Monday, December 10, 2012

What Child is this?


This is my new favorite version of this song. An mp3 can be downloaded from here. The text is great, but what I really love is Greensleeves (the music). It has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs and this version was masterfully done.

For whatever reason, music is not at the center of my religious experience. I like music and have some training (9 years of viola which I haven't done for 10 years now), but I don't usually find that music contributes much to my spiritual experiences. For example, I like watching General Conference afterwards by skipping the songs and focusing on the talks, where I feel the spirit more. I'm weird and I totally understand that music is important for many and in some contexts it has been for me. Just not generally.

One specific exception has always been Christmas music. I love Christmas time, and the music always makes me think more about the Savior, His life, and what He has done for me. I hope you enjoyed this song as much as I do.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Genetics of Binge Drinking

There is an interesting article that just came out in PNAS by Prof. Gunter Schumann. To the BBC he states:

We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behaviour.We found that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, and hence trigger the feeling of reward. So, if people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers. (source)

And the BBC article continues:

He said more work was needed to prove this theory - the study only looked at young teenage boys, making it difficult to assess a link with long-term drinking patterns.

It is a preliminary association (ie the study design was not explicit for the finding they made), though the functional work (animal model) looks promising.

In my own family history there is strong evidence of alcoholism, and binge drinking as well. Findings like these make me want to have my genome sequenced. But other reasons, money being a prohibiting factor anyway, keep me from doing so. Its just cool when we can combine this kind of information to understand our genes.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Change and Faith

This past Sunday we had a special stake meeting (group of congregations) that redefined the geographical borders of all the congregations within it. Big change for a lot of people. As a result all of the talks centered around being accepting of change.

We as a family have been thinking about this a lot as we move forward in life so I wanted to add a scripture I have been thinking about in this respect (3 Ne 13:25-34; emphasis is mine):
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. 
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof.
Trusting in the future is the most difficult type of faith. Especially when things don't seem to be going to plan.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky

There was an interesting doctor, Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky,  interviewed in the NYTimes recently. I liked a couple of things he said:

“We have a culture that’s addicted to perfection. We’re willing to spend thousands of dollars to achieve it. The people I care for are imperfect. And I can’t make them perfect. I only hope that they can sense that I actually care they’re more than skin and bones, that we have a bond.”

I also liked when he said:

“For years, when asked why I chose this profession, I had no good answer, until I came upon the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Did this man or his parents sin that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered that the blindness was not the result of the man or his parents’ sin. The man was born blind ‘so the glory of God might be revealed.’ Every day in my work I find myself in the revealed glory of God.”

Forgiving the miss-citation (ch 9 of St. John in my addition at least), I found him to be very admirable.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Lord of Pleiotropy

My wife and I were talking about missionary work and I said the phrase "He is the Lord of Pleiotropy!" and wanted to share it.

Pleiotropy is a genetics word, or my definition comes from there, meaning a gene that has multiple effects. For instance a gene could effect both the facial structure and mental capacity of an individual.

Anyway, in the context I was referring to with my wife I was making the argument that the purpose of missionary work wasn't just about helping investigators understand baptismal covenants and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is also important for the development of the missionaries themselves. We live in a difficult world and having the Gospel from your youth doesn't guarantee lifelong devotion to the covenants essential to endure to the end.

I think the title of "Lord of Pleiotropy" is more universal than just missionary work, our Heavenly Father seems to be able to manage a complex interaction of promises and purposes essential for His work. Another example is the scriptures. It seems every time I read them they were inspired for just that moment in my life.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Big Cats and Genetics

My family went to the zoo on Friday and saw the elusive snow leopard. Such a beautiful creature. My wife goes regularly and said the most she usually sees is a tail or spine. We got to see much more when I went, probably due to the late time of our visit. The leopardess looked pretty hungry or desperate to have her sick cubs:


Courtesy of my wife.

This morning I was reading the science page of The New York Times and came across an article about a different big cat, the cheetah. Dr. Stephen O'Brien, now of St. Petersburg State University in Russia and formally of the NIH National Cancer Institute, and some of his colleagues have figured out the genetic variant that changes the type of spotting pattern in different cheetahs:


The one on the right is called a king cheetah. This same gene, Taqpep, is also involved in tabby patterns of domestic cats. Overall pretty cool, and these types of discoveries are helpful in our understanding some questions in evolutionary genetics.

This gene is one of large effect. "Large effect" means that the genetic variant has a direct consequence on the appearance (phenotype). When people think of genetics this is usually the type of variation they are familiar with. Eye color (found in HERC2), hair color (red comes from MC1R), and others, but it turns out that most phenotypes are not derived from genetic variation of large effect, especially for ones of primary interest to us, such as diseases like obesity or autism. They call these latter type of traits complex phenotypes because they usually involve many genes of small effects.

Height is a good example of a complex trait because we know genetics contributes significantly to variation in height (nutrition is important as well). However, height is a composite of many different aspects of our bodies: the length of our necks, the length of our torso, the length of our femur, and so on. In other words height represents an amalgamation of genetics acting on multiple traits all with a much smaller effect. Only when taken together do we see the larger change.

I have been thinking a lot about the genetics of complex diseases/traits and how we may best understand them. I mention it here to introduce the topic, which I will hopefully talk more about soon.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spanish fresco restoration again

I wrote about the story of the lady in Spain who painted over the fresco of Christ. She over estimated her talent, well now she is requesting compensation for it which she will give to charity.

I'm really not sure what to think. She claims that since there has been increased tourist traffic to the Church to see her "restoration", she should be given a portion to do with as she wishes. My guess is that it is more of a mockery than anything. They are not going to admire artistry, but a person going beyond themselves and making light of a monkey depiction of the Savior. Not a fan if that is the case. Hopefully I am wrong.

