Monday, November 28, 2005

Hanks on Forgiveness

Some quotes take a little more time to parse. This quote was shared with me by a friend and I found it difficult to understand at first reading. But I think it was worth the effort, small as it was. The quote comes from Marion D. Hanks. Elder Hanks is actually quoting some unnamed source. The subject is the love of Christ that yields forgiveness.
Someone has written: “… the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew him, that for us he lived in vain. It means that he suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that he inspired nothing in all our lives, that we were not once near enough to him to be seized with the spell of his compassion for the world.”

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bisquick lessons

Julie at T&S posted a link to an insightful comment by Sarah.

I seriously need better RSS software for tracking conversations at multiple websites. I read a thread and all the comments that are there when I read it, but I rarely go back and read any further comments. There is no easy way to track which comment you left off with, which is why I don't go back. I don't want to reread comments to find out what I haven't read. (sigh)

Anyway, I really appreciate Sarah's comment and I'm glad it was pointed out or I never would have found it. The moral of the story (of the comment): Don't feed your students Bisquick. Use the Bisquick to make something worth eating.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The scaffolding of science

Many thanks to Jared at Mormons and Evolution for posting a really old letter from Joseph F. Smith. (ht Dave@BCC) The letter explained why certain BYU professors in 1911 had been asked to stop teaching certain scientific principles deemed to be out of harmony with revealed doctrine.

Smith explained the situation:
...three of the professors advanced certain theories on evolution as applied to the origin of man, and certain opinions on "higher criticism," as conclusive and demonstrated truths. This was done although it is well known that evolution and the "higher criticism"—though perhaps containing many truths—are in conflict on some matters with the scriptures, including some modern revelation.

As I read through the letter, I wondered what the professors were teaching. I wondered how sure they were of their scientific facts. My wife points out that plate tectonics were unknown in geology at the time, though they are now a foundational principle for geologists. If I remember correctly, the belief at that time was that the continents were moving by simply plowing across the ocean floor for no known reason--a theory called continental drift.

I thought it might be fun to get the biology textbooks that were being used to teach "fact" in 1911 and show how much of that knowledge had since been discredited. In contrast, we still use essentially the same set of scriptures today as we did in 1911. While I disagree with President Smith in some of the particulars of his view on evolution, I think he is making a persuasive case that religious knowledge must supersede scientific knowledge.

He concluded his statement as follows:
What men use today as a scaffolding for scientific purposes from which to reach out into the unknown for truth, may be torn down tomorrow, having served its purpose; but faith is an eternal principle through which the humble believer may secure everlasting solace.

As soon as I read those words, I had to abandon the idea of digging up old biology books and making fun of the science to show how unsteady our scientific knowledge is. Instead, I am forced to acknowledge the utility of the "scaffolding" and I love the fact that Smith acknowledged that men may use the scaffolding to "reach out into the unknown for truth." Truth.

Would we have ever arrived at our knowledge of plate tectonics if we hadn't first entertained the now-disproved notion of continental drift? Elements of truth were found in the theory of continental drift. Many bits of evidence were identified and marshaled for defense of the theory. Those same bits of evidence now work to "prove" the validity of plate tectonics. Each iteration of scientific theory must learn the lessons from the past and find new answers that better harmonize the best available evidence.

Scaffolding. That is the term I will take home from reading the letter. Scientists need not cling to current knowledge with dogmatism. To do so would be folly because scientific knowledge is always being modified. But neither should they (or we) ignore current evidence. Each scientific theory may not be perfect, but it can be a necessary step toward discovering "the truth."

If Smith turns out to be right and evolution played no role in the origin of our physical bodies, it will not invalidate the knowledge that was gained while climbing upon the scaffolding of evolution. Thanks for the reminder, President Smith.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Myth of the Good Divorce

Today's Deseret News deconstructs the concept of the "good divorce." In an article by Elizabeth Marquardt of the Washington Post, we learn:

