Why God loves steampunk (An LDS perspective)

Steampunk can be loosely defined as a setting where technology is as it was during Victorian era Britain, wild-west United States, or even some imaginary post-apocalyptic retro-future.  However, the technology is advanced beyond what was available at that time.  It often uses steam power rather than electricity, is made of shiny metals such as brass, copper, or gold or other gemstones.  It contains knobs and dials and plush leather coverings, and often relates to/gives access to/is powered by supernatural powers. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk)

While I was at church today listening to a lesson, the Liahona was mentioned as being a spiritual compass.  My mind began to spin as I realized that the Liahona is an ideal example steampunk.

Could the Liahona’s obvious steampunk-ness be a coincidence (or my crazy imagination)?  I don’t think so.  The Liahona is just one of many scriptural examples of steampunk.  We’ve got the Liahona, rods of iron, books made of brass and gold, Urim and Thummim’s, gold plated gem-encrused breastplates, and the Ark of the Covenant  (just to name a few).

Let’s examine each of these in turn.

The Liahona (1 Nephi 16:10, 26, 28, 29, Alma 37:38-39)

And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the afaith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it.

I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.  And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship.

In short, it’s a ball made of brass and spindles, ahead of its time (‘there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship’), and is powered by a spirtual force: ‘the pointers … they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them … new writing … changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it’.

Rod of Iron (1 Nephi 8:191 Nephi 15:23-24)

And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.

And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?

And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.

During Lehi’s dream of the ‘tree of life’, there is a rod of iron that leads the way to the tree.  Why choose an iron rod?  It’s strong (as steampunk tech goes) and gives spiritual protection and guidance.

Plates of brass and gold

Sheets of brass and gold are the perfect medium for a steampunk instruction manual.  Scrolls don’t tend to last very long, stone flakes away, but soft(er) metals such as brass and gold can keep for a LONG time (certainly longer than any tech we use today) and are fairly easy to write on.  And they look oh so cool.

Urim and Thummim

There are several references to these stones in the old testament (Leviticus 8:8, Nehemiah 7:65, Ezra 2:63, Deuteronomy 33:8, Exodus 28:30).  Also a reference in Revelation 2:17 about a white stone that is presumably a personal Urim and Thummim everyone will receive (in white no less – like a white smartphone).  The D&C further clarifies (D&C 130:10):

Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known.

But what do they look like?  We get a description in Joseph Smith History 1:35:

There were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times.

Precious gemstones that give knowlege and power.  This is the latest in steampunk accessories.  You can slip it in your pocket, drop it into a tophat, or (as the Jewish high priests used to do in the Old Testament), stick it in your gem encrusted breastplate (more on this next).  Never be without the answers to life, the universe, and everything ever again.

The High Priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28)

A species of pouch, adorned with precious stones, worn by the high priest on his breast.  The directions specify that it was to be made “of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen”. On the front face of this square were set, in four rows, twelve precious stones, on each of which was engraved the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It hung over the breast of the wearer, and was secured to the shoulders of the ephod by gold cords (or chains).

It doesn’t get much more steampunk than that.  Except, of course, the ultimate in religious steampunk …

Ark of the Covenant

Nowhere is God’s love of steampunk more evident than in the Ark of the Covenant.  It is a box plated in gold (inside and out), topped by golden cherubim (angels).  It houses the ten commandments, written by the finger of God Himself.  Some of the powers of the Ark (some type of awesome steampunk machine?) include parting the Jordan River, helping topple the walls of Jericho, winning battles by destroying the enemies of the Ark, and running off poisonous animals.  But don’t try to open it, or else your face will melt.

Michael Jackson – a thrilling story

I was passing out vitamins to the kids. Andrea and Gwyneth share what color they got. Purple, Pink! As i’m putting the bottle away, Andrea asks what happens if you take two vitamins. Is it bad? Well … probably taking two won’t do any harm, but i don’t tell her that. Have to teach the kids that overdosing on pills is bad, right? So i tell her it might make her sick, and that if she takes too many she could die.

“Just like Michael Jackson”, says Gwyneth. What’s that? “Mom and i were watching a show where they talked about that”. Hmm, news to me, but hey – maybe? So anyway, out of the blue Andrea asks, “Is Michael Jackson a zombie?”

I take a moment as i compose myself. “Why yes, as a matter of fact. There’s a video of him when he turned into a zombie. Do you want to watch it?” “YES”. Queue Thriller.

Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'alls neighborhood

Later (after watching it two or three times), Luann comes home and the girls jump up and down. “Did you know Michael Jackson is a zombie? And he’s in a video where all the actors turn into zombies too! Do you want to watch it with us?”

