As I’ve been sprucing up my blog, I went back to my first posts on this site in 2013, as well as posts I’ve kept from my original writing blog which I began in December of 2011. Like returning to an old journal, it’s wonderful in many ways to see how my opinions, knowledge, and experiences have changed over time. I love reading things like, “While I like a little bit of creepy, I’m honestly not a big horror story fan and I don’t see this as developing into a major trend for me,” or, “I don’t know that reviewing books is going to become a regular thing for me,” while basking in the glorious irony of those predictions. Unlike reading a journal, however, a part of me cringes in wary anticipation at what I might best describe as my lack of perfectness.
Story time. One Sunday a month, LDS church members fast for two consecutive meals, and the pulpit is left open for anyone in the congregation to come up and share their testimonies of the Gospel during the typical sacrament meeting block. For much of my life, I’ve wondered how so many people seem comfortable sharing something so personal as their testimonies to anyone and everyone within listening range of the microphone. Some people share simple affirmations of belief. Others share experiences where they’ve seen the Lord’s hand in their lives. I participate in publicly sharing my Gospel testimony in this way from time to time (though not often, because I still find it a bit intimidating). I’ve also gleaned a lot of wisdom, empathy, and spiritual strength from others who were brave enough to walk up and share the things that were in their hearts, having absolutely no idea where they were going with this or that thought. As testimony-sharing is typically spontaneous rather than a prepared talk, every once in a while someone will share a story or a thought that feels awkward, perhaps striking more at emotions or personal agendas than spiritually uplifting insights.
One thing I find challenging about blogging is sharing my thoughts in a public space. Both in writing panels and on the internet, I’ve said my share of weird things I wish I’d either been able to explain better in the moment or not expressed at all. Heck, I’ve said some weird things while teaching sundayschool lessons, too. Personal thoughts and experiences can be valuable, both to encourage others, and in the odd chance it might give someone insight or validation. It can also be awkward trying to dissect or explain something for the first time that is both important to you and that, in some ways, you really know nothing about yet.
I have a rather grand fear, you see, of trying to discuss things that are interesting and important to me, but that I don’t yet know how to explain beyond the best of my present abilities. Sharing thoughts in a public forum isn’t like sharing thoughts in a personal journal. The things we say out loud, so to speak, have an instant impact on other people. They can hurt, confuse, or mislead. They can stir up contention. They can expose our weaknesses or ignorance. They can also be rejected or ridiculed. Some people may take the things we say so seriously that they feel betrayed when we later change our minds. Sometimes, as our opinions evolve, we can even feel awkward that we ever thought this or that fairly benign detail was the way things worked. Sharing our thoughts out loud is, therefore, a risk.
Finding the most clear and effective way to express what we mean the way we mean it takes practice. This entails making mistakes, sometimes lots of mistakes; growing a thick skin; and, occasionally, amending that weird thing we said or wrote the way we would any manuscript in progress. People aren’t typically born to an opinion, expression, or skill that doesn’t seem to transform over time.
It occurs to me, then, that I’ll never arrive at a completely fixed, definitive view on things like being LDS and writing horror, or plotting vs. discovery writing. My views on life, culture, and the writing process will be re-written again and again. Comprehending this continual shifting of mentality makes the prospect of blogging about it a little less intimidating, I think, because I’m pretty sure I’ll keep growing into and out of much awkwardness until the day I die.
Looking ahead, I’d like to say I don’t know that I’ll be blogging a lot more than two-to-six times a month, or that I’ll ever stop burying my “crazy bold” posts under lots of benign book reviews and announcements about my next horror story WIP as quickly as possible. But I do hope I look back on this post one day with a rather amused expression and chuckle at how beautifully things have changed.
I’m excited to join the blog tour today for Sigil of the Wyrm by A. J. Campbell. I have an awesome story trailer to share, as well as the scoop on the author and her new book, which came out brand new yesterday through Xchyler Publishing. Finally, I’ll share my highlights from the story in a review.
