their decisions. There was a man in front of me who is autistic. When did he choose to be autistic? Yet it is clearly part of who he is today. I saw a few little girls who had been adopted from China. When did they choose to be female and Chinese and when did they choose to be adopted? I saw a man who is still recovering from a brain tumor and will likely not return to his former brain function. Again, when did he choose this?
I fear that in their zeal to promote individual responsibility those who make this statement go too far. Denying that there are some things just outside of our control tends to deny that people can be victims. That is simply not true. Rather than blame their situations on their own behavior perhaps we should look to ways to both alleviate their current situation and also teach them how to make better decisions in the first place. In the cases that I've stated here there really was no bad decision in the first place and I see no reason to blame them for their situation.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus started by feeding everybody with the loaves and the fishes. I wonder how many folks would have stayed around to listen if he had just said, "You are nothing more and nothing less than the sum of our choices. The reason you are hungry now is because you decided not to bring any food." Somehow I don't think his message would have been quite as well received.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How We Believe

I originally posted this two years ago. Recently my thoughts and opinions on this issue have been called into question. So I'm reposting it.

My review of How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science by Michael Shermer.

One of the deepest and most spiritual books that I have every read.

This book is written from the unique perspective of a born again Christian who loses that faith and becomes the editor of Skeptic magazine. However; unlike many skeptics he has no grudge against religion, he only seeks to understand it. Unlike most scientists and religious faithful he does not try to make one disprove the other. He has found a way that they can both peacefully co-exist.

Shermer describes three different ways that people think that science and religion are related.
First, The belief that science and religion are competitive, that one will disprove the other. I think that most people fall into this category.
Second, The belief that science and religion are harmonious. I think that many LDS members fall into this category. They want to believe that the natural laws and the physical evidence will all somehow support the gospel. James E. Talmadge obvious believed this way. "Within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known."
The problem with both of these views is that they do serious damage to both science and religion. Any attempt to interject faith into science goe s against reason. Conversely trying to discount or prove matters of faith using science is a no win situation. Once something becomes provable then, by definition, it is no longer a matter of faith.
Shermer presents us with a third option. Science and religion exist in completely different spheres. Science exists in the realm of reason and religion exists in the realm of faith. As long as we respect the role that each has to play then there is no conflict and also no need to try to make them harmonize either. "O, ye of little faith. Why do ye need science to prove God? You do not. These scientific proofs of God are not only an insult to science; to those who are deeply religious they are an insult to God."p.123
I believe that for years I have been stuck on the second level but very uncomfortable with the conflict and inconsistencies that I was seeing in trying to make it all work out. This book has inspired me to stop trying and just deal with the fact that they are not even meant to be harmonized.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pogo Sticks

So my seven year old has pretty much maxed out the potential of his hand-me-down pogo stick. His birthday is next month. I'm gonna get him one of these, but first I have to check with my HMO...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Science Debate 2008

An open letter to the current candidates for the Presidency of the United States of America:

Dear Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama,

Yesterday two of you were involved in a debate about many of the religious issues that are currently affecting our country. I think that’s great. I applaud this type of open discussion about issues. I have one question of the three of you.

Why have none of you committed to attend the Science Debate 2008?

Correct me if I am wrong, but in the Presidential oath of office I seem to remember a clause that you will pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States. With this in mind, why did you choose to participate in a debate about faith when the First Amendment forbids you to make any policy regarding religion or for your decisions to be based on religion?

On the contrary there is no such restriction on the government to make policy based on science, yet you all choose to distance yourself from that debate.
Here are just a few of the major, science related issues that are affecting our country and the world and in less than a year one of you will be in a position to make or propose policies on those issues. Many of your potential voters would like to see if you understand and/or accept the science behind these issues; global warming, stem-cell research, alternative fuels, medical regulation, health care, social security, emerging weapons technology, the space program, privacy rights, etc etc.

I have no criticism of faith as a motivating force for good. However, I think that ultimately our policy should be based on facts and the founding documents of our great country, not faith. So now that you have shamelessly pandered for the religious vote please accept the challenge of discussing science policy issues at the Science Debate 2008.

A leader isn't the one who does what's most popular. A leader is defined by doing what is right in spite of the fact that it may not be the popular opinion. Which one of you will step up and be the first to provide leadership on these critical science based issues?