Makes me want to double check where I think my own skills are. And if I should be as confident as I thought.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grateful

A grateful heart, then, comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort—at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude. --Pres. Thomas S. Monson (source)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Forgetfulness and Self-introspection

I am unsure why last week was so hard to blog. I just completely forgot with everything going on. I'm not sure it was particularly busy, though a lot did happen. I think mostly I fell out of the habit of looking for things.

I taught Elders Quorum yesterday and really enjoyed the discussion. One of my favorite quotes from Pres. George Albert Smith was:
A man once said to me—or remarked in a place where I happened to be—“Why, these people here seem to think I am full of the devil, but I am not.” And I said to him, “My brother, did you ever know anybody that was full of the devil and knew it?” That is one of the tricks of the devil: To get possession of you and keep you from knowing it. And that is one of our difficulties. (source)
I like how it strikes at a fundamental issue we all face. Nobody wants to look at themselves and think, I am wrong or bad. We think we are generally good and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Its that old adage about how we judge ourselves by different standards than we judge others. My new favorite example of this is Judge Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. He considers himself the ultimate example of piety, but we learn through his actions that he is the true monster of the story.

As a class we came up with some solutions to protect ourselves or at least fight against this tendency: self-introspection, humility as the main issue here is pride, and listening to friends we trust. I think these are all good ideas and I know I could do better at all of them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lorenso Snow for Next Year

So I was ordering some church materials and came across this link, to the Manual for Priesthood and Relief Society for next year. Pretty exciting!!

One cool quote with 10 minutes of perusal:
There is no necessity for Latter-day Saints to worry over the things of this world. They will all pass away. Our hearts should be set on things above; to strive after that perfection which was in Christ Jesus, who was perfectly obedient in all things unto the Father, and so obtained His great exaltation and became a pattern unto His brethren. Why should we fret and worry over these temporal things when our destiny is so grand and glorious? If we will cleave unto the Lord, keep His commandments, pattern after His perfections and reach out unto the eternal realities of His heavenly kingdom, all will be well with us and we shall triumph and obtain the victory in the end. (pg. 102)
Something I have been needing to remember lately.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Research Making a Difference


So my wife pointed out a cool article on a NY Times article describing the results of a research study looking at duration of CPR and outcomes. The main conclusion was that in some cases longer durations turned into better outcomes:

The findings challenge conventional medical thinking, which holds that prolonged resuscitation for hospitalized patients is usually futile because when patients do survive, they often suffer permanent neurological damage. To the contrary, the researchers found that patients who survived prolonged CPR and left the hospital fared as well as those who were quickly resuscitated. (emphasis added)
I do not do anything close to this kind of research, but things like this give me hope that as we move forward more and more people will benefit from the inspiration and revelation that comes through research. In this case a measurable and direct effect on the lives of ER patients. So very cool. For me it also gives impetus to do the research well so that others, albeit indirectly, can benefit in some small way.

Research needs to be thorough and measured. For example at the end of the article one of the main authors says:

You don’t want to be on the low end of this curve. Hospitals that are outliers should reassess what they’re doing and think about extending the duration of their CPR....There isn’t going to be a magic number. If you’re in there 10 to 15 minutes, you need to push higher, but as you get up higher and higher, you get to the point of very little return. - Dr. Stephen J. Green
His interpretation calls for change and reevaluation of previous assumptions, not the call for new ones. Conscientious change.

Update: I realized the connection to what I posted the previous day and have added a link.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hugh B. Brown on Academic Research

We should all be interested in academic research. We must go out on the research front and continue to explore the vast unknown. We should be in the forefront of learning in all fields, for revelation does not come only through the prophet of God nor only directly from heaven in visions or dreams. Revelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration. We must be unafraid to contend for what we are thinking and to combat error with truth in this divided and imperiled world, and we must do it with the unfaltering faith that God is still in his heaven even though all is not well with the world. - Hugh B. Brown "A Final Testimony," from Edwin B. Firmage, ed., The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown: An Abundant Life, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1988. (I took it, along with the reference info, from here)
Today was a busy day so I figured I could share one of my favorite quotes. Maybe I will be able to discuss it later.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Trials and Blessings of Having a Neurostimulator

At the outset I want to state that having a neurostimulator is an absolute miracle in my life. During fast and testimony meeting yesterday many were discussing the miracles in their lives and I didn’t get up to add my piece. My thoughts were tied too much with what I have been thinking for other blog posts and I didn’t think the pulpit the right medium for those thoughts.

There has been one challenge with it though; my muscles are so sore from “working out”. I am able to mask the neuropathic pain and almost any other sensation so well that I don’t know when I have over done it. So Saturday watching my kids alone for most of the day and doing some chores around the house significantly worked out muscles I haven’t used in awhile. Hopefully over time this will become less of a challenge as the muscles become stronger, and in the end it may be a further blessing, but right now I am just very sore.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Signs and Design

So the stars aligned this week as I was reading today’s Sunday School lesson (Hel. 6-12) and finishing up the biography of Asa Gray (who is my newest hero). The major theme of the lesson is the pride cycle, but as I pointed out earlier there is a significant reference to signs. Signs are interesting as it isn’t always the non-believers that are asking for them. Sometimes believers need them and refuse to believe any challenge or information that may conflict with those previously perceived signs.

The main story that spurred this thought comes from chapter 8: Nephi is calling his community to repentance, as they harbor a secret society, which gains power through murder and subterfuge. The judges who were members of said secret society didn’t like what he was saying so they incited some of the people against him

Finally, he states:
24 And now, seeing ye know these things and cannot deny them except ye shall lie, therefore in this ye have sinned, for ye have rejected all these things, notwithstanding so many evidences which ye have received; yea, even ye have received all things, both things in heaven, and all things which are in the earth, as a witness that they are true. 25 But behold, ye have rejected the truth, and rebelled against your holy God ...
He then further condemns them for harboring murderers and states: “27 Yea, behold it is now even at your doors…” and makes a prophesy about the murder of the chief judge. The people then select five people to confirm his statements They say they don’t believe Nephi, but will if what he says about the Chief Judge proves true. What he had said is true, converting the five and causing them to keel over. The corrupt judges though are unconvinced, saying that Nephi must be in league with whoever committed the murder. Nephi proves his innocence by telling the people how to get the true murderer to reveal himself. This vindicates him both as a prophet and as a non-murderer.

