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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2016)

This seminar series explores interactions between Christian faith and scholarship in the natural and applied sciences. A schedule of recent seminars is given below. Seminar topics vary over a range of interdisciplinary issues, drawing insights from religion, philosophy, astronomy, geology, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, physics, engineering, nursing, mathematics, computer science, psychology, sociology, history, and other departments and programs.
Time and place
Seminars are typically held several Fridays per semester, 3:30-4:45 p.m., at Calvin College in Science Building room 110, unless otherwise noted. See Calvin's Visitor Resources for maps and directions to theScience Building. Faculty, students, staff and off-campus visitors are welcome.If you would like to receive regular email announcements for each week's seminar, or if you have other questions or comments, contact Loren Haarsma.
Leading a seminar
If you are interested in leading a seminar, contact Loren Haarsma. You don't have to write an entirely new lecture in order to lead a seminar. You could also:
—present a lecture you have given elsewhere or an article you have recently published;
—present a preliminary draft of a lecture or an article on which you are working, to get some feedback;
—lead a discussion about how to teach Christian perspectives on a certain topic in the classroom.
Other science-and-religion seminar series in the Grand Rapids area:
Grand Dialogue in Science and Religion
Human Origins Seminar Series, Calvin College


2001 | 2002 | 2003 |2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007| 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 |2014 | 2015 |current

March 4, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Living As Creatures: Wonder and Humility as Ecological Virtues"

Steven Bouma-Prediger, Professor of Religion and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning, Hope College.

In her award-winning book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," contemporary author Annie Dillard writes, after observing a mockingbird make a steep vertical descent only at the last second to land upright on the grass, that "beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there." What does "trying to be there" mean? How can we prepare ourselves to more often and more easily perceive the beauty and grace of the natural world? What is wonder and how can it be cultivated? Have you ever wondered about wonder? In his influential book "The Rule of St. Benedict," sixth century monk Benedict of Nursia devotes the longest chapter to humility--famously tracing the 12 steps to humility--thereby laying the foundation for centuries of coenobitic monastic life centered around humility. But what exactly is humility? And how do we attain it? Is it possible to be proud of your humility? Have you ever hankered after humility? In this talk we will explore these two habitual dispositions and investigate the nature of what I call the ecological virtues. And we will look at what ecological literacy is and why it is one implication of cultivating these virtues. Are you eco-literate? Do you know your home place? Thus this talk will be of interest to all natural scientists and social scientists, humanists and artists--in short, to all students of our home planet.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, handout.

Monday, March 7, 2016, 7:00 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"Showing of The Big Story: From Stardust to New Creation"

Rev. Leonard Vander Zee, Interim Editor of The Banner.

The Bible is the epic, sweeping, and continuing story of God that stretches from creation to redemption in Jesus Christ to new creation. But we cannot simply repeat the biblical story as if today’s science of origins were irrelevant. What if we told that grand biblical narrative with the scientific knowledge of the origins of the universe that the ancients did not have? Come watch a new 15-minute video from BioLogos, featuring beautiful visuals and Rev. Leonard Vander Zee as the story-teller. Vander Zee will be present to lead a time of discussion following the video.
There will be free pizza and pop in the DeVries Atrium following the presentation.
The BioLogos Foundation.
Recordings and related resources

April 29, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"The Hand of God and the Evolution of Life"

Tom Boogaart, Professor of Old Testament, Western Theological Seminary.

Both Catholics and Protestants in the late middle ages shared a cosmology, one forged by Thomas Aquinas. As their drawings and catechisms reveal, they believed that the hand of God was on the crystalline spheres and that God distributed life-giving power to the earth through these spheres. The discoveries of Galileo shattered these crystalline spheres, and Christians have struggled ever since to pick up the pieces and explain how the hand of God touches the world. Acknowledging the scientific discoveries of Galileo and others, theologians forged a new cosmology, a universe with two non-overlapping spheres: a spiritual sphere in which God resides and to which God draws humankind and a material sphere which is a self-contained system of matter and motion. This cosmology has not served Christians well. It blesses the present economic practices and complicates the conversation between faith and science. The secure findings of the evolutionary sciences offer Christian theologians not only a challenge to traditional doctrines but also an opportunity to recover a more integrated and biblical cosmology. The story of the emergence of life and consciousness on our planet suggests that God’s relationship to the material sphere is much more intimate and glorious than the two-sphere cosmology allows, and this emergence of life comports well with various biblical images of God creating and sustaining the orders of creation.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, handout.

May 6, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"The Neglected Role of Guilt in the Modern Practice of Medicine"

Dr. John Patrick, Associate Professor in Clinical Nutrition, retired, University of Ottawa.

Fifty years ago people came for medical help because of what they perceived God or nature had done to them. Today, many diseases are at least to some extent self-induced by life style and behavioral factors. Patients are suffering and are also aware that their self-induced diseases are inflicting pain on themselves, their families, and society. This often produces deep feelings of shame and guilt. There is no medicine for guilt. Is it time for the health professions to rethink their relationship with the church? Dr. Patrick retired from the University of Ottawa in 2002, where he was Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition in the Departments of Biochemistry and Pediatrics for 20 years. He currently speaks on the intersection of culture, faith, medicine, and public policy.
Recordings and related resources
Calvin College Pre-Health Professionals Club.