Thank you for your time,

Michael Taylor

A concerned undecided voter


I've been giving a lot of thought to what it means to be a Christian. There are several different ways to define it. I think that most folks tend to go strictly on doctrinal issues. If their doctrine isn't the same as mine then they can't be Christian. It's with this logic that Mormons are accused of not being Christian and are doomed to Hell while Baptist televangelists who have gay affairs are deserving of our forgiveness.
I tend to go with a behavioral definition. In the story of the Good Samaritan it wasn't the pious that reached out and showed Christ like compassion. It was the profane Samaritan. Likewise in our world today I don't think it matters what label you have that makes you Christian. Baptist, Mormon, Muslim or Atheist it's irrelevant. Friend or foe, family or stranger, it's how we treat our fellow man that defines his "Christianity".
As a result of my comments about the movie Expelled I've received several personal emails from self professed Christians. Some of them were vulgar and were deleted before I even read the whole thing. A few were not as bad but were still very mean spirited. Not one of them wanted to discuss the actual claims that I had made, they just wanted to attack me personally. From a behavioral perspective, I've never been treated more unChristlike in email exchanges. You'd have thought I was proposing reinstating polygamy from the rabid responses I received.
In sharp contrast to these emails I've had very open and civil discussions about my Mormonism on discussion boards where the majority are atheist.
A few months ago Aaron and I went downtown to hear the Dalai Lama speak. For over an hour he talked about our responsibility to eliminate the suffering of others. He talked about the power of love curing all of the ailments of humanity. It was one of the most spiritual experiences I'd ever had. On the way out a couple of self professed Christians were passing out cards with a picture of a mutilated body in a wrecked car. The caption carried the message, “If you die on the way home from this event you will go to Hell". How nice and Christian or them to so graphically speak out against peace, love and understanding.
As I've stated before I think Christians get too hung up on the bureaucracy of what it means to be Christian and forget the message that Christ really spoke. A shining example of someone who gets it right came in our concluding speaker of Sacrament Meeting yesterday. An Elder had just returned from his mission to New York City. He told a very personal story about how he just wanted to go home because he felt the people, the city and everything about New York was just filthy. He didn't want to even unpack his bags because he didn't think he would be able to handle it. It wasn't until he reflected on times in his own life that he had felt loved that he turned himself around. Slowly but surely he began to see the people of New York not as a separate group but as part of the same group. He was able to eliminate the “us and them” mentality and learned to love them as his fellow brothers and sisters. He then shared that he even grew to love the smell and the garbage on the streets of New York. This is the best modern example of Christ like love that I have heard from the pulpit in quite some time. Considering the events of this weekend this is the example that I am trying hardest to emulate. He gets them both right, the doctrine and the behavior.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

100,000 Miles of Memories

Yesterday on the way home from work our 2003 Toyota Tundra 4x4 passed 100,000 miles. I didn’t have a camera with me at the time so I took this photo of the odometer as soon as I got home. What I’m proudest about is not really the truck but all the places that we have gone, as a family in the truck.

Here is a list of some of the places this truck has taken us:
Amish country PA, Arches NP, Badlands NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Canyonlands NP, Carlsbad Caverns NM, Colonial Williamsburg, Devil’s Tower WY, Dinosaur NM, Disney World FL, Four corners, Grand Canyon NP, Grand Teton NP, Kirtland OH, Lake Powell, Looking Glass NC, Moab UT, Monticello, Mt Rushmore, Nauvoo IL, New York City, Newport Beach OR, Niagara Falls Ontario, Painted Desert NP, Palmyra NY, Petrified Forest NP, Philadelphia PA, Poison Spider Mesa, Roswell NM, Sand Rock AL, Shenandoah NP, Smoky Mountain NP, Temple Square, Tennessee Aquarium, The Corn Palace, Turner Field, VLA National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Yellowstone NP, and many, many more.
All of this does not take into account the many trips to family birthday parties, Family home evenings, weddings, climbing trips with the kids, scout campouts, soccer games, ballet recitals, bowling, trips to granny’s, etc, etc, etc.

