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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2005)


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Schedule for 2005


Friday, February 18, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

Speaker:David Koetje; Biology Department, Calvin College.

Title:  Place-based agbiotech: Bridging ideological divisions over genetically modified crops
     "It is rather remarkable," writes anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone, "that a process as esoteric as the genetic modification of crops would become the subject of a global war of rhetoric."  Yet this is where we find ourselves today.  Agbiotech's critics advocate substantial changes, a moratorium, or an outright ban on GM crops.  Most base their assertions on an ecologically-based or agrarian view of agriculture.  Agbiotech proponents counter that GM crops are necessary to sustain agriculture and reduce environmental risks.  Yet in making this claim, most fail to question agbiotech's underlying industrial paradigm, which has a notorious record of ignoring cultural and environmental contexts.  Are we at an ideological impasse, as some have asserted?  In the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship-supported book we are writing, Uko Zylstra and I contend that if agbiotech proponents would adopt a place-based paradigm, then critics would be more likely to consider agbiotech.  A place-based approach would primarily seek to improve ecological and cultural resilience within bioregions, or foodsheds, and in this way promote sustainability.  Our vision is spurred by a Christian environmental perspective that embraces a careful balance between humanity's place in nature and our limited power over nature.

Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship.

Friday, March 4, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Laura Smit, Dean of the Chapel & Assistant Professor of Religion, Calvin College.

Title:The Truth of a Tree:  Logos Christology as a Foundation for a Christian Environmental Ethic
     Pre-modern Christian theology took seriously the gospel of John's claim that Jesus is the Logos, the eternal Word of the Father, understanding Christ as the one who holds the universe together and whose work in creation is to give each creature its individual form and design.  More recent approaches to Christology have typically emphasized the humanity of Christ rather than emphasizing his role in creation; however, traditional Logos Christology remains a powerful way to understand the on-going work of Christ in the natural world.  The 13th-century Franciscan Bonaventure was an advocate for such Logos Christology, and in that context he presented nature as an arena within which we make contact with God.  In that arena, the human knower fulfills a priestly role.  Bonaventure suggests that we can know the physical world truly only when we know it in Christ and that when we know it in this way we perform a priestly act by offering the natural world back to God in our knowing of it.  To know in this way is not to have dominion in any destructive sense.  It is rather to open oneself to the truth of things, to their place in God's design, and to come to understand the world as it relates to God rather than as it relates to us.  This is a humble and hospitable approach to interacting with nature, which continues to be viable today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Karen Vander Laan, Nursing Department, Calvin College.

Title:  Partnering with Faith Communities to Promote Advance Care Planning
     Advance Care Planning (ACP) is a desirable process of individual and community reflection, discussion, and communication about end-of-life care preferences.  However, with a < 40% prevalence of ACP in the general population, there is often uncertainty of individuals' preferences for care and potentially undesired treatment.  During this seminar the philosophical and ethical bases for ACP will be reviewed.  A conceptual model of the decision processes in ACP, mostly influenced by the Decision Process Model, will be discussed.  A descriptive study of ACP in one Midwestern city's faith communities will be presented.  Study participants are individuals who voluntarily attended ACP information programs conducted by ACP Facilitators.  The sample of 100 participants includes adult men and women from diverse faith communities.  This descriptive study provides a baseline understanding of how members of faith communities understand and use advance care plans and the immediate effect of ACP programs.  For the longer term, this study lays the groundwork for an evaluation of the effectiveness of faith communities as promoters of ACP.  The seminar will conclude with a discussion of the role of faith communities in promoting ACP.

Friday, April 1, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Gary Gutting, Professor, Philosophy Department, University of Notre Dame.

Title:  Science, Experience, and Philosophy:  from Henri Bergson to Maurice Merleau-Ponty
     Every modern philosophical enterprise has had to guarantee a place for itself by showing that there is something for it to know that escapes the grasp of empirical science.  There have been many vehicles for staking out the domain of philosophy, but one of the most persistently attractive has been the claim that philosophy can and should root itself in an experience with an immediacy or concreteness that escapes the abstractions required for successful empirical science.  This appeal to a distinctive realm of philosophical experience is particularly prominent among the twentieth-century philosophers characterized as "continental," and it has been especially important in the French philosophy of the last one hundred years.  It is, accordingly, appropriate to try to think through the complex questions of science, philosophy, and immediate experience via some reflections on French thinkers.  Here I find the work of two figures, Henri Bergson and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, particularly helpful.  I propose to sketch their critiques of the limitations of scientific knowledge, their consequent conceptions of philosophy as a distinctive epistemic domain, and their disagreements with one another on these topics.

Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and Metanexus Local Society Initiative of Calvin College

Friday, April 8, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 010.

Speaker:John Evans, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, San Diego.

