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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2011)


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Schedule for 2011

February 4, 2011

"What Scientists Say and Why They Say It: The Linguistic Pragmatism of Quantum Physics"

Matt Walhout, Physics Department and Dean for Research and Scholarship, Calvin College

Abstract
Many pronouns fail to work in the language of quantum physics. As a result, quantum physicists are unable keep track of individual objects, and they resort to speaking mainly about aggregations and statistical averages. This lecture relies on three metaphorical illustrations to show how problems of language and logic show up in experimental contexts. The examples are nested within a broader consideration of whether linguistic pragmatism (particularly the kind developed by philosopher Wilfrid Sellars) provides a unified understanding of what science IS and what science IS FOR. Such a conception might help us see how scientific reasoning can be linked to our material, social, and even theological inferences.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording

February 9, 2011

"Those Scary Fossils: History of Paleoanthropological Discoveries"

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

Abstract
Biologists and anatomists have been intrigued by natural comparisons between apes and humans since the 1600's. In the middle 1700's, Carolus Linnaeus included humans, apes and monkeys in his mammalian order, Primates. These biological investigations set the stage for the fossil discoveries to come. Starting in the middle 1800's, strange and scary remains of human-like creatures began to be discovered, first in Europe, then Asia, then Africa. The oldest of these fossil hominids now date to 6 million years before the present; all of the earliest forms are African. Some remains are associated with tools of bone or stone or with body ornamentation. Many skeletal elements demonstrate malnutrition, bone breakage, or other signs of a hard life. The earliest of these fossil hominids have cranial capacities slightly larger than those of present-day great apes. Clear trends can be seen over time in stature & locomotion, dentition, and cranial capacity during the past 4 million years, with conditions resembling more and more those of modern humans through time. This amplifying record has seemed ominous to some—are there skeletons in our human family closet? Or, are these individuals no more embarrassing than the other horse thieves in all our lineages? This talk will narrate the history of these discoveries and hopefully explain something of their significance. Lots of photos, including many scary ones.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

February 10, 2011

"The Best Science Money Can Buy: How fossil-fuel and nuclear interests manipulate climate-relevant information"

Kristin Shrader-Frechette, O'Neill Family Professor, Departments of Philosophy and Biological Science, University of Notre Dame

Abstract
Since at least 1995, peer-reviewed scientific journals have clearly established scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is occurring. Many lay people have been misled, however, by fossil-fuel special interests who fund climate deniers. The same manipulation of science occurs among those who argue that nuclear fission can address climate change. Carefully dissecting the relevant science, this talk shows (1) that scientific consensus has accepted anthropogenic climate change since at least 1995, (2) that nuclear fission is not a low-carbon-electricity source, (3) that it is not safe, as revealed by Price-Anderson, and (4) that the nuclear industry "trims the data" on atomic-energy costs. Regarding costs, the talk shows that, if one corrects only 5 counterfactual assumptions, fission costs(excluding subsidies) can be shown to be 6 times higher than industry alleges. That is why the market will not provide nuclear loans, and why the industry requires taxpayers to provide subsidies. The talk concludes by showing that good science, good economics, and good ethics all point in the same direction. Energy efficiency, conservation, wind, and solar photo-voltaic are able to address climate change.
Co-sponsors
Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.

February 11, 2011

"Adam's Bloodline: Genesis, Race, and Human Origins"

David N. Livingstone, Professor of Geography & Intellectual History, Queen's University Belfast

