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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2010)

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Schedule for 2010

February 26, 2010

"Against Multiverse Theodicies"

 

Bradley Monton, Philosophy Department, University of Colorado, Boulder.

 

This event was not part of the Christian Perspectives in Science seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.

Sponsors: Calvin College Philosophy Department


March 12, 2010

"What scientists should know about the doctrine of creation"

 

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
The contemporary dialogue between theology and the natural sciences tends to proceed uni-directionally: that is to say theologians look to the sciences as providing descriptions of reality which either serve as challenges to traditional theological formulations or as sources for creative theological exploration. This seminar seeks to press the dialogue in the reverse direction by exploring the rich resources of Christian theology regarding the nature of reality, the nature of causation, and the significance of understanding the world as existing in relation to God through the divine activity of creation. Scientists may find such resources helpful and challenging regarding their scientific exploration of a world Christian theology claims is, and describes as, created. Metaphysical, Christological and pneumatological aspects of a doctrine of creation will be addressed in relation to contemporary scientific endeavors.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording1, audio recording2, audio recording3

April 9, 2010

"A Discussion of the Divine Action Project"

 

Jim Bradley, emeritus Mathematics and Statistics Department, Calvin College

Abstract
During the 1990's, a series of five conferences on faith and science were co-sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley. They took God's action in the physical universe as their unifying theme; hence the undertaking came to be known as the Divine Action Project. Participants were scientists and theologians from Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds, most of whom held a more or less orthodox view of Christian belief. Each conference produced a significant collection of scholarly papers covering the topics quantum cosmology and the laws of nature, chaos and complexity, evolutionary and molecular biology, neuroscience and the person, and quantum mechanics. This talk will provide a brief sketch of the project illustrated with examples from the chaos and complexity study. Its primary purpose is to initiate a conversation on the subject of God's action in the physical universe.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording1, audio recording2, audio recording3

April 16, 2010

"Philosophical materialism and moral nihilism"

 

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College

Abstract
The natural sciences are often used to support worldviews of philosophical materialism. Some Christians respond by claiming that philosophical materialism logically implies moral nihilism. Often these claims are coupled to arguments that the theory of evolution promotes selfishness and eugenics as "natural goods." This seminar will briefly discuss the oversimplifications of biological evolution behind these claims and ways to disentangle the science of evolution from philosophical materialism, then move on to discuss the broader claim that philosophical materialism implies moral nihilism. Some moral theorists look for a non-theistic basis for objective moral authority in self-evident principles, reason, community, nature, or some combination of those. We'll consider distinctions between reductionist materialisms and emergentist materialisms, and end with a discussion about whether some versions of the argument that philosophical materialism imply moral nihilism rely on such a low view of creation and common grace as to make them problematic for Calvinists. If so, does a high view of creation and common grace suggest a better response to philosophical naturalism?
Recordings and related resources
handout notes, (audio recording not available)

April 23, 2010

"In Pursuit of the Ethical Stem Cell: Challenges in the Quest for New Biological Therapies"

 

James Rusthoven, Professor, Department of Oncology, McMaster University

Abstract
In human stem cell research, the recent development of cellular constructs with embryonic stem cell features has raised hopes that human embryos will no longer be disrupted or destroyed in the effort to develop new biological therapies for human diseases. However, some suggest that such new biotechnologies have not solved older ethical problems, just added new ones. In this presentation, the current state of these new biological technologies will be presented and their potential risks and benefits for developing new therapies will be compared. Both persistent and new ethical problems will be articulated and discussed. Concerns will be raised regarding the safety of such cellular therapies as society approaches an era of clinical testing of embryonic stem cell-derived cellular therapies.

April 30, 2010

"Convergence and chance in the construction of the tree of life"

 

Stephen Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College

Abstract
To what extent has "chance" influenced the outcomes of biological evolution? To some, the unfolding of the tree of life was so strongly contingent on early and seemingly random events that its current forms (which include H. sapiens) could just as likely have been utterly different. To others, the unfolding of the tree of life is characterized by recurrent themes that are so pervasive that its current forms were well-nigh inevitable. We will examine the ideas of the two prominent scientists who have advocated these two divergent views of the nature of evolution. The late Stephen Jay Gould made famous the "rewind the tape" metaphor: according to Gould, if we repeatedly replayed the history of life on earth, it would turn out differently – very differently – each time. Simon Conway Morris has famously emphasized evolutionary convergence, wherein similar designs arise independently during evolution, suggesting a predictable pattern. Two brilliant and accomplished paleontologists and evolutionary biologists, examining the same data, reached apparently opposite conclusions. We will discuss the fossils that formed the focus of Gould's case, look at some examples of convergent evolution that are the basis of Conway Morris's position, and consider the relevance of both sets of ideas in Christian conceptions of an unfolding creation.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording1, audio recording2, audio recording3, audio recording4