Be sure to check out the Rafflecopter giveaway and the other great stops on the tour at the end of the post!
In A. J. Capbell’s Sigil of The Wyrm, a young man named Richard Lampton is given a mysterious ring at his uncle’s funeral. From there he is plunged into a magical world hidden among our own, and confronts a generational curse in which a mysterious sea serpent hunts the next hero in the family line to challenge it.
This urban fantasy is full of mystery and monster-hunting fun. My favorite part of the adventure was the diary Richard’s ancestors kept about their encounters with the Wyrm, particularly the dissections one ancestor did to try and understand the anatomy as well as the magical nature of the creature that just won’t go away. Richard’s family was full of curious, magic-wielding personalities. I also loved his little jackdaw companion “Bobble,” who’s own personality was entertaining. Fantasy readers will enjoy the escape.
You can conjure up the Wyrm and its cursed sigil here on Amazon: http://bit.ly/SIGILonAMZ
Book Release Blog Tour August 29 – September 5
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This is a fabulous book, an excellent reference that explains why evolution is a scientific concept and Creationism/Intelligent Design is not.
I found this book particularly helpful in deconstructing the concerns and fears of those who reject evolution, where those fears are coming from, and how offering scientific evidence can sometimes fail to persuade given the context of those fears. As this book discusses, while very few scientists in the world today are pressured to “prove” the existence of the atom or the theory of gravity and reconcile these things with spiritual beliefs, evolution is a different story. Coyne suggests this is because nothing is more personal for us than discussing humanity’s biological (and any other) origins.
I have many thoughts and find it worthwhile to describe how evolution fits in with my own religious beliefs while also touching on the science in this book.
I am a deeply religious person myself, a Mormon, and I’ve always found evolution to be a fascinating, beautiful, and even spiritually enlightening concept as I often feel about many secular subjects that I study. There is something so profound to me in the idea of being physically connected to every other living thing and even to non-living things (“The dust of the [Earth],” if you will). To seeing the Earth and all life thereon as deeply old. That my body looks and functions the way it does because it has a long and intricate history, one shared and echoed in the bodies and personalities of other organisms. The mechanisms by which anything may pass on its physical and behavioral traits to the next generation are so pivotal to the survival, growth, and propagation of perishable life on this planet that even the tiniest, “slimiest” little amoeba has a body and a legacy of reproductive inheritance (a thing Lucifer is never going to take part in, according to LDS theology). To me, I can’t look at the world through an evolutionary lens and not also feel a profound sense of God’s love for His Earth and His children.
It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I discovered others of my own faith struggle to reconcile the concept of evolution with our beliefs. The challenge with presenting the evidence of evolution as a mechanism by which biological life on earth propagates and populations change over time is that many who reject evolution are not actually concerned about whether the science is sound. Rather, the concern is whether their belief in God, or, perhaps more palpably, their sense of human dignity or decency, or even identity, will erode if they accept evolution as true.
Coyne, the author of this book, is, from what I understand, an Atheist, who holds a personal view that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. While I obviously hold a different point of view, this book comes from an honest place according to this author’s beliefs. He criticizes “seeing” God’s hand in natural processes, specifically to demonstrate that a particular idea called “Special Creation,” which purports specific tenets about how life on earth came to be, is incompatible with the evidence we actually see and can measure in nature.
Special Creation claims that life appeared in all its distinct forms as we presently know them under the influence of processes operating outside of natural laws, that these forms have not changed since their inception, that the earth came about in precisely six twenty-four hour days by strict interpretation of the account in Genesis, and that the complexity of living things could not have been derived from simpler forms. Much of Special Creation derives its view from ancient Greek philosophies that became incorporated into early Christian dogma–though that point isn’t discussed so much in this book.
In order for an explanation to be considered scientific, it must be measurable, experimentally reproducible or observationally evident, and hypothetically disprovable given certain other conditions are met instead. A “theory” in scientific terminology is something that has failed to be disproven on account of a large body of observational and experimental evidence. Like writing out a mathematical proof to show that the number zero exists, saying that God’s power is behind natural processes is, in my opinion, not incorrect, but it is an explanation that, by itself, is not going to demonstrate understanding or help us harness the mechanics of those processes.