I realized on reading this story that signs figure heavily in our understanding of faith. In this case, signs convert the five who were sent, others believed Nephi’s words alone, and the judges refused to accept even with the evidence of the sign in hand. I think there is a fourth kind of individual out there, those that believe first, but enjoy/need/desire some confirmation of this faith through tangible signs and miracles. These groups are then comparable to atheists (judges, as they refuse to believe), agnostics (five men converted only by concrete evidence), and two groups of people of faith (those believing the words only and those needing signs after the fact).

In the biography of Asa Gray there is a chapter summarizing his attempts to argue for the reconciliation of evolution (at that time Darwinism) and religion. He first made an argument that God could use “beneficial lines of variation” which did not go over well among the agnostics including the main inner circle of Darwin and his supporters*. Gray abandons this line in later years calling it an incomplete metaphor for what he was really trying to say. I didn’t get his full argument clearly from the biography, but apparently Gray published a book called Darwiniana, which I am now interested in reading. In essence, Gray was attempting to save the design argument: nature can only be so beautiful, complex, and inexplicable because of a Designer. This was a consistent conversion tool as well as a buttress against non-believers. It could be used to tell the “five who ran” that if you want a test for the existence of God, look at nature and all that is around you.

For agnostics and atheists, evolutionary theory negated this argument, as biodiversity was not as mysterious. Gray’s philosophy was that “science is neutral” with respect to God (and faith), and a design argument could still be made with evolution. Ie God using natural selection to design species where we would see how advantageous the traits they possess are for their survival. This was still rejected by agnostics, as it is a weak argument**

As I said at the beginning, what I think is more telling is the response of the faith community. Some liked Gray’s attempts, but many did not like evolution primarily because it caused a challenge to the design argument. They felt frustrated with evolution because now non-believers could respond to the design argument with “yes, look all around you we can explain that with science.” The believers were not challenged in their faith, but wanted the sign as evidence and were/are reluctant to give up the argument as lost. Now the sign they saw before is more important than understanding more about the natural world, which we can get through methods like science.

So how do we reconcile evolution or science in general with scriptures (among my favorite) such as Moses 6:63:
63 And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
I think the key is to understand that nature testifies or gives witness of God and it is not given for logical argumentation. It requires a desire to believe. If one has the perspective of belief, you can see the hand of God in all that is around us. We can even learn more about the nature of God, His way of interacting with us, and how we can be more like Him. If one decides not to believe then it is hard to distinguish what exactly is the hand of God. Here is the main problem: there is no control as God created everything or viewed from an atheist perspective nothing***. I mean by this that no one aspect of nature can be contrasted with another to test if it was designed or not. It is all the same in this respect.

Just because something now falls into the preview of a scientific theory, meaning we have a reasonable idea of how it happened, does not take away the miracle of it. It still testifies of God when viewed through the lenses of faith. Some don’t like to accept this, requiring a miracle to be inexplicable. This philosophy makes me feel sad for all the miracles they miss everyday.



*As an aside, Darwin’s agnosticism was rooted in his difficulty with theodicy: how could an all-powerful, all-knowing being be benevolent AND let bad things happen. Something many today still struggle with.

**While I agree it is a weak argument I don’t think parsimony (elimination of extraneous complexity) is always reality and it is my belief that to see God in nature first requires faith, something that does not go well with argument, as it is by definition illogical. “...faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”.

*** I’m not a huge fan of strict dichotomies as they usually prove false, but in this case I am relying on scriptures: Colossians 1:16-17, among many others.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Judging Signs

So this week has been difficult keeping my goal as I have a lot going on at work. Exciting things, but a lot of work. I submitted one paper yesterday and am hoping to submit another one tomorrow. At this stage the papers are tedium, getting them into the correct format, a comma here or there, and filling out lots of information fields. Ugh. Hopefully I will have something more substantial this weekend. Till then I have been thinking about these scriptures in Helaman 9, which is part of this Sunday's Sunday School lesson:
2 [Five men sent to verify Nephi's words say] Behold, now we will know of a surety whether this man be a prophet and God hath commanded him to prophesy such marvelous things unto us. Behold, we do not believe that he hath; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet; nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.

...

18 And it came to pass that the five were liberated on the day of the burial. Nevertheless, they did rebuke the judges in the words which they had spoken against Nephi, and did contend with them one by one, insomuch that they did confound them.

19 Nevertheless, they caused that Nephi should be taken and bound and brought before the multitude, and they began to question him in divers ways that they might cross him, that they might accuse him to death—
Some were willing to accept a sign (the five men), others wanted to condemn Nephi anyways (the judges).


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pres. Monson's Temple Advice

This is a pretty neat and funny story from Pres. Monson about a year ago (the funniest part is in bold).  It reminds me of my own bishop's push for our ward to get to the temple.
Many years ago in the ward over which I presided as the bishop, there lived a couple who often had very serious, heated disagreements. I mean real disagreements. Each of the two was certain of his or her position. Neither one would yield to the other. When they weren’t arguing, they maintained what I would call an uneasy truce.

One morning at 2:00 a.m. I had a telephone call from the couple. They wanted to talk to me, and they wanted to talk right then. I dragged myself from bed, dressed, and went to their home. They sat on opposite sides of the room, not speaking to each other. The wife communicated with her husband by talking to me. He replied to her by talking to me. I thought, “How in the world are we going to get this couple together?”