October 8, 2010

"Scientific and Theological Issues on Human Origins"

 

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College

Abstract
This is the first of what we hope will be a series of seminars this year by various speakers on the topic of human origins. We will first summarize discoveries made in the last few decades in genetics and paleontology, and discuss what we can learn from these discoveries about how God created humans. Then we'll survey main points of Christian tradition on a number of important theological topics: humans as God's image-bearers, the human soul, original sin, and natural evil. We'll describe several proposed scenarios for human origins which seek to bring together what we learn both from scripture and from nature, and we'll analyze some of the pros and cons of those scenarios. The goal of this seminar is to map out the important issues, the areas of agreement, and the range of disagreements. Audience questions and suggestions will influence which particular issues we explore in greater depth in later seminars.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, power point slides

October 20, 2010

"Evolution and Explanation"

 

Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College

Abstract
Is evolution true? Most scientists consider this question settled. In this lecture we'll address a somewhat different question, and a better one: How does evolution make sense of the living world? In other words, how does evolution explain the ways in which living things came to be the way they are? We will look at the many kinds of evidence and data that are explained by common ancestry so that we can understand why evolutionary theory has been so successful. We will look at points of concern for Christians and briefly discuss the ways in which Christians can respond to those worries. And there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. Come learn why evolutionary theory is such an excellent explanation.
Recordings and related resources
audio recordinghandoutpower point slides
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Biology Department. Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.

October 28, 2010

"Responding to Climate Change: The potential and risks of geo-engineering options"

 

Tom Ackerman, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, and Director of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO)

 

This event was not part of the Christian Perspectives in Science seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.

Sponsors: Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.


October 29, 2010

"The Science (and Art) of Global Climate Modeling"

 

Tom Ackerman, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, and Director of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO).

Abstract
In four decades, global climate models have grown from simple energy balance models of Earth to among the most complex physical models ever built. These models seek to encapsulate in a computational framework our current understanding of how the Earth climate system works, including fundamental relationships between atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere (ice), and land surfaces. Current models contain roughly 1 million lines of computer code and are run on platforms ranging from desktop computers to the largest computers in the world. Climate models are used to assess the impact of human activity on future climate warming and results are being used to advocate for changes in energy policy and infrastructure that have extensive social and economic consequences. How well do understand climate? How well do climate models capture our understanding? What are the uncertainties associated with climate models? What is the prospect for narrowing uncertainties in the near future? How do these uncertainties impact projected climate warming over this century? Should public policy be based on results from science models that have inherent uncertainty? This talk will explore the broad landscape of these questions from the perspective of a climate scientist.
 
Co-sponsors
Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.

November 5, 2010

"Reading Genesis 2-3 in an Age of Evolutionary Science"

 

Daniel Harlow, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
This presentation will summarize the main points of an article recently published in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (vol. 62, no. 3 [September 2010]: 179–95) and then lead a discussion of it and of issues it raises. The article is framed by recent research in molecular biology, primatology, sociobiology, and phylogenetics––research which indicates that our species, Homo sapiens, did not descend from a single pair of individuals, and that early Homo sapiens did not start in paradisal physical or moral conditions. The body of the article is a study of Genesis 2–3 in its literary and cultural context, examining Adam and Eve as strictly literary figures, with attention both to the biblical text and ancient Near Eastern parallels. Along the way, it explains why most biblical scholars do not find the doctrines of the Fall and original sin in Genesis 2–3 itself but only in later Christian readings of these chapters. The article also examines briefly Paul's appeal to Adam as a type of Christ. It concludes that the doctrines of the Fall and original sin may be reaffirmed with Adam and Eve as literary rather than historical figures, but invite reformulation given the evidence for an evolving creation.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout

November 18, 2010

"Ethical Issues in Climate Change: A theological perspective"

 

Steven Bouma-Prediger, Religion Department, Hope College

 

This event was not part of the Christian Perspectives in Science seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.

Sponsors: Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.


December 3, 2010

"Ecclesiastes for Managers in Times of Crisis"

 

Maarten J. Verkerk, Professor of Philosophy and Technology, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven and Maastricht Universiteit, The Netherlands

Abstract
The presentation will be based on a book by Prof. Verkerk published this past September in the Netherlands related to management problems in different organizations and recommended solutions based on Christian philosophy and old biblical wisdom. Verkerk tries to persuade the readers to take a different look at their managerial attitude of control and command. Questions related to meaning and spirituality are also addressed.