September 16, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Primed analytic thought and intrinsic religiosity: The importance of individual characteristics"

Julie Yonker, Psychology Department, Calvin College

In 2012, Science published a study entitled, “Analytic thinking leads to religious disbelief”. This article was picked up in major media outlets with news stories such as, “Why analytical thinking can destroy your belief in God (even if you are devout)” (Daily Mail, 2012). Several of us researchers in the field of the Cognitive Science of Religion (using theories from the cognitive sciences to understand religious thought and behavior) endeavoured to experimentally re-examine the research published in the Science article. Our results pointed in a different direction; we found that priming analytical thinking resulted in increased intrinsic religiosity. Our results suggest the relationship between analytic reasoning and intrinsic religiosity is more complex and nuanced than previously published, and establishes the importance of individual demographic characteristics for religiosity. Although our research was recently published in a top psychology journal, there were some unique publication challenges associated with this type of research that I will also discuss.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording not available, handout.

September 30, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Embodying Forgiveness: Embracing Justice and Compassion"

Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, Professor of Psychology, Hope College

In this presentation, Professor Witvliet will address psychological discoveries that assist people who want to grant forgiveness. She will explore issues of justice and how forgiveness differs from reconciliation. Her research is bio-psycho-social-spiritual in nature. She will approach forgiveness as a moral response to interpersonal injustice that has beneficial emotional and physical side effects.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, handout.

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

"Can Nature be ‘red in tooth and claw’ in the thought of Augustine? the later invention and misunderstanding of a major theologian"

Stan Rosenberg; Executive Director, Scholarship & Christianity In Oxford; member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford

Can a Christian account of evil accept an understanding of nature as “red in tooth and claw” from the outset? At the core of Augustine’s theology, and the theological systems that shape the Augustinian tradition, is an approach to evil based on privation theory. This asserts a primal purity and a Fall subsequently corroding the original state. On the face of it, such an approach would seem to be — and is often interpreted as — the cause of decay, cataclysm, animal predation, and pain in the natural world. This view wholly conflicts with later understandings of evolutionary development. In evolutionary science, such violence is endemic; hence, so-called “natural evil” is an essential and ongoing operation in the physical and biological world. This talk challenges a commonly held view that Augustine argued for privation as the cause of physical and biological decay and so should be understood as contradictory to an evolutionary understanding. Alternatively, it presents the basis for understanding Augustine’s approach as treating natural cataclysm and violence as an original facet and essential activity in the natural world and so integral to natural history, not as a consequence of a Fall. Later interpreters who claim him as an authority in asserting that the natural world became alienated from God after the Fall, when violence and destruction were introduced into nature, have misconstrued his position. This investigation is necessary for defining whether one doing theology in an Augustinian tradition can readily support biological evolution, must reject it, or needs to alter the Augustinian approach to evil.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, handout.

November 4, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River: Monument to Catastrophe? OR a Monument to an Ancient Earth? "

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

Many professional scientists and many people with a strong Christian commitment believe that some sort of ideological war exists and perhaps must necessarily exist between these two subcultures. The geologic record, including that of the history of life, has often been a focal point for tragic-comedic pronouncements. Paleontologic practitioners who wish to help advance public awareness of the protracted history of life must defuse the warfare paradigm while simultaneously eliminating simple ignorance. Since the 1960’s, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River has been employed by Flood Geologists as a showcase for their interpretation of Earth history. In their model, the sedimentary layers of the canyon are divided into pre-Flood, and Flood layers. The Flood layers — thousands of feet of sedimentary rock — would have been deposited in one year’s span and then quickly eroded while yet soft, to form the present canyon in a few years. Fossils were deposited as ancient biotic communities were overwhelmed and buried. This talk will examine the fossil record to evaluate some of the claims of Flood-geologists for the Grand Canyon and will discuss the necessity to defuse the warfare paradigm. The new (summer, 2016) volume, Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (subtitle: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?), published by Kregel Press, will be available for purchase.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides, handout.
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

November 18, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

To Divide or to Heal: Evolution, Climate Change, and the Church

Sarah Bodbyl Roels; Senior Researcher for Carbon TIME, Dept. of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Scientific debates primarily occur in the public sphere devoid of shared values, which can be alienating for church audiences. This creates a dual challenge to both bring the public sphere conversation into the church and bring Christian values into the public sphere discussion. Christian scientists are uniquely positioned to mediate these interactions and influence their ultimate outcomes. Evolution and climate change are two issues where people often perceive a disconnect between church and society. In this presentation, I will share some of my personal experiences re-framing evolution and climate change conflict as opportunities for discipleship and stewardship.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording unavailable due to technical glitch, slides.

December 2, 2016, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

Title: How Can Lessons from Christian Living Communities Inform our Approaches to Team Science?

Amy Wilstermann, Biology Department; and Rachael Baker, Chemistry Department; Calvin College

Team approaches to science are valued in the broader scientific community. As biological problems become more complex and require multidisciplinary approaches, team science offers opportunities to extend the impact of individual scientists. Team science also offers attractive strategies for doing research in a small college environment, prioritizing efficiencies in space, time, and money, increased productivity, and mentoring. A scientist’s approach to doing science is informed by culture, beliefs, and values. As researchers at a Christian college, we wonder what the culture, values, and practices of our faith can add to the team approach to science. Christians have been thinking about how to live and work in community for centuries and we believe that Christian perspectives and established practices can inform conversations about how to do team science well. We will discuss key observations and insights obtained from visits and discussions with Christian living communities across the country and consider their application to team science conducted at Calvin College.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.