Abstract
The idea that the human race can be traced back to a single ancestor has been both deep and lasting. In our own day it surfaces in very different arenas, both religious and secular. Contemporary geneticists and palaeo-anthropologists, for example, using DNA research, have variously christened humanity's common ancestor Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam. Representing a very different politics, religiously-motivated racial supremacists in the United States have been no less busy working out an Adamic chronology for particular racial groups with particularly pernicious propaganda. In this lecture I explore something of these recent obsessions before turning to an historical analysis of the role of the biblical Adam in theories about human origins over the past five centuries. In particular I focus on a wide range of thinkers who argued for the existence of human beings before the Adam of the Genesis narrative. During the seventeenth century, the idea was largely abominated as heretical, but in years to come attracted increasing support as it enabled a range of exegetical and empirical problems to be resolved. It presented solutions to the question of the settlement of the New World, eased problems posed by the so-called pagan chronologies, and offered a biological solution to issues about acclimatization, hybridity, and racial divergence. Its use as a political resource was no less conspicuous as it was variously mobilised for both egalitarian and racist purposes. For these and other reasons, the idea of pre-adamic humanity attracted a growing range of committed defenders – often those with a conservative Christian heritage. In the aftermath of the Darwinian revolution, the idea was often adopted by evangelical scientists and theologians who found in the idea of pre-Adamic hominids, nearly but not quite human, a means of making peace with evolutionary anthropology. Over its remarkable history since the mid-seventeenth century, the idea of non-Adamic humanity has run the gamut from humanitarianism to racism, from heresy to orthodoxy. The passion to track Adam's bloodline, one way or another, continues to fascinate the human race. If Paul Ricoeur is correct to say that Adam's fall from grace is "the anthropological myth par excellence", the mission to track Adam's bloodline must surely rank as the archetypal quest of Western culture.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

February 17, 2011

"Evolution and the Fall: Clarifying the Issues, Imagining the Possibilities"

James K.A. Smith, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

Abstract
This presentation aims to do three things. The first task is somewhat polemical, but the second and third goals are meant to be constructive (and maybe even irenic!). (1) What's not at issue: I will suggest a clarification of what's at stake in the current discussion by noting what this debate is not about. It is not about evolution vs. creationism. There isn't a simple dichotomy of pro-science versus anti-science views. As we jointly examine and critique the various proposed scenarios for human origins, those who resist the more "symbolic" interpretations of the Fall do take the scientific data seriously. This may be stating the obvious, but some articulations of the issues seem to require that these clarifications be made. (2) Going "meta": Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre's account of tradition, I want to sketch an understanding of confessional theological reflection which emphasizes that wrestling with what is essential to a tradition is a defining feature of a tradition. In other words, I want to paint a picture of "tradition" and "orthodoxy" which makes room for genuine development and reform within a tradition. So defending "orthodoxy" cannot and should not be equated with mere repristination. However, it does entail that theological development and reform still discerns parameters and boundaries for what constitutes a faithful extension of the tradition. (3) Imagining the Fall: constructively, I want to loosen up our theological imagination by proposing a model that takes seriously evolutionary and genetic evidence for common ancestry, predation, etc. while also retaining a doctrine of a "historical" Fall. My goal in this section is to point out that proposals that take seriously evolutionary and genetic evidence need not entail rejecting a historical understanding of the Fall, though this will also require some reconfiguration of how the doctrines of the Fall and original sin are articulated. My only goal in this respect is to suggest that, with some faithful theological imagination, we could imagine some models that are not yet on the table.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording, handout/notes/text of talk

February 18, 2011

"What can Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us about Sin?"

Paul Moes, Psychology Department, Calvin College.

Abstract
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) has had a significant impact on psychological theories and has a good deal to say about human nature and the reasons for our actions – both good and bad. But can EP shed light on biblical concepts of sin or righteousness? This presentation will review the basic ideas of EP, its implications for psychology and how it may – or may not – help us understand our basic sinful nature. The basic thesis for the presentation is that EP, while providing some valuable insights, fails to capture the full extent of our human nature, including our sinful tendencies.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

February 25, 2011

"Does Religion Matter for Adolescents and Emerging Adults?"

Laura DeHaan and Julie Yonker, Psychology Department, Calvin College.

Abstract
Although religious belief is common among most American adolescents and emerging adults (individuals 18 to 25), studies examining effects of religious beliefs on this population are limited. We analyzed all identified empirical studies from 1990 to 2010 that focused on adolescents and emerging adults, in which religion, spirituality and/or faith (R/S) was an identified variable. Studies were examined in terms of how R/S was conceptualized and operationally definition. Our next step was to conduct a meta-analysis to examine the association between R/S and outcome measures of risk taking behavior, depression, well-being, self-esteem, and personality.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

March 2, 2011

"God, Chance, and Purpose"