I also find that Special Creation, according to the tenets mentioned above as well as other tenets associated with this term, conflicts with my beliefs as a Mormon about the nature of God, the meaning of truth, and the operations of the Creation. Mormons do not believe in Creatio Ex Nihilo (that God created the Earth out of nothing), but rather organized the Earth using material that already existed (Abraham 3: 24), and that even the spirits of living things like ourselves are organized matter (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8, Doctrine and Covenants 93:29). We also believe that God is subject to natural laws. For example, miracles “should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power. Some lower law was in each case superseded by the action of a higher” (LDS Bible Dictionary: Miracles). And, rather conspicuously, we believe truth can be found other places besides the Bible alone.
A lot of scriptural language is also symbolic, pertaining to spiritual and virtue-based concepts rather than being mechanical or quantitative descriptions. For example, we have an account of the Creation which substitutes “time” for “day” (Abraham 4:13), and consider that a “day” as written could be symbolic or poetic terminology for different spans or phases in the Creation rather than a literal 24-hour day (there isn’t hard LDS doctrine specifying what a “day” means here either way, except that man’s reckoning and God’s reckoning of time are not always in the same terms).
Elder Russel M. Nelson, an LDS General Authority, recently dedicated a new science building on BYU campus. In his remarks, he gave this wonderful statement about truth:
“This University is committed to search for truth, and teach the truth. All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible. All truth is part of the everlasting gospel. There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both.”
From a religious perspective, I feel comfortable in an idea that my body and my spirit have different origins. The idea that being physically descended from “lesser life forms” is somehow repulsive, and an excuse to be immoral, is counterintuitive to me because of how I see evolution. But it is something that people feel and people fear when they think of this topic. A solid understanding of the science of evolution should not feel degrading. It should be another tool, like other knowledge, like our intuition and common sense, like our beliefs and traditions we’ve inherited, and like the technology we have available in the times in which we live. Something we can use to rise above and overcome all kinds of physical, emotional, environmental, and even moral weaknesses inherent to who and what we are.
A man named Dr. John Hawks, who’s Great Course lecture series I listened to recently (called The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates), suggested that culture and medical technology–human choice–is potentially the biggest evolutionary force on human populations today. I think that’s a powerful statement, one that evokes a deep sense of control as well as responsibility for the environments we tame, for the resources we use and share, and toward ourselves and our fellow men. We possess amazing powers of foresight, social collaboration, cognition, and ingenuity that allow us to learn from the ways of people who have come before us and make conscientious decisions that lead the way for those who come after. The choices we make now have multi-generational consequences on our own species. Our ability to comprehend and prepare for the future is, I think, a big part of what makes us humans moral creatures. Here, the context of evolution can bolster our appreciation for the rich physical and cultural varieties we perceive in our species, while at the same time bringing the experiences of the human condition we all share in common into sharper focus. All because the “lowly” amoeba, or the moth, or the extinct Neanderthal might also share something in common with our functions. With experimentation and observation, we can discover more about ourselves and gain stronger control over our own destinies than we would have been able to if the earth were barren of all life but our own.
What I love about Why Evolution is True is that it nicely packages many areas of research that confirm biological/Neo-Darwinian evolution: population genetics, the abundant and consistent patterns of the fossil record, paleobiogeography, comparative anatomy, vestigial anatomy, molecular biology, behavioral psychology, and so on. Not only is evolution a real mechanism of nature that is acting on living populations, including our own, right now, the knowledge we gain from it has the power to deepen rather than diminish our understanding of what it means to be human. This book is an excellent resource for discussing the vast scientific evidence that evolution is a fact, and in articulating and addressing common concerns people have with the subject.
To finish up my thoughts, here is a video of Steven L. Peck, Professor of Biology at Brigham Young University and author of A Short Stay in Hell, discussing why evolution and LDS thought in particular are fully compatible: