Here is a talk I gave at District Conference for the Shanghai International District, March 19, 2017, sharing a few views on the Creation, why we should study and ponder it, and what we can learn from its wonders.

The Creation 

In the Beginning…

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” This simple statement opens the sacred scriptures. The story of the Creation has been a source of much confusion in recent decades. Some have said it describes a Creation of seven 24-hour days, even though the Hebrew word, yom, translated as day, can also refer to a long era of time. Since this was written in an age when even the most basic aspects of science were unknown, it was not meant to give a detailed scientific report but a broad overview, reminding us that we were created, that the earth and cosmos were created, and that God is the master behind this majesty. The scientific details, including the age of the earth or the way the Lord created life, have not been revealed.

Note that the Church has no official position on these scientific matters and no official position on theories of evolution, leaving us plenty of room to learn from science when wisely applied, though we know God is the Creator, not blind chance alone. We know that the Creation is for a divine purpose and does not all end in emptiness and death, though all of us will die and few will escape grief. We know that there is a reason for pain and death here, both part of the mortal process and trial that we gladly signed up for in the premortal existence, where we rejoiced at the work of the Creation that we beheld (recall, for example, Job 38:7, where we read that when the Creation was underway, “the morning stars sang, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”).

Though we all may grieve at times, we need not despair, for the answer to our sorrows is found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, who actually was the Creator, acting under the direction of the Father, and then came to earth as a mortal, showing us how to live, teaching us His Gospel, and then took upon himself all our guilt and pain that He might have power to cleanse us by paying the price of our sin. He accepted a cruel and lonely death on the cross, descended into the world of spirits to initiate one of the greatest works of God’s mercy, the preaching of the Gospel to the dead who can even also accept the blessings of baptism. Then, after 3 days, he took up His body again in the most glorious moment of His Creative work and declared victory over death for all of us. Though we must all come here to be tried, to obtain a mortal body, and then must die, we can all be resurrected and return to God’s presence, immortal, cleansed from sin, with endless joy and growth possible. It is so magnificent, thanks to the work of God and His son, Jesus Christ.

In Alma 7, Alma taught believers in the New World city of Gideon about the future mission of the Messiah, explaining that He would be born of Mary back in Israel:
[10] And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers,...
Hold on, wasn’t Christ born in Bethlehem? And isn’t Jerusalem a city, not a land? Yes, every school boy in Joseph’s day knew those things, and if Joseph were the author, that’s how it would read. But Bethlehem is just 5 miles from Jerusalem, like a tiny suburb. It is appropriate for the Nephites to describe Christ’s birth place, just like Americans in China might say they are from Salt Lake City when they are really from Murray or Draper. Further, after decades of critics mocking this verse, we now know from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient sources found long after Joseph Smith that the ancient Jews did indeed call the region around Jerusalem, specifically including Bethlehem, by this term, the land of Jerusalem, turning an apparent weakness in the Book of Mormon into one of its many subtle strengths. So cool. But I digress. 
... she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
[11] And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
[12] And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
[13] Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
[14] Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
With knowledge of Jesus Christ, we can look at the creation all around us and rejoice in the beauty, order, and meaning of it all. We can see evidence of God’s love and brilliance even in simple things like the flavor of a strawberry, and wonder why we are so blessed to enjoy so much diversity and flavor in our diet, when we might have been pandas or koala bears, chewing on the same old leaf every meal, every day. I’d go crazy — as a human, though I’m sure I’d be a happy panda. So grateful I am not. Our rejoicing in the Creation continues as we examine the flowering trees all around us in Shanghai, as we learn about the intricacy of life and as we explore nature, whether above the earth, on the earth, or under the earth, including the wonders of diving in the ocean, as Brother Lamb taught us this morning. There is so much to marvel at, so much evidence of God’s kindness and His plans for us.

The Apostasy of Dr. Thomas Nagel

Knowing of God’s Creation and of Jesus Christ as our Creator and Redeemer, we have a powerful lens to consider the problems of mortality. For those who lack the lens, one can look at mortality and see only emptiness and death. One can focus on the pain that is necessary in this world, and then conclude that this pain and death means if God exists, He does not love us.