I prayed for inspiration, and the thought came to me to ask them a question. I said, “How long has it been since you have been to the temple and witnessed a temple sealing?” They admitted it had been a very long time. They were otherwise worthy people who held temple recommends and who went to the temple and did ordinance work for others.

I said to them, “Will you come with me to the temple on Wednesday morning at 8:00? We will witness a sealing ceremony there.”

In unison they asked, “Whose ceremony?”

I responded, “I don’t know. It will be for whoever is getting married that morning.”


On the following Wednesday at the appointed hour, we met at the Salt Lake Temple. The three of us went into one of the beautiful sealing rooms, not knowing a soul in the room except Elder ElRay L. Christiansen, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, a General Authority position which existed at that time. Elder Christiansen was scheduled to perform a sealing ceremony for a bride and groom in that very room that morning. I am confident the bride and her family thought, “These must be friends of the groom” and that the groom’s family thought, “These must be friends of the bride.” My couple were seated on a little bench with about a full two feet (0.6 m) of space between them.

Elder Christiansen began by providing counsel to the couple who were being married, and he did so in a beautiful fashion. He mentioned how a husband should love his wife, how he should treat her with respect and courtesy, honoring her as the heart of the home. Then he talked to the bride about how she should honor her husband as the head of the home and be of support to him in every way.

I noticed that as Elder Christiansen spoke to the bride and the groom, my couple moved a little closer together. Soon they were seated right next to one another. What pleased me is that they had both moved at about the same rate. By the end of the ceremony, my couple were sitting as close to each other as though they were the newlyweds. Each was smiling.

We left the temple that day, and no one ever knew who we were or why we had come, but my friends were holding hands as they walked out the front door. Their differences had been set aside. I had not had to say one word. You see, they remembered their own wedding day and the covenants they had made in the house of God. They were committed to beginning again and trying harder this time around.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Elder Packer: Trusting in the Lord

I found this quote in my email draft folder:
"The scriptures say that it will be given at the very minute that portion which shall be meeted out to every man. Thats very comforting. There's not much fear involved. Once you know the Lord, and know the process of revelation, [and ah] he never fails to tell you what to do." - Pres. Packer
I found it a while back from a video, which I have since lost. So no source, but to add to its authenticity I even included my transcription of his under breath pause speaking :) It wasn't a general conference talk, but one of those News Cast videos on lds.org where he is speaking to a smaller group. I don't think it says anything controversial, but I don't like giving quotes without a source. If anyone can find it let me know: materialmiracles@gmail.com

I do like the sentiment. Pres. Packer is a strong leader and his faith comes across confidently here. All we have to do is trust the Lord and eventually (could be decades) any revelation, personal or otherwise, will make sense.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Traveling while disabled


The BBC's Frank Gardner recounted some of his experiences flying while in a wheelchair (source). I do not use a wheelchair, but when I fly I usually ask for assistance (a person pushing me in a wheelchair through the airport) as I cannot stand very long and the lines are brutal. So far I am happy to report that I have not had the difficulties he has, but I have had a few instances where things have been difficult.

My favorite thing is to compare the service between airports. Some have a professional, dedicated service providing the assistance, and others use the normal staff of the airlines. The best I have experienced is in Detroit. They apparently hire a bunch of college freshman (from multiple universities) to push you through at a quick speed. They knew where they needed to go and were efficient (though still checking their phones :).

JFK on the other hand was horrible. I had a connecting flight with a 6 hour layover and they still barely got me on the plane. They forgot about me from the get go and after multiple requests and 2hrs they finally came to help me.  They transported me to a different terminal where I waited a few more hours. Then about 1.5hrs before my departure they switched the gate of my plane, back to the terminal I had originally come from. Again, after more requests for help, they got me to the plane just before boarding was about to end. Not happy that day.

Over all the experience is great and I can attest to Gardner's statement of "almost VIP status". It is nice to board early and skip past security and customs lines. But I have only traveled to developed countries. I get nervous about how it would be to other parts of the globe.

My other big worry is that now I have a big metal device in my back that will set off sensors. This could seriously delay security checks which are already difficult standing without shoes on, a cane, and my trousers almost falling down. Now I will have to have a metal detector survey my whole body while I stand looking like a weirdo.  I'll let you know how it goes next time I travel.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Artist and his Friends

Painter's Honeymoon by Lord Frederic Leighton
An artist had a stroke of inspiration; he would start a new painting. He wanted three of his friends: a gallery owner, a curator, and an art lover, to enjoy the project from start to finish so he invited them over, but refused to describe his vision in advance.

As he started the gallery owner decided he only wanted to see the end product, so as not to spoil the surprise. The remaining two joined the artist in his studio and watched as he mixed the colors he would use. He tenderly dipped his brush and made stroke after stroke. Some sweeping, some intricate, all intentional to his conception. Finally, he ended and left the paint to dry.

After it was done, all three companions viewed the painting and the artist tentatively asked what they thought of the work. The gallery owner, who had not stayed, thought it was good and worthy of an honorable place in his gallery. The curator was disappointed. For him the process was more interesting and the final product uninspiring. But the art lover had enjoyed learning about the process the artist used and it helped him to understand the artist a little bit more. He was able to glimpse the intensity and care the painter had devoted to a masterpiece.



This was my first attempt, in a while, to write a symbolic story. I view it like writing poetry, but I’m doing it as a way to express myself more than because I think I’m any good. 

Here, the story centers on an artist who is a symbol for the great Creator. The three friends all represent different kinds of people in the world. Some who believe in the Creator and his art/miracles and some that don’t see the miracles. Many who don’t believe, think that since something can be explained it is less miraculous, less indicative of a Creator. Others believe that God’s miracles can or should never be explained, only possible by supernatural law. 