Title:  Religious Opinions Concerning Human Reproductive Genetic Technologies
     Life.  Death.  Suffering.  Human purpose.  The limits of human control.  These are all central concepts in the dominant religious traditions in the U.S.  They are also the concepts that many people feel are implicated in reproductive genetic technologies such as genetic testing, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, cloning, and so on.  To take the oft-repeated phrase: reproductive genetic technologies are often accused of "playing God."  It is not only the experts that see these connections -- the religious beliefs of average Americans are central to predicting their attitudes about these technologies.  In this lecture I will give preliminary findings of a nation-wide study of the views of religiously oriented Americans toward reproductive genetic technologies.  I will discuss some general conclusions taken from in-depth, inductive surveys of different religious groups, including Jews, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and the non-religious.  I will give examples from the interview data about topics such as whether different religious traditions hold different notions of suffering, which in turn lead to different conclusions about the need for these technologies.  I will also present findings on how the public thinks we should debate these topics:  whether we should use our religious language in debates about these most religious of topics.

Co-sponsored by Calvin College Sociology Department.

Friday, April 15, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Lambert Zuidervaart, Professor of Philosophy, Institute for Christian Studies.

Title:  Truth and Interpretation:  Science, Religion and Culture
     Philosophers often characterize science as a pursuit of truth, and they regard truth as scientific truth. Truth is propositional, they say, and it pertains to the relation between propositions and facts. I shall argue that this misconstrues both science and truth. It overlooks the cultural and religious character of science, and it reduces truth to only one of its dimensions.  First I shall comment on Martin Heidegger's claim that propositional truth stems from the "disclosedness" of human existence. In partial agreement with Heidegger, I shall then portray truth as a dynamic correlation between human fidelity and societal disclosure. Truth calls for our faithfulness to societal principles such as solidarity and justice. It also calls forth the flourishing of all creatures in their interconnections. So truth is to be lived, and not simply claimed.  Yet making assertions and testing propositions are vital to the pursuit of truth. Further, the sciences have a special role in this regard: scientists should strive for empirical accuracy and propositional correctness in order to serve human fidelity and societal disclosure. Interpreting what such service means is indispensable to scientific endeavors. Hence science is hermeneutical, and so is scientific truth. This does not make scientific truth any less true, however. Rather, by rooting science in culture and religion, interpretation keeps science connected with the ongoing dynamic of truth.

Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and Metanexus Local Society Initiative of Calvin College.

Friday, April 29, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Elise Crull, Physics major, Calvin College.

Title:A Student's Perspective on Integrating Faith and Science
     The project of Calvin's education is rare in that it not only intends to train students rigorously in both their discipline and their faith, but also attempts to synthesize the students' maturing faiths with their academic pursuits.  As a student who has spent (nearly) four years pondering and grappling with this synthesis project, I will present my reflections on the Christian interpretation arrived at through my undergraduate experience.  Has this Christian hermeneutic (as specifically applied toward the inquiries of physics) been successful?  Is this evident in my science?  Is "synthesis" the most appropriate mode through which to approach science as a Christian?  My hope in sharing these thoughts is to present a student's honest perspective on the endeavor of uniting faith and science at Calvin.

Friday, May 6, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Mike Stob, Mathematics and Statistics Department, Calvin College.

Title:Is the Continuum Hypothesis True or False?
     The Continuum Hypothesis (CH) is an important open question concerning the "size" of the infinite set of real numbers.  It is more than open – we now know that we cannot settle the question on the basis of the currently accepted set of axioms for set theory.  This situation has caused some to claim that CH doesn't even have a truth value.  This position, if correct, has consequences for those who want to hold to an ontology of mathematics that embraces realism.  The status of CH, at the very least, presents a challenge for those who claim that a Christian is naturally led to a realist's view of mathematical objects.  In this talk, I will attempt to give a precise statement of the Continuum Hypothesis suitable for non-mathematicians, outline the current state of knowledge about its truth value, and describe the various philosophical positions that are popular consequences of thinking about CH.

Friday, September 16, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Ken Piers, Chemistry & Biochemistry Department, Calvin College.

Title:Sustainability: An Opportunity for the Calvin Curriculum
     The sustainability of civilization is, of course, not a novel question. Already over 200 years ago Thomas Malthus suggested that meeting the needs of a geometrically increasing population could not be achieved by an arithmetically increasing production of the basic means of subsistence. More recently, in 1972, the Club of Rome report suggested that unless steps were taken to address fundamental aspects of modern economic life, modern culture would reach the limits to growth sometime "within the next 100 years." Now these concerns come to us with renewed force. In this lecture we will present some of the "signs of the times" that suggest that there exist significant threats to the long-term viability of modern culture, threats which, if not addressed, may result in the emergence of very significant challenges for the survival of civilization as we know it. We will also suggest that an appropriate response to this state of affairs by Calvin College is to begin to address these issues in a systematic way in our curriculum, and will conclude by suggesting one way in which we may begin to achieve this goal.

Thursday, September 29, 2005.

Speaker: Martin Klein, Eugine Higgins Professor Emeritus of Physics and History of Science, Yale University.

Title: Einstein and His World

Sponsored by Calvin College Physics and Astronomy Department

(This lecture was not part of the Christian Perspectives in Science Seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.)

Friday, September 30, 2005.

Speaker: Martin Klein, Eugine Higgins Professor Emeritus of Physics and History of Science, Yale University.