When we send our children to universities, they will frequently hear from learned professors that there is no God. They will hear that pain and death in this world show there is no loving, merciful God behind the Creation. They will hear that scientists have pretty much figured everything out and that there is nothing besides the matter and energy we can see, and that scientists have proven that chance and randomness have accidentally given us life. This will be declared with great persuasiveness and our children may not be prepared to retain their testimonies in the face of so much scientific consensus and pomposity. Is such science really sound?

Some of the very vocal atheists in the academic world are furious over the apostasy of the professor who may be the most famous philosopher in America. Dr. Thomas Nagel, a famous professor at New York University, like too many professors, is an atheist. But he has created shock waves in the academic world with a book he published in 2012. The title alone marks him as an apostate from the atheistic faith of the elite. It is Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

In this book, he argues that any theory for the rise of mankind from natural evolutionary forces must somehow explain the most puzzling aspect of this planet, the existence of consciousness. The rise of life in any form he finds a difficult enough challenge for science to explain using the reigning paradigm of materialism, meaning the idea that nothing exists except the matter and energy that we can see and measure. But Nagel finds the gap between the claims of science and common sense to be particularly severe when we then seek to explain how the random rise of life could lead to conscious and reasoning creatures who can discuss and choose to strive for concepts such as truth and justice, or to compose poetry and music, or debate the origins of life.

Nagel is not the only atheist to have realized this problem, and not the only academic to realize the that the wonders of the Creation are difficult to explain based on materialism and chance alone. Nagel is still is an atheist, and still has many of the same objections to God that he did before such as the problem of pain and suffering in the world, but I welcome his willingness to challenge some especially blind aspects of the faith of his peers. May we, too, learn from the miracles before us.

Nagel’s critique of materialism could be even more stronger, I think, if he had also considered the recent humbling discoveries of modern astrophysics. After decades of professors telling us that tangible matter is all there was and that science had life and the cosmos pretty well figured out with no need for mysteries like God, along came the shocking discovery just a few years ago that the motion of galaxies didn’t make sense based on the matter we could see. It seemed that there was much more matter clumped around each galaxy affecting the motion of the stars, and this mysterious invisible matter became known as dark matter, which is more abundant than regular matter. We don’t know if it is related to spirit which Joseph Smith described as being a form of matter, but a finer form that we currently cannot see (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8), but we are anxious to learn more. So we have this new mystery of dark matter that defies the smugness of the materialists.

On top of that, analysis of the motions of entire galaxies relative to each other shows a vast unseen force is moving galaxies apart faster and faster, when we had assumed that gravity should be pulling them together. This bizarre new phenomenon is now called Dark Energy. Dark matter and dark energy together are estimated to comprise 96% of the matter-energy of the cosmos, 96%, meaning that the tangible matter and energy we know, that stuff that supposedly was all there is according to the doctrine of materialism, is actually no more than about 4% of reality. If wise professors could have missed so much of reality for so long, how much more are they missing when they declare that there is no need for a Creator, no room for God, no such thing as spirit, and no need for the revealed teachings of morality?

God’s Desire for Us to Appreciate the Creation

Respecting and admiring the Creation gives us a foundation to appreciate the love of God, His role as the Father of our Spirits, and our relationship with Him. It gives us a foundation to understand why we are here and why our bodies matter to him. Why the power of creation, or procreation, that He has given us, matters to Him and is part of His purposes in our Creation, and part of the marvelous ongoing engine of Creation in His divine work. It helps us resist the vain teachings of learned men who declare that there is no God, nothing to worship, no origin other than chance for all the glory around us. And it helps us yearn to learn more and grow in knowledge.

With a love of the Creation in our hearts, and an understanding of God’s purposes, we will not revolt when God asks us to abide by His commandments regarding our bodies and what we do with them. When we understand the purposes of mortality, even the part about death, and when we understand the diversity that must exist in this life, ranging from perfect vision to blindness and ranges of results in every aspect of life, we will not be angry but seek to help when suffering exists. We will be less likely to revolt when we hear the inspired words of Church leaders that challenge some of our own assumptions and beliefs. This includes the Proclamation on the Family, which declares that “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” Later, it says “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother….” This is how we are designed. The rich experiences of raising children and love within a family are tied to our bodies and our biology, by design. It is a core part of the Creation. We should be cautious about any temptation to deny or downplay that.