Kelly Clark, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

Abstract
Before God and creation via evolution get too cozy, we need to remember that evolution is a chancy process. While natural selection itself is not a method of chance, what it selects from is a matter of chance—random mutations. Random mutations supply the fuel that operates the evolutionary machinery. Without mutations, individuals within a species would have exactly the same characteristics; none would be any better than another in terms of avoiding predators or coaxing mates. It’s only when mutations occur—making some individuals slightly faster or able to smell better or more attractive—that natural selection kicks in, lending its endorsement to the favorable trait. Without mutations, natural selection is empty. But, and here’s the God and creation problem, mutations are random. How can a random process be compatible with God’s intentions to create plants and animals, and then humans (in His image)? If the process was random, how could God have known what he was going to get? How could God have guided a process that is fueled by random events? I'll consider five models for how God might use random processes to accomplish God's purposes.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

March 3, 2011

"Thinking About and Responding to Climate Change"

Stephen M. Gardiner, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Program on Values in Society, University of Washington.

Abstract
Ethical action on climate change is made more difficult by global, intergenerational and theoretical challenges, and puts us at risk of moral corruption. Jane Austen can help us to understand the threat of this "perfect moral storm". (Prof. Gardiner is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Program on Values in Society at the University of Washington in Seattle. He specializes in ethics, political philosophy and environmental ethics. Prof. Gardiner received his PhD. in Philosophy from Cornell University in 1999 for a dissertation on Aristotelian virtue ethics. He also has an M.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a B.A. from Oxford University in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Prof. Gardiner is the editor of Virtue Ethics, Old and New (Cornell,2005), and the coordinating co-editor (with Dale Jamieson, Simon Caney and Henry Shue) of Climate Ethics (Oxford, forthcoming). His manuscript A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Global Environmental Tragedy is also currently under contract at Oxford.)
Co-sponsors
Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.

March 4, 2011

"A Historian's Approach to Ancient Stories of Human Origin and Cosmic Structure"

Bert DeVries, History Department, Calvin College

Abstract
In antiquity the intent of stories of human origin was not objective explanation of a process over time, but narrative portrayal of archetypical events that help the audience make sense out of their own existential human predicament. The truth of such narratives lay not in their pinpoint accuracy in the realms of biology or geology, but in their liturgical power enabling an audience to come face to face with the life forces threatening to overwhelm them. The presenter will examine ancient stories of origin and order as historical documents, both as sources for ancient socio-religious history and for their role in ancient history. First, various types of stories from ancient cultures, such as the Vedic Myth of Perusha, The Babylonian Descent of Ishtar into the Underworld, and The Canaanite Conflict between Baal and Yam, will be used to demonstrate the role of literary narrative in the representation of meaning for humans face-to-face with cosmic forces. Second, while the Genesis creation stories served a similar socio-religious purpose, they were adapted for that late in ancient history, at a point in the mid-first millennium BC when there was a broad cultural shift away from cosmo-theism to transcendental theism, not only in exilic/post-exilic proto-Judaism, but also among neighboring societies (in India, Persia and Greece, for example).  The purpose of this presentation is to bring out the meaning of human-origin texts in their original historic context in order to make clear these do not lend themselves to the commonly held "concordist" presupposition that the ancient creation narratives contain scientifically verifiable information.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording, handou, tone-page summary of implications

March 11, 2011

"Tell me: How long did Adam dwell in Paradise?"  Traditions of reading sacred texts in the light of modern biblical criticism.

Frans VanLiere, History Department, Calvin College

Abstract
This presentation will be a follow-up to Bert deVries's presentation last week. It will outline how Genesis 1-3 was interpreted after it became to be regarded as sacred history. Ultimately, the problem with the current debate over human origins has less to do with the problem of human origins than with the question: How do we read these ancient texts? For centuries, the meaning of Genesis 1-3 was determined not so much by what these texts actually said, as by what they were supposed to say; they were thought to contain some hidden truth that was especially relevant for the religious community that held them as sacred, but this truth could only be uncovered through mystical and spiritual reading. For centuries this is just how these texts were read: against a religious framework that assigned a deeper, mystical or theological meaning to these texts. These are the biblical hermeneutics underlying Paul's letter to the Corinthians, as well as the Reformed Confessions. However, modern biblical criticism has challenged this hermeneutical model. While a modern critical reading may solve many of the apparent contradictions between these sacred texts and science, it does raise the question: Can we still regard these texts as authoritative and sacred, if we read them in this way? Or do they become "just" stories, no longer the Word of God?
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

March 17, 2011

A discussion on the article, " Assessing Evidences for the Evolution of a Human Cognitive Platform for 'Soulish Behaviors"

(Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith v.61, n.3, p.152-174)

Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College

Abstract
During the past one hundred fifty years, a great number of fossil hominid specimens have been unearthed, providing an outline of hominid history extending back five million years. Associated with these hominid fossils are artifacts. Christians and others who have attempted to assess the humanity of these long-dead individuals have focused on evidences of cognition such as cave art, evidences of care given to injured or ill individuals, or burial. However, many more types of evidences as to cognitive abilities in these creatures are available.  Warren Brown has proposed that a cluster of interlinked cognitive capacities were elaborated over the past few million years of hominid history during an "evolutionary trajectory" which, in turn, undergird human "soulish behaviors." These include language, a theory of mind, episodic memory, top-down agency, future orientation, and emotional modulation. This article is an attempt to put traction on Brown's proposal, through detailed examination of the paleoanthropological record. The ability to teach, and thus symbolically and rapidly transmit culture, is suggested as an additional capacity which is part of this cognitive platform. Primary data (anatomy, artifacts) and reliable inferences (based on comparative studies) support a notion of a stage-wise erection of a cognitive platform for soulish behaviors. A few significant, less-understood gaps remain in the cognitive trajectory.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides (first half), Presentation Slides (second half), Audio Recording

March 30, 2011

"What Augustine Still Has to Teach Us about Human Origins and God's Creating Work"

Laura Smit, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
In conversations about origins, Augustine is sometimes painted as a fundamentalist in the way he read Scripture (he wasn’t), as someone who corrupted the Hebrew worldview of the Bible with Hellenism (he didn’t), and as the source of a distorted understanding of sin and salvation that needs to be overcome (it needn’t).  Given how central Augustine has been to the development of Christian thought in the west, especially (though by no means exclusively) to the development of the Reformed tradition, we should dig a little deeper and get a fuller understanding of what he actually says about human origins, about human freedom and responsibility, about the nature of sin, about the goodness of creation and the goodness of God.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording

April 6, 2011

"What's Original about Original Sin?  Reading Genesis 1-3 within the Christian Canon"

David Crump, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
This lecture will attempt to do two things.  First, it will raise questions about the methods being used in our current discussion over how to read the story of Adam and Eve.  For instance, does the accumulation of 'parallels' or 'similarities' between different pieces of literature necessarily lead to solid conclusions about either the historicity or the intentions of the stories themselves?  Second, we will briefly take another look at Genesis 1-3.  The story of Adam and Eve has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries and in modern times. I believe we can find territory in our interpretations which avoids, on the one hand, reading in ways which simply reinforce traditional theological preconceptions, and on the other hand, reading in ways which presuppose some unacceptable rationalistic assumptions.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording

April 7, 2011

"Science and Religion: Integration or Reconciliation"

Robert Bishop, McIntyre Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, Wheaton 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.

Sponsor
Calvin College Philosophy Department

April 8, 2011

"The Doctrine of Creation: Mediated Action and Science"

Robert Bishop, McIntyre Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, Wheaton College

Abstract
There is a very prevalent line of thinking found in both Christian and non-Christian circles that scientific explanations of natural events must be interpreted as competing with or replacing biblical explanations for such events. Contrary to popular Western culture mythology, this line of thinking is thoroughly modern, arising in the 18th century and refined in the 19th. The historical development of the idea of scientific and biblical explanations as competing takes place at the same time as the biblical doctrine of creation is being gutted. In this talk I will primarily focus on a particular feature of the doctrine of creation in need of recovery for thinking about science: that God’s action in creation is always mediated. I will draw on the idea of mediated action to illustrate how the doctrine of creation provides resources for dispensing with the notion that scientific and biblical explanations are competing, and instead allows us to interpret scientific explanations as consistent with Christianity.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording, related paper
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Philosophy Department

April 13, 2011

"What Social and Natural Scientists Need to Know about Evil"

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
"Evil" is a term which, in the Christian tradition at least, is properly a "theological" term.  That is to say, "evil" names that which is not consonant with the nature and action of God and therefore must be understood in relation to how Christians understand and speak about God.  Christian theology has traditionally made a distinction between the moral evil perpetrated by personal agents (i.e. "sin") and natural evil which occurs apart from personal agency and intention.  In this presentation I will outline what is meant by "goodness," "supreme goodness, " "evil" and "sin" as theological categories.  Augustine's wrestling with "the problem of evil" will provide some traction as I explore the content of these terms.  Regarding our current discussion on human origins, I will sketch a description of human origins which may entail a closer linkage of moral and natural evil than is often given.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording, handout

April 13, 2011

"Evolution Matters: Does Evolution Explain Religion?"