The ‘kiddies’

This afternoon i stayed home from church with my youngest who was sick. Her two older sisters went by themselves. After church was over, i left to pick them up. As i was leaving, she asked me where i was headed. ‘To pick up the kiddies’ i said. Well, she gets a big smile and goes “ooooohh, how many are you getting? Can i have one in my room?”. Obviously thinking i’d said “kitties”. Well .. who am i to dash a young girls dreams? I said sure, i’ll let of the kiddies sleep in her room. I didn’t tell her it would be her cute little redheaded sister…

A few minutes later i arrived home with the kiddies in tow. Cute little girl – rather than be all said and disappointed (apparently she did nothing but talk about the new kittens while i was gone), she goes “ahhhh DDAAAAAD, you tricked me!”, with a big smile. Which naturally was the reaction i was hoping for :)

Move over Scotty

Who comes to mind when you think of the greatest engineers of science fiction? I give it a 90% chance that you probably said ‘Scotty’ or ‘Dr. Who’.  Both good choices to be sure.  But we often forget the other guys.  Who can fix a time machine using a can of peaches and a wad of bubble gum?  That’s right – Bill and Ted baby.  Be excellent to each other!  But wait … I think this adorable creature might have them beat.  He built an interstellar communications device using a coat hanger, an umbrella and a speak and spell.  Nobody is badder than E.T. Phooooone Hooome.


Jesus and the Klingons

In a recent conference sponsored by DARPA titled “100 Year Starship Symposium” a number of interesting topics were broached. One of these was around religious views and how discovery of intelligent aliens would affect religion. Or as one scientist put it, “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” Interesting!

Well .. lots of viewpoints were discussed. Some a bit out there, some a little more rational. If you take the typical Christian viewpoint, God performed an infinite atonement. What is infinite if not everything, including Klingons? It becomes much more clear in the added books of Moses, where God says “worlds without number have I created.” If God created them, it stands to reason there are people on them (maybe Klingons although if man is created in God’s image, the Klingons probably look like us) and that they commit sin and need to be saved too. So sure – i’ll bet he accounted for the Klingons.

Did He go there personally like here? Did He send His Son personally like He did here? “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you.” Guess we’ll have to wait to find out on that one. Or I suppose if we run into any Klingons we can ask them. Personally i don’t think it will shatter any belief systems. Some may have to adjust, but truth is truth and religion is supposed to be about truth. People often think it’s only about faith, but it encompasses everything, including scientific truths. And Klingons.

The ever evolving language

I find it ironic that as i look for people discussing how to use ironic, nobody can quite agree on what it is. Wait – was that ironic or just coincidental? “Irony is one of the most misused words in the English language.” So say the scholars anyway. But i heard on a podcast a few days ago, and i completely agree – if the majority of the population is using a word in a certain way, isn’t that the “correct” usage, by definition? After all, language is just a construct to help facilitate communication between people, and if everyone uses a word to mean “x” (even if the dictionary says it really means “y”), who’s right – the dictionary, or the people using the word?

That’s one of the great things about the English language. It’s constantly evolving. We’d probably be hard-pressed to understand most of what someone was saying in “old english” a few hundred years ago. Many words have changed meanings, many more have gone out of day to day usage, and tons of new words have come into being. Not to mention local pop cultural references. Who can understand all those weird things in Shakespeare (unless you’re an English professor)?

Viva English … Woot!

Fish vs Robots

Do Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rogers, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, V, and even War of the Worlds have it all wrong? If we or other aliens were to travel into space and go to other worlds, would we really be living inside of spaceships that attempt to mimic our native environment?

The following article (provocatively titled ‘Biological Intelligence is Only a Transitory Phenomenon’) suggests that the answer is no. And not just no, but “hell no, that’s just stupid, what are you thinking?” Here are some quotes from the article to give you a flavor of what they’re talking about:

any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines. Not only are machines better able to endure extended exposure to the conditions of space, but they have the potential to develop intelligence far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

I think it very likely – in fact inevitable – that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe … If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature.

The two scientists compared that approach [i.e. spacesuits and space ships] to “a fish taking a small quantity of water along with him to live on land.” They felt that humans should be willing to partially adapt to the environment to which they would be traveling. … “Altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space,

So, are they right? Is it a silly idea to think that we want to go somewhere (let’s say Mars for arguments sake) that we aren’t adapted to, without changing outselves? Suppose we could alter our physical selves with gene thereapy, cyborg implents, etc.. so that we could live on Mars without a big bubble and/or terraforming the planet. Is that a better way to go? Or should we build the portable fish tank to take with us as we explore the cosmos? I can see arguments on both sides.

Pro fish tank: We aren’t ourselves anymore if we change. How can we be human and want what humans want if we’re part robot, part martian?

Pro fish tank: We can share all the cool things we have here with those elsewhere (be they aliens or other human visitors). You won’t be able to experience that if you haven’t brought along the right environment.

Pro post-biological: When in Rome …

Pro post-biological: If you change the place you’re going to, you might destroy whatever it was you were going there for in the first place. Disrupt the habitat, kill off the locals (intentional/unintentional), etc..