Read that document, the Proclamation on the Family, and notice how grounded it is in the Creation. God wants us to better understand this Creation and its purposes, including the current and eternal role of the family. Those teachings have merit for all of us, married or not.

If we will seek knowledge and understanding, He will help us to learn and we will find growing evidence of His love and mercy and fairness in this process.

[At this point in my District Conference talk, I quickly covered key parts of the rest of my talk to keep to my allocated time. Sadly, the other speakers on the program all showed up! I also didn't talk at my normal high speed to give the Chinese translators a chance. They had a copy of my talk in advance so they were braced for things like "Neo-Darwinian," but they still need a reasonable pace. Here is the rest of what I prepared.]

I’d like to read an entry from my personal journal written in August of 1995 that taught me that God wants us to appreciate the wonders of His Creation. We had just been to St. George, where a relative of mine, a geologist, had given us a tour of the area and explained the details of the strange beauty there.
A few days later, my three-year old son and I were walking along a deserted trail (once a road) on Butler Hill, right next to the Wasatch Mountains by Salt Lake City. I was surprised at the huge variety of rocks I was finding — igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, in many colors and shapes. I paused and examined the setting and the beautiful mountains and wondered how such variety was possible on that former shore of Lake Bonneville. 
As I looked over the valley and recalled the inspiring morning with a geologist a few days earlier, I wished that I could talk to a geologist again to better appreciate that part of God's creation. My son and I then returned to picking through the many rock piles, looking for treasures of beauty. Just moments later, a man and his dog strolled by on that isolated lane. He interrupted us, saying, "I noticed that you are looking at the rocks here." Before I could say anything, he began to explain why there was such a variety of rocks to be found. The road that once went up this hill had been closed off by dumping random truckloads of rocks from around the state of Utah — whatever rocks Salt Lake County happened to have in its trucks. As a result, there were varieties of lava rock from southern Utah, rocks from the Oquirrh mountain range, granites from Alta Canyon, metamorphic rocks from elsewhere in the Salt Lake area, and even some loads containing Indian artifacts. I was impressed and asked him how he was so well informed. "I'm a geologist for the State of Utah and have studied this area." Thrilled, I bombarded him with a number of other questions before he had to go, thus learning the identities of many of the rocks that had stirred my curiosity. It was a true treat for me — and a marvelous blessing. 
The Lord may seem to ignore most of our foolish pleas and may choose to let us suffer pain and disappointment for our own good, somehow, but through it all His loving kindness shows in marvelous ways. That gentle but flagrant act of kindness — sending a geologist to visit me on an isolated stretch of long-closed road — shows me something about the loving Parent we worship. Not only is He kind, but He wants us to know about His works and appreciate them — even to the point of sending a geologist our way at just the right time.
Such blessings of love, comfort, and knowledge can come even as we are in distress. It was in possibly the darkest, most painful time of Joseph Smith's life, the time when that great prophet was imprisoned and mistreated for months during winter in the cold, gloomy Liberty Jail, jailed on false charges, when he wrote what we now have as Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants. He begins with a cry: "O God, where art thou?" He asks how long will he ignore the sufferings of His people who have been driven from their homes in winter, how long before there is justice on the enemies who seek destruction of the Latter-day Saints? And after these pleas, God answers not with sudden deliverance and justice, but with assurances of future justice, and for now, the blessing of knowledge.

From Section 121, verses 26 to 31:
26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;…
29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed ….
30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—
31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—
How interesting that part of the Lord’s comforting answer to Joseph was the promise that much later, He would explain some of the intricate details of the Creation.

This echoes a previous revelation recorded in Section 101 from 1833:
32 Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—
 33 Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—
 34 Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.
Knowledge about this world and this universe is described as “most precious” and gaining it is part of what he calls “partaking of all this glory.” This earth, this galaxy, this cosmos, are majestic and glorious and to know them is to encounter the glory of God in a sense.

These words in Section 101 echo a still earlier revelation in Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants. I’ll start with verses 77–78 of Section 88:
77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;…
So what is it that is “expedient to understand” so that we may be better able to teach the doctrine of the kingdom? The Lord continues in verse 79:
 79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
 80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
To be prepared to teach, to be prepared to share the doctrine of the kingdom, the Lord encourages us to seek knowledge about nations, kingdoms, history, and things on, under, and above the earth.

