Sunday, May 16, 2010

Confronting your personal demons

We all have our personal demons- addictions, self doubts, insecurities, and fears that depress, burden, and trouble us.  The negative self-talk of these demons is destructive.  Below I bring one of my demons out into the open, deal him a few jabs, and let him know there'll be more of that to come in the future.

I will entitle this the Authentic Intimacy Demon (Autin for short).  In sum, Autin claims that there is neither sense nor value to be found in my being authentic, which authenticity is prerequisite to meaningful emotional intimacy.  Autin bases his argument on the premise that one who seeks to embrace all truth can't banish him because he's made up of immutable truths.  He says that no one, including a potential spouse, would or can like me just for me.  How could she?  Why would she?  As a result of the realities of our world and our culture, potential spouses are married to valuing my performance rather than just me.  Do I listen to her?  Do I affirm her abundantly?  Am I romantically and sexually faithful to her?  Do I provide for the family?  Do I check the boxes in church that results in God protecting and unifying the family? Do I provide an example to the kids?  Am I sufficiently normal to avoid being an embarrassment in the community/public?  Am I a sufficiently managed risk to enable her otherwise impossible goal of bearing and mothering children optimally?  Am I a stable provider?  Do I meet her expectations and needs?  These are the questions she's concerned about- accepting me for me just isn't that important, and therefore will very likely always be trumped by priority concerns such as those just listed.  Thus, it is my performance in key areas that the potential spouse values/cares about rather than me.  If I cease performing, such priority disparity would quickly become apparent.  The conclusion is that the quirks, paradigms, cares, thoughts, insecurities, and uniquenesses that constitute a lot of my identity are largely irrelevant to a potential spouse.  If she could secure a higher performing model than me at the outset, she would certainly do so.   
   Similarly, friends often value the affirmation, help, and listening services I provide them.  Almost all of them would quickly forget about me were I to move or become quadriplegic (such that I couldn't act, speak, respond, work, or function).  Not that people are evil and calculating, but that they're shallow in a rational self-interested way and have needs that won't be met if they don't expend limited relational capital making and choosing friends with resources likely to benefit them such as affirmation, listening, fun, networking, and help when in trouble.  (see also my post about selfishness).  Autin calls this the "quadriplegic test" and he substantiates it by pointing out that even service provided with selfless intent benefits the giver.  Attending to children, for instance, is facilitated by neurochemically-based attraction to cute faces and an oxytocin-based reward for tending them.  Conformity to this biologically reinforced norm benefits everyone, since we all begin as children.  Thus, consciously or not, everyone is much too distracted by the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) question to care about the real you unless there's some way the real you directly benefits them. Almost everyone fails the quadriplegic test, according to Autin- thus my chances of someone accepting and valuing the real me are slim.
    Friends and potential spouses aren't the only ones who don't find much use for your authenticity.  In the workplace as well, it is more often expectation compliance that is valued than the individual.  Employers want performance: if they could get a cost-effective machine to replace the sum of your productive functions they would. 
    Often church leaders join the workplace, friends, and potential spouse crew of those who predominantly value performance.  Do you fulfill your calling?  Live the commandments enough to tick off yes's and no's appropriately in the temple interview?  Do you attend your meetings and home teach monthly?  I could care less about your feelings, happiness, misery, joys, etc.- my concern is that you do what you're supposed to and refrain from doing what you're supposed to avoid. 
   Lastly, God joins the bandwagon because He also wears the hat of justice enforcer.  His angels take scrupulous notes and there is some evidence that my body itself will also prove a witness against me at the judgment bar.  The universe is so arranged that all I ever do, think, and feel is perfectly recorded.  Even the light I've received (e.g. I know that I should reprove with sharpness and show an increase in love afterward- if I fail to do so, I'm guilty of breaching a known command- he who receives the greater light receives the greater condemnation) works against me.  The realities together result in the abundant ability to condemn me.  Even though God can accept me as a parent, His acceptance is not equivalent to my salvation.  Exaltation is at least partly performance based (not based just on God's grace), so there is a very literal loss if I fail to perform in correct ways and quantities.  God is not a come-as-you-are kind of lord.  A central message of the gospel is the need to repent - which is necessarily built on the fact that you aren't good enough as you are (else what need is there to repent?).  Your authentic self is dirty, sinful, undeveloped, inchoate, reprehensible, and reprobate in disposition, conduct, and constitution; only through your intense and persistent efforts, literally killing your authentic self (natural man), and the intervention of a deity on your sorry behalf is there any semblance of hope.  Why?  Because no unclean thing can dwell with God (Alma 11:37).  Even the easily offended Holy Ghost doesn't particularly like hanging out with you, bails at the slightest provocation, and to help him endure the sordid milieu of your tabernacle sanctifies you whenever he visits (picture an immaculate white South African lady-elite spraying lysol before she touches the doorknob or walks on the floor or sits on the chair during an unfortunate, obligatory visit to her native servant's filthy quarters).  Your authentic sincerity won't be enough unless you jump cleanly through the right hoops- "sincerely following false traditions prevents salvation." "sincerity is not enough for salvation: one must sincerely comply with God-given truth" (Bruce R. McConkie, quotes approximated, see Mormon Doctrine 2d ed. entries on "Sincerity" and "Truth".).  Even if your authentic self makes painstaking efforts to be righteous, you're probably too stupid to hit the mark and will likely be subsequently criticized and labeled a hypocrite by Jesus (e.g. the Pharisees, who despite the fastidious care they took to know and comply with God's commandments, which effort you'd think might earn you some righteousness points if anything would, ended up being categorically reviled and ridiculed to the present day by subsequent generations of followers of the condemning Christ, who first weighed their performance and found it wanting).