The gallery owner represents those who honor God, and marvel at his creation, but are uninterested or unwilling to understand how He made the world. They are quick to assume a supernatural intervention that “designed” the world and that if it is explained it cannot be termed a miracle. The curator represents those who are interested in how the world is created and how it works. Unfortunately they believe that once something is explained in removes the divinity of it. The art lover represents those who want to see how things were created and gains a greater understanding of God through that knowledge. They understand God through faith and science.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Do not run faster than you have strength: How fast is that?


The BBC recently reported that a locally valued fresco of the Savior was "restored" by an 80 year old woman with "good intentions", but apparently with less talent than she thought. The kicker is that the original painter's granddaughter had just donated money to have it professionally restored.

Speaking generally, I don't think this is unusual for us humans. It is so easy to overestimate our own abilities: think American Idol tryouts. It requires a constant self-reflection and people whom we can trust who are willing to give us an honest assessment.

I find this in myself quite often. I was recently called to teach in the Elder's Quorum. I really enjoy sharing comments in class, teaching, and speaking at church and other venues, but I have difficulty assessing my actual abilities. I ask people I trust for constructive criticism after class, but at church the culture is one of only stating uplifting compliments. I understand this. We want people to feel comfortable no matter what their best is. It is sometimes easy to see through by asking the follow up question: "So what did you like specifically?" or a similar derivative. Which is (sometimes) followed by a waffle.

With our talents, abilities, finances, and resources we are told not to "run faster than [we have] strength", but sometimes we can't know that without a friend telling us what we can improve. It's just got to be done with the right balance of support and insight.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Google Maps Ads

OK, I think these videos are way cool!! Talk about a good use of technology to 1) help your fellow man,


 and 2) learn about our past.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

19 August Weekend Summary

This week has been a very good one for me. I think the blogging has helped me organize my time better and focus my stray thoughts. This post is going to be a summary of what I have done in my first "real" week blogging. I know now that I need to keep up this pace for the first two months or so to solidify the writing as a habit, but that after that a less rigorous schedule will help me from posting more inane things.

The first post was the background to my goal of posting regularly.

The second post was a quote from a new hero of mine: Asa Gray.

The third post expressed my reaction to the killing in the Sikh temple, and how that translated into a family home evening for us.

The fourth post was a short summary of what has happened since my neurostimulator was put in.

The fifth post was a few quotes from David Lack on evolution, randomness, and belief in God.

I will continue to look for good things to post about. I think to keep the ideas floating I will find some cool quotes and discuss why I think they are cool. I also have some analogies I have promised, but have not felt up to doing them justice just yet. Don't expect too much (I'm not meaning to raise expectations because they will likely be mediocre), they will be new for me, though important to me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Biologos Requotes from David Lack

Today I'm requoting some statements from biologos.org:

Behind the criticism that Darwinism means that evolution is either random or rigidly determined lies the fear that evolution proceeds blindly, and not in accordance with a divine plan. This is another problem that really lies outside the terms of reference of biology. It is true that biologists have inferred that, because evolution occurs by natural selection, there is no divine plan; but they are being as illogical as those theologians whom they rightly criticize for inferring that, because there is a divine plan, evolution cannot be the result of natural selection. -David Lack (source)
And from the same source:

Mutations are random in relation to the needs of the animal, but natural selection is not. Selection, as the word implies, is the reverse of chance. -David Lack (source)
I am glad to find that someone could put this so succinctly. It is an important concept that is misunderstood by non-biologists and "obvious" to biologists. It is good he has bridged that gap.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How I recieved a Material Miracle.

I have chronic neuropathic pain. This means that my normal day consists of significant amounts of burning, stabbing, nauseating pain in my lower legs. Not fun. To help with this I am on a significant amount of medication, for someone my age. At least I think so; I'm not too knowledgeable of other peoples' medicinal regimens.

Anyway, over a month ago I had a neurostimulator put in to help with the pain. This is a device that puts an electrical pulse on my spine in a place where it causes noise for my brain thus masking the pain signals. It has a rechargeable battery that receives its charge through a conductive pad I place on my skin. The recovery from the surgery part, which left me in the hospital overnight, went really well and took about three weeks. At that point I was basically receiving no benefit and some discomfort as my back muscles knitted back together.

Two weeks ago, yesterday, I met with a rep to program the device, as there are multiple leads that focus the current on different parts of my spinal cord. He gave me a number of different variations and I have been testing them and their intensity.

I feel no pain. I have extended times where I am pain free. I have actually held my older son without pain. The first time ever and he is three. I am able to go back to work regularly rather than lay in bed in the fetal position. I actually have to take it slow sometimes as my muscles are out of condition, but I can walk more than 200 yards without feeling like I have to sit and stay sitting.

It does not always work 100% and sometimes when the pain is really strong I have to increase the intensity of the stimulator to compensate. This makes my legs stiff and sometimes I am unbalanced. But to know that 1) I can take control of my pain and 2) it is not from popping a pill that will take effect in the next 30-40 minutes and most likely carry significant side effects, makes me feel incredibly empowered.

I am grateful to a God who can inspire man to help me. Many times the Lord works through men and my body now consists of things both God and man created. I feel I have received a material miracle.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sikhism's Value

On Mondays, our family has weekly activities to give us an opportunity to teach our children the Gospel and other life lessons. We have young kids so the lessons tend to be very simple.

As a result of the shooting almost two weeks ago we had a lesson specifically on how everyone on earth is important and should be treated with love and kindness. We colored crowns to show that we are all important and that God loves and wants the best for us. He is equally the Creator of us all.