When Section 101, like Section 88, talks about the glories of “things that are beneath,” I have to think about scuba diving. This morning in Priesthood meeting Brother Lamb talked about his diving experiences. My wife and I had the privilege of going with the Lambs on their most recent diving adventure in Thailand. Diving has been a new thing for me, something I only reluctantly agreed to try in order to keep my wife happy. How lucky I am that I listened to her. Though I am a beginner, the experiences we have had in seeing the beauty of the creation under the water have greatly increased my respect for the Creation. There is a concentration of beauty and wonder in coral reefs that can leave you breathless. Like the brilliant little Christmas Tree worms that look like miniature Christmas trees in neon colors. When you get too close, they suddenly disappear. It looks like magic, but it’s really a frizzy worm retreating a high speed. So amazing. Or the brilliant yellow seahorse, or giant clams, or rainbow colored parrot fish, sting rays, urchins, octopuses, an occasional shark, or swimming with a school of gorgeous yellow fish, surrounded by vibrant life. It’s just incredible. What a stunningly beautiful world we live in.

These “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth” as mentioned in Section 88 are the things of Creation, the things of science and learning in many fields. This may be why we are commanded several times to seek knowledge from the best books. Indeed, Section 88 goes on in verse 118 with this guidance: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” Also see Doctrine and Covenants 90:15 and 109:7.

There is more knowledge in print, more books written, more information about the earth and life and the wonders of Creation that the ancients ever dreamed of. What a wonderful time to be alive! Today, a human can sit at a computer and have access to vast treasures of knowledge, all of which is ignored as another futile mission of destruction is launched on the coolest and latest video game. May we make better use of our time than that, for there is so much to learn and so much joy that comes from learning and preparing for our future mission and employment and family on this incredible planet.

Implications for the Problem of Pain, and Family and Moral Issues

A healthy respect for the miracle of the Creation and God’s purposes in creating it and us can help us live the Gospel better and maybe even complain a little less. We will better appreciate and respect the miracle of the human body, which is created in His physical image. We will understand God’s purposes in putting us here. We will understand that the many problems and pains we suffer here are not a fair reason to ignore, deny, or blame the God who made all this for us.

As we learn about the workings of DNA, the cell, our bodies, etc., we will understand how delicate life is and how many things can go wrong. Thousands of proteins cooperate in the machinery of each cell. Over 20 proteins in the plasma of our blood cooperate to rapidly assemble blood clots when we bleed and stop the bleeding. If one of them is missing or wrong, this basic healing process can fail. These systems have to be passed down generation after generation and each time, it’s possible for a mutation or other problem to arise. It’s tragic when that happens, but when you think about all that can go wrong, it’s incredible that we are here at all and able to talk, to sing, to eat, to walk, to see.

Pain is vital in this world. It tells us when something is wrong, and gives us a chance to remove the cause or seek help. We would die quickly without the mechanism of pain, not knowing when we were being burned or injured or infected. Free agency sadly can bring pain to others or to ourselves when wrong choices are made. This combination, a natural, mortal world — where fingers can be slammed in doors, where snakes can bite us, and where special proteins sometimes fail — plus the terrible gift of free agency means suffering is inevitable. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” He also said, “The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.” But if you are at a stage in life without pain, use this sweet time to lift others and learn more about the ways of Him who took all our pains upon Him. Your service, kindness, and love is needed.

Understanding the Creation helps us understand that variety is expected. Some have perfect vision, some are blind, and there is a spectrum in between. It’s that way for almost everything. The variety in humans can come from genes, it can come from the environment and the way were raised, it can come from choices we make or from things outside of our control. This variety can affect our tastes, our desires, our yearnings. For some, resisting alcohol is extremely difficult, while others naturally dislike it. Issues of morality that are easy for some may be difficult for others. We can all use patience with the challenges others have. We all need faith and patience in coping with the unique challenges we each face.

Issues of morality and LDS policies on the Family are especially challenging to some, but if viewed with faith and patience, we may find help in understanding for ourselves God’s love, fairness, and plans for us. May we seek more knowledge on these issues and make the most of our brief time in this beautiful world, brilliantly designed to give us experiences that in the end, through the Atonement of Christ, can bring us back to His presence and find a fullness of joy.

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