Immortal Words . . . from Me

 

This image of Saturn, shown today by Professor Jani Radebaugh, was a real hit with the audience
(Click to enlarge. Click again to enlarge further.)

 

For what it’s worth, here are the opening remarks that I prepared and (more or less) delivered at the beginning of today’s Interpreter Foundation conference on science and Mormonism:

 

First of all, please silence all mobile devices.  And that means you.  And me.  Several years ago, I was speaking to a largish audience in North Carolina when somebody’s cell phone erupted loudly.  And it went on and on.  I began to wonder what was wrong with the idiot.  Why didn’t he shut it off?  And then I realized that it was mine.

 

And please recall, too, that we’ll be recording the proceedings today, and streaming them.  So it might be good, should you feel the urge to shout “Huzzah!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Speak it, Brother!” if you went out into the lobby for that.

 

On behalf of The Interpreter Foundation, I would like to welcome you to this, our first freestanding and independently initiated conference.  We do not expect it to be our last.

 

I would also like to thank the conference organizing committee—David Bailey, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, John S. Lewis, Gregory L. Smith, and Michael R. Stark.  I regret that Drs. Lewis and Smith cannot be with us here today.  Fortunately, though, if the technology doesn’t let us down, Dr. Lewis will be able to participate from New Zealand.

 

I’m grateful to all those who have accepted our invitation to participate, and for the time they’ve put into preparing their presentations.

 

As with the other activities of The Interpreter Foundation, and as with the Foundation itself, I continue to be impressed and even moved by the well-nigh miraculous way that this effort has come to fruition.  (I would especially like to thank my friend and colleague Professor William Hamblin for his early work in helping to establish the Foundation.)  We’re still operating pretty much on a shoestring budget, with no institutional support, on the basis (almost entirely) of volunteer labor and expertise.  I’m amazed by what has been accomplished so far—and there are more and even bigger things still on the horizon.

 

