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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2017-2018)

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 |2016 |current

Schedule for Spring 2018

March 2, 2018 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Beyond the Free Will Defense: natural evil, theodicy, and sacrificial love"

Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronmy Department, Calvin College

Atheists sometimes point to features of the natural world as arguments against Theism (e.g. age and immensity of the universe, hiddenness of divine action, randomness, suffering caused by natural events and moral evil, evolution, the neuroscience of belief). In response, numerous Christians have developed “free will” or “soul-making” accounts. A recent book by Christian Barrigar (“Freedom All the Way Up”, Friesen Press) affirms these accounts but advocates a shift of emphasis, arguing for free will as only a necessary pre-condition for God’s ultimate purpose of creating beings capable of understanding and living in relationships of self-sacrificial love towards each other and God. Self-sacrificial love is especially central to God’s Trinitarian nature and revealed in Christ’s redeeming work. This “agape” account for these features of the world can be appealing to many Christians and powerfully inviting for non-Christians. It also has some implications regarding the subtlety of divine action in the natural world, and the (perhaps) inevitability of human sin, which some Christians might find theologically troubling, and are worth further discussion.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

March 9, 2018 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Growing Faith in the Field of Geology"

C. Renee Sparks, GEO Department, Calvin College

Field opportunities are abundant in geology: We travel to Montana to teach Big Sky Geology or journey to Hawaii to study volcanoes. We traverse Scotland to study the development of geological sciences within the context of Earth history.  These places are awe-inspiring in their landscapes, let alone the tectonic forces, chemical reactions, and time necessary to produce them. How can we help our students use these awe-inspiring experiences to grow in their Christian faith?  God is revealing His character through His Good Creation and of course, His character is revealed in Scripture as well. Teaching at Calvin College, we have the privilege of recognizing both and sharing that with our students. In this presentation, we will consider passages in Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Gospels to see how Scripture complements what we see manifested in Creation as geology. It is important to recognize that growing in the faith not only occurs because of knowledge and understanding. We will also explore opportunities for growth in the field through purposeful prayer, intentional fellowship around the dinner tables, and reserved time for praise and worship.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

April 6, 2018 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"The Challenge of Transhumanism"

Paul Harper (Physics), Derek Schuurman (Computer Science), and Jim Bradley (Mathematics, emeritus), Calvin College

Transhumanism is a movement that seeks to better human existence by employing various technological enhancements, some of which exist now while some are being sought. Among these are genetic modifications, forms of artificial intelligence, life extension, and brain uploading to computers. This seminar will examine these and other such technologies from a Christian perspective. It will discuss theological aspects as well as ethical and policy issues.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

Schedule for Fall 2017

October 6, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"The Faith of a Scientist"

Henry F. Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia

Henry F. Schaefer III received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from MIT and Stanford, respectively, both in Chemical Physics. He served as a professor at University of California, Berkeley, for 18 years. He is currently Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. Thomson-Reuters shows Professor Schaefer to be one of the most highly cited physical scientists in the world. He is the recipient of 30 honorary degrees. Professor Schaefer has also given lectures on the interface between science and the Christian faith at more than 200 universities.
Calvin Chemistry and Biochemistry Department
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

October 13, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Do we really live in a non-deterministic world?"

James Bradley, emeritus professor of Mathematics, Calvin College

Most of classic Christian theology denied the reality of chance, asserting rather that God controls all that happens. Furthermore, prior to the mid-19th century, scientists generally saw the physical world as deterministic. However, since that time, evolutionary biology and quantum physics have led a shift toward the view that the natural world is non-deterministic. But such a view has been problematic for Christian theology, especially for the Reformed tradition. In this talk, I will attempt to clarify what scientists mean by chance and how that differs from popular views. I will also argue (without using quantum mechanics) that the physical world really is non-deterministic. And I will conclude by engaging in some shameless speculations about why God might have made it that way.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

October 27, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Science and Faith: A Global Conversation"