Michael Murray, Executive Vice President, Programs; and Vice President, Philosophy and Theology, John Templeton Foundation

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

Sponsor
Calvin College Philosophy Department, 2011 Jellema Lectures

April 13, 2011

"Evolution Matters: Death, Predation, Extinction, and ... a Loving Creator?"

Michael Murray, Executive Vice President, Programs; and Vice President, Philosophy and Theology, John Templeton Foundation

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

Sponsor
Calvin College Philosophy Department, 2011 Jellema Lectures

April 28, 2011

"What about the cross?"

Suzanne McDonald, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
One of the questions that has been raised in discussions about human origins concerns the implications of various views on origins for the way that we understand Christ's atoning work on the cross. This lecture aims to help us think about these issues in two ways. First, it will point us to the variety of themes and images found in the New Testament to speak about what is happening on the cross. Along the way, we will see how our confessional documents reflect this range of themes - and we will also see that  theology can sometimes get unhelpfully carried away with one or two of them. Second, while the New Testament gives us a constellation of ways to help us to plumb the depths of the cross, all the various themes and images share some central assumptions about God’s relationship with us and ours with him. These shared assumptions will provide a touchstone for discerning how approaches to the issue of human origins relate to the atonement.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording

April 29, 2011

"The CRC and Human Origins Since Synod 2010"

John Cooper, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

Abstract
This presentation explains the position of the CRC on human origins as modified by the Synod of 2010. (I was an advisor to Synod and advocated for its decision.) Synod 2010 removed the declaration of Synod 1991 that "the uniqueness of humans as image bearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race." But it reaffirmed the other five declarations of 1991, including permissible approaches to Genesis and doctrinal conclusions that are required. Consequently, the CRC position is now open to espousal of evolutionary theories of human ancestors that are consistent with these hermeneutical and doctrinal positions. The presentation outlines some limits and possibilities of the CRC position in relation to current scientific, philosophical, theological, and exegetical views. There will be time for discussion.
Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording, handout

May 6, 2011

"Trinity and Truth: Matking Truth Claims in Theology"

Bruce Marshal, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Methodist University

Related resources
excerpt from book Trinity and Truth, book review 1 (Buckley),book review 2 (Reno)
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Religion Department, Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship

May 6, 2011

"Faith and Certainty"

Bruce Marshal, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Methodist University

Co-sponsors
Calvin College Religion Department,Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship

October 4, 2011

"Sustainable agriculture, developing countries and Micah 6:8: Does Cambodia need our food system or do wee need theirs?"

Uko Zylstra, Biology Department, Calvin College

Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording, power point slides
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

October 9, 2011

"How Astronomy Has Changed Our Picture of Creation"

Loren Haarsma, associate professor of physics and astronomy, Calvin 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.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


October 11, 2011

"Appropriateness of sustainable agriculture in developing countries"

David Doornbos, Biology Department, Calvin College

Recordings and related resources
Audio Recording, slides
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

October 16, 2011

"Modern Cosmology: the Multiverse, and the Creator"

Deborah Haarsma, professor of physics and astronomy, Calvin 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.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


October 23, 2011

"Religion and Science: Conflict or Concord?"

Alvin Plantinga

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

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


October 28, 2011

"What do transitions from industrial agriculture to sustainable food systems look like?"

David Koetje, Biology Department, Calvin College

Recordings and related resources
power point slides (Audio Recording not made)
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

November 8, 2011

"Challenge of cereal crop improvement and development in Africa"

Mitch Tulnstra, Purdue University Agronomist

Recording not made.

Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

November 18, 2011

"Rebuilding agricultural systems after the demise of industrial monoculture: the role of seed banks"

Sheila Blackman, Professor of Biology, Grand Valley State University.

Recording not made.

Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

December 2, 2011

"Life in the soil: Conservation farming with green manure and cover crops"

Grace Miller, Professor of Biology, Indiana Wesleyan University.

Recording not made.

Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.