The China Study and the Word of Wisdom

About eight months ago I read a book on nutrition that dramatically validates Joseph Smith’s revelation that led to the LDS church’s prohibitions for use of alcoholic drinks, tobacco, tea, and coffee. The book is T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study and the revelation is called the Word of Wisdom.[1][2] The subject area where the two overlap is in the question of how much meat and other animal protein is good for us.

It may come as a surprise to some to hear that the Word of Wisdom has something to say about consuming meat. Mormons are not known as vegetarians, and we are not asked about meat consumption when we are interviewed to obtain a temple recommend. Yet, if you read all of D&C 89 you find that verses 10 through 17 are about what we should eat. They begin with recommending herbs (vegetables) and fruit. Regarding meat it says that we are allowed to eat it, but should use it sparingly, or not at all except in time of famine. It goes on to say that grains are good and wheat is especially suited for man. Until recently, in my own long history as a member of the LDS church I had only paid a little attention to the “eat meat sparingly” part of the Word of Wisdom—I avoided frequent consumption of red meat because cancer prevention advice confirmed what the Word of Wisdom says.

            Reading The China Study has now caused me to better appreciate the inspiration of the Word of Wisdom, take seriously verses 10-17, and change my own lifestyle in a way I will describe. Campbell is a well respected researcher in human nutrition. He grew up on a farm and initially accepted the conventional wisdom that a good diet includes significant amounts of meat and dairy products. In his work in nutrition he learned of a study that began changing his mind. The study looked at cancer rates in rats all given a powerful carcinogen, aflatoxin. In the study the amount of protein in the rats’ diet was varied. The rats that got large amounts of animal protein all got cancer and died. Those that only got a small amount of animal protein in their diet stayed healthy even though they got the same dose of the carcinogen as the high protein rats. Campbell went on to do his own animal studies that confirmed what he had read and then he began looking for information directly related to  human disease rates. Through a visiting scientist he got an opportunity to participate in a large study conducted in China using government records. The study looked at statistical correlations between diet and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It showed strong correlation between the amount of animal protein in a person’s diet and the rate of disease. In addition to this China Study data Campbell found data showing strong correlation between average animal protein intake (or animal fat intake) and these diseases when averaging over entire nations. One study showed for example that in Mexico the average animal fat intake was about 20 g/day and the breast cancer death rate was 5 per 100,000 while in the United States the average animal fat intake was about 90g/day and the breast cancer death rate 20 per 100,000. Four times the fat intake correlates with over four times the cancer rate. Statistical correlation alone does not prove cause and effect, but Campbell discusses possible mechanisms for animal fat and protein influencing cancer growth and heart disease. In all, he builds a very strong science-based case for avoiding all animal protein including milk and eggs.

Campbell’s personal response to his findings was for he and his family to become vegetarians. He explains in his book how we can get adequate amounts of all the nutrients we need including proteins by eating fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. I was sufficiently convinced by his data and the new understanding of the Word of Wisdom it has given me that I have become a flexitarian—a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat. My wife is not as convinced as I, but she is cooperating in the effort to make a large reduction in our meat consumption. To do this in the culture where we live (Sandy, Utah) is difficult. Most restaurants have few vegetarian options. Dining with friends and family almost invariable involves eating meat. Calories and protein are less concentrated in vegetable foods and you have to cook more and eat somewhat more to maintain the same calorie intake. The difficulty is worth it. I have felt good since my dietary change eight months ago and I lost some pounds that were slowing me down. I think I will do even better if I reduce my consumption of sweets.

Why did it take me over sixty years to learn this secret to better health? Campbell and others show evidence that the meat and dairy industries work hard to suppress any information that affects their sales.[3] Conspiracies to suppress information that would promote better health are part of the big business culture as we learned when the tobacco industry conspiracy to suppress information on its health effects was revealed.[4] These conspiracies were predicted in the Word of Wisdom.[5]

This revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1833 shows God’s mercy toward us and His use of Joseph Smith as a voice to the people of out times. Everything you need to overcome the disinformation from the conspiracies and enjoy better health is there: avoid addictive substances that poison our bodies, eat what is good for us and avoid what is not, and even the need for regular exercise is hinted at (run and not be weary). Clear scientific evidence and investigative reporting affirm that Joseph Smith was a prophet indeed.