That's Autin's barrage.  Here are six counter-jabs:
1)   Yes, relational capital is scarce and most friendships follow the natural selection pattern you posit.  However, many people, including some of my friends, probably humanize rather than instrumentalize me.  Many women especially see me as a person and value me just as they do people they serve, e.g. through legal services, that have little or nothing to offer them. My friends Emily and Jana, for instance, would still love me if I turned into an incapacitate blob tomorrow.  Thus, not everyone fails your quadriplegic test.
2)  My mom loves and accepts the authentic me.  Sure, she appreciates if I walk in the truth and express my gratitude to her, but she has enlarged the parental virtue of acceptingness enough and knows my identity enough that she would also likely pass the quadriplegic test.
3)  Folks such as friends and a potential spouse can be BOTH self interested AND care about the real me-  especially when their needs are met.  There's no particularly reason that I can't acknowledge relational self-interest and still maintain the possibility of abundant emotional intimacy.
4)  There are personal benefits that come from accepting an authentic other, such as increased self-acceptance and "the joy of human love."  Thus, even if Autin succeeds in establishing that my performances are valued because of another's self-interest, emotional intimacy and accepting the real me could also benefit another.
5)  Arbinger Institute's Anatomy of Peace or Leadership and Self-Deception argues that independent of behavior (including rationally self-interested behavior), person A's orientation toward person B may either be in or out of the box.  Out of the box, person A's way of being toward B acknowledges the humanity/hopes/dreams/fears/insecurities/personhood of B.  For those who choose to be out of the box toward me, this way of being is similar if not equivalent to the authenticity acceptance Autin argues against. 
6)   God might adopt a virtue ethics approach, in which case He knows I need some less-observed space, and for the sake of eudaimonia will apply the atonement so as to "remember no more" my deleterious performance.  Plus, I'm an ignorant, weak mortal and literally can't run faster than my own strength on my own.  Thus, it is not the gap between my and perfect performance, but between my and a reasonable expectation of my performance commensurate to what I know and am capable of against which I am justly measured.  Given how hard I try and how weak I am mentally, rationally, and energetically, that gap probably isn't that big.  Plus, there is provision made for my poor performance perhaps in other ways through the Atonement.  Utilitarian and virtue ethics approaches would say I need to shed that burden anyway to progress rapidly, as accelerated advancement and ultimate achievement is more likely under the "I feel accepted/safe and therefore am not distracted from pursuing self-improvement by the need to protect myself from condemnation/punishment/harm" than the "avoid condemnation, my performance is always insufficient and likely to incur wrath, direct attempts to be perfect, fearful of failure" approach.
7)  John 3:17 For God asent not his Son into the world to bcondemn the world; but that the world through him might be csaved.  Samuel Medley, who wrote the text of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” in 1775, was born in Cheshunt, England, just north of London, in 1738. He practiced sinful and profane ways until his leg was wounded in a naval battle in 1759. The possibility of amputation led Samuel to pray, asking that he might keep his leg. The prayer was answered.  Check out these lyrics and weep, Autin-
I know that my redeemer lives
What comfort this sweet sentence gives
He lives! He lives who once was dead
He lives! my ever-living friend