Pro post-biological: If you adapt to live in the environment you inhabit, you can experience it as it is, not via some proxy.

Pro post-biological: You don’t have to worry about the bubble cracking and all your air leaking away. You also don’t have to worrya bout too much or too little gravity or light, etc..

Pro fish tank: Space ships are cool. So are shelds, lasers, photon torpedos and cloaking devices.

Pro post-biological: Space suits are not comfortable or easy to wear, and they simply will never ever be fashionable.


Full article can be found here.


With the recent introduction of Google+, it got me to thinking how much of my life is tied up in Google. I did a quick count of how many Google products and services I use. Would you like to see the list? How does your list compare? Are we worried that Google will use this to ruin our lives at some point? Or is “do no evil” good enough for you to trust them with everything?

Used all the time (multiple times daily, daily)

  • Google search
  • Gmail
  • Chrome browser
  • Google music
  • Google reader
  • Google+
  • Google calendar
  • Google talk
  • Google voice
  • Android OS
  • Google news

Used often (multiple times a week)

  • Google docs
  • Google maps
  • YouTube

Used occasionally

  • Google buzz
  • Google groups
  • Google translate
  • Google bookmarks
  • Picassa
  • Google earth
  • Google alerts

I weep for the future

begin rant – please don’t be offended –

ok, i’ll admit it.  it bugs me when people use poor grammer or just plain misspell things in their posts.  actually, it’s not the grammar so much as the obviously incorrect use of words.  (and yes, i purposefully spelt those words differently in the first sentence) :)

I was commenting to Luann how it surprises me how many people just don’t get the difference between to, too, and two.  They’re, their, there.  Were, we’re. Effect, affect.  You’re, your.  Here, hear.  I could go on.  Not that i dislike these people, but … am i the only one who cares about these things?  I’m no english professor.  I don’t mind a “hey u, ‘sup?” but it just pains me sometimes.

Lu says it’s probably common and i just notice it now because more and more people are writing in public places (facebook, email, twitter, blogs) where everyone can see it, and the viewing of horrible spelling isn’t confined to school teachers grading papers anymore.  If this is true … the school system has failed us.  Or English is just too damn complicated.  Either way – please – take a moment to proof your writing and make sure you’re using the words right.  We’ve got the all-knowing Google at our fingertips.  Dictionary.com.  Wikipedia.  Anything.  Just because the word isn’t underlined red doesn’t mean it’s not incorrect.  (parse that sentence, it makes sense, trust me).

-end of rant-

Space wizards

I read an excellent article yesterday talking about “space wizards” in general, and Spock in particular.  It got me to thinking about something that’s always seemed obvious to me: there is a fine line between science fiction and fantasy.  They’re really two sides of the same coin.  Magic and technology – they’re not so different, really.  You can make amazing things happen either way.  One is usually portrayed with shiny buttons, gadgets, and cool looking space toys.  The other is portrayed with wands, natural forces and willpower.  But the net effect is the same: things that are out of the norm occur.
The typical hero’s quest story always contains a wise wizard figure.  Whether that’s Gandalf, Merlin, Dr. Who, Spock, Yoda, or Dumbledore, they’re always there.  Whether they weild the force and a light saber, or wave their magic wand.  Whether they cite magical incantations or blurt out technobabble, they serve the same purpose.  To guide the young hero towards the big bad to save the world.
I imagine a universe where there are civilations that take both evolutionary paths.  Some go down the road of science and technology.  Some take up magic.  You can travel around the universe in a shiny metal spaceship, a small blue box or just teleport yourself wherever your thoughts can take you.  But just because some planets have wizards doesn’t mean that others can’t have spaceships.
Just imagine writing a series of novels where the two co-exist, and maybe even interact for the first time.  What happens when the enterprise bumps into Sauron?  Or when crashes on a planet and gets kidnapped by elves?  There are some very interesting cross-overs that could occur.
Some wizards already blur the line.
Yoda.  He lives in a very science-fiction universe.  He uses a light saber and flies around in spaceships.  Yet he also weilds a magical force that let’s him move things around with his mind, shoot energy fields and lightning bolts from his fingertips, see visions of the future, and commune with the dead.
Q.  He (and the entire Q race) live in a very science-fiction universe.  But they seem to have magical powers.  They snap their fingers and can travel across the universe.  They can manipulate time, create alternate realities, wisk things into and out of existince on a whim, and generally alter the fabric of reality all with their mind.
So what is Q, what is Yoda?  A wizard?  A space wizard?  Spock and Dr. Who are more traditional space wizards.  They use their extreme intelligence and combine it with technology to do amazing things.  Gandalf and Dumbledore are more traditional fantasy wizards who cast spells and use their arcane knowledge to do amazing things.
But in the end, they all serve the same purpose and they’re all wonderful and amazing.
Oh, and here’s the article that kicked off my random thoughts for today.