So to our little grey truck I simply say, “Thank you for all the memories that you helped us to create. I look forward to blogging about your 200,000th mile in a few more years.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


One of the side effects of identifying yourself with a group, any group, is that others in that group will stop thinking of you as an individual. They will assume that you share the views, opinions, and political leanings of the majority of the group. Since my personal views vary so dramatically I don’t seem to really fit into any real group identity. I pride myself in being a free-thinker. I evaluate each idea and opinion based on their individual merits and not who else is behind me. One area that frequently causes me issues is home schooling. We home school our oldest and but the others are doing just fine in public school. At PTA meetings we might hear somebody bad mouth home-schoolers and then have the awkward silence when the find out that that we home school. Or our home-schooler friends will bad mouth public school only to have the awkward silence when they find out that we have two of our kids in public school.
The latest such conflict of ideas happened yesterday over the subject of intelligent design. Many home-schoolers are doing so for religious reasons. They just don’t think that kids are getting enough religion while at school. So it’s not surprising that I received the following email from a home school specific yahoo group.

To: hsconnectgroup; NorthGaHome Educators
Subject: [hsconnect] TAKE ACTION
About the film

WHO Ben Stein, in the new film EXPELLED: No intelligence allowed

WHAT His heroic and at times, shocking journey confronting the world's top scientist, educators and philoshers, regarding the persecution of the many by an elite few.

WHERE Ben travels the world on his quest, and learns an awe-inspiring truth that bewilders him, then angers him and then spurs him to action!

WHY Ben realizes that he has been "Expelled", and that educators and scientist are being ridiculed, denied tenture and even fired for the "crime" of merely believing that there might be evidence of "design" in nature, and that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance.

To which Ben says: "Enought!" And then gets busy. NOBODY messes with Ben.

Check it out!!

Take action. Contact this lady to request that the movie be brought to our theatre here in town. If the recieve overwhelming support for the movie we might be able to get it here in town.

Well I don’t accept the theory of intelligent design. I have no problem with the symbolic language of the Genesis and I accept the Bible as an inspired book to help my faith. However it is not, and was never intended to be a science textbook. When pressed to detail their theory most ID proponents are forced to admit that they really have no theory. All ID amounts to is a criticism of the flaws in evolutionary theory with nothing to replace or answer their own questions. The crux of their argument is to surrender their argument and simply say, “It is this way because God made it this way.”
As I’ve stated before, I agree with Galileo on this one.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
So I fired off the following reply:

Thank you for copying me on this email. We will not be paying to see
this movie and will not be substituting theology for our children's
science education.
For advanced reviews of his movie and an objective review of the
science, or lack thereof, behind intelligent design theory please visit

I encourage my readers, both of you, to check out this site as well. Another poster on a discussion board that I frequent made the following observation and I don’t think I could have said it better, "If they spent half as much time reading about science as they did fearing it they'd know enough to not fear it."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Conference Report

Twice a year rather than our normal LDS services we attend a General Conference. I use the term attend rather loosely. The conference is broadcast via satellite to each stake center. We also can attend via the internet or if you have access to KBYU you can watch it on TV. Each conference we usually watch each session with the in-laws and then I will download the mp3s from and listen to them again throughout the the next week or so.
A few month ago Gordon B. Hinkley died and Thomas S. Monson took the reins as the new Prophet and President of the Church. Since the church has grown so much in the last ten years and this was the first time it had happened for so long, I fully expected speakers to explain and support the process that brought Monson to the head of the church. As I lifetime member I kinda felt that they took it a little too far. It felt like every speak started out by explaining the process. Perhaps this was more useful to other who hadn't seen it before. I've always liked Monson and had always accepted that he'd be Prophet one day.
I've always felt that religion was best when it dealt with specific ways that we can apply love into our lives. In this aspect conference did not disappoint. I specifically liked M. Russell Ballard's advice about how to treat your family members. Rather than just tell us to love and respect them he detailed specific ways that parents can support children, children support parents and parents support each other. There were other talks that dealt with ways of applying this love into our lives too. Ballard's was just the one that I remember most.
To end it all off Monson gave a very touching story about when his wife was in the hospital. As if to put the exclamation point on Ballard's talk, he shared a personal story that showed how he was applying this Christlike love in his own life.
As you read other posts on my blog you may be tempted to think that I am bitter toward religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. At it's best I believe that religion can add meaning and provide guidance and hope. My criticism of religion is when it looses sight of these goals and ventures into unfamiliar territory. This weekend I believe I saw examples of the best in what religion can be. When I get home tonight I'm planning on downloading the mp3s of all the talks. I look forward to listening to them again to glean what advice I can to learn to apply love in my life. For starters I plan on easing Victoria's load a little by taking care of some chores around the house.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Still more on Autism

Today CNN published the following commentary from CDC.

The commentary is well written and I agree with everything stated.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


It appears that my praise of CNN was premature. Yesterday they posted every article they could dream up about Autism. And sure enough they jumped well into the world of logical fallacies and Fantasyland. Most of the views and opinions expressed on the 20 plus article “special report” were from parents. Although I sympathize with their emotions, their inability to detach themselves from the emotions involved biases their judgment. CNN was irresponsible in reporting so much opinion and supposition as if it were fact. Autism is a serious issue, yet rather than take it seriously CNN chose accept the conspiracy theories.

The poster child for illogical reasoning is Playboy Playmate, Jenny McCarthy. She didn’t even read her conspiracy theory websites completely before she rushed to judgment on her son’s autism. There has been a growing concern for decades that a preservative in vaccines, thimerosal has been a cause of autism. Study after study after study has shown no such link. Nevertheless, thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines since 2002 and the rate of autism has been steadily on the increase. This is statistical proof that this preservative had no effect on autism. McCarthy takes a quantum leap of logic and then claims that it’s the vaccine itself that caused her sons autism, even without the thimerosal.

The biggest logical fallacy I read in all of these articles is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. A rough translation of the Latin is that since A happened after B, B must have caused A. Sometimes this correlation is correct so it seems logical. I broke my leg after falling 15 feet onto a pointy rock. I’m pretty sure that fall and that rock are what caused the break too. However sometimes this correlation is just that, a correlation. The sun rises in the east a few hours after I wake up. My waking up must cause the sun to rise. I realize that sounds absurd, but read these articles and see how many people think that their child’s vaccine caused their autism just because they both happened at about 18 months. For the record, I know at least one autistic man who did not get vaccinated and yet still showed symptoms at 18 months. Using the same logic that these parents did I could make the claim that his lack of a small pox vaccination caused his autism.

I was rather surprised at the number of cases where children had autism as well as multiple other disorders. Multiple stories referred to autism as a “life threatening condition”. This surprised me because in my personal experience Denny is fit as a fiddle physically. McCarthy’s son, as well as others, have seizures and other serious conditions. Little to no effort was made to distinguish between these people’s autism and their other conditions. We have a good friend whose young son may be autistic. I can imagine that she would be scared to death if she read these articles without any other balancing source of information. She’d probably think that her son would be walking around having seizures all the time and wearing diapers for the rest of his life.

Most of the articles relegate the token, logical, scientific point of view to the last couple chapters if they said anything at all. Yes, fear mongering, illogic and softball questions from Larry King are all still alive and well at CNN. A few more articles this and you may top Fox’s ratings for the "Alien autopsy". I hope you guys sell the advertising spots you were looking for. That’s all this autism “special report” looked like to me. I stopped getting my news from mainstream sources like CNN years ago. Sure, I still use CNN to let me know what’s on the radar. But then I dig deeper before I rush to judgment. Even though many sources have abandoned the concept, it is still possible to find factual, logic based information with a little something that the mainstream has abandoned, journalistic integrity.

Wikipedia actually has a very factual and logical page on Autism. If you're concerned about the public editing aspect of Wikipedia feel free to browse the 100s of cited sources.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Evolution v. Faith Again

It's nice to see that at least one of our choices for President shares my views on the issue of teaching evolution in schools.

Q: York County was recently in the news for a lawsuit involving the teaching of intelligent design. What’s your attitude regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools?

Obama: “I’m a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state.

But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith. That doesn’t make faith any less important than science. It just means they’re two different things. And I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry.“

I'd have probably used the phrase "I accept the evidence that shows overwhelmingly that evolution is a fact" rather than "I believe in evolution." Belief should be reserved for subjects where facts and evidence are not present. That does not apply in the case of evolution.

Hebrews 11: 1
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Few Changes

I've had a couple comments lately that my blog was not laid out very well. So I've made a few small changes. I've put a few more things in the side bar including a list of all the topic labels. This should make it easier for folks to search through my previous posts. I'm also making an effort to include more pictures just to make things more visually appealing.