It struck me that this lesson was not inspired directly from my own faith, but by the memories of when I studied Sikhism in a comparative religions class. They have a richly symbolic and beautiful faith. A strong belief in and history of defending those that are less powerful. I think we can learn a lot from these people and we benefit by having them in our society.
All are created from the seed of God. There is the same clay in the whole world, the potter (God) makes many kinds of pots. -Guru Amar Das, Bhairo (source)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Asa Gray's Christian Calling

I am currently reading a biography of Asa Gray. I was turned on to it from a series of posts at biologos.org. The posts themselves are pretty good, but I have been more interested in who Dr. Gray was. Asa Gray was a professor of Botany at Harvard University and was a contemporary of Charles Darwin (and Emerson and Joseph Smith, some of my favorite people). Many consider him the first defender of Darwin’s Origin of Species in America. He was also an orthodox Presbyterian throughout his life and saw his science as truly important and not at odds with his faith. In fact neither really did Darwin, he just struggled for other reasons.

Many years earlier, when Gray first moved, theologically, from a more material rationalism to a more fervent orthodoxy he made the following statement about his Christian calling:
 Whenever I see clearly that my duty calls in any other direction I shall throw up science as a profession, if not without a sigh, yet without a moment’s hesitation. Meanwhile I feel that the labor of years would be wasted if I did not turn the knowledge I have acquired to the greatest account. (pg. 46 of the 1959 hard bound edition) 
That really resonated with me as I feel most people serve the Lord by being good at their profession and integrating their professional life with church life. By this I mean using those skills and influence obtained in the “secular” world to advance the cause of the gospel. Dr. Gray is a good example for this and I am really enjoying the 50 year old plus biography. I’m only part way through it and may return to themes I get from it. One is his example of living the Sabbath, important for this coming Sunday’s lesson.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A new future

So it has been a rough start for the blog. I have a goal to make it a habit of publishing regularly, the problem is I am afraid that regular, but not every day will make it difficult to establish a habit. In researching what it will take to establish a habit I thought first of the general statistic of 21 days. Apparently this was based off of completely unrelated issues (how quick an injured person could adjust to the loss of a limb). In 2009 some research showed that on average it takes 66 days, but depends on the task in question.

Well lucky for me I can combine the two :) I recently had spinal surgery and while I didn't loss a  limb I now have a neurostimulator with a remote that feels like a limb and I am slowly learning to rely (more on that soon). So hopefully somehow that will help me with my unrelated goal of blogging.

I think I was over-analyzing the blogging thing, I know now I needed to just relax, at least in my mind, lets see how well it translates to my emotions. As a result I think some of the posts will be sort thoughts (with bad spelling) and others will be more fleshed out ideas. Like a censored and sometimes extended journal. I do have a few analogies/parables I have been working on and hope to share shortly.

So here is day 1 of 66!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Elder Ballard on Consecration

“I urge you to make a commitment to yourself and to Heavenly Father to dedicate your life and consecrate your time and talents to the building up of the Church of Jesus Christ in anticipation of the Savior’s Second Coming,

“Let the motive of your thoughts and actions be to glorify God and to bless your fellowman. Let this desire inspire you to greet each new morning with enthusiasm. Let it fuel your thoughts and actions throughout each day. If you do this, you will be blessed in the midst of a world that is fast losing its way, and you and your loved ones will be secure and happy.”

Elder M. Russel Ballard, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. BYU-Idaho commencement (source)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Cost of Powerloss

Random story I thought was pretty funny. 

Yesterday at work the power blipped out, then went out for a few hours. When my lab was sitting around we started estimating how much the department lost because of the lack of power. Use of the sequencing machines to generate genome sequences (i.e. DNA) cost about $40K a run and we had more than ten running at the time of the blip. So, with those runs, the preparation of samples for redoing the sequencing, salaries for the lab workers to reproduce these preps., and anything else that may have been running it easily could be half a million dollars lost in about two seconds. The supercomputers, including my own work, also shut down, so when power turns back on I will see what the damage is for me.


The immediate response of most people was to run and check the -80ยบ C freezers. When they found out theirs were not connected to emergency power, they were moved around quickly like bumper cars. These are very large freezers and it was hilarious to see corridors fill with these bulky objects (see left, which is normally clear). Everyone was looking for a non-standard plugs, powered by emergency generators, as the temperature rapidly increased for the precious samples held within.

My own difficulty came with the elevators being shut down. I work on the third floor so my plan was to wait out the power outage to avoid the stairs. Within 15 minutes the weather turned from sunny with blue skies to a snow squall. I decided that I had to take my chances with the stairs. As a result I will be down and out for the next few days; Gotta love neuropathic pain. Anyway I am home and safe with my doctor prescribed narcotics.


I will update with a picture of the hallway in its normal state when I get back in.


UPDATE: Here is the hallway in its normal condition:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vainglory vs. the Glory of God


This week in Sunday School* I was reminded of an op-ed I read in The New York Times about the faith of a Jeremy Lin. I am not familiar with Lin, other than he has been in a lot of headlines recently. I don’t follow sports; I’m more of a nature documentary kind-a-guy. Anyway the thesis of the op-ed was that the ethos of sports was entirely incompatible with the ethos of religion. After thinking the article through we can really generalize his argument to the statement that the ethos of competition or accomplishment in the world is incompatible with the ethos of religion. He defines the ethos of sports as:
…oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions.
Or in one word it values the virtue of “courage” about all others, according to the article.

The religious ethos, according to the author is “about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God” with the primary virtue of “humility”.

He then concludes that success and glory must be incompatible with humility and submission. I disagree, though I understand the difficulty in integrating the two. My first gut response was to think of a recent General Conference talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “You Matter to Him”. Pres. Uchtdorf states:

“This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation – worlds without end – within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.”