  • We greatly appreciate any donations that can be given to help cover our conference costs, and to further the work of The Interpreter Foundation.  (This facility isn’t free.)  Donations can be given at the registration desk by cash, check, or credit and debit cards.  We thank you for any amount you can give to help us continue sponsoring events such as this, in addition to the many other activities of the foundation, including the journal and future book publications currently in process.  The book In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, by Jeffrey Bradshaw and David Larsen, is nearing publication.  The proceedings of last year’s symposium on “The Temple on Mount Zion” are slowly moving toward completion, and we hope to publish the papers from today’s gathering, as well.  And there’s more to come, some of it already underway but not yet announced.
  • Automatic monthly donations can now be set up from our Donations page on our website using PayPal.  You can simply enter how much you want to donate each month, and the system will take care of the rest.
  • We express sincere thanks for the contributions from LDSAgents.com and FairMormon, and for their continued support of Interpreter.
  • We are grateful, as well, to Tom Pittman and Bryce Haymond for their efforts to make this conference visible, both here and, by streaming video, elsewhere.  And to all those who have helped or will help with registration, collecting and sorting questions, and so forth.  I can’t name them all, because help continues to roll in, and I don’t want to omit anybody.  So, please, express your gratitude to them.  It’s the only pay they’ll get.
  • Please follow us online.  You can “like” our page on Facebook, “follow” us on Twitter and Google Plus, “subscribe” to our YouTube channel, sign up for email updates, subscribe to our audio podcast in iTunes, and more—all from the top right-hand corner of our website, MormonInterpreter.com.  This will allow you to receive all the latest news and updates from Interpreter, such as announcements of future conferences like this one.  (At least two such conferences are under discussion.)  We even have an Android app that you can download to your phone or tablet (thanks to FairMormon), and we hope to soon have an iPhone/iPad app.
  • We offer an annual print subscription to our journal, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, as well.  It costs $50 annually, and covers our cost of printing and shipping only, without markup or royalty.  (We do not raise any funds from journal sales.)  Subscribers will receive priority shipment of the print edition of each journal volume before it’s available to the general public for purchase on Amazon.com, and, frankly, it just plain spares you the hassle of having to remember to order a copy each time we complete a volume.  (Which is roughly every two months.)  You can sign up for the annual print subscription at MormonInterpreter.com.  (Do you notice how I keep mentioning that address?  I picked the technique up from a particular television commercial.)
  • We are pleased to announce that we have now finished seven volumes of the journal Interpreter to date, publishing at least one new paper or review every Friday for the past 67 weeks since the journal’s announcement on August 3, 2012.  (Volume 7 was completed just yesterday, with an introduction that contains a transcript of very prophetic 1991 remarks from Elder Neal A. Maxwell, previously unpublished; it will be available soon in print and digital formats.)  These seven volumes represent over 1700 pages of scholarship.  For those interested in purchasing print editions of past volumes of Interpreter, they are all available on Amazon.com for a minimal price (about $5 per copy), without markup or royalty.  We also have e-book editions of each of our volumes available, many for free, in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats, and in popular e-book stores such as Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, Apple’s iBookstore, and Google Play or Google Books.  Of course, a digital version of our publications is also available for free to read on our website, MormonInterpreter.com.  (On behalf of everybody connected with Interpreter, I need to thank Bryce Haymond for his absolutely indispensable help with these multiple publication platforms.  From the start, Interpreter was conceived as a very twenty-first-century enterprise, and much of this is due to Bryce.)
  • We have five complete sets of Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Studies—complete through volume six, that is—here at the conference, and would very much like to sell them at cost, as complete sets.  Which, being interpreted, means that I really don’t want to have to carry them home.
  • Some may not know that we have other resources available in addition to the journal.  These include fifty filmed scripture roundtables covering most of the 2013 Gospel Doctrine curriculum.  Under the able leadership of Andrew Smith, this effort will soon resume with a focus on the 2014 curriculum.  Recently, too, we did a special 90-minute roundtable discussion on the topic of polygamy and plural marriage with experts on the historical data (Brian Hales, Greg Smith, and Craig Foster, moderated by Andrew Smith).  We likewise have a blog covering current events, thoughts, news, and discussions, including many posts by Brant Gardner on the Book of Mormon, and others.  We also feature a section of teacher resources, with many useful items provided by another of our board members, Taylor Halverson (who, holding a doctorate in Instructional Systems Technology as well as a doctorate in Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity, is uniquely qualified to help Interpreter in its mission of making scholarship on the scriptures and related matters accessible to interested non-specialists as well as to professional academics.)  These can all be found on our website at MormonInterpreter.com.
  •   I should perhaps also offer an update regarding The Interpreter Foundation’s status with our friends at the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS).  We applied to the IRS for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in the autumn of 2012.  The application form says that the process requires roughly ninety (90) days.  Several months ago, I checked the IRS webpage, and it announced that they were then processing applications from twelve months before.  (So much for ninety days!)  This led me to expect that we might get approval by now.  But I checked again two days ago, and they are currently processing applications from May 2012—which means that they have now fallen fully eighteen months behind.  Needless to say, I’m frustrated.  But The Interpreter Foundation is fortunate.  For one thing, we didn’t include the words Patriot, Constitution, or Tea Party in our application.  More importantly, thanks to the generosity of many of you here, we can weather this.    We have every expectation that, eventually, when the IRS gets around to reviewing our application, it will be approved.  And we’re told that, once it’s approved, tax-exemption will apply retroactively to all donations made from the date of our application.  Does that leave us and some of you somewhat in limbo?  Yes.  But there seems no way around it.  Do we still need to raise funds?  Yes we do.  We have big dreams.  And we know how to make them real.

 

I’m personally delighted that Interpreter is able to sponsor this particular conference.  In fact, I insisted that I wanted to be on the program, if only for a few minutes.  Why?  I’ve found myself described at various places on the web, repeatedly, as a young-earth creationist who hates and fears science, regarding it as demonic.

 

However, so far as I can recall, I’ve never been a young-earth creationist.  Ever.  I arrived BYU as a mathematics major, with an interest in astronomy and cosmology.  Admittedly, I soon went over to the dark side, pursuing degrees in Greek, philosophy, and, ultimately, Near Eastern languages, but my dissertation focused on an eleventh-century Arab Neoplatonist cosmology, so the interest never altogether faded, and I still take particular delight in roadside geology and in the history of astronomy and cosmology.

 

Thus, I’m thrilled at the very idea of this conference, excited for the day ahead—and, in the interest of my own vindication, for the public record, I want it known that I believe in and value science.

 

Again, we’re delighted at your attendance here, and we’re excited to present this conference to you.  We hope that today’s papers and discussions strengthen faith, deepen understanding, and stimulate new thoughts. 