He lives! To bless me with his love
He lives! To plead for me above
He lives! My hungry soul to feed
He lives! To bless in time of need

He lives! To grant me
He lives! To guide me with his light
He lives! To comfort me went faint
He lives! To hear my soul's complaint

He lives! To silence all my fears
He lives! To wipe away my tears
He lives! To calm my troubled heart
He lives! With blessings to impart

He lives, my kind, wise heav’nly friend; He lives and loves me to the end.
He lives, and while he lives I’ll sing; He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.
He lives and grants me daily breath; He lives, and I shall conquer death.
He lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there.

Merging LDS Theology and Organic Evolution

"I see no reason why Mormons cannot, fully and without apology, embrace Darwinian evolution." - Steven Peck

"What sort of God could, would, and did create the world through evolution?" - Wesley J. Wildman

When I was a freshman in High School, I wrote a bitter anti-evolution paper as a response to learning about organic evolution in Earth Science.  I was dead-set against the theory of organic evolution.

In college, I approached the subject with a renewed open mind.  I fasted, studied, prayed, and, not insignificantly, earned a degree in biology.  I extensively reviewed First Presidency statements relevant to organic evolution, heard BYU professors (notably Bill Bradshaw and Duane Jeffrey) lecture on the subject, and read some apostolic statements on the constellation of related matters.  I also read Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God, which is in the top five list of books I recommend to others. Dawkin's The Selfish Gene also proved influential. 

There are likely four value-adding results of merging organic evolution and LDS theology:
1) Explains why embodiment and physical access to the universe is so important
2) Answers the question of why such a cruel and wasteful process was chosen for creation
3) Contributes to solving the problem of evil
4)  Shows the grandeur, glory, and creativity of God

Below, using Steven Peck's Spring 2010 Dialogue article, A Step toward the Emergence of an LDS Theology Compatible with Organic Evolution, and insights from my quest for understanding this constellation of religioscientific issues, I illustrate some problems and resolutions for merging LDS theology and contemporary Darwinian thought. 

First, I clarify my use of the term "evolution."  I teacher assisted for a couple years for Bill Hess, a plant doctor who taught Biodiversity at BYU.  His definition of evolution: "genetic change through time."  I believe Darwin's was: "descent with modification."  Some define evolution as the idea that all life on Earth (including humans) derive from a common biological origin deep in prehistoric time.  I'll mostly use the meld of Bill and Darwin's definitions for the purposes of this post.

Second, I state my assumption for the sake of this post that the main tenets of organic evolutionary theory are likely true (i.e. natural selection provides a sufficient, non-designed explanation for the diversity of life, genetic mutations and variety exist, and selection pressures change the frequency of traits in populations, etc.).  Support of this assumption can notably be found in Miller's Finding Darwin's God and my personhood, God of the Gaps, and Epistemology posts. 

Third, I summarize and discuss some of Niels Gregerson's five responses to emergence
(1) f lat religious naturalism,
(2) evolving theistic naturalism
(3) atemporal theism,
(4) temporal theism,
(5) eschatological theism.