We found that children of so-called "good" divorces often do worse even than children of unhappy low-conflict marriages — they say more often, for example, that family life was stressful and that they had to grow up too soon; and they are more likely to divorce themselves — and that they do much worse than children raised in happy marriages. In a finding that shatters the myth of the "good" divorce, they told us that divorce sowed lasting inner conflict in their lives even when their parents did not fight. No matter how "good" their parents were at it, the children of divorce were travelers between two very different worlds, negotiating often vastly different rules and roles.
Although only one-fifth told us that their parents had "a lot" of conflict after splitting up, the children of divorce said, over and over, that the breakup itself made their parents' worlds seem locked in lasting conflict. Two-thirds said their parents seemed like polar opposites in the years following the divorce, compared to just one-third of young adults with married parents. Close to half said that after the divorce they felt like a different person with each of their parents — something only a quarter of children from intact families said. Half said their divorced parents' versions of truth were different, compared to just a fifth of those with married parents. More than twice as many children of divorce as children of intact families say that after the divorce they were asked to keep important secrets — and many more felt the need to do so, even when their parents did not ask them to.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Scripture Power

Next year's Primary theme is about scriptures--the song "Scripture Power" is even in the 2006 Primary Program. I was thinking about scriptures and Primary in a stake Primary meeting on Sunday. The subject of the meeting was broader, and we had moved on to other subjects, but I found myself evaluating the way I use the scriptures in my teaching. I wasn't really happy with what I found.

I remember in CTR B or Valiant A or some such that my teacher made a big deal of bringing our scriptures. She even made a chart and we put a sticker on it every time we brought them to class. I remember that Nathan Stastney and I tied for the most scriptures, and Sister Barney took both of us to the movies (101 Dalmations) and for ice cream after (Swenson's in the mall). And ever since then (until recently!) I have taken my scriptures to church and even tried to use them there.

I have totally slacked off. I bet I haven't taken my scriptures to church since July. How scandalous! I have reasoned that I can't look up scriptures during sacrament meeting, because of grasping little fingers. I don't use them during the second and third hours of church because I'm usually in and out of classrooms or nursery--unless I'm doing sharing time. And even then when I need kids to read scriptures during sharing time, I print out the needed scriptures and give the pieces of paper to the children. Even when I was teaching Sunday School with Brad, I would print out the lesson's scriptures, because I didn't expect the students to bring their scriptures.

What's wrong with this? Well, nothing, in that it isn't a sin exactly. But I have decided that it is a lost opportunity for me, my kids, and the Primary children. I think that it is important to actually open your scriptures, find the verses, mark them if you want, and follow along (as much as little kids can). There seem to be a lot of benefits:
1. You start making it a habit to take your scriptures to church
2. You learn where things are in the scriptures
3. You get used to finding things quickly
4. You mark scriptures for future readings
5. You actually USE your scriptures instead of just carrying them around

I brought all this up in my Primary presidency meeting on Wednesday, and we talked about it. We are going to encourage our classes to bring their scriptures. And, to set the right example, we are going to start bringing and using our own!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Age, Wisdom, and Reliability

I recently attended a three day conference. The presenter was a man in his late 50's. He was talking about how to be a better teacher. He had at the core of his message a lot of scientific evidence and made several psychological assertions. I don't know whether the information he presented was accurate or not, though I certainly found it believable. In spite of my agreement with the logic of the presentation, I was surprised by the feeling of skepticism I had as I listened to the presentation (even though I accepted).

Because of the age of the presenter, I thought that he had probably been giving a similar message for many years. If he'd really been citing the same scientific facts year after year, I wondered how many of them would still hold up under the scrutiny of present-day scholarship. After all, new finding alter or overturn old findings all the time. How did I know I could trust what this man was telling me?

Maybe my distrust was more related to the fact that he talked like a Democrat and reminded me of Joe Lieberman. :-) No, it really was the fact that he was older. If he had been a man in his thirties, I would have perceived that this was the information he had just finished digging up and that he was embarking on his quest to share it with the world.

I had a similar feeling of skepticism as I listened to a Mormon scholar who is now retired. I thought, "Sure he was great in his day (I think), but is his information still accurate or is he telling us stuff that's already outdated?" It turns out that I found his presentation to be very convincing and I think he was connected to the important facts. But why the initial doubt? I wonder where that prejudice comes from and how widespread the tendency is to trust younger scholars more than older scholars.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Geometry and the Gospel: Why Formulas Work

Kevin Burtt produced an analogy that I find useful for teaching. Sometimes we use mathematical or geometrical formulas without knowing why they work. That is fine. We'll still get the right result, even if we don't understand WHY it works. The problem comes when we decide that the formula needs to be altered without understanding whether the alteration will work. The analogy to the commandments is obvious and understandable.

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