 

 

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  • dangerdad

    Thank you for this conference, and for the stream. I especially enjoyed the closing panel.

  • RaymondSwenson

    Thanks for putting on the symposium and streaming it on video. What I got was inconsistent in sound quality, etc., but a lot of good stuff was viewed.

    I was interested in the old church video that featured Henry Eyring’s father going off to college with the advice of his father that in our church, you don’t have to believe anything that is not true.

    I remember seeing that movie in my youth. I think it is time to produce an updated version, perhaps introduced by President Eyring, and even excerpting some of the old video, that features modern LDS scientists and reminds members of the Church leaders who have been trained in science, from Talmage and Widtsoe to Nelson and Scott. A number of LDS scientists have been speakers at BYU and are on video records.

    This is needed because the average bishop does not have the resources to deal with scientific questions from adults and youth, and this is an area where the militant atheism of modern culture tries to undermine faith. Most parents lack scientific education and need help in guiding their children to faithful answers. The Church doesn’t need to pronounce on scientific issues raised by Genesis, etc., as much as reassure members that an intelligent Mormon can be at home with both real science and belief in Joseph Smith and modern prophets. Part of that will be teaching that science must always be open to new truths, that no scientist has final answers to every question, and that generating new questions is more important to science than simply finding answers.

    I liked the statement by one of the speakers that Mormonism is similar to real science because it invites us to new dscoveries, to experiment and grow in our knowledge of truth. Mormonism is the opposite of the caricature of religious people as closed minded, who insist they have the entirety of truth in their hands already. Both the Restored Gospel and true science look forward to new knowledge that will be discovered through their respective, complementary methods.

  • RaymondSwenson

    I was told recently by a member of my ward who teaches at one of the state colleges here that she overheard a conversation in which another faculty member was boasting about teaching his students that official Mormon history was not only wrong, but that their church was suppressing the true history. She confronted him about it.

    This is at a state school where discussion of religious matters is supposed to be more circumspect and not partisan, but it underscores that our LDS youth need to know going in that there are resources to get reliable truth about the issues that animate our critics. We need to actively invite members who want to learn more beyond the basic curriculum to learn the basics of church history and about other topics, so it will be their first resort when they have a question, rather than a google search.

  • Sharee

    I had a ticket to the conference but was not able to use it as I am carless at the moment so had no way to get to Provo. So I was very grateful to be able to watch it on my computer. I enjoyed all of the presentations, but had to skip the panel at the end as I needed to go to work. However, I understand we will be able to access all of the talks later, so I will watch it then. I hope this will be an annual event as I’m sure I’ll be able to get my car fixed sometime next year.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Congratulations to Interpreter Foundation/partners for an excellent symposium. Not knowing what to expect, I was dubious but quickly realized that this could be good. Except for the few technical challenges, the presenters did not disappoint. It seems to me that the sharing of beliefs and individual stories are often the best way of removing barriers. I gained respect for those of the Mormon faith, within the sciences, as represented by the various presenters. I was deeply touched by several presentations.

    Those presenters who spoke that the embrace of science need not destroy ones’ religious belief resonated. As Dr. Peck discussed, science is an ethic which promotes best practices which allows us to explain this amazing universe. And whether one is a scientist or not, who could argue with the primary value of seeking the truth, and doing so in a transparent way and being rational and objective in this truth seeking endeavor?

    I appreciated members of the Life Science panel, who rejected the work of the Discovery Institute. Good for them! I also appreciated Amy Williams’ presentation that “New Atheists”, have not proven a lack of God. If one listens to the hours of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKyFkAfmwFA, (paying particular attention to the words of Dr. Lawrence Krauss),it becomes clear that even eminent scientists can’t agree on everything.

    Two presenters I truly enjoyed were Steven Peck and Emily Bates, but in fairness, I had such a crappy connection, that some of the other presentations were partially viewed (alerting Comcast, the squirrels must once again be chewing on the coaxial cable strung through our neighborhood, as the coaxial insulator is produced using peanut oil, which attracts squirrels. Scientist needed.). I’ll watch this again in its entirety when available.

    Hopefully, such symposiums will grow in popularity, as they should. Stories are important. It is clear that many worked hard to bring this to fruition. Thanks.

  • utex

    A really good conference, especially for the first one. The female scientists were delightful…as were the others.


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