[1] Campbell, T. Collin, and Campbell, Thomas M. The China Study. Dallas TX: Ben Bella Books Inc. , 2006

[2] Doctrine and Covenants 89

[3] Simon, David Robert. Meatonomics. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2013.

[4] PBS Online NewsHour web page Aug 18, 2006

[5] in D&C 89:4 it says, “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of  conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation.”

Laughing at the End of the World

In a few more days we can laugh at those that got caught up in the 2012 Mayan calendar nonsense. As far as I can tell it was just a publicity scheme that helped sell books and a movie. However, I believe there is an end coming. We just don’t know exactly when.
I am talking about the time of chaos before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Bible (Matthew 24, Revelations) warns of war, famine, plague, and natural disasters. People who look to science as the only reliable source of truth perhaps see Bible predictions for the end times as of no more consequence than the present Mayan calendar predictions. In contrast, I see support for what the Bible predicts in applying the findings of science to the present course of our world civilization.
Possible drivers for end time chaos include: massive climate change, exhaustion of farm land and critical resource materials, pandemics, and large-scale natural disasters. There is scientific evidence to support the inevitability of the first two if the world does not make large changes in its use of fossil fuels and other natural resources. The second two are part of Earth’s history. The flu epidemic that followed World War I spread relatively slowly but killed millions. Air travel now makes it possible for a new pandemic to spread so rapidly it may overwhelm any capabilities to treat it. We now know that there have been ice ages, asteroid strikes, and massive volcanic eruptions that could cause worldwide disruption to civilization.
In addition to the physical threats to civilization, there is the spiritual threat that widespread disregard of God’s commandments will unhinge civilization. For example, sociology has ample evidence that children do best in a traditional family where they live with both their parents, but an appalling fraction of children born in the United States have single mothers. While some do well like that, on average they are at a significant disadvantage in learning to be honest and productive citizens.
Almost two hundred years ago when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon and received the revelations needed to restore primitive Christianity (Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price) little of the science I just mentioned was available. Yet, his revelations say that we are entering the end times and reinforce and clarify what the Bible said about them. In addition the Book of Mormon describes the destruction of two civilizations because of their wickedness, and provides us warning of what happens to people who abandon God.
I am a scientist, and I am not embarrassed to say I believe the end is coming and the laughing will soon stop.

Will Obama Save us?

Can our reelected president and his party, the democrats, lead our nation to renewed prosperity and continued safety and well being for its citizens? They made some headway against a brutal economic recession generated during the Bush administration, but they accomplished far less than President Obama promised during his 2008 campaign. The respite from the recession has come at the cost of a staggering annual budget deficit that threatens worse problems than the 2009 recession in the near future. I see little hope the party in power will lead us out of these near-term economic troubles, and as they struggle with them they are neglecting some longer-term problems that threaten our security and wellbeing. Romney and the republicans might have done a little better on the deficit, but they too are focused on the short-term economy to the exclusion of other important matters. Thinking about these things reminds me of a promise from the Lord to the people of The Book of Mormon “inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.” (Alma 36:1) Both candidates and both parties fail this test to obtain God’s blessings of prosperity.
Republicans fall short in helping the poor among us—particularly the poor who have entered our country as economic refugees, and too few of them recognize our obligation to be good stewards of the earth. The Democratic Party has sold its soul to those who look with contempt on the idea of any commandments from God. In addition neither party has fully grasped the economic and scientific reality that the present American economy cannot continue to grow and prosper in a finite, tightly-connected world where we are a small minority of the total human population. This is spelled out clearly in Jeffrey D. Sachs’ book “Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet” that I am reading. We need an economy that respects the limits of what we can extract from the earth and what we can dump into it, not more of the same profligate economy our political leaders are trying unsuccessfully to perpetuate.

Stuck Here?

Around 1960 a high church leader, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke in our stake conference. I was a teenager and ordinarily would remember little of what he said, but he commented on the nation’s plans to send men to the moon. As I remember, he said the effort would not succeed because the Lord doesn’t want us to leave the earth. I left conference a little dismayed at his lack of enthusiasm for what might be the greatest adventure of the century. By labeling his comment as a personal opinion I went on with my church activity. Later, after the 1969 moon landing, he became president of the Church and I accepted him as a prophet in spite of what I regarded as his earlier mistaken opinion. Now forty years beyond the time of the moon landings, I have changed my view of what he said. He was right in principle, and only wrong in an unimportant detail.