Pres. Uchtdorf goes on to discuss two extremes in this paradox, believing we are everything (pride), and believing we are nothing to anyone, including God. This pride is equitable to the motivations ascribed to the op-ed’s ethos of sports. And in the religious ethos God awards glory only as a result of submission to God. But this paradox can turn the sports vs religion conflict on its head. We are less than the dust of the Earth according to scripture, but Heavenly Father wants to give us everything he has and give us a path to succeed at what we do, so we can be greater tools in his hand.

Returning to the original article, the author makes one big assumption that negates his conclusion. When he writes of seeking success and glory, he implies that the answer to the question ‘Why do we seek such success?” is selfish ambition as the only goal. However, an alternative response is that we are trying to glorify and love God with “all [our] mights, minds,and strength. It is the first great commandment. This is consistent with the author's definition of the ethos of sports i.e. “It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions”, so if it doesn’t really matter to the world why you seek accomplishments and glory then being motivated by service to our God is acceptable under that ethos.

In fact I would argue that the Lord does want us to become the best in our fields and that this is entirely useful to Him. One letter to the editor responded to the article by saying “Therein lies the tension: to strive for good things but not be consumed by them.”

One of my favorite examples of this can be found in the book “The Essential James E. Talmage” (obviously about Elder Talmage):
In late 1924 he was called to replace Elder David O. McKay as the head of the church’s European Mission…. Almost immediately he tried to visit with the editors of various newpapers to see if their anti-Mormon articles could be stopped. In one city he presented his calling card to a newspaper employee who gave it to his editor. At first the editor refused to see the Mormon apostle. But with the abbreviations F.R.S.E, F.R.M.S, F.R.G.S., representing the scientific societies of England of which he was a member, clearly visible, he could not be early ignored.
In this case the apostle was able to get an advantage in the cause of God by having accolades in the world of men. God wants us to do our best, and we do need to keep the focus on whom we are serving and why we are doing it. 


*After reading the scripture 2 Ne 27:19-23, and asking why Heavenly Father would chose an uneducated farm boy, the teacher followed up with the question (paraphrasing): "Does that mean the Lord only can use the uneducated and we shouldn't seek success?" We all answered in the negative.) 

Elder Nelson: Healer

This is a very cool story from lds.org:
Dr. Russell M. Nelson was in Manzanillo, Mexico, in February 1978, attending medical meetings with the group of doctors he had graduated with 30 years earlier. Suddenly, one of the doctors became seriously ill, suffering from massive internal bleeding in his stomach. Under normal circumstances, any of the physicians in the room could have treated him. But in a remote fishing village with no hospitals nearby, no planes that could fly at night, and no medical equipment, they realized they were helpless as they watched their colleague suffer. 
“All the combined knowledge and concern there could not be converted to action to help our friend as we saw his life ebbing before our eyes. We were powerless to stop his bleeding,” Elder Nelson said. 
The man asked for a blessing. Several of the doctors who held the Melchizedek Priesthood immediately responded, and Dr. Nelson acted as voice. “The Spirit dictated that the bleeding would stop and that the man would continue to live and return to his home and profession.” The man recovered and returned home. 
“Men can do very little of themselves to heal sick or broken bodies,” Elder Nelson said. 
“With an education they can do a little more; with advanced medical degrees and training, a little more yet can be done. The real power to heal, however, is a gift from God. He has deigned that some of that power may be harnessed via the authority of His priesthood to benefit and bless mankind when all man can do for himself may not be sufficient.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Zebras and Donkeys

There have been two articles that have really given me pause recently. The first one seems to be very popular on Facebook from the Washington Post. I have chosen not to read it, as it seems to be very hate filled. The other article seems a little less biased from Reuters, though in my opinion taping people without their knowledge, which is what it seems, is wrong. I will not say too much specific about the articles. One good response to the Post is found here.

My take on it is a bit different. Shouldn’t we expect these things to happen? I mean are we not told all the time that people will ridicule us for our beliefs? I am of course referring to Lehi’s dream. People will come to the tree of life (love of God; sacrifice of Jesus Christ) and some even partake of the fruit (gift of eternal life), but are later shamed and walk away (1 Ne 8:24-28). I personally have seen this happen with friends and family; it is one of the hardest parts of living the gospel. Some whom we love and trust will reject the gospel and some will go a step farther by turning, pointing, and mocking those that have remained. The great and spacious building is active in our time. We must never give up on loving them and doing our best to help them.

One issue I want to specifically address is the comment in the Post’s article that says Church leaders say: “to quit reading historical and scientific materials because they were ‘worse than pornography.’” That has not been my experience, which of course is anecdotal. I was once in a church meeting and speaking with a sister who started to berate someone as ignorant because they believed in evolution. She found it surprising when I said that not only do I study evolution I believe it to be true. Her response, “How are you a member of the Church?!”

I didn’t know what to say, and was a little surprised. It had only been a few years since I had left BYU, where I associated with many in the Department of Biology where evolution is taught, researched, and advocated. It bothered me, and as I was the Elders Quorum President (a local ministerial position in the Church) I had regular interviews with my Stake President (he is over about 6-9 congregations). I told him of my experience and during the initial interview; he supported me saying that I need not worry about those who question my church status because of my profession. Later he had some questions about evolution news items and during the course of this email conversation, he asked me to participate in a multistake youth conference and teach the youth ages 14-18 about “Evolution and the Church”. So not only had my Stake president been supportive, he wanted me to share what I knew with the youth. It turned into a very spiritual experience for me both as I prepared and shared my testimony of things important to me and I deem the event a success as some of the youth had been struggling with these issues and my talk was a help.
Ida

Further, an Area Authority Seventy (a member of the council that oversees many stakes) was in attendance at the conference and in my class. He was not only supportive of what I had to say; he had specific questions about the science. He wanted to know about the then current news of Ida, a primate fossil that may or may not be a part of human evolutionary history (I believe not, but that is a different story). It gave me a chance to teach a little phylogenetics of primates including how humans fit in.

