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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2001)


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Schedule for 2001

Friday, February 23, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "Is Science Intrinsically Atheistic? What is 'Christian' Scholarship in the Natural Sciences?"
Our religious worldview affects how we search for truth, including what sorts of evidence and what sorts of answers we are willing to accept as "true." How is it, then, that natural scientists from many different religious worldviews usually reach consensus on scientific matters? Some people (including some Christians) claim that scientists reach consensus because science is "methodologically" atheistic; that is, scientists act "as if God doesn't exist" while they are doing science. Is that a fair description of how natural science usually works? If so, is there such a thing as "Christian" scholarship in science? If that is not a fair description of how science reaches consensus, what is a better description?

Wednesday, March 7, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 101.
Stephen Wykstra, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "Robert Boyle and Methodological Naturalism: God, laws, and air bubbles."
Robert Boyle, of "Boyle's Law" fame, was perhaps the most influential scientist in the generation preceding Isaac Newton. His voluminous and widely-read books were divided between experimental work (especially on the air pump and in chemistry), work on the theoretical foundations and guiding "meta-scientific" framework for science, and theological and religious works. Boyle urged that experimental science be conducted within the framework of the "Corpuscular" or "Mechanical Philosophy," defending this framework as a devout Christian theist, but urging that it NOT be limited in the ways that other mechanists wanted to limit it. I will give an account of some strands in Boyle's thought, raise some questions, and invite discussion on his relevance for the practice of science today.

Friday, April 6, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Arie Leegwater, Chemistry & Biochemistry Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "On the Mountain: Charles A. Coulson on Science and Religion"
Charles A. Coulson (1910-1974) was an influential English-Methodist quantum chemist and author of a number of books on science and religion. [You could say he was the Polkinghorne of the 1950s and 1960s in England.] Coulson's life, I will argue, displays a unity of action, and that unity is displayed in a variety of ways: (1) Coulson's style of attacking scientific problems in quantum chemistry, his view of the role of models and imagination in scientific work, and his emphasis on the wholeness or unity of personal experience shaped his views of the science/religion connection. (2) Coulson's emphasis on a personal religious experience, the role of a group's fellowship in confirming that experience, and a call to holiness affected his approach to his scientific co-workers, his research group and their activities, and his general promotion of science to a wider public.

Friday, April 20, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Steve Steenwyk, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "Some Considerations for Intelligent Design from Physics and Astrophysics"
While much of the intelligent design (I.D.) discussion centers on issues involving biological function and structure and the probability of their biochemical evolution, physics, astrophysics and cosmology also may contribute some important constraints to be considered by I.D. proponents. A brief summary of I.D. is given, highlighting that much of the argument centers on probabilities that are highly uncertain. Recent and well established developments in astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, string theory, black hole entropy and information, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and other fields must influence considerations involving the probability that life may evolve and the generation and transmission of "information"-a key word in I.D. theory. While all of these issues cannot be addressed here in detail, some recent developments in astrophysics and cosmology involving the physical extent of the universe are addressed in some detail along with some brief comments involving some of the other areas mentioned. Some implications for estimation of probabilities will be discussed.

Friday, May 4, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College.

Title:   "The Gaia Hypothesis and the Possibility for a Christian Earth Teleology"
Recently, attention has been renewed among scientists, philosophers and theologians to the concept of teleological design or intelligent design in the natural world. Any demonstration of design in an individual, whether a living organism, a planet, or a galaxy, must take into account the historical development of that individual. During its 4.5 Gyr history, Earth has developed from a very hot near- molten entity with a dense atmosphere of CO2 and steam, lacking a shield against lethal UV radiation, into a comfortable home for many different types of life. The Earth has become remarkably robust in terms of resistance to perturbations which might threaten life. One non-Christian teleological interpretation of this is the "Gaia hypothesis", which postulates that Earth behaves as a large self- regulating superorganism. How should Christians respond to the Gaia hypothesis? Is a distinctive Christian teleological theory of Earth history possible?

Friday, September 7, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

Title:   "The New Natural World Core: It's here, and now you've got to assess it."
A brainstorming session on how to assess Natural World core courses. If you teach a science core class, or expect to some day, that class WILL be evaluated. Would you like a say in how the assessment is done? Even if you don't plan to teach a core course, your students will be taking them. Help us decide how to assess whether our classes are meeting our goals. Students welcome!

Friday, October 12, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 101.
Kevin Corcoran, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "Human Animals or Human Persons: How are bodies and persons related?"
According to classical dualism, human persons are fundamentally and essentially immaterial souls, albeit souls contingently and intimately connected to material bodies. According to "animalism," human persons are fundamentally and essentially biological organisms and, therefore, only contingently persons. These two broad views have seemed exhaustive. I want to suggest an alternative. I propose a "constitution view" of human persons according to which we are wholly physical things, though not identical with the physical things that are our bodies.

Friday, October 26, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
David Van Baak, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College.  Calvin Lecturer, 2001-2002.

Title:  "Teleology and the Laws of Physics"
Since the time of Newton it has been generally accepted that the laws of nature depict the natural world as a mechanism. This viewpoint has persisted in spite of discoveries that parts of the natural world do not have any of the characteristics of Newtonian clockwork; it has even persisted despite the discovery, more than two centuries ago, that there are alternative ways of expressing the laws of physics. These "variational" expressions of the laws are wholly consistent with Newtonian forms in their observable implications, but they are not at all mechanistic in their character. Whereas the picture of the world painted by Newtonian mechanics is that of a mindless and deterministic machine, the variational expression of the same physics is eerily redolent of purpose or intention. This lecture will introduce anyone interested in science to the character of natural law, some of the alternative variational expressions of the laws of physics, and the implications for science, and the philosophy of science, of these "physically equivalent but psychologically inequivalent" ways of expressing the laws of nature.

Friday, November 9, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
James Bradley, Mathematics Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "The Quest for a Quantitative Social Science: A Problem for Christians?"
Since the mid-seventeenth century, many thinkers have sought to develop a science of human behavior analogous to physics -- that is, one based on natural laws that have empirical bases and are formulated mathematically. These thinkers hoped that such a science could serve as a rational basis for ordering human societies. This talk will first explore why such a quest appears problematic for Christians. It will then examine how efforts to quantify human behavior have made major positive contributions to human culture but have also generated significant social problems. It will conclude by suggesting some ways that the application of a Christian perspective could maintain the benefits of quantification while preventing some of the harms.

Friday, November 30, 2001, 3:45 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Glenn Weaver, Psychology Department, Calvin College.

Title:  "Models of Spiritual Discipline in Addiction Recovery"
The Twelve Step model of spiritual discipline is the most widely recognized addiction recovery approach that emphasizes the importance of spiritual discipline. This presentation will describe two studies which identify an alternative model of spiritual discipline as effective in the efforts of nicotine-dependent smokers to quit smoking. Based on structured interviews with ex-smokers, the first study identified "calling-oriented spirituality" and "dependency- oriented spirituality" as related, yet distinct, practices which have been engaged in efforts to quit smoking. The second study recruited active smokers for a three-month effort to quit smoking. Participants agreed to random assignment to one of several disciplined practices throughout the three month effort: "calling-oriented" spiritual practices, "dependency-oriented" spiritual practices, or self-designed "motivational enhancement" practices. Results indicated that these practices had different effects on the way in which participants viewed their smoking during the three month effort to quit. Participants experienced the "calling-oriented" spiritual practice condition as the most appropriate approach and made the greatest progress in reducing their self-monitored cigarette and nicotine consumption. The presentation will consider some implications for addiction theory and future addiction research.