Sunday, August 25, 2013

Samoa in Church History

Artist's rendering of the once-planned Mormon temple in American Samoa

I always like to hear or read of our church leaders' experiences in Samoa. It serves, somewhat, as a reminder of my own days in the Samoan islands as a missionary, and of the faith and faithfulness of the Samoan people. Here's one from this April 1985 talk by then Elder (now President) Boyd K. Packer, of the 12 Apostles:
On one occasion I was organizing a new stake on Upolu Island in Samoa. As is customary, we were conducting interviews with local priesthood leaders, asking each to suggest a few names of brethren of stature to be considered for a call.
One dignified branch president had walked from the other side of the island. He stood before us in a white shirt and tie, with a lavalava, or skirt, tied about his waist. He wore no shoes; he had never owned shoes.
I asked for names. He gave but one: “Bishop Iono will be our stake president.” He was right, for that had already been revealed to me. But I did not feel he should make the announcement.
So I asked for other names, for we had counselors and others to call as well. He replied, holding up his finger, “Just one name.” “But,” I said, “suppose he could not serve, would you not like to name others?” This humble priesthood president then asked me a question, “Brother Packer, are you asking me to go against the witness of the Spirit?”
How marvelous! This wonderful man had reminded me that each member of the Church, in prayer, can receive confirmation that the fifth article of faith has been honored.
“We believe that a man [and this applies to sisters as well] must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”

Image credit:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Making the Grade

The author after a long day of grading.

I lost my TA, so I'm stuck doing the grading. I'm always amused that students, despite the bold-faced, ALL CAPS instructions to round all calculations to the nearest kilocalorie (kcal), still give me values like 338.58 kcal of protein, as if they actually had the ability to measure that precisely.

Such excessive, and in some students' work seemingly obsessive, expression of precision reminds me of the fallacy of misplaced precision, also called false precision, among other things, best illustrated, I think, by the perhaps apocryphal story of the scientists who, in a study of human gestation lengths, reported their subjects' pregnancies to be, on average, 38.001 weeks, implying that the scientists were on the scene to make their initial observations within 10 minutes of conception. Awkward!

The assignment in question includes a one-day food diary. One student observed that the difference between his estimated energy needs and actual intake could have been due to being more conscious of what he was eating throughout the day, causing him to eat smaller portions and healthier foods.

This is a great example of the Hawthorne effect, so-called because of the famous study at the Hawthorne Works electric factory, where subjects modify their behavior because it is being observed. This is a problem for anyone conducting nutrition research.

And here's a bonus fallacy that popped up in my Feedly: a case of statistical special pleading.

(Image credit: Language Arts Blog.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013


His humble prayer was answered!

I know. It's only been one day since the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research's (FAIR) annual conference, but since I wasn't able to attend (it was held in Utah) or stream it live, I've been anxiously waiting for some of the conference presentations to be posted online.

My patience is rewarded. The first on the scene is Don Bradley's talk (here) on the original context of Joseph Smith's First Vision narrative, answering the question of whether Joseph's narrative points to origins in the 1830s, as some critics claim, or in the 1820s, as Mormons maintain. Bradley examines the evidence and concludes that if Joseph had been making up his story in the 1830s, the story would be couched in that context. Rather, Joseph's narrative firmly rests in the context of when he claimed it happened, in Joseph's own words, "on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty."

With Bradley, I give it as my own conviction that "Joseph Smith entered the Sacred Grove a boy and left it a prophet and seer."

(Image credit goes to Walter Rane, one of my favorite Mormon artists.)