It appears to me that our Creator has placed mankind permanently on this earth to work out our mortality. While a few men have set foot on the moon, it is practically impossible for any significant number of people to leave Earth and live elsewhere for an indefinite time. A reasonable assessment of what science now knows about possible extraterrestrial abodes and the means for going there leads to the conclusion that we are stuck here on the earth and we need to make the best of it. In 1960 we had little idea of this limitation nor of the danger that our planet might not sustain our technological civilization for long. Now we know we can ruin the earth through unwise human activities, and that there are some grave external threats such as a large comet or asteroid causing global extinction. We may need to escape, but we do not know how to run away and live elsewhere.

Jared Diamond in his book Collapse points out that our present world civilization is in a situation similar to the people of Easter Island before their civilization collapsed. They used up all of the trees on the island, their agricultural production fell, and they could not make canoes to fish or to escape. Likewise, we are in an environment that is fragile relative to the demands we place upon it and we have nowhere to go if we or causes beyond our control make it uninhabitable. Just as the ancient ones who tried to reach heaven with the tower of Babel failed to even come close, we have no real means to send people to permanently live somewhere beyond the earth. The harsh realities that limit possible new extraterrestrial homes for humans and our means of going there are usually brushed aside in popular science fiction books and movies. These facts may lack entertainment value, but they can help us as individuals and as nations understand our dependence on God and the futility of plans for mankind to escape Earth.

Our closest chance for a new home within our solar system is the Moon. It can be reached in a few days trip in a space vehicle built with well-understood technology. A recent unmanned mission showed that there is a significant amount of ice there in the bottom of one of the craters at the moon’s south pole. That water could greatly reduce the cost of sustaining a moon colony where people could live and work for long periods of time.
Finding water is just one bit of good news against a lot of other reasons the Moon will forever remain a hostile environment to humans. It has no air and huge temperature extremes between light and shadow areas and day and night. Work on the surface requires thermal protection and air supply from a clumsy space suit. And you should not work more than a few days a year on the surface because the absence of an atmosphere means the surface of the moon is continually bombarded by cosmic rays that cause unacceptable radiation damage to humans over time. Lunar colonists would have to spend almost all of their time indoors in heavily shielded living quarters or in caves or tunnels below the lunar surface. They would be under continual threat of extinction from equipment failure or delay of vital supplies from Earth.

Science fiction writers once told stories of trips to the planet Venus and even encounters with non-human natives there. All thought of humans going to Venus or life existing there ended after space probes showed its true conditions. It has a crushingly thick atmosphere that is about fifty times as heavy as Earth’s. Chemically the atmosphere is mostly carbon-dioxide with a little sulfuric acid for seasoning. It is not remotely like the nitrogen-oxygen mixture we need to breathe. With this atmosphere, Venus has a massive greenhouse effect that traps solar heat, and the surface temperatures are hotter than a pizza oven.

Only one other planet in our solar system could possibly serve as a long-term refuge from Earth. Mars is far more hospitable than Venus or the moon. It has a little water, but because of its low surface gravity it has lost most of its atmosphere. It still retains enough atmosphere to slow incoming space vehicles and supply some shielding from solar radiation and cosmic rays. A Mars colony could manufacture breathable air from the water and the gases present there. In contrast to Venus, the surface temperatures on Mars are too low for human comfort or even survival. Also on the negative side for exploration or colonization by humans, Mars is so far away that it takes about a year to get there with today’s space vehicles. During that long trip the space travelers are exposed to continual radiation from cosmic rays and the danger of sporadic fatal levels of radiation from solar flares. These scientific and technological challenges of going to Mars have been studied in detail and appear to be surmountable, but very costly. This leads to the difficult question of how to pay for the trip.

In 2004 President Bush proposed missions to the Moon and then to Mars costing a total of $120 billion dollars. (USA today article from 2004) Earlier cost estimates had been much higher. This cost spread over say ten years is an affordably small portion of the national budget. The proposed space mission would send a small team of astronauts to explore Mars for around a year and then return to Earth. Given success of the first mission, follow-on flights would cost less. But, the monetary cost of dozens of flights and the equipment for establishing a semi-permanent human colony on Mars would be staggering. It would undoubtedly also cost many human lives because the risks from equipment malfunction and human error are so high. I say semi-permanent colony because after paying the staggering cost to start a colony it would depend on resupply from earth for almost all manufactured products and for additional colonists. Life on Mars would be dangerous, uncomfortable, and require expenditure of billions of dollars per individual colonist to take them there and keep them alive.

The Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11: 4-9) says that the confusion of languages stopped it. Such confusion would cause the loss of the political organization and cooperation needed for their project. Likewise today, the inability to get widespread political acceptance of an astonishingly expensive, decades-long, space project with no immediate tangible return value dooms a Mars colony. Political and economic constraints added to great technical difficulty make such a colony a practical impossibility.

Science fiction writers seldom bother with a simple Mars colony any more. There are stars out there that are likely to have better planets than Mars. One of them could be a new home for mankind. Recent advances in astronomy have revealed the existence of hundreds of extra-solar planets circling stars in the neighborhood of ours. When a writer’s imagination is the only constraint, the trip to one of them is easily accomplished. But, physical and economic reality dictate otherwise. Distances to stars are measured in light-years (about 6 trillions miles) not the millions of miles to the planet Mars. There is not a hint of anything in present-day science that could result in a starship fast enough to reach even the nearest stars in a human lifetime. Research on fusion reactors leaves open the possibility of a fusion powered rocket that might reach a velocity of around one million miles per hour. If astronomers identified a promising planet just twenty light years away a fusion powered rocket traveling at one million miles per hour would take 670 years to go there.

Some writers accept this speed constraint on star travel and send their colonists on a huge space ark that carries thousands of people and travels to another star in a more realistic millennium or so. Obviously the only ones to see the new star and its planets are the distant descendents of those who started the voyage. To launch such an expedition would cost more than the annual gross domestic product of all nations on earth together. Economics and political reality rules against us ever starting such a quest, and all of human history tells us that the inhabitants of a space ark could not stay socially stable and focused on their mission over a thousand year voyage.

This is a brief review of the evidence that the Lord has set up our environment in a way that ensures humanity will remain tied to this Earth until He returns. There is a small chance of a few transitory individual excursions within our solar system, but science and technology cannot even take a sizable number of us to live permanently on Mars let alone take anyone to the stars. It follows that it is very unlikely that our world civilization can escape the damage we are presently causing to Earth or survive a global disaster such as a new ice-age or a large asteroid colliding with Earth by sending a small sample of humanity off Earth to rebuild civilization elsewhere. Science and technology cannot save us. Only God can.

The Drought of 2012

I have kept most of my lawn alive through our record heat this year at the cost of a lot of extra water. What I see in the news makes my struggle with the lawn seem trivial. Range animals are dying for lack of feed and water, corn and other crops are ruined. Beyond the immediate effects on the animals and the farmers and ranchers we will all be paying more for food and fuel in the next year.   Drought has been a hazard to agriculture since the earliest times. The travels of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis were partly motivated by drought.  But this one could self-inflicted.

Climatologists have used global climate models to predict how the extra warming from release of CO2 into the atmosphere will affect the climate. NOAA, the national weather and climate study organization published a prediction in 2008 in the article: Scientific Assessment Captures Effects of a Changing Climate on Extreme Weather Events in North America (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/20080619_climatereport.html)

“Among the major findings reported in this assessment are that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.”

This year’s drought fits their predictions, but until there is a change of climate over many years it is difficult to say whether we caused it or it is part of the natural variation in climate. What is much more certain is that continuing to release CO2 into the atmosphere will raise global temperatures and change the climate—probably in ways we will find inconvenient.  We need more people to take the science of climate change seriously if we are going to do something to prevent disastrous changes in the future.

I think science verses religion contention gets in the way of solving this and similar problems .  People that take a side do not give proper credit to the other point of view. A solution to global warming  requires sacrifices to reduce our consumption of goods and services that lead to production of greenhouse gasses. Religion helps me go beyond concern for my own affairs—my lawn. It teaches us to sacrifice to benefit others, but religious people must believe the science that predicts climate disruption in order to be willing to make those sacrifices. Those who have no religion and choose science to provide their view of the world cannot solve the global warming problem alone. Every word they utter in public to disparage religion and people of faith diminishes our ability to work together and solve a problem that could in time threaten our whole civilization.  Given the contention that exists it is often difficult to have faith in a religion and at the same time learn and believe science, but probably not so difficult as what will happen to our civilization if we fail to act on the climate change problem that has been identified by science.