(1) f lat religious naturalism- the whole spiritual, non-detectable by current human means portion of the world does not exist.  Peck describes the main ontological (study of existence/being) wrinkle thus:  "A difficulty that will make this project of bringing together
evolution and LDS theology tough slogging is that, within LDS
thinking, what we mean by a “physical universe” is often muddled.
Mormonism displays a kind of expansive physicalism suggesting
that the universe in toto is a farrago of matter of one kind or another
(D&C 131:7), that part of it (“spirit matter”) remains undetectable
by our perceptual apparatuses and instrumentation,
while we have phenomenological or manipulative access only to
the less “fine” or less “pure” part. This materiality includes Gods,
spirits, intelligences, etc., and may exist in extra-spatial and/or
temporal dimensions but does, presumably, still follow laws of
some kind. All matter is subject to God’s manipulation, thanks to
His greater knowledge and inf luence. This theological description
imposes a kind of dualism in which some aspects of the universe
are available to us and others are not. Lacking reliable
epistemic access to the “spirit matter” part of this world, it must
remain outside our scientific theories and practices, even though
it may play a role in a deeper physical reality."  If man can't observe a thing, that thing existeth not.  This view may be compatible with LDS theology since we believe we will eventually have the power to detect and observe spirit matter. 

 (2) evolving theistic naturalism- God emerged from the natural world.  He's nothing more than an outgrowth of nature itself.  This response doesn't seem very likely if God predated the universe.  Then again, one presumes He must have come from somewhere, so the emergence of God in a primal sense isn't wholly unreasonable.

(3) atemporal theism- God's omni- potent, niscient, and present, and created the universe and its laws, which he manipulated to make amenable to human life.  God's transcendent and kind of "outside" time.  It's not exactly clear how compatible this theism, and specifically its time-banishing element, is consistent with Mormonism.  Interesting tangential concepts- gnosticism, stoicism, and Plotinusian thought
(4) temporal theism- God has a core identity, but influences and is influenced by temporal changes.  He's smart enough to predict all logical possibilities, but these alternate potentials don't all come to pass in actual futures, as the actions of free agents and fundamental particles affect what comes to pass. 
(5) eschatological theism- I found this one to be the most interesting.  Under this construct emergent features in the world (such as people or consciousness) don't result solely from a Godless past.  Rather, new futures often hinge on small events that end up being major turning points.  God pulls the future into the actual present by influencing small turning points in history.  This construct asserts a unidirectional eschatology where the past can be understood only in retrospect, and even a thorough understanding of the present can't be explained merely by analyzing the potentialities in past matter.  I don't really grasp how this process works out yet.  See also mitichlorian-esque panentheism and pantheism.

So I've touched briefly on Grergeson's five responses.  Now, fourth, I'll flesh out a few less-organized concepts, then finally conclude.

There's a tension between the purposeless progress and process of evolution and the presumed teleology (the study of aim/purpose) of God, e.g. to bring about man's immortality and eternal life.  The scriptures indicate a high degree of premeditation and planning in the creation and man's role therein- the "creative destruction" of evolution doesn't much seem to plan.  Life on earth has been and continues to be brutal and seemingly wasteful teleologically.  

In 1911, some scholars were dismissed at BYU for promoting evolution and modern biblical criticism.  I smile because I've heard both on campus by BYU professors- so this debate isn't new.  See some of Margaret Barker's books for the biblical criticism.

Natural evil-  Perhaps theodicy justifies the use of evolution because there aren't better alternatives- the end of man requires that cruel path.  Then again, "Through millions of years, billions of animals experience vast amounts of pain, supposedly so that, after an enormous number of extinctions of entire species, on the tip of one twig of the evolutionary tree, there may emerge a species with the special properties that make us able to worship the Creator."

Perhaps the agency exercised by each of us and Adam and Eve in possessing a temporal body (the Fall) explains the existence of evil.  In any case, I think the problem of evil and suffering is a signifant one.

Design- Did God design His body? God seems to work within natural law.  Does He manipulate natural law?  Probably not. If God works within natural law and natural law includes evolution through natural selection, the it would be a bad plan to divorce oneself from the natural selection framework.  Thus, understanding evolution is potentially helpful and maybe even necessary in order to understand God. 
I also think the idea that limited adaptive spaces makes humans or something like them, if not inevitable, more than nominally likely to result from natural selection in an earth or earth-like environment.  Miller advocates this possibility in Only a Theory; Simon Conway Morris makes some more sophisticated arguments about its likelihood.