Title: New Paths to the Depths of Physics: Einstein in 1905

Sponsored by Calvin College Physics and Astronomy Department

(This lecture was not part of the Christian Perspectives in Science Seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.)

Friday, October 7, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker: Douglas Kindschi, Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, Grand Valley State University.

Title:Chastened Realism:  Mathematics as a Model for  Theology
     What is the nature of theological discourse?  Is it a form of science, does it explain reality, is it a useful fiction, is it art or literature?   Rarely do we ask how it might be related to mathematics.  This is in spite of the fact that mathematics historically has had a major impact on how we understand knowledge in philosophy and in theology.  This paper will argue that mathematics can and should again become an active partner in the science and theology discussion.  Furthermore, structural realism in mathematics –– which is different from scientific realism –– is a better model for theology.  The emphasis on relationship, pattern and structure provides an alternative model to the object orientation and empirical method of the natural sciences.  I will be presenting a draft of a paper on this topic prepared as a part of my sabbatical project last semester.

Thursday, October 13, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall.

Speaker: Christopher B. Kaiser, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Western Theological Seminary.

Title:Beliefs in Natural Science, Then and Now
     It is now generally recognized that early modern scientists were motivated by various religious beliefs.  However, historians and philosophers still often assume that the beliefs of early scientists either were abandoned by later scientists or became peripheral to scientific work.  What seems to have escaped the notice of historians and philosophers alike is the fact that some of the beliefs of early modern scientists have persisted in surprisingly consistent forms.  In support of this revisionist position, I shall identify two distinct beliefs having to do with the comprehensibility of the natural world that occur in the writings of early modern scientists like Johannes Kepler.  I shall discuss some of the forms those beliefs took in medieval Christianity and in Reformers like Philip Melanchthon in order to show their specifically theological character.  Finally I shall illustrate the survival and vitality of these beliefs in modern scientists like Albert Einstein and Paul Davies.

Sponsored by Calvin College Meeter Center colloquium

(This lecture was not part of the Christian Perspectives in Science Seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.)

Friday, October 21, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Ralph Stearley; Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College.

Title:Progress and Its Discontents − In the History of Life
     During the last half of the twentieth century, anti-teleological statements concerning the history of life on Earth and processes which contribute to that history have become commonplace among prominent evolutionary biologists.  The course of evolution is held to be opportunistic and unguided.  On the other hand, many nineteenth-century paleontologists and morphologists sensed the opposite.  Charles Darwin, for example, saw the phenomenon of progress as a problem to be explained, rather than eliminated, by the process of natural selection.  Christians are compelled to believe that the triune almighty God acts in a purposive manner.  Furthermore, scripture records that God regards his creation as "good."  Do these considerations provide encouragement for interpreting the history of life as goal-directed?  Or are all human interpretations flawed by our finite capabilities?  Perhaps the notion of progress is difficult to quantify and to demonstrate with certainty.  On the other hand, the notion of "anti-progress" also provides opportunities for selective data presentation and overconfident conclusions on the part of its proponents.  The attack on the idea of progress elaborated by the late Steven J. Gould is an example of such a misrepresentation of the history of life.  A Christian must believe that while the Creator could have devised some solitary "optimal" taxon, God chose to promote organic diversity.  Thus taxonomic diversity is itself a goal.  That being the case, the provision of created machinery for providing this diversity should be acceptable to a Christian.  Discerning providential supervision of such machinery is a matter of faith interpretation and is inherently no different from faith interpretations of individual life history.

Friday, October 28, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Matthew Heun, Engineering Department, Calvin College.

Title:Global Warming and Public Policy
     Discussions about global warming sometimes become hostile, in part because people do not openly and honestly disclose − to themselves or to others − the values underlying their policy proposals.  I will briefly discuss the scientific mechanisms by which global warming is thought to develop and how this data poses important public policy questions.  Reducing carbon emissions in the near term presumably imposes costs on some people (e.g. higher taxes, higher prices).  Failing to reduce carbon emissions presumably imposes higher costs on other people and on later generations.  I will review existing policy proposals regarding global warming, and I will make a modest proposal for a "meme" that could make discussions of global warming, and other public policy issues, less hostile and more open.

Friday, November 18, 2005, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Uko Zylstra, Prof. of Biology and Dean of Natural Sciences, Calvin College.

Title:Evolution Wars: A Failure to Communicate
     It is my contention that a major contributing factor to the "evolution wars," as Time magazine refers to the ongoing debate about the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, is a failure to properly define the meaning of evolution.  The term evolution really has multiple meanings.  Yet when people talk and write about evolution or even the theory of evolution, they seldom distinguish between the various meanings.  So when someone asserts that "evolution is a fact," it is not clear in what sense evolution is a fact.  Further probing will generally make obvious the different degrees of empirical evidence that support the different meanings of evolution.  The result is a deep failure to communicate because different parties talking about evolution do not always use the same meanings of the term.  This also holds for classroom discussions about evolution.  If we are to think critically about the discussion of evolution, creation, and intelligent design, then we need to communicate more effectively by making these important distinctions with regard to the different meanings of evolution.