Wayne Bornholdt, Director of Acquisitions at the Theological Book Network

"There is one question that troubled me when I was in college: can science and faith be brought on the same boat?" -Adrianus Yosia, a student at South East Asia Bible Seminary in Indonesia.
As conversations and interactions between science and faith continue to grow and deepen in the US, there are similar conversations going on in the Majority world involving varying faith traditions and convictions. How are Christians and other people of faith engaging issues of science and religion? What answers do institutions and individuals have for Adrianus and others who are asking these difficult questions? The Theological Book Network has been listening to and observing these conversations and asking questions about how best to address them with the appropriate theological resources. Many important insights have been learned through this exercise. Wayne Bornholdt will share examples of the multiple conversations on science and faith that the Network has had over many years.
Recordings and related resources

December 1, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Patristics, Genomics, and Finding God in the Cell"

Clay Carlson, Associate Professor of Biology, Trinity Christian College

Christians who confront what genomic science and evolution are telling us about human origins face the same existential crisis that has disturbed Christians for 2000 years the veracity of truth learned from studying the world that seems at first to contradict scripture. The Patristics, the ancient Church Fathers who wrote during the first centuries of Christianity, faced similar struggles as they wrestled with their understanding of how the world seemed to function, Platonism, and the claims of scripture. Today we can learn from their examples and, with reverence and humility, interpret genomic science of human origins through the lens of the biblical narrative. Even as we are persuaded to modify dearly held interpretations of scripture, we can be comforted by scientific observations that seem to be letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

Schedule for Spring 2017

February 6, 2017 (Monday), 7:00 p.m. in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall

"The Lost World of Adam and Eve"

John Walton, Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College

Dr. Walton will evaluate Genesis 2 relative to human origins. Based on a close reading of the Hebrew text and correlation with what is known from the ancient Near East, conclusions will be drawn concerning what the biblical claims are and how they help us navigate the modern conversations between science and faith.
Sponsored by:
Science and Religion Forum at Calvin College.

March 10, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"Managing Stormwater for Quantity and Quality"

William Byl, Kent County Drain Commissioner, retired

Stormwater pollution is one of the greatest threats to Great Lakes water quality. Bill Byl (Calvin '74) recently retired Kent County Drain Commissioner, will explain the causes and potential solutions to the problem from both a technical and political perspective. He will also identify two projects that affect the Calvin campus and how Calvin students and alumni are contributing to the solutions.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides, video_recording.

April 7, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"You Look Like a Movie: Why science still needs its critics"

Matthew Walhout, Professor of Physics and Dean for Research and Scholarship, Calvin College

Institutions of modern science have always aimed to serve human wellbeing, and no one can deny that they have delivered countless social goods. But should scientists themselves expect to make decisions about what social goods are and how they should be pursued? During the Cold War era, moral questions were generally considered to be outside the scope of science. Science fiction and noir films of that era explored various frightful human consequences to which amoral science might lead. Now, in the 21st century, we can see that some of the underlying fears were justified. This talk will revisit Cold War science and cinema, in order to suggest why we should expect—and even welcome—a renewed debate about the roles that scientists should play in society.
The presentation is intended to appeal both to STEM students and to general audiences with interests in history, philosophy, political science, sociology, and/or film studies.
Recordings and related resources

April 28, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"The remarkable tale of the whale: fossils, DNA, isotopes, and the many facets of cetacean evolution"

Ryan Bebej, Biology Department, Calvin College

Cetaceans (including modern whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have become one of the most frequently cited examples of macroevolution. The fossil record documenting their transition from terrestrial ancestors has exploded in recent decades, providing a series of transitional fossils that demonstrates how the earliest cetaceans adapted to life in water. But the fossils are only part of the story. Lines of evidence from other fields (including comparative anatomy, development, genetics, biogeography, and stable isotope analysis) provide additional details about the evolution of cetaceans. While these varied disciplines highlight distinct facets of this remarkable transition, together they create a compelling and remarkable case of large-scale evolutionary change.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.

May 5, 2017 (Friday), 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Thinking About Human Creation Through the Complementary Lenses of Faith and Science"

Cara Wall-Scheffler, Biology Department, Seattle Pacific University

In this lecture I review some key aspects of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that complement the scientific method. Then I discuss the human fossil record, beginning with early evidence for bipedalism and continuing through to Homo sapiens.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, slides.