Embodiment- "The bodies of flesh and bone with which I am familiar do not shine, have blood, cannot hover, can be wounded and die, must move
through contiguous points of time-space. In short, they are not at all
like the bodies of the Father and the Son. So what does it mean to say
that the Father and the Son have bodies? In fact, does it mean anything
at all? ...
One could also legitimately ask: Is God a Homo sapiens? Is God
a mammal? Scientists have speculated on what a bipedal hominid
evolved from avian precursors might look like. Would it have leftover
structures like a pygostyle (a reduced fusion of vertebrae) instead
of a tail? Slime molds can take very complex shapes in some
of their life history stages. Can we imagine a human body that
evolved from slime molds on another planet? It seems that many
of our human features are part and parcel of our being mammals.
Could being a mammal be a contingent feature of our evolution
rather than an eternal part of our resurrected bodies?"   Interesting quote.

Teleology- One of the most provoking quotes in Peck's article: "Nevertheless, if we embrace an evolutionary perspective, the idea
of God’s intervention, petitionary prayer, and divine action to
bring about His purposes become thorny issues. A nice thing about
the magical view of creation is that it is no problem at all to imagine God intervening in the world.Why use evolution through natural
selection in a non-teleological fashion if waving a magic wand
was possible? In fact, if God can and sometimes does intervene,
then why doesn’t He do it all the time?Why didn’t He do it during
the Creation? This question opens an intriguing possibility: the
necessary place of consciousness in divine interventions."  This seems consistent with "The Lord worketh not among the children of Men save according to their faith." The implications are profound and support a case for urgency in persuading people to work out their own salvation in fear and trembling. 

Also, "So there seems to be something deeply important about physicality
and spirit coming together. Could it be that the physical
world can be manipulated only through consciousness-mediated
direct action? Or through this kind of body that unites spirit and
physical matter? When I read the scriptures, I see a God who makes
arrangements for irreplaceable records to be kept, preserved, and
maintained through conscious effort. He implies that, if they are
not, this knowledge will be lost and not brought back through His
intervention. I see the Lamanites languishing in unbelief until the
sons of Mosiah are inspired to go among them. Angels bear messages
to other consciousnesses but do not seem to manipulate the
world in interventionist ways. Almost all of the scriptures can be reinterpreted
as acts of consciousness acting in the world... much of how God works in the world seems to be that He communicates
to and through conscious beings who then use their agency
to act. Stories of people inspired to stop and help a widow take on
new meaning if God cannot help the widow without us."

An early 20th century First Presidency statement: "even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God." Joseph F. Smith John R. Winder Anthon H. Lund First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints November 1909.  Perhaps a Darwinian selection process requiring trial and proving are necessary to produce exaltation candidates.  Out of all the intelligences out there, perhaps natural selection drives their emergence as Gods.  Those intelligences or spirits certainly have the variability required (1. BD War in Heaven- every degree of devotion to the Father and Son among them, 2. many of the noble and great ones [thus not all were noble and great], 3. likely diversity in righteousness and obedience).  We inherit traits from God- thus the heritability requirement.  Obedience and righteousness is selected for by eternal reward and exaltation, thus the third requirement for natural selection (i.e. variability, heritability, and selection).  Even the quasi-requirement of abundant time is met (ages and aeons). 

Peck: "To me, evolution is an empowering idea. Linking it to our theology
provides answers to several perplexing questions. It suggests
that there is something wonderfully important about embodiment
and why physical access to the universe is so important. Our doctrines,
informed by evolution, answer questions about why such a
cruel and wasteful process was chosen for creation and resituate
the problem of evil. I find easy adaptations to our most important
and profound doctrines. I see no reason why Mormons cannot,
fully and without apology, embrace Darwinian evolution. As Darwin
concluded his magnificent On the Origin of Species: “There is
grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been
originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst
this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity,
from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and
most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.65"

Conclusion: The three fold take-home message of this post is 1) to read Miller's book (Finding Darwin's God or Only a Theory) for persuasive arguments about contemporary evolutionary theory, 2) I'm personally persuaded that most of the main tenets of contemporary organic evolutionary theory are reasonable and mostly compatible with LDS theology, and 3) there may be a lot gained by marrying LDS theology and Darwinian evolutionary theory, especially if both are mostly true and all truth can be circumscribed in one great whole.

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