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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2008)


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Schedule for 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Richard Colling, Professor of Biology, Olivet Nazarene University. Author of Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator.

Title:Randomness, Purpose, God, and Evolution – Can they go together?
     The history books of life – fossils and DNA – reveal a most remarkable creation story.  Over unfathomable eons of prescribed life and death cycles, single-celled life has advanced as a divine, majestic, and interconnected web.  Filling every niche of our dynamic ever-changing planet, evolutionary creation has miraculously culminated in sentient beings capable of self and God-awareness – us!  As Christians desiring to remain faithful and culturally credible in our claim that God is the creator and that all truth is God's truth, we are challenged to work together across faith boundaries seeking ways to effectively integrate knowledge from science into a dynamic and coherent faith.  This talk introduces a new creation "logos" – Random (Equal Opportunity) Design.  Simple, but ultimately profound, random design reflects a God-ordained and sustained paradigm of astonishing creative genius that produces an integrated network of unrivaled biological development.  The talk includes defining appropriate definitions of randomness, the importance of adequate information/dot development, examples of randomness generating remarkable biological order, and a call to expand traditional views of scripture and science to accommodate a bigger, more profound God.

audio_recording, power_point_slides

Friday, February 29, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Patrick Bailey, Computer Science and Information Systems Dept., Calvin College.

Title:Where is the "C" in Developing E-Type Systems?
     Where is the connection between faith and writing better code?  What influence does a practicing Christian have in the development of systems?  This discussion examines the challenges of delivering software to a demanding world in the context of a Christian perspective.  In addition to providing background on the software development process, the presentation includes an overview of the questionnaire comments from professed Christians involved in software as they explained their view of the "link" between their faith and profession.

audio_recording, power_point_slides

Friday, March 28, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Eric LaRock, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Oakland University.

Title:Interactive Cellular Assemblies, Neural Suppression, and the Unified Character of Consciousness
     Over the past few decades research in neuroscience has exploded in the area of visual consciousness.  Neuroscientists have begun to unravel considerably more details about some of the functions and possible causes that underlie visual consciousness.  What is fascinating about our current knowledge of the brain is that visual consciousness of an object's properties involves the activity of neurons distributed throughout the visual cortex.  Specialized subassemblies of neurons have been identified in different areas of the visual cortex that respond to specific properties of objects, such as shape, color, motion, and location (Bartels & Zeki, 2006; Zeki, 2003). From a biological point of view, the evolution of these specialized neuronal areas has enabled the brain to represent the particular properties of an object more economically.   But the advantages of functional specialization have led to apparent gaps in our attempts to provide a thoroughgoing neural story of the unity of visual consciousness: thus far, there is no known central processing mechanism, or convergence site in the brain, where perceptual information about an object's properties could coalesce to form a unitary object of consciousness (see Crick & Koch, 1990; Gray, 1999; Singer, 1996, 1999, 2007).  Because the neuronal firings that underlie an object's representational contents (e.g., shape and color) are distributed throughout the visual cortex, it is difficult to understand how a single, unified object could arise in visual consciousness.  If there were direct correlations between an object's representational contents and distributed neural firings, it would seem that visual consciousness would consist of an unconnected set of properties minus object unity.  Normal subjects, in any case, do not visually experience objects as disunities; so merely identifying the neural correlates of the property representations of an object cannot be the complete story (LaRock, 2006, 2007).  The recognition of this explanatory gap has motivated various theories of binding in the neurosciences.  For example, Singer (1996, 2007) proposes an interactive cellular assembly hypothesis, and Luck and Beach (1998) defend the neural suppression hypothesis.  In this paper I elaborate and provide a critique of Singer's interactive cellular assembly hypothesis, and subsequently examine whether Luck and Beach's neural suppression hypothesis might have the explanatory tools requisite to account for the unified character of an object's properties at the level of consciousness.  Against Singer, I argue (1) that neuronal synchrony is not sufficient for binding the representations of an object's properties into a unified object of consciousness; and (2) that binding is not necessary for consciousness.  Against Luck and Beach, I argue that although neural suppression might help to explain disambiguation at higher levels of the processing hierarchy, this does not entail an explanation of binding.  In the final section, I develop a Kantian approach to the unity of consciousness and discuss some of its metaphysical and methodological implications.