When I have told others of this and other similar experiences, I have heard the response that the openness was a result of where I live, near universities. There may be some truth and I expect to have “run-ins”, just as I have had positive experiences. This expectation comes because I have already had unsympathetic interaction with some members. Since we are a lay, theologically untrained, organization we do not always see the connections between different beliefs. Some do not know what the church's position is on a myriad of topics, myself included. When confronted with this situation I have found that a principle of humility and love is essential.

I once worried I needed to "convert" those who question my faith because of my profession, but I now realize they are what I like to call zebras. Everything is black and white and since the important stuff, namely the gospel principles, and faith in following the prophet are usually in correct order for these people, I do not need to worry about their acceptance/rejection of the theory of evolution. It is something important to me, but I find most people do not think about it anywhere near as often as I do and in the grand scheme of things it is not that important to our salvation. If how God created the earth and all biodiversity were important to salvation it would be explicitly spelled out like the essential aspects of the gospel, namely the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, the atonement, and the importance of the temple (here is great video of the temple).

Many in the Church are not zebras. I for instance feel more like a donkey, grey all over with a white or black splotch here and there. Zebras are incredibly important because they can move forward and protect what is truly important in the gospel and testify unflinchingly about the truth God has given us. They can be a great source of strength, as we look to their testimonies to build our own. I think donkeys like me are also important as we can help other donkeys and even some zebras in their search for truth. Donkeys, as pack animals, have to work hard because we are constantly seeking, answering, or identifying things we don’t understand. Those that say questions are discouraged in the Church forget where the Doctrine and Covenants came from: answers to doctrinal questions. We should seek after constructive questions. That is how we learn.

The difficulty is not allowing an answer to a question become more important than living the “simple” aspects of the gospel. It can be difficult at times especially when people answer a long pondered question in a flippant way or state an answer like it is obvious. These types of response can come from zebras where the answer is black or white, with nothing unresolved. For me, three things help when dealing with question: 1) realize there are others out there who also have questions, maybe even the same question; 2) learn and keep reading, not fixating, but open to more information as it becomes available; and 3) remember that by being open to new information we will eventually receive answers to everything as the information becomes more pertinent to our development and once it becomes the next line/precept and not many steps ahead, which are usually what I want.

Likely we are all really a mixture of zebras and donkeys, depending on the topic. We need both zebras and donkeys in the Church and when we band together to serve our Heavenly Father all are strengthened as we resist the mocking sounds from the great and spacious building, to mix metaphors. 

We should probably not respond like real zebras, though they do get along with real donkeys:


Monday, January 30, 2012

When I get on an airplane …

When I get on an airplane I tend to talk to the people sitting next to me. I don’t know if this is odd, but the people tend to be open to it. Eventually during the course of the flight four topics tend to come up about myself: 1) my occupation, 2) my disability, 3) my family, and 4) my religion.

I am an evolutionary geneticist working on human genomics and have a PhD from Cambridge University. It was a great experience where I focused my studies on the molecular (DNA and proteins) evolution between species, specifically in primates and mammals. I have since built on that experience by doing a postdoctoral fellowship in population genetics (usually within a single species) of humans using high throughput (that means a lot) genomic data. The genome is all three million bases of DNA (genes, plus their context) in the cells of our bodies. This latter work is particularly rewarding as it has health and medical implications.

The second area tends to focus on my disability. I walk with a limp and have used a cane every day for the last few years. It usually comes up in conversation as I have skipped in front of even the 1st class passengers with priority boarding. My limp is a result of spina bifida occulta and a tethered spinal cord. If it sounds painful you are not mistaken. When people ask when I “came down” with it I usually say at birth, though technically it was before, but we didn’t notice till high school and then I had spinal surgery. I tend to respond, when in pain, with some humor or light heartedness to ease the tension I feel from those around me. I think it has been confusing for some of my doctors when I tell them, I cannot walk, but then laugh or make a joke.

I also tend to be bull-headed about the pain as it motivates me to work harder. A month after my surgery I was back running cross-country (without doctor approval), though I was never any good, as a limp tends to make you a bit slower. After my surgery the pain and leg strength were stable for quite a few years. Two years into my PhD it acted up significantly. Neuropathic pain is not fun: burning, stabbing, and electrical shock are not bad descriptions. As a result I had to work from home for the last year of my PhD. To facilitate this our family was blessed to have my sister-in-law live with us. Through the grace of God, my loving family’s support, and many blessings from the priesthood of God, I was able to finish in three years.

This is why my family also inevitably comes up when speaking with new people. I am a proud husband and father of three. I have a great family that provides no end of happiness to my life. I was odd in graduate school as I started with one child and had a second while still in school, and now as a postdoc we had a third. They really are the joy of my life.

The last area of my life, which inevitably follows from stating I have three children at such a “young” age, is that I am a Mormon (www.mormon.org). I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) all my life. But I am not a member because of others, I am a member because I have personal knowledge of my Heavenly Father as well as faith and trust in Him. I have had to rely on Him constantly, because of my personal trials and I feel a close connection to Him. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and do my best to live up to that commitment. I have decided to start this blog to that end. It is my hope that something I blog about will help others in their journey to return to live with God through the saving grace and atonement of Jesus Christ. It is only by Him that we can be saved and I feel it is my responsibility to make an active effort in helping God our Heavenly Father and His Son in their mission to redeem mankind (Moses 1:39).

I can’t do much, but I can bare witness to the miracles I see every day both in the natural world, as well as the workings of God in my life. I am a scientist so I am privileged enough to explore the hand of God in my occupation. I am also a mortal being with my share of physical trials, so I get to see how God can lift me up, comfort me, and give me the strength to do all things he commands of me (1 Ne 3:7; 17:50). My hope for this blog is that someone, somewhere will feel the testimony I try to convey, and come just a little bit closer to God.