Explaining Miracles

We frequently use science to say what can and cannot be done in the physical world. For example, once scientists had basic information on nuclear fission they predicted that it would be possible to build nuclear reactors and nuclear explosives that would produce huge amounts of energy through fission. The science and engineering work to accomplish this was conducted in the Manhattan Project during World War II and the predictions were proved true. Primitive people unaware of the power of science might consider these achievements to be miracles.

Sometimes people try to explain the miracles of the Bible as though we know all that God knows. But, human science will always fall far short his knowledge and power. He can take actions we can no more explain than a person isolated from civilization could explain a cell phone.

An example of an attempt to use science in explaining a miracle is saying that the shadow on Hezekiah’s sundial[1] retreated because the Lord caused the rotation of the earth to reverse for a short time and then return to normal. This doesn’t really explain in scientific terms all that happened because we have no idea how the rotation could be stopped.

I suppose the Lord could reverse the earth’s rotation, but there are many other ways the shadow could have reversed. One is that He could bend the sun light in the area of the palace and cause far less disturbance to the rest of the earth. But, again we have no idea how that could be done. God knows all the laws both of the physical universe and of the spiritual side of the universe that is presently hidden from us. His actions follow laws but ones we have not yet learned. This should not seem surprising because science itself has a history of discoveries of new laws. An example of a relatively recent discovery that science is still working to understand is quantum mechanics.

I believe God exists and does intervene in our human affairs to advance His plans. These miracles usually depend on the faith of those who benefit from the miracles. Belief in the reality of miracles helps us keep a proper perspective on the ability of science to explain everything, and avoid the false belief that what science cannot observe and explain does not exist or did not happen.

 


[1] Isaiah 38:1-8

Miracles and Materialism

A core issue in controversies between religion and science is miracles verses materialism. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists beyond the physical universe known to mankind through our own senses or extensions of them using scientific instruments such as telescopes. While science cannot prove materialism, it uses it as a working hypothesis to avoid controversy and concentrate effort on what science is compent to do.

Materialism directly opposes belief in the reality of fundamental religious events such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and past and present communication between God and people He selects to give His word to the rest of us. The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith’s account was produced as a result of a long string of miraculous interventions by God and His angels into human affairs. It has a lot to say about both sides of the miracles verses materialism controversy.

On the miracles side the prophets who wrote the Book of Mormon foresaw our times when there would be widespread disbelief in miracles. The first of them, Nephi, said:

And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work. (2Nephi 28:4-6)

Nephi affirms that God does perform miracles in all ages, but only among those who have faith in him:

. . . he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith. (2Nephi 26:13)

Moroni, the final prophet of the Book of Mormon elaborated on what Nephi had taught[1] as he concluded the “mighty wonder” for our times: The Book of Mormon.

The history of Book of Mormon people  teaches that a side effect of materialism, the love of material things such as money, clothes, and social position, leads to conflict, abandonment of morality, and ultimately in the cases of the Jaredite and Nephite nations, the end of their civilization. As with them, our individual choices in this area are of great consequence.


[1]  Mormon 9:15-21 Ether 12:12,15-16 Moroni 7:27-29,35-37 Moroni 10:23-25

Science and Religion or Religion and Science?

The purpose of this blog is to share what I learned in writing still another of a growing set of books on science and the LDS religion—Religion and Science in the Last Days. One of the reasons I persisted in writing in this crowded area is that I wanted to emphasize the religion side of the discussion. In my own study of the issues I saw that The Book of Mormon and the other scriptures of the restoration answer a lot of them, but most of the books that discuss LDS religion and science pay little attention to the scriptures. I am a scientist myself, but it seems to me that attempts to get at the truth in this area by emphasizing the science side fall short because science operates under an assumption that there is nothing to be explained beyond the physical universe.

So, in this blog I want to share my thoughts on LDS religion and science with a voice that sounds as much like a stake clerk as a nuclear physicist (I once was both). I want to quote Nephi and Moroni on miracles, Jacob on the proper place of learning, and Alma on how we know things. I will also deal with critical issues where secular claims differ from views of religious people such as the recent claim that science now has a “theory of everything”, and the old and ongoing claims that the scriptures are manmade and not inspired of God and that science disproves the Bible and The Book of Mormon.

In addition to looking at the issues where religion and science appear to disagree, it is important to look at areas where they converge. One of those is that our modern global civilization is far more fragile than we would like to believe and it can collapse in a vastly destructive way bringing about the end of the world as prophesied in the scriptures.

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