Monday, April 7, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:George Murphy, pastoral associate at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio; adjunct faculty member at Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

Title:Real Faith and Fictional Worlds
     Science fiction has become increasingly respectable and influential in recent years, portraying a variety of futures.  God usually seems to be absent from those futures, together with every other aspect of Christianity.  But is that really the case?  Religious questions often surface in new and challenging guises, and are sometimes quite explicit.  This talk will reflect on religion and science in the science fiction world, with reference to a number of popular books, films and TV shows, and will suggest some ways in which science fiction can help to communicate the Christian message.


Friday, October 3, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:Elise M. Crull, graduate student in the History and Philosophy of Science Program, University of Notre Dame.

Title:Should Christians be Structural Realists?
     There is much ado in philosophy of science these days concerning structural realism—a position about scientific theories that purports to be the "best of both worlds" by dodging major bullets on both sides of the realism debate.  In this talk, I investigate whether or not Christians have different and/or stronger reasons for adopting such a position.  I argue that despite the initial appeal of structural realism, it admits of objections that cannot be surmounted even with the aid of arguments from Christianity.  Nevertheless, I suggest that a more nuanced version of structural realism in the vein of Poincaré might yet provide a tantalizing option for a faith-informed analysis of what science claims to be and do.

power point slides, audio recording of introduction, audio recording (lecture begins 35 seconds into file)

Friday, October 17, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.

Speaker:C.J. Majeski, Calvin College philosophy major  (with Steve Wykstra, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College).

Title:Interactions between Science and Philosophy:  Newton on Space and Body
     This talk will present some results of Carey James (C.J.) Majeski's summer research project under Professor S. Wykstra, funded by a McGregor fellowship.  One aim of the project was to develop a Reader, usable in several contexts, containing readings by scientists and philosophers that will facilitate reflection on historic interactions between science and philosophy.  In this talk, C.J. will first describe some aspects of the collaborative research experience, with some reflections on how Christian faith and academic research interact.  He will then introduce and present for group discussion a key selection from an important paper by Isaac Newton ("On Gravity and the Equilibrium of Fluids"). In the selected passage, we will see a strong philosophical side of Newton's thought, in which his theological commitments seem to actively inform—in some surprising ways—the conceptual foundations of his physics, both in his treatment of the concept of space and of material body.  C.J.'s presentation of the Newton passage will function as a paradigm example of the summer research work. Professor Wykstra will join in the group discussion.

audio recording

Friday, November 14, 2008, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 010.

Speakers:Davis Young and Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College.

Title: "The Bible, Rocks and Time."  Is that like "rock, paper, scissors"?  An interview with Davis Young and Ralph Stearley
     The Bible, Rocks and Time was funded in part by the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship.  Davis Young, emeritus geology professor, and Ralph Stearley, geology professor, will be interviewed by Calvin professor of English and director of the CCCS Susan Felch, and will speak on a wide range of topics related to the book, including its possible impact in science classrooms and among the general public.

audio recording

Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and Calvin Geology, Geography, and Environmental Students Department

Friday, November 21, 2008, 1:30 p.m. in Science Building room 010.


Speaker:Martin Price, Senior Agricultural Scientist, former CEO, and Founder, at the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO).

Title:Potential for Research at Christian College Science Departments Targeted to Benefit the Poor
     As a young Assistant Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Geneva College, Dr. Price wanted to involve his students in research that would help the exceptionally poor in developing countries.  The problem was that he didn't know what the questions were that would lead to research that would benefit the poor.  After post-doctoral research in agriculture and now 27 years directing the agricultural work of ECHO, he will share some examples of such research that has been done and suggest ways that Calvin College science departments could involve their students in pro-poor research.  He will also share some thoughts for students who would like their graduate research to benefit the poor.  ECHO, the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, is a Christian non-profit organization that helps individuals and organizations working with rural small-holder farmers and urban gardeners in Third World countries.  It is based on a subtropical farm in SW Florida that serves for both training and operation of a seed bank for underutilized tropical plants.

power